Bid to find families of Doncaster sports stars killed in World War One

Trophies and shirts line the walls of the Landsdowne Suite at Castle Park, the headquarters of Doncaster Rugby Club.

They celebrate former triumphs from many of the teams that play at the pitches on Armthorpe Road. Elsewhere the faces of former club presidents smile benignly from paintings on the wall.

Doncaster Knights and Castle Park commercial manager Michael Casey, left, and former player and army veteran Chris Gryzelka, with the board put up in tribute to Doncaster RUFC players who were killed during World War One. PIcture: David Kessen

Doncaster Knights and Castle Park commercial manager Michael Casey, left, and former player and army veteran Chris Gryzelka, with the board put up in tribute to Doncaster RUFC players who were killed during World War One. PIcture: David Kessen

But near the door, under a huge honours board bearing the names of generations of club captains, a picture frame hangs from the wall.

If carries 11 black and white pictures of men, many bearing neatly trimmed moustaches.

All but one wear uniform.

For the club, this is a site of remembrance.

The board put up in tribute to Doncaster RUFC players who were killed during World War One. Picture: David Kessen

The board put up in tribute to Doncaster RUFC players who were killed during World War One. Picture: David Kessen

These are the pictures of some of the club’s players who went off to serve their country during World War One. They never came back.

Instead they became 17 of the millions who were killed in the conflict.

Today, they are remembered by the club, more than 100 years after they died, along with another six from the team who also lost their lives, but for whom there are no pictures.

And now, the club wants to honour them by bringing their surviving relatives or descendants back to the club to see how they have been honoured by the organisation they once represented with pride on the rugby pitch.

The decision to bring the families to the club follows a recent history of remembrance.

In 2014, the club brought the mayor and more recent war hero, Ben Parkinson, to the club to remember its fallen. They were joined by cadets in a parade before their match against London Scottish.

It also led to the decision to put the pictures and names of those lost up in the club house.

But the new plans to do more were formulated after former player Chris Gryzelka, himself a ex-soldier, took a trip to Derbyshire.

He said: “I went to an event with my wife, and there was a stall about cricketers who had died in the war. They had traced some of the families.

“We thought ‘we should be doing something like that.

“So that’s what we're now hoping to do. We want to trace the surviving relatives and invite them here for a meal before the nearest match to the anniversary of the war, November 11.

“Some of the soldiers are from the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. We’ve contacted their museum in Doncaster, and they recognised some of the names, but they are not in touch with the families.”

Now the club is appealing for relatives of those on the memorial wall to get in touch with them.

Chris recognises many may no longer have relatives living in Doncaster, with 100 years having passed.

The club managed to trace the names of those who had died by looking back at historical rugby publications. The names of all those who were killed, plus a number of pictures, were published in the 1919 Yorkshire Handbook, printed with details of local rugby clubs after the war.

“It’s going to be down to whether families are aware of their connection with the club,” said Chris, whose great uncle was killed in the Battle of Loos during the war.

Set up in 1875, the club disbanded briefly between 1899 and 1910, before reforming before the outbreak of the war

In those days the club had no fixed home base, and travelled from pitch to pitch for its matches. It was a far cry from the professional club with its own stadium that operates now, and the current ground, which has been extensively developed since the club moved there in the 1950s, would be unrecognisable to those men who died in the war.

Michael Casey, commercial manager at the club, is also involved in the project. 

He is aged 26, a similar age to those whose photos are on the memorial.

He said: “The pictures attract quite a bit of interest. People take a moment to read it, and stop and look at the photos. People are intrigued.

“I am a long way separated from that time. I’ve never been in the military and it is hard to process the sacrifice those men made. The pictures bring what happened all those years ago closer to home. 

“The faces make it more real. The fashions are different – you don’t get many moustaches these days. But you can see they were just young men with a boyish innocence asked to go beyond what we ask people to do nowadays.”

The relatives that the club is able to trace will be invited to Castle Park, to a lunch and to watch the Knights play Coventry on November 10, 2018.

Contact mcasey@castle-park.co.uk if you are related to one of the soldiers on the memorial.

Details of the club members killed during the war vary. For some there are full names, with details of regiments and batallions, and places and dates of death.  For others there are just surnames.

The names are: 

Abbiss, RD;  2nd Lt, 2nd Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, died of wounds,  December 2, 1917

Cook Percy,  L/Cpl 15th West Yorkshire Rifles, (Leeds Pals) died at the Battle of the Somme , July 1, 1917

Roberts GH, Capt 2/4th, KOYLI, died of wounds 22 November,  1917

Walker Anthony,  T Lt, 8th Battalion Rifle Brigade, killed in action, Hooge, Flanders, July 30, 1915

Hemingway James,  2nd Lt, Seaforth Highlanders, killed in action, May 9, 1915

Sharp Steve Oswald,  2nd Lt,  York and Lancaster Regiment, killed in action on the first day of the battle of the Somme, at Serre, July 1, 1916

Walker John Wickham,  Capt 5th KOYLI,  killed in action,  Thiepval,  Battle of the Somme, July 5, 1916

Bradley W,  Cpl,  1/6th KOYLI, killed in action, the Somme, around September 1, 1918

Ogley,  Sgt,  6th KOYLI,  killed at Ypres September 7, 1915

Tucker Alf,  Capt,  KOYLI, killed in action, 1915

Wills AN,  Capt,  5th KOYLI, died of wounds received at Ypres on March 7 1918

Comrie J,  Lt

Grey D,  Lt

Howson F,  Sgt MM

McQuire R,  Lt

Russell, Lt

Whitehead.