Saturday, 6 March 2010

Bromsgrove RFC 1913-1914

Staring back at me from another time sit seventeen young men, most in shorts and rugger tops, one in overcoat and trilby, they are the Bromsgrove RFC from the season 1913-14. Sitting in the centre of the front row is Bill Jones, the original owner of the photograph. I was lucky enough to become the new owner of this photograph and another from the 1912-13 season of the same team earlier in the week.

One cannot help but think what each one of these chaps went through in the ensuing years. According to the seller, Bill Jones went into the Royal Flying Corps during the war and remained in the RAF, somewhere along the line being awarded an OBE for his efforts. But what became of the others?

Fortunately, below the photograph, in the former owner’s handwriting, are the names of each player. Unfortunately, they are only the surnames. This, of course, makes tracing them that little bit more difficult, particularly with names like Smith and Evans to contend with. I am hoping that Bromsgrove RFC will be able to help out a little with either initials or full names for each of the chaps pictured. Time will tell, but I shall persevere nonetheless.

I wonder how many of the men in this photo played their last season of rugby that year? How many fell? How many were wounded? And how many just never returned to the sport? It is all conjecture on my part as to the respective lives of each of these individuals, but I am sure that I will uncover some stories. I will report on my findings and try to bring life back into this sepia toned image taken before that last golden summer had begun.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

First Post

In light of the title of this blog I really feel I should write a few words about Ronnie Poulton and the influence his life has had on my own. Other than the great game of rugby Ronnie and I have no connection, I am not related in anyway, tenuous or otherwise. However, his story has impacted me on many occasions and I find myself in that strangest of situations asking myself 'what would Ronnie have done?'.

Anyway, his story is well known and I will not go into the details of it at length. I will only say that he has had a profound influence on my interest in rugby history, particularly that related to The Great War.

I am currently reading a biography called 'Half Time' by H.B.T. Wakelam. Written in 1938, it covers his pre-war experiences at Marlborough, Cambridge and the army during the war. It goes on, in the second part, to describe his pioneering role as a sports commentator for the BBC.

Throughout this book I have been struck by the candidness with which Wakelam lays his emotions before the reader. He frequently refers to the great loss of friends he sustained through the war with references to the pictures hanging in his study and how just the thought of those days catches him in the throat. For a man who comes across as rather quintessentially stiff-upper-lipped his openness when discussing his fallen friends is at such a juxtaposition to the rest of the text it impacts the reader that much more.

It has made me think further about all the black and white or sepia toned pre-war photographs of teams who would be broken up in one way or another by the war. How many men and women had a similar gut wrenching feeling upon walking into a study full with photographs of school, college and amateur XVs.

As if the reminder of photographs was not enough, for those fit enough to return to the sport after the war must have found great difficulty returning to their clubs and entering into changing rooms filled with fresh faces. In Frederic Humbert's splendid blog rugby pioneers he refers to the fact that 11 of the players involved in the last test match before the war did not return. Perhaps more revealing is the team sheet from England's first test match after the war; eleven of the XV were new caps.

It has been noted that there was, unsurprisingly, a lack of cohesion in the team that were defeated by Wales that January afternoon in 1920. Cyril Lowe, who was the only remaining element of the pre-war English three-quarters, did not score but was the only solid defender. How he must have longed for that 1914 back line.