A spe­cial mis­sion

The Royal Navy are Nether­lands bound, says Alan Pearey

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HERE WILL be an oc­ca­sion to cher­ish next month, when a spe­cial me­mo­rial match is staged in the Nether­lands town of Leeuwar­den.

A cen­tury ago, war raged in Europe and among those to suf­fer were 1,500 Royal Naval men cut off af­ter the siege of An­twerp. Rather than al­low his men to be taken pris­oner, Com­modore Wil­fred Hen­der­son gave the or­der to cross into neu­tral Hol­land. The men be­came in­ternees – as in­ter­na­tional law de­manded – at a camp in Gronin­gen, dub­bing the huts they lived in ‘HMS Tim­ber­town’.

In 1916 teams from these bat­tal­ions rep­re­sent­ing Eng­land and Scot­land played two rugby ex­hi­bi­tion matches in front of 2,500 pay­ing spec­ta­tors.

Most of the crowd knew noth­ing about rugby, but the games proved a hit and sub­se­quent exhibitions by the in­ternees in the stu­dent cities of Gronin­gen, Am­s­ter­dam, The Hague and Delft led to the cre­ation of the first rugby clubs in the Nether­lands. The old­est is Delftsche Stu­den­ten Rugby-Club, founded in 1918.

These first rugby ‘In­ter­na­tion­als’ in the Nether­lands – won 19-7 and 16-12 by Eng­land – led to a plan to reprise the fix­ture. Pro­ject man­ager Ken Wright con­tacted the Royal Navy RFU and sides from Portsmouth (RN East) and Clyde (RN North) will play a

TChal­lenge Cup match in Leeuwar­den. It kicks off at 2pm on 5 Novem­ber – ex­actly 100 years on from the sec­ond game played by the wartime pioneers.

The match will be a cen­tre­piece of a me­mo­rial week­end that in­cludes street ac­tiv­i­ties and a sym­po­sium at which award-win­ning au­thor Stephen Cooper is a speaker. On of­fer will be a tro­phy named in Hen­der­son’s hon­our.

Lit­tle is known of the play­ers from a cen­tury ago but the in­ternees in­cluded AC Wil­liamson, an Ox­ford Univer­sity half-back, and Fred­er­ick Glass­borow, great-grand­fa­ther of the Duchess of Cam­bridge – Kate Mid­dle­ton.

“This will be a le­gacy,” says Wright. “I’d love to see this as an an­nual event as it’s about the spirit of the game.”

For tick­ets, see rug­by­mad.nl and Wright would love to hear from any de­scen­dants of the in­ternees – con­tact him at info@rug­by­mad.nl

Old­est hon­our Delftsche Stu­den­ten Rugby-Club from the Nether­lands was founded 98 years ago

His­tory mak­ers The in­ternees in ac­tion

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