Commemorative Match – London Scottish v Blackheath

08th May 2014

The scores didn’t matter; the result – a win for the Scottish under 20s, avenged by the Blackheath Seniors XV adults, and then a draw between the two Vets sides – might look suspicious but the 400 or so present did not suspect a “fix”.

The occasion was all, the occasion being to commemorate the 165 plus men of both clubs killed in the 1914 – 1918 war.

The teams were led onto the pitch by pipers and a standard bearer from the Royal British Legion.

A wreath, passed along the ranks prior to a two-minute silence and the piped “Lament,” was returned by the skippers Simone Devane and Des Brett to the centre circle at the end.

More than 100 players took part and each commemorative shirt bore the name of a fallen member on the sleeve.

The choice of opposition reflected the poem London Scottish 1914 published in 2009 by Mick Imlah which immortalised the matches between them 100 years ago.

Of 87 home international players killed in WW1, 31 played for one or both of these clubs, including the first three to be killed in a few days in September 1914.

The war was barely six weeks in when a shell took out Lt Ronald Francis Simson, age 24, and his horse, on 14th September 1914.

A career soldier, he had entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in 1909 and played for Blackheath, later turning out regularly for London Scottish. Ronnie Simson will be remembered again this coming September, on the hundredth anniversary of his death.

Also killed that same week, on that same scrap of the map, were Blackheath’s Charles Edward Wilson, awarded the Légion d’Honneur, London Scottish’s James Laidlaw Huggan and two French international players.

To kick off a four year commemorative programme, the Aisne Département is holding a weekend of events in honour of these men and others killed along the Chemin Des Dames, including youth matches featuring Blackheath and London Scottish.

“They were of all ages, these brave men,” says London Scottish Secretary Paul McFarland.

“Sportsmen, and above all team-players who were not already in the military, rushed to join up or to form ‘pal’s battalions’.

“From the youth team players of their day, lying about their ages, bounding as team-mates out of the trenches, obeying the whistle that signalled attack … to the Vets, the over 35s, often officers, often men of means who went to lead, and who were the first over the top, and were caught by the first sprays of bullets across the flat lands of the Western Front. 

“So we wanted to create an event that would reflect all the ages of those who fought and died and to give as many players as possible the chance to participate.

If we could ask those men who died what we should do to remember them, I think they would want us to play a game of rugby and then get the beers in; so we did.

For me the highlight was to see how even the youngest players really felt each was playing for the man whose name he wore on his sleeve.

“It would be wonderful if, across the country other clubs were to pair up and do something along these lines.”

London Scottish President Rod Lynch said: “It is impossible for any civilised person to celebrate war in itself but the sacrifice made by that generation still touches us over the gulf of years with pride and sadness in equal measure.

The young men who “swapped their Richmond turf for Belgian ditches” were much the same as those who followed them into their club colours over the intervening century and I am sure they would relate to their peers today.”

 “Sports clubs made a disproportionate sacrifice and this can be seen on the London Scottish and Richmond plaques on our memorial, as on the memorial at Blackheath’s Rectory Field.”

Blackheath President Des Diamond said “We owe a debt to those soldiers that we cannot repay except perhaps by gathering together at events such as today which allow us to remember the sacrifices that were made and pay homage to those who made them.”

Proceeds from the day were shared by Richmond’s Poppy Factory charity, which provided the wreath on the day and sold programmes,  and the two clubs’ teams heading for the commemorative events in France in September.

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