Sidmouth Rugby Club back in business just as it ‘returned to action’ in 1919 and 1945

Sidmouth Rugby Club 1st XV from the 1920/21 season. Picture: SIDMOUTH RFC

Sidmouth Rugby Club 1st XV from the 1920/21 season. Picture: SIDMOUTH RFC - Credit: Archant

Almost six months since the coronavirus pandemic caused competitive sport to be replaced by hunting for toilet rolls and pasta, baking and zoom quiz nights, today, Friday (September 12), the Rugby Club will reopen for a weekend of activity, albeit the commencement of full contact competitive rugby is still someway in the future, writes Terry O’Brien.

It seems appropriate to conclude my weekly rugby ramblings with an account of the two previous occasions on which the Rugby Club restarted after the two world wars.

When the club ‘abandoned all matches’ in September 1914, all activity ceased for the next five years.

The Blackmore Field was turned into allotments to grow food, while the grandstand became dilapidated.

As men returned to the town from the armed forces, there was much enthusiasm to reform the club and a meeting was held on Wednesday, May 7, to set matters in motion.

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The meeting was chaired by Colonel WH Hastings, a solicitor and agent for Colonel Balfour, who owned the Blackmore Field at the time.

He opened the meeting by stressing the importance of the club to the town and said that a number of people had offered to subscribe towards funds to restart the club.

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The pre-war treasurer James Clark supported the need for a club, but pointed out that at least £100 would be necessary before play could resume on the Blackmore Field.

Also, he informed the meeting that there was a debt of over £6 remaining from before the war.

Unfortunately, due to ill health he would not be able to resume as treasurer.

Tommy Fitzgerald offered to take on the role of treasurer.

Eric Mills and Ernest Boucher put themselves forward as joint secretaries. All three were duly appointed and the meeting closed with the task of raising the necessary funds firmly in hand.

During the summer, successful fundraising events were well supported by the community and the required money was raised.

On Wednesday, September 1919, a meeting was held to select a committee. Tommy Fitzgerald was elected as chairman and W Fish was named 1st XV captain.

Training was started and numbers were very good so it meant two teams could be fielded.

Practice matches were held, and fixtures were made for both the first and second XVs.

On October 1, the Sidmouth Observer announced that ‘After an interval of five years, the Sidmouth Rugby Club, next Saturday, start again’.

The Blackmore Field was still not fit for play, so the training and matches took place on the Coburg Field.

For the first match, played on Saturday 4, October, a crowd of around 1,000 were in attendance to watch the Chiefs defeat Honiton 19-4.

The club eventually returned to play at the Blackmore Field in 1921.

In contrast to 1914-18, Sidmouth Rugby Club remained active during the Second World War.

Until 1944, matches were played against and between armed service teams.

Thanks to the efforts of Jim Horn, the buildings were kept in good repair.

A committee meeting was held on Saturday, September 29, 1945 at which it was agreed to arrange a full fixture list for the 1946-47 season.

Fundraising filled the remainder of the agenda.

A team was raised to play a match at Exmouth on Boxing Day with the home side winning 21-0.

Following a year out of use, the Blackmore pitch needed some remedial work.

This was completed in time for Easter when matches were played against touring sides UCS Old Boys and Old Millhillians with the visitors winning two close games.

On July 11, 1946, an extraordinary general meeting was held with Dr RG Mitchelmore in the chair.

George Bolt and Tommy Sanders were elected as join secretaries, and Patrick Fitzgerald as treasurer.

A committee was formed with Fred Davey as chairman.

George Bolt presented a full fixture list for the coming season and a practice match was held on August 24, with more than 30 players involved.

Jerry Pike was elected 1st XV team captain and the first match was played on September 7, a 3-14 defeat against Exeter.

The first post war victory was recorded the following week, 9-5 against Tiverton.

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