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Mark Hoskins

Mark Hoskins writes

Posted Friday, May 8th 2020

A wartime tale: the Bristol Supporters team

Bristol ceased to operate officially during the war, but in all six seasons Bristol Supporters ran a side. Club Historian, Mark Hoskins tells the unique story of the team's journey during WW2. 

As the season entered its final two months, there was increasing speculation that Bristol would be officially up and running again the following September. Efforts had already been made to arrange a fixture list, and occasional committee meetings were being held. Back on the field of play, the BBC recorded parts of the Supporters’ game with Bath. The players later visited the BBC studio to listen to the broadcast. Easter saw visits from Leicestershire Harlequins and Nuneaton, the latter defeating the Supporters with a side containing several Warwickshire players. 

The Supporters’ final two matches, both at the Memorial Ground, were against distinguished opposition. First came Newbridge on April 7th, and the Supporters achieved one of their best results of the season, defeating the strong Monmouthshire side 9-7 thanks to a 'Basil' Griffin try and two Alun Meredith penalties. Finally, on April 21st, the Supporters met Devonport Services, a team they had not previously played during wartime. It would have been fitting for the Supporters to sign off with a victory, but the Services won 19-18 after an exciting match in which the lead changed hands four times. The Evening World made the suggestion that the players should rush to the touchline at the end of the game and call for three cheers for Percy Williams. It is not recorded whether this occurred, but it would have been an appropriate gesture. ‘Old Crusader’, writing in the Evening Post wrote: “Percy Williams’s name will go down in the annals of rugby as having saved the game during the war period in Bristol.” The local press also referred most aptly to Williams’s side as “a well-nourished baby.”

It is worth noting the range of wartime and local charities which benefited from the efforts of the Bristol Supporters. These included Bristol’s Own Fund (Evening Post Sportsmen’s Section), the Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire’s Welfare Fund, the Gloucestershire & Somerset Sports’ Equipment Fund for the Troops, the Lord Mayor of Bristol’s War Services Fund for Bristol’s Air Raid Relief, the Lord Mayor of Bristol’s Red Cross Fund, the British Legion Benevolent Fund, the Home Guard Welfare Fund, the Combined Gloucestershire Regiments Funds, the St John Ambulance, the All India Relief Fund, the RAF Benevolent Fund, the Merchant Navy Fund, the Bristol Royal Infirmary, the YMCA, Tobacco for POWs and the Salute the Soldier Fund. 

Three days after the Bristol Supporters took to the field for the final time, their achievements were celebrated at a dinner in the Beaufort Room of the Grand Hotel. It should be emphasised that the war had not actually ended yet, but it was clear to one and all that the finish was in sight. In fact, V E Day was barely a fortnight away. Consequently, the menu stated that the dinner was being held “to celebrate the closure of the team’s wartime activities, 1939-1945.” 

So, with this dinner, ended a fascinating episode in the history of rugby in the City of Bristol. Thanks to the efforts of Percy Williams and his “well-nourished baby” some 250 players had been given games, and of these a good number were ready to become Bristol players when peacetime rugby recommenced.


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