WW1 English Footballers Poster–Western Front Witness– WW1 Sporting Contributions-Football Remembers

Image : One caption on this poster  is a quote from a German newspaper. It says, “The young Britons prefer to exercise their long limbs on the football ground rather than expose them to any sort of risk in the service of their country.”


On 16th December 1914, a call went out from Fulham Town Hall for the formation of England’s first ‘footballer’s battalion’.  Professional players from many of England’s football league clubs, and hundreds of their fans, enlisted in the 17th Middlesex Regiment.  The driving force behind the formation of this battalion was Captain Wells-Holland, Chairman of Clapton Orient F.C. He received impressive support from his club – now Leyton Orient F.C. - as 41 of his own players and staff enlisted.  They were joined by the likes of Frank Buckley, an England internationalist who played for Derby County, Manchester United and Manchester City.  Popular London based players such as Vivian Woodward (Chelsea), Evelyn Lintott (Queen’s Park Rangers) and Joe Webster (West Ham United) also volunteered.

England's Premier League is Called Upon


Image :  Banner displayed by Hearts fans during a derby match with Hibs.


On 25th November 1914, 11 first team footballers from Heart of Midlothian F.C. enlisted in the British army.  The players were on a high as they were top of the league having won all their league games to date.  However their minds were on bigger  issues  and,  in  the boardroom  of  Tynecastle  Park,  they  received their

From Football Field to Battlefield

Instead of a sponsor’s name, Scottish Championship club Raith Rovers will play this season with the word ‘Remember’ emblazoned across their chests.  Seventeen players from the Fife club served in the British army in World War 1 with seven of them enlisting in the 16th Royal Scots alongside footballers from Hibs, Falkirk and most famously, Hearts.  Instead of their traditional navy blue, the Kirkcaldy club has opted for the tones used in the Royal Scots tartan.  Beneath the club crest, the name Raith Rovers has been replaced with ‘McCrae’s Battalion’ - the unofficial name given to Britain’s first ‘footballers battalion’.  Three Raith players paid the ultimate sacrifice. 


Raith Rovers Remember Shirt–Western Front Witness– WW1 Sporting Contributions-Football Remembers
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 16th December 1914


It was all down to a stray shell that set alight a barn which was being used to house German prisoners.  Most of the fifty Germans were rescued but some British soldiers were killed including Dr. John Huggan.  In March 1914 Huggan’s try could not help Scotland overcome England in the Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield.  The 25 year old from Jedburgh was mentioned in dispatches for his bravery and was one of thirty Scottish rugby internationalists to lose their lives in the Great War.  The first was Lieutenant Ronald Simson (aged 24) of the Royal Artillery who was also killed in the Battle of the Aisne – 2 days before Huggan.  Huggan and Simson are commemorated with fellow internationalists on a memorial arch at Murrayfield stadium.

Scottish Rugby Internationalist Killed in Action

Huggan Scottish Rugby Internationalist–Western Front Witness– WW1 Sporting Contributions-Football Remembers

On 30th November 1914, the ‘Times’  triumphanty reported that every player capped for England in 1913 had enlisted in the army.  These were the men who had sealed the Grand Slam for England with a fine win in Paris.  In that game the England captain, ‘Ronnie’ Poulton Palmer had scored 20 of England’s 39 points.  Ironically, the ship that transported Palmer to his final international match was the same one that took him to war.  He landed in France on 30th March 1915 and six weeks later he was dead – shot by a German sniper.  27 former England internationalists are listed on the R.F.U. war memorial at Twickenham.

England Rugby Does It's Duty

Poster to Recruit Rugby Union–Western Front Witness– WW1 Sporting Contributions-Football Remembers


The first professional footballer in the English Football League thought to be killed in WW1 was the Huddersfield Town player Larrett Roebuck.


Roebuck made his debut with Huddersfield on 3 January 1914, with a 3-1 home win over Fulham. However his 19th and last appearance came on 25 April 1914, in a 1-0 victory at Leicester Fosse (renamed Leicester City in 1919). Four days previously he had signed a new contract with Town to commence at an agreed rate of £2 per week. This was to rise to £3 from 1 September 1914, the start of the 1914/15 season which he never made.

First Great Loss for English Football League

Huddersfield Team 1914–Western Front Witness– WW1 Sporting Contributions-Football Remembers

The balls used on Christmas Day 1914, and thereafter at the Battle of Loos (1915) and the Somme (1916) may have been sent to the front from Edinburgh.  A recent study of the archives of Hearts F.C. has revealed that it was not just soldiers that the club sent to the Western Front.  In the autumn of 1914 they acceded to requests for footballs from a variety of serving battalions and even from British prisoners of war.  News of their generosity appears to have spread and the club was forced to appeal for financial assistance from the Edinburgh public and to businesses across Britain.  With their help the club was able to send around 2,000 footballs to British troops in the course of the war.  There is currently no evidence of any other British club supporting the forces in this way.

Balls to the Front

Balls from Christmas Truce 1914–Western Front Witness– WW1 Sporting Contributions-Football Remembers
Hearts McCraes Battalion Banner–Western Front Witness– WW1 Sporting Contributions-Football Remembers
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 25th November 1914
Hearts Football Remembers Shirt–Western Front Witness– WW1 Sporting Contributions-Football Remembers
Huddersfield Player Larrett Roebuck–Western Front Witness– WW1 Sporting Contributions-Football Remembers

Lily Parr of Dick, Kerr Ladies earned the distinction of being the first woman to be sent off in an official football match for fighting. She also scored more than 1,000 goals during her 31-year-playing career, and of those, 34 were in her first season when she was aged just 14.


As WW1 progressed, the women's game became more formalised, with football teams emerging from the munitions factories. As more teams cropped up, people started to enjoy the matches for the skill and ability of the women, rather than the initial humorous spectacle. Thus the Munitionettes’ Cup was established in August 1917.


The Dick, Kerr Ladies were made up of 11 factory workers from Preston. They went on to become international celebrities and the biggest draw in world football. However, after the war, the female players found themselves being quietly shunted back into domestic life, with many being pushed to return to their “right and proper place” in society.


They remain the most successful women's team of all time.

Match Draws Crowd of 53,000...But Who's Playing?

Dick Kerr Ladies Football Team–Western Front Witness– WW1 Sporting Contributions-Football Remembers
Lily Parr Dick Kerr Ladies Team–Western Front Witness– WW1 Sporting Contributions-Football Remembers
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 16th September 1914
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 30th November 1914

Image:  Lionel Tennyson during the 1921 test match.


Second Lieutenant Lionel Tennyson, grandson of a poet laureate, suffered a serious injury at Ploegsteert Wood near Ypres on the night of 12th November 1914.  While returning from a night patrol, the 25 year old fell into a trench breaking his leg so badly that it was feared that he would have a permanent limp.  Tennyson, who was captain of the England cricket team, was not sent to a military hospital but was immediately shipped back to a top London clinic. He was able to resume his career after the war and is mostly remembered for an incident in a match v Australia in 1921.  In that game Tennyson sustained a hand injury while fielding and when called upon to bat did so single handed - scoring an undefeated half century!

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 12th November 1914

England's Cricket Captain Edged Out

Lionel Tennyson Cricket 1921–Western Front Witness– WW1 Sporting Contributions-Football Remembers


medical examination and were sworn in.  Next day two more enlisted and, given that three others were already in khaki, this brought the contribution from Hearts to 16 players. Within days, hundreds of fans of the Edinburgh club had also enlisted along with players from other Scottish teams including Raith Rovers, Hibernian, Falkirk and Dunfermline.  The unit they joined became the 16th Battalion, Royal Scots which became known as ‘McCrae’s Battalion’.


A special commemorative strip will be worn during the coming football season by Scottish championship side Heart of Midlothian. The strip chosen by Hearts is devoid of sponsor's logo and is a modern adaptation of the one worn by the team of 1914 – 15. This group of players is regarded by some as the best ever Hearts team but out of the 16 players that enlisted with the British Army, 7 paid the ultimate price.


In 2014 McCrae’s battalion was inducted into the Scottish Football Association ‘Hall of Fame’.

On 18 October 1914, Lance-Corporal Roebuck was one of 34 men from the 2nd battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment recorded as killed or missing in action, 32 are commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial to the Missing.


Interestingly the relatively recent discovery in 2009 of the remains of 15 men from the York and Lancaster Regiment has led to the identification of a number of these missing soldiers. Unfortunately, Roebuck was not among those who have been identified but it is possible that Roebuck may still have been one of those unidentified men buried in the ceremony at Y-Farm Cemetery on 22nd October 2014.


Image: The Huddersfield Team 1914, courtesy Roger Pashby. Roebuck is on the back row, second from the right.

The star of the match was 6ft tall (1.83m) and had a shot so hard that they once broke the arm of a professional male goalkeeper – her name was Lily Parr.  The match was Dick, Kerr Ladies FC vs St Helen’s Ladies, played at Goodison Park and was watched by 53,000 spectators (larger than the capacity of Hampden Stadium) with another 14,000 locked outside the ground trying to get in.


In March 1914, 30 players took to the field for the last peacetime Calcutta Cup match.  Eleven of them did not return from the war, 6 from the Scotland team (shown) and 5 from England.  In the course of the war, 31 Scottish international rugby players were killed while 28 England players met the same fate. This slight imbalance is typical of Great War casualty figures where across the board, Scots suffered disproportionally.  One of the most famous Scottish players to be killed in the conflict was David Bedell-Sivright who was capped 22 times for Scotland and was also captain of what is now known as the British Lions.

Six Nations Special - Scotland Suffers Highest Losses

Scotland’s Rugby Team 1914–Western Front Witness– WW1 Sporting Contributions-Football Remembers

In the course of the Great War, Wales lost 13 rugby internationalists.  While some football clubs endeavoured to have their stars classified as essential war workers, the Welsh Rugby Union contacted clubs to urge players to answer the call of King and Country.  While football carried on until the close of the 1914-15 season, all rugby fixtures in Wales were cancelled on 4th September 1914.  Clubs were also urged to hand their grounds over to the army for training purposes.

Six Nations Special - Wales Counts the Cost

Welsh Rugby Team 1914–Western Front Witness– WW1 Sporting Contributions-Football Remembers

On the 12th March 1915, Wyndham Halswelle was severely wounded in the head during the Battle of Neuve Chapelle.  The Captain of the 1st Highland Infantry was a remarkable soldier and a remarkable athlete.  In 1908 he became the first Scot to win a track gold medal at the Olympic games  but  his  victory  in the 440 yards was tainted by controversy. The world record holder was

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 12th March 1915

Olympic Hero at the Heart of the Action


Wyndham Halswelle 1908 Gold–Western Front Witness– WW1 Sporting Contributions-Football Remembers

Even six months into the conflict, many Brits continued to see parallels between war and sport.  On the 25th September 1915 – the first day of the Battle of Loos - a battalion of Royal Welsh Fusiliers kicked  6 rugby balls into No-man’s land before they leapt ‘over the top’.  Further down the line, when the whistles blew, the London Irish Rifles launched a football from their trench and charged after it.  Not wishing to be left out, Johny Condon a pre-war boxing champion, enter the fray with his boxing gloves dangling from his haversack, in case he needed to use them.

Playing the Game!

WW1 Football Figure–Western Front Witness– WW1 Sporting Contributions-Football Remembers

Thirteen Welsh international rugby players were killed in the Great War.  Pictured is "Johnnie" Williams who earned 17 caps, won three triple crowns and was only twice on a losing side. Amongst the other fatalities was Richard Garnons Williams, who had played in the very first Wales international rugby union match in 1881. At 59 years of age, he was the eldest international rugby player to be killed during the war.  

Welsh Rugby Takes a Hit

Williams Welsh Rugby Player–Western Front Witness– WW1 Sporting Contributions-Football Remembers

In early 1915, the most celebrated rugby player in the Northern Hemisphere was shot dead by a sniper.  During the last years of peace, Ronald Poulton Palmer captained England to back to back ‘Grand Slam’ successes. His final match - against France in Paris -was a personal triumph as the three quarter led England to a 39 – 13 win in which he scored four tries.  This record stood for almost a century and was only equaled in 2011, when Chris Ashton scored four tries against Italy. 

In 1914 he Annihilated France, in 1915 he was Dead!

Ronald Poulton Palmer–Western Front Witness– WW1 Sporting Contributions-Football Remembers
Captain Wyndham Halswelle–Western Front Witness– WW1 Sporting Contributions-Football Remembers

On 31st March 1915, Captain Wyndham Halswelle of the 1st Highland Light Infantry was trying to rescue a brother officer when he shot through the head by a sniper.   In 2003, he was posthumously inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame where his Olympic medals are on display.

blocked in the final in a pre-arranged manoeuvre and the race was declared void.  The other finalists, all American, refused to take part in a re-run and the Scot had to run the race on his own. These controversial events had a number of consequences including the introduction of lanes and the establishment of an International Amateur Athletic Federation to establish a single set of rules.

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 12th June 1915

Willie Angus was on the books of Glasgow Celtic F.C.  before the outbreak of the Great War, although he never broke into the first team.  On 12th June 1915, the young man from Carluke, Scotland crawled to the aid of a wounded officer who hailed from the same town.  As he approached Lieutenant Martin, the first of many German grenades to be hurled at him exploded and blinded him in one eye.   Both men were hit by bullets but they made it back to the safety of the British front line and Willie Angus was later awarded a Victoria Cross.  The issue of remembrance divides opinion in the East End of Glasgow and on 9th November 2010 a group of Celtic fans displayed a large banner proclaiming, “No bloodstained poppy on our hoops”.   There was an immediate apology from the club, some of whose fans would like Celtic to erect a war memorial to commemorate 7 players with Celtic connections who died in the Great War.

Heroic Ex-Footballer Wounded 40 Times!

Willie Angus Celtic WW1–Western Front Witness– WW1 Sporting Contributions-Football Remembers

100 years before Andy Murray’s Wimbledon win, Tony Wilding joined the forces.  Wilding - the reigning Wimbledon champion – was killed in action on 9th May 1915 during the Battle of Aubers Ridge.  Wilding is remembered as a sporting great - a Grand Slam champion who (like Murray) also won an Olympic medal.  When he married Maxine Elliot - ‘the most beautiful woman in America’ - the Wildings became the glamour couple of the day.

On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 9th May 1915

Wimbledon Champ Eliminated


Tony Wilding Wimbledon WW1–Western Front Witness– WW1 Sporting Contributions-Football Remembers