Life of a Lion: Bill Clement


Life of a Lion: Bill Clement

Every chapter of Bill Clement’s life was storied. Over the course of his 91 years Clement would be awarded an OBE for his services to rugby and a Military Cross for his actions in World War II. 

All of these military achievements came after his rugby career ended early, on tour with The British & Irish Lions in 1938.

Born and raised in Llanelli, Clement’s senior rugby career started early.

After making his Llanelli RFC debut at the age of 19 against Penclawdd in 1934 the wing went on to have a prolific career at Stradey Park, scoring 83 tries for the Turks in four years.

That knack for finding the try line catapulted Clement to greater heights.

His first campaign as a Wales international was not a happy one, where under the captaincy of Claude Davey the side finished at the foot of the table.

A year later there were improved fortunes for Wales, the side finishing second, with Clement scoring his only try for his country against Ireland in what transpired to be his final Test for his country.

Selected for The British & Irish Lions Tour to South Africa at the conclusion of that season, Clement starred in a red jersey thousands of miles from home.

Playing six games in the Southern Hemisphere, the wing crossed the whitewash on four occasions, while his defensive performances earned him widespread praise.

With his reputation at an all-time high, Clement’s career ended in South Africa. A knee injury meant that the 23-year-old had to call time on his career, although in many ways his life was only just beginning.

A year later Germany invaded Poland and sparked the second World War.

Commissioned into the 4th Battalion, the Welch Regiment, in 1939, Clement later took part in the Normandy landings in June 1944 as the Allies began their liberation of France.

A month later, after being promoted to the rank of major, Clement’s actions in battle earned him the Military Cross.

Fighting in the Battle for Caen, Clement was charged with leading one of two Welch Regiment companies down a 900-yard slope as part of a raid on enemy positions in Le Bon Repos.

The company came under heavy fire, the battle largely fought hand-to-hand with all but four of Clement’s company killed or injured and Clement himself wounded in the leg.

Upon the order to withdraw the major waited until each of his men was retrieved and only after returning to their rendezvous received treatment himself.

For that stand Clement was awarded the Military Cross. Injured again after returning to service in the Netherlands, Clement’s service concluded well after the war as a member of the Territorial Army until he reached the age limit for service in 1965.

Following his return from Europe, Clement also qualified as an accountant and began work as district auditor to Brecon City Council and settled in Llanishen.

While life had taken Clement far from rugby for a time, soon enough the Lion was back at the heart of Welsh rugby.

Appointed as Secretary of the Welsh Rugby Union in 1955, the former Llanelli wing was chosen out of 83 applicants to take on the position and quickly became an iconic figure in the sport.

For 119 full internationals Clement’s signature could be found on every international match ticket, something which meant you were on your way to watch Wales.

By the conclusion of his tenure with the WRU Clement was regarded as one of rugby’s greatest administrators having overseen the restoration of Cardiff Arms Park and an unprecedented period of success.

Wales won nine Five Nations Championships, three Grand Slams and seven Triple Crowns.

It was a period christened as the ‘Second Golden Age of Welsh rugby’ which saw Clement recognised as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to rugby upon his retirement in 1981.

Clement passed away early in 2007 aged 91. He was the oldest surviving Welsh rugby international, a titan of rugby administration and war hero.

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