Larne Rugby Club were contacted by David Allan of the Royal Society of Chemistry some time ago regarding a past member who had died in the Great War.
The inquiry concerned Captain John “Jack” Griffiths and research by ex Club President William Nelson uncovered the tale of this past captain of Larne Rugby Club.
The research started round a picture of the 1913 -14 Towns Cup winning side in the Clubhouse which features Jack Griffiths as captain, holding the ball, to the right of his ex pupil and then team-mate William McCluggage, pictured in his Junior Ulster shirt.
Captain Griffths was educated at Alun County School, Mold, and took his degree of B.Sc. at the University of North Wales (Bangor). He was appointed science master of Cleobury Mortimer College, Salop, and afterwards at Larne Grammar School, Co. Antrim, Ireland, and also the Technical Schools (Larne).
Jack Griffiths taught science at Larne Grammar School in the early 1900s and was a rugby player and coach who helped the School Headmaster of the time, James McQuillan, get enough old boys together to set up the beginnings of Larne Rugby Football Club.
They decided to enter the Towns Cup in 1912/13 and got to the final only to lose to near neighbours Carrick. In 1913/14 Jack Griffiths was appointed Club Captain and the team again got to the final playing Carrick but winning this time.
In September 1914 the club put rugby on hold as the war broke out, and Jack Griffiths accepted a commission with the Ulster Volunteers, and was attached to the 12th Batt. of the Royal Irish Rifles, crossing to France in 1915. He was wounded in June, 1916, while leading his men in a bombing raid, for which he received congratulations.
He was killed in action on July 1st whilst leading his men with great gallantry right up the enemy’s trench at Beaumont-Hamel. He was mentioned in Sir Douglas Haig’s despatch of November 13th, 1916, for distinguished service in the field.
Captain Griffiths always took an active interest in sport of all kinds, and was captain of the Science Crew, U.N.C.W. Boating Club while at college.
William McCluggage, of Ballyboley, was twelve years younger, and he knew Jack Griffiths well. They had been in the same classroom together, as pupil and teacher, and when McCluggage won a science scholarship to Queen’s in 1911 Griffiths had been greatly gratified.
They had played rugby together, at first as learner and coach and in due course the learner became as good as his coach. “McCluggage dropped a magnificent goal for Larne from near the halfway line” in a match with Methody (Larne Times, October 22nd, 1910); he played for Queen’s and for the successful Larne Town XV; and he became a junior inter-pro. He was an officer in the Ulster Volunteer Force, got his B.Sc. in engineering in 1914, joined the Twelfth Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles, was commissioned, and had John Griffiths as his brother officer.
On July 1st 1916 nine thousand men from the Ulster Division went into general action for the first time, at Thiepval on the Somme. Two days later fewer than two thousand five hundred answered the roll call. Among those who did not answer were Captain Griffiths (35), killed, and Lt. McCluggage (23), missing.
Speaking of his research William Nelson stated:
“I am very grateful that I was contacted by David Allen of the Royal Society of Chemistry. The research pointed out the link that our club had with the First World War.
We don’t have a list of club members who died during the Great War but now we know that at least two of our founding members made the ultimate sacrifice at the battle of the Somme. Even more poignant is that they were both team members in a side that was put together in 1912 – 13, the year our club began and as the picture shows they went on to win the Towns Cup the following year.
It’s a fitting reminder, in this the centenary of the First World War, of the sacrifices that these young athletes made for their country.”
Subsequent research unearthed that two current club members, Arthur James and James McCluggage are related to William McCluggage. They are pictured below with current Club President Paul Montgomery and ex President William Nelson.