Each August sees us looking forward to the forthcoming season at Eccles RFC with great anticipation. However, for those preparing for the new season on this day 80 years ago, the uncertain outcome of a far greater, ominous challenge loomed ahead.
In the summer of 1939, with a newly constructed clubhouse, prospects of raising a 5th team and a formidable First XV defeated only 3 times in the 1938-39 season, Eccles was in a strong position and primed to move forward, only for those plans and hopes to be brought to halt by unfolding events in Europe.
During that summer, Hitler, hell bent on aggressive expansionism, had occupied Czechoslovakia and rejected diplomatic attempts to avoid conflict. Following the Nazi-Soviet pact, Britain committed itself to the defence of Poland on the 25th August.
When the club committee met on Monday 28thAugust 1939 they must have feared the worst when they arranged to meet the following Monday 4th September. One week later life would be set on an irrevocably different path.
Negotiations were ended at midnight Thursday 31st August with Hitler ordering the invasion of Poland to commence at 4am the following morning. On Sunday 3rd September, in a 11.15am BBC broadcast from 10 Downing Street, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain told the nation that Britain was at war with Germany.
With dark days ahead, Eccles RFC Club secretary Bob Challoner added a new item to the agenda: “The National Emergency and position of our club”. To emphasise the point he wrote “WAR!” in capital letters in the margin of the club’s minute book.
125 fixture cards for the 1939-40 season had already been printed and delivered to the club but the committee decided to await the lead from the RFU before making a definite decision regarding play. For the time being, a notice was posted on the pavilion at Redclyffe Road, Barton-upon-Irwell which read “Until further notice, all activities of the club, including training, are suspended. Pro tem.”
To be continued …
A story in instalments, by Sheila Thomas and Chris Gaffey