SCOTTISH RUGBY, in celebration of its 150th anniversary, recently announced the award of retrospective caps to players who had represented Scotland in wartime Services/’Victory’ Internationals and later matches which previously were not deemed to warrant the award of full caps, a decision warmly welcomed by many.
At Murrayfield on Armistice Day, fittingly, the first tranche of those caps were handed over to representatives of some of those wartime internationalists with later ceremonies planned for others.
Of the 16 caps awarded then, one was for Dr Ewan Douglas [1922-1999], who played four times as a three-quarter in Services’ Internationals against England in 1942 and 1943. This elevated him to membership of a select band of Scottish rugby internationalists who have also represented Britain in Olympic Games, Ewan having competed at hammer throwing in the London and Helsinki Games of 1948 and 1952.
The most celebrated figure in this group of course is Eric Liddell who earned seven caps at rugby before winning Olympic gold in Paris at 400 metres. in 1924, immortalised in the film ‘Chariots of Fire.’
Another is Robert Lindsay-Watson from Hawick who also competed at hammer throwing in the 1908 London Olympics prior to appearing on the wing for Scotland in 1909 against Ireland. ‘Chris’ Mackintosh also competed in the Paris Olympics at long jump representing Scotland the same year against France while Kenneth Macleod and David Mackenzie, who were both capped several times for Scotland, were also selected for London Olympics in, respectively, 1908 and 1948.
Standing at 6ft 4ins and weighing over 15 stones, as befitted an international hammer thrower, Ewan was a prototype of the modern winger in an era when they were usually relatively slight and elusive. This evoked ‘painful’ memories for the great Bill McLaren who recalled in his autobiography how he had once tried to tackle Ewan in full flight during a wartime ‘7s’ tournament at Inverleith only to be met with “a steam hammer hand-off that almost took my head off my shoulders”.
An outstanding all round sportsman at Fettes College, earning colours at rugby, cricket, hockey and athletics, he went on to study medicine at Edinburgh University where Ewan was described in the ‘Story of Edinburgh University Athletic Club’ as “ an extremely powerful and fast winger … considered the University’s best player.” He captained both the University rugby and athletics teams while attached to the RAF as a cadet.
Ewan made a winning Scotland debut aged 19 against England in 1942 at Inverleith when the Glasgow Herald report stated “… the Edinburgh University youngster did sufficiently well to suggest a really good player in the making.”
A further three matches followed against England at Wembley, Inverleith and Leicester, involving two defeats and a win, while he also played for the ‘Rest of Scotland’ against The Army in 1947 when teammates included McLaren, David and legendary flanker WID Elliot. No inter city fixtures took place during wartime, being replaced by East v West matches in which Ewan represented the East.
Athletics began to take precedence as third place in the hammer at the AAA’s [British Championships] in 1948 earned Ewan a place in the London Olympics and set him on course for sustained success over the next decade.
In summary, he represented Britain internationally 18 times including at two European Championships and Olympic Games, and Scotland in Empire/Commonwealth Games at Vancouver 1954 (where he won a bronze medal) and at Cardiff in 1958.
In addition, he set multiple British and Scottish records and won several Scottish championships and one AAA’s title.
Occasional assistance was received from famous coach Franz Stampfl, who also guided Roger Bannister. Stampfl once instructing him as he stressed the importance of single mindedness, that if he was “halfway through his turns in the circle and his granny suddenly appeared in the way, he should just continue and throw right through her!”
Although Ewan spent much of his life abroad in Australia, France and Spain, he maintained a lifelong interest in Scotland’s sporting fortunes both on the rugby pitch and in the athletics arena.
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