Frederick Harding Turner Remembered



Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on whatsapp
FH Turner with the Scotland team in 1911

Born: 29 May,1888 in Liverpool

Died: KIA Kemmel, 10 January, 1915, aged 26

Regiment: 2nd Lt 1/10th (Liverpool Scottish) Battalion, The King’s (Liverpool) 166th (South Lancashire) Brigade, 55th (West Lancashire) Division
School: Sedbergh

College: Trinity

Blues 1908, 1909, 1910 (Captain)

Caps: Scotland – 15

Commemorated: Kemmel Churchyard, Heuvelland, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium (Sp Mem 13)

German snipers were the scourge of British troops in the front lines on the Western Front in World War 1. Their deadly aim robbed the allied forces of thousands of good men. Oxford University Rugby Football Club lost a number of its greatest players to a sniper’s bullet. Among those who were ‘picked-off’ by marksmen who often crept out of their trenches at the dead of night to hide, camouflaged and ready in ‘no-man’s’ land, was the 1910 Dark Blues skipper, Frederic Harding Turner. He had been in France for a mere 10 weeks when his war, and his life, was ended by a single shot on 10 January, 1915. He was only 26. The story of how he lost his life was told by a fellow officer in a letter: “Freddy had been putting some barbed wire out in front of the trench, and after breakfast he went down to have a look at the position. Twice he was shot at when he looked up for a second. He then got to a place where the parapet was rather low, and was taking to a sergeant when a bullet went between their heads. “Freddy said: ‘By Jove, that has deafened my right ear,’ and the sergeant said, ‘And my left one, too, sir.’ He then went a shade lower down and had a look at the wire, and was shot clean through the middle of the forehead, the bullet coming out at the back of his head, killing him instantly. The same man had evidently been following him all the way down the trench, and he ought not to have looked up for a bit, as a man walking along a trench can be seen by the enemy every time he passes a loophole. “We got him down to _______ that night with great difficulty and buried him in the local churchyard in pouring rain. The grave, though baled out in the evening, was 18 inches deep in water. However, it is quite the best cared-for grave in the churchyard, and looks very pretty, with a nice cross put up by one of the other regiments in the brigade, and also a very nice wreath.” He was buried in the corner of a small churchyard in Kemmel, Heuvelland, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium [Sp. Mem. 13.] where, 15 days later, they laid to rest nearby the former England international Percy Kendall, also of the Liverpool Scottish, who was killed during the continuing action near Ypres. In a moving letter to his parents, another officer described Turner as “a man all through – and he was such a dear good chap as a pal.” He added: “Never have I met a truer, straighter man than he, or one braver or more modest.” His Commanding Officer said in a letter: “Fred was a gallant fellow, a universal favourite and the idol of the men under his command. His ever cheery manner and courageous bearing under all conditions endeared him to all his comrades. One of his fellow officers remarked to me that Fred Turner, above all men he had ever met, was one in whom it was impossible to find a fault, and I heartily endorse this opinion.” A Private wrote of him: “His first thought was always of his men; when their spirits were inclined to droop he rallied them and joked with them, though he always took upon himself the most dangerous and disagreeable duties. A sniper who had tracked him along the trench picked him off.” WW1 took a particularly heavy toll on the Turner family of 4 Mossley Hill Drive, Sefton Park, Liverpool. As well as losing their youngest son, ‘Freddy’, in January, 1915, William and Jessie Turner lost their oldest boy, William Stewart Turner, some five months later on 16 June. He was 32. The brothers had been educated at Green Bank School, Liverpool, and then Sedbergh School, where each excelled at rugby and cricket. Freddy, who picked up the nickname ‘Tanky’ due to his physical size and robustness, went on to study at Trinity College, Oxford before joining William in following in their father’s footsteps by working  at the printing firm Turner & Dunnett, of which their father was Senior Partner. The Turner boys were among the first to ‘sign-up’ and both joined the Liverpool Scottish Battalion as officers. Freddy was the first to go abroad arriving at the Western Front on 2 November, 1914, as a 2nd Lt 10th King’s (Liverpool Scottish Regiment). William, meanwhile, received a commission in the Reserve Battalion on 17 November. He was in England when Freddy was killed and eight days later he was mobilised and sent to the Front. When he arrived there was a petition among the men and he was attached to the same platoon with which his brother had been so popular an officer. William was promoted Lieutenant in May, 1915, and died leading his men in the charge of the London Scottish at Bellewarde Farm, Hooge, on 16 June. They had just captured a German trench when a heavy shell burst, killing him instantly. In the address at William’s Memorial Service, The Rev. Alexander Connell, said: “He stepped without fuss, and at once, into his fallen brother’s place. He won the affection and confidence of his men. Some of them, who have also fallen, had sworn, as we know, that for his sake, as for his brother’s, if any hour of peril called them they should be found by his side, living or dead.” Freddy studied for a BA at Oxford and also managed to find time to play five first-class matches for the cricket team and win three rugby Blues. He was never on the losing side against Cambridge and was captain of the 1910 Dark Blues team that won the Varsity Match 23-18. Having gone up to Oxford in 1907 he wasn’t able to make the team for the Varsity Match that year. That said, the 1907 Dark Blues side was said to have been one of the best of all-time and had notched 11 wins in 12 games in the build-up to the big day at Queen’s Club. Led by Wyn Hoskin, the 1907 side had taken the unbeaten record of Guy’s Hospital with a 32-0 win and beaten Richmond 50-5 and Moseley 50-0. They duly ran in five tries in a 17-0 victory. Freddy could not be overlooked for long and he quickly established himself in the running for a Blue in 1908, making the team for the clash with the first Australian tourists as a 20-year-old. He got the nod for the Varsity Match, while another of the great young prospects at the club, Ronnie Poulton, had to sit out his first year. The game was played on a Saturday for the first time and that resulted in a record gate of 16,000 somehow finding their way into the Queen’s Club ground. Part of the attraction was coming to see Oxford’s all international back division in action, as well as their two England forwards, but the game failed to live up to its billing and ended in a drab, 5-5 draw. Poulton took centre stage in 1909, inspiring a record 35-3 rout of the Light Blues by scoring five of the nine tries. Turner was forced off the field for a while, following Frank Tarr to the sidelines to reduce Oxford to 13-men for a period, but he returned in considerable discomfort just before the break to help see his side home. That act of sporting heroism and self-sacrifice act was recalled by Poulton in a letter to wrote to The Times rugby correspondent, E.H.D Sewell, shortly after Turner’s death:  “Thousands of those who have watched his play in ‘Varsity, Club, and international matches must have realized the strength he was to his side, quite apart from his own individual efforts, which were of a very high standard. “I have played behind many packs of forwards, but never have I been so free from anxiety as when those forwards were led by Fred Turner. Those who saw last year’s England v Scotland match could realize what an anxiety to his opponents his peculiarly infectious power of leading was. His play, like his tackle, was hard and straight, and never have I seen him the slightest bit perturbed or excited; and in this fact lay the secret of his great power of control. “His kicking ability is well known, and his tenacious determination to stick it was well known in the ‘Varsity match of 1909, when he returned to help his scrum when in great pain, with one knee useless owing to a displaced cartilage. “Off the field he was the same. Whether one saw him at his home, at his old school (Sedbergh), at the ‘Varsity, or walking on the hills, his face always showed his cheery satisfaction with the world at large. At any moment he would burst into that cheery and infectious laugh. “His loss is part of the heavy burden of war; England, in defending her honour, will have to face the loss of the very best of her sons.” The war would claim both Turner and Poulton, but not before they had combined in 1910 to beat Cambridge once again. Freddy was captain and Ronnie was Secretary and The Times gave Turner the credit for ‘controversially’ selecting Poulton at centre. While Turner had been in a team that boasted 10 current or future internationals in 1909, he was one of only five returning Blues in 1910. Not that he was short of talent.  Among that term’s in-take were four future internationals – Billy Geen (Wales), William Cheesman (England), David Bain (Scotland) and Bruno Brown (England) – and Rhodes Scholar Howard Bullock, who had played for New South Wales against the 1908 British Lions. In the build-up to the Varsity Match, Turner’s side won by more than 50 points on three occasions and ended the season with 22 wins and only five defeats, scoring a record 597 points against 172. They loved to attack, but had to rely on the brilliance of Poulton to once again steer them to victory ove Cambridge at Queen’s Club by 23-18, Turner kicking four conversions. The Times congratulated the Dark Blues captain for turning out such a good team: “The Oxford forwards were disappointing; they heeled beautifully, but they showed less dribbling and tackling power than in their trial matches. Nevertheless, F.H. Turner is to be congratulated on the team he has turned out, for its excellence has been largely of his making. He will have pleasant memories of a match which his kicking was largely instrumental in winning. “ Three weeks later Turner won the first of his 15 Scottish caps, coming into the side at the start of the 1911 Five Nations Championship. The Scottish selectors capped 17 new players during the four match campaign as the team slipped from one disaster to another. He was one of six new caps selected for the first capped match against the French at Stade Colombes on Monday, 2 January, 1911. Alongside him making his debut in the pack was the man who had led Cambridge University into the 1910 Varsity Match, Rowland Fraser. He was a rival to Turner in all three Varsity Matches and he played alongside him in all four internationals in 1911, while behind the scrum was his already capped Dark Blues team mate of 1908 and 1909, Fletcher Buchanan. Turner and Fraser were the only two forwards who played in all four games and it says much about what the Scottish selectors thought about Turner that he only missed one of the 16 internationals played between his debut and the outbreak of WW1. His debut couldn’t have been worse. It was France’s 13th international and turned into their first victory, 16-15. The Scots pointed the finger at the English referee, Arthur Jones, an ex-English cricketer and Cambridge Blue, for being too lenient on the fledgling French, who fielded seven new caps, but a dropped pass with the line at their mercy in the dying seconds cost the Scots dearly. For the 22-year-old Turner there was one conversion from three attempts, his final kick after a try by Cecil Abercromie capable of winning the game but drifting wide. After their opening defeat the season simply went from bad to worse for the Scots. Next up was one of the greatest Welsh teams of all-time, who had notched a record 14-0 win over Scotland in Cardiff the previous season. This time Billy Trew’s team turned on the style away from home as they ran in eight tries in a 32-10 victory at Inverleith – the most tries and points the Scots had ever conceded in an international and their heaviest margin of defeat in 102 internationals. It has only been 7-4 to Wales at the break, but the visitors took full advantage of the Scots’ losing wing John Macdonald with 20 minutes left to play. They ran in seven tries in the second half, against two, one from Turner at a close range line-out, to take the second step towards a third Grand Slam in four seasons. It would be 50 years before Scotland suffered a defeat of such magnitude, when the 1951 Springboks rocked the rugby world with their eight try, 44-0 triumph at Murrayfield. But as the selectors rang the changes over the course of the four matches, so Turner’s form and class ensured he stuck fast. Inverleith was once again the scene of a defeat against the Irish, 16-10, three weeks later before Turner was selected for his first Calcutta Cup match against England – the first to be played at the new Twickenham Stadium.  Wales had already won the Championship, but there was still plenty to play for in the world’s oldest international, especially as Scotland had won their last six games on English soil. More importantly for the Scots, they didn’t want to lose all four games in a season for the first time in their history. The Scots’ struck first, but eventually went down to a 13-8 defeat with Turner having to face three of his Oxford team mates Ronnie Poulton, Bruno Brown and Ron Lagden. After the all-time low in Paris a year earlier, 1912 kicked-off with a record victory for Turner and the Scottish XV as they avenged their shock defeat with a 31-3 victory. The 28 point winning margin stood as a Scottish best until 1999. Turner scored one of the seven tries and kicked a record five conversions for a match tally of 13 points. That stood as the Scottish record by a player in a match until Peter Brown joined him with three penalties and a four-point try in a win over England in 1972, Andy Irvine scored 13 points against Wales in 1979 and then raised the mark to 16 points in a win over France at Murrayfield in 1980. His record of five conversions in a match was matched by John Allen against England in 1931, but not surpassed until Gavin Hastings converted eight of the 11 Scottish tries in the 60-21 victory over Zimbabwe at the inaugural World Cup in 1987. The following season, 1912/13, he kicked seven conversions in four games, the most by a Scottish player in one Championship season. Allen also landed seven in the 1930/31 Championship season to equal Turner’s  1913 mark, but it would be 71 years before Peter Dodds kicked eight conversions in the 1984 Grand Slam season to write the two men out of the record books. Despite the record breaking start against the French in 1912, successive away defeats against Wales (21-6) and Ireland (10-6) ended any hopes of challenging for the title. Turner bagged his third Test try in the game in Dublin and was at least able to enjoy a Calcutta Cup triumph over the English (8-3) at Inverleith in the final game of the campaign. The second Springboks arrived in the UK at the start of the 1912/13 season and the selectors invited Turner, now playing at Liverpool, to captain his country. The game at Inverleith was the first international of the tour and the South Africans had only lost two of their 16 game sup to that point, 9-3 to Newport and 10-8 to a London XV. No fewer than 11 players who had beaten England eight months earlier were retained, but the Springboks were far too strong and ran in four tries in a 16-0 victory. The fact they went on to complete a Grand Slam, by beating Ireland (38-0), Wales (3-0), England (9-3) and France (38-5), put into context the Scottish performance. Turner held the captaincy for the 1913 Five Nations Championship and was on target with three conversions in the 21-3 win over the French in Paris. There followed a narrow 8-0 defeat to Wales, before Turner was back on target with four conversions in a 29-14 victory over Ireland at Inverleith. That just left England at Twickenham, with the auld enemy chasing a first Grand Slam. The Prince of Wales turned up to watch and Turner had three of his former Oxford team mates, Frank Tarr, Ronnie Poulton and Bruno Brown, battling against him. It was a great tussle, but a Brown try just before the break proved decisive and England won 3-0 and regained the Calcutta Cup. He missed out on the Scottish trials in the 1913/14 season and was playing alongside the new England skipper, Poulton, and the Irish captain Dickie Lloyd for Liverpool in a win over Richmond on the day the Scots launched their 1914 Five Nations campaign with another heavy defeat in Wales, going down 24-3. The Scottish selectors were said to be looking for a charismatic leader and turned to another Oxford man, David Bain, for the opener. When that didn’t work, they invited Eric Milroy to take charge against Ireland. Another defeat followed, 6-0 at Lansdowne Road, but at least with Turner back in harness up front. Then there was one final appearance on the international stage, in his fourth Calcutta Cup clash with England. Once again the English were looking to make a clean-sweep of the Championship and to win a second successive Grand Slam having already won three games. For the Scots it was a chance to avoid the dreaded whitewash, but that didn’t look like happening when they were 16-6 behind. But with Turner leading the charge, the Scots hit back to within a single point of the visitors to turn the game on its head and into a rousing contest. Turner managed to convert one of the three tries scored by his side, but two of them were out near the touchline and his kicks missed the mark. One more success would have made an enormous difference. As it was, England triumphed 16-15 in the final Championship for six years. Within six months most of the players had signed-up to go to war. Of the two teams who played in one of the final acts of Test rugby before the declaration of WW1, 13 would go on to lose their lives serving King and country. By the time war had been declared, and rugby had been postponed indefinitely, Turner had re-written the Scottish record books. At the age of only 25 he had set the following marks:

Freddie Turner’s Scottish Rugby Records

Most Points in a Match: 13 v France 1912 (Record stood 1912 – 1979)
Most Points in a Career: 37 in 15 matches (Record stood 1914 – 1926)
Most Conversions in a Match: 5 v France 1912 (Record stood 1912 – 2007)
Most Conversions in a Season: 7 in 19`13 (Record stood 1913 – 1984

In addition to this, he scored a record 26 points in eight games at Inverleith, including the most points in a game there, 13. He was a hero for both University and country, a man whose deeds have stood the test of time and show to this day what a great player and competitor he really was.

Scroll to Top
Our Cookies
We use cookie technology to analyse traffic and ensure that you get the best possible experience on our website. To continue browsing our website, you must agree to our Cookie Policy.