CAMBRAI 100: IRONSIDES WITH A REAL IRONSIDE
If you look carefully on the back of an Ironsides shirt you will see a World War One tank. This tank, the Mark IV or the “Ironside”, was first used by the British Army in 1917. We wear it with pride on our shirts as a symbol of our Club’s history, as an act of Remembrance for the sacrifice of others, and to inspire our style of rugby – tough and brave.
Ironsides Rugby was established by Colonel E. H. St. Maur Toope in 1943 and the 2018-2019 season represents our 75th anniversary. Colonel St. Maur was a serving member of the 42nd Royal Tank Regiment Cadet Regiment and our Club continues to have strong and proud links with the Tank Regiment. In the Autumn of 2018 we will be playing a memorial game against the Tank Regiment – there has even been talk of a tank turning up in Earlsfield!
Our U14s side went on tour to Lille in May and we discovered that this area of France is rich in a terrible history of bloodshed and heroism. Cambrai which is about 40 miles away from Lille was the site of one of the first ever tank battles from 20 November to 7 December 1917. Over 476 tanks took part in the battle which saw around 100,000 men die from both sides over this short period. An unimaginable loss.
Digging a little deeper an amazing opportunity arose to visit an actual Ironside tank reclaimed several years ago from the blood-soaked fields. This tank called “Deborah” took part in this famous battle and was shelled, being disabled in the fighting. It was then abandoned and ended up buried only to be discovered a few years ago.
Now it has been reclaimed and resides in a wonderful museum in Cambrai. This museum is next door to one of the British War Cemeteries filled with the graves of fallen soldiers including three Tank Regiment soldiers who died when Deborah was hit.
Our group of 30 players and 30 parents visited the museum as an interesting diversion from a weekend of tough, but fun, rugby and to make an act of Remembrance. Gathered around the graves of fallen British soldiers, heads bowed, we recited the Tank Regiment Poem, and after two minutes silence, uttered some of the most important words we as a Club say every year “We will remember them”.
The Tank Regiment poem is a wonderful testament to much of what makes our Club great.
These two verses strike a particular chord:
“To join their ranks you have to prove
You can pass the course without a tear,
To know that you can be trusted,
To fight by their sides and show no fear.
These men are hard but still can show
Compassion to a beaten foe,
They fight hard and fight to win,
Surrender is a word they do not know.”
Excerpt from the Tank Regiment Poem
As the players and parents of Ironsides we should be hugely grateful to our founding fathers for establishing our Club, to all those in the armed forces, including the Tank Regiment, who currently fight for our nation and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
We should be thankful that for most of us we will only know our field of battle as the rugby field, and yet we always “fight hard and fight to win” whilst always “showing compassion” to our foes – that is to be a true Ironside.
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