- Seven members of England's 1914 Grand Slam side died in World War 1
- On 29 April, Rose & Poppy Gate to be unveiled
There has never before been a memorial to remember England’s rugby players who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives for their country.
That will change when on 29 April, a century after the Battles of the Somme, Gallipoli, Jutland and Ypres, the Rugby Football Union unveils the Rose and Poppy Gates at Twickenham Stadium.
In the 1914 Five Nations Championship, England won the Grand Slam for the second time under Ronnie Poulton-Palmer’s captaincy.
It was the season before the Great War broke out, whole rugby teams signing up together, many falling together. Seven of that England Grand Slam winning team were to die.
Poulton-Palmer, hailed as the world’s greatest player, was killed at Ypres by a German sniper. It was reported that his last words were, “I shall never play at Twickenham again”.
Captain Robert Pillman, who won his first and only cap as flanker, was killed during the Battle of the Somme, while trying to bring his men back from a night raid.
Royal Navy forward Arthur Harrison, the only England international awarded the Victoria Cross, took part in the Zeebrugge Raid in 1918, when the Royal Navy tried to block the German-held port, and was killed leading his landing party.
Scrum half and submariner Lieutenant Francis Oakley RN disappeared with his boat the ‘D2’.
By 1918 tens of thousands of rugby players had been killed and for years some endured the lingering death of mustard gas.
The Rose and Poppy Gates, part of the RFU’s World War 1 commemorations, will remind us of all the players killed in action from 1914 onwards.
Artist and sculptor Harry Gray has incorporated 15 roses at the foot of the gates, copies of those on the 1914 England shirt, each cast in bronze and representing Poulton-Palmer’s team. They rise into poppies near the top.
The 15th rose on each gate represents the man at the front, and forms the lock. A bronze bar at head height suggests the point where soldiers went over the top, beyond it the roses become poppies, each made from brass taken from shells fired by German artillery at the Allied trenches.
On 29 April at 3pm, on the eve of the Army v Navy match, the gates will be unveiled and rugby players who gave their lives will have a stunning lasting memorial. Those with an interest are welcome to attend by applying to email@example.com.
Ronnie Poulton-Palmer may never again have played at Twickenham, but he and his team mates will now always be remembered there.