On Friday 21st October a group of 26 young men from Sevenoaks RFC Academy travelled to Amiens, France to take part in the Somme Centenary Rugby festival. This tour was organised by John Dennison from Francourt events who are leading the research for the World Rugby Memorial and a “book of remembrance” in memory of all rugby players lost in WW1.
Between July and November 1916 the Battle of the Somme raged with an estimated 1 million casualties on both sides from those killed, wounded or missing with July 1st being considered to be the worst day in British military history. We had the opportunity to visit the Beaumont Hamel Memorial park which is one of only a few sites on the Western Front where the ground remains largely untouched, with visible frontline trenches that the British and Newfoundland troops attacked from.
It was a very profound place to be and the gravity of the loss of life was evident when looking at the cemeteries where numerous soldiers lay to rest, most no older than our 16 and 17 year olds in the Academy squad - 100 years separating their fate.
We visited the Lochnagar crater where just before the infantry assault began, several mines were blown, which were intended to destroy parts of the German front line and create huge craters. “The Lochnagar Crater” is the result of one of them. The mine crater of 100 metres in diameter and 30 metres in depth is now the only crater accessible to the public.
Saturday 22nd was tournament day where Rugby teams from Amiens, Cambrai (France) Clifton (Bristol) and Horsham (Surrey) took part in a wonderful day of sharing sport and demonstrating teamwork whilst playing in honour of the fallen. Sevenoaks Captain Gregor Watson led the team out with a rousing speech about commitment, heart and togetherness.
Plenty of excellent Rugby was played by all teams in a wonderful spirit and enjoyment fitting for the occasion. Sevenoaks RFC almost kept a clean sheet, scoring 26 tries and only conceding 1 with success against all sides. This was followed by a commemoration dinner with awards and presentations, Joe Hayward voted Player of the tournament for his off-loading and work around the pitch.
Sunday 23rd we attended a British legion service at Thiepval, a village totally destroyed by the end of 1916 and now the site of the great Memorial to the missing. Names of 73,412 men who died in 1916 to 1917 and have no known graves.
This tour was an excellent lesson in history with great sadness but also joy at forging new friendships in the name of Rugby. Sevenoaks RFC would like to thank the players, supporters, coaches (especially Tom Kelly) and Oaks Club in their generous support. We would also like to show our appreciation for John Dennison at Francourt Events for organising the event and all of our hosts in Amiens.