Captain Robert Randerson

Rugby League

'I am not a fighting man; I don’t like to fight, but I ought to go and fight at a time like this'.

Robert Randerson 1914

Submitted by Jane and Chris Roberts, authors of 'The Greatest Sacrifice - Fallen Heroes of the Northern Union'

Captain Randerson was a typical gentleman….. The town was poorer by his demise.

Robert Randerson was an outstanding sportsman, with his talent as a sprinter making him hot rugby league property. That sprinting ability was most evident during his time training to be a teacher in Catholic schools at St Mary’s College, Hammersmith, when he broke all previous records for the 100 yards flat race in an inter-college sports contest with a time of fractionally over 10 seconds. After completing his studies, the York-born Randerson was appointed an assistant master at St Mary’s School, Batley, in 1913. It was during a sprint training session at the Batley Athletic and Cricket Club – of which the Batley rugby league club was a part – that the Northern Union club spotted his talents as a potential wing star of the future.

The new Batley winger quickly impressed in the reserves and made his senior debut in an 11-0 Challenge Cup defeat at Halifax on 14 March, 1914. Although Randerson’s debut wasn’t a winning one, he maintained his place in the team and opened his tryscoring account with two in a 21-5 home Northern Union victory over Keighley a week later. He made three further Batley senior appearances during the 1913-14 campaign and crossed for two more tries, before the outbreak of war cut short a very promising start to his Northern Union career and he immediately enlisted with the British Army.

Robert joined the Leeds University Officer’s Training Corps (OTC) shortly after Britain’s entry into the War stating “I am not a fighting man; I don’t like to fight, but I ought to go and fight at a time like this”. “The London Gazette” of 25 August 1914 lists Robert as amongst those OTC cadets and ex-cadets appointed as temporary 2nd Lieutenants. Promotion quickly followed. In December 1914 he was promoted to temporary Lieutenant. Only months later, on 15 May 1915, he became a temporary Captain.

The Batley Club reported at the Annual Meeting of May 1915: “Randerson…..was the first Northern Union player to receive a commission. This honour has been claimed by others but it belongs to Lieut. Randerson and the Batley Club”. Within weeks of this discussion, on 7 August 1915, Robert was to lose his life in the “Yorkshire Landings” at Gallipoli.

He served with the 6th (Service) Battalion, Alexandra, Princess of Wales’s Own (Yorkshire Regiment), one of Kitchener’s New Army battalions. It was whilst serving with the Yorkshire Regiment based at Belton Park, Grantham, that he made his final appearance for Batley against Keighley on 10 October 1914. He told the club secretary Kershaw Newton that it would be his last game with the Gallant Youths until peace was signed as, with his exhaustive training programme of marching, drilling, lectures and special studies as an officer on top of his ordinary duties, he was “about played out by the weekend”.
Additionally, with his officer responsibilities, he could not afford to risk a rugby playing injury. “….I have 60 men under me and am responsible for them, and will have to lead them in war. To make them and myself efficient requires all my time and energy, and I do not think it would be right to risk laying myself up with an injury….”

Poignantly he wrote, “…..I will come and hope to see many of my old friends round the railings as a sort of good-bye until we get the serious business through and when honour and justice are satisfied I trust to have many a jolly game on the hill”. Robert scored one try in Batley’s 19-0 victory. But, ironically given his concerns about injury before the game, he suffered the misfortune of a kick to the head. This blow confined him to a darkened room for a few days on returning to Belton Park.

At the beginning of July 1915 Robert and his Battalion left Liverpool bound ultimately for the Dardanelles. At around 11pm on the 6 August they finally disembarked on the Gallipoli peninsular, south east of Nibrunesi Point on B Beach. The aim was to take Lala Baba, a low hill between the southern side of Suvla Bay and the Salt Lake. As the men moved off from the sea shore they were immediately engulfed by the darkness of the night, it being impossible to see a body of troops at a few yards distance.

Lala Baba was eventually taken, but the Unit War Diary records a heavy price paid with 16 officers and about 250 other ranks casualties (killed and wounded) in the fighting during those first hours of the night of 6/7 August 1915. Robert was amongst those officers killed. He died on 7 August 1915 within hours of landing. A fellow officer writing to Robert’s father stated: “Some of our men had gone over and some were held up by the Turks entrenched on top and there were several of our officers wounded and killed there, I was told your son had been killed there and the sergeant who told me said that he had been shot through the head, so his death seems to have been instantaneous”.

At home, local tributes poured in for him, The Batley News eulogised his virtues saying:
“A pattern of good conduct on the football field, handsome appearance, of excellent physique, and a splendid teacher, his demise removes from the Heavy Woollen District one whose manifold example commends itself to the rising generation”. Alderman H North of the Batley Education Committee said that “Captain Randerson was a typical gentleman; an ideal leader of boys and a man appreciated by his scholars and school managers. …… His death had removed from Batley a most capable servant of the education committee….. The town was poorer by his demise”.