Remembering Messines: Reg Taylor and Jim McNeece

New Zealand Rugby     21 Jun 2017    

Two All Blacks were killed in the early days of the Battle, while another two subsequently lost their lives.


The Battle was one of the most significant for New Zealanders on the Western Front, with the New Zealand Division - supported by British and Australian divisions - playing an extensive strategic role. The New Zealand Division suffered 3700 casualties, including 700 killed during the Battle, which started on 7 June 1917. All Blacks Jim Baird and George Sellars were killed on 7 June. On 20 June Reg Taylor died and a day later, Jim McNeece passed away, both having taken part in the initial assault.

Reg Taylor and Jim McNeece made their All Blacks debuts together in Dunedin in September 1913, facing the Australians in a Test at Carisbrook. Taylor was amongst the five tryscorers that day as the All Blacks earned a 25-13 win.

Reginald Taylor was born in Hillsborough in 1889. He attended Inglewood School in Taranaki and played for Waimate, Kaponga and Clifton Clubs. It was in amber and black that he made his first class debut in 1910 and he went on to play 34 games for Taranaki. He was part of the side that ended Auckland's first big Ranfurly Shield reign (1905-13) and defended the Shield against seven challengers.

Taylor won selection in the All Blacks to face Australia in 1913, having faced them for Taranaki as well. A wing forward, Taylor played in the second and third Tests in that series, scoring a try on debut. He was not required for the 1914 tour of Australia and did not appear again in black.

Taylor enlisted in 1915 and left New Zealand in August that year with the Otago Infantry Battalion. He later joined the Wellington Regiment of the New Zealand Division and went to France in 1916, where he served as a Lance Corporal. He died in Messines aged 28.

Learn more about Reg Taylor.

James McNeece was a proud, rugged Southlander, born in 1885. Tall for the time at 1.88m and extremely athletic, he played 19 times for Southland between 1905 and 1913 and also represented the province at cricket.

In 1913, Southland beat the touring Australian side and McNeece's performance was good enough to attract the eye of the All Blacks selectors for the second Test in Dunedin. He donned the black jersey again the following year for nine games in Australia, finishing with 11 matches, including five Tests.

McNeece was one of the 1914 All Blacks who toured Australia and on the boat home, following news of the outbreak of the War, agreed to enlist. He signed up in June 1916, enlisting with the Otago Infantry Regiment. McNeece fought during the assault on Messines and was shot on 8 June. He died of his wounds and tetanus 13 days later, aged 31.

Learn more about Jim McNeece 

Marking the milestones

With WW100 milestones being marked locally and internationally through to the end of 2018, New Zealand Rugby has identified key milestones with rugby connections around which commemorative activity will be anchored, including increased recognition of Anzac Day during home Investec Super Rugby matches, marking the deaths of the first All Black in battle in August 2015 and of Dave Gallaher, Captain of the 1905 All Blacks side in October 2017. For more information about what New Zealand Rugby is doing, see

For more information on Bair and Sellars, click on each man's online profile and Last Post: Rugby's Wartime Roll Call by Ron Palenski (2011) New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame, Dunedin.