Robert Tidyman and Samuel Jarman – War heroes and rugby league legends

There was much joy among Sydney sporting fans when it was announced the Sydney Cricket Ground would host its first ever Rugby League Test. The date was 29 June 1914 and Australia defeated England 12-7. But just two years later a player from both teams was killed in France in World War One during the fierce fighting at the Battle of the Somme. Tragically, neither man’s bodies were ever found but they are remembered for their heroic actions in both of their nations.

Robert Richardson Tidyman was born at Townsville on 6 October 1891. He moved to Sydney with his family as a young boy and lived at Queen Street Woollahra. After taking up rugby league at the local school, he quickly established himself as a star player. He was selected in junior representative teams from the Woollahra Borough club and was selected in Eastern Suburbs first grade side as five eighth for the opening competition match of 1913. This was at the Sydney Cricket Ground on 3 May 1913 and Easts beat Newtown 17-15. This was the first ever rugby league club game to be played at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Tidyman played in all of Easts’ 14 Premiership games in 1913, scoring three tries in the 28-9 win over Glebe on 28 June at the Sydney Showground. There were no end of season games in 1913 and with 12 wins and two losses, Easts finished on top of the table and so won the Premiership.

In 1914 the second English touring side arrived and they defeated Australia 23-5 in the first Test at the Showground on 27 June.

The Australian selectors made several changes for the second Test at the Cricket Ground two days later and Tidyman, then 22, made his Test debut as a centre. Australia won the game 12-7 and the Easts man was retained for the third and deciding Test five days later, again at the Cricket Ground. In one of rugby league’s most famous Tests, known as the Rorke’s Drift Test, an injury depleted English team, down to 10 men for most of the second half (there were no replacements in those days), held on to defeat Australia 14-6 in this third Test and take the series.

Six weeks later on 15 August at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Tidyman represented NSW in their 21-15 loss to England, scoring one of his team’s tries. Although he played in 1915, he only appeared in nine matches for Easts because of a broken arm which kept him out for about six weeks.

In his three seasons with the Roosters, he played 36 first grade games, scoring seven tries. He played 20 matches on the Sydney Cricket Ground, made up of two Tests, one representative game for Metropolis against Newcastle, 16 club fixtures with Easts and the 6-5 City Cup final win over South Sydney on 12 September 1914. An excellent tackler, Tidyman was not a big man, standing just 168 centimetres and weighing 70 kilograms. Highly rated journalist, Claude Corbett said in the Sun newspaper of 23 April 1939, “There has never been a better tackler.”

In the first ever Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Samuel William, “Billy” Jarman, 27, was a second rower with the English team.

Born at Leeds in 1887, Billy Jarman made his first team debut with Leeds in 1908. He was a member of the club’s Challenge Cup winning side in the 1910/11 English season. He played for England in the 38-10 loss to Metropolis, or Sydney, at the Cricket Ground on 6 June and two days later in the 11-3 loss to NSW, again at the Cricket Ground. Selected as fullback in England’s convincing first Test victory, he was moved to the second row for the second Test. In this second Test he suffered a major knee injury which saw him miss the remainder of the tour.

More than 100 years later, Jarman is still one of only five men, to play Test Rugby League for England as a back and a forward.

In his seven season career with Leeds, Jarman played 148 first team matches and scored 35 tries.

With his two younger brothers, Chris and Will, enlisting with the Australian Army in early 1915, Tidyman joined them on 6 December 1915. His Service Number was 4541 and he sailed out of Australia on 9 April 1916 for England and then on to France. He was with the 11th Reinforcements for the 19th Battalion and joined the fighting in the Battle of the Somme on the western front on 25 September, first at Pozieres and then Flers.

The 19th were attacking at Flers in mid-November in one of the last actions of the Somme offensive before winter hit. Tidyman was reported as missing on 14 November and for six months or so continued to be listed as missing.

There were several reports of what happened to the Test Rugby League player. One of these by H R Alcock (Service Number 4562) said, “We gained our objective and took two lines of trenches. We made 50 prisoners and Tidyman was told to look after these but I think he was sniped before taking them down.”

Around June 2017, he was declared Killed in Action on 15 November 1916.

His body was never recovered, but his name is listed on the Australian Memorial at Villers Bretonneux, with around 11,000 other Australians with no known grave. His name is also on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and his name is listed to be projected on to the exterior of the Hall of Memory on Friday 21 April at 3.34am, Sunday 4 June at 11.41pm and Sunday 16 July at 9.33pm.

On his return from the 1914 tour to Australia and New Zealand, and with War having already been declared, Jarman was called up as a reservist to the 2nd Battalion of the Scots guards, but his knee injury saw him initially ruled out of active service. He returned home to Leeds and worked as the assistant groundsman for the Bramley Cricket Club.

However when he had recovered from his knee problem, he was called up by the Scots Guards and was posted to the Western Front in August 1915 (Service Number 6295).

Almost a year later, on 15 August 1916, he was Killed in Action on the Somme. His body was never found but his name is listed in the Thiepval Memorial, France in the Somme region, to the 72,195 missing British and South African men, who died between 1915 and 1918, with no known graves.

Jarman was not the only member of the 1914 touring English team to lose his life in World War One. Fred Longstaff, from the Huddersfield club, was attacked by a German flame thrower on 17 July 1916 while on sentry duty with the Wests Yorks regiment in the Somme. He died in hospital four days later, aged 24. He played 135 matches for Huddersfield, scoring 15 tries and 25 goals (95 points), as well as being a member of two Challenge Cup winning teams in 1912/13 and 1914/15. On the 1914 tour, he played in the first Test win over Australia and also the win over New Zealand and Auckland. He is buried at Bligthy Valley in Northern France.

Walter Roman was born in the south of England at Bridgwater in Somerset. He was a representative rugby union player in the Somerset region before changing to rugby league with Rochdale Hornets in 1911. He didn’t play a Test on the 1914 tour but did play in England’s first game in Sydney at the Sydney Cricket ground on 6 June against Metropolis. As a member of Somerset Light Infantry he was fighting in the Somme on 1 July 1916, when a shell exploded near him, badly injuring his hand, thigh and leg. He was sent back to England and was admitted to Cheltenham hospital where he died on 28 July, aged 36. He is buried in Bridgwater cemetery, next to his wife, Henrietta.

Several other members of the 1914 English Test teams also fought in World War One, including tour captain, Harold Wagstaff, who saw action in Egypt and Palestine with the Army Service Corps.

On 15 July last year at Headingley Stadium, the Leeds Rhinos played the Wigan Warriors. To commemorate the players from their club who died in World War One, the Leeds players wore a specially produced heritage jersey.

May they all Rest in Peace.

By Barry Ross

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