- Born in London in 1963
- Died on 18 September 1916
- Extract taken from Doing their Duty
Born in London in 1863 Rupert Edward Inglis was the youngest son of Sir John Inglis, known as the ‘Defender of Lucknow’ for his role in the Indian Rebellion of 1857.
Rupert attended Rugby School, University College, Oxford and then Ely Theological College before being ordained.
Inglis earned rugby blues in 1883 and 1884, winning both matches comfortably and scoring a try in the second. The contributions of the tall, solidly built Inglis did not go unnoticed by the 1883 Cambridge captain Charles Marriot, who in 1886 would captain England during Inglis’ international debut.
His first cap, a victory against Wales at Rectory Field, where he often turned out for Blackheath, while in his second game he helped England to victory over Ireland, and in his third and final game England drew with Scotland and retained the Calcutta Cup, so Inglis retired without having tasted defeat.
Ready for war
By 1900 Inglis was rector at Frittenden in Kent. He married Helen that year and the couple had three children, Joan, John and Margaret.
Inglis was 51 when war broke out and so the players he shared a field with are of a markedly different vintage to those with whom he served. He took it upon himself to encourage the local men of his parish to commit themselves to the service and he enlisted with the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry 1st Battalion.
As an army chaplain Inglis would be kept busy on the western front, performing field services, administering to the spiritual needs of the men and, when called upon, reading them their last rites. He had spent the tail end of 1915 working in the casualty clearing stations. Primitive and basic in their medical provision the stations were little more than temporary field positions that moved forwards and backwards with the front line.
His detailed memoirs, published in 1920, reveal a strong but gentle man, frequently distressed by what he witnessed but always on hand to assist. His wife’s home-made cakes - and his whiskey - which he shared amongst them, made him popular with privates and colonels alike.
He had been removed from the front in advance of the first day of the Somme but as the battle wore on found himself drawn closer and closer to the fighting. Unsurprisingly he had been adopted as a talisman by his men, who called him ‘The Rector’ and went so far as to name a trench after him.
On the 17 September owing to a lack of men, Inglis was put in charge of a company of stretcher bearers. Colonel Murray of the King’s Shropshire’s Light Infantry had made a point of asking Inglis to remain at the station but as fewer and fewer stretcher bearers returned the Rector’s instinct to help got the better of him.
The next day he and a handful of others went over the top to retrieve wounded men from the battlefield. He was first hit in the leg and took shelter in a nearby crater. German artillery had caught sight of him and his co-bearer. A second shell, this time a direct hit, killed them both. Inglis was 53.
Dozens of men wrote to his widow to let her know of their fondness for the Rector, one describing him as ‘a man in a million’. He is thought to have personally saved many lives by his decision to go and retrieve the wounded and had been recommended for a Military Cross.
Beloved of many, Rupert Inglis’ name is memorialised in more places than any other English player to have fallen in the Great War. These include the Thiepval Memorial, Twickenham Stadium, Rugby School, MCC at Lord’s, Blackheath FC, University College at Oxford, Oxford University RFC, All Saints at Aldershot and churches in Leicestershire, Basingstoke and Frittenden.
For more information on the Rugby Football Union’s First World War commemorations, click here
For details of the other 26 fallen England players, click here.