Centennial Memorial Match
On 5 November 2016, an extraordinary international rugby match will take place in the Dutch town of Leeuwarden. A century ago in 1916, teams representing England and Scotland played an exhibition rugby match on foreign soil, to the delight of thousands of paying local spectators. But these were not rugby tourists: the teams returned afterwards, not to their homes, but to the wooden huts of ‘HMS Timbertown’ (het Engelse Kamp); their internment camp in Groningen.
In October 1914, 1500 men of three battalions of the 1st Royal Navy Brigade, Benbow, Collingwood and Hawke, under the command of Commodore Wilfred Henderson were cut off after the siege of Antwerp. Rather than become Prisoners of War in Germany, they crossed the border into neutral Holland, where they spent the duration of the war as internees under the laws of the Geneva Convention.
Commodore Henderson was no longer faced with leading his 1500 men in war, but rather confronted with the unexpected challenge of building a workable, disciplined community in Timbertown. He made sure that the men in the camp could follow educational courses, as well as train in sports, as a way to develop themselves and boost the moral. The mantra of ‘Making Better People, Makes for Better Communities’, certainly applies to the approach taken by the Commodore and the navy men of the three battalions.
The excitement around the first international games on Dutch soil, and subsequent fixtures between internees and students from Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Delft and The Hague, led to the formation of the first rugby clubs in the Netherlands. Other sports such as football and cricket also benefited greatly through similar fixtures and interaction.