Sidmouth RFC – a look at previous times in history when rugby suffered wholesale cancellation

PUBLISHED: 13:33 27 March 2020 | UPDATED: 13:33 27 March 2020

No play for the foresseable future. The shut gates at the Blackmore home of Sidmouth RFC. Picture TERRY IFE

No play for the foresseable future. The shut gates at the Blackmore home of Sidmouth RFC. Picture TERRY IFE

Archant

A look at the hostory of Sidmouth RFC and previous occasions when the rugby season has come to a halt

As the Covid-19 crisis brings all sport to a halt and, in the case of Sidmouth Rugby Club (SRFC), ends the 2019/20 campaign prematurely, Terry O’Brien, who keeps up to speed with all things SRFC, has sent us an interesting read about how the rugby club coped with the advent of WWI and WWII.

Terry writes...

On Monday, March 16, 2020, at precisely 1.51pm, all rugby clubs in England received the following notice: ‘Following government advice today, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) will suspend all rugby activity in England, at both professional and community level, including club training, league and cup matches plus rugby education courses from Tuesday, March 17, until Tuesday, April 14, subject to continuing review.’

A few days later this was followed by the announcement came that the 2019-20 season was ended with the exception being that the Premiership would still, as things stood, still look to play the season to a finish.

A notice was put on the gate at the Blackmore Field home of SRFC that read: ‘All rugby and events at Sidmouth RFC are cancelled until further notice’.

Such momentous announcements had only been made twice before in the 136-year history of the club, at the outbreak of the two World Wars. This time round, the enemy was germs rather than Germans!

WORLD WAR ONE

A notice in the Sidmouth Observer on Wednesday, September 9, 1914 announced: ‘The Sidmouth Rugby Club has abandoned all matches for the coming season, unless a dramatic change should come over the present crisis. Practically all the playing members have joined the Army’.

That particular ‘present crisis’ ran through the next four years before coming to an end on November 11, 1918.

During the war, much of the Blackmore Field, which at that time extended into the area where the hospital now stands, was turned into allotments to grow food.

At a meeting convened on Wednesday, May 17, 1919 to reform the rugby club, the pre-war treasurer James Clark noted that the Blackmore Field would need at least £100 spent before play could resume.

He reported to a meeting: “The grandstand is in a very dilapidated condition, as is the ground itself.”

Treasurer James also reminded the meeting that the club had a debt of over £6 remaining from before the War!

A committee was formed to get matters under way. Such was the publics’ appetite for entertainment in general and rugby particularly, that the necessary money was raised to restart the club, albeit playing on the Coburg Field while Blackmore was reinstated. The first match was played on October 4, 1919 with Sidmouth taking on Honiton in front of a crowd of over 1,000!

WORLD WAR TWO

The minutes of the committee meeting held on August 29, 1939, record that: ‘In view of the international situation it was decided that the match against Plymouth Civil Service be cancelled’

There was then a meeting convened at the club on September 7, 1939 at which it was decided that, in view of the declaration of war by Great Briton (sic) and France on Germany that the season’s fixtures be cancelled, but the hon sec should arrange matches with any teams in the district.

The club secretary, George Bolt kept a diary of events throughout the war in the Ccub minute book.

Unlike during the First World War, the activities of the club did not come to an end. The committee continued to meet until November 12, 1940, when the changing rooms, which doubled as a meeting room, were taken over by the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) unit.

Matches continued to be played on an occasional basis against Armed Forces units based in the area. Local players still at home were supplemented by players on leave and from nearby clubs.

In the 1940-41 season, several games were played by a nominally Sidmouth side, but augmented by service personnel or between different service units.

In 1941-42 there were few military units based in the town and only one match is recorded, played against the Army Pay Corps.

In 1942-43 an RAF transport division and an RAF Regiment unit were based in the town and several games were played.

A large crowd turned up on Boxing Day for a match against the Royal Marines.

In 1943-44 the RAF and Royal Marines continued to play occasional games and one notable match took place between the RAF and Bridgwater Barbarians for who Sidmouth hooker Jerry Pike was playing.

As D-Day approached, all rugby ceased with no matches being played before the end of the war.

In October 1944 George Bolt wrote: ‘The season should be in full swing, but not even the posts are in the ground and the Blackmore Field looks in a sorry condition.’

In all, 58 members of Sidmouth RFC served in either the Armed Forces or the Home Guard. Seven gave their lives in the service of their country.


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