Dowson keen to keep legacy of Northampton Saints' war heroes alive

Saints' assistant coach Phil Dowson is in Belgium this week to help commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele, which claimed the lives of two former Saintsmen.

Monday, 31st July 2017, 2:12 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th September 2017, 12:08 pm
Edgar Mobbs (left), the new Mobbs' memorial in Shrewsbury Forest (centre) and Tom Collins (right)

On the first day of the battle Edgar Mobbs – who played over 200 times for the Saints and was the first player from this club to captain England – was one of the 55,000 people to be killed but not recovered from the fields surrounding Ypres.

But there was another, less well-known player who also died in the 105-day battle, Tom Collins, whose story Dowson has also been learning about.

And he says that keeping their memory alive is an important part of making the Saints the club that it is today.

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"I met the family of a former player called Tom Collins last week," said Dowson.

"He played here in the early 1900s and unfortunately he was killed in the First World War. I met his family, his descendants, this week and it's fascinating to understand that generation and what they went through and how it affected life and society."

Losing his life in October of 1917, in what is described as a 'painful shock' to the rugby community, Collins was trying to recover his wounded comrades with seven other soldiers when a shell hit the stretcher he was carrying, injuring the whole party and killing three, including Collins.

An estimated 500,000 soldiers were either killed or wounded during the Battle of Passchendaele, a scale of loss incomprehensible a century later, and something that Dowson says we must always remember.

"When Tom Collins died he had six children and how his wife, the mother of those children, coped from 1917 onwards says a lot, if we're talking about character, it says a lot about that,” he added.

"I think that the history of the club is fascinating, and it is really special that it has got that legacy.

"I'm sure it's something the players will be interested in and something we try to educate them on that as well in terms of the background of some of these guys who've represented the club in the past as those who are representing it moving forward.”

A war memorial to Mobbs was unveiled in Ypres at the spot where he died.