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Edgar Mobbs



Edgar Roberts Mobbs was born in Northampton on the 29th of June 1882, the third of six children born to Oliver Mobbs and his wife Elizabeth. His father was a car salesman, a profession that was to become a family tradition with both Edgar and his brothers Herbert and Noel following In his footsteps. The young Mobbs was educated at Bedford Modern School , where he played cricket and hockey as well as three quarter at rugby. A knee injury at the age of sixteen prevented him gaining his school colors on the pitch and although highly regarded as a sportsman he gave little indication of the heights that he would later reach due to an enforced five year absence from the rugby field.

After leaving school Mobbs player hockey for Olney and after 1903 with his knee now fully healed he returned to rugby playing three quarter in quick succession for Olney, Weston Turks and Northampton Heathens. Mobbs soon came to the notice of the Northampton club which he soon transferred to, within two seasons becoming captain of the club in 1907 a post he was to hold until 1913, whilst also scoring one hundred and seventy seven tries for the club.

By 1909 Mobbs was serving as the East Midlands representative on the Rugby Football Union committee. A strong willed man he had little time for the bureaucracy that was rampant within the game of rugby at the time, and was not afraid to tackle the establishment when he felt it warranted. Called before the Rugby Football unions professional inquiry committee to answer general charges of professionalism in the Midlands as well as specific ones against Northampton Mobbs stood his ground and the Saints were exonerated of all charges. He also later publicly berated the Rugby Football Union for the poor treatment of the South African touring side that visited England in the 1912-13 season. Although the tourists were grateful, sending him a signed photo of the squad, this action would have won him few friends in Twickenham.

A big man standing over six feet tall, Mobbs was the epitome of an attacking three quarter, more often than not playing on the left wing. His prowess was clear, even in adversity and after England ’s home defeat to Scotland in 1909 the Times said of him “He is a determined runner with a strong hand off, and whenever he got the ball he seemed dangerous.” The hand off was to become his trademark and during a spell with Toulouse it became the custom for his opposite number to wear a cap as protection, the top of the head being regarded as his favorite target. Later he would send home postcards from France with a cartoon depicting him handing off the Germans in a typically forthright fashion.

The success that Mobbs found on the field at Northampton was soon mirrored at the higher levels of the game. By 1906 he was captain of his soon to be beloved East Midlands side, a position that he retained until 1913. He also captained a joint Midlands/East Midlands side that took on the touring Australians on December 2nd 1908, winning 16-5 at Leicester . This was the only defeat that the Australians faced in England that year, and it was quite possibly due to his form in this game that he was selected to face the Australians again in January 1909, although this time for a debut cap for England. Although Mobbs was to score a try in this match, the first ever for England against Australia , the game was lost by three points to nine. Mobbs went on to gain seven caps for England over the next year, scoring four tries for his country in the process. He also captained England against France in the 3-11 away win in March 1910, probably the selector’s way of honoring him in what was to be is final international. Mobbs playing career was, however, far from over as he played for the Barbarians for the first time the following year in their traditional Christmas match against Leicester . He was represent the Barbarians club a total of eleven times as well as sitting on their committee. To keep him busy over the summer months he also played cricket for Buckinghamshire!

Mobbs continued to play first class rugby for Northampton , East Midlands and the Barbarians until 1913, when at the age of thirty one he decided to retire. The outbreak of war the following year found him as manager of the Pytchley Auto Car Company, having followed his father into the motor industry. When he attempted to enlist in August 1914 Mobbs was initially refused a commission as, at thirty two, he was over the mandated age limit. Not a man to allow a trifling matter like this to get in his way he instead joined up as a private soldier and the set about raising a company of two hundred and fifty likeminded men in what would become known as the ‘Sportsmen’ or ‘Mobbs Own’. These men came to form the backbone of the seventh battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment. Although he had no previous military experience Mobbs soon settled into military life and advanced quickly, soon being commissioned despite his age.

The outbreak of war and military service soon tempted Mobbs back onto the rugby field. Using his connections as a committee member with the Barbarians he arranged matches against service teams with the aim of raising moral, funds for war relief and not least assisting recruitment. After games against Leicester and the Royal Army Medical Corps the by now Captain Mobbs played his final match before departing on active service for the Barbarians against a Welsh XV held at Cardiff in April 1915. With Wales fielding a team boasting thirteen internationals they were the firm favorites to take the fixture, although the Barbarians had obviously failed to read the script winning by twenty six points to ten. The match raised two hundred pounds and doubtless also achieved it’s aim of boosting recruitment for the Welsh Guards.

Arriving in France with his battalion in September 1915 Mobbs took part in the battle of Loos. Soon wounded in action he took part in an England v Scotland exhibition match held in Northampton before rejoining his unit. Promoted to Major in March 1916, he assumed command of the seventh battalion a month later, subsequently being promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. After three wound and two mentions in dispatches during his short military career Mobbs was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in January 1917. After the battalion took severe losses at the battle of Arras Mobbs himself was again wounded at Messina in June 1917. Characteristically he rejoined his battalion just three weeks later. Just a month after this Mobbs was killed in action at Zillebeke , Belgium , during the battle of Passchendaele. Ordered to take his battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment along with the Sherwood Foresters to take two lines of trenches the exact nature of his death remains contentious. With the first line of trenches secure and whilst attacking the second some reports say that Mobbs was marshalling his men when hit, others that he was single handedly attacking a machine gun post, scribbling the position down for his Brigadier as he lay dieing. Whichever is true it is certain that Mobbs was leading his me from the front in a position it would normally be unusual to find a man of his rank. Given who and what Mobbs was this should have come as no surprise. It is often held that Mobbs would lead an attack by punting a rugby ball into no-mans land before chasing the kick. His body was never found, lost in the Belgian mud.

Mobbs may have gone, but he was far from forgotten. In 1921 the first Edgar Mobbs memorial match was played between two of the great rugby loves in his life, East Midlands and the Barbarians at Franklins Gardens in Northampton , a memorial that fittingly endures until this day.

Sources

"Immortal Harlequin", Ian Cooper, Tempus 2004

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

The Times Online Digital Archive

Wikepedia

www.comeonyousaints.com

www.oxforddnb.com

© D A Hunter, 2007
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