VE Day: Hull FC During World War Two

VE Day: Hull FC During World War Two

Club Historian Bill Dalton tells the tale of how Hull FC survived during World War Two, despite bombings on the Boulevard’s doorstep and rationing for matchday equipment.

Club News

Club Historian Bill Dalton tells the tale of how Hull FC survived during World War Two, despite bombings on the Boulevard’s doorstep and rationing for matchday equipment.


The 1939-40 season had hardly had time to draw breath before, on the morning of Sunday 3rd September 1939, King George VI announced to the nation that Britain were at war with Germany as they failed to surrender their occupation of Poland.

Hull had played just three matches and other clubs mostly managed only two before war was confirmed. The third New Zealand touring team was only able to fulfil their first two fixtures. It was a week or so into the war that, following on government advice, the Rugby Football League announced that competition could continue in the form of ‘County Competitions’.

Hull quickly arranged a friendly with Hull KR for September 23rd, although permission of the police had to be sought as the city was recognized as a ‘Danger Area’. Despite this, there was only one instance where a home game (vs Batley) had to be abandoned due to an air raid.

Hull FC's squad of 1939 before the start of the Second World War.
Hull FC’s squad of 1939 before the start of the Second World War.

During the war period, guest players were recruited on the basis that they happened to be stationed conveniently nearby, and the Yorkshire clubs benefited from this as the county housed more military stations than Lancashire.

Similar to a loan player, a guest player would join a rugby club from the Armed Forces. Club secretaries were frequently scratching around on Friday evenings for players and often, a reconnaissance of the stands before matches would be undertaken to find any junior players or even rugby union personnel to make up a team.

There was an instance whereby the son of a touch judge would accompany his father to fixtures in the hope of being able to make up a team and very often succeeded in his quest!

Hull’s first casualty of the war, although not from enemy action, was Harold Ellerington who sustained a crushed foot when a railway wagon ran over it. His foot had to be amputated, so that saw the end of his career.

The problem that many of the clubs faced as a consequence of being allowed to resume operations during the war was that the Home Office limited the size of gates at matches. The clubs were compelled, therefore, to limit payments to players and this, in turn, caused strife among the players.

Three clubs in Lancashire ceased operations at the end of the 1939-40 season, and Hull KR was the sole Yorkshire club to do so. Hull achieved 3rd position in that Yorkshire section in 1939-40, winning 18 of their 26 fixtures. Their colours were lowered at home only twice and both by a single point – 6-7 to Leeds and 8-9 to Dewsbury.


Having gone on to claim strong finishes in the next two seasons, the 1942-43 campaign saw a dramatic fall in fortunes of the teams, but with good reason. Whilst they had used no more than 36 players in each of the previous wartime seasons, the war and its drain on the club’s registered playing resources was seriously hampering their performances.

No less than 63 players were used in 1942-43, many of them, naturally, from Hull Kingston Rovers, but equally as many from Lancashire clubs who were stationed this side of the Pennines. In the event, Hull finished 11th out of the 14 clubs still competing, with only York of the Yorkshire Clubs below them.

It was inevitable that the large number of professional players serving in the Armed Forces would be utilised in Service Representative fixtures and a Northern Command XIII played a number of matches, most notably one at Headingley where the Northern Command organised an Army Rugby League team to play their rugby union counterparts under union rules.

The league team were successful by 18-7. A little earlier, on 10th October 1942, Northern Command had arranged to play a Rugby League Match against a Rugby League XIII at The Boulevard.

Roy Francis played for the Army team in this match, whilst Albert Allen and Sid Hattersley from Hull were selected for the RL XIII which ended with victory for the Servicemen by 14-10.

Naturally, the fact of being a major port, the City of Hull was an obvious target for the German Luftwaffe. The Boulevard, of course, was close to the docks and the railway system so it became a victim to Hitler’s bombs a couple of times during the Blitz as the area was also peppered with landmines.

Hull was Great Britain's most severely bombed city outside London during World War Two.
Hull was Great Britain’s most severely bombed city outside London during World War Two.

But still, the flag was kept flying over The Boulevard. As far as the game itself was concerned, Hull managed to fulfil all of their fixtures throughout the wartime seasons. The few games not played were due to opponent’s inability to raise a team or for travel difficulties, but these had been trying times.

Another major difficulty for all clubs was in being able to acquire playing kit, due to rationing on clothing which, of course, included boots. One way or another, the club’s, as indeed was the case with all the population, managed to ‘muddle’ through. It required 16 clothing coupons to kit out a team and the players had to scrounge spare coupons from family and friends to help out.


Hull’s fortunes again improved for the 1943-44 season and a much improved 3rd position in the league table was achieved.

Although it could not be foreseen that the end of the war might be not too far distant, the Rugby Football League decreed that no team still competing could utilise more than six guest players from a non-playing club of their choice and no more than three from any club which was still playing.

Hull, of course, were still utilising Hull KR players, although they never used more than four in any match during all the years of the war.

The Rugby League Council also agreed to allow Hull City the use of The Boulevard ground for the 1944-45 Season. The West Stand at Boothferry Park had suffered extensive bombing damage during their absence (Hull City had suspended operations at the end of the 1940-41 season and started up again for the 1944-45 Season).


The start of the new season continued to present great difficulties in running clubs under wartime conditions and kitting a team out was still a major concern. However, the Rugby Football League was given 870 coupons by the Board of Trade to kit out the teams in addition to a supply of rugby balls and bladders. This proved to be the last wartime season, however, as Germany surrendered on 8th May 1945.

One must consider how thoughtful they were in agreeing to the surrender at that juncture as it gave the Rugby Football League a full three months or so in which to ascertain which clubs would be entering teams for, and organising, the first post-war season. In the event, only Leigh failed to make the starting line, having lost their ground, but Workington Town were admitted.

The summer of 1945 thus saw the game and the club absolutely delighted to have come through Europe’s dark days. To give an indication of the courage that Hull had shown in flying the flag for the game during that terrible period, they actually fulfilled 160 fixtures, made up of 133 league matches and 28 cup-ties.

Even in the aftermath of the war though, the club continued to receive sad news when it was revealed that former forward stalwart Jack Dawson had been killed in the final weeks whilst serving in the Royal Air Force and Ernie Herbert, who had appeared in five matches in 1942-43, died just 5 days after demobilisation from the army.