The cricketing hero who died for his country in the First World War

Hooge Crater Cemetery remembers Isaac Rodgers.
Hooge Crater Cemetery remembers Isaac Rodgers.
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He got to play cricket as the First World War raged on - and won.

But just weeks, possibly days, later, Isaac Rodgers had given his life for his country.

Isaac's British War Medal and Next of Kin Memorial Plaque, shown courtesy of Ann Rodgers.

Isaac's British War Medal and Next of Kin Memorial Plaque, shown courtesy of Ann Rodgers.

He becomes the last in the series of features, of South Hetton men who fought and died in battle, to be sent to us by researcher Kevin Dance with the permission of Ann Rodgers.

Private Isaac Rodgers had a tough start to life.

He was born in March 1891 to parents William, 31, and Frances, 29, yet just weeks after giving birth, his mother died.

It left behind a family which also included Rebecca Richardson, 12, Thomas W Rodgers, 6, and two-year-old Ralph Rodgers.

Lieutenant Colonel Backhouse paid tribute in his war diary to the 100 men who died, naming each one of them individually. This is a very unusual tribute as “Other Ranks” (the military term for Privates) are seldom if ever mentioned by name in war diaries

Kevin Dance

They all lived in a house in James Street, South Hetton and William was keeping the family going by working as an engine man.

But then came more change for baby Isaac as Kevin explained.

“Isaac is then taken in and raised by his paternal grandparents Richard and Ann Rodgers (William’s parents).”

By 1901, William, 41, remarried and he and his new bride Elizabeth, 23, from Staffordshire, stayed in James Street with sons Thomas W, now 16, Ralph, 12, and Richard who was just two years old.

Rebecca Richardson, meanwhile, had married herself to Aaron Wilson in 1900.

Isaac, though, was still living with his grandparents at Sleetburn. By this time, Richard was 65, Ann 63 and the other members of the family were Frances Rodgers, 25, and a now ten-year-old Isaac.

Little changed over the next decade although Isaac, now a young man of 20, was working as a labourer in a brickyard.

But his whole world was altered in April 1916. He was conscripted into the army – just three months after conscription came into force.

Soon, he was posted to the 8th Battalion Yorkshire Regiment (Alexandra Princess of Wales’s Own) for active service in France and Belgium.

Kevin told us: “The battalion was engaged in heavy trench fighting in and around Ypres in Belgium over the ensuing months.”

It was tough, deadly work but there was a time for respite.

“In the first of half of September 1917, the Battalion rested between active duties in the trenches and even found time to have a cricket match.”

It was Battalion versus Brigade and the Battalion won by 40 runs.

But the fun couldn’t last and Isaac was back in the thick of the action later that September.

On September 19, 1917, A & D Companies left camp at 1pm for the Front Line. Later that day, it rained from 7.30pm to midnight.

And then came the fighting.

Between September 20 and September 24, the Battalion, as part of the 69th Brigade, attacked Inverness Copse which was part of the front line and close to Hooge, four miles east of Ypres.

“It is during this attack that Isaac is killed in action,” said Kevin who then detailed an amazing turn of events which was carried out by Isaac’s commanding officer.

“On October 28, a special service was held for those men who lost their lives in the attack on Inverness Copse.

“Lieutenant Colonel Backhouse (commanding officer of the 8th Battalion Yorkshire Regiment) paid tribute in his war diary to the 100 men who died, naming each one of them individually.

“This is a very unusual tribute as “Other Ranks” (the military term for Privates) are seldom if ever mentioned by name in war diaries.”

By the time another month had passed, the company had left the Front Lines of France to be transferred to Italy.

Kevin added: “Isaac is buried at Hooge Crater Cemetery where he is remembered with honour.

“He was awarded the British and Victory medals.

“In September 1916, Isaac’s half-brother Richard enlisted in the army with the Coldstream Guards, although he did not serve overseas and survived the war.”

We are indebted to Kevin for a series of poignant stories of men who showed incredible bravery. If you have similar stories to share, email chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk