I'M hurriedly rewriting a talk I am due to give tonight for the mayor of Darlington because I've discovered a new First World War hero and I have to include him.

I've known about him for a while because he died in the most extraordinary manner, but I accidentally stumbled across him again this week while researching something else for our Remembrance Sunday edition (order your copy today - the £1 is worth Mackenzie Thorpe's superb cover alone).

His name is Captain Thomas Sowerby Rowlandson of Newton Morrell, a farming hamlet near Barton, a few miles south of Darlington. Born in 1880, he came from a wealthy agricultural family, went to Charterhouse school and Cambridge University, and then played football.

Every week, he travelled down to London to represent Corinthians, a legendary amateur club of public schoolboys which probably had the best team in the country but didn't play against professionals.

Tom was a goalkeeper – "probably the best amateur in that position ever seen", according to a contemporary. He also possessed the finest moustache in the football world.

He captained an English amateur team, drawn from the Corinthian club, that went around the globe spreading enthusiasm for the game, and playing it in the correct Corinthian spirit. They visited South Africa, Hungary, Norway, Sweden and Canada. Real Madrid of Spain, possibly the biggest club side in the world today, were so impressed that they adopted the Corinthians' all white strip.

Around 1903, Tom settled at Newton Morrell, and devoted his time to good works in Darlington and North Yorkshire, and to enjoying himself with the Zetland Hunt – he was "one of the best game shots in the north of England".

He offered his goalkeeping services to Sunderland in the First Division, and made his debut, as an amateur, on April 1, 1904, against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Roker Park. "On entering the field, the well-known Darlington custodian of Corinthian fame had a hearty greeting," said The Northern Echo. "Some of his saves were remarkably good, and were marked by smartness and coolness. His display altogether was very keen and very clever, and won the unanimous approval of the crowd."

Sunderland won 3-1, and over the next year, Tom turned out 12 times for the Rokermen when their professional goalkeeper was injured. They lost just once with him in nets.

Next season, Tom made his debut for Newcastle United against Bury on October 21, 1905. "The famous Corinthian is good enough for any team, and there are those who regard him as worthy of the highest honours," said the Echo's match preview. "His appearance in goal today will be quite an attraction to the Newcastle crowd, who will doubtless fix critical eyes upon him for the full 90 minutes."

Indeed they did. Bury were very poor, and easily beaten 3-1. "Rowlandson had very little to do in gaol (sic) for United, and did not altogether please the United crowd in the second half," reported the Echo.

Perhaps because of this displeasure, Tom never played again for the Magpies.

He was still good enough to win two amateur caps for England in 1907, but also became a member of the Darlington Board of Guardians and a JP on the Scorton bench.

When the First World War broke out, Tom, who never married, was 34. He immediately gave his large farmhouse to the Red Cross, for use as a hospital supply depot, and joined the Yorkshire Regiment in Northallerton as a lieutenant.

By April 17, 1915, he was in fierce fighting near Ypres in Belgium. He was made a captain on October 8, 1915, was mentioned in despatches, and was awarded the Military Cross on January 1, 1916. And he died on September 15, 1916, on the Somme, during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette.

Tom's adjutant wrote: "I have always thought of him the finest type of Englishman I have ever known, and his death was just as fine as his life.

"He died where of all places, I think, he would have chosen if it had to be – on the parapet of a German trench at the head of his men. A Boche bomb hit him on the shoulder. Death must have been instantaneous."

At Flers-Courcelette, the British unleashed the tank for the first time – "an enormous steel monster, from which spouted a continuous fire of great violence", said the Echo.

Tom's death was a contrast to this sophisticated machine of destruction. Darlington's evening newspaper, the Despatch, said: "He raced his men for the German trenches, having only a walking stick as a weapon, and he was first into the trench."

It added: "His sergeant bayonetted the German who threw the bomb that killed him."

Perhaps you now see why I need to weave him into my talk, entitled Heroes and A Villain: Darlington and the First World War, at the Crown Street library at 6.30pm tonight. Tickets costing £4, to include refreshments, can be booked on 01325-462034.