Congratulations to Alicia Calton, Leah Christian, Adam Christey, Fin Cox, Kyle Dowarka, Joe Gaffey, Matt Hope, Edward Mather and Chris Thomas who on Thursday 24th May received their Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award at a special presentation held in the gardens of Buckingham Palace, where the nine young people from Eccles RFC met HRH The Duke of Cambridge and entertained the future king with tales of their now legendary expedition to France. After the palace the group dined at Brasserie Zedel, Piccadilly.
The grand occasion in London was the summit of a long and arduous journey that for many of them commenced back in May 2014 when as U14s they began working towards their DofE Bronze Award. To achieve their Gold Award the group had to complete 12 months of volunteering work, 12 months of Physical and Skills activity, undertake a week-long residential activity away from home and undertake a 4-day Expedition.
The story of this group’s expedition began on 1st July 2016, when U18 Colts and Girls from Eccles RFC participated in the City of Salford’s 100th Anniversary commemoration of the Battle of the Somme. This event inspired a 12-month heritage project to uncover the forgotten lives of the Eccles RFC volunteers of 1914, many of whom enlisted in local ‘Pals’ battalions in order to fight France alongside their mates. Following WW1, Eccles RFC struggled to regain its pre-war status. The club recommenced rugby activities in October 1919, playing in a field off Stott Lane against a FlydeXV with a team composed in the main of discharged soldiers, many of whom had suffered injuries. If it were not for the perseverance, determination and commitment of those players, and all those that followed them, Eccles Rugby Football Club would not exist today.
As a tribute to the sacrifice of those young men, the nine young people trained, researched and planned their DofE Gold Award expedition to the Somme Battlefields where they retraced the journey made by the Salford Pals Battalions of the Lancashire Fusiliers Regiment, 101 years before them.
Travelling inland from the French coast, the group walked in their footsteps along the same roads and through the same fields and villages, camping along the route, covering an average of 30km a day using maps and compass. They visited British, French and German war cemeteries along the way, laying poppies at the graves they could identify as soldiers from Salford and Manchester. On 1st July 2017, the group arrived at their final destination of Thiepval, where they attended a memorial ceremony to honour the servicemen who lost their lives on the Somme. Here they paid their respects and laid poppy wreaths on behalf of the Fusiliers Regiment and tributes of a willow cross and minor’s lamp from the City of Salford, items of remembrance they had carried with them from home. After the ceremony the young people met with dignitaries including Lord Llewellyn, British Ambassador to France and Colonel Borneman of the British Embassy.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, is a youth awards programme founded by Prince Philip in 1956, that has since expanded to 144 nations and is now the world’s leading achievement award for young people, recognised by employers and universities alike as evidence of persistence, commitment and personal development over a period of time.
Eccles RFC have run the DofE award scheme for its players since 2011 and anyone aged 14-24 can participate. The 3-stage Bronze, Silver and Gold award programme compliments the values of Rugby Union and aims to inspire, support and encourage young people in their self-development and social interaction, instilling in them a spirit of adventure, self-reliance and teamwork.
This year’s Gold Group were supported/nagged along their journey by their proud parents and DofE volunteers Paul and Vivienne Newton, Mark Baines, Hilary Berry and Ruth Mcgaharan whose continued encouragement and commitment to the young people was instrumental in their success and deserve special recognition. The planning of the Salford Pals Somme101 Expedition was also greatly assisted by John Dennison of Francourt / Les Passeur de Memiore, whose enthusiasm and local knowledge made an invaluable contribution. Far less deserving of a mention are Messers Dave Nicholls and Sean Baines who were expedition envoys to the group whilst in France and wholly responsible for the incident involving the watermelon and the Police, which was nothing at all to do with me, your Royal Highness.