............... About 2 weeks later he was called upon to fly out to replace Richard Sharp who had been badly injured in an illegal tackle. 
To join the Lions HJC flew on a South African Airways Boeing 707 overnight, stopping in Rome and Brazzaville. On arrival in Johannesburg, he was taken to meet Richard Sharp in hospital. He said ‘Richards face was an absolute mess due to the tackle from M. Roux. He looked as if he had been in a car crash. It was the worst rugby injury I had ever seen’ Richard returned home soon afterwards ending his tour. Moving on to join the team at their hotel he soon realised that, as rugby is a religion out there, they were being treated like royalty. Best hotels were booked with full choice of a la carte menus (no healthy food rules in those days!) invitations to private parties at incredible homes, yachts, race meetings – the full works. HJC recalls that the out of pocket expenses permitted to be paid to the players was 50p a day (£3.50 a week) but in truth they did not need more with everything laid on. As players we did not need to touch our kit which was all done by the Baggage Man. HJC records his full admiration for the travelling UK rugby writers who also stayed at their hotels. They observed matters without them ever ‘going to press’ which today would make front page news. They were definitely ‘One of the boys.’

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Willie John McBride, or Bill as he is known to his friends, had his 21st birthday on tour and usually played in the Wednesday team as did HJC. They became good friends on tour and HJC was not surprised when he went on to become the legend he is now. They met again with Syd Millar in Ballymena Northern Ireland where HJC was controlling parachute drops for the Paras on duty there. 

Lions about to go digging for gold

HJC’s memories of the tour are;


1. Riding an ostrich and standing on its egg.

2. Swimming in the sea in Durban, surrounded by shark nets.

3. Shooting antelope and game birds which were cooked by the hotel and served up for dinner.

4. Attending the many braiivleis (barbecues) to eat his favourite food – grilled meat.

5. Being driven in large American cars at 100mph on the open road only to drop to 20mph to crawl through small villages.

6. The effect of altitude on breathing which made the lungs feel as if they were going to burst. Craftily the SA authorities planned the tour so that we played at sea level, then up to 6000ft ASL for the next match and then back to sea level and so on.

7. The additional distance one could kick the ball at altitude.

8. The grass burns on the knees and legs received when playing on dry turf. The next day, they stiffened up and had a very significant effect on free movement.

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Playing in Rhodesia HJC had received a tackle which left him with a very sore toe! On returning home, he saw four doctors, in four different hospitals, had countless x rays only to be told that it was bruised. HJC knew that something else was wrong so whilst on a course at RAF St. Athan near Cardiff, he went to the Cardiff RFC clubhouse one evening and met Bleddyn Williams. When told of the toe problem Bleddyn referred him to the Cardiff and Wales renowned physiotherapist Ray Lewis. Within 5 minutes Ray discovered that he had dislocated the end digit of the toe, pulled it back, put some zinc oxide plaster on it and sent on his way. HJC says ‘without his help I may not have been able to join the Lions.’


HJC with a gold ingot - the Lions were challenged by the Mine Management to pick up the ingot with only one hand. If they could do so, they could keep it. - No-one succeeded and they had to continue to live on their meagre tour allowance.  



“ John Brown and Kenny Jones, who scored that tremendous try at Ellis Park, could be the most devastating attacking pair South Africa has seen this winter “



HJC’s and Richard Sharpe’s is so eloquently told below by Alan Hughes, the rugby writer from Neath. A sunny afternoon at Twickenham, rugby’s headquarters, in 1963 during the second half of the Calcutta cup match between England and Scotland, still, in these days of professionalism that most charismatic of fixtures. There are other matches of course, which claim a greater importance, notably the tri-nations series in the southern hemisphere between South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, but of all rugby’s annual meetings, infused as it is with the inherent and unique charm of the six nations, it is the Calcutta cup that stands apart.

A scrum near the right hand touchline saw  England win possession and the ball spun to the English fly half Richard Sharp. The next 20 seconds saw Sharp enshrined forever in Twickenham folklore. 

A deft show of the ball to his centre before slicing majestically through the Scottish inside backs to take him clear, and up to the Scottish full back with a man spare on his outside. Here, we thought was going to be a superb try for England’s left wing, only for Sharp to hold the ball back with a delightful dummy and swerve, and cross unopposed half way out. 

It was an English try that has been recalled often with a wistful nostalgia given to few in Twickenham’s history. Among others, one thinks of the impossibly romantic Russian prince, Alex Obolensky, on England’s right wing, crossing diagonally from one touch line to the other to score against New Zealand in 1936, and Andy Hancock’s meandering run from deep within his own territory in the last minute of injury time to rob Scotland in 1965, but for the panache of its execution, and its sheer mesmeric beauty it is surely Sharp’s that is the best. 

Twickenham, then of course was the bastion of amateurism, and rugby at the highest level in its officialdom and infrastructure was still clinging largely to being the preserve of the public schools. 

God was in his heaven, and all was well with the world therefore, when Sharp, charming and articulate with flaxen hair flowing and reading geography at Oxford made his memorable mark. He was, it seemed rather fittingly, given the era's prevailing mindset the right type of man to score a splendid try at headquarters. 

In Time and the Conway’s, J.B Priestley writes of those seminal moments, some seemingly unimportant, which, given the juxtaposition of place, time and circumstance can change ones life and destiny. Such a moment was Sharp’s at Twickenham and its indirect impact on John Brown, destined to be Sharp’s replacement on the British Lions tour to South Africa in 1962. 

It was Browns misfortune, in place, time and circumstance, to be around when Sharp and others were playing at their best, and to be injured at one of those moments, when he was worthy and capable of playing for his country. 

H.J.C as he was to become affectionately known was born on the 4th December 1935 and first gained junior representative honours for England Schools against Wales at Cardiff Arms Park in 1953. Others honours followed, for Somerset , before he captained St. Luke’s College Exeter in 1958. In 1959 he joined Blackheath, still in this day and age an establishment of Corinthian values and the most famous and historic of names, who share with Guy’s Hospital and Neath the honour of being one of the games oldest clubs. 

Brown had become one of the most gifted and robust young centre three quarters in the English game. He had joined the RAF in 1960 and continued his rugby career with appearances for the combined services before joining the Harlequins in 1963. In 1962 he had toured South Wales with the Barbarians on their Easter tour, a long established and fondly remembered tradition that was a cornerstone of the amateur days and famed for its lavish hospitality. 

On each Good Friday they played Penarth, then Cardiff on the Saturday and Swansea on Easter Monday before finishing with Newport on the Tuesday and then recovering both physically and mentally from their exertions! 

It was one of those seminal moments, before a trial match for England which was to prove the undoing of Browns dream of playing for his country. He had scored two memorable tries at Banbury in the first of the trials and was selected for the second at Exeter, after which it was confidently expected that he would be awarded the cap that many Englishmen believed was rightfully his, only for his ankle to be broken whilst playing for Middlesex, the county of his birth, against Surrey some weeks before. 

Undaunted, he recovered and pursued his career with enthusiasm, to be rewarded later by being called up as a replacement for Richard Sharp his bête noire, on the 1962 British Isles tour to South Africa during which he made six appearances, typified by the wholehearted approach which had become his hallmark. 

It is to his eternal credit that, as his rugby career entered its twilight years, his resilience and determination was to lead him to represent his country in another sport, requiring another discipline. 

HJC, now flight lieutenant, had become a parachute instructor at Aldershot, and had previously met, as a colleague in the RAF, a fellow officer called Mike Freeman who was a leading figure in the British winter Olympic bobsleigh teams preparation for the 1968 event in Grenoble, and who saw in Brown, a man whom he considered to be ideal in build and temperament for the physical demands required in forging a successful team. Thus it was, that Brown, after many months of training and dedication took his place in the British four-man bobsleigh team for the European championships at St. Moritz in 1968 in which they won the bronze medal, the highest position ever attained by a British four-man bobsleigh team, before he competed at that pinnacle of sporting endeavour, the Olympics at Grenoble in the winter of that year. 

HJC Brown will remember his sporting life with justifiable pride, and we can only imagine that sometimes, like each of us, he will lie awake in the darkness of the small hours and take stock. 

In the armed forces he had served his country with honour and dignity. In rugby it was one of those seminal moments of fate, so redolent of Priestley, and not form, the bitch goddess which had betrayed him, and he never did play for his beloved England, but he had represented this nation with distinction, at the highest level in two different sports, an honour achieved by very few. 

text by Alan Hughes 




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