Scottish rugby players killed in World War I remembered in Edinburgh

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Scottish international rugby players who were killed in World War I are to be honoured at an event in December at Edinburgh Central Library.

Scotland lost 30 international rugby players (including five captains) during the war – more than any other country. England lost 27 national team players, France 23, New Zealand 12, Wales 11, while Australia and Ireland both lost nine each.

During the event Alistair McEwen, project co-ordinator of Scotland’s War Project at Edinburgh University, will deliver an address based on a book published in 1919 that tells the story of the fallen players.

The book, The Rugby Roll of Honour, was written by sports journalist EHD Sewell, who described how the players took ‘their leadership, courage, teamwork, discipline and fitness’ from the field of play to the field of battle. The author had known many of the players which allowed him to give an insight into their personalities and background.

Among the players killed was Captain Thomas Arthur Nelson, who played in the centre in the 1898 Calcutta Cup in Edinburgh. He was a friend of the author John Buchan, who wrote: ‘He was the stuff of which adventurers are made.’

Captain Nelson, of the 1st Lothians and Border Horse and the Machine Gun Corps, was killed in action on 9 April 1917, aged 40, and is buried in Faubourg d’Amiens cemetery, Arras, France.

The first Scottish international rugby player killed was Lieutenant Ronald Simson of the Royal Field Artillery, who fell on 14 September 1914 on the Aisne. One of the last was Captain William Hutchison of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, who was killed during the German Spring Offensive of 1918 and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

Yvonne McEwen, historian and director of Scotland’s War Project, said while details of the rugby internationalists killed was available, research showed the accepted figure of between 90,000 and 150,000 Scots killed in the conflict was underestimated.

‘We have been systematically working through rolls of honour and found them incredibly deficient. A lot of names are not on them, there are those on them who are not Scottish, but classed as Scottish and lots of Scots not on them who should be.

A talk entitled Scottish Rugby Internationalists Who Fell in the Great War is on 11 December from 6:30-7:30pm at Edinburgh Central Library Conference Room. Free of charge. Booking essential. 

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