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The Greatest Sacrifice

FALLEN HEROES OF THE NORTHERN UNION

Published 31 August 2018 – pre-order now

By Jane and Chris Roberts

They were among the 1914 sporting elite. As professional rugby league players competing in the Northern Union (the forerunner to the Rugby Football League), they were idolised by tens of thousands throughout the northern heartlands.

But even though they had earned hero status and were at the height of their rugby league powers, these brave sporting warriors were ready and willing to sacrifice their privileged professional careers and fight for King and Country in the First World War – and then make the ultimate sacrifice by losing their lives.

Yet while other sports have honoured their Great War fallen over the decades and produced Rolls of Honour to ensure their players’ sacrifices have never been forgotten, it’s never been done in rugby league – until now. It’s finally time to pay homage to those known players who were senior Northern Union stars when war was declared on 4 August, 1914, but threw it all away to move from the sporting fields of the north of England to the killing fields of France, Belgium and beyond, and never returned to resume their rugby league careers.

Among those who fell were three members of the Great Britain 1914 summer tour to Australia and New Zealand, as well as a number of former internationals and many others who had earned top domestic honours with their clubs. Also honoured are players who were just embarking on their professional careers but were never able to fulfil their potential because of the unimaginable horrors being faced during the bloody battles that raged between 1914 and 1918.

Each of the players honoured has a different tale to tell, although so much at the start of their short and highly-talented lives had been so positive, beginning with their childhood, the journey they made to become a member of the elite Northern Union club, their experiences at the top level of the game and finally their enlistment into the British Army which would ultimately lead to their death as they all made the Greatest Sacrifice.

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The Dazzling Lady Docker

Britain’s Forgotten Reality Superstar

by Tim Hogarth

In the north of England there was a put-down for women who had ideas above their station: “Who do you think you are? Lady Docker?”

Through Britain’s post-War years, scarcely a day went by when Norah Docker and husband Sir Bernard didn’t dominate the newspapers. The Dazzling Dockers, as they became known, were on everyone’s lips. Rubbing shoulders with royalty and the era’s Hollywood stars, the pair caught the imagination of a public hungry for frivolity.

They were the pioneering reality superstars of their age, controversial standard-bearers for our own celebrity-obsessed 21st century. Yet of the two, there is no doubt whose star shone brightest. Born over a butcher’s shop in Derby, Norah Docker went on to enjoy a level of fame second only to a young Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Brash but always fun, Sir Bernard was her third millionaire catch in a row.

Antiques expert Tim Hogarth, star of ITV’s Dickinson’s Real Deal and Secret Dealers, re-tells a tale once familiar but now almost totally forgotten featuring excessive spending, posh furs, diamonds, gold-plated Daimlers and terrible behaviour, such as when Norah got the couple banned by Prince Rainier of Monaco and saw the jewel that inspired the Pink Panther films stolen, thereby becoming involved with the London underworld. The Dockers sailed the Med on their own superyacht, owned castles and country estates.

It couldn’t last, of course, and didn’t, but what waves this working class girl made en route from rags to riches and back again. From the Bright Young Things of London’s Roaring Twenties to their equivalents in the Swinging Sixties, the adventures of Lady Norah Docker are a dazzling treat.

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Champion of Champions

A boy. A bike. A legend.

By David Brayley

What if you were a professional road cyclist and – due to a run of bad injuries and loss of form – were told your career will be finished if you didn’t succeed in one of the world’s toughest races? Daniel’s dream of being a leading professional cyclist is under threat but, far from being worried, he believes he has the answer. All he has to do is remember it.

For that, he must go back to the very beginning of his journey as a 14-year-old rider in the leafy lanes of Wales’s Gower Peninsula, and then make a shock detour to rural Italy, where he first hears what will become his mantra – “Be the best that you can be.”

The eccentric stranger who tells him so also introduces Daniel to the legendary Italian racer, Fausto Coppi, and inspires the teenage boy with stories of Coppi’s excellence, bravery, success and ultimate heartbreak. But the eerie man with detailed knowledge hides a dark secret. Once before he tried to inspire a teenage cyclist and the horror of that episode is slowly revealed to Daniel.

In a story that threatens to tear a family apart, can Daniel navigate his past and call on the reasons that led to him becoming a professional cyclist in the first place? If so, he may just be able to deliver a performance in the brutal Milan-San Remo race and save not only his cycling career but everything his life has meant so far.

Will the memories be too painful? Or will they lead on to ultimate glory?

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Mr. Nicholls

A Brontë Story

By Juliet Heslewood

An old man is asked to remember the Brontës. Wasn’t he taught by the famous sisters in school? John looks back and recalls how, as a young boy, he liked to spy on the family from his secret post, high in Haworth’s church tower, opposite their home.

His own village is one mile away, across the moors. He lives with his shoemaker father and his sisters who work in the local woolen mills. Things change here when Mr. Nicholls, the Haworth curate, builds a small church for its Anglican residents.

John gets to know him. When he does well at school, John is given extra lessons by Mr. Nicholls. The two become close – not only through their work, but because John learns that his master is deeply in love with Charlotte Brontë. John is surprised to learn that she, and her sisters, have become famous writers. For him they are familiar individuals.

He encourages Mr. Nicholls to pursue Charlotte, especially when she loses her siblings and now lives alone with her father. But Mr. Brontë is against Mr. Nicholls, despite his good work in the parish. When it seems he must leave – perhaps to go to the other side of the world – John is alarmed. Yet he has learned much about affection. Over the years he too has become fond of a girl in his village.

The story is based on known events in the lives of the Brontës and the role John played in witnessing Mr. Nicholls’s anguish, as well as his final success.

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Touchstones

Rugby League, Rock’n’Roll, The Road and Me

by Steve Mascord

Steve Mascord – born Andrew John Langley – was obsessed with rugby league and rock’n’roll. Long after almost everyone he knew, he clung to these things like twin teddybears, turning at least one of them into a career and making a bit of money out of the other.

At the age of 47 he owned precisely nothing aside from hundreds of records and CDs and almost every edition of Rugby League Week ever printed. He was unmarried, had no car or property and was the proud owner of $50,000 of credit card debt. Then one day he discovered the truth about himself.

He always knew he was adopted but it turned out he was part of a bohemian family, his mother forced to give him up after suffering a mental breakdown. She searched for him until her dying day. Steve met uncles and cousins and aunties he never knew existed and for the first time in his life he felt whole. And he looked around that storage room full of CDs and football magazines and felt sad; a sense of loss. He appeared in newspapers and on radio and television and people thought he was successful but had he really created a life for himself? Or was he living in a childhood fantasy, compensating for what had been missing, ready to fall down on top of him as traditional media imploded?

Steve thought ‘enough of being Steve Mascord, who is not a real person. Time to finally be Andrew John Langley’. Having figuratively thrown all his toys out of the cot, he decided to conduct an audit. Which ones to pick up off the floor and keep in his new life, and which to leave laying there forever.

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