Tag Archives: VC

Book Review: The Final Whistle

The Final Whistle – The Great War in Fifteen Players

by Stephen Cooper

History Press 2012, this edition Spellmount 2013

Paperback 347pp    Paperback £9.99     Oxfam £1.99

ISBN-13: 978 0 7524 9900 0

I’ve always been interested in rugby and the Great War and I did some research on rugby internationals who were killed in the two World Wars, but it came to nothing because (a) I’m lazy and (b) Nigel Mccrery wrote Into Touch.

This book takes a slightly different approach, looking at the lives of fifteen members of Rosslyn Park rugby club who were killed in the Great War. They represent about 20% of the club’s fatalities during the war (72 killed from 350 members or ex-members who served in the war).

I’ve always liked this sort of book, with stories that turn statistics into people, and I’ve always liked rugby, as I’m not fashioned by nature for games of grace and skill. On the quiet I’m also an admirer of Edgar Mobbs, a well known player of the time. However, this isn’t about Mobbs, as he didn’t play for Rosslyn Park.

It is about Charles Bayley, great-nephew of General Gordon, who was one of the first two Royal Flying Corps officers to be killed in action in the Great War, on 22nd August 1914 or Guy du Maurier, regular soldier and playwright (yes, he was one of that du Maurier family), who killed in action in 1915 at the age of 49. It’s about other people too, including international players, an Olympic silver medallist and a VC winner.

Don’t expect a cross section of British casualties though; it’s about officers or people who could have been officers. Rugby was a game for people from good schools, and they were required to name their school when applying for membership. That, as the author admits, was a great help in doing the research James Urquhart is an exception to this, listing Grimsby Municipal College as his school (though he did end up at Cambridge University). In truth he wasn’t even a Rosslyn Park player, he just seems to have given them as his team when he played for the Barbarians (captained by Edgar Mobbs) versus Shoreham Camp. He only gets a couple of lines.

Despite this, it’s an excellent view of the Great War and rugby of the period, including the Western Front, Gallipolli, aircraft, ships, tanks and balloons, and obviously written by a man with a good command of the subject and a great enthusiasm.

 

 

Shakespeare, St George and the Calcutta Light Horse

I have now managed 102 consecutive days of posting. It’s an example of habit taking over. You sometimes hear about it when athletes are interviewed on TV when the interviewer refers to dedication in training and the athlete responds that it’s just about establishing a habit.

That much is true: training is just a habit. However, I’m not trying to make it sound easy. The habit bit is easy, but simply turning up for training doesn’t guarantee success. That is where the dedication comes in. And the luck, the talent, the work ethic, the…

As I’ve said before, quantity is no guarantee of quality. It also means that I’ve resorted to posting at five past midnight just to ensure that I’m credited with a post for that day. It has also led to me writing things in advance and, as mentioned here, posting by accident. That was a simple button pushing error.

Here, I wrote a post and automatically pushed the button, which means I posted several times yesterday. If I’d pushed the button 15 minutes later it would have been OK, but I ended up posting just before midnight, so I posted three times yesterday and need something for today.

It’s St George’s Day today, and if Labour win the election it will be a public holiday, as will St David’s Day, St Patrick’s Day and St Andrew’s Day. That’s March 1st, March 17th, April 23rd and November 30th. I don’t know about you but I really don’t need days off in March and November. As for 23rd April, we already have Easter, which moves, May Day and Late Spring Bank Holiday  (which used to be Whitsun). That would be three Bank Holidays in 5 weeks. Well, it would be in England and Wales, it’s different in other parts of the UK.

Even more confusingly, whilst re-enacting the Battle of Dunbar, I found out that Haddington in Scotland also follows some English holidays.

It’s also the 99th Anniversary of the Zeebrugge Raid. It wasn’t necessarily a great strategic success, but it’s a good story. The Hundred Year’s War didn’t end particularly well but we still have Henry V.

There are some interesting sidelights on the raid. It was, for instance, the last time a VC Ballot was held. The VC is unique amongst British decorations in that if a unit performed in a particularly valorous manner the participants are allowed to vote on who they think should be awarded a VC. That way you limit the number given out, and they go to people who really deserve them.

One of the casualties of the raid was Wing Commander Frank Brock of the fireworks family. Amongst other things he invented the machinery to produce the smokescreen for the raid.

Another participant was Bill Grice. He lied about his age to join the Royal Navy and was Mentioned in Despatches for his part in the raid. Thirty years later took part in another daring raid with the Calcutta Light Horse. This link has more details – there’s a bit of a proofing issue with this article but it’s better than some of the others out there. The man who took his glass eye out before the action started was called Bill Manners. When volunteering he’d asked if the glass eye would be a problem. Grice said it hadn’t been a problem for Nelson…

There were no decorations for the 1943 raid, though Grice was played by David Niven in The Sea Wolves.

I’m already running on, and haven’t even started on Shakespeare’s Birthday or the likely consequences of having a public holiday on St George’s Day. I’ll have to cover them on another day.

 

 

Time to remember

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That’s some of our group at the war memorial. The village war memorial is just a gravestone engraved with the names of the two men from the village who died. I believe there is also a plaque to a WW2 casualty in the church.

This one is the memorial to the air crash in April 1944.

A Lancaster from nearby RAF Syerston collided with an Airspeed Oxford from RAF Wymeswold, with eleven airmen dying.

We have a link to the crash on the farm, apart from one of the aircraft coming down on our land. (I’m not sure where the other fell – must check). Margaret Rose, the mother of farmer David Rose, was out playing when she heard the crash and saw the aircraft falling.

Flight Lieutenant Bill Reid won the Victoria Cross whilst flying from RAF Syerston – read this if you want to see what it takes to be a hero. After the war he worked in agriculture, including British Oil and Cake Mills (BOCM), where my father also worked. Just goes to show that all the best people work in farming.