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Ronald Lagden

Born in Maseru , Basutoland on the border of present day South Africa on November 11th 1889, Ronald Owen Lagden was the son of Sir Godfrey Lagden KCMG and Lady Lagden, who more normally resided in Weybridge, Surrey . Educated at Mr Pellat’s School in Swanage and then Marlborough College Lagden soon showed himself to be a fine all round sportsman. Whilst at Marlborough he was a regular member of the schools rugby, cricket, hockey and raquets teams. This was a sporting prowess that he was to take with him into later life as he went up to Oriel College , Oxford , and beyond.

Whilst still an undergraduate Lagden’s all round sporting skills were to grow. Eventually he would win four blues in cricket, two in hockey, one in raquets and not least three in rugby. His first encounter with Cambridge on the rugby pitch came on December 11th 1909 at the Queens Club in one of the most famous of the many encounters between the two sides. In front of a good crowd the Oxford backs were rampant, Ronnie Poulton in particular entering folk law with his five tries during the emphatic Oxford victory. The Oxford pack, including Lagden who was regarded as a hard hitting forward, played well against their Cambridge counterparts who had been considered the stronger prior to the game. This soon proved not to be the case, and a revival by the Cambridge backs during the second half proved to be far too little too late.

Lagden retained his place in the varsity side the following year, again meeting Cambridge at the Queens Club on December 13th 1910. This was to prove a far closer encounter than the previous years meeting, against all expectations, as Cambridge came into the game on the back of a run of poor form, but raising their game for this, their most important fixture of the year. Cambridge played a simple game well, as opposed to the exuberance of the Oxford backs. The Oxford pack underperformed, also against expectation, leaving only two points between the two teams at half time in Oxfords favor. Despite Cambridge ’s best efforts although they were hampered by injuries, Oxford managed to retain the lead and claim the fixture by twenty three points to eighteen.

Early the following year on March 18th 1911 Lagden was selected for England to play Scotland at Twickenham. Mist before play and hard ground made both the pitch and the ball greasy, which did little to assist the backs of either side. The packs were evenly matched on the day, the English bigger and stronger but also slower than their Scottish counterparts. The play was as fast and open as the conditions allowed, England faceing what was generally regarded to be the best of the Scottish sides selected that season. During the game Lagden was to score two conversions on his debut in what was eventually to be a thirteen points to eight victory as England retained the Calcutta Cup, although had the English pack played as expected there is every chance that the winning margin may have been far more. This was to be Lagden’s only international cap as he immediately fell from favor with the English selectors. In this he was considered unlucky, not least by Edward Sewell, a prominent chronicler of the sport of rugby union at the time.

Returning to Oxford and his studies there was still Cambridge to play and Lagden took to the pitch for his third and final Varsity match on December 12th 1911 at the Queens Club. It was a match in which the experience of the Oxford side was to tell convincingly. Poulton, in particular, was at his sparkling best and a young light blue side had little to offer in return. Ten minutes into the game Oxford were already eleven points to the good and although the Cambridge team battled hard they could find no way back. Before the game the Cambridge pack had been fancied, but Oxford dug in well, also outstripping Cambridge in the loose. Lagden, who also scored two conversions during the match played well, a core member of his pack. Their cohesion was commented on by the Times, “we have been hearing of the dashing play of Lagden… but the best work is always anonymous.” Overall the nineteen points to nil defeat was even more crushing than the score line suggested. It was a fitting final Varsity match for Lagden.

After completing his studies Lagden himself made the decision to move in education becoming a Master at Harrow School soon after he graduated from Oxford . Continuing his sporting pastimes he was associated with the Richmond Club. He had also, perhaps more prophetically been an active member of the Officer Training Corps, attaining the rank of Lieutenant whilst at Oxford . He enlisted on the first day of World War One in August 1914 joining the Kings Royal Rifle Corps. By early in 1915 he had been attached to its 4th Battalion and travelled to France for active duty.

At this time the 4th Battalion of the Rifles was stationed in The St Eloi sector, some fifteen miles north of Neuve Chapelle on the Ypres salient. In early 1915 between the first and second battles of Ypres the fighting in this area had descended, quite literally, into the trenches. Conditions were terrible for the British forces who were hampered by the lack of troops and essential supplies. The trenches were often waist deep in liquid mud and the cold was bitter. Hundreds of casualties were incurred from frostbite let alone those who fell due to enemy action. The German forces were entrenched often as close as thirty feet from the British lines, but assaults were still planned and executed often without the benefit of either surprise or sufficient artillery support. It was a recipe for disaster. On March 3rd 1915 Lagden, who was by now commanding a company, led his men over the top against the well prepared German trenches. Although they advanced gallantly the attack was doomed from the outset. Of the three hundred men involved one hundred and thirteen of them became casualties, wounded, killed or missing. Captain Ronald Owen Lagden was one of those who never returned from this ill fated advance into no mans land.


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

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© D A Hunter, 2008
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