The Ultimate Sacrifice

There is a tendency to use words such as “tragedy” and “disaster” in sports coverage these days if somebody kicks the ball through their own net or misses a last-gasp penalty.

Yet, for the most part, there are only triumphs and disappointments in sport. And that is borne out as we approach the centenary of The Somme next week, which cut down a generation in a horrific litany of death of destruction..

Back at the start of the conflict, there was no thought of the mass slaughter which would ensue over the next four years or of how many lives would be shattered.

At Glasgow Accies RFC, for instance, teammates on the pitch joined the exodus to the conflict together, blissfully unaware of how many would never see home again.

But they subsequently suffered a grievous loss of life as the guts – in some cases quite literally – were ripped out of a whole generation.

When the conflict commenced, off they went, the blithe boys, to France, Australia, Palestine and almost every corner of the globe. And, in so many cases, the journeys they undertook did not require a return ticket.

Even at this distance, the figures, which have been collated by Hugh Barrow, the estimable historian at Glasgow Accies, make grim reading.

“By the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, some 1132 former pupils of schools in Glasgow and Aberdeen, had made the ultimate sacrifice, not to mention the many more who suffered horrific, life-changing injuries,” said Barrow.

“The statistics make stark reading. There were 480 former Glasgow High School pupils killed; 327 from Glasgow Academicals; 131 from Kelvinside Academy; and 194 former pupils of Aberdeen Grammar School also lost their lives.

“This was not just restricted to our associate schools, but lock forward, Angus Hamilton’s old school, Scotch College in Australia, suffered 212 deaths.

“There were so many awful incidents that it simply isn’t possible to relate them all. On June 28, 1915, at Gully Ravine in Gallipoli [one of the biggest catastrophes amid the hostilities], 34 former pupils of our three associated schools were killed, including two Scottish international caps, Eric Young and William Church.

“ Of the 30 Scottish internationalists who fell in the war, four came from our founder clubs, with George Lamond and William Hutchison adding to the role of honour.”

One of the most poignant aspects of these fatalities was the fashion in which so many of the former team-mates died together; they had left Scotland at the same time, no doubt convinced – such was the efficacy of the propaganda – that they would be involved in stringing passes together and organising rucks and mauls within a matter of months.

But, of course, that was a delusion for so many of the youngsters, as weeks turned into months turned into years of carnage in the trenches, in the skies, on the beaches and all across the globe.

In normal circumstances, a run of poor form shouldn’t induce an excess of tristesse. After all, sport runs in cycles and there is the prospect of better fortunes next season.

Yet, as Barrow said: “For the young players of 1914, there was no next season. They laid down their lives all over the world and we should never forget the sacrifices which these men made,”

As Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, said famously on the eve of WWI: “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”

In that context, and as the crowd and players remember the fallen, it should be a reminder that sport is never a matter of life and death in any circumstances.


  1. G’day Neal . Another big centenary coming this year is on October 28. On taha day, back in 1916, Australia voted on a plebiscite about whether we’d introduce conscription , to send our men to fight and die in the “Great Trade War.”

    1,160, 033 Australians making up 51.61% of the electorate voted NO to conscription. Undeterred the Federal Government tried again in 1917, but the NO vote was even stronger in that plebiscite.

    Lest We forget,


  2. Luke Reynolds says

    Thanks Neil. The tragedies of WWI (and all other wars) put sport very much in perspective.

    Lest We Forget.

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