August this year (2024) will mark the 8oth anniversary of the sad death of a long-forgotten Welsh sportsman, the unparalleled Maurice Turnbull, who was killed in action in France at the climax of World War Two.

The Headstone in Bayeux

I believe Maurice to be unparalleled not just in Wales but across the British Isles, because he has the unique distinction of having been a ‘quadruple international’, being the only man to play Test Cricket for England and Rugby Union for Wales and also Squash and Hockey for Wales, a feat that has not been surpassed by any other British sportsman.


It can be difficult to compare players from different eras, but Simon Hughes, commenting in The Cricketer magazine in 2017 believes that ,

It can be somewhat subjective, but if you use the statistics and reportage astutely you can still come up with a coherent argument.

Maurice Joseph Lawson Turnbull was born in Cardiff in 1906 into a family of ship owners and was privately educated at Downside School in Somerset, where he excelled at a range of sports, representing the school at Rugby Union, Cricket, Tennis, Hockey and Boxing. Maurice was also a devout catholic and was very much the epitome of ‘The Muscular Christian’, who saw the moral and religious value in sport and that physical exercise was a very effective way of building character, specifically physical and moral courage and the ability to act fairly.

Downside School, Somerset


From Downside, Maurice attended Trinity College Cambridge where he continued his love of sport, gaining a ‘blue’ for Hockey and three international caps for Wales, (following in the footsteps of his father who had captained Wales to a bronze medal at the 1908 Olympics) and three ‘blues’ for Cricket, captaining the University team in his final year.


Andrew Hignell in his excellent biography, ‘Turnbull: A Welsh Sporting Hero’(first published in 2001) believes however that,

His hockey was doomed to disappointment as he was competing for selection against players focusing solely on hockey

Who knows how many international hockey matches Maurice may have played in if he had not pursued his other sporting passions to elite level?

After University he was made captain of Glamorgan County Cricket Club (having made his debut in 1924 while still at school) and continued in the role for ten years, during which he became the first player born in the county to be selected for England.

Had he not pursued a career in Cricket, Maurice had planned to work in the Stock Exchange, but he also showed a strong interest in journalism by writing a regular column reporting on rugby matches for The Saturday Telegraph and The Daily Express; he also wrote two books on cricket and contributed articles to The Welsh Catholic Times.

He was first selected for the MCC tour to Australasia in 1929 and made his test debut in Christchurch in January 1930 and would play in eight more tests over the next six years, later becoming a test selector.

MCC 1930
Courtesy of Andew Hignall

During his first class cricket career, Maurice would amass 17, 544 runs in 388 matches which included 29 centuries and 82 ‘50’s’ and over 300 catches; he was one of Wisden’s ‘Cricketers of the Year’ in 1931 and was described as ‘ The best of his generation who never captained England’.

Alongside his cricket career, Maurice also pursued his passion for Rugby Union having played at school and at Cambridge and briefly for London Welsh, but it was while playing for Cardiff RFC, that he was selected twice for Wales at scrum half in 1933, being a member of the first Welsh team to win at Twickenham on his debut; he would continue to play for Cardiff until 1935 alongside his five brothers.

England v Wales in 1933
The first time Wales had beaten England at Twickenham
Courtesy of Andrew Hignell

On retiring from rugby he turned his attention to yet another sport- squash. Maurice led a consortium of family and local businessmen in Cardiff in the creation of ‘The Cardiff Squash Rackets Club’ in the capital in 1936 and proved to be an excellent player,(having played at school and university) again representing Wales and winning the National title in 1938.

Maurice married Elizabeth Brooke in October 1939, having brought the date forward due to the outbreak of war in September and joined the Welsh Guards as a ‘Second Lieutenant’ a month later and started basic training in Colchester; they would have three children, Sara, Simon and Georgina and he would eventually rise to the rank of Major.

However, Maurice was sadly killed in action on 5th August 1944 at the age of 38. His death was described in the Epilogue of Andrew Hignell’s biography:

Major Maurice Turnbull was one of over one hundred casualties sustained by the Welsh Guards as they fought in and around the village of Montchamp in Normandy. Many of the fatalities were in the Panzer led counter-attack on the evening of 5th August 1944.

His commanding officer John Vigar said of Maurice,

We have lost a very great friend and a true leader of men right to the very end

News of his death, ‘filtered through to the crowd at the Arms Park in Cardiff and the crowd simultaneously rose and stood in a minute’s silence in tribute to a man whose life had been devoted to Welsh sport. His body was buried in the military cemetery in Bayeux.

One year later a memorial cricket match was organised at Cardiff Arms Park between a Glamorgan team and a West of England team led by the Gloucestershire and England cricketer Wally Hammond as a ‘public farewell’ from the Cricket Club. Maurice was inducted into the ‘Welsh Sport Hall of Fame’ in 1994, his greatest legacy being his contribution to Glamorgan CCC.

So, begs the question, is there anyone in the history of British Sport that can rival Maurice’s achievements across such a diverse range of sports or can he, in my opinion rightly assume the title of ‘Britain’s most complete all-round sportsman?’

First and foremost there is one British WOMAN that could arguably rival him and that is Lottie Dod known as ‘The Little Wonder’ (1871-1960).

Lottie Dod

Lottie was the youngest ever Wimbledon Ladies Singles Champion aged 15 and would win the title 5 times between 1887 and 1893 and would also win several doubles titles with her sister Annie. She was elected to the ‘International Tennis Hall of Fame’ in 1983. She became captain of the Cheshire County Hockey team and played the first of two international matches for England in 1899 scoring both goals in 2-1 victory over Ireland. Lottie won the British Ladies Amateur Golf Championship in 1904, becoming the first and only to date, woman to win both British tennis and golf championships. In 1905 she joined an Archery club in Newbury and her performances in the 1908 season earned her a place on the Olympic team where she won a silver medal at the London Games.

But, what of the men?

In the late nineteenth century it was quite common for men from the middle and upper classes, to participate in several sports, often to international standard and in most cases at an amateur level. Their position in society afforded them access as these men had attended Public Schools, such as Eton, Harrow, Winchester, Charterhouse and Rugby, where they were first introduced to the notion of competitive sport and continued this involvement often at either Oxford or Cambridge University where they were able to play a range of sports due to the seasonal organisation of fixtures.

Many continued to play after leaving university and from the late 1860’s onwards, became very influential in setting up clubs and standardising rules leading to the organisation of many National Governing Bodies such as The Football Association, The Rugby Football Union and The Hockey Association, eventually leading to international competition; England played their first  Rugby International v Scotland in 1871, Scotland played England in the first Football International in 1872, the first cricket test on British soil was in 1880 and Ireland took on Wales in the first Hockey International in 1886.

It was not therefore, uncommon for men to play to a high level in more than one sport, often being referred to as ‘Gentleman Amateurs’, who played sport primarily for enjoyment and recreation.

Dr Alex Jackson at the National Football Museum recognises this as

The creation of the amateur/professional divide and that competing across multiple sports required a great deal of time and money and that the growing level of professionalism, particularly amongst the working classes, made it harder for them to compete in more than one sport.

The following are an elite group of British sportsmen, who over the past 150 years, have performed to a high level across a range of different sports and can quite rightly be classed as polymaths of British sport; but can they rival the  diverse achievements of Maurice Turnbull?

A.N ‘Monkey’ Hornby

A.N ‘Monkey’ Hornby (1847-1925) was the first of only two men to captain England at Cricket and Rugby ( AE Stoddart being the other). He played in 3 Cricket tests and is remembered as the captain whose team lost the match in 1882 which gave rise to ‘The Ashes!’ He also played 9 times for England’s Rugby team and also found time to play football for Blackburn Rovers; he was also a keen boxer and runner.

Dr W.G Grace

Dr W.G Grace (1848-1915) was known to many as ‘The Father of English Cricket’ and was the epitome of ‘The Gentleman Amateur!’  Throughout his long career he played in 22 Test matches for England and over 800 first -class matches  for, amongst many others, the MCC and Gloucestershire, amassing over 50,000 runs  and over 2,000 wickets, between 1869 and 1914, scoring England’s ‘first test century’ in 1880 against Australia. Alongside cricket, Grace was an accomplished athlete, winning the 440 yards hurdles title at ‘The National Olympian Games’ at Crystal Palace in 1866. He also played football for Wanderers and was a keen golfer and lawn bowler.

Frank Sugg

Frank Sugg (1862-1933 )was a notable footballer and cricketer, who played for several clubs including Everton, Derby County, Burnley and Bolton Wanderers, usually located near to where his Cricket career took him! He played in two test matches for England in 1888 and for three County Cricket Clubs- Yorkshire, Lancashire and Derbyshire. Due to his physical prowess, Frank also took part in weightlifting, long distance swimming and the shot put and also held a record for ‘throwing the cricket ball.

Andrew (AE) Stoddart

Andrew (AE) Stoddart (1863-1915) has the unique distinction in captaining England in three different sports; Cricket, Rugby Union and Australian Rules Football. Stoddard played Cricket for England between 1888 and 1898, playing in 16 tests and captained the team on 8 occasions; he was ‘Wisden Cricketer of the Year’ in 1893. In 1888 he took over the captaincy of the first British Isles tour of Australasia and also led the squad in an Australian Rules match in Melbourne, to which he apparently adapted seamlessly. He would play in 10 Rugby international matches for England captaining on 4 occasions and in 1890 he became a founding member of ‘The Barbarians Football Club’ and has been considered to be, ‘England’s Finest Sportsman!’

Arthur Wharton

Arthur Wharton (1865-1930) was the world’s first black professional footballer, who played for a range of football clubs in the north of England in the late 19th century including Darlington and was also a gifted all-round sportsman, but perhaps due to the colour of his skin never played at international level. In 1886 he set the first world record for the 100 yards with a time of 10 seconds in the AAA Championships and retained his title the following year. He played cricket professionally in the northern leagues and was also a very keen cyclist.

Charles Burgess Fry

Charles Burgess (CB) Fry (1872-1956) , was another Victorian multi-sportsman, described as ‘probably the most variously gifted Englishman of any age.’ At Oxford he gained a total of 12 ‘sporting blues’ and in one year he captained the football, athletics and cricket teams. He would play football for ‘The Corinthians’ before signing professionally for Southampton and would go on to gain one cap for England in 1901.He was also a brilliant Track and Field athlete and equalled the ‘world long jump record’ with a jump of 7m 17cm in 1893, but it was on the cricket field where he would excel, playing in 26 tests in a 16 year career. Fry captained Sussex and England and never lost a test match when in charge. He scored more than 30,000 runs during his career and at his peak in 1901, he scored over 3, 000 runs at an average of 71 runs per innings and an unparalleled 6 centuries in 6 consecutive innings, a record that still remains to this day.

Gilbert Laird Jessop

Gilbert Laird Jessop (1874-1955) was considered to be, ‘The most remarkable hitter cricket has ever produced!’ and was Wisden cricketer of the Year in 1898.Jessop, known as ‘The Croucher’ due to his batting stance, played 18 tests for England and still holds the record for the fastest century in a test by an Englishman scoring 100 runs off 76 balls in the 1902 Oval Ashes Test. He captained Cambridge University and Gloucestershire, but was also a true polymath; he got a ‘blue’ as a hockey goalkeeper, he played Football for the Casuals, Rugby Union for Gloucester RFC, could run 100 yards in 10.2 seconds and played in the British Amateur Golf Championships in 1914.

Max Woosnam

Max Woosnam( 1892-1965) has been referred to as, ‘The Greatest British Sportsman’ in respect to his varied achievements. As a schoolboy he scored 144 against the MCC at Lord’s for the ‘Public Schools XI’ and at Cambridge he became a ‘Quadruple blue’ representing the University at Football, Cricket, Lawn Tennis and Real Tennis. From University he played football firstly for The Corinthians before signing for Manchester City in 1920, which eventually led to England caps at both amateur and full international level captaining his country against Wales in 1922; a broken leg ended his football career. He won Olympic Gold and Silver at the 1920 Antwerp Games in the Lawn Tennis competition and won the Wimbledon Doubles title a year later; in the same year he also captained the British Davis Cup team in the US.

Micky Walford

Perhaps a name that is not as well known is that of Micky Walford (1915-2002) who is considered by many to be ‘one of the last truly amateur sportsman to hold down a serious job’; Walford was a teacher at Sherborne School. At Oxford in the 1930’s, he played three times against Cambridge at Rugby and hockey and twice at Cricket, while studying at Trinity College. Walford was a ‘travelling reserve’ on several occasions for the England rugby team, but was never capped as his position was firmly occupied by Prince Obolensky ‘The Flying Russian’. He became a history teacher after the war and was selected for the Great Britain Hockey team at the London Olympics in 1948, winning a silver medal; he gained 17 England caps, captaining the team on several occasions. It was however as a cricketer for Oxford University and Somerset that he was perhaps more widely known and would score over 5,000 runs with a highest score of 264 during his career; when he became too old for first class cricket, he played for Dorset in the Minor Counties until he was 46.

Eric Liddell

Eric Liddell (1902-1945) was a Scottish ‘dual international’, making 7 appearances for the Scotland Rugby Union team in 1922/23, followed by a gold medal in the 400m and a Bronze in the 200m at the 1924 Paris Olympics for GB. He would be immortalised in the film ‘Chariots of Fire!’ in 1981.

Kenneth Gander-Dower

Kenneth Gander-Dower (1908-1944) was a leading English sportsman in the 1930’s specialising in a range of racket sports. He competed at Wimbledon and The French Tennis championships, but it was at Queens Club in London in 1932 where he had his greatest success defeating the Australian Harry Hopman in the final. He would win the British Amateur Squash title in 1938 and twice won the Kinnaird Cup at Eton Fives; he was also an excellent exponent of ‘Real Tennis’.

JC Masterman

JC Masterman (1909-1977) was extremely talented across six different sports, gaining four international ‘caps’ for England at Hockey, representing England at Tennis and playing at Wimbledon, a ‘scratch’ golfer, equally skilled at Squash, an ‘Oxford blue’ for Athletics and a cricketer for the MCC. However, he is best remembered as the man responsible for the deployment of ‘double agents’ for MI5, during WW2 as Chairman of The Twenty Committee.

Norman Borrett

Norman Borrett (1917-2004) is another who ranks as one of  ‘Britain’s great all –rounders’ gaining two hockey and three squash blues at Cambridge and won the first of his 30 England hockey caps in 1939; he also captained Great Britain to a silver medal at the 1948 London Olympics. Borrett also captained the England Squash team and won the British Amateur Championships between 1946 and 1950. He played First Class Cricket for Essex before the war and then Minor Counties for Devon and had a Golf handicap of 4; he also gained enough wins to qualify for Wimbledon but couldn’t find the time to compete!

Dennis Compton

Dennis Compton (1918-1997) was one of a ‘vanished breed’ of sportsman playing two sports to a high level in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.  In a career spanning over 20 years, he played in 78 tests for England, scoring 17 centuries. He also played on the wing for Arsenal, making 54 appearances, which included the league title in 1948 and the FA Cup final in 1950. Compton did represent England at Football during the war, but unfortunately the matches were not officially recognised by the F.A.

Dr Kevin O’Flanagan

Dr Kevin O’Flanagan (1919-2006) made the first of 4 appearances for Ireland at Football, scoring in a World Cup qualifier against Norway(playing as an amateur) at the age of 18. In the 1938/9 season, he scored a record 34 Irish League goals and in the same season won the Irish 60 yards and Long Jump National titles. Post –War practising medicine in London, O’Flanagan played as an amateur for Arsenal and at the same time as a wing three quarter for London Irish. On successive Saturdays in 1946, he played for Ireland against Scotland at Football and against France at Rugby Union.

Ken Jones

Ken Jones(1921-2006) was a ‘dual international’ in Athletics and Rugby Union. In 1947 he made his debut for Wales in The Five Nations Tournament and played 44 times, of which 43 were consecutive! He was also selected for The British Lions Tour of Australasia in 1950, however he is best remembered as the scorer of the winning try for Wales against the All Blacks in 1953( the last time that Wales beat them). He represented GB in Athletics at the 1948 London Olympics and gained a silver medal as the ‘anchor’ in the 4 x 100 m relay. As an athlete he held a multiple of Welsh titles and also won a silver medal in The European Championships in 1954 and a bronze at The Empire Games in Vancouver. In 1990 he was one of the first ten inductees to the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame.

MJK Smith

MJK Smith (1933-) scored three centuries in three consecutive Varsity Matches between 1954 and 1956. He played 50 tests for England captaining the team on 25 occasions. He also represented England at Rugby Union in 1956 gaining 1 cap against Wales, making him England’s last ‘dual international.

Peter ‘PJ’ Wilson

Peter ‘PJ’ Wilson (1942-2024) was one of Wales’ greatest hockey players, amassing 87 caps during his fifteen years in the team.  He was also an Olympian and represented GB in Mexico in 1968 and was the only British player to be selected for ‘The European XI’ who played Asia to mark the 50th anniversary of the FIH (Federation of International Hockey) in 1974. PJ played in two first-class cricket matches for Oxford University and was an international squash player for Wales. He was also talented at football, tennis and golf and in his obituary, The Times newspaper described him as, ‘Britain’s greatest sporting all-rounder of the post-war period.

Ian Botham

Ian Botham (1955-) Played in 102 test matches for England and was one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year in 1978. He was the epitome of the ‘Cricket All-Rounder’, scoring over 5,000 test runs and taking 383 wickets and was also captain of the national team on 12 occasions during his career. He is probably best known for his performance in the 3rd Ashes Test at Headingly in 1981, where against all odds he scored a magnificent 149 not out off 148 balls; England triumphed and went on to win the series 3-1. Botham was also an accomplished footballer and played both for Yeovil Town and Scunthorpe United at the height of his cricket career! It was while he was at Yeovil in 1984, that he was selected to play for a ‘Football Association XI against the ‘Northern Football League’.

Daley Thompson

Daley Thompson (1958-) is a double Olympic gold medallist and former World Champion in the Decathlon, breaking the World Record on four occasions and remaining unbeaten for 9 years. At the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, his ‘personal bests’ in the 100m,110m hurdles, pole vault and long jump, were good enough for him to have represented GB in those individual events.

Nigel Walker

Nigel Walker (1963-) is Britain’s most recent ‘dual international’, initially representing GB in Athletics at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics in the 110m hurdles. He achieved a bronze medal in the 60m Hurdles at The World Indoor Athletics Championships in the USA and a bronze at The European Indoor Championships in France in 1987. On retirement from Athletics he turned his attention to Rugby Union and gained the first of 17 caps for Wales in 1993 against Ireland in The Five Nations Tournament, playing his final match in 1997.


In the latter part of the 20th century however, it began to emerge that pursuing more than one sport to elite level was becoming virtually impossible due predominantly to time constraints and money.

Dr Andy Carter suggests that this was because

…professionalism had raised standards to the point where specialisation and full –time commitment to a single sport had become the key to success, everything ‘The Gentleman Amateur of the past despised.

Sports Historian Robert Lake believes that,

…training expectations have increased, meaning athletes now have less time to develop their talents in more than one sport. Moreover the physical toll on their body means many can’t handle it so go all in on just one sport. The seasons have lengthened in some respects creating time pressure and many coaches now demand the athlete to specialise at a much younger age and professional athletes are now contractually obligated to avoid playing another sport for fear of injury.

… and Dr Alex Jackson

The increasing requirement to specialise, makes it impossible to compete across multiple sports today because of how elite pathways are accessed and gate-kept from an early age.

The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw great changes in Britain, undoubtedly helping to lay the foundation for the emergence of organised sports and Maurice Turnbull was unquestionably a product of that system.

A combination of his social class, natural ability and exposure to such a wide range of sports at school followed by his opportunities at Cambridge University, provided him with the platform to pursue several sports to elite level; what makes Maurice unique is the fact that his chosen sports were so diverse, combining contact sports with stick, bat and racket something that I believe, no one else was doing or has done since, at that level.

Therefore, we are unlikely to ever see anyone rival his incredible achievements of almost a century ago.

Maurice Turnbull (1906-1944)
Britain’s most complete all-round sportsman
Image courtesy of Andrew Hignell


Article Copyright of Bill Williams