Newport Ladies' Rugby Team
Submitted by Lydia Furse, DeMontfort University and the World Rugby Museum
'We loved it. It was such fun with all of us together on the pitch, but we had to stop when the men came back from the war, which was a shame. Such great fun we had.'
Cardiff Ladies' Fullback, Maria Eley
In South Wales, the ladies of Newport decided to undertake an innovative form of fundraising by forming a rugby team, playing full contact fifteen-a-side rugby union.
During World War One, the men who left to fight on the front needed to be replaced in the factories and additional munitions works that developed to support the war effort. Many women took up these factory positions, and used their recreation time to fundraise for the war effort. In South Wales, the ladies of Newport decided to undertake an innovative form of fundraising by forming a rugby team, playing full contact fifteen-a-side rugby union and using the gate proceeds to support wounded soldiers and prisoners of war. This is not only an example of ways in which women on the home front mobilised themselves to support the war effort, but is also the earliest recorded game of women’s rugby in Wales.
Although the most famous sporting story from the Great War is the Christmas Day football match, there are some sports historians who argue that a rugby ball as often as a football was punted out to encourage the men over the top and into no man’s land. Rugby Union is a popular sport in the Welsh valleys and this was also the case during the First World War. Many rugby union matches were cancelled during wartime as large numbers of young men volunteered, and were later conscripted, to fight on the Western Front. The men who had left to fight in the trenches left a significant gap in the labour market, which was filled up by women. The growing war industry, for example munitions factories, also provided new jobs for women. These female factory workers began to take advantage of their new working environment to emulate the recreation activities of the menfolk, and sports historians have highlighted the significance of the First World War in the growth of women’s football at this time. However, the female workers at the Newport Box Repairing Factory took to the rugby field. There were also women’s football teams at this time in this area, which suggests that the women chose the oval ball game particularly, and from contemporary news reports not only thoroughly enjoyed themselves but also raised considerable sums for War Charities.
The Saturday 15th December 1917, Newport Ladies Vs Cardiff Ladies Match, is the only known game from which team photos have survived, in which most of the players have yet to be identified. Cardiff Arms Park hosted the charity event, which raised money for the town battalion fund, supporting troops on the front line. Newport won the game 6-0, which was most likely two unconverted tries to nil in accordance with the points system at the time. The Cardiff Ladies’ Fullback, Maria Eley, recalled in later life her experience of playing rugby, and suggested that the match was not a one off:
“We loved it. It was such fun with all of us together on the pitch, but we had to stop when the men came back from the war, which was a shame. Such great fun we had.” Maria Eley has since passed away at the grand old age of 106, making her possibly the oldest rugby player.
Research is ongoing into any other games that either Cardiff or Newport teams took part in, and why such games could not continue after the peace declared on the 11th November 1918. Although the rest of these rugby pioneers remain anonymous, they are now recognised as the first women’s rugby union players in Wales.
If anyone has any information about these women’s rugby games that they would like to share, please contact the author: Lydia Furse, firstname.lastname@example.org. Lydia is currently undertaking research on the history of women in rugby union, 1880-2016, as part of a PhD with De Montfort University and the World Rugby Museum, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council through Sporting Heritage.
Revd Edward Fitzhardinghe Campbell DSO
Submitted by Richard Begg, Army Chaplain
'Only Mr. Campbell's determination enabled him to perform the work; his assistants and working parties had frequently to be changed.'
Lieutenant-General Sir Edward Fanshawe
Edward Fitzhardinghe Campbell was one of the first to hold both a chaplaincy Commission and be capped for his country at Rugby Union, since the formation of the Army Chaplains' Department in 1796.
Campbell was born on 17 January 1880 and at the young age of 19 he played on the wing for Ireland in their first game against Scotland at Inverleith, Edinburgh. The game on the 18 February 1899 was won by Ireland and Campbell scored the first try! He went on to receive another 3 caps for Ireland: against Wales in March 1899 and against England and Wales in 1900.
Campbell joined the Department in 1906. In July 1916 he was promoted to Chaplain to the Forces, Class 3 as a Senior Chaplain. He was mentioned in dispatches in 1916-1917 and awarded the DSO in 1917. The forgotten work of the battlefield was where the Padre often could be found. When the battle had been won or lost, the dignity and reverence of the fallen was one of the most harrowing tasks. Campbell found himself in the midst of this work as he worked just in front of Gommecourt Wood, where the London Division had advanced at the beginning of July 1916 at the start of the Battle of the Somme. Campbell was recommended for the award of DSO as a result of this work.
Revd Noel Mellish VC commented on Campbell's work in his memories at the end of the war with these words; "After all those months our dead were still lying hundreds on the wire, which all our artillery preparation had left untouched, there I came across Edward Campbell, who had been a Senior Padre of our Division, now promoted to a Corps, doing a piece of work which most would shrink from undertaking."
Campbell was awarded the DSO on New Year's Day 1918. he continued in the Royal Army Chaplains' Department following the end of the war and retired in 1932 from the Department. His travels after the war included promotion to Chaplain to the Forces, Class 2 and a period in the late 1920s serving in Malta.
Lieutenant-General Sir Edward Fanshawe said of Campbell, ""[D]evotion and perseverance in[the] burial of numerous dead in[the] Serre-Beaumont hamel area. A most arduous duty, the majority of the bodies being in [an] advanced state of putrefaction. between 5000 and 6000 bodies were buried during about 15 weeks. Only Mr. Campbell's determination enabled him to perform the work; his assistants and working parties had frequently to be changed."
Revd Edward Noel Mellish VC reported, "For six weeks he continued that noble work, labelling those identified and directing the burial of them all. Through this devoted work over 600 before marked 'missing' were certified as 'killed in action'. imagine how dreadful and repulsive this work must have been to a sensitive man, yet he never shrank from it till at last, having nearly finished the task, he was taken ill and had to leave it to be completed by others. There is more true devotion in work such as this than much that is spectacular and applauded by the public."
Lt Col Edgar Mobbs DSO
Submitted by Louise Hannam-Jones, History Curator at Northampton Museums and Art Gallery
'400 men including many rugby players from Saints and Bedford as well as supporters and ordinary Northamptonshire men joined the 7th Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment. The battalion was also known as the “Mobbs Own” or “Sportsman’s Battalion”.'
Lieutenant Colonel Edgar Roberts Mobbs, DSO was born on 29 June 1882 at his family home in Billing Road, Northampton. The family moved to Bedford in 1892 and Edgar joined Bedford Modern School. Mobbs’ sporting career began at school where he enjoyed a variety of sports such as cricket, hockey, tennis and rugby. Unfortunately a knee injury at school meant that Mobbs never received his Rugby Colours. At the age of 20, Edgar started to play Rugby again but only occasionally, when pressed by Olney, where the family had moved to live. He also turned out for Weston Turks and Northampton Heathens. Spotted by a member of the Saints Committee at Olney in 1905, Mobbs came to play for the Northampton Saints in 1905. He soon became the town’s favourite player. He was appointed captain of the Saints in 1907 and continued for the next six seasons.
When war was declared in 1914, Edgar Mobbs was 32 years old. When trying to enlist, he was declined on the grounds of age. Mobbs refused to be beaten however, and decided to recruit his own company of men to fight in the war. 264 men including many rugby players from Saints and Bedford as well as supporters and ordinary Northamptonshire men joined the 7th Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment. The battalion was also known as the “Mobbs Own” or “Sportsman’s Battalion” and Mobbs was soon promoted to sergeant. Following this, Edgar was commissioned Lieutenant in October 1914 and then Captain while the battalion was still in training at Shoreham, Sussex.
The 7th battalion went to France in September 1915 where the citizen soldiers faced some of the German army’s most experienced troops. They were repeatedly attacked and Mobbs commanded the battalion for the first time at Loos as those senior to him fell. The 7th battalion fought a series of battles in the war, including the Somme in August 1916, and Arras and Messines in 1917 where members of the Saints were killed and Mobbs was wounded. By this time Mobbs was Lieutenant Colonel and in the New Year's Honours of 1st January 1917, Edgar Mobbs was awarded a Distinguished Service Order.
The final battle for Mobbs however was to be at Zillebeke during the Third battle of Ypres (Battle of Passchendaele), in Belgium. On 31st July 2017, at Shrewsbury Forest, Mobbs found his men were held up by a Machine Gun post and swiftly lead an attack on it. It was here that Lieutenant Colonel Edgar Mobbs was killed in action.
Edgar Mobbs’ body was sadly was never recovered but he is remembered for his brave actions on the Menin Gate Memorial. Back in Northampton, Mobbs’ name is proudly celebrated. On 10th February 1921 the first Edgar Mobbs Memorial Match was played at Franklins Gardens. The memorial match continues to this day and it is played on alternate years at Northampton and Bedford. Also in 1921, a bust of Edgar Mobbs was unveiled on a memorial on Northampton Market Square. It was moved to the Memorial Gardens in Abington Square, Northampton just before the Second World War, where it remains today. In 2017 a bronze statue was erected in the Courtyard of Northampton Guildhall as a centenary memorial in honour of Northampton’s sporting hero of the First World War.
Captain Charlie Pritchard
Submitted by Rob Cole, a trustee of the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame
'“Have they got the Hun?” asked Charlie with his final few breaths. When the answer came back as ‘yes’ he simply added, “well, at least I’ve done my bit.” '
Charlie Pritchard was one of the greatest of Welsh forwards in what was called the first ‘Golden Era’, a time when Wales ruled the rugby world. He won a Triple Crown in 1905, helped his country become the first team to beat the touring All Blacks in the same year and was part of the Welsh side that won the first Grand Slam in 1908.
Born into a family of nine children, Charlie was educated in Newport and Bristol and went into the wine trade after leaving school. He made his Newport debut at 18, in a win over the hitherto unbeaten Swansea side in front of 12,000 fans at St Helen’s, and went on to captain the club for three of the 10 seasons he played in Black & Amber. Charlie was voted ‘Forward of the Year; in a public poll at the close of the 1906/7 season. He made 217 appearances for his club and led them in their narrow defeats to both New Zealand in 1905 and South Africa in 1906. His Wales debut came in a defeat to Ireland in Belfast in 1904, but he won the Triple Crown in 1905 and played in the win over New Zealand. He made one appearance in the 1908 Grand Slam season and won his 14th and final cap in the first international played at Twickenham on 14 January, 1910. England won that one 11-6. Charlie was one of the 13 Welsh internationals who died in WW1.
He was a good leader of men, captaining his club, Newport, for three seasons and being picked out as officer material early on in his army career after joining the 12th Battalion of the Borderers, 3rd Gwent. By October, 1915, he had made Captain and led his ‘Bantam’ battalion to the Front Line in France in the summer of 1916. The Daily Mail had noted in their report of the famous 3-0 win by Wales of the 1905 All Blacks, their only defeat on tour and their first international reverse, that Charlie “was always in the thick of the fight”. The great ‘Dromio’, writing in the South Wales Argus, was more prosaic in his appraisal Charlie, stating he “performed prodigies of aggressive defence”. There was never a backward step with Charlie! So when it came to performing one of the raids on the German trenches, with the express intention of taking a prisoner for interrogation, he was right there with his troops.
On 13 August, 1916, his led a raiding party across the divide between the British and German trenches in the Loos area of the Western Front. There were no guns, merely clubs and knives, and in the initial hand to hand combat Charlie is reputed to have subdued to Germans with his fists. As they struggled to extract a Bavarian officer, Charlie was wounded. As they took their prisoner back across ‘No Man’s Land’ Charlie was hit again by another bullet. This time his injuries were more serious and, having successfully returned to the British trenches, he was carried to the medical post before being transferred to No 1 Clearing Station, neat Choques. Three of the raiding party later received Military Medals, while Charlie was Mentioned in Desptaches. He was now facing the biggest fight of his life. This time he lost. But before he passed away his final words revealed everything about his dedication to duty and his determination to succeed in his mission.
“Have they got the Hun?” asked Charlie with his final few breaths. When the answer came back as ‘yes’ he simply added, “well, at least I’ve done my bit.” He died on 14 August, 1914. Some four months later, on 10 December, 1916, his pregnant wife, Florence, gave birth to a daughter, back home in Wales to add to their son, Cliff. Florence died, aged 69, on 14 August, 1985.
As a comrade wrote in a letter to his wife, “The battalion lost a gallant officer, generous, chivalrous and large minded gentleman.” He was that and much, much more.