The beginnings of Rugby at CHSB – the first Grasshoppers XV
A Short History
By Doctor Tony Deacock
In 1944, towards the end of the war, a group of senior pupils at Chichester High School for Boys got together to play Rugby Football. It is likely that none of them had ever seen a game played. Association football had been the game played since the school opened, and for this reason, Rugby was begun and set up in the form of a School Society, alongside other societies, such as the Chess Club and the Photographic Society.
The Rugby Football Society comprised some 35 members, enough to provide two teams, with reserves. It was decided to adopt the name “Grasshoppers”, as proposed by Mr. Sydney (“Giddy”) Gahan. Choice of title may have been related to the green colour of the caps, ties and blazers of the school uniform. As well as providing the name, from the very beginning Rugby at the school depended on the enthusiastic encouragement, support and training given by Mr. Gahan, the classics master. He was an ardent Rugby follower, a player himself and it was largely to him that the team owed its subsequent success. At the beginning of training, team members ran about fairly freely, learning to handle and kick the ball and being instructed in the rather arcane laws of the game. As today, the rules seemed a bit complicated and most players were never entirely sure about them, although this was not allowed to interfere with play. After some five years of rationing and in the absence of any personal transport, other than the bicycle, the team were already reasonably fit, but training was quite intensive. Later, practice games were organised amongst themselves.
There were also sessions in the gym, largely devoted to tackling practice. This took the form of running from a distance and making flying tackles on a sack of straw swung across a line of mats by Mr. Gahan. Players became quite good at this and were rewarded when, at half-time in our first real match, against Worthing High School, the opponents drew together in an awed group and were overheard to comment about the ferocity of the Chichester tackling. At that time, it was not fully realised that with this sort of contact it was not only the opponent who might get hurt. Uniforms consisted of bright green jerseys, blue shorts (courtesy of the school soccer kit requirement) later to be replaced by those of the rugby ‘wing’ variety then in fashion, green stockings and Cotton Oxford boots. [Later, in 1948, the Martlet noted that a supply of the shirts had arrived at a local shop and were available for 9/2d (nine shillings and two pence, approx. 46p), plus 4 clothing coupons.]
So equipped, and under the Captaincy of Douglas Honeybunn (later to become Douglas Bunn, Owner/Master of the All England Jumping Course, Hickstead) the Grasshoppers embarked, with some trepidation, upon a short programme of games against established sides. They won them all!
Extra funding was required, and permission was received, slightly unexpectedly, from the Headmaster, Doctor Bishop, to hold two dances in the Main Hall of the school, on 9th December, 1944 and 10th February, 1945. These we organised and they were very well attended and quite profitable. The Grasshoppers were a going concern and able to buy more equipment and pay the train fares for away matches. The dances seem to have been among the first occasions on which social contact between the boys’ and girls’ high schools was approved. There had, of course, been earlier contact on a more personal basis.
The Head appears to have had some feeling for Rugby, because as well as allowing the use of the Hall for dances, he also provided funds to buy goal-posts, in order to play home games. Dr. Bishop (Doctor of Divinity) even attended one game, although he left, somewhat abruptly and never to return, after the collapse of a nearby scrum from under which a player was heard to remark “get your bloody boot off my face” (strong language in 1944).
At the end of the first season, flushed with triumph, the team blew most of the remaining funds on a dinner, held in the upstairs dining room of the Unicorn hotel, in Eastgate Square, Chichester, now long gone. This was a very agreeable experience, particularly to boys used to wartime restrictions and not too familiar with any sort of formal dining, or in some cases with any degree of intake of alcohol. Mr. Gahan made a witty speech, mentioning that he had looked up “Grasshopper” in the dictionary and had discovered that they were creatures active mainly at night. This was very well received – by this stage he was speaking to a very receptive audience who departed quite pleased with themselves.
Back: Thompson; Tony Hilton; Unknown; Basil Cooper; Tony Hammond; Guy (Spider) Webb; Gordon;
Centre: Eric Lampard; Robin Bellam*; Robin Pearce; Mr.Gahan; John Pelling;
Front: Tony Tadd; Saunders; Ivor Young; Peter Simmonds
A second season followed, with an expanded fixture list, and was almost as successful as the first, even though many of the original founder-members had left the school. On the basis of the popularity of the game and the success enjoyed, it was then ‘nationalised’, i.e. Rugby was adopted as an official school game and has remained so. Thus, the Grasshoppers’ brief, but glorious, life ended. However, the camaraderie that had developed persisted, in a way perhaps unique among Rugby teams (as against clubs). Starting in 1976, members of the original First XV met at periodic reunions and as late as 2013, sixty-nine years after the formation of the Grasshoppers, survivors are still meeting together to enjoy each other’s company and to re-live old times.
Sydney Gahan, coach and mentor, lived to know of the reunions. Sadly, his sight had failed and he was never able to attend. Happily, he was also aware of the celebratory dinner held on 25th November, 1994 to mark 50 years of Rugby at the school. In preparation for this, at the age of 92 he was interviewed at his home in Cornwall and a video recording of this was shown during the evening of the celebration. An equally lavish 60th anniversary dinner was held on 19th November, 2004. Both occasions were well reported in the local press.
Incidentally, in 2002, the old Grasshoppers were told of a projected 2003 C.H.S.B. Rugby tour of Australia and were delighted to approve the proposal that the team play under the old name. “The Grasshoppers” could live again! Funds were raised (the ‘old ones’ contributing) and it is interesting to contemplate that in 1944, whereas we struggled to buy kit, balls and train tickets, the 2003 team could equip themselves lavishly and depart to the antipodes. Times change.
SUPPLEMENT TO THE LONDON GAZETTE, 15 SEPTEMBER, 1950
CADETS. REGULAR ARMY. 15 September 1950
The undermentioned Offr. Cadets from the Royal
Military Academy, Sandhurst, to be 2nd Lts., 22nd
July, 1950, with seniority 22nd July 1950, except as
CORPS OF ROYAL ENGINEERS.
Robin Gordon BELLAM (411889).
I thought you ought to know that my uncle and founder member of the Grasshoppers, Lt. Col. Robin Bellam died after a short illness on 23rd December 2017 in Canterbury.