On this day, we remember the players, officials and supporters who have paid the ultimate price whilst serving in the Armed Forces in the cause of freedom.
During the past year, the bravery of three former players who fell in fields of battle on mainland Europe has been commemorated by St Helens RFC, family members and associated friends.
On 17th July, at the Players Association’s Annual Luncheon, a packed house saw Saints’ winger of the pre-First World War era, Jimmy Flanagan, inaugurated into their prestigious Hall of Fame. His grandson, Jimmy, accompanied by his wife Paula, proudly accepted a framed montage of his career on behalf of the family.
Born in Central Street, Jimmy was a pacy winger [Heritage Number #171] who also could play in the centres. He made 231 appearances for the Saints, scoring 125 tries. A regular county representative, he had a trial for the 1910 England Tour to Australasia and took part in the Saints` famous Challenge Cup run in 1914/15 as centre to Tom Barton, when the team reached the final, only to be well-beaten 37-3 by Huddersfield`s Team of all the Talents. It was to be his last match for the club. Jimmy joined the famous 11th [Service] Battallion of the South Lancashire Regiment shortly afterwards. Like his former team-mate Jum Turtill, Lance Sergeant Jimmy Flanagan paid the ultimate sacrifice while serving his country in the Great War, when he was killed by shrapnel on 14th May 1918 at just 31 years of age. He is buried at Arneke Military Cemetery in Northern France. Jimmy will always be remembered as one of the true `greats` of the pre-First World War era at Knowsley Road, a superb footballer, who served his club and county admirably.
In August, another special occasion relating to a former Saints’ player who was also a wartime casualty took place in the military Cemetery at Ravenna in Italy. Born on 20th January 1921, scrum-half Harry Briscoe was just 16 and the youngest-ever first teamer at the time when he made his debut at Knowsley Road against Swinton on 6th March 1937. The former Parr Central schoolboy star and captain of the St Helens Town team was partnered at stand-off by Welshman Stan Powell but was unable to prevent the visitors winning 2-6 in a closely fought encounter.
Harry, whose Heritage Number is #463, was an elusive customer around the scrum base, with excellent handling skills. He went on to make 85 appearances for his home-town club, scoring 8 tries and played in the very last St Helens Recs v Saints game on 2nd January 1939, when Saints won 5-3 at City Road.
Like so many, he was to answer the call of King and country, when tragedy struck. Harry Briscoe [Service Number T/26467] was killed in Italy on 17th April 1945 at the age of 26. He was a member of the Royal Army Service Corps but was also in the Number 2 Commando unit.
There is no question that but for the outbreak of the terrible global conflict, Harry would have been a staple in the number 7 jersey at Knowsley Road for many years. “He was a really talented player,” remembered his former loose forward, Jackie Bradbury, “a shining star in a struggling team, destined for county honours, but it was not to be.” Harry’s dash and skill in the red and white jersey from such a young age and his courage on the battlefield will never be forgotten. A proud man of St Helens, for sure.
Fast forward to 2022 and members of Harry’s family visited the Commonwealth War Cemetery at Ravenna, complete with his Heritage Number Certificate to pay their respects. This included Harry’s cousin, Chris Pye and his wife, Sue; daughter Sarah Corrigan and her son Kaiden. “My mum, Sue took the picture,” says Sarah “and we felt so proud of his achievements. He is listed as aged 26 when he died on his grave and was obviously one of the many who lied about his age at enlistment, perhaps to become a Commando.”
Over in Nijmegen, in the Netherlands, on 25th October, Nienke Noijen and her daughter Pleun lit a candle in memory of #445 Patrick Dullard. A hooker, who made 22 appearances for the Saints in the mid-1930s, he joined the Army and, as a Lance Sergeant, found himself as part of the Allied forces attempts to capture bridges over the Rhine as part of Operation Market Garden. Following several failed expeditions in September 1944 the Irish Guards then focussed their efforts to secure the town of Nijmegen from the Germans. Tragically, Lance Sergeant 2716800 Patrick Dullard died on the 25th October 1944 and is buried in Jonkerbos War Cemetery, Gelderland, Netherlands.
It is the follow-up to an amazing and unexpected tribute to one of our town’s fallen heroes. Nienke had been writing about Second World War victims in her area, starting with the famous Irish Guards Regiment. Her daughter, Pleun, was born on 25th October 2017. Nienke first adopted a name from the Holocaust memorial In Amsterdam, to help finance the project and duly chose one from the memorial with the same date. Yet she wanted to remember another victim of the terrible conflict, closer to home with that 25th October date as a further link. “So, we went to the Military Cemetery at nearby Jonkerbos,” she explained, “and searched for our own hero. Patrick Dullard, of the Irish Guards, was the one whose death fitted our date criteria. So, every 25th October, we light three candles: one for my daughter’s birthday, one for our holocaust victim and one for Patrick.”
Saints’ Heritage Society managed to contact Patrick’s daughter, Helen Coakley, a St Helens resident, who was, quite understandably, amazed that this connection had been made. She has visited her father’s final resting place in the past and is immensely proud that his sacrifice will not be forgotten. Helen immediately got in touch with Nienke and a bond of friendship has ensued.
We must never forget the selfless contribution made by the people of St Helens who gave their lives in the cause of freedom and it a matter of great comfort to us all that their sacrifice is remembered and commemorated by so many not just in our own town but much further afield. Their names will live forever.