‘Fallen heroes’ to be honoured at unique Cenotaph ceremony on Friday 11 August
Rugby League’s traditional and unique tribute to fallen heroes at the Cenotaph on the eve of the Challenge Cup Final in London will have an additional dimension in 2023, given the involvement of representatives from the first Women’s Challenge Cup Final to be played at Wembley.
Representatives of Leeds Rhinos and St Helens, who will contest the historic Women’s Final on Saturday, will join the captains and head coaches of Hull KR and Leigh Leopards, the Men’s Finalists, in Whitehall for the ceremony, at 11am on Friday August 11 – and there will also be representation from Batley Bulldogs and Halifax Panthers, the West Yorkshire clubs who will make their first appearances in the Final of the AB Sundecks 1895 Cup, which will also be played at Wembley on Saturday August 12.
Supporters of all six clubs are expected to attend and pay their respects, in addition to other Rugby League lovers in London for Challenge Cup Finals Weekend – and as ever, the RFL widens that invitation to the general public to a ceremony which was first conducted in 1930.
RFL Chair Simon Johnson will lay a wreath on behalf of the sport’s governing body, and he will be joined by representatives from the Armed Forces Rugby League, the Royal British Legion, and the All-Party Parliamentary Rugby League Group – and also Sir Lindsay Hoyle MP, the Speaker of the House of Commons, who was recently reappointed as President of the RFL for a second year.
RFL Chair Simon Johnson says:
“It is a truly unique occasion and an intrinsic part of Rugby League’s Challenge Cup Final weekend, and I will again be immensely proud, both personally and as RFL Chair, to lead a tradition which honours those from our sport who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“The ceremony encapsulates the magnificent heritage of Rugby League and demonstrates how the sport is woven into the fabric of its communities and into the history of the North of England.
“Many people come to watch this solemn ceremony in their club colours, and the presence of representatives from the first Women’s Challenge Cup Final to be played at Wembley will be a welcome and significant addition.”
Hull KR and Leigh, returning to the Men’s Challenge Cup Final after a number of years, will be united in remembering two Northern Union heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country in the Great War (1914-1918) within 24 hours.
Leigh’s rising star (Sergeant) Ernest Doorey (1st Battalion King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment) was killed in action on 24 May 1915, during the Battle of Bellewaarde Ridge (Second Battle of Ypres). In the early hours of the following day, Hull KR and Great Britain centre (Private) Phil Thomas (1st Yorkshire Hussars Alexandra Princess of Wales’s Own Yeomanry) was also killed in action. Neither Doorey or Thomas have a known grave and they are remembered among the 54,588 at the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres.
A two-minute silence will commence on the stroke of 11am. This will be followed by wreath-laying, with Denise Edgar representing the Royal British Legion, and Lt Col. Dave Groce MBE on behalf of UK Armed Forces Rugby League.
There will then be prayers and the traditional bugle-call ‘The Rouse’ which will bring the ceremony to a close – before the representatives of the six clubs head for Wembley for the Captains’ Runs and familiarisation visits which are another tradition of Challenge Cup Finals weekend.
Rugby League remembers [the-then Northern Union] players from this year’s finalists who made the ultimate sacrifice in the Great War
|Men’s Challenge Cup Finalist||Women’s Challenge Cup Finalist||1895 Cup Finalists|
|Hull KR||Leigh Leopards||St Helens||Leeds||Halifax Panthers||Batley Bulldogs|
|Thomas, Phillip (Private). 25 May 1915||Doorey, Ernest (Sergeant). 24 May 1915||Flanagan, James (Lance Serjeant). 14 May 1918||Abbott, Sidney (Sergeant). 18 Sep 1918||Ewart, John (Private). 21 Mar 1918||Child, Joseph (Private). 9 Apr 1917|
|Topping, Robert (Private). 30 Jun 1916||Turtill, Hubert (Sergeant). 9 Apr 1918||Blakey, David (Sergeant). 1 Jul 1916||Debney, James (Private). 29 Sep 1916|
|Hopkins, Joseph (Private). 1 Jul 1916||Johnson, Walter (Rifleman). 3 Sep 1916|
|Jarman, Samuel (Private). 15 Aug 1916||Randerson, Robert (Captain). 7 Aug 1915|
|Leckonby, Leonard (Sergeant). 23 Apr 1917||Tindall, John (Rifleman). 9 May 1915.|
|Llewellyn, Arthur (Rifleman). 1 Jun 1917|
|Pickles, Joseph (Sergeant). 1 Jul 1916.|
|Ward, Belfred (Private). 30 Apr 1916|
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
The lines from John McCrae’s famous poem, hold more significance for this year’s Betfred Challenge Cup finalists than most will realise. For it is in Flanders within 24 hours that two of the Northern Union heroes made the ultimate sacrifice for their country in the Great War (1914-1918). Leigh’s rising star (Sergeant) Ernest Doorey (1st Battalion King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment) was killed in action on 24 May 1915, during the Battle of Bellewaarde Ridge (Second Battle of Ypres). In the early hours of the following day, Hull KR and Great Britain centre (Private) Phil Thomas (1st Yorkshire Hussars Alexandra Princess of Wales’s Own Yeomanry) was also killed in action.
Doorey signed for his hometown club of Leigh and was anticipated to be a future Rugby League star, who was tipped for Great Britain Colours. However, within less than 6 months of his signing, 6’2, 22-year-old Doorey found himself arriving with the British Expeditionary Force in France. The details surrounding Doorey’s death are unclear. He was killed in the vicinity of the infamous Mouse hole farm, when his battalion fought fiercely under gas and artillery bombardment to defend their trenches whilst their flanking formations withdrew.
In contrast to Doorey, Hull KR’s Phil Thomas was 36 years old, and was well renowned within the Northern Union having played for Oldham, Leeds, Coventry and Hull KR. His signing for Leeds from Oldham was a record £250 in 1904. Thomas survived only 5 weeks on the western front before he was killed. He died at the Second Battle of Ypres having suffered a direct hit from Artillery fire as he moved forward in broad daylight from his trenches in Vlamertinghe.
Neither Doorey or Thomas have a known grave and they are remembered among the 54,588 at the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres.
For the 1895 Cup finalists, the Western front is where they paid their highest toll. On 9 May 1915 in what was a terrible day for Allied forces in which they lost nearly 11,000 soldiers. Batley’s loss was equally as significant, losing John Tindal (Rifleman) in the infamous battle of Aubers Ridge. Tindall was a poster boy for Batley and held the try scoring record (having scored 29 tries in the 1912/13 season). Sadly, while waiting to go ‘over the top’ he received a direct hit from an Artillery shell, suffering horrific wounds to the back and shoulder which resulted in his bleeding to death.
Three years later, as part of the German Spring Offensive, which is often referred to as ‘the meatgrinder’ due to its heavy human toll, Halifax were to lose their lightning-fast winger John ‘Jock’ Ewart (Private). Ewart was serving with the 5th Battalion the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, when the first surge of the German attack came in, with 8,000 deaths and over 38,000 casualties on that first day, his battalion was at the heart of the fighting. At some point on the 21 March 1918, under heavy gas and explosive artillery shelling Jock Ewart was killed in action, aged 23. He has no known grave and is remembered amongst the 14,000 at the Pozieres Memorial in France.