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Who was Prince Obolensky?

The 1936 British and Irish Lions

Photo: World Rugby Museum

Born in Petrograd (now St Petersburg) in 1917, Prince Alexander Obolensky was the son of an officer of the Tsar’s Imperial Horse Guards and Princess Luba.

Revolutionary upheaval in Russia at the time of the young Prince’s birth forced the family to flee their homeland and they were offered safe passage to England, where they made a home in Muswell Hill, North London.

Alexander played his first rugby at Trent College in Nottinghamshire and went on to represent Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire, Leicester Tigers and Midland Counties.

However, it was as a sporting blue for Oxford University that he first came to the England selectors’ attention in 1935.

A degree of controversy surrounded the granting of British citizenship to the Obolensky family in 1936, but this coincided with the winger representing England against the All Blacks on January 4 at Twickenham.

The game saw England record their first victory over New Zealand, with Obolensky scoring two sensational tries in a 13-0 victory.

Obolensky went on to play for England four times and twice for the Barbarians, also representing the British Forces on their 1936 tour of Argentina and the United States.

Two years later, Alexander answered the call of his adopted country and joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Tragically, he was killed in a training exercise at Martlesham Heath, Suffolk and buried with full service honours at the age of 24 in Ipswich War Cemetery.

A statue providing a lasting tribute to his remarkable life was unveiled in Ipswich in 2009.