This article about the rugby club is during the two world wars and was sent to the Sidmouth Herald. George Bolt, who kept the WW2 diary is standing left in the 1938 photo. He also appears in the other photo as a player.
Jerry Pike, who played for Bridgwater Barbarians is the player standing far right. The player standing far left, "Ginger" Prowse and the captain with the ball, "Titch" Harris were both killed in the war.
SIDMOUTH RFC HISTORY – THE CANCELLATION OF RUGBY
On 16th March at 1.51pm all rugby clubs in England received the following notice: “Following government advice today, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) will suspend all rugby activity in England, at both professional and community level, including club training, league and cup matches plus rugby education courses from Tuesday 17th March until Tuesday 14th April, subject to continued review.” Four days later the announcement came that the 2019-20 season was ended excepting the Premiership.
A notice was put on the gate at the Blackmore Field stating that “All rugby and events at Sidmouth RFC are cancelled until further notice”.
Such momentous announcements had only been made twice before in the 136-year history of the Club, at the outbreak of the two World Wars. This time the enemy was germs rather than Germans.
WORLD WAR ONE
A notice in the Sidmouth Observer on Wednesday 9th September 1914 announced: “The Sidmouth Rugby Club has abandoned all matches for the coming season, unless a dramatic change should come over the present crisis. Practically all the playing members have joined the Army.”
The “present crisis” lasted until 11th November 1918.
During the war, much of the Blackmore Field, which at that time extended into the area where the hospital now stands, was turned into allotments to grow food. At a meeting convened on Wednesday 17th May 1919 to reform the rugby club, the pre-war treasurer James Clark noted that the Blackmore Field would need at least £100 spent before play could resume. “The grandstand is in a very dilapidated condition, as is the ground itself”. He reminded the meeting that the Club had a debt of over £6 remaining from before the War. A committee was formed to get matters under way.
Such was the publics’ appetite for entertainment in general and rugby particularly, that the necessary money was raised to restart the Club, albeit playing on the Coburg Field while Blackmore was reinstated. The first match was played on 4th October 1919 against Honiton in front of a crowd of over 1000.
WORLD WAR TWO
The minutes of the committee meeting held on 29th August 1939 record that “In the view of international situation it was decided that the match against Plymouth Civil Service be cancelled”.
At the following meeting on 7th September “It was decided that in view of the declaration of war by Great Briton (sic) and France on Germany that the season’s fixtures be cancelled but the Hon Sec should arrange matches with any teams in the district.” The secretary George Bolt kept a diary of events throughout the war in the Club minute book.
Unlike during the First World War, the activities of the Club did not come to an end. The committee continued to meet until 12thNovember 1940 when the changing rooms, which doubled as a meeting room, were taken over by the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) unit. Matches continued to be played on an occasional basis against Armed Forces units based in the area. Local players still at home were supplemented by players on leave and from nearby clubs.
In the 1940-41 season, several games were played by a nominally Sidmouth side but augmented by service personnel or between different service units. In 1941-42 there were few military units based in the town and only one match is recorded, played against the Army Pay Corps. In 1942-43 an RAF transport division and an RAF Regiment unit were based in the town and several games were played. A large crowd turned up on Boxing Day for a match against the Royal Marines. In 1943-44 the RAF and Royal Marines continued to play occasional games and one notable match took place between the RAF and Bridgwater Barbarians for who Sidmouth hooker Jerry Pike was playing.
As D-Day approached, all rugby ceased with no matches being played before the end of the war. In October 1944 George Bolt wrote “the season should be in full swing but not even the posts are in the ground and the Blackmore Field looks in a sorry condition.”
In all 58 members of Sidmouth RFC served in either the Armed Forces or the Home Guard. Seven gave their lives in the service of their country.