Wooden Spoon British & Irish National Vets Rugby Tour Commemorates 80th Anniversary of D-Day

On the evening of Thursday, June 6th, fifty men and women gathered at Havant Rugby Club near Portsmouth Harbour to kick off the Wooden Spoon tour to Normandy. The tour was organised to play fixtures against Rugby Club Caen and commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day, a pivotal moment in World War II. The tour veterans and newcomers were warmly welcomed before embarking on an overnight ferry crossing to Ouistreham.

Upon arrival, the tourists were treated to a hearty continental breakfast by their hosts at Caen Rugby Club, followed by a practice session and a captain’s run before lunch. The afternoon featured a poignant visit to Pegasus Bridge and the Commonwealth War Cemetery at Ranville. Pegasus Bridge was the site where the first Allied troops landed on June 6, 1944, to secure the bridge and prevent Nazi reinforcements from reaching the Normandy peninsula. With guidance from Peter Jones, the group’s tour guide, the magnitude and significance of the D-Day operations were vividly brought to life.

At the cemetery in Ranville, the group paid their respects to the fallen soldiers, including Den Brotheridge, the first casualty of D-Day, who lies among 2,235 graves, 97 of them unidentified. The solemn atmosphere underscored the collective remembrance of the sacrifices made during the war. The day concluded with a meal at a traditional restaurant in Rouen, fostering camaraderie among the touring group.

Saturday, the day of the matches, started with a brief visit to Omaha Beach, a landing area in Normandy used by Allied forces in the WWII D-Day invasion. After, the group headed to RC Caen for the rugby fixtures. The spirit of rugby was evident as players put their hearts into every match, honouring the memories of those who fought 80 years ago. The tournament was particularly memorable for Lisa Richardson, who scored her first-ever try, having only started playing rugby a few weeks earlier. The matches concluded with presentations and a celebratory meal at the club.

The tour’s final act of remembrance took place on Sunday with a tribute to the fallen at a service on Sword Beach, coordinated by John Dennison of Francourt Event. Dignitaries, including the Mayor of Ouistreham and representatives from other Allied Rugby Groups, attended the service. Once the ceremony had ended the group returned to Portsmouth by ferry, marking a stark contrast to the events of 1944, with every member returning safely.

The tour was made possible through the support of many individuals and sponsors, notably Quark and Leigh’s Autos. Their generosity, along with individual donations, helped raise funds for Wooden Spoon, supporting projects for children and young people with disabilities in the UK and Ireland.

“Touring with such a fantastic group of guys and girls just reminds me how special the folks who really drive change with Wooden Spoon are,” said Crouchy, the men’s captain. “Yes, we had great fun, yes, we all had a ‘moment’ while considering the events of 80 years ago, but we all came together to make a difference.”

Vega Ouyang Hui added, “Rugby is not the only part of this tour. Visiting historical sites was so touching, and the friendships we built made this probably one of the best rugby tours I have ever been on.”

The Wooden Spoon tour to Normandy was a powerful blend of sport, history, and remembrance, reflecting the enduring spirit of camaraderie and respect within the rugby community.