Some debate occurred in the Yorkshire press in March 1915 as to who was the first Northern Union player in Yorkshire and beyond to obtain a commission in The Great War.
The “Huddersfield Daily Examiner” and “Yorkshire Evening Post” declared that in Yorkshire the accolade fell to Wakefield Trinity’s William Lindsay Beattie who was appointed temporary 2nd Lieutenant in the Border Regiment on 15 March 1915. He lost his life on 27 January 1917. Lancashire-based Wigan’s Gwyn Thomas was reputed to be the first commissioned Northern Union player. However, I believe this event occurred towards the end of 1914. Thomas survived the war and joined Huddersfield in 1919.
Both papers overlooked Batley winger, Robert Randerson.
Robert, (or Bob as he was known according to the local press), joined the Leeds University Officer’s Training Corps (OTC) shortly after Britain’s entry into the War. “The London Gazette” of 25 August 1914 lists Robert as amongst those OTC cadets and ex-cadets appointed as temporary 2nd Lieutenants. Promotion quickly followed. In January 1915“The London Gazette” announced his appointment to temporary Lieutenant with effect from 10 December 1914. Only months later, on 15 May 1915, he became a temporary Captain as notified in a June edition of the same official journal.
Letters of correction to the papers followed; and the Batley Club itself was adamant the honour belonged to its player. In its Annual Meeting of May 1915 it pronounced:
“Randerson…..was the first N.U. player to receive a commission. This honour has been claimed by others but it belongs to Lieut. Randerson and the Batley Club”
Within weeks of this discussion, on 7 August 1915, Robert was to lose his life in the “Yorkshire Landings” at Gallipoli.
Robert was born in York in late 1890, the son of Robert and Annie Randerson (neé Wilkinson). His siblings included Annie (1886), Benjamin (1889), William (1892), John Wilkinson (1897) and George (1899).
The family were comfortably off with Robert senior earning his living as a master corn miller then as a grocer and corn merchant. By 1901 the family lived on Haxby Road, York and remained here at the time of Robert’s death.
They were an old Catholic family with strong religious convictions and connections. After training at Ushaw, Robert’s uncle Benjamin served as a priest initially briefly at St Patrick’s, Leeds, then St Charles Borromeo, Hull and lastly, until his death in 1897, at St Hilda’s, Whitby. In the 1911 census Robert’s sister, Annie, was a nun residing at St Wilfrid’s Priory, Arundel. She was employed as a head mistress at the town’s St Phillip’s Infants’ School. His younger brother, John, was a boarder at the Franciscan College at Cowley, Oxfordshire.
The 1911 census shows Robert, a former pupil at Archbishop Holgate’s Grammar School in York, following his sister Annie’s educational career path. A student at St Mary’s College, Hammersmith, the objective of this establishment was to train Catholic men to serve as teachers in Catholic schools throughout the country. Robert demonstrated his sporting ability whilst studying here. In an inter-College sports contest he broke all previous records for the 100 yard flat race, covering the ground in a shade over 10 seconds.
Robert came to Batley in around 1913 as an assistant master at St Mary’s school. He soon became involved in the wider Parish community, holding the role of choirmaster at St Mary’s church.
But he became known beyond the town’s Catholic population when he started playing rugby for Batley. Initially in the reserves, he made his first team debut in a cup-tie at Halifax on 14 March 1914. His career was limited by the outbreak of war, but in this short time he made five appearances for the Batley first team scoring four tries.
At the declaration of war Robert’s strong sense of duty kicked in. He was the first Batley player to enlist and was quoted as saying:
“I am not a fighting man; I don’t like to fight, but I ought to go and fight at a time like this”.
He served with the 6th (Service) Battalion, Alexandra, Princess of Wales’s Own (Yorkshire Regiment), one of Kitchener’s New Army battalions. His enlistment necessitated a re-arrangement of the St Mary’s Boys Department school timetable, an event noted in the school log book.
It was whilst serving with the Yorkshire Regiment based at Belton Park, Grantham, that he made his final appearance for Batley against Keighley on 10 October 1914. He told the club secretary Kershaw Newton that it would be his last game with the Gallant Youths until peace was signed as, with his exhaustive training programme of marching, drilling, lectures and special studies as an officer on top of his ordinary duties, he was “about played out by the weekend”.
Additionally, with his officer responsibilities, he could not afford to risk a rugby playing injury.
“….I have 60 men under me and am responsible for them, and will have to lead them in war. To make them and myself efficient requires all my time and energy, and I do not think it would be right to risk laying myself up with an injury….”
Poignantly he wrote:
“…..I will come and hope to see many of my old friends round the railings as a sort of good-bye until we get the serious business through and when honour and justice are satisfied I trust to have many a jolly game on the hill”.
Robert scored one try in Batley’s 19-0 victory. But, ironically given his concerns about injury before the game, he suffered the misfortune of a kick to the head. This blow confined him to a darkened room for a few days on returning to Belton Park.
At the beginning of July 1915 Robert and his Battalion left Liverpool bound ultimately for the Dardanelles. Initially landing at Mudros they moved onto the island staging post of Imbros to acclimatise and practice night landings and attacks. On the evening of the 6 August they left Imbros and at around 11pm that night they finally disembarked on the Gallipoli peninsular, south east of Nibrunesi Point on B Beach. The aim was to take Lala Baba, a low hill between the southern side of Suvla Bay and the Salt Lake.
As the men moved off from the sea shore they were immediately engulfed by the darkness of the night, it being impossible to see a body of troops at a few yards distance.
Lala Baba was eventually taken, but the Unit War Diary records a heavy price paid with 16 officers and about 250 other rank casualties (killed and wounded) in the fighting during those first hours of the night of 6/7 August 1915. This was out of a total of 25 officers and 750 other ranks that set off from Imbros only a short time earlier.
Robert was amongst those officers killed. He died on 7 August 1915 within hours of landing. According to a fellow officer he met an instantaneous death as a result of a gunshot wound to the head. In a letter to Robert’s father he wrote:
“We made our landing of the evening of the 6th August below the Salt Lake. The 6th York’s covered the landing of the rest of the Brigade. At about 10a.m we disembarked from the barge with little opposition and started up the peninsular to take a hill called Talla Baba, and there we lost a lot of men. I got there just before 12 midnight. Some of our men had gone over and some were held up by the Turks entrenched on top and there were several of our officers wounded and killed there, I was told your son had been killed there and the sergeant who told me said that he had been shot through the head, so his death seems to have been instantaneous”.
The first news of Robert’s demise reached Batley around the 12 August when Mrs Power, with whom he had apartments in Norfolk Street before the war, received a brief note from his father informing her that he had been killed in the Dardanelles.
Local tributes poured in for him, newspapers referring to him as “Gentleman Bob”.“The Batley Reporter and Guardian” praised his “manly character and sterling qualities” concluding he “was a true sportsman and a most popular player on the field and a perfect gentleman in private life”.
The Batley News eulogised his virtues saying:
“A pattern of good conduct on the football field, handsome appearance, of excellent physique, and a splendid teacher, his demise removes from the Heavy Woollen District one whose manifold example commends itself to the rising generation”. 
The members of the Batley Education Committee were equally fulsome with their tributes to Robert in their meeting at the end of September 1915. They expressed sympathy with his family and appreciation for his work in the town. Alderman H North said that:
“Captain Randerson was a typical gentleman; an ideal leader of boys and a man appreciated by his scholars and school managers. …… His death had removed from Batley a most capable servant of the education committee….. The town was poorer by his demise”.
His death was also noted in Catholic newspaper “The Tablet”
I will leave the final word on Robert from the school in which he worked. Almost exactly one year to the day from the St Mary’s log book entry about timetable changes forced by Robert’s enlistment, the same log book has an entry on 16 August 1915 announcing that school re-opened after the midsummer holiday. It went on to say in a restrained, understated way:
“News received that Captain Randerson, Assistant Master from this school, was killed in action at the Dardanelles on August 7th”.
- Batley News
- Batley Reporter and Guardian
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission
- FindMyPast – newspapers, census records and Teacher’s Registration Council Registers: http://www.findmypast.co.uk/
- School Log Book – Batley St Mary’s
- “St Mary of the Angels War Memorial” – Jane Roberts
- “The Gazette” website: https://www.thegazette.co.uk/
- “The Tablet” archive: http://archive.thetablet.co.uk/
- The National Archives Catalogue Reference: WO/95/4299: Unit War Diary – 32 Infantry Brigade, 6th Battalion Yorkshire Regiment 1 July 1915-31 December 1915
- Wikimedia Commons – Map of Suvla Bay and ANZAC Cove from Gallipoli Diary, Vol. 2 by Sir Ian Hamilton – Edward Arnold, London, 1920 or before
“Huddersfield Daily Examiner”, 25 March 1915
“Yorkshire Evening Post”, 27 March 1915
“The London Gazette”, Publication date: 19 March 1915, Issue: 29106, Page: 2745
“The London Gazette”, 25 August 1914, Issue 28879, Page 6697
 “The London Gazette”, 15 January 1915, Supplement 29043 Page 594
 “The London Gazette”, 11 June 1915, Supplement 29192 Page 5736
“Batley News”, 22 May 1915
 The Teacher’s Registration Council Registers show she was headmistress at St Phillips between 1910-1916
“Batley News”, 10 October 1914
“Batley Reporter and Guardian”, 1 October 1915
“Batley Reporter and Guardian”, 13 August 1915
“Batley News”, 21 August 1915
“The Tablet” Et Cietera, 28 August 1915 http://archive.thetablet.co.uk/article/28th-august-1915/23/et-cietera and Catholic Roll of Honour, 1 January 1916 http://archive.thetablet.co.uk/article/1st-january-1916/13/the-catholic-roll-of-honour