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Vets Tour remembers fallen rugby players

ON FRIDAY 9th November, forty members and ambassadors of the children’s charity of rugby, Wooden Spoon, set off from Shepherd Neame Brewery in Faversham to represent the charity in an over 35 Vets XV against Compiègne Rugby Club’s veteran team affectionately known as The Folk Clowns. The match on Saturday 10th November took place in commemoration of the fallen in the Great War 1914-1918. The team was superbly led by skipper James Crouch (Chelmsford RFC) along with Wooden Spoon ambassadors and legendary British and Irish Lions, John Taylor and Fergus Slattery.

Match in the same forest 2018

The exhibition match was played in the same forest.

The exhibition match was the finale to a week-long festival of rugby and remembrance aiming to pass on to young rugby players the importance of remembering the thousands of rugby players who served and died. The location was chosen in recognition of the signing of the 1918 Armistice in a railway carriage situated in a small forest clearing close to Compiègne Rugby Club. 100 years later, in a small clearing in the same forest, games of rugby were contested displaying acts of bravery and camaraderie which seemed insignificant in comparison but fitting nonetheless.

The event was organised by John Dennison, founder of the The World Rugby Memorial in conjunction with the City of Compiegne and Conseil Departmental l’Aisne. The commemoration included a formal presentation dinner on Saturday evening attended by over 400 officials, dignitaries and players of all ages. The veteran teams were in fine voice at the dinner and exchanged traditional rugby songs embodying the spirit of rugby and remembrance. An impromptu performance of The Green Fields of France, by Wooden Spoon’s very own Sean Eley silenced the room, brought tears to everyone’s eyes and raised all to their feet for a standing ovation! A video of a repeated rendition in the rugby club the following day proved popular on social media.

Vets XV with Folk-Clowns XV

Wooden Spoon Vets XV with Folk-Clowns XV.

On Sunday morning a formal act of remembrance took place at the Cenotaph, RC Compiègne. The memorial lists all 55 members of the club who served and died in the Great War. Wreaths were laid by representatives of the International and Home Unions, Counties, Clubs, Royal British Legion and by serving members of our Armed Forces who were among the Wooden Spoon touring party. Before the wreaths were laid four rugby balls were placed at the foot of the Cenotaph by young members of RC Compiègne; including one young player whose Great Great Grandfather’s name (Emile Poullain) was engraved on the memorial in front of him.

The specially designed O’Neil’s playing shirt worn by the team included a watermark with the names of players’ relatives who served and in some cases died in the war. Father and son tourists Andy and Raymond Daly were among those with relatives who served and whose names featured on the shirt.

Andy said; “I was humbled to pull on a shirt that bore the names of my three great grandfathers who all fought, and incredibly luckily, returned from the war”.

Serving Major Brett Bader of the Adjutant General’s Corps commented; “An honour and a privilege to be part of a band of brothers in this time of remembrance.”

Serving RAF Chief Technician Al Blewitt added; “I haven’t enough superlatives to describe this weekend! A memorable occasion, with a class bunch of gents who displayed all the values fitting of the Armistice weekend and of our great sport. Running out for the Wooden Spoon Vets then paying our respects to the fallen was an honour!”

Team Skipper James Crouch

Team Skipper James Crouch.

Team skipper James Crouch explained what the tour meant to him; “For me the tour showed the very best of the rugby family – the camaraderie, commitment and kinship that makes our game so special. It was a true honour to wear the jersey knowing that, even though we were having fun, we were doing this in memory of other rugby players who had laid down their lives. And what better tribute than to try to make a difference in the lives of future generations who may not have had the fortunate start that many of us have had.”

With the support of sponsors, friends, family and colleagues the tour has raised more than £10,000. Our sincere thanks go to tour sponsors, Bridgeshire Packaging Ltd, Yes Mortgage Services Ltd and Shepherd Neame without whom none of this would have been possible.

You can add your support and help make a difference through the team Virgin Money Giving page. Members of Wooden Spoon wishing to be considered for selection for the next Wooden Spoon Vets XV match or tour please email your rugby CV to rugby@woodenspoon.org.uk