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Footballers' Battalions remembered on Somme battlefield

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BerichtGeplaatst: 21 Okt 2010 22:34    Onderwerp: Footballers' Battalions remembered on Somme battlefield Reageer met quote

Footballers' Battalions remembered on Somme battlefield

The mournful strains of The Last Post still floated in the air on Thursday as Gareth Ainsworth, the Wycombe Wanderers player, stepped forward on a foreign field that will be forever England's.

Ainsworth delivered a short blast on his whistle and a hush fell across the assembled throng, paying silent tribute to the Footballers' Battalions, who lost so many on the killing fields of the Somme.
More than 8,000 officers and men of the 17th and 23rd Middlesex were engaged in some of the darkest days of the First World War, including players from West Ham, Chelsea, Liverpool and Clapton (now Leyton) Orient and stars such as Frank Buckley, the Bradford City player who became Wolves manager.

There was the celebrated amateur Vivian Woodward, a prolific scorer for England, Spurs' Walter Tull and Fred Keenor, who made light of shrapnel in the knee to lead Cardiff City to victory in the 1927 FA Cup final.
Many relatives of these brave-footballers-turned-fighters, real heroes such as Manchester United's Oscar Linkson, also gathered in the hamlet of Longueval, adjacent to the muddy trenches and forbidding foliage of Delville Wood.
Also at the dedication of a memorial to the Footballers' Battalions were representatives of more than 20 clubs and members of the Football Supporters' Federation, reflecting the hard work put in by fund-raising fans.

The driving force behind these moving, sunlit events was Phil Stant, currently of the Football League Trust and a respected pro from Hereford United to Bury, Lincoln City to Cardiff City. As a former member of the SAS, who saw service in the Falklands, Stant can keep football in its proper perspective.
"When I went to war for me it was an adventure,'' said Stant. "June 8, 1982, was the day I grew up. The Sir Galahad got blown up when we were 100 metres away. The terrible injuries, the attack that came in from the Argentinian jets, were frightening. When you've seen sights like that, people with their legs blown off, it's something you'll always live with. That's why this memorial is so important, for those guys who are still buried out there.''

Stories of gallantry were legion. Joe Smith, the Chesterfield left-half, was badly wounded but carried on attacking. William Gerrish, the Aston Villa inside forward, was shot in the legs. Grimsby Town captain Sid Wheelhouse succumbed to gas. His team-mates wrote sorrowfully to the club secretary, Mr Hickson, about their vainful attempts to reach his grave.
On Thursday, Ainsworth walked slowly, respectfully through the war cemetery at Delville Wood. "It's really important we never forget,'' he said.

"Every footballer would be humbled by this place. I was told they chose me because I have connections throughout the game from non-league to Premier League.
"There's no Premier League, no League Two out here, all these lads fought side by side. That's humbling. To be the person asked to blow the whistle for the two-minute silence was a massive honour. That was the signal to go over the top and on the first day of battle thousands were wiped out.''
Reading's Allen Foster was cut down by machine gun fire. Plymouth Argyle's James McCormick had his head blown open, skin peeling down, obscuring his vision so he staggered on into German hands. Captain Edward Bell, of Portsmouth and Southampton, won an MC for conspicuous gallantry.

Their stories are recounted by the author, Andrew Riddoch, an eloquent guide of Delville Wood. Co-written with John Kemp, Riddoch's account of the Footballers' Battalion entitled When The Whistle Blows cries out to be turned into a documentary.
Moved by the myriad reminiscing, Stant would love clubs to bring academy kids out "to pay their respects'' to the Somme. "It's a different type of player coming through now, brought up a different way and a lot of them haven't experienced hardship,'' said Stant. "Some don't appreciate how lucky they are. I've taken them on one side and said there's a real world out there.''

Out in the real world in 1916, one of the 17th Middlesex heroes was the keen sportsman Captain Ernest Parfitt, whose grandson John Matthews skirted Delville Wood, clutching a letter of Parfitt's to his wife.
Matthews read as he walked: "We succeeded in taking a wood which is nicknamed Devil's Wood, and I can assure you that the name is very appropriate. We held the wood until yesterday, when we were relieved'.''
Matthews shook his head in admiration. "I think of all the shelling he'd been through, the whole maelstrom, and his handwriting is so good.''
Stories were everywhere. William Jonas, a popular forward of Clapton Orient, left a note declaring "special love to my sweetheart Mary Jane and best regards to the lads at Orient''. He was killed the moment he went over the top.

"In football, someone gets injured or wants a transfer and we treat it like a big deal,'' said Greg Clarke, chairman of the Football League.
"I'd support bringing young footballers out here, to give them a sense of perspective on what true sacrifice is all about. This is the most rewarding day I've had in the job.
"Walking around those graves, seeing people aged 17, 18, who ran into a wood with shells raining down on them and with people holding bayonets at them, screaming at them. They kept going, they never gave up, and that's truly humbling.

"My grandfather was left for dead on the Somme battlefield. He was carried off by the Germans, who took him to hospital, fixed him, and he was a POW for the rest of the war. Three of his brothers were killed. Most of his mates were killed. He survived.''
As the gathering broke up, the exhortation read by John Matthews remained with all privileged to salute the Footballers' Battalions on Thursday: "They shall grow not old, as we that are left to grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
"At the going down of the sun and in the morning; We will remember them.''
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Price of Glory

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BerichtGeplaatst: 24 Okt 2010 8:53    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

Hier een link naar de folder die is gemaakt voor de onthuldiging van het monument.,,10794~155067,00.pdf

En op de site van het Army Museum is ook nog het een en ander te lezen.

Wars begin where you will, But they do not end where you please.
"All Wars Arise For The Possesion Of Wealth" (Plato)
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BerichtGeplaatst: 26 Mrt 2014 17:40    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

Remembering WWI and the Footballers' Battalion

The football family had gathered to mark the centenary of the First World War and representatives from across the game stood side by side at a memorial to the Footballers’ Battalion in the village of Longueval.

It had been a day of rain and remembrance, but at that moment the sun shone brightly on the travelling party.

The Football League had organised the trip as the opening act of what will be four years of football coming together to pay its respects.

A wreath was laid by the League’s representative Andy Williamson, Mike Foster of the Premier League and FA Chairman Greg Dyke.

As the shrill blast of the referee’s whistle sounded to commence two minutes of silence, all reflected on what they had seen and where they had been.

The journey had begun with the boarding of a coach in central London; bound for the coast and a short train ride that would lead the group to the sites of the Somme – the monumental action that raged from July to November in 1916 and claimed the lives of 20,000 British troops on its very first day.

As the tour took in battlefields and cemeteries, the stories of those who lost their lives were vividly brought to life by the insightful historian Andrew Riddoch and inspiring soldier-turned-footballer Phil Stant.

They told how football had been urged to play its part in the Great War, just 50 years after the game’s laws had been codified with the founding of The FA in 1863.

Ultimately, no other sport was to suffer as many casualties, whether injured or dead.

Dyke said: “This trip has been organised by the Football League, a combined football trip to commemorate something important. You do find when you are here that it brings it all to life - the letters home, the sheer numbers who were killed.

“On that first day of the Somme either killed or injured was everybody at Old Trafford in one day. That’s unbelievable - the scale of it.”

The first Footballers’ Battalion, the 17th Middlesex, contained players, referees and officials from cities and football clubs across the nation; spurred on to join with their pals, united in courage, athletic and valiant rovers looking for an adventure.

One by one the visitors who came to pay their respects stepped forward to tell the players’ stories.

Howard Wilkinson, Brendon Batson and Richard Bevan, representing coaches, players and administrators, among those who brought to life the names of men like Bradford Park Avenue’s Donald Bell – who in a particularly powerful grave-side service finally ‘received’ his Victoria Cross thanks to the work of the Professional Footballers’ Association and National Football Museum.

Others to be singled out included Walter Tull, one of the first prominent black footballers in league football with Tottenham Hotspur and Northampton Town, who against the odds rose to the rank of officer.

Then there was former PFA head Evelyn Lintott and after that Major Frank Buckley who would go on to be a manager of distinction.

Billy Meredith, Joe Mercer Snr – the names of note kept coming.

Letters of the time were shared, such as that written by the sister of 16-year-old Private Horace Isles who implored him to reveal his true age and come home to Yorkshire. He never made it back.

There was a walk through Delville Wood, scene of carnage and devastation a century ago but as picturesque and peaceful a spot as you could ever visit today.

Only the magnificent memorial and the grassed-over craters told of what had gone before.

A visit to a German cemetery reminded how the devastation and sacrifice was felt in equal measure on both sides.

On Sunday morning, before heading back to London, the FA Chairman spoke movingly after a tour through Oppy Wood – scene of the worst day of the war for the footballers’ battalions.

Dyke shared a tribute to the dead that had been given by Charles Clegg, a former president and chairman of the same governing body. It was yet another powerful and poignant reading.

As cyclists and villagers went on their way unawares in the background, the touring party listened intently. Not a word was spoken.

Dyke revealed his personal connection to the horrors of the past during the trip.

“This here is life and death. My granny lost her three brothers. For the whole of her life that was an incredibly upsetting experience.

"When I was a kid I’d go up and see her and she’d be in bed crying. I’m going to find out more. I’ve got the war dead plaque my mother gave me.

“They were all orphans. She brought them up, went off to war one by one and killed. You can’t believe that, can you? It’s not part of our world.

"It would be good if people come over. The numbers coming here have gone up increasingly in recent years. I am quite surprised by how emotional I find the whole thing. “

It was a common reaction. Emotion was certainly felt when the group spontaneously applauded as Gordon Taylor, the chairman of the PFA, wrapped up the trip with a stirring speech.

He spoke with passion on all the players who had more than played their part; each and every one of whom had perished or fallen in pursuit of far more in life than medals, cups and titles.

All present were glad that they – unlike so many a century before – were able to contemplate soon returning home.

It was certain that this would be just the kick-off for football’s act of remembrance over the next four years.
If any question why we died
Tell them, because our fathers lied
-Rudyard Kipling-
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