We lost them. We've found them. We've brought them home.
On Saturday, 4 November 2023 a new memorial to those Whitley Bay Rockcliff players who fell in the First and Secoond World Wars will be unveiled and dedicated at the club's ground. For the first time in living memory those who fell in World War One will be honoured by the club, following extensive and painstaking research by the club's History Society.
It is uncertain when the original Whitley Bay Rockcliff RFC war memorial was mislaid, but when a group of members, players and former players began to look in earnest for it a couple of years ago, it definitely couldn’t be found. It is unlikely that there was not one. Remembrance of the fallen as we know it developed in an unplanned way following the Great War, as loss on such a scale was unprecedented. The temporary Cenotaph on Whitehall proved hugely popular when it was unveiled in 1919, and a permanent version was erected the following year. Civic authorities, schools, employers and recreational societies across the country joined the movement to commemorate the men they had lost. Indeed, local sports clubs that existed at the time virtually all retain a memorial of some kind, and Rockcliff was almost certainly not an exception. Perhaps it was lost when headquarters changed or were renovated? Whatever the reason, its absence was something that needed to be put right. Initial research uncovered four names, and a group of Whitley Bay Rockcliff members visited the Ypres Salient in 2021 to pay their respects to those four on behalf of the club.
Since then, methodical and dedicated research - spearheaded by Richie Bloomfield, Eric Brooks and Micky Knott - has revealed a total of 14 names of players who fell in the Great War of 1914-18. The researchers painstakingly analysed team listings in the press in the years before the war, and identified names that were not present when Rugby resumed at the end of the hostilities. Those names were then cross referenced against press reports, casualty lists and rolls of honour to establish the fate of the men. Still further enquiry has established the story of their lives, their Rugby, and the circumstances of their death. The situation was complicated by the fact that, two years before war broke out, a ‘Great Secession’ occurred: leading members of Rockcliff RFC, for reasons unknown, left the club, and formed another. Monkseaton RFC played for two seasons from their base at the Black Horse, until sport was suspended with the outbreak of hostilities. After the war, those who had seceded returned to Rockcliff. This was possibly the impact of war casualties on playing numbers, or perhaps, in the aftermath of the conflict, whatever differences had led to the schism no longer seemed important. Whichever was the case, the reunited club grew, thrived, and developed into the successful community Rugby Club we are so proud to call Whitley Bay Rockcliff today.
Everyone who has played, coached or watched Rugby knows the fierce camaraderie, friendships and loyalty to each other the game can engender, and Whitley Bay Rockcliff has always been a fine example of a club that does this well. Although it was over a hundred years ago, it is fitting that players and teammates, whose names had been forgotten, are now remembered, celebrated and talked about by their 21st century WBR friends and family.
Primarily, our project has been to reinstate the names from the Great War that have been lost. Indeed, encapsulated inside the memorial is soil collected from the battlefield at the Somme. However, the names of members who fell in World War II are also listed, and the intention is that this memorial is a place to remember everyone who has enjoyed, participated, and contributed to our club, but is sadly no longer with us. We remember them all.