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Percy Kendall

Percy Dale ‘Toggie” Kendall was born in Prescot on August 21st 1878 the son of Francis and Margaret Kendall. After starting his education at the Elleray School , New Brighton , in his native Merseyside he later progressed to Tonbridge School where he developed into a useful scrum half before attending university at Cambridge . Whilst here Kendall was to play rugby for his university, but was never selected for the varsity match missing out on his blue. At times he also turned out for Blackheath whilst he lived and studied in Cambridge .

Completing his education and now employed as a solicitor Kendall returned to the North West where he became a stalwart member of both the Birkenhead Park and Cheshire teams, captaining his county at times over the following years. Although overlooked by his Captains at Cambridge the Barbarians soon saw his potential, and he was to play in their famous black and white hooped jersey a total of nine times. His first outing for the Barbarians was on Boxing Day 1899 against Cardiff during a twenty seven point to three defeat. 1900 proved a busy year for both Kendall and the Barbarians as he travelled to France for an early match outside of the British Isles against Le Havre on February 7th cruising to a forty one point to three victory. After this he joined the Barbarians for their usual Easter tour to Wales in April, enjoying victory a over Cardiff this time although losing to both Gloucester and Newport . The Christmas Holidays were also surrendered by Kendall to the Barbarians that year as they travelled to the North East defeating Hartlepool Rovers on Boxing Day by four points to three and Percy Park by twenty four points to eight the day after.

Kendall’s progression both as a player and through the ranks of rugby union had been duly noted and he was selected for his first international cap against Scotland in a match held at Blackheath on March 9th 1901. For Kendall it was not the best of debuts as he played behind an English pack that was dominated by the stronger Scots. Both he and his half back partner, H. Outhred, were regarded as having poor games, seen as “slow in getting the ball and uncertain in passing, they never really gave their three-quarters a chance”, although in fairness on the day the whole English backline misfired. This, the last match of the international season, resulted in a heavy eighteen points to three loss for the English as they took the wooden spoon and Scotland the championship.

Despite this poor first match Kendall was again selected to play for his country in the opening match of the 1902 campaign against Wales on January 11th, held again at the Rectory field in Blackheath. Both teams played well during a fine spectacle in a hard fought game. Wales, though, were the better side and despite valiant English defense to quell their attacks snatched an eight points to nine win and would go on to take the championship that year. Once more this was not the best of games for Kendall, who was still finding it difficult to adjust to the international level. In it’s match report the Times wrote of his performance “Kendall of Cheshire did not distinguish himself at half for England and after these two mediocre to poor performances Kendall was dropped by the English selectors. Despite this disappointment Kendall was again invited to join the Barbarians as they travelled to Wales at Easter 1902, playing a further two matches for the club during a seventeen points to nil defeat by Swansea on April 1st and  also loosing to Cardiff the following day by sixteen points to nine.

The following season saw Kendall recalled to the England side for their last match of the year against Scotland on March 21st 1903 at Richmond . Kendall was also handed the honor of captaining his country for this match that was played in front of a good crowd in excess of twenty five thousand. Although not a great game it was interesting to watch as the result remained in doubt right up until the last minute. Played at speed the match was characterized by poor passing from both sides. As expected Scotland edged to a six points to ten win, the better side on the day although not by any great margin. Be this as it may the victory was enough for Scotland to again claim the international championship and Calcutta Cup whilst consigning England to the wooden spoon. Although Kendall had a better game and “twice cleared with a capitol kick” it was to be his last match in the white shirt of England .

Returning home Kendall continued to play for both club and county. The highlight of his later career was an appearance for Cheshire against the visiting New Zealanders, who became known as the All Black Originals, in a match held at his home club of Birkenhead Park on December 9th 1905. After the tourists crossed for an early try Cheshire never really recovered, remaining weak defensively throughout and leaking eight tries during the course of the thirty four points to nil defeat. Although a crushing loss for Cheshire it was not quite such a bad game for Kendall himself and in the Times’ match report it was said of his play that “Kendall… at half back for Cheshire [was] energetic and extremely useful. “

With the outbreak of war Kendall enlisted in the King’s Liverpool Regiment, being posted to the 1/10th Battalion, more commonly known as the Liverpool Scottish. Commissioned as a Lieutenant he soon found himself on the Western front with his battalion in the area around the Ypres salient. By January 1915 the first battle of Ypres was over. The German offensive towards this area had been halted, although at a huge cost in both men and materiel. As the front settled down the famous trenches of the First World War became the norm. Stretching from the North Sea to Switzerland they left little opportunity for a flanking maneuver, meaning that head on assault as the only, bloody, means of advance. Ypres itself had become almost a touchstone to the British public, a reminder of the stout defense during the opening stages of the war. From a tactical perspective it may have been preferable to evacuate the salient, although there were few better defensive options in Flanders , but the nature of it’s capture and the losses that it had incurred made it a symbol that could not be relinquished. Between the end of the first battle of Ypres in November 1914 and the start of the second in April 1915 life in the Ypres salient was miserable for the British forces. The conditions in the trenches were appalling. There were too few troops, too few supplies and too little ammunition. Futile attacks against the well prepared German lines were made and repulsed. Losses from this, as well as snipers and mining operations were high. Against this backdrop Percy Kendall fell in action on January 25th 1915. He left a wife, Katherine, behind him.


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

The Times Online Digital Archive


© D A Hunter, 2008
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