The Saracens WW1 project is fuelled by a lot of hard work from everyone concerned in trying to trace the players who served in World War One, and more often than not the research is done from behind a desk with the aid of email, digitised records, telephones, and networking within the rugby business.
But every once in a while, it seems fate wishes to give us a helping hand, and so it has to be wondered if Herbert Frederick Vincent, a forward for Saracens in 1914, could ever have imagined the odds of his grandson – a Leicester Tigers season ticket holder – attending a match at Saracens home ground for the first time in 2015, and running into one of our researchers after mentioning in passing that he believed his grandfather had a history with the Club! This is what happened during Saracens’ win vs. Newcastle Falcons at Allianz Park recently! A quick check of our copy of ORG Williams’ history of the club confirmed the connection, and so now we can begin to tell you the story of Herbert.
Herbert Frederick Vincent was born on 8th August 1888, in the Stoke Newington area of London. His father, Frederick, was a clerk for a number of commercial firms over the years and his responsibilities often related to colonial produce that was being shipped into London in vast quantities at the time. Herbert was the only child of Frederick and his wife, Elizabeth Isabel, and he remained living with his parents in Stoke Newington up to and including 1911.
In 1909, whilst working as a leather trade salesman in Bermondsey, Herbert signed up for 4 years’ service with the Territorial Force and joined the 3rd London Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery. His attestation and medical inspection report recorded his height at 6 foot exactly, with a 30in chest. Not quite what we might expect of a forward’s build today! However, we know that Herbert also played for Sidcup Football Club in his early years, where, no doubt, his height would have been of great value!
The territorial force had only just been formally created in 1908 from the more informal local volunteer and militia units, and was specifically for the purpose of home defence through part-time soldiers who were under no obligation to serve overseas. The 3rd London Brigade of the RFA served as a support unit to the 1st London Division, and being a member of the territorial force meant volunteers had to attend annual training camps, typically for two weeks at a time. Herbert attended camps for the four full years of his term of services, including Rollestone Camp in 1909, Borden Camp in 1910, and Salisbury Camp in 1911, all in Hampshire. This commitment was obviously much less than that of a regular soldier, and the territorials were known commonly as ‘Saturday Night Soldiers’. But they were to go on and prove their value when war broke out in 1914.
In 1913, Herbert was discharged following the completion of his four-year term of service – only to have to step up again a year later when war was declared in August 1914. This was, however, not before making an appearance for Saracens against the 2nd Life Guards on March 7th, 1914, playing alongside many other rugby men who were also about to accept the call to war.
Keep following to read about Herbert’s war service in a future update.