Tag Archives: WW1

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.

 

 

Bombardment, Bones and Captain Cook

We decided to give Whitby another look on the way back from Sandsend. There’s a lot to see in Whitby and we decided to have a look at the Captain Cook statue and the whalebone arch on the West Cliff.

The first thing we saw was the Bombardment Garden, which commemorates the East Coast bombardment of 16th December 1914. On that day two groups of German warships sailed down along the coast and attacked the towns of Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool. One group attacked Scarborough, killing 18 people, before steaming up the coast and killing three more in Whitby. The other group attacked Hartlepool, killing over 100 people.

To be fair to the Germans they were attacking military targets -they shelled a naval radio station at Scarborough and the railway at Whitby. At Hartlepool they engaged shore batteries and the Royal Navy.

The garden represents a house destroyed by a shell.  The shell in the middle of the living room floor is a proper WW1 shell that was given to the town for fund-raising during the war and donated to the project by the town council.

 

Just along the cliff is the statue of Captain Cook. He was born at Marton, which is now part of Middlesbrough, lived at Great Ayton, was apprenticed to a haberdasher on the coast in Staithes and finally ended up in the Merchant Navy at Whitby. He first came to official notice for his service in the Royal Navy when his charts of the St Lawrence River helped General Wolfe to take Quebec. This led to him being selected to make his famous voyages of discovery, with a certain William Bligh acting as his sailing master on the third and final voyage.

Despite his great achievements he is little more than a cycle rack and seagull perch these days.

 

The third thing of note on the cliff top is the whale bone arch. Whitby was a major whaling port and between 1753 and 1837 the Whitby fleet accounted for 2,761 whales, 25,000 seals and 55 polar bears.

The inventor of the Crow’s Nest (William Scoresby) came from Whitby and used to be commemorated by a modern sculpture (now replaced by a war memorial). His son, also William Scoresby, was, like his father, a whaler and arctic explorer, but also a scientist and priest, who was quoted by Ishmael in Moby Dick.

The original arch was set up in 1853 to signify the importance of whaling in Whitby’s history. That set lasted around a century and were replaced by a set from a Fin whale donated by Norwegian whalers. They only lasted until the 1990s, when their replacement caused a certain amount of ethical concern. One suggestion was that there might be some bones preserved in the cold of the Falklands. In the end Whitby’s twin town of Barrow in Alaska came to the rescue with a set of jawbones from a Bowhead whale killed in a legal hunt by Alaskan Inuit.

I don’t know what I’d do if I was in charge of the whalebone arch. Fibreglass and plastic have been considered but dismissed, which I think is fair enough, but I’m not easy with the idea of using real bones, even if they are legally taken. I think I’d opt for a nice stainless steel sculpture.

Or a plaque saying that there used to be whale bones there but we have moved on.