Rugby Players Who Enlisted Together Fell Together
On Saturday the 19th of March, France and England will face against each other in a rugby game at the Stade de France. At this occasion, a tribute will be paid solemnly to honor the rugby players and the soldiers who fell on the battlefields of the Somme in 1916.
A hundred years ago saw the Great War’s Year of Battles, with thousands of English rugby players serving in combat in places including the Somme and the naval battle of Jutland. The first day of the Somme alone – 1st July 1916 – brought the greatest loss of life in British military history, among 60,000 casualties.
Rugby team members who had enlisted together fell together. Among the millions of soldiers that died were a whole generation of grassroots rugby players and an elite band of international players. Over 130 internationals from England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa - and France fell. They died on land, in the air and at sea, among them 27 of England Rugby’s finest.
England internationals Lancelot Slocock and Jack King were killed leading an assault against German machine guns at Guillemont on 8th August. Their Colonel later said, “I am convinced that the rugby footballer makes the finest soldier in the world.”
Alfred Maynard, at 22, was the youngest English international player to be killed in the conflict. He was killed in the Somme’s final major assault, the Battle of Ancre, having survived the defence of Antwerp and the Gallipoli landings. Reverend Rupert Inglis, having enlisted as an Army chaplain at the age of 51, was killed by a shell on 18th August, while acting as a stretcher-bearer near Ginchy.
Rugby, together with every other aspect of society, was changed for ever. Many believed that rugby’s values – patriotism, physical fitness, comradeship, fair play and discipline – reflected those of the armed services and the allied cause. Rugby players were frequently held up as role models.
Throughout 2014 – 2018 the RFU is commemorating the Great War and rugby players who gave their lives through educating, remembering and fundraising. A Great War Exhibition features at the World Rugby Museum and, before the annual Army v Navy match in May, spectacular new Rose and Poppy Commemoration Gates will be unveiled at Twickenham Stadium, with poppies fashioned from battlefield shell casings.
Today we are proud to stand alongside our French colleagues to commemorate those rugby players who fought and gave their lives in the Great War.