Almanac Rugby: The Forgotten Story of Cecil Ramalli

Continuing his ‘The Forgotten Stories…” series, Almanacker Patrick Skene’s latest for The Guardian is the enthralling tale of Cecil Ramalli.

The son of an indigenous woman and an Indian trader who found himself in the NSW town of Mungindi, Ramalli was, at one time, a highly touted star of the Wallabies and according to the game’s best judges at the time, was destined to become one of the all-time greats.


Ramalli had courage, good hands and feet, could think quickly and the plaudits flowed. But his stunning Test debut came at a cost: he played the second half with a broken nose and two black eyes. For a while the All Blacks couldn’t land a glove on him but when they did they made it count.

Ramalli’s nose was Australia’s hottest topic of discussion ahead of the third Test in Sydney due to be played a week after. The newspapers sweated on the doctors’ reports which finally gave Ramalli the nod.

With the power of self belief in his veins, Ramalli played brilliantly at the Sydney Cricket Ground. This time the All Blacks were waiting for him and on their usual mission to bruise and confuse they battered him mercilessly. At 171 cm and 66 kilograms, Cecil was the lightest man on the field and he broke his nose again. At one stage he was so heavily concussed he wandered absently across the field with blood choking his nose, mouth and throat…

… The most treasured accolade in sport, though, is an opponent’s compliment and before returning to New Zealand, the manager of the All Blacks, Dr George Adams, said that Ramalli “undoubtedly had the makings of the perfect half back”.


As with so many other streams of Australian life at the time though, the arrival of the second World War would irrevocably change the course of Ramalli’s destiny.


[A]s Malaya and Singapore fell to Japanese forces… 100,000 British Empire troops surrendered. Ramalli was sent first to Changi prisoner of war camp and then north to build the 415 kilometre Thai Burma railway that took the lives of more than 2,600 Australian soldiers… Ramalli survived and in 1944 was sent in a ship convoy to Nagasaki in Japan as slave labor to work in the coal mines.

In a rare shared war story, Ramalli told his son Peter about surviving the Nagasaki atomic bomb that was dropped on 9 August, 1945. “He was down in the mine under Nagasaki Harbour when his 12-hour shift was extended to a 24-hour shift,” explains Peter. “By the time he came up there was no city left.”


Cecil Ramalli’s story is engrossing reading on so many levels, and Patrick’s article is essential reading for both sides of the Barassi line


Click this link to read Patrick’s article in full at THE GUARDIAN WEBSITE.


Click HERE for more of Patrick’s fantastic Forgotten Stories series.



About Patrick Skene

An Epicurean Celt interested in Sport, Culture & History.


  1. This man is my grandfather’s cousin and we’ve only just discovered Cecil existed, amazing story. My Grandfather’s father Barg Alli was Cecil’s uncle. My great-grandfather Barg also changed his name to Tom and joined both names for form the surname Bargallie, hence Cecil’s father changed his name from Ram Alli to form their surname Ramalli. Interesting stories. Many thanks for publishing, makes us very proud of our family background.

  2. …ps. .actually weirdly enough my cousin Jack looks just like him and is passionate about Rugby union!

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