There’s a heady list of past athletes to have played more than on sport in the county of Nottinghamshire, and we’ve already covered a few of those, but, surely up there, in the echelons of the greats, is Nottingham-born, rugby union legend, Vincent Cartwright.
A recipient of both the DSO (Distinguished Service Order) and the Croix de Guerre (French Military Decoration), the contribution made by Cartwright to the British Military is just as important as his contribution to the sport of rugby, both in Nottinghamshire, and with England.
Born in the late 1880s, at the prestigious, Park Estate, a private, residential area noted for its Victorian architecture and somewhere that, even by the time Vincent Henry Cartwright was born, in September 1882, saw development under the Fifth Duke (Henry Pelham Fiennes-Pelham Clinton, styled Earl of Lincoln), and his architect, Thomas Chambers Hine (a Covent Garden-born born architect based in these boundaries from 1837, until his death in 1899).
Hine retired in 1891, just nine years after the young Cartwright was born, little did anyone know the mark in which the then youth, soon to be educated forty-seven miles south, at the famed, Rugby School, in Rugby, Warwickshire.
An independent boarding school it was initially a boy’s school until the early 1990s and is said to be ‘the birthplace of rugby football,’ and, in a BBC article, in 2014, entitled ‘Six ways the town of Rugby helped changed the world,’ Tony Collins, a Professor of History at De Montfort University’s International Centre for Sports History and Culture, said: “You can certainly trace the origins of both Rugby League and Union to the game that was played at Rugby School.”
Rugby is said to have been formed there between the 1820s and 1840s, near five decades before Cartwright’s birth and where, in 1845, the first, written rules of the game were created; Cartwright though, would create his own, pieces of history.
Having initially been educated at the Rugby School, Cartwright’s stock increased when he continued his education at the distinguished, Oxford University, where he not only continued to play rugby, but was selected to play international rugby, for England.
Playing in the university varsity matches, between 1901 and 1904 (Oxford vs. Cambridge, first played in 1872), Cartwright represented his country in that of the 1903, 1904, 1905 and 1906 Home Nations Championships, with his international debut coming in the opener, a 21-5 defeat to Wales, in Swansea (10 January 1903).
The England team (and who they represented), which would finish bottom of the four-nation group, that faced Wales on Cartwright’s debut, was that of – HT Gamlin (Blackheath), JH Miles (Leicester), RH Spooner (Liverpool), JT Taylor (West Hartlepool), T Simpson (Rockcliff), B Oughtred (captain, Hartlepool Rovers). FC Hulme (Birkenhead Park), G Fraser (Richmond), VH Cartwright (Oxford University), R Bradley (West Hartlepool), J Duthie (West Hartlepool), RFA Hobbs (Blackheath), D Dobson (Oxford University), PF Hardwick (Percy Park), RD Wood (Liverpool OB)
During those Home Nations Championships, Cartwright, and having joined his home-town club of Nottingham, in early 1906, took his number of caps to a dozen in the Championships, whilst also captaining his country, and, in the Parc des Princes, on 22 March 1906, he wore the band with pride in a 35-8 success over France, registering with four conversions.
Cartwright would be named England captain, for the first time, in the defeat to the touring All Blacks (New Zealand), on 2 December, in front of what was then, a record attendance of some 80,000; New Zealand, on a twenty-four test tour, remarkably won them all, scoring some 708 points, and conceded just twenty-two.
‘The Otago Witness (6 Dec),’ (an illustrated, weekly newspaper, ran from 1851-1932), described some of the day as such: “The ground from previous rains was terribly heavy, and its condition told palpably on the players, inasmuch as towards the end of the game many of the contestants were fagging.
“The greatest care had been taken in selecting the team to do battle for the Old Country, with the result that a fine team was got together, which included seven old international players.
“V. H. Cartwright captained the Home team, associated with him were Godfrey and A. C. Hind (Leicester), and Shewring (Somerset).”
That same year, 1906, and having captained his country in the Home Nations, and New Zealand, the additional tests, against the afore-mentioned France, and, both for an East Midlands sides, and his country, against South Africa, Cartwright would see himself writing a part of history.
The game against France is said to be the first meeting between the two nations, and one which would see Cartwright notch his first, international points; against the Springboks, it was to be against their first, touring side (teams from these shores having played in South Africa in previous years).
The two games in which Cartwright appeared in, against the Springboks, were to be his last for his country, a 29-0 loss, and a 3-3 draw and saw the first mention, in the press, of the famous, Springbok badge when, in the London Daily Mail, Springboks manager, JC Carden, said: “The team’s colours will be myrtle green jerseys with gold collar.
“They would wear dark blue shorts and dark blue stockings and the jersey would have been embroidered in mouse-coloured silk on the left breast a springbok, a small African antelope…”
As for Cartwright’s final, international appearance, the 3-3 draw with the Springboks, it was described as such; “The last test against England, a week later at Crystal Palace ended in a 3-3 draw on a heavy, greasy field that naturally deprived the South African backs of their expected supremacy.
“The Springboks scored in the first half through Millar and England levelled the score in the second half, through Freddy Brooks, a Rhodesian who should probably have played for the South Africans.
“A few more matches were played, including a second defeat, 17-0 at the hands of Cardiff in ankle deep mud, before the team went over to Paris for an unofficial test against the French and in a one-sided encounter the Springboks demolished the French XV 55-6, to end a most satisfying tour in style.”
Away from his rugby exploits and Cartwright would also have a brief spell, in the early 1900s, playing cricket for Nottinghamshire CCC; plying his trade as a right-handed batsmen, the soon-to-be, rugby legend, would make seven appearances, only registering sixty runs, with his best score for Notts, a useful 22 when opposing Surrey.
And then there was the First World War, an historical event in which Cartwright more than played his part when, as a member of the Royal Marines, and between the years of 1914 and 1917 alone, took the rankings of temp. Second Lieutenant, temp. Captain, and temp. Major.
Cartwright would be seen to serve on the Western Front, be mentioned in dispatches (official reports where gallant or meritorious action in the face of the enemy is described), and was the recipient of the DSO, and, on 14 September 1917, the Croix de Guerre.
“A decoration conferred by allied powers on officers and men of the British Naval Forces for distinguished services rendered during the war.” (President of the French Republic, Raymond Poincare, 1913-20; naval-history.net)
And after all that, well Cartwright’s stock never really faltered, going on to become a referee, and a President of the Rugby Football Union (1928, 1929), whilst also being a Solicitor, and a Clerk (Nottingham City Magistrates), living a long, and healthy life until his eventual passing, in Loughborough, November 1965, aged 83 years.
*Article provided by Peter Mann (Senior Correspondent).
*Main image @TrentBridge Vincent Cartwright played both cricket and Rugby Union.