Published on February 17, 2014 | by David Drake


Book Club: Into Touch: Rugby internationals killed in the Great War

[Pen and Sword books]

Rugby players are distinguished for their courage and athletic endeavours of strength and fitness. Nevertheless the conflicts of war for some were all too much.

It was the case for Second Lieutenant Jasper Thomas Brett, an Irish winger on the rugby field. Thomas Brett was diagnosed with shell shock in June 1916. Just a month after his release from hospital, he killed himself by lying down in front of an oncoming train.

Into Touch, written and researched by crime writer Nigel McCrery, is about the vast number of soldiers who fell in the butchery of the Great War between 1914 and 1918. Among the millions who died were English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Australian, New Zealand, South African and French international rugby players, with over 130 ‘caps’ between them.

McCrery, more commonly known for writing Silent Witness and New Tricks, spent two years compiling information on biographies of the players and playing records, along with individual and team photographs and details of their death, memorial and burial places.

Some of the research provides great insight into the social element of players before the break-out of war in 1914. For example, much of rugby in England was played in public schools, but when these players enlisted as soldiers, they would be the ones who would step into authority, serving as officers.

There is ample awareness of the Great War (both World War 1 and 2) today with various documentaries, books and of course the annual Remembrance Day, which reminds people of the trauma caused to men, women, children, soldiers and civilians. Yet with pictures and in-depth information on their past the books puts a face to the death and a personality to those who fell in the war.

McCrery went on to express his opinion of the importance of telling these stories: “These men tell the story of the war. They fought and died in every service and in every country. We can use their stories to remember the sacrifices that were made. It’s about not forgetting them. As time goes on it’s easy to forget the sacrifice they made on our behalf.

“You do not have to believe in war to appreciate sacrifice. I want people who read the book to realise the effects of war. These were exceptional people – not only great players, but intelligent men and members of the community who were tragically lost,” he said.

Into Touch: Rugby Internationals killed in the Great War by Nigel McCrery, published by Pen and Sword Books. Recommended price: £25.


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