In 1914, the first club in the district to stop playing was Reddish, of the Manchester and District league. Many club members immediately signed up for Kitchener’s Army.
The RFU ceased activities shortly after and, in 1915, the Northern Union ended competitive fixtures. Emergency leagues were eventually set up, but interest was low for the most part.
Hundreds of players and individuals connected to Manchester’s rugby clubs went to the front. Some did not return. Dozens connected with Manchester Rugby Club alone were killed and wounded in France, Belgium, Gallipoli, and the Middle East. Tom Williams, who led Salford during the 1900 Fallowfield final, was also killed in action.
We have found two players associated with Manchester rugby, one from each code, who gained the Victoria Cross. Wilfrith Elstob, former Manchester University player and captain of the 30th Division rugby team, was awarded the VC posthumously for his valour on Manchester Hill. Thomas Steele, Seaforth Highlander, received his VC recovering in hospital after bravery beyond the call of duty in Mesopotamia. Fully recovered, he would go on to represent Broughton Rangers in the 1920s.
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