The man credited with founding Cranbrook Rugby Football Club was B.L. "Bill" Jaeger.
He was apparently a Cranbrook schoolmaster in 1936 - 37 when he formed a team and is said to have bought the field now known as "Jaeger's" for the pitch. They say the team was called The Falcons through a lable inside someone's hat. This photograph among those on display in the clubhouse is of a thirteen man squad plus a referee ( nothing changes!)
We don't actually know for sure but Bill Jaeger is probably the man in the scrum cap second from the left in the middle row. Look closely in the back row and the other man in a scrum cap bears more than a passing resemblance to the McMinnies youths, Mike and Dave. He's Gordon Pearson, their uncle who's been able to identify some of the team.
Bill was clearly amazingly enterprising since he was only a young man aged 18 or 19 at the time. It was the heady days of the thirties - a couple of years from the outbreak of war. When it arrived rugby at Cranbrook went on hold, and tragically it was to cost the club's founder his life.
The facts I've so far researched are that he was a member of the RAF Volunteer Reserve and at the time of his death he was a crew member flying in Mosquito Night Fighters with 96 Squadron. It was 1944 and following D Day in June the squadron had been used to cover the invading forces. Afterwards the Mosquito NFXIII's - equipped with radar - were used in the efforts to destroy the large number of German V1 flying bombs targeting London and the South East. The squadron was based locally - at West Malling from November 1943 to June 1944, and then at an airfield at Ford in Sussex. The squadron was stood down in December. The night fighters had destroyed 27 enemy aircraft and 180 flying bombs.
Sadly it came six months too late for Bill Jaeger. On 27th July he was the crew of Mosquito MM468 which had been on Diver Patrol ( an anti V-1 sortie). The aircraft was reported as missing at 0130 on 26th July.
No trace of the crew was ever found.
His name is inscribed on the memorial tablet inside Cranbrook Church, and on the RAF Memorial at Runnymede. You can see the details here.
From various accounts it seems the practiced method of bringing down a V1 was to locate it - and dive at maximum speed to fire on it. It was extremely hazardous. Some idea of the perils are included in an account of the war service of Air Vice Marshall Edward Crew who died this year and was a fellow member of 96 Squadron. We don't know if MM468 came down as a result of bringing down a bomb, or was hit by fire or whether it was victim to something untoward which caused the plane to crash.
Another man somewhere in the 1936 picture is a player named Wilson. He was also killed in WW2. It's understood he died the day after winning the Military Cross. The name on the memorial tablet in the church is AC Wilson. I've located details of an Alastair Charles Wilson MC killed in Italy also in 1944. I cannot be sure he's our man but we'll keep checking.
It's intriguing to wonder what they would have made of the club they started if they'd lived. There must have been literally thousands of people who've had fun out of playing and talking rugby at Cranbrook since those early days.
In 1957/58, Cranbrook RFC as we know it today, was formed by a group of Old Cranbrookians who were less than chuffed about having to leg it all the way to Maidstone or Tonbridge for a game. During those initial years, the School was very supportive; the first President was Headmaster C. Russell Scott and the club used School pitches and dressing rooms.
These early days facilities were not of the highest quality, but prepared the players for the rigours of our first pitch and clubhouse on the Tomlin Field, which is still our home today. We moved in at the beginning of 1971 with a clubhouse made from two wartime "pre-fabs" bought at a cost of around £100 each. It is a measure of our progress that we now have four "pre-fabs".
The second XV, the Nomads, were born in 1963/64 and the 3rd XV, initially the Falcons, but later the Gerbils, arrived in 1968/69. Throughout the 1970's, Cranbrook consistently fielded five sides every week, plus an under 19 Colts side. Sadly the last fifteen years have seen, in common with most clubs, a shrinking of numbers.
The introduction of League rugby has, in contrary to many forecasts, promoted some very positive developments. Indeed, the standard of rugby at Cranbrook has never been higher. Nine years ago, when league rugby was first introduced, Cranbrook was placed in Kent III, subsequently we gained promotion through three levels to London SE3. We finished in our highest position in 1997/98, when a highly creditable 4th place was achieved.