Salute to a Hero
By Phil Bailey.
One hundred and twenty-six years of Wales’ hockey international history has many back stories linked to it.
Whilst researching the history archive, we have been able to answer questions from members of the public about their distant relative’s international career. In turn, that allows the Archive Project to collate more detailed information about players from the past.
In January 2021 the institute was contacted by James Stratton, who wanted to find out more about his grandfather’s international hockey career and we were only too happy to help.
Emerging from this wonderful story is a remarkable piece of hockey memorabilia and the story of one of our former international’s World War 1 service.
Roland Bryan Stratton played for Wales before the first World War. He grew up at Plas Machen, South Wales and was part of a large farming family. He played hockey for, and was captain of, Newport Hockey Club, who had provided numerous players for the Wales’ Men’s National Team in the early 1900s.
Roland made his debut for Wales at half back on 25 February 1911 against Ireland at The Railway Ground, Sydney Parade, Dublin.
Newspapers of the day report that the crowd was one of the largest ever seen at a hockey match, with over 2,000 at the start and growing as the game went on. Even a band was there to entertain the crowd at half time.
Wales had never beaten Ireland since the inaugural match in 1899 and again came out of this fixture with a 3-0 deficit. Stratton then played against England at Llandudno on 18th March 1911 and England won this game by 7-0.
RB Stratton did not play in 1912 and 1913 but was again selected for the National team in their final two matches before the start of World War 1: against Scotland at Aberdeen on 21 February and England at Clarence Park, Weston-Super Mare on 7th March 1914.
Many hockey careers were cut short due to the war as Wales did not play again until the 1920 season when they faced England with a predictable 6-2 defeat.
Stratton’s crowning glory in a Welsh shirt came in the 3-1 victory against Scotland.
In cold but bright day at King’s College Recreation Ground, before a crowd of nearly 2,000 spectators, Wales won the toss and set Scotland to play against the wind and the sun.
Scotland scored first but Wilfred Pallot of Whitchurch equalised to make the score 1-1 at the interval. Wales battled valiantly against the conditions in the second half and two goals from W Hunter [St Fagan’s] secured the victory for Wales.
RB Stratton played in only the third Welsh victory in 50 matches since 1899, all against Scotland.
RB Stratton joined Army Service Corps as a Second Lieutenant on the 24 March 1915 and was posted to the 38th (Welsh) Divisional Train on the 12 of April 1915.
The Divisional Train was responsible for supplying the troops in the trenches principally with food, fuel and water. He saw action at The Somme, Ypres or Passchendaele.
In 1918 he was promoted to Captain and posted from the 38th (Welsh) Divisional Train to the 19th (Western) Divisional Train where he was placed in Command of 155 Company ASC.
On arrival at the 19th Divisional Train, Roland was thrown into the maelstrom of the German Spring offensive of 1918. His Division was caught in three out of the five big attacks of the German offensives. He then took part in the allied 100-day offensive that finally brought victory.
Along the way he was gassed, subjected to biological warfare, attacked by German aeroplanes, shelled by heavy guns, caught the flu, lost horses to enemy action and was mentioned in dispatches.
Roland was an excellent games player particularly, hockey, cricket and tennis. He also took up golf in later years.
In learning of Roland’s story, his grandson James also revealed that Roland’s 1911 Welsh cap was in his possession. Only one other Welsh pre-World War One is currently known to exist and this in The Hockey Museum – a true piece of Welsh hockey history.
Thanks to James Stratton for sharing Roland’s story.