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Fallen heroes: George Lamond and Thomas Tanner

It’s difficult to imagine a world in which our athletes double-up as soldiers on the front line – but for hundreds of Bristol Rugby players throughout history, this was an unavoidable reality.

Here, we take a look at the stories of two such Bristol players, who lost their lives during The Great War. A total of 43 players, to have represented the club, fell during the First and Second World Wars.

George Lamond

George Lamond captained Bristol during the 1903/04 season and was just 39 years-old when he died, 14 years later, in Military Hospital in Colombo on February 25th, 1918.

The Scotland international, the first Bristol player to represent the thistle, was responsible for inland water transport, before contracting pneumonia on active service in Mesopotamia and being invalided to Colombo, where he eventually died.

Lamond, who had not played for his country since winning his first two caps in 1899, was chosen by Scotland to face England, thus becoming Bristol’s first Scottish international capped directly from the club. 

He made his debut for Kelvinside Academicals at the age of sixteen and came to Bristol to work on the new Royal Edward Dock at Avonmouth, having previously been employed in similar work on the Nile. 

Familiarly known as Geo, he made fifty appearances in all for Bristol before returning to Egypt and retiring from rugby. As a player, he was renowned for his ability to drop kick with either foot when running at speed and for his knack of making openings for wingers.

Thomas Tanner

And then there was Thomas Tanner, who played 26 games for Bristol, an Old Cliftonian.

A conscientious objector, he resigned from his job in 1940 to join the Friends’ Ambulance Unit, but during a visit overseas, his vessel was torpedoed by a U-boat west of the Azores on December 6th, 1942.

Three missiles struck the ship, leaving her crippled, but the U-boat later fired two more torpedoes, sinking her on the spot.

Eight lifeboats were launched, but the seas were rough and the sole survivor of the tragedy was a Sapper of the Royal Engineers who was taken on board by the U-boat Captain. In all, 655 people perished. Tanner was thirty-two at the time of his death.

Tanner’s name is listed on the Civilian Dead Roll of Honour in Westminster Abbey. Despite not being an active serviceman, his name is on both the Trinity College and Clifton College Memorials, presumably because he was in the service of the Crown when he died.

In common with Denys Coles, his photo is included on the In Memoriam picture in the Oxford University RFC clubhouse. Tom Tanner was born in Scotland. He was married with two children, his wife being an American from New Jersey. His father served as Sheriff of Bristol, and his parents’ home was Failand House in Failand. Tanner was thirty-two at the time of his death.