The recent discovery of an original newspaper story covering the Saracens 50th Anniversary Jubilee Club Dinner has been very insightful. The detailed journalistic coverage of the gala evening, held at the famous Cafe Monico (on Tichborne Street, near what is now Piccadilly Circus), captures wonderfully the spirit of the evening via the speeches, the humour, the formal conventions and delightful protocols of the event. Significantly for our World War 1 research project, the list of some of the attendees at the dinner also allows us to mark as ‘survivors’ a number of Saracens players from the pre-1914 era…
This important evening event was chaired by Club President J.G. Brodie, who had captained the Saracens ‘A’ XV from 1900-1904. He welcomed as the Club’s honoured guests not only the President of the Rugby Football Union Mr. H.E. Ferens, but also the already-renowned England Rugby team captain William Wavell Wakefield “who had asked permission to retire early, so that he might be in bed by ten o’clock in preparation for the International with France“!
Despite the request, Mr W.W. Wakefield “was not given permission to do so, till he had addressed the company, though, he said, he was assured he would not have to make a speech“!
Wakefield’s speech was followed by that of 82-year old Mr. F.W. Dunn – the Saracens’ first-ever Captain – who professed himself “deeply moved at the grand reception accorded to him“. In what must have been a wonderful link with the founding years of the Club, Dunn spoke “of the early days, stating that they were only schoolboys, and that none of them dreamt when they were forming a club it would ever develop into such a one as this. He could honestly say they played the game. It was a good game, and one in which the better side won“.
Soaking up the speeches, the atmosphere and no doubt the free-flowing drinks were a number of other pre-World War 1 Saracens players, who we can thankfully mark as having safely survived the 1914-18 era that had taken the lives of so many of their contemporaries. Mr. A.J. Wilson, Captain of the 1912 1st XV, proposed a toast to the health of the Chairman, whilst J.L. Bongard – the Club’s Captain in 1890 – formally thanked the visitors for their attendance at the Dinner that evening. In the audience, no doubt enjoying the event surrounded by 200 of their fellow Saracens and guests, were R. Bailey (Saracens 1895), D.C. Bell (Saracens 1903), Duncan McMillan (Captain, 1913-14 1st XV), E.J. Jagels and G.P. Mayne (Saracens ‘A’ teammates in 1912-14) and C.E. Ebdon (Saracens Hon. Secretary 1904).
It fell to the current Captain and pre-war player J.S. Greer to put into perspective both the first 50 years of Saracens history, and the huge impact that the First World War had wrought upon the Club “He referred to the great difficulties they had experienced since the reconstruction of the club in 1919, It was a new club in the sporting sense, since only twelve old playing members could be got together when they returned from the Great War…The average playing age was now 22, and he prophesied the Saracens would play a great part in London Rugger circles”
Greer’s words and insights give added fuel to our research into the fate of so many of the Saracens players from the pre-1914 era. The Club was fielding four sides on weekends in the 1913-14 season before the outbreak of war – a playing contingent of more than 60 players from this year alone…this number rises dramatically as we count up the number of Saracens known to have represented the Club in earlier years. And yet, as Greer points out, only 12 players would return to actually lace up their boots and pull on a Saracens shirt again in the post-war era. Clearly, as our research to-date has recorded, not all of these absent pre-war Saracens fell in battle in the 1914-18 conflict…but the fate of many of them remains unclear, so the WW1 Project continues unchecked.
Back at the Jubilee Dinner in 1926, the conclusion of the dinner was marked by a rather remarkable formality for us in the modern era – the receipt of a telegram from the King, in response to one sent to His Majesty by the Saracens, sending “their respectful greetings,and assurance of their unswerving loyalty, recognising with gratitude the support ever given to British sport by Your Majesty and the members of your family“.
King George V had, of course, played an important role in the promotion & endorsement of the King’s Cup rugby tournament, hosted in Britain by a grateful post-war nation, and competed for by national representative teams from across world in 1919, prior to them embarking on the long voyages back home across the Commonwealth and North America. The full story of this first-ever ‘Rugby World Cup’ is told in detail in Stephen Cooper’s fascinating account – ‘After The Final Whistle‘.
In response, the reply from Buckingham Palace read “I am commanded to express the King’s best thanks to the members of the Saracens’ Rugby Football Club, celebrating this evening the fiftieth anniversary of their foundation, for their loyal greetings and kindly references to the interest of His Majesty and the members of his family in British sport, which his Majesty much appreciated”
It fell to the Club President, J.G. Brodie, to propose the toast to “The Saracens Football Club – may the star and crescent ever shine bright in the Rugby world”
This was a worthy and admirable call then in 1926, and we can only hope that our Saracens forebears that evening would be satisfied with our collective efforts as a Club to keep the star and crescent in the ascendancy more than 90 years later.
Please continue to follow our efforts to discover and share the lives and experiences of the Saracens players from the 1914-18 era here – it is a story worthy of the research…