8th November 2018, 10:21 | englandrl

Northern Union Heroes of WW1: Hubert Turtill

Northern Union Heroes of WW1: Hubert Turtill

Hubert Turtill was a pioneer in the game, playing in the maiden New Zealand test match and their first Trans-Tasman test against Australia. He also scored New Zealand’s first try against the Lions and made 140 appearances for St Helens over his career.

Born in London in 1880, Turtill moved to New Zealand and took up the 15-man code for Christchurch Albion. He made a sole All-Blacks appearance against Australia in 1905, but grew dissatisfied with the running of the game, leading him to join a breakaway from the NZRU. 

The All-Golds, as they were known, went on a ground-breaking tour in 1907 of Great Britain, establishing the Rugby League in New Zealand and exposing the Northern Union to players from Down Under for the first time. 

Turtill played in New Zealand’s first international, on New Year’s Day 1909 against Wales. In front of a partisan 20,000 crowd in Aberdare, the All-Golds lost 9-8.  

 

On the back of the tour, he signed for St Helens for the 1909-10 season, before scoring 3 tries and 200 goals in 140 appearances for the club. He resigned from the club in 1914 after receiving criticism from the St Helens faithful.  

Turtill enlisted in 1914, moving up the rank of Sergeant throughout his four years of service in the conflict. He was killed in 1918 as part of the German Spring Offensive, the last major offensive by the German Army before the Armistice. 

He was described by Quartermaster Sergeant Harry Mercer of the Royal Engineers, who was also the Secretary of the St Helens club, in St Helens Newspaper and Advertiser in a letter originally sent to his wife in 1918. 

“He was loved by all who knew him, and those, who like myself, have been privileged to be his comrades, both on the playing fields in England and on the battlefields on France”

He was buried in Brown’s Road Cemetery, Festubert, and was summarised best by the Liverpool Echo in the article on his death in May 1918, saying “he was widely respected in football circles, a very clever player and an excellent captain for the St Helens team”.

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