Last Sunday nine U18 players from Eccles RFC returned from France, where they undertook a week long expedition, travelling from Salford to the Somme WWI battlefields, as part of their Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award.

A year ago, on 1st July 2016, the group participated in the City of Salford’s centenary commemoration of the Battle of the Somme. This event inspired the young people to spend the last 12 months researching the former players of their club, the forgotten heroes of Eccles who volunteered to fight in the First World War, many of whom did not return to play again.  As a tribute to that sacrifice, the group set themselves the challenge of retracing the footsteps of the Salford Pals battalions of the Lancashire Fusilier regiment, who had made the journey to the Somme 101 years before them.

The Eccles young people travelled by ferry, train and foot – walking with packs through the same fields and on the same roads, camping along route, covering an average of 30km a day over 5 days, inland from the French coast to their final destination of Thiepval.

No phones, no GPRS, just maps, compass and water bottles. Despite sun burn, storms and blisters they made it to Thiepval on Saturday 1st July, where, soaking wet in their shirts and club tie they attended an official memorial ceremony.  Here the group met with dignitaries from Great Britain and France and laid poppy wreaths and tributes from the City of Salford and the Fusilier Regiment that they had carried with them on their epic sunburned-rainsoaked journey.

Lord Llewellyn, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to France, commented on his twitter account “Congrats to DofE Gold group @dofe_ecclesrfc, walking in the footsteps of the brave. Honour to meet them at #Thiepval for #Somme101

Mr Steven Blackburn, Lancashire County RFU President added “I would like to congratulate the Eccles RUFC Members who are attaining the D of E Gold award. The amount of work the young people have put in, physically in the retracing of the Salford march, and the amount of historical investigation is a credit to all involved. Lancashire are very proud of the achievements of this group and a special mention should also be made to the volunteers mentoring these young people, their commitment is echoed in the achievements of the group.” 

Mr Andy Brunt, International President of Eccles RFC was able to spare a few moments from his heavy Kiwi schedule with the British & Irish Lions to make this statement  “We’re very proud of this year’s Gold Group who have shown outstanding determination and commitment to meet this challenge. The young people have represented the city and their club with great dignity and respect. We hope their expedition to France will be seen as a fitting tribute not only to the Eccles players and the Pals battalions of 101 years ago, but also as a testament to the enduring spirit and character of rugby and the community that Eccles RFC belongs to.” 

Monsieur Davide Nicholls, Eccles RFC European Expedition Logistics spokesman added “Haw hee haw.”

In recognition of the club’s efforts, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers will play Eccles RFC in a #Somme101 commemorative friendly on Saturday 19th August 2017.  Following the game there will be refreshments and a big screen presentation in the clubhouse. All are welcome to attend.

Following WW1 Eccles did not recommence rugby activity until October 1919, fielding a team formed in the main of servicemen who had survived the war, many who had suffered injuries. If it were not for the commitment and dedication of those men, and those that followed them, Eccles RFC and many other clubs would probably not exist today. So the group are especially pleased to learn that the names of all the Eccles RFC players that their research has uncovered will be included in a book of remembrance and a World Rugby Memorial @RugbyMemorial

The group would like to extend their thanks to John Denison of Francourt for his assistance with their experience in France.  More images from the expedition can be found here @dofe_ecclesrfc  @EcclesColts