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Harold Hodges

Oxford 1907 XV 

Standing (L-R): Henry Edmunds Latham, Lawrence Cave Bencowe, Arthur Howard, Stephanus Nicholas Cronje, Hugh Martin, Francis Nathaniel Tarr. 

Sitting: Noel Willoughby Milton, Henry Holland ('Jumbo') Vassall, Harold Augustus Hodges, Worthington Wynn Hoskin (Captain), Randolph Stonehewer Wix, David B.Davies, Geoffrey Dorling ('Khaki') Roberts. On Ground: George Cunningham, Rupert Henry Williamson.  

 

(Picture Courtesy of Patrick Casey)

Born the fifth of seven sons to his parents William and Augusta , Harold Augustus Hodges arrived on January 22nd 1886 at Mansfield Wodehouse, Nottinghamshire. After spending his early school years at Roclareston School in January 1899 he entered Sedbergh, a school whose rugby prowess was as strong then as it remains today. The young Hodges soon found success on its’ playing pitches, becoming a member of the schools first fifteen for four years, and captaining it for his final two years. He also showed a great aptitude on the cricket pitch, making the Sedbergh eleven for five years and captaining it for three.

With his time at Sedbergh over Hodges went up to Trinity College , Oxford in January 1905. His reputation as a dashing forward had obviously preceded him as he was selected for the University rugby team in his freshman year, gaining his first blue against Cambridge on December 12th 1905. During this encounter Oxford were the loosing side although it remained a notable occasion for Hodges not only for his debut blue, but also as he took the pitch against one of his older brothers, E.C. Hodges, who played for the light blues as the two sides battled at the Queens Club.

Although this match may have done little for the harmony of the Hodges’ household that Christmas, it was a fine platform for Harold to display his skills, and given the nature of the Varsity match it came as little surprise that the selectors were watching the teams with interest. Most likely influenced by his display at the Queens Club they called upon Hodges to reproduce this form, but this time for his country.

Selected for a debut cap against Wales at Richmond on January 13th 1906 Hodges joined an England side who were to have a disappointing season with the Championship title eventually shared between Ireland and Wales . The Welsh match was lost by three points to sixteen, with England suffering a similar fate during Hodges second match in the white shirt of England the following month against Ireland . Played at Leicester on February 10th 1906 this match was also lost, this time by six points to sixteen. Hodges was never selected for his country again, although this may be a reflection of the disjointed selection process of the time rather than any particular failing on Hodges part. Despite this setback Hodges was by now also playing for Midland Counties and then there was always Oxford .

Hodges continued with the Oxford varsity team throughout his tenure at the university, eventually becoming one of the few students of his era to win four blues. His fortunes in the Dark Blue of Oxford were mixed. After the defeat by his bothers’ Cambridge side in 1905 the 1906 and 1907 encounters went Oxfords way. In the 1908 season Hodges attained the honor of captaining the Oxford side, although as with his England experience this proved to be a double edged sword as Oxford had a poor season, at least in the more important fixtures. Oxford under Hodges stewardship lost their match against the visiting Australians by three points to nineteen, despite the sending off of one of the Australian forwards. The varsity match a month later in December 1908 was a draw. Reports of the match show that although Oxford had a pack of big forwards, including Hodges, they were generally slower than their Cambridge opponents and probably more importantly were also generally outscrummaged by them. It must have been with a sense of some frustration and disappointment that Hodges went down from Oxford soon after the varsity match, his career at Oxford over.

Moving on Hodges, a noted French scholar, spent some months in Paris at the Sorbonne before returning to Britain and joining Tonbridge school as a master in September 1909. His interest in sport was also undiminished as he played both for the Nottingham club at rugby as well as the Nottinghamshire cricket eleven in the 1912-13 season.

With the outbreak of war Hodges, along with thousands of others, immediately followed the call to arms and enlisted in August 1914. After just three weeks training with the Officer Training Corps he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the third Battalion of the Monmouthshire Regiment where the training for conflict continued. Arriving at the front in February 1915 Hodges was soon engaged in the turmoil of battle, being seriously wounded by shellfire at Ypres in May. With not uncommon fortitude for the time he returned to his Regiment by July despite the shell fragments that the surgeons’ had failed to remove. On April 16th Hodges distinguished himself by preventing a serious explosion during a fire at an ammunition dump in Faceville, an act for which he received the thanks of his divisional commander. With continuing combat by July 1916 the third Monmouthshires had been decimated to such an extent by casualties that they were disbanded, and Hodges was transferred to the eleventh Battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment, by now an acting Captain with this rank being confirmed in December 1916. For most of the remainder of the First World War Hodges remained in the thick of the fighting, enduring this with a noticeable courage. One account relates how he carried a wounded soldier over a mile across no mans land to a first aid station. Twice in 1917 Hodges was mentioned in dispatches.

By March 1918 Hodges and his Battalion were stationed in the already war torn area of the Somme , where they faced the last major German offensive of the first world war. With America entering the war it was imperative for the Germans to attack whilst they still had a numerical advantage. The Battle of St Quentin began on March 21st. Three days later on the 24th Hodges was stationed near Ham, and was tasked to regain contact with a battalion which was reported to be in a small factory on the Ham-Eppeville road. At night and with battle raging confusion reined. Leaving the majority of his company in a railway cutting Hodges advanced on the factory with only one of his junior officer’s for company. Instead of the expected British forces he found the building occupied by the advancing German forces. Drawing his sidearm Hodges opened fire until he was himself cut down, one more victim of the charnel house that was the Somme .

(Pictures Courtesy of Gethyn Rees)

Sources

"The Complete Who's Who of England Rugby Union Internationals", R Maule,  Breedon 1992

The Times Online Digital Archive

Wikepedia

www.1914-1918.net

© D A Hunter, 2008
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