• Keith Gregson

The Last Stand - Remembering the Rugby Players (1/2)

On Saturday 9 November Ashbrooke Sports Club in Sunderland will be holding a ceremony of rededication for its century old and recently refurbished rugby grandstand. The stand will be renamed 'The Last Stand' and dedicated mainly to rugby players from Sunderland (R)FC who fell in conflict during the two world wars of the twentieth century; also to others no longer with us who contributed to sporting life at Ashbrooke as rugby players. Many of these were equally involved in cricket, tennis, hockey, squash and athletics at the club making the event of interest and importance to all club members. As well as providing better facilities for spectators, the refurbished stand has been adapted to include much needed storage space for equipment used for training and on match days.

There will be at least 47 names on the Last Stand. These are the names of men who gave their lives in the two World Wars of the twentieth century and had played rugby for Sunderland. Twenty eight of these died in the First World War and were among 100 plus rugby players from Sunderland C and FC who have been identified as signing up soon after the outbreak of the conflict.

Almost one in three of those who played for the club’s three XVs on 17 January 1914 failed to survive the conflict. Indeed it would be possible to put together a side of players who gave their lives in the First World War with everyone playing in their preferred positions;

15 N Neilson (1885-1916)

14 C Smith (1897 -1920)

13 G Carter (1884 -1915)

12 G Moore (1895 -1918)

11 A W Stockdale (1890-1915)

10 J Adamson (1885-1917)

9 E H Moore (1893 -1917)

8 F M Wawn (1877 –1915)

7 F C Longden (1888-1918)

6 J H Hedley (1899 -1918)

5 A Pumphrey (1891-1917)

4 J H Edwards (1894-1917)

3 A R Legat (1888 -1917)

2 A Corder (1891 -1915)

1 T E Middlemiss (1891-1917)


John Hedley had just left public school and was earmarked in the national sporting press for a great rugby future and had captained his school side months before his death. His home was in the Elms West. Edwards was shot by a sniper. He had returned to the front after suffering brain damage as a result of a shell burying him in a trench.

1911/12 J Adamson (10) in the suit; E H Moore (9) in front of the pillar; J H Edwards (4) standing on left with white vest and arms folded

Neilson was a star county player. Their stories are told in detail in the club’s online history of the First World War (https://worldrugbymuseum.blog).

1908/9 G H Hedley – back row beside man in civilian clothes; C W M Pottsseated beside captain (wearing mittens)

Many survived the war, were honoured and/or went on to do great things.

Among these were:

  • R A Bartram M.C. (1894 -1981) who came from a well-known shipbuilding family and later became High Sheriff of Durham.

  • A H Birchall M.C. (1887 -1954) who started as a corporal and later became commanding officer of the territorial 7th Durham Light Infantry

  • A M Gelsthorpe D.S.O. (1892 – 1968) was a local curate and county rugby player who went on to be a bishop in Africa and left his collected papers to the University of Birmingham.

  • G H Hedley (1890 – 1971) M.C. Played for club and county before the war and served in the artillery. The reason for his award has survived. It was ‘for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in bringing his guns into action in a forward position. Both during the time his battery was advancing, and whilst going into action it was under heavy shell fire, and it was owing to his coolness and gallant example that the guns were brought into action under the most trying conditions’.

  • C W M Potts M.C. (1882 – 1959)1st XV Captain before the war and from a family of well-known architects in Sunderland.

  • E Watts Moses (1895 -1975) became influential and much respected President of the Rugby Football Union. A prolific author and writer on rugby matters and history, he was involved in hand to hand fighting at Passchendaele. See https://worldrugbymuseum.blog/2018/10/22/eric-watts-moses-a-president-at-war/

Next Friday’s blog will deal with the Second World War.


Download the club’s First World War history – all money divided between The Last Stand and the John Drummond Fund;

Can you do nothing to mend my broken heart? The Ashbrooke Boys - A sports club at war 1914-18, online   https://shoptly.com/i/w4r

For a musical tribute to club members who fell in the First World War watch;

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLBWjmJGXAo

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