For the 1983-84 season the Royal Navy Rugby Union re-introduced the publication of a handbook. I say re-introduction because they produced a handbook between the wars. In the 1983-84 handbook 15 Life Members were listed including two members marked as 'deceased'. This was clearly not the full list of those who Life Membership had been conveyed upon as correspondence and published minutes of the Union painted a different picture. In later editions of the handbook the Royal Navy Rugby Union changed it's practice and only printed those Life Members still living. This meant that over time they lost sight of other Life Members who they had recorded in the 1983-84 handbook. Alligin Photography has always taken the view that the full list of Life Members, both past and present, should wherever possible be used to ensure that as time passes those early Life Members never become just a list of names without context. Their stories are at the very heart of why the Royal Navy Rugby Union became the Union it is today.
The earliest record of Life Membership of the Royal Navy Rugby Union was made at a Committee Meeting held, at the Admiralty, on 4th September 1929. At that meeting the minutes of the March 1929 Annual General Meeting were confirmed and as agenda item 4 some changes were made to the election of officers for the 1929-1930 season. Engr Capt Start's position on the Committee is confirmed and is annotated as Life Member. Minute 5 went on to note:
A hearty vote of thanks was passed to Engineer Captains S.P. Start R.N. for his past services, and to the Rev W. H. Goudge for stepping, at great personal inconvenience to himself, into the breach created by Engr Captain's Start's appointment abroad.
By the September 1930 meeting both Engr Capt Roberts and Engr Capt Start were shown on the minutes holding committee positions as Life Members but currently there is no available record of when the honour was conferred upon Roberts. Both Roberts (as Captain) and Start played in the first Navy v Army match played after the formation of the Union in February 1907 and were, at the time of the match, serving together at BRNC Datrmouth.
The table of past and present Royal Navy Rugby Union Life Members is now, I believe, to be complete, but you can never be 100% sure and I am always grateful for any information that can add to the history of Navy Rugby. A few of people of note in the table are Steve Harland, Paula Rowe and Mark Sugden OBE. Steve was the first Life Member who did not leave the Naval Service as an officer; as with the history of selecting players it took the Union a while to look outside of the officer cadre. Paula Rowe was the first women to be invited to become a Life Member of the Royal Navy Rugby Union. Mark Sugden OBE remains the only Life Member who was a civilian, having worked as a modern languages teacher at Britannia Royal Navy College for many years.
Geraint Ashton Jones June 2017