8th November 2018, 10:08 | englandrl

Northern Union Heroes of WW1: Walter Roman

Northern Union Heroes of WW1: Walter Roman

As England and New Zealand face off against each other in the final test at Elland Road this weekend, the test falls on Remembrance Day, allowing Rugby League to remember those who made the sacrifice, including the many who played the game.

One such man was Walter Roman, nicknamed ‘Rattler’ for his ‘bone-crunching tackles’, began his career as a prominent Rugby Union player, playing for the Bridgewater club in Somerset. 

In 1899, he went to serve his country a first time, fighting in the Boer War and then in 1907 in India. Once his tour of duty had finished, he returned to his hometown in Somerset and re-joined his club, representing his county.

After failing to receive an England cap at the 15-man code, Roman was offer £200 to join Rochdale, signed, and went on to score 47 tries and kick 15 goals for the Hornets and captained Rochdale in their 1911 Lancashire Cup win. 

He played representative football for Wales and the West of England in 1911, England against Wales in 1914 and was selected as part of the touring Great Britain squad in 1914. On the tour, he scored in the 43-11 win over Taranaki in the tour and spoke of his pride in the team. 

“I think our team is one of the greatest combinations that ever left England. Our last match was a revelation of bulldog courage and British pluck.”

At the tours end, word of the breakout of the war was quickly spreading, and Walter knew his duty. He presented himself at once to the Victoria Barracks to travel back to England to fight. Ironically, the ship that returned him to Britain carried his Lions teammates. 

But he acknowledged that his task on the war front was much greater, yet he would approach it with exactly the same attitude.

“I have now sterner work to face for King and country. I shall do my best in this great game, just as I always do in football.”

His tour lasted two years, and seriously wounded close to where the huge Hawthorn mine was detonated just before 7.30am and the start of the attackon the 1stof July 1916 – Walter’s 36thbirthday - during the Battle of the Somme.

From there he was sent to Cheltenham to be treated, and initially his health appeared to improve, but on the 28thJuly, he passed away from wounds to his arm and leg. 

Representatives from the Hornets were present at his funeral in Bridgewater, as were punters from the Beehive pub where he worked. He was remembered as a powerful forward and true great for the Hornets.

This article has been adapted from The Greatest Sacrifice by Jane and Chris Roberts, which is available through Scratching Shed Publishing, with signed copies available from pasttopresentgenealogy.wordpress.com