“Good Sportsmen, Enlist Now”

Inspired by the exhibition, Team Spirit: Rugby, Rowing and Beyond at Orleans House Gallery, and the Rugby World Cup, we take a look at local sporting men who served during the First World War.

The role of sport during the First World War goes beyond the well-known narrative of the football games played during the 1914 Christmas Truce. Sport was not only a way for men to spend the little leisure time they had while serving on the Front, but was a means of raising morale and a way of encouraging other men to enlist in the forces.


The Footballer of Loos 1916 Watercolour by Elizabeth Thompson (later Lady Butler): Courtesy of The Irish Rifles Association

The Borough of Richmond upon Thames, steeped in sporting tradition, is home to a number of great First World War sportsmen. The first of note is the young Frank Edwards. During the Battle of Loos, Edwards and his fellow troops “went over” following a forbidden football, across No Man’s Land and towards the German Front Line. Frank survived the showering bullets and gas attacks, and returned to Britain, moving to Twickenham with his family.[1] Twickenham’s Billie Nevill, of the East Surrey Regiment, also led fellow troops towards enemy lines using two of the Company’s footballs during the infamous Battle of the Somme. His men captured the first German trench, but Billie was killed just outside of the wire.

Football workshop with Othello

Young People with Othello De’Souza-Hartley respond to the Frank Edwards and Billie Nevill stories. Credit Orleans House Gallery, In Their Footsteps

Rosslyn Park Rugby Club, in Richmond, was the sporting home to many men who would enlist for duty in 1914. Some men were well known sporting heroes, who had won national honours for their sporting prowess – who went on to be recognised for their bravery and abilities as servicemen. Charles George Gordon Bayly, named after his famed great uncle, played a debut game for Rossyln Park in 1910. A keen and proficient flyer, Bayly served as a pilot with the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). His plane was shot down in 1914, and as pilots then did not wear parachutes, Bayly died on impact. Bayly was flying in the first British aeroplane to be shot down by enemy fire, and the first Rossyln Park player to lose his life in the Great War. [2]

The links between sport and war continued long after peace was declared. In celebration of the Armistice, a cricket match was held between schools in East Twickenham and Twickenham. This was then followed by evening celebrations and a game of tug of war, a fair, and performances from local bands. Similar celebrations in the Borough took place, with a key focus placed on friendly sporting matches and games. [3]


British and German troops meet in No-Man’s Land during the unofficial truce, Christmas 1914. Wikimedia Commons

For more information on sport during the First World War, please follow these links:

9 Facts about Football in the First World War

World War One at Home – Sport

Sport and the First World War

Team Spirit: Rugby, Rowing and Beyond will be on display at Orleans House Gallery until 8th November 2015. Entry to the gallery and the exhibition are free.

[1] With thanks to Ed Harris for information on Frank Edwards

[2] Stephen Cooper, The Final Whistle – The Great War in Fifteen Players, The History Press (2012) pp. 31-44

[3] Information courtesy of Richmond upon Thames Local Studies Library & Archive

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