Educated at Northam Place, Potters Bar, Haileybury College and Oxford. Haileybury Cricket XI wicket-keeper and captain and/or centre of Haileybury rugby XV. Played for Monmouthshire Cricket in Minor Counties.
Played for Newport RFC from 1910-11 to 1913-14.
Barbarians, Blackheath and Oxford Blue - played in Varsity match 1910,1911,1912 and 1913. Nephew of Frank Purdon. Won 3 Welsh caps 1912-1913 (against South Africa 1912, England and Ireland 1913).
Joined 60th Kings Royal Rifle Corps August 1914 and after training in Petworth, Sussex went to front in May 1915. Battalion withdrawn but 2 days later ordered back with 9th to reinforce 41st brigade in Second Battle of Ypres. 2nd lieutenant - killed in action during heavy bombardment and enemy attack Hooge, Flanders, 31st July 1915. One of 350 killed that day from B Company 9th King's Royal Rifle Corps.
Commemorated on Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Ieper, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.
Writing in his Rugby Recollections in 1948 W. J. Townsend Collins offered the following observations:-
"Willie Geen, a pretty, fair-haired lad, ran in boys' races at Newport from a very early age; and as he grew up developed speed and exceptional dodging power on the football field. He played for Oxford University in 1910-11-12, with Poulton-Palmer as his centre in the two former seasons, and was on the winning side on each occasion. He played for Newport in the vacations (against them for the University), and provided dazzling entertainment, for his runs reminded the older generation of Arthur Gould's mastery. He was selected as a centre for Wales in 1913; played against South Africa and England, and in the game with Ireland showed brilliance and judgment which led to two tries in a game Wales won by sixteen points to thirteen. He played only these three games - what happened to him in 1914 I cannot recall; but War came, and he was one of those who had no grave, for he was in the path of a high explosive shell, and the place thereof knew him no more."
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From "Rugby Football Internationals Roll of Honour" by E. H. D. Sewell 1919.
"WILLIAM PURDON GEEN"
"Second-lieutenant William Purdon Geen, 9th Battalion King's Royal Rifle Corps, was killed in action at Hooge, Belgium, on July 31, 1915, aged 25. He was born at Newport, Monmouthshire, and educated at Northam Place, Potter's Bar, Haileybury College, and Oxford. At Haileybury he kept wicket for the XI, and was a splendid centre three-quarter in the XV., of which he was Captain in 1910, one of the best centres Haileybury ever possessed. On going to Oxford he was played out of his place as a wing three-quarter, for which he never had the real pace requisite for the highest class football. He played against Cambridge at Queen's Club in 1910-11-12-13, when Oxford won the first two and lost the last two matches. At Newport the Welshmen rightly judged and generally played him as a centre; but he played for Wales as a wing against South Africa in 1912, and England and Ireland in 1913, these three being his only International Caps."
"Geen joined the 60th in August 1914, like most Rugby men, there being no waiting upon the order of his going. He was in training at Petworth in Sussex for some time, and went to the Front in May 1915. The 9th were with the 14th Light Division in the Second Battle of Ypres in that month. After nearly six weeks continuous fighting, the Battalion was withdrawn for a short spell of rest, but, two days later, were ordered back to reinforce the 41st Brigade. Of Geen's death Major John Hope wrote:-"
"Geen fought gloriously, and was last seen alive leading his platoon in a charge after being for hours subjected to liquid fire and every device the Germans could bring to bear to break through. Seventeen officers and 333 other ranks of this battalion were killed in this engagement, in which officers and men showed themselves worthy of the best traditions of their Regiment."
"Here, again, we see the Rugby game played on a more serious field. Geen "fought gloriously," he was last seen "leading his platoon in a charge." Alter the words ever so slightly and we are almost watching a Haileybury v. Bedford or an inter-'Varsity, or Wales v. England match, over again, with the natty and trim figure of Billy Geen easily distinguishable in the thick of everything, on account of his curly fair hair. He was always one of the neatest looking of three-quarters, with a three-quarter's legs and gait. A fine power of drop-kicking was his, and his play in the centre reminded one very much, on account of his dodging style, of the play of a class centre in the old three three-quarter days. As a cricketer Geen "kept" respectably and played for Monmouthshire in the Minor Counties Championship, but Rugby football was his game, and in that his capacity for doing odd things, while it may have sometimes caused a flutter in the dovecots of the grave and reverend selectors of teams, succeeded not only in disturbing them, but also the opponents of his fifteen. Of course he played for the Oxford University Authentics at cricket, and also for Blackheath and for the Barbarians at the Rugby game."
"An Old Haileyburian, who knew Geen well, has penned the following tribute:-"
"An individual player of singular capabilities was lost to International football when Billy Geen gave his life. He was as swiftly into the Army on the declaration of war as he used to zig-zag through most defences before that event. He was essentially a player of moods, and rarely shone behind a beaten pack, though there were notable exceptions. He had an astounding power of quick side-stepping in a confined space, that was bewildering in the extreme to his opponents. Difficult to combine with, perhaps Poulton more than any one else was the man who came nearest a complete understanding with him: their individualism was of a similar type. On his day he was so truly brilliant that one thought instinctively 'only Geen could have done that'. His playing career was interrupted more than once by accidents (he was chosen, but did not play, for Wales in the first match of the 1914 season, and probably lost four Welsh Caps in consequence. - E. H. D. S.); but he triumphed over them, and would certainly have gone far in normal times. He was also fine cricketer, but footer was his enthusiasm. In mid-July, after perhaps knocking up 50 or so, and keeping wicket with genius and certainty, he would plunge with relief and gusto into a long chat on footer 'shop'. He is a heavy loss to Rugger and his many friends. T. H. E. B."
[With thanks for research to Roy Hough, Exeter]