Kindred club takes on deeper meaning when you share a War Memorial
Give for your country, though sterner the game.
Regular readers of these columns will know that each November we pause to remember the huge sacrifice that was made by previous generations of players from Anniesland and Balgray and we will do so again this year
This weekend in France sees the culmination of a remarkable project the unveiling of a Memorial to all rugby players who fell irrespective of country
Many of our founder clubs' players are the recorded through the research already undertaken but it is an ongoing project
The next generation will link up the following week as the Hawks Junior section undertake a tour to France when the Under 16s participate in the Tournoi des Capitales which includes a Commemoration Ceremony
Project Organiser John Dennison takes up the story
Rugby Memorial Project 2017
Updated 15:59 - 15 Sep 2017 by Bob Coats
Create a lasting legacy to the sport of Rugby with a new monument dedicated to those who gave their lives in Ww1.
Where did it start
In 2014 the Aisne Department held the first International Sporting Event marking the Centenary of WW1 with a project “Rugby Players Trench” based across the Chemin des Dames around Laon.
Following some initial research in 2013 it was discovered that the first Internationals to be killed in the war in September 1914 in the Aisne Region. Eventually it was discovered that a total of 15 Internationals died in the Region between 1914-1918. 12 French, 2 Scots and 1 English.
A number of Ceremonies were arranged along with a Rugby Festival in Laon featuring Youth players in September 1914, exactly 100 years from the early losses. Boys aged 15-18 took part from local clubs forming Representative Teams from the Aisne for the occasion, along with Racing Metro, London Scottish and Blackheath.
The preservation of the Chemin des Dames is part of a major UNESCO Project
Franck Viltart from the Conseil Department L’Aisne and John Dennison of Francourt Events were the driving force behind the project.
The next step
Franck & John continued to share ideas about marking the Centenary of Ww1 across the North of France and were also thinking of a second project to mark the Aisne Centenary in 2017. After several discussions the idea of a Memorial on the Chemin des Dames began to formulate. The plan was to research beyond the Internationals and find the names of Regional or Club Players killed in the Aisne. However, when approaches were made regarding this idea for the Aisne the FFR suggested that it be widened to include players from all countries. Hence the Rugby Memorial Project.
Project Launch, October 2015
The next move was to arrange a meeting with members from the RFU Heritage Committee and World Rugby Museum at Twickenham, London. This took place during the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Here Franck & John launched the Memorial Project and begin the appeal to clubs across the world to forward names of players lost in Ww1 for a “Book of Remembrance”.
Since the launch information has been received from England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada. Even China ! Unfortunately, there are no records held in the United States.
Help with appeal is still needed and the search will continue in 2017. The first edition of the Book of Remembrance will be released on September 16th on the same day as the Memorial is unveiled. John has been working on this continuously since October 2015.
Franck has arranged with Jean-Pierre Rives the former French Rugby Captain, and now a sculptor and artist to produce the new memorial.
The site of the monument will be just outside the village of Craonnelle in the heart of the Chemin des Dames Battlefields. It will be located on land adjacent to the Basque Memorial, dedicated to the many from that Region who fought and died in the area.
Rugby Memorial Weekend
The Memorial Weekend is set for September 14th to 17th with a combination of Ceremonies across the Chemin des Dames. The main Ceremony dedicating the Memorial will take place on Saturday September 16th at 10h00.
Other ceremonies will be taking place on September 15th at Vendresse, Cerny, Moulins, Paissy, and La-Ville-aux-Bois-les Pontavert. Here Rugby Clubs from the UK will take part in Ceremonies marking Regiments that have a close link with their history.
Educational visits will also feature during the course of the event with a tour of the Chemin des Dames and the Caverne du Dragon, looking at the course of the war in the Region.
A Commemorative Dinner will take place on September 16th in Laon. A Rugby Festival is planned to take place in Laon featuring players aged 16 to 18 from France, UK, Belgium and Germany over 2 days, September 16th & 17th.
The festival will be named “Frontline Festival”. This is a term combining both Rugby and Military. The translation from English into French for both “Front Row Festival” and “Frontline Festival” is “Festival de Premiere Ligne”
Book of Remembrance
The Book of Remembrance is a research document that will attempt to list as many players from around the world who gave their lives in Ww1.
An appeal has gone out through the major playing rugby nations contacting clubs to forward names for inclusion.
Records required if available are:
A; Players Name Date of Birth Club
B; Service Record: Army/Navy/Royal Flying Corps and include Regiment/Ship
Date of Death, Place of Death
Moving forward, details of individuals will be supplemented with additional records of photographs and short biographies.
The Memorial will become the place in the World where the game of Rugby will be remembered. A plan is already in place to hold an annual youth festival of rugby in the Aisne giving each of local clubs an opportunity to host on a rota.
The Book of Remembrance will be enhanced from 2018 to include photos and short biographies of individuals. This can be added by individuals and clubs through the administrators. This document will be made available as a research tool.
The site will become a place to visit and pay homage to those who went before and become part of the tour of the Chemin des Dames.
In 2020 a plan has been formulated to mark the 75th Anniversary of the end of Ww2 and a second edition of the Book of Remembrance.
Rugby Memorial Project 2017
A steering committee of members from the Regional Aisne Government, 14-18 Centenaire Mission, FFR Comite Flandres, Rugby Club Laon, Laon City Council, SANZUB, Aisne Tourism, and led by the Conseil Department L’Aisne and Francourt Events.
M Franck Viltart from the Conseil Department L’Aisne leads the project for the French, with John Dennison, President of Francourt Events arranging the logistics and UK part of the project.
Francourt Events was formed specifically to work alongside the French Authorities in arranging sporting events commemorating the centenary of Ww1.
Centenary Rugby Events are arranged with the FFR in France and the BRU in Belgium which combine education, remembrance and sport.
Most events are open to all clubs to participate, as well as running specific events for clubs and schools to commemorate their past players and former pupils.
The other part of the operation is providing educational services in France and Belgium. We also make presentations in the UK to Schools about WW1 and have a Mobile Military Museum and WW1 Frontline Field Hospital.
More details are available at www.francourt.org
Passeurs de Memorie Association
This association was formed in April 2015 bringing together local authorities and tourist departments to work together with educators and guides in the Aisne. Francourt Events is very proud to be a member of the association. In 2016 the Association was extended across the North of France.
The object of the Association is to pass the torch to future generations to continue the process of education and remembrance.
Benefits to Students
As well as creating the new Memorial and Book of Remembrance we encourage students to take part in their own research.
For those coming to France in September they will be encouraged to study WW1 and find connections from their Club and School.
While here they will receive educational sessions with our guides, and have a greater understanding of the scale of the events that took place between 1914-1918.
Their direct involvement in the Ceremonies will bring home the sacrifice made on both sides. In the Aisne where this event is based the region was occupied for nearly 4 years and students will have a session about “Life Under Occupation”. The effects on the lives of the civilians.
Visiting frontline sites at Craonne they will see the ruins of the village that was never rebuilt after the war. Also while in Craonne there will be be a session about the French Mutiny of 1917. At the Caverne du Dragon students will have a guided tour of the caves where an underground war took place. Hand to hand fighting in the caves was regular feature. For a time the old quarry where the visitor centre is now sited was used as the German Frontline HQ. While above ground the trenches covered the Chemin des Dames as the war went from a mobile phase in the early days to the attrition of trench warfare.
Following the Event we encourage students to make a presentation at the their school and to share their experience.
Finally the students will have a greater understanding of the events of a century ago and how the freedom and choices of our modern era were formed.
20 February 2017