Alexander, Robert (‘Bob’) (1910–43), rugby player and cricketer, was born 24 September 1910 in 57 Distillery St., Belfast, youngest child among two sons and three daughters of David Alexander, shipyard engine fitter, originally from Co. Armagh, and Mary Jane Alexander (née Clark), originally from Co. Down. He was educated at the RBAI and QUB, where he studied science. He played rugby for NIFC (with whom he won an Ulster Senior Cup medal in 1935), the RUC, and Police Union, and inter-provincial rugby for Ulster. He also played for the Barbarians in 1935/6. Alexander won eleven caps as a flanker for Ireland in rugby from 1936 to 1939, scoring a try against Scotland in 1937. His sporting reputation was made on a British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa in 1938, where, in a side captained by fellow Ulsterman Sammy Walker (qv), he played in all three tests, scoring a memorable try in the third game as the Lions won 21–16. The Lions lost the series by two games to one, but the team that won the final test was remarkable in that it contained eight Irish players (still a record), five of whom were from Ulster. In total Alexander scored six tries in fourteen matches on the tour, a Lions record for a forward at the time. While on home leave during the second world war, he captained an Ireland side that played against the British army at Ravenhill, Belfast.
Alexander was also an accomplished cricketer, playing at international level for Ireland as a right-handed batsman and as a slow-to-medium spin bowler. His natural speed also made him highly effective in the outfield. Standing almost exactly 6 ft (1.83 m) tall and weighing in at just under fourteen stone (89 kg), he was a dynamic rugby wing-forward; The Times in 1943 described him as ‘one of the finest wing forwards Ireland has possessed’ and Wisden called him ‘a brilliant heavy-weight rugby wing forward’. He was particularly proficient at dribbling with the ball – an important skill at the time – and as a defensive tackler. He was also a talented soccer and tennis player.
He joined the RUC on 14 February 1935, initially being stationed in Newtownards and later appointed to Glenravel St., Belfast. He was seconded for military service on 21 November 1939, enlisting in the 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, as a second lieutenant on 20 April 1940. During his absence from the RUC he was promoted to the rank of sergeant on 14 November 1942. A natural leader, he quickly rose through the army ranks, being promoted to lieutenant on 20 October 1941, and finally to captain on 11 December 1941. After serving in Madagascar, Persia, and Egypt, Alexander was killed in action on 19 July 1943 leading his company in an action on the Simeto river, Sicily, and he is buried in the Catania war cemetery, Sicily. He was unmarried.