8th November 2018, 10:17 | englandrl

Northern Union Heroes of WW1: Fred Longstaff

Northern Union Heroes of WW1: Fred Longstaff

Part of the legendary ‘Team of All Talents’ – the Huddersfield side that collected All Four Cups in 1914-15 season, Fred Longstaff was the lynchpin of the side that achieved the feat for the Fartowners. 

A loose-forward by trade, Longstaff made 135 appearances, scored 15 tries and kicked 25 goals in his career, earning legendary status to this day amongst the Claret and Gold faithful. 

Longstaff signed for Huddersfield from Halifax in 1911 and became a key member of the side, winning the Yorkshire League, Huddersfield first, in 1911-12, and a Yorkshire Cup in 1912 and was selected for the test side that toured Australia in 1914. 

His greatest achievement came in the collection of the quadruple, and afterwards Longstaff and his Huddersfield colleagues knew it was time to answer the call for their country and joined up to fight on the Western Front. 

During his service, Longstaff still found time in his leave to show off his prowess on the Rugby field, playing a union fixture for North of England military against a side organised in Leicester. This was recalled in a nostalgic account in the Athletic News in 1919.

“He was indeed brilliant in the game. There were few harder workers in the Northern Union football than this Bradford lad. He was a rare scrummager, a strong tackler, capital in the loose, and no forward could serve out passes better.”

 

Longstaff was killed in action on the 21st July as part of the Battle of the Somme. The news was reported as being delivered to Arthur Bennett, the Huddersfield trainer at the end of July 1916. He was remembered in the Halifax Courier in August 1916, a month after his death.

“I, like everybody else, took a great liking to him. I am assured by his two closest friends – Sgt. Turner and Cpt. Duff – that the big, good-hearted fellow was the pet of the company.”

Perhaps the greatest anecdote about Longstaff arises around the 1915 League Championship final, when Longstaff and his teammate, Harold Wagstaff were walking through Huddersfield prior to the match. 

The Hall of Famer Wagstaff was offered a free suit from a local tailor if Huddersfield could triumph over Leeds in the final. Longstaff protested, wittily remarking that when the side won, the backs received all the credit, yet the forwards received no acclaim. 

The tailor relented and said if Longstaff scored a try, he could also receive one of their finest suits. When final day arrived, the Fartowners were relentless, winning 35-2. 

As Wagstaff broke the Leeds line nearing the end of the match he heard a shout from over his shoulder, from Longstaff, shouting ‘suit, suit, suit!’ The full-back crossed the line and popped the ball up to the forward to score. Longstaff received his prize, but would tragically not have long to enjoy it.

This article has been adapted from The Greatest Sacrifice by Jane and Chris Roberts, which is available through Scratching Shed Publishing, with signed copies available from pasttopresentgenealogy.wordpress.com