Welsh Country - Nov Dec 2018

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This is a complete issue of Welsh Country from Nov-Dec 2018

WW1 CENTENARY - THE RUGBY PLAYERS WHO WENT TO WAR

The guns fell silent 100 years ago, at the eleventh

hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month

(November 11th, 1918). Over four years and 1,500

days of attrition had finally led to Germany’s collapse and

surrender, concluding ‘The Great War’, a conflict that left

physical and emotional scars throughout the land.

When the war began, Britain’s professional army was

augmented by eager volunteers who wanted to be a part of a

just war that folk believed would be over by Christmas. As the

death toll mounted, conscription was introduced, the whole

nation mobilised for a total war that had to be won whatever

the cost.

In Wales, support for the war effort was as strong as

anywhere. Communities where Methodism and Rugby Union

sat cheek by jowl as religious callings, swapped oval balls and

prayer books for rifles and bayonets. Much will be written, as

we mark a century since the end of WW1, about the men who

went to war, but I was interested particularly in those rugby

players, men whose next dash or body-swerve would be to

dodge enemy bullets, rather than opposing wingers.

No fewer than 13 Welsh Rugby internationals were killed

during the war, with another, Hopkin Maddocks, dying of his

wounds, in 1921.

William Purdon ‘Billy’

Geen was born in Newport

in March 1891 and was

academically gifted, going

to Oxford, where he

represented the rugby club

four times in the Varsity

Match. A centre or wing,

Geen played three times for

Wales over 1912-13 and was

a member of the Newport

side that defeated the

touring South Africans. He

was also a decent cricketer,

playing wicketkeeper for

Monmouthshire.

When war broke out

Geen was commissioned a

2nd Lt in the 9th Battalion,

King’s Royal Rifle Corps

(August 1914) and was

on the Western Front the

following May. On July

31st he was killed in action

at 2nd Ypres when leading

his men towards ruined

village buildings, which

necessitated walking into a

blizzard of enemy fire, then

engaging in hand-to-hand

fighting. He was 24 and was

one of the battalion’s 17

officers and 333 other ranks

who fell in that attack.

Louis Augustus ‘Lou’

Phillips was also born in

Newport, in February 1878

and went on to play halfback

for Newport and win

four caps for the national

side. Like Geen, Phillips

was an all-rounder, as he

was also a talented golfer

(twice the Welsh Amateur

champion), and again was a

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