A special mission
The Royal Navy are Netherlands bound, says Alan Pearey
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 email@example.com
Oldest honour Delftsche Studenten Rugby-Club from the Netherlands was founded 98 years ago
History makers The internees in action