OSWESTRY RUGBY UNION FOOTBAL CLUB HISTORY
Oswestry is a strong soccer area. Although in England, Oswestry Town F.C. was a founder member of the Welsh F.A. in 1876 and made a significant contribution to the early national team of Wales. Within such a strong soccer area, it was difficult to establish a permanent club for rugby in Oswestry, despite brave attempts to introduce rugby to the area.
The Border Counties Advertizer reported that a rugby team from Oswestry was raised in 1900 to test a team from St. Oswald’s College, Ellesmere. The College had recently changed their winter sport from soccer to rugby and the players from Oswestry were the first opponents to test the new venture.
St. Oswald’s College is now known as Ellesmere College and has a very strong rugby tradition. Billy Beaumont, former England captain, went to Ellesmere College and played in the 1st XV – as full back!
Although St. Oswald’s College continued to play rugby every Michaelmas term against other public schools, there is no reference that rugby was again played by an Oswestry side until March 1910 when, in front of 400 spectators, an Oswestry XV played against a Shrewsbury XV on the Oswestry School playing field. Perhaps setting the tradition for this local derby, one of the Oswestry players (Rogers) was carried off early in the first half. Lewis Ellis opened the scoring for Oswestry with a try which was converted by Healy. Healy then scored himself, converting his own try and Shrewsbury then replied with two unconverted tries giving a half-time score of 10 – 6 (Tries then being worth 3 pts and conversions 2). In the second half, Oswestry scored again through tries from W. Kirkby and then Moresby, both converted by Healy, giving victory to Oswestry 20 points to 6.
Other than at St. Oswald’s College, there is no further written record of rugby played in Oswestry until World War One.
At the outbreak of war in 1914, C J B Marriott, President of the Rugby Football Union, initially thought that the game should continue and on 13th August he issued instructions to carry on playing where possible. However, many clubs were finding it difficult to raise teams as players joined the national recruitment fervour, with many clubs enlisting en masse. In the light of such difficulties, on the 4th September 1914 the RFU issued a circular cancelling all club, county and international matches and calling on all players aged between 19 and 35 to enlist. Although club rugby ceased, the game was played by military units at newly set up training camps.
One of these camps was at Park Hall. The original hall was built in the 16th century, one of the finest timber buildings of the time with extensive grounds. In November 1914, the local paper, The Border Counties Advertizer, reported that 14,000 troops would soon be arriving. Building work was rapidly undertaken and in July 1915 the first 4,000 troops of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and the Cheshire Regiment arrived. The camp was in constant use throughout the war, training and dispatching troops to the Front. The camp included a military hospital, now the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital. The grand Hall became the Officers’ Mess.
Club rugby throughout the country may have been suspended for the period of the war, but ironically the game was reintroduced to Oswestry by units from Park Hall. However, St. Oswalds’s College extended their fixture list by playing military sides, including King’s Liverpool Regiment, based at Park Hall, and ...
LLANGOLLEN ADVERTISER FRIDAY 14th APRIL 1916
The Rugby semi-finals have now been played off. The R.A.M.C. met the 3/7 Royal Welsh Fusiliers, the Medicos winning by 23 points to nil; the 3/3 Monmouths were drawn with the 3/1 Monmouths and scored seven points to nil. The final between the 3/3 Monmouths and the R.A.M.C. will be played off on the Park Hall cricket ground tomorrow evening at 5 o’clock. The game, which will be an eagerly contested one, will be very interesting to spectators.
Units came and went at Park Hall, but the R.A.M.C. were a permanently based at the camp hospital and the ‘Medicos’ rugby team played against all comers. Each season would present a new set of opponents, generally from the Welsh Division, including many from the rugby stronghold of South Wales.
LLANGOLLEN ADVERTISER FRIDAY 24th NOVEMBER 1916
The third Rugby game to complete the rubber was played between the Glamorgan Yeomanry and the Welsh Field Ambulance on Thursday afternoon. The medicos pressed throughout the whole of the first half but failed to cross the line, so stout was the de fence put up by the Glamorgans. Before the interval, however, Nicholas, a Northern Union player from Warrington, one of the R.A.M.C. centre three-quarters, managed to drop two beautiful goals, one from a mark, and the other almost immediately after the re-start. The Yeomanry improved considerably in the second half, and had hard lines in not scoring on several occasions, Thomas being particularly smart at three-quarter. Towards the finish, the R.A.M.C. increased their lead, Leidsky dropping a goal, Nelson notching an unconverted try, and Hall another from the line- out. The game thus ended in a decisive win for the Medicos by 17 points to nil.
LLANGOLLEN ADVERTISER FRIDAY 15th DECEMBER 1916
1 WELSH FIELD AMBULANCE v. ROYAL FIELD ARTILLELRY
The second meeting between the Welsh Field Ambulance and the R.F.A. took place on the ground of the first-named on Saturday. The gunners brought down a strong side with great hopes of breaking the R.A.M.C.'s unbeaten record and of wiping out their defeat at Bettisfield some, weeks ago.
The visitors kicked off and Nicholas returned with a fine kick to touch. Hall secured from the line out and, making a dash for it, was brought down by the Bettisfield centres. The first scrimmage resulted in the home forwards heeling, and what would have been a fine run on the part of their backs, was spoiled by the ball being greasy and the heavy nature of the ground. The “Medicos" continued to press, and from a melee in the visitors' 25, Kerrigan obtained possession and passed to John at centre, who romped over with fine try. Nicholas failed to convert from difficult angle.
The "Medicos'' seemed to settle down after the restart and played with considerably more dash, their forwards doing particularly good work. From a forward rush soon afterwards, Burchell failed to clear, and the visitors equalised close to the corner flag, this being only the second occasion on which the home line has been crossed. The goal- kick resulted in no further points being added to the score. Just before half-time Nicholas added another three points for the R.A.M.C. with a fine burst past the opposing backs.
The second half opened with some ding-dong play chiefly on the part of the forwards. Several attempts were made by both teams to get away, but the ground continued to make it difficult to control the ball. At this juncture one of the visiting team was taken off with a sprained ankle. The "Medicos" now showed their superiority and two tries were scored in rapid succession. In an attempt to save one, a collision with two of the "Gunners" resulted in both men having to be carried off “hors de combat”. Continuing with only 12 players, the game ended with a decisive win for the Ambulance by 12 points to three.
LLANGOLLEN ADVERTISER FRIDAY 22nd DECEMBER 1916
The Welsh Fusiliers battalion are thinking of running Rugby XV in the New Year, and, if so, it will be found that several amateur Internationals will be included in the team. High hopes are entertained of the XV following the glorious lead given by the soccer XI, and that the Royal Welsh Ruggers will be the boss team of the Welsh Division. I rather fancy that the Monmouths will have something to say to this, South Wales being the ‘home’ of the Rugby football. I hear that other regiments are also thinking seriously of starting rugby, so that it will be played practically all over the Camp. Evidently the authorities have also “got wind” of it, as I notice the Camp hospital is being enlarged – “à la bonne heure”
And the game was taken beyond the Park Hall Camp by a particularly strong team from the Welsh Ambulance R.A.M.C. based at Park Hall:
LLANGOLLEN ADVERTISER FRIDAY 12th JANUARY 1917
A rugby game was played at Bettisfield on Saturday between the Gunners and the Welsh Field Ambulance from Park Hall. A one-sided game ended in a victory for the Ambulance men of 2 goals 5 tries to nil.
The R.A.M.C. XV (who are as yet unbeaten) are open to play any rugby side chosen from the Park Hall Camp on a sports ground at Oswestry, on a date that can be arranged almost immediately, the proceeds to be handed over to the Military Hospital, Gobowen. Address, Secretary, Welsh Field Ambulances, North 1, Park Hall Camp, Oswestry.
The challenge was taken up by the Monmouthshire Regiment and a very full match report was given in the Llangollen Advertiser:
LLANGOLLEN ADVERTISER FRIDAY 13th APRIL 1917
WELSH FIELD AMBULANCES v MONMOUTHSIRE REGIMENT
This game was played on Easter Monday on the Oswestry Cricket Field, whIch had been kindly lent for the occasion by Mr. A. Morris, with the object of raising a sum of money to be divided between Ardmillan Hospital, the Oswestry Cottage Hospital and the Gobowen Military Hospital, for providing comforts for the patients. Although there was a large muster of spectators one would have expected a bigger gate than there was, especially considering the fact that the WFA team prior to the match were the only unbeaten rugby team in the country, and that only a month ago the ‘Mons’ had given the WFA a very hard time of it in order to keep their record intact. The RAMC team included such well-known players as Sid Nicholas, Warrington’s centre three-quarter; Trevor John, a reserve Welsh half-back and other well-known South Wales players. The Mons, with two exceptions, was composed entirely of Overseas men, an honourable distinction for any team.
Possibly the inclemency of the weather and the comparatively little knowledge of the Rugby code in Oswestry made the gate small; but it is to be hoped that a good sum will be realized by the gate money and the sale of tickets for the very deserving causes for which the match was held.
The band of the RWF, kindly lent for the occasion by Colonel Gavin, played previous to the match and during the half-time interval.
After both teams had been photographed they lined up as follows:
RAMC: Full back, Lance-Cpl George Williams; three-quarter backs, Cpl J Williams, Pte T. Johns (capt), Sgt Nicholas (vice capt) and Alun Williams; half-backs, Cpl T. Leidtke and Pte O’Kerrigin; forwards, Cpl R. Amos, Ptes R. Hill, W Snell, S Smith, D Nelson, Cpl R Roberts, Ptes C Prosser and F Thomas.Monmouths: Pte Gough; three-quarter backs, Pte Barrol, Capt H C R Thompson, Sgt Harris and Pte Webster (vice capt); half-backs, Lance Cpl O’Donovan and Pte Frowen; forwards, Sgt Yates, Corp Tutt (capt), Cpl Lindsey, Lance Cpl Evans, Pte C Richard, Lance Cpl Blunt, Pte Camrigan and Sgt Richards.
The referee was Lieut Blencowe of the Liverpool Scottish, whose decision in a hard, strenuous game, well contested, gave very evident satisfaction. The spin of the coin gave choice of venue to the RAMC, who deeded to play with their backs to the sun. The Mons kicked off and soon made themselves evident by carrying the play to the RAMC 25, where the first scrummage took place owing to one of the latter’s half-backs mis-fielding. The RAMC wheeled, but owing to their opponents being dangerously near their line and in consequence of their formidable rushes, the RAMC halves had no option but to kick to touch time after time; by this means ground was gradually gained and a scrummage on the half way saw the RAMC three-quarters in action with a brilliant movement towards the opposite line; this was frustrated by some fine tackling on the part of Mons. From the next scrum a rush by the Mons forwards, showed their superiority in weight; wheeling smartly, they carried the game into the RAMC half again and only a smart pick up by Amos, who cleared cleverly, saved the situation. The same player obtained from the lineout and passed to Trevor John; and after some pretty passing by the three-quarters another good movement was held up by the stonewall defence of the Mons. The RAMC were now pressing and their forwards heeling. This gave the backs some scope and their inside half, getting the ball, passed smartly to O’Kerrigan at outside, who, running across the open, passed to Nicholas. The latter transferred to John. The RAMC captain doubled in, but when drawing the defence left it a trifle too late and, being tackled in possession, was compelled to drop the ball. Nicholas, following up, dived for it, passed to Williams on the wing, who crossed the line in find style with a well-earned try. The kick, taken by Nicholas from a difficult angle, was a failure, no further points being added to the score.
On resuming, play became rather more open and both teams gave fine exhibitions of the game, every feature being well thought out and, as far as possible, executed. The judgment in touch finding was superb, especially on the part of Gough, the Mons full back. Matters remained very even until at last the RAMC half backs again got going and setting their three-quarters in motion, some brilliant passing worthy of the highest class Welsh Rugby, in which John, Nicholas and Alun Williams took part, resulted in the latter scoring the second try for the “So Far Invincibles” . Again the place kick was a failure, owing presumably to the strong wind now blowing across the ground. Half-time arrived with the score: RAMC 6 points; Monmouths, none.
Hill resumed for the Medicos, finding touch in almost the same spot as Mons had done in the first half, consequently, the game was of a very similar nature as at the outset until a series of rushes by the Mons forwards transferred matter to their opponents 25. It was evident that they were making a tremendous effort to cross the RAMC line, and from the lineout and scrummage alike, their rushing tactics were several times nearly rewarded. The RAMC were, however, defending to the utmost and their tackling at this juncture was brilliant against much heavier opponents. Time after time the rushes were checked, but at length Donovan, obtaining from a long lineout, broke through and scored, greatly to the delight of the Mons supporters. Donovan took the kick and converted the try, thus making the scores 6 points to 5. From now on the play became even more keen; it was truly a great game, fought out cleanly with both teams intent on winning and with little to choose between the two. The advantage, if any, was with the RAMC, who were faster and more supple than the Mons. The RAMC forwards were now doing well and, heeling cleanly, got the ball away three times out of four from the scrum, thus giving their backs more opportunities of shining. From one such scrum, Nicholas, who was playing a tremendous game, made a lovely opening, but what looked like a score was spoiled by John dropping the ball when his wing was in a good scoring position. However, play continued in the Mons 25, and several scrums occurred before Prosser broke away and, running in the direction of the corner, passed to John, who transferred to Arthur Williams, this player crossing over and scoring his second try. Nicholas made a fine attempt to convert, but again was doomed to failure, as the ball just passed outside the upright. The game remained keen to the end, the Mons scoring their second try on the point of time, as a result of some loose play and cross kicking in front of the RAMC line. Harris caught the ball and raced over, but Donovan failed to add the necessary two points to turn defeat into victory, and the RAMC still unbeaten, left the field victors by the narrow margin of one point.
Final score: Welsh Field Ambulances 3 tries (9 points) 1st Reserve Monmouths 1 converted goal, 1 try (8 points)
[The referee, 2nd Lieutenant Lawrence Cave Blencowe, of the 2/10th The King’s (Liverpool) Regiment, better known as Liverpool Scottish, was a well-known rugby player. He was an England triallist, an Oxford Blue in 1907 and 1908. He had played for Headingley, Harlequins, Yorkshire and the Barbarians. On leaving Oxford University, he became an assistant master at Orleton Prep School, Scarborough. He married in 1914 and joined up in August 1916. Two months after refereeing the match at Oswestry he was killed in action in Belgium on 29 June, aged 29]
After the Armistice, Park Hall became one of the seventeen dispersal centres throughout the country for demobilisation. Park Hall also housed 12,000 German prisoners-of-war, including for a short period Admiral von Reuter, who gave the orders to scuttle the German fleet at Scapa Flow.