Some early historical notes.
In the early days the club did not start playing rugby in September like every other club, they were a little more gentlemanly and quite properly waited until the cricket season was over.
Looking through the newspapers for signs of the beginning of the club is difficult, things seem a bit vague.
Whilst there will have been a moment when it began it is difficult to pin point it.
Go back to 1901 or so and Royal Naval Engineering College (RNEC) is mentioned as the main Service team.
However, in 1904 there is reference to a United Services club in Plymouth.
On the 1st October of 1904 they played a game against the Plymouth rugby club (one of the parents of the present Plymouth Albion). Before a crowd of 6,000, the game ended in a draw with each side scoring a try.
The team sheet read like this.
Backs; J.Lyon (Surrey), F.Cooper (International), C.Brockman, H.Gibbs, H.J.Orr (Scotland), V.S.Start and V.Gibbs.
Forwards: M.S.Scott, F.Shaw (International), J.Picton, F.Austin, H.Salmond, A.W.Roberts (International), J.Paterson, J.H.Watson or Wilson.
The following article appeared in the Western Morning News.
The most important game locally is that between Plymouth and United Services at South Devon place, and if favoured with fine weather it should afford a large gate.
The Services are bringing a powerful side including four internationals and several county players.
J.C.Mathers unfortunately cannot accept his place for the visitors, but a capable understudy has been selected in C. Brockman, an old RNE student, whose attributes local followers are acquainted.
Admiral Sir E.H. Seymour, GCB and Lieutenant-General Sir W.F. Butler, KCB have given their patronage and many servicemen intend being present to give their colleagues a hearty reception.
However some years later this article appeared in the local press.
The Western Morning news of Friday 2nd October 1908 carried the following article in its sports pages.
'A game in which considerable interest is being manifested is that between the Royal Naval Club and the Royal Navy at Dartmouth.
The Navy club is a new organisation, and has been formed on a sound basis, so that sides must not be confused with the scratch teams that have hitherto done duty with the Navy.
They have plenty of ability to draw on, and have entered in to arrangements to play their home matches at South Devon place.
The match tomorrow will be the 1st for the new club, and they are promised a rousing game by the college which has some notable players on their staff.'
I can only assume that the College is BRNC. The Royal Navy team lost by a try to 1 goal and 2 tries.
It was not a representational Royal Navy side because it is referred to in the papers as a club of Naval officers and one that played local teams on a regular basis as can be seen.
In February 1910 the Evening Herald reported thus;
Paignton are due to receive a visit from the reconstituted Navy club, which will be known as United Services (Devonport), military officers having been admitted to the team, owing to the difficulty occasioned by the exigencies of the service in keeping a strong navy side together.
I assume from this that by 'military officers' they mean officers from the other services in the area, probably the Army because the predecessor of the Royal Airforce, the Royal Flying Corps, was not formed until 1912.
Match reports that seem to relate to a Devonport Services club in the early days can be seen in about 1910 with a club called United Services appearing again, it may be that the press reporters of the day were unclear what the club should be called.
The RNEC club was still going at the time but according to Tiny Lister, featured more in the Evening Herald and right up till the 1950's were still playing clubs like Cardiff, Newport and Bristol.
There was one reference to the club on 5th November 1912 as Devonport United Services when they played Exmouth away and lost 30 ~ 3.
The reports go on week-by-week and gradually the name changes from United Services to sometimes both United Services and Devonport Services in the same match report.
The Morning News on 22nd February 1913 in their "What's on today" article announcing a game at the weekend as say United Services against Newton then reporting on the details of match the following Monday as the Devonport Services.
Home matches were at Keyham at the bottom of St Levens road, owned by RNEC.
At that time there was a grand stand at the Keyham pitch, when U.S.Portsmouth came down to play the papers report a poor attendance but that the 'grand stand was well filled.' On that occasion we lost 10 ~ 13.
The present home of Services, The Rectory field, was at that time leased by Devon Albion from the church.
It looks like the club was called Devonport Services on a fairly regular basis in the papers from the season 1910 / 1911.
The significance of the 1912 date mentioned in Fraser Dunbar's book and in the Devon handbook as the clubs beginning seems to be the point were the club became a mixture of officers and men.
Prior to this, the 'men' would train and play for either Devon Albion at The Rectory or Plymouth rugby club at South Devon place, whilst the officers played for Devonport Services.
There was also, at this time, a team called the Naval Harlequins playing.
On the 26th of April they (the Harlequins) beat Devonport Wanderers 3 ~ 0 in the Lockie cup final.
I assume that Devonport Wanderers was a civilian team
The Naval Harlequins and the RN Depot team it seems may have been occasional teams rather than formed clubs.
14th November 1910
As reported in the Western Morning News. "It is a pity the Services have to make so many changes in their team week by week, for their combination suffers badly and all things considered it is remarkable they should make such a good showing against the representative clubs they meet.
3rd December 1910. The club was due to play Plymouth rugby club at South Devon place. However, due to a muddy ground and a soggy and damp pitch it was switched to Keyham where we lost 9 ~ 8.
13th January 1912,
Devonport Services at home to Devon Albion, we lost 30 ~ 3.
The team sheet shows: Surgeon Quirk, Sub Lt Baker, Lt Gibson, Lt Gibbs, Lt Marsack, Eng Lt Carlisle, Lt Manners, Lt Cookson, Lt Nailor, Lt Read, Capt Godfrey, Lt Tagg, Lt Jukes-Hughes, Lt Hyland and Lt Gordon.
Lt Tagg broke his collarbone midway through the second half but heroically played on 'till the end of the match.
The team, as you can see, was made up of all officers; this was the season before lower deck ratings (as the paper put it) were selected for the team.
9th December 1912.
Played Plymouth at home. We won 16 ~ 0. Lt Harrison for Services and a Plymouth player were sent off, the newspaper did not give any reason for the dismissal.
Sendings off seem to be quite commonplace around this time, I have yet to see much reference to disciplinary meetings or punishments being handed down, apart from the incident below when the club played Exeter.
16th December 1912.
Played U.S Portsmouth away and lost 16 ~ 15. Both teams were weak because there were Navy trials going on at the time.
The season 1912 / 1913 saw an improvement in the club's results, this seems to be as a result of allowing "lower deck ratings" in to play as we can see from the Morning news article below.
28th September 1912.
Devonport Services v Swansea. To quote part of the Morning News article of the 26th September 1912.
"Devonport Services have taken on a task which will extend them to a lively tune, as they have accepted the defunct Plymouth club's fixture with Swansea, and in virtue of that journey to the South Wales town tomorrow.
Happily the Services are much stronger this season than they have ever been, thanks to the inclusion in the fifteen of lower deck ratings who we had training with Albion.
The combination of officers and men has had a happy result so far, and promises to make the Devonport fifteen a very serious rival to the Portsmouth naval fifteen, of which so much is thought in the London district.
With such a good sporting lot as the Naval officers have proved, it can hardly be presumption on their part in flying at such a high game. They may not win, but barring accidents they will give Swansea a rousing game."
Services reputation had preceded them to South Wales, otherwise how can we account for the headline in one paper, The South Wales Echo, "The Sporting Blues"
The final score line is unclear, at half time it stood at 8 ~ 4 with Services scoring through a drop goal, Services lost by something like 25 ~ 8.
This was where Services got their nickname.