Born: 17th February 1916, Petrograd, Russia.
Alexander was a Russian Rurikid Prince of the Rurik dynasty. The surname Obolensky is said to derive from the town of Oblensk in the Upper Oka Principalities near Moscow. The coat of arms is composed of the emblems of Kiev and Chernigov.
His father was an officer in Tsar Nicholas II’s Imperial Horse Guards, and became an aide-de-camp to the Governor General of Moscow.
Alexander’s family fled from Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, when the peasants and working class people of Russia, led by Vladimir Lenin and a group of revolutionaries, revolted against the government of Tsar Nicholas II. The Obolensky family made their new home at Muswell Hill, London.
Died: 29th March 1940; age: 24; on landing P/O Prince Obolensky over-ran the Martlesham Heath aerodrome boundary and overturned and was killed instantly, neck being broken. Aircraft did not catch fire and was not a complete write off.
Inquest – Medical evidence was that the Prince’s injuries included a fracture at the base of the skull and a dislocated neck. Coroner Mr. Bernard Pretty – inquest held in private in accordance with Air Ministry instructions.
The Prince was given a commission in 1938.
Rank: Pilot Officer/Pilot; Service Number: 91075.
Regiment: Royal Air Force (Auxiliary Air Force), 504 Squadron.
Funeral held on Monday, 1st April 1940.
Relatives Notified & Address: Son of H.H. Prince Sergei Obolensky & of H.H. Princess Lubov Obolensky, of Muswell Hill, Middlesex.
Father: H.H. Prince Sergei Alexandrovich Obolensky, born February 1879, Moscow, Russia.
Mother: H.H. Princess Lubov Alexandrovna Obolensky (nee Naryschkine), born January 1890, St. Petersburg, Russia.
1932 unbeaten rugby team with Obolensky
The Times – Trent newspaper clipping 14 December 1932
Alexander was a pupil and boarder at the Ashe Boys’ Preparatory School, at Etwall, Derbyshire. He then went up to Trent College, Long Eaton, Derbyshire – entered 1929 – leaving 1934. He was a pupil in Wright House. As well as playing rugby very well, he also played hockey and cricket. At Trent College he was a member of the unbeaten 1932 1st XV rugby team which played 18 games, won 17, drew 1; points for 539, against only 22.
In February 2008, Trent College opened the Prince Obolensky dining hall/meeting place in his memory, and every year the college presents an award to an outstanding member of Wright House, of which he was a member.
The Times – Trent newspaper clipping 25 November 1932
1930s Trent Hockey Team Photograph
1930s Trent Cricket Team Photograph
His brother, H.H. Prince Theodore Obolensky (born 1919, London), followed him at Trent College. He too was a good Rugby player. In 1937, Prince Theodore joined the British Army as a Private, for the Royal Fusiliers.
Trent College information and photographs courtesy of David Pinney, volunteer archivist.
Whilst at Trent College, Alexander began to play Rugby for Chesterfield Rugby Union F.C.
Information courtesy of Graham Bell http://www.pitchero.com/clubs/chesterfieldpanthers
Alexander already had a reputation as a Rugby player when he matriculated in Michaelmas 1934 and went up to Brasenose College, University of Oxford. Where he held a College Exhibition and read Politics, Philosophy and Economics. Alexander resided on Staircase VII, room 4 from Michaelmas 1934 – Trinity Term 1935. From Michaelmas 1935 he resided in St. Mary’s Entry, room 5. Whilst at the college he enjoyed the ivy beer tradition on Ascension Day, just as students today still do. As a wing/three quarter he went on to win two Blues at the University, in 1935 and 1937, missing out in 1936 due to injury. The Prince played Rugby for England whilst he was still a second year undergraduate. His brilliance on the rugby field continued to grow, as his academic studies suffered; he achieved a fourth class degree (BA Oxon), in 1938. Alexander removed his name from the college books on the 17th November 1938.
Whilst at Brasenose College he learned to fly as a member of the University Air Squadron.
Extra information and extracts from The Brazen Nose courtesy of Helen Sumping – Archivist for Brasenose College https://www.bnc.ox.ac.uk/
From The Brazen Nose vol. VII no.2 (Jun 1940) p30:
Alex Obolensky was, it seems, our first fatal Brasenose casualty in this War. When he was killed in a flying accident while on service in this country, there were hundreds, who shared in the grief at his loss, to whom the very name of Brasenose College can hardly have been known. And the attractiveness of his personality to the followers of Rugby football was probably founded, even for the mere spectator who never at all came to close quarters with him, on something more than the obvious claim of his skill as a player. Certainly the admiration which he attracted from them had always in it a quality of real affection, such as skill alone cannot command. But those of us who knew him here, whether as contemporary or as pupil, can judge best of all how well he deserved, as a man, the popularity which he enjoyed.
From The Brazen Nose vol. VII no.3 (November 1940) pp80-81:
Pilot-officer Prince ALEXANDER OBOLENSKY came up to B.N.C. in October 1934 from Trent College. His reputation as a rugger player preceded him, and it was not long before he made his mark in representative football.
He possessed phenomenal speed which once drew from a mechanically minded spectator the remark, ‘By Jove, what acceleration! I’ve a good mind to sell my Bugatti and buy an Obolensky.’ But in addition to his speed he had the true footballer’s instinct and anticipation, and there were few reports of big matches that did not contain particular reference to at least one brilliant piece of work on his part. This in itself supports the theory, held by many, that he was an unlucky player, in so far as he was given few chances of distinguishing himself, and had to make his own openings, a difficult thing for a wing three-quarter. This was no doubt due to the fact that owing to his reputation he was always carefully ‘policed’ by the opposition, and this fact may have accounted in part for the ‘insides’ with whom he played seldom giving him the opportunities that his speed and dash deserved.
Many was the game that left Obolensky, when the final whistle blew, the coldest and least mud-bespattered player on the field, unless he had been able to appear from nowhere to bring off a spectacular tackle in defence, often on the opposite wing.
He represented the University in 1935 and 1937, injury keeping him out of the team in 1936, and he played in all the English International matches of 1935.
It is as a rugger player that most people will remember him, for he was the ‘idol’ of the crowds, who called him ‘Obo,’ and of the Sporting Press, which referred to him as the ‘Flying Prince.’ But at B.N.C. he will be remembered as a popular member of his generation.
He assisted the Hornets on occasion, graced the P.C.R. at their meetings, whilst only the most expert Bridge players could afford to accept a second invitation to the ‘digs’ he shared with Roger Kimpton and Desmond Magill.
But Obolensky’s interests were not confined to games. He had probed, if not deeply, at any rate seriously into many problems. The fourth class which he eventually obtained in Modern Greats may have been a true reflection on his industry – it certainly was not of his intellectual ability.
Whilst at the University he was an enthusiastic member of the O.U. Air Squadron, and when war broke out he joined the R.A.F. Had it not been for his untimely end in an accident on 29th March, 1940, there is little doubt that we should have already read in the papers of as thrilling exhibitions of nerve and skill in the air as we remember on the Iffley Road Ground.
Between 1934 – 1939, Alexander played Rugby for Leicester Tigers. He scored 12 tries in 17 games. The Leicester Tigers are setting up a war memorial for players who represented both their club and the Baa Baa’s. The statue is due to be unveiled in November 2018.
TOUR of ARGENTINA – 1936.
Departing from the Port of London, on the 20th June 1936, Alexander, a student, aged 20, of Brasenose College, Oxford, travelled First Class on board the ‘Andalucia Star’ of the Blue Star Line Ltd – Master – R. Vernon. His destination was Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Alexander had been picked as part of the British Lions team for the Tour of Argentina. The tour was managed by Douglas Prentice, and captained by Bernard Gadney, both of the Leicester Tigers. The British Lions team made up of 7 English, 2 Irish and 2 Scottish players played ten arranged matches during the tour. Nine of which were against club and combined teams, and one match took on the Argentina national team. The British Lions won all the matches, scoring 399 points and conceding only 12.
At the end of the Tour of Argentina, Alexander embarked for his journey home at the Port of Buenos Aires. He travelled First Class on board ‘Avila Star’ of the Blue Star Line Ltd., and arrived at the Port of London, on the 17th September 1936.
After graduating Alexander donned the Red and White hoops of Rosslyn Park Football Club, a Rugby Union club based in London. The clubhouse now has a bar named in his honour.
RUGBY’S GREAT LOSS – Press reports kept by Rosslyn Park F.C. archives courtesy of David Whittam http://rosslynpark.co.uk/
I am not sure that the Rugby game has ever had a bigger “gate” attraction than the late Prince Alexander Obolensky. To include Obo’s” name in the programme was almost to ensure a good gate in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland a murmur would go round when a team that included him came on, everybody saying “Which one is Obolensky?” Of course his name helped a little in this extraordinary reputation. But there was always the expectation of some thrilling and spectacular football. But there was always the exception of some thrilling and spectacular football, generally of an individual nature, and all crowds love a personality. Possesses of splendid physique, attractive by his shock of fair hair, a glorious runner, unorthodox in his tackles, and very fast, he was always most interesting to watch. Perharps the amazing try that he scored for England against New Zealand in 1936 was his crowning effort, when he cut in from the night and running across his opponents, touched down between the posts after beating more than half a dozen opponents. I have never heard such a shout at Twickenham as the crowd gave him.
The death of Prince A. Obolensky, England’s wing three-quarter, hung over this otherwise very cheery afternoon’s sport at Richmond yesterday. So long has he been an outstanding figure, and so recently was he playing on this very ground, that we could hardly believe that we should no more see this fine, upstanding, spectacular and most attractive player providing us with the thrills he has been giving us for so many years. We all mourn his loss deeply.
In 2006, O’Brien Press Ltd., published a children’s fiction book about Alexander Obolensky, by Gerard Siggins, an author of several books about rugby, titled
Haunting history, thrilling tries
Eoin and his new friends are taken on a trip to Twickenham to play & watch rugby. There, he meets a ghost: Prince Obolensky, a Russian who played rugby for England, scored a world famous try against New Zealand in Twickenham and later joined the RAF and died in WW2.
You Tube video:
On Wednesday, 18th February 2009, a sculpture of Prince Alexander Obolensky was unveiled at Cromwell Square, St. Nicholas’s Street, Ipswich, by his niece Princess Alexandra Obolensky.
The statue had been the idea of James Hehir OBE, chief executive of Ipswich Borough Council, and a rugby fan. James had been surprised to learn during a conversation at Twickenham, that Prince Alexander Obolensky, who had played and died for his naturalised country was laid to rest at Ipswich Cemetery. And that one of Prince Alexander’s last games was an England final trial at Ipswich Town’s Portman Road. James felt that this sporting giant should be honoured with a permanent tribute in the town. He set up the Prince Obolensky Memorial Project, and Cambridge based British sculptor, Harry Gray, was commissioned. The project, estimated at £50,000, soon received financial backing from the Rugby Football Union, Daily Telegraph readers, Chelsea Footman Club’s owner Roman Abramovich, local businesses and donations from the people of Ipswich, Alexander’s former team mates, and widow’s of the Second World War airmen.
Sculptor, Harry Gray, designed the head and shoulders of the flying Prince, in a sleek, aerodynamic design, of the 1930’s Art Deco Style, his bare muscular torso in a forward movement, holding a rugby ball – ready to run in full flight for his great Twickenham try. The bronze casting of the over life size bust was carried out by Morris Singer Art Founders Ltd., at the company’s Braintree factory. The Yorkstone plinth is cut in the shape of the Hawker Hurricane’s tailplane and stands at 1.7 metres in height and 45cm wide. The Yorkstone triangular base is 1.9 metres long at the base, 1.4 metres along the top, and 65cm in height.
Ipswich Borough Council are responsible for the care of the statue which is not listed.
Mr. James Hehir OBE. RIP 2009