Our starting point and effective ‘bible’ for this project, the ORG Williams ‘Outline History of Saracens F.C. (R.F.U.)’, cannot be leafed through, even in the most casual way, without stumbling across the mention of a Bongard. The first mention of a player by the name is in the 1884/1885 season – Mr. J.L. Bongard – and in 1919/1920, all four men who played for the
club are credited with being part of the nucleus that brought Saracens back to life after the war.
James Lawrence Bongard, who was the first to become involved with Saracens, was the oldest of four brothers & two sisters. Born on 12th June 1865 at 35 Gaisford Street in Kentish Town, London, the eldest son of James and Eliza, he spent some time with his aunt and uncle in Suffolk as a child before his father, an insurance clerk, passed away at the young age of 41.
In 1881, a year after the death of James senior, 16 year old J.L. is working as a clerk while his mother is now running a lodging house, both presumably trying to bring in enough money to keep the family going.
Arthur, Mabel, Lillian, Seymour and Charles Bongard were all aged 14 and under, so James going to work must have been a necessity, especially for Arthur and Seymour to be able to continue their schooling.
It is in 1884 that James first appears in the Saracens history, only 8 years after the club was formed. At 19, he started playing at half back for Saracens on the 2nd XV. He joined at a time when the club was going to from strength to strength on the back of two undefeated seasons and had signed up enough members to have a third team, so to secure his place in the 2nd XV must have been a good indication of his abilities.The following year he ascended to the first team and in 1887 earned a call up to the Essex County Club side. He continued to be a successful and influential club member, playing for Essex County on a couple more occasions, captaining the 1st XV in the 1890/91 season until he fractured his collarbone, and even contributing to a cricketing win in the off season of 1889.
By 1891, the Bongard family as a whole had spread out a little bit and the brothers had all successfully become clerks for insurance firms. James and Arthur were both married, and Arthur has a son called Reginald Arthur Lawrence. It is Reginald who was to join his three uncles James, Seymour and Charles at Saracens, rather than his father, and he appears in team pictures sitting on the floor looking younger than his 18/19 years.
In 1891, James was presented with one of the two honours caps that were awarded to players who were felt deserving, and he goes on to fill the role of Vice Captain for the 1891/92 season.
After this his playing seems to tail off slightly, but his brothers appear to have stepped up and were getting just as involved in the club as their older brother.
Both Seymour and Charles Bongard feature in the 1894 team photo, with Seymour being Vice Captain and going on to captain the new “A” side in 1895/96, and Charles – 11 years younger than James – rising to captain the first team in 1901/02 and remaining in this role for 6 years.
On the 1901 Census, it seems that the family had migrated back together somewhat, with Seymour and Charles joining their two sisters in Crouch End where they all shared a house.No doubt this was handy for rugby, as the Saracens playing ground had moved to Crouch End after quite a spell in Lower Clapton.
Sadly, James had been widowed at a young age, his wife passing away in 1897 at the age of only 33. They hadn’t had any children. However, records show that in 1901 he remarried, and by 1911 he had a son by the name of Leicester James.At this time, all the brothers were living separately with their new families, and in 1912/13, their nephew Reginald followed their footsteps and became the Saracens Team Secretary.
Being the youngest of the Saracens-involved Bongard clan, it was always going to be Reginald who saw more service when war was declared in 1914 – or so we might assume. Although there is no trace of Seymour Bongard serving in any military capacity (he would have been 42 at the outbreak of war – just beyond the military age range of 18-41), both Charles and James played a part.
Charles Stanley Bongard, the youngest brother, was 37 in 1914, so still at the older end of the scale for recruits.
We don’t know when he signed up, but he first entered the war in
November 1917 as part of the Royal Army Services Corps and served in France as a 2nd Lieutenant. This starting date of 1917 may indicate that he was conscripted as part of the 1916 Military Service Act which eliminated voluntary enlistment and instead required all men between 19-41 to sign up; in May 2016 this extended to include all married men, which may be when Charles found himself assigned to the R.A.S.C. It is unclear what his responsibilities or duties were, but being out in France in the winter of 1917-1918 would have seemed a long way away from being a stockbroker in London.
James Lawrence Bongard, the big brother in the family, was 49 when war broke out. He was well beyond military age regardless of conscription, so it was somewhat unexpected to find some evidence of special service. Perhaps, knowing how he rose to the challenge of looking after his family after the death of his father, it should not be such a surprise that he joined the new City of London Special Police Reserve in 1914.Acting in a much similar way to the Specials of the current day, this force would have been drafted into action in light of losing many of its full time force to the battlefield. As a result of his time with the Reserve, James was awarded the Freedom of the City of London, as were all those who joined at the same time.
Reginald Arthur Lawrence Bongard was 23 years old in 1914 and so it’s no surprise that his military record has his date of entry as 7th September 1914.
Somewhat differently to a lot of the team we have traced, however, Reginald signed up to the Royal Naval Reserve and in just over a month was dispatched to Ballycotton, Ireland to serve as a signalman at the
He remained in Ireland for the duration of the war, and returned home with not only medals but a wife too!
We shall be highlighting more of the valuable contributions to the growth of Saracens Rugby Club in our further blogs on this remarkable family.