Ron­ald Poul­ton Palmer, 1889-1915: Eng­land rugby cap­tain, killed in Ploeg­steert, Bel­gium

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Boxing -

When Eng­land’s rugby union play­ers take a left turn out of the tun­nel be­fore fac­ing New Zealand at Twick­en­ham to­day, they will cross a spe­cial patch of earth. For it is where soil from the grave of ar­guably Eng­land’s great­est player – Ron­ald Poul­ton Palmer – was buried in May.

To­day’s mas­cots will be Max Gar­nett, his 10-year-old great, great nephew, and also Jack Davis, the great, great grand­son of Lancelot Slo­cock, an­other for­mer Eng­land cap­tain who died dur­ing the First World War. Poul­ton Palmer was also the great un­cle of Peter Jay, the for­mer BBC eco­nomics ed­i­tor and British am­bas­sador to the United States.

“Our fam­ily was nearly wiped out,” says Jay. “We are very proud of Ron­nie. He would play games in his fa­ther’s gar­den on the Isle of Wight. That was where he learnt his body swerve and he never lost that ex­treme elu­sive­ness.”

As de­tailed in James Holder’s new book, The Great War’s Sport­ing Ca­su­al­ties, Poul­ton Palmer set nu­mer­ous en­dur­ing records. He re­mains the only player to score five tries in the Var­sity match. He played in the first in­ter­na­tional at Twick­en­ham in 1910 and cap­tained Eng­land to the equiv­a­lent of a Grand Slam in 1914, cul­mi­nat­ing with his four tries against France in the last in­ter­na­tional be­fore the out­break of war.

Poul­ton Palmer was 25 when, on May 5, 1915, he died af­ter be­ing struck by a sniper while re­pair­ing a trench near Ploeg­steert Wood in Bel­gium. As he lay dy­ing, his last words were: “I shall never play at Twick­en­ham again.”

Soil from Twick­en­ham was sub­se­quently scat­tered onto his

grave at the Royal Berks Ceme­tery in Bel­gium by Lewis Moody. The for­mer Eng­land flanker de­scribed Poul­ton Palmer as “the world’s best rugby player of his day”.

An­other rel­a­tive, James Gar­nett, will be at Twick­en­ham to­day.

“I can re­mem­ber see­ing his caps at my fa­ther’s house and wear­ing them as a kid,” he says. “The lay­ing of the soil at Twick­en­ham was very emo­tional and, ev­ery in­ter­na­tional, they will now go over Poul­ton Palmer. He was a trailblazer – in ev­ery sin­gle pic­ture you will see him hold­ing the ball in two hands.”

Jay, 81, will give a speech this Armistice week­end as part of his du­ties as the Mayor of Wood­stock. “I will ask what pa­tri­o­tism is,” he says. “Their gen­er­a­tion put coun­try be­fore them­selves.

“I will ask: Why did they lay down their lives? And have we lived in a way that re­spected what they did and which has made the most of that op­por­tu­nity?”

Trib­ute: Lewis Moody hon­ours rugby leg­end Ron­ald Poul­ton Palmer (above far right) Cir­cuit length: 4.309km 2017 win­ner:Max Ver­stap­pen

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