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on 22 July 2014
I have been a very regular visitor of the WW1 battlefields in France and Flanders for 30 years now. I study the subject intensively. In fact I am in the midst of a visit as I write this.
Yesterday I sat down on a park bench that stands isolated near the Thiepval Memorial on the Somme. The place was almost deserted at that particular moment so I took this book out and started to read.
The very poignant remarks about the courage of these men, which are delivered in a very easily readable staccato reminded me of all the graves I just walked past during the warm summer afternoon it was (as the famous and fateful day in 1916).
You can't read about every man lost in that war. Even if there would be a complete biography of every man in this particular selection of outstanding men (having rugby as on of the defining denominators) it would never pack a punch like the one this book does.
As I am a woman I can state that you do not need to be a man to immediately love this book. The fact that quite a few of the men were physicians made me feel an immediate connection as I am a 43 year old physician myself. Still, even if you have nothing I common with any of these men, but you want to read about a number of men who fell in the Great War, want to feel that there is a story behind each and every stone or cross on every cemetery that came forth out of it, this might be the book to start with.
I had goose bumps first and after that I cried a little, both not regular occurrences for this experienced doctor, used to seeing a lot of sad things at any given time.
That is, I suppose the punch this book can pack under the right circumstances.....
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on 30 April 2014
For the next four years we shall be bombarded by everything on World War One, by its heroes, heroine, even its crooks.

Nigel McCrery's Into Touch consist of 135 biographies of rugby internationals: from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, plus the British Lions, the Australian Wallabies, the NZ "All Blacks", the South African "Springboks", "les bleus" of France, and the US who fought and died on every front, in every service, and across each section of every service. They died aged between 21, the youngest, and Lt Col Richard Davies Garnons-Williams (Wales) the oldest, at 59, dying during the first attacks, on September 6th, 1914 - Sgt Alfred Mayssonnié (France) and continuing beyond the date of the main armistice in November 1918, to February 18th, 1923 when Maj. Henry Brougham (England) finally closed his eyes.

The author uses a regular format: a small photo, a brief biography, a text of between one and three pages on their sporting lives and military careers, with a summary of their RU international appearances. It includes athletes winning a single cap: Sous Lt Albert Eutrope (France), from French Guiana, one of two blacks to play for France, to 23 Surgeon David Bedell-Silvright (Scotland); an Englishman, from Portsmouth, Capt Basil Maclear, who would not be selected for England but played 11 times for Ireland, or one Surgeon JHD Watson, born in Southsea, selected for Scotland, but played three times for England; one, Pte Arthur Wilson (England) who won the silver medal for Great Britain at the London Olympics, in 1908; a South African, Capt Toby Moll, who served in a British regiment, while a Scot, Sgt Andrew Ross, in a Canadian unit.

It mentions sporting achievements in other sports: cricket, hockey, soccer, golf, swimming, fives, shooting, and rugby league - one Welsh international, Lt Fred Perrett (5 caps) is included purposely excluded from the lists of Welsh internationals, because he chose to turn professional and go North,
and joined Leeds and later Hull RLFC.

It illustrates military awards - including MCs, DSOs, OBEs, and one VC awarded to Lt Commander Arthur Harrison (2 caps, England) for action at Zeebrugge in April 1918, a second VC being recommended to Dr Lt James Huggan (1 cap, Scotland) for having saved 60 German wounded POWs - the first Briton to be killed in action on September 16th, 1914; the French Legion d'Honneur awarded to Capt Charles Wilson, the first Englishman to die, the day after Huggan, on the River Aisne, and the Officier de la Legion d' Honneur awarded to Lt Maurice Boyau (6 caps, France), serving in the "Sportifs" squadron of the Service Aéronautique for his 35 (21 balloons) kills before being shot down in September 1918, the award added to his Medaille Militaire, and the Chevalier de la Legion d' Honneur. One even gets a dedication from former pal, John Buchan, in his Thirty-Nine Steps thriller.

Perhaps the character of these sportsmen might be summarised in the life of Gnr William "Twit" Tasker (6 caps, Australia), who was severely wounded in August 1915 around the ANZAC lines in Gallipoli, shipped back and discharged, and on recovery attempted to rejoin. After several attempts he was enlisted, saw action on the Western Front, twice wounded and gassed before dying on the second day of the Battle of Amiens, on August 9th, 1918. He was then still only 26.

A published study on dead rugby internationals during the Great War, however, must place the theme in a wider context. As the author should be aware when consulting Mason & Riedi Sport and the Military: The British Armed Forces 1880-1960, it should be a work of social history, cover the developments of sports in the countries at school and club level, on the numbers and social classes who took up the game during the Edwardian era, before focussing on the war itself, and asking what it meant to teams and sporting communities when individual members of a squad were invalided, wounded, or died in the continental struggle.

This was partly hinted at in the pen picture of Cpl Emmanuel Iguinitz (1 cap, France) from Bayonne, who played for his local side, which in 1913 had won the French national championship, and by the end of the autumn of 1914 would lose a further four team players in battle. Despite this inclusion McCrery does not mention the significance of the loss for French rugby. Was it a local loss, or a wider, long-term loss, comparable to the air crashes with the deaths of the Turin, Manchester United, and the Zambian national team in 1949, 1958 and 1993 respectively?

The loss of older servicemen brought sufferings to their families and friends, but no loss to the game, if they ceased to partake in the sport years before; the loss of youths cut down in their prime, as in the case of the 25 year old, Lt Ronald Poulton-Palmer (17 caps, England), nephew to the founder of the Huntley & Palmer biscuit firm of Reading, shot in May 1915 at Ploegsteert Wood, who had scored four tries in his final thrilling pre-war international against France, in Paris, lauded as the greatest rugby player in the world, or those younger on the verge of making a break through onto the international scene, such as the 21 year old Lt Jasper Brett 1 cap, Ireland), 23 year old Pte James Baird and Cpl Bobby Black (1 cap, New Zealand), 24 year old Sgt Marcel Legrain (12 caps, France), and Pte Fred Thompson (6 caps, Australia), 25 year old Maj. Roland Gordon (3 caps Scotland), and Lt William Green (3 caps, Wales), 26 year old Lt Frank Gard (2 caps, USA) and Sgt Sep Ledger (4 caps South Africa), the loss was wider felt and seemed more permanent - especially in the case of a minor rugby country such as the US with few sporting heroes to keep the sport evolving. But did it really matter for the country when the US still won post-war laurels in rugby at the immediate post-war Olympic venues?

My second observation is the main interested customers of this type of book, besides social historians and family members, would come either from the ranks of former players or current professionals wishing to learn about the former greats of earlier epochs. They like to scan facts quickly from tables of the greats who scored the highest number of tries and conversions; who wore the national jersey more often, what was the name of the clubs they played for, and placing their deaths in terms of numbers of other greats who fell during the same year. Once that is examined, and digested, they are happier to flick back to the main text and read the pen-picture biography in full rather than ploughing aimlessly through the entire work of 135 stories of athletes as it is presented at present.

It is clear that the author Nigel McCrery has worked very hard, with a labour of love to compile this worthwhile information in time for the anniversary, and readers will find the raw material most enlightening about the number of losses of household names to the game and to the nations. However, sadly it is an incomplete, part book. It is as Tommy Steele once sang in the musical a "half a Sixpence" volume, which "is better than half-a-penny, which is better than none". To be read with great care, and not in a hurry. Just as the after-taste of good wine, this book comes alive after due thought and rest.
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on 26 February 2014
I must admit at the beginning that Rugby Union had been a large part of my life for many years and I am now a military historian, so in many ways this book was bound to appeal to me. The author has researched a large number of men who played international rugby union before the First World War that were to die during the war or shortly afterwards in direct consequence of that conflict.

For each person, there is a concise biography, including his or her playing career and his or her military service. The book is divided into sections for each of the countries covered, namely Australia, the British Isles, England, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, U.S.A. and Wales. For all players there is a photograph of that person.

The nature of the biographies varies as the range of information available for each player is different. Readers should remember that gaining an international cap in this period was very different to how it is now as far less internationals were played than today. As such, this book provides a social history of the time as well as covering military history.

I must admit I enjoyed reading this book, even more so as the nature of it is that you can pick it up, read a couple of biographies and then put it down for later. I found it easy to read and informative, so recommend it to anyone having an interest in the history of rugby union, the First World War or military history in general. Yes, there are a few typo errors but this should not be allowed to distract from the contents of this book.
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on 9 March 2014
Excellent in all respects - delivered quickly, well packed and a very interesting reference book. I guide on the Western Front and have a life long interest in rugby so this is just as I had hoped for. Regards JW
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on 27 December 2015
Just started to read very interesting what I have read so far
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on 27 February 2014
I bought this for my husband for his birthday, he used to play rugby for a local team and just loves watching the sport, he was also in the army so likes to read about different wars. I will probably read it after he has finished it because I think it will be a good read
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on 27 February 2014
A great book about a great bunch of men the like of which I doubt we'll see again. As ever extremely well researched and well written. For those wanting a story it's probably not the right book but as a reference work it is first class!!
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on 21 February 2014
I really enjoyed this this book, which contains a lot of well researched information, the horror these guys went through was unbeliveable, heroes on the pitch and heroes off the pitch, they served thier country and their game.
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on 18 February 2014
Thank you for your comments and points some of which i will include in the next edition. However some of the comments were just stupid or wrong. I journeyed all over the world collecting information on the lost rugby players. France, OZ, Scotland, Wales and Ireland and so on. I discovered that much of the information on the Net was wrong and amended it. I tried to get a series of books published one on each country but could not find a publisher willing to do this. I was only allowed a certain amount of words and had to work within those limits. If i could have written more, believe me i would. As a keen member of the Rugby History Society i certainly examined their files but there are not so many on the fallen at the moment, although they are doing their own book which is worth looking out for. There a a very few factual mistakes, where i have made an error it will be altered in the next addition. Many thanks to the RFU for their help with this. As for the spelling, well thats down to the publisher, although their were some (unforgivable) not that many. To all those that commented good and bad many thanks for taking the time and making the effort.
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on 6 September 2014
Wonderful stories. So much sadness. But it is littered with factual and spelling mistakes. The editor must have forgotten to read it.
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