Cardiff RFC Season Review 1939 – 1945

1939 – 45



WAR YEARS 1940—1945


The 1939—40 season was the most fateful one in the club’s history. Wilfred Wooller was the captain appointed by the members for a second term, he nominated Les Spence as his vice-captain. Ken Street for the Athletic XV was also appointed for a second term. These three players had enjoyed life together, particularly as Rugger men, and together, they were destined to share in the tragedies and miseries of war. The football committee elected for 1939—40 at the A.G.M. were: Gerald E. Heslop, Jim Batstone, W. M. Douglas, Danny Davies, Arthur H. Jones, G. V. Wynne-Jones, D. L. Evans, R. A. Cornish, Johnny Thomas, Frank Davies, W. Jack Evans and Vic Scott. The management committee of the Athletic Club decided that, under war conditions officers and committees were to remain in office, in continuation as it were.
The prospects for another successful season were excellent, Cliff Jones was now available after his studies, and top newcomers were Les Manfield—already Welsh capped from Mountain Ash—Howell Loveluck from Bridgend, Roy Roberts another grand forward, Len Arnold a full back, and another promising ex-Pontypridd Grammar schoolboy three-quarter H. Roblin. But the acts of aggression by the Nazis under Hitler in Europe in the last two years or so had cast the shadows of war over Britain. Hitler had deceived our Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in Munich and Germany now invaded Poland.

During the week leading up to our first match with the Cardiff & District R.U., the young press reporter J. B. G. Thomas introduced a photographer to the Cardiff club for a story and pictures of the team which was probably the best club one in Britain. Two first team matches only were played, and one by the Athletic XV. The District match took place on Friday 1st September 1939 and ill-fortune was to befall Cliff Jones who dislocated an elbow. Bridgend at home and Llanharan away for the Athletic on Saturday the 2nd ended Cardiff’s official season. On the following day, Sunday 3rd September 1939 Mr. Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister, broadcast to the nation and said we were at war with 3ermany, and warned us of the evil things we faced. The nation was called upon to pray n the churches of the land.

In the call to arms, many local sportsmen had joined the 77th A.A. Regiment, Royal Artillery which for some time was quartered in Penylan. Wilfred Wooller and several of us team, including the vice-captain Les Spence and Ken Street the captain of ‘ The Rags’ here serving in this unit, and with a number of players still available, and in the services nearby, it was felt that some matches could still be played for war-time charities and quite number of clubs, mainly Welsh, co-operated to this end. As I had maintained details of  the matches which were played, I have appended here the results of the 1939—40 season. The curtailment owing to war to only two official 1st XV matches, and one Athletic KV match, had the technical effect of giving the 1st XV its only unbeaten season in history, and another unbeaten one for the Reserve team.
Readers may be interested in the names of the players who took part in the official matches: Len Arnold, Ray Bale, J. J. Beswick, Selby Davies, W. F. N. Davis, Graham Hale, R. Holbrow, Cliff Jones, also Cliff Jones a hooker, Emrys Jones, E. ‘ lanto Jones, E. R. Knapp, Howell Loveluck, Les Manfield, W. G. Morgan, Tom Parry, Gwyn Porter, H. Roblin, Roy Roberts, Les Spence, R. Tarrant, V. Neil Taylor, Dr. Ron Tipple, L. G. S. ‘Jumbo Thomas, Godfrey “Gogga” Williams, T. Lyn Williams and Wilfred Wooller. For the wartime charities matches they were supplemented by another 23 players in all. The players who took part in the Athletic XV’S match against Llanharan were: J. J. Beswick, E. L. 3evan, Gwyn Davies, R. C. Gillard, Jim Hickey, R. Holbrow, Emrys Jones, H. Roblin, K. Street, R. Tarrant, R. Thatcher, R. M. Thomas, Gwyn Williams (Clydach Vale), Godfrey Williams and T. Lyn Williams. The chief scorers in the war-time charities games were E. R. Knapp with eight tries and Wooller and Duncan Brown who shared most of the goal kicking.

On 9th March 1940 Wales staged an international match for war time charities on the Cardiff Arms Park against England, Wooller was the Welsh captain and E. R. Knapp, H. 0. Edwards—then of Neath—Les Manfield and W. E. N. Davis took part. One can say that Hitler deprived us of seeing the Australian tourists who were caught up in the war, and also the French clubs L’Aviron Bayonnais and Stade Bordelais. Amongst the advertisements in our official programme for 2nd September 1939 was one for “The New Ford 8 h.p Saloon Car at £115—25 deposit secures.

What in peace time would have been the club’s normal 1940—41 season turned out in War time to be the nation’s most crucial in history as the Germans now turned their war effort to the subjugation of Great Britain. France capitulated to the Germans, and 3ritain’s efforts culminated in the remarkable withdrawal at Dunkirk which saved over 300,000 of our troops, but with the serious loss of our guns, tanks, equipment, etc. Britain now stood alone in defence of its island fortress. The greatest of our Prime Ministers, Winston Churchill spoke to the nation. There would be no capitulation, the whole nation must be mobilised to defend the country, we would fight the enemy to the last, on the beaches—everywhere, and even from Canadian soil if need be. The country was blitzed and bombed, but our gallant R.A.F. won the Battle of Britain. the Civil Defence Corps was fully engaged and so was the Home Guard, the whole nation was mobilised. The Cardiff Arms Park was not to be immune from the ravages of war, it suffered from two bombs, a land mine explosion and many flares of enemy aircraft passing were to drop bombs elsewhere.

The land mine, a heavy one, was dropped during a heavy raid on Cardiff and near areas on 2nd January 1941. It exploded just behind the goal line at the west end of the ground and caused much structural damage to the south wing stand, west terrace and the north stand in which some military personnel were housed, and where Miss Babs Filer, alone, was clearing up the social bar in her control. Frightened but unhurt except for shock, she managed to obtain assistance from an army sergeant and contacted Norman Riches, who with Arthur Cornish was acting as joint hon. secretary of the Athletic Club.

These then were no times for much Rugby football, or any other football for that matter. Wooller’s 77th Heavy “Ack-Ack” Unit was fully engaged in South Wales coastal defence. In December 1941 it proceeded to the Far East where in Java in 1942 a train load of its personnel was involved in a terrible train disaster which caused the deaths of 21 officers and other ranks including that of B.S.M. Street who was the last appointed Cardiff Athletic XV captain. Over 100 were injured. Later, Wooller and B.S.M. Les Spence amongst others, were to become prisoners of war to the Japanese. Most of the committee were engaged in one form or another of Civil Defence, I became much engaged in the Home Guard, at times thirty hours weekly in addition to my normal occupation in the Inland Revenue, Consequently it was much later in the war before any rugby matches could be arranged on the Cardiff Arms Park. Brice Jenkins came along to help in our thin administration with Arthur Cornish and a few of us of the continuation committee. Some Rugby football was being played in certain areas, Maldwyn James in the Cilfynydd Colliery area for example, there was also Billy Cleaver and others in preparation for mining careers who became available as they were exempted from National Service, we were also aided by Jack Matthews and other students of the Cardiff Medical College. In one charity game I remember “The Meds” captained by Jack, beating a Cardiff XV by 28 points to 26.

Probably the last of the war time charity matches was that between South Wales and Sir Robert Webber’s XV billed as a semi-international match. The local “Tenovus” organisation had sought funds to help provide a mobile rest house called “Cardiff Rest House “ for returning soldiers of the Burma campaign. F/O Bleddyn Williams and Lieut.
W. E. Tamplin appeared in the Sir Robert Webber’s XV, and in the South Wales XV were Jim Sullivan the former Cardiff full-back of the Wigan Rugby League Club, Lieut. Haydn Tanner and F/O H. Johnson of the R.A.F. Regiment. In war time professionals were allowed to play with amateurs. Gus Risman was another well known Rugby League player who took part in a war time charity game in the Cardiff Arms Park.
No records of the war time charity matches, except those kept by myself for the 1939—40 season, were maintained. But they did suffice in themselves to assist the different causes financially, and provide occasionally a pleasant respite from the toils and stresses of war. Most of the players who had assisted the club actually formed the nucleus for Cardiff’s post war emergence to official Rugby football in Wales for 1945—46.

Cardiff 16 13 0 3 396 243 61
Carmarthen Quins 17 10 3 4 372 278 54
Aberavon 16 11 0 5 371 272 53
Llandovery 16 9 2 5 344 285 48
Pontypridd 18 10 0 8 394 376 47
Merthyr 18 8 0 10 362 374 44
RGC 1404 17 8 1 8 409 381 43
Newport 15 7 0 8 294 278 37
Swansea 17 7 0 10 246 292 35
Llanelli 15 6 0 9 293 412 27
Ebbw Vale 17 4 2 11 283 351 27
Bridgend Ravens 18 3 0 15 271 493 19