Tomorrow (Saturday, September 6) at the Athletic Ground you’ll see London Scottish U18s and U15s players collecting money for their tour next weekend – but this is no ordinary rugby tour.
More than forty of our boys are off to the Western Front to commemorate the first Battle of the Aisne on the Chemin Des Dames ridge, where the first international rugby players were killed, in September 1914.
The Club’s Under 18s will play Racing Metro and Under 15s a Flanders XV, as part of a weekend of events commemorating rugby players’ contribution and sacrifice.
More than 100 London Scottish players died in 1914-1918, including three quarters of those who played in the last matches of the 1913-14 season, and each boy’s match shirt in September will carry the name of one of them on the sleeve.
Sportsmen, notoriously, were early volunteers and disproportionate casualties. the Aisne claimed the first three of the 87 British and Irish international players killed in the War; the war was barely six weeks in when on September 15, a shell took out Lt Ronnie Simson, age 24, and his horse.
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. Nineteen of the 87 were London Scots.
The 'tour' marks the 100th anniversary of his death and that of our and Scotland’s James Huggan the next day and Charles Wilson of Blackheath/England the day after.
Thus the authorities wanted a weekend involving rugby and invited London Scottish and also Blackheath.
The Chemin Des Dames is the ridge between Arras and Reims that the Germans took straight after the battle of the Marne.
The British and French together tried and failed to take it back in September 1914; both sides dug in, literally, creating the western front’s first trenches.
It was always a strategic position.
Only weeks before, the French had erected monuments to commemorate the 1814 battle between Napoleon and Blücher, itself on the site of a 54BC battle between the Gauls and Caesar; in April 1917 the French tried again, with an infamous plan known as the Nivelle offensive; it was their “Somme”.
Now, on one of the most evocative and important stretches of the Western Front, there is a wonderful exhibition space in the old German cavern/command centre commemorating the “Tommies on the Aisne.”
Our boys will go to this centre, visit war graves, and participate in ceremonies at various monuments.
HRH Prince Charles, Angela Merkel and François Hollande will attend events over the same weekend.
President Hollande’s grandfather died on the Chemin Des Dames and he visited In July, as the Tour de France passed along this ridge, the cyclists commemorating the three Tour winners killed in the war.
So this will be no “ordinary” battlefield tour, but will provide young players at both clubs a unique perspective on the Great War, the opportunity to identify with the young men who wore the same jersey before them.
Some, we know, will be using the trip as the basis for a school project or presentation on their return.
The local Conseil Général is generously paying for accommodation and some of the meals, but we need to cover the travel, so your contribution today will be greatly appreciated.
MINIS & JUNIORS REGISTRATION – SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 7.
Registration and training for the minis will start tomorrow, Sunday September 7, at 9.30am with junior rugby training and registration starting at 11.30am.
From our Under-6 age group and upwards, to our Girls Section, if you're interested in coming along, please do so.
And don't hesitate to contact us and join us on our Incredible Journey. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
And, remember, you don't have to be Scottish to join the clan!