Contact Me - What's New on the site - Newsline

Home Page for The Mighty Mighty WhitesRead about the history of football in LeedsRead season by season reviews of the fortunes of Leeds United and CityRead about some of the most memorable games in the history of Leeds United and CityRead about the men who have managed Leeds United and CityRead about some of the great players who have turned out for Leeds United and CityCheck out some of the books which have been written about Leeds United and City
Review of 1914/15 - Part 1
Ravaged by war

Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination was the catalyst for the Great War Part 2 Ten years in the making - Part 3 Erratic in the extreme - Results and table - printer friendly version

The 1913/14 season ended with Leeds City fourth in the Second Division, a new high for the club. The narrowness with which they missed out on promotion hinted that they might well fulfil that aspiration in the following campaign. Unfortunately, events over the summer months far away in Central Europe saw to it that the term 'campaign', along with others appropriated by the football world, such as 'victory' and 'tactics', would now be used more readily in their original context.

The assassination of heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 brought to an angry head a collection of grumbling disputes that had cast a pall over the continent for years. The act was the catalyst for a labyrinthine chain of events that would lead inexorably to the Great War.

Although only third in the line of succession, Ferdinand became heir apparent following the death of the Emperor's son, Crown Prince Rudolf, in 1889, and in 1896 that of his own father, Archduke Charles Louis, Emperor Franz Josef's brother.

Considered arrogant, mistrusting and unrefined by many, Ferdinand was neither popular nor charismatic. However, the main reason for enmity towards him was because of suspicion about his intentions after taking power. He proposed to replace Austro-Hungarian dualism with 'Trialism', a triple monarchy in which the Slavs would have an equal say alongside the Austrians and the Hungarians.

Ferdinand was contemplating the idea of even more radical reform: splitting Austria-Hungary into a number of ethnically and linguistically dominated semi-autonomous "states" which would constitute a larger confederation, to be known as the United States of Greater Austria. Under this plan, separate languages and cultural identities were encouraged, and the disproportionate balance of power would be righted. The proposals were fundamentally opposed by the Hungarian element of the Dual Monarchy, as they would have brought a significant territorial loss for the Magyars.

The approach was designed to stay the disintegration of the fading Austro-Hungarian Empire, but Ferdinand's plans set him at odds with the ruling elite.

As Inspector General of the army, Ferdinand accepted an invitation from General Oskar Potiorek to visit Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, to inspect army manoeuvres. Bosnia and Herzegovina were provinces that had been under Austro-Hungarian administration since 1878. Austria annexed the provinces outright in 1908, a controversial move which caused unrest and suspicion amongst other European governments. There was even greater antipathy from supporters of the idea of a Greater Serbia, who were positively outraged. Their avowed aim was to absorb the provinces into a Serbian led pan-Slav state.

Bosnia was consequently a perilous destination and it proved fatal for Franz Ferdinand. He Gavrilo Princip assassinates Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevowas murdered on 28 June in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, a representative of the Black Hand, a Serbian nationalist secret society, in an attempt to stall his proposed reforms.

Austria was quick to capitalise on the incident, claiming the Serbian government was the mens rea behind the act. She seized on the opportunity to rattle her sabres, in a concerted attempt to crush the nationalist movement in the Balkan states and cement her influence in the region.

Elements within the Austro-Hungarian government had been eagerly seeking a pretext for offensive action for years, and this was their golden opportunity. Nationalist pan-Slav agitation within Serbia, which Austria suspected was encouraged by the Serbian government, could only undermine the Empire's influence in the Balkans.

The assassination was seen, at least in Austro-Hungarian eyes, as legitimising what it confidently expected would be a limited war against the manifestly weaker Serbians.

back to top

Serbia had strong historic links with Russia, the two sharing a common heritage that had evolved over several centuries. In 1878 Serbia was indebted to Russian diplomatic support for her success in gaining independence. The historic alliance was cause for some trepidation on the part of the Austro-Hungarians.

To assuage their anxieties, Austria sought assurances from her own ally, Germany, that she would provide support should Russia enter the dispute. The Germans were delighted to offer their aid: a conflict outside the national borders ideally suited their own purposes and they offered an unconditional guarantee of support on 5 July.

Left wing parties in Germany, particularly the Social Democratic Party, made heavy gains in the national elections of 1912. The German Government was still dominated by the Prussian Junkers, who feared the rise of the Left. The German historian, Fritz Fischer, argued that they deliberately sought an external war as a distraction, which would stoke up patriotic support for the Government.

Such dark political intrigue relied on a calculated gamble regarding the responses of other governments. With an element of undoubted complacency, provocative action was considered a risk well worth taking.

Germany offered what became known as "the blank cheque" to Austria on 6 July. The German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, promised unconditional support for Austria regardless of whatever sanction she intended to impose upon Serbia.

It was clear that Germany was prepared for a limited conflict with France and Russia; she hoped to avoid war with Britain, gambling that the British would shy away from war in an attempt to retain neutrality.

On 23 July, Austria presented Serbia with an ultimatum demanding that the assassins be brought to British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grayjustice. A reply was demanded within 48 hours, in the full expectation that the terms would be rejected, thereby providing the pretext for war.

British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Gray commented that he had "never before seen one state address to another independent state a document of so formidable a character", though the government sought to mediate throughout July, attempting desperately to remain neutral.

The Serbian Prime Minister, Nikola Pasic, appealed to Russia for help. On 25 July, while waiting for assurance of support, Pasic agreed to all Austro-Hungarian demands bar one: he was unable to hand over the three men who had engineered the assassination as it "would be a violation of Serbia's Constitution and criminal in law". The Austrians were caught off guard by the compliance of the response, so disconcerted that they concealed the communication for two days from the Germans. The Kaiser commented that the reply was "a great moral victory for Vienna, but with it every reason for war disappears".

Nevertheless claiming they were not satisfied with Serbia's response to their ultimatum, Austria declared war on 28 July. Russia immediately announced mobilisation of her army in defence of Serbia. On 31 July the Germans demanded that Russia halt her mobilisation within 12 hours; they also demanded that France should remain neutral and hand over border fortresses as a guarantee. The Germans knew these were unacceptable terms and the inevitable rejection allowed them to declare war on Russia on 1 August. Two days later, Germany declared war on France and invaded Belgium so as to reach Paris by the shortest possible route.

A Triple Entente between Russia, France and Britain had long been in place; in addition Britain had a commitment, dating back to 1839, to defend Belgian neutrality. The British government, led by Prime Minister Hebert Asquith, felt that they had to draw a line in the sand and gave Germany an ultimatum to get out of Belgium by midnight, 3 August.

It is thought that Germany would have backed away from war had Britain given a prompter hint of her resolve. Believing that the British would stay out of the coming conflict and limit themselves to diplomatic protests, Germany proceeded under the belief that war would be fought solely with France and Russia.

The British Government, in the person of Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Gray, attempted to mediate throughout July, reserving at all times its right to remain aloof from the dispute. It was only as the War began that the British position solidified into support for Belgium.

Asquith had a simple choice: he could turn a blind eye to a war in mainland Europe that might have little impact on Britain if she stood as a neutral, or he could mark himself with the British public as a man of principle who held firm against the perceived bullying of Germany. Future Prime Minister Winston Churchill described the scene in London in the hours that led to the declaration of war.

"It was eleven o'clock at night - twelve by German time - when the ultimatum expired. The windows of the Admiralty were thrown wide open in the warm night air. Under the roof from which Nelson had received his orders were gathered a small group of admirals and captains and a cluster of clerks, pencils in hand, waiting. Along the Mall from the direction of the Palace the sound of an immense concourse singing 'God save the King' floated in. On this deep wave there broke the chimes of Big Ben; and, as the first stroke of the hourPrime Minister Herbert Asquith boomed out, a rustle of movement swept across the room. The war telegram, which meant, 'Commence hostilities against Germany,' was flashed to the ships and establishments under the White Ensign all over the world. I walked across the Horse Guards Parade to the Cabinet room and reported to the Prime Minister and the Ministers who were assembled there that the deed was done."

back to top

Asquith addressed a packed House of Commons, saying, "We have made a request to the German Government that we shall have a satisfactory assurance as to the Belgium neutrality before midnight tonight. The German reply to our request was unsatisfactory."

Asquith explained that he had received a telegram from the German Ambassador in London who, in turn, had received one from the German Foreign Secretary. Officials in Berlin wanted the point pressed home that German forces went through Belgium to avoid the French doing so in an attack on Germany. Berlin had "absolutely unimpeachable information" that the French planned to attack the German Army via Belgium.

Asquith stated that the Government could not "regard this in any sense a satisfactory communication… We have, in reply to it, repeated the request we made last week to the German Government that they should give us the same assurance with regard to Belgium neutrality as was given to us and to Belgium by France last week. We have asked that a reply to that request and a satisfactory answer to the telegram of this morning should be given before midnight."

Nothing of the sort was received and the Foreign Office released this statement:

"Owing to the summary rejection by the German Government of the request made by His Majesty's Government for assurances that the neutrality of Belgium would be respected, His Majesty's Ambassador in Berlin has received his passport, and His Majesty's Government has declared to the German Government that a state of war exists between Great Britain and Germany as from 11pm on August 4th."

Britain's declaration of war against Germany brought the support of British Commonwealth countries like Australia, Canada, India and New Zealand, alongside Japan, who had a military agreement with Britain.

Thus, what had commenced as a little local difficulty escalated rapidly into global conflict. The expansionist leanings of Otto von Bismarck, first Prime Minister of Prussia and then Chancellor of the German Empire, and Kaiser Wilhelm II had rendered such an outcome inevitable.

On the outbreak of war, Britain had just under 250,000 regular troops. It was clear that many thousands more would be needed to defeat the Germans and on 7 August, Lord Kitchener, the War Minister, launched a recruitment campaign, calling for men aged between 19 and 30 to sign up. This was very successful, with an average of 33,000 men joining every day. Three weeks later the upper limit for recruiting was raised to 35 and by the middle of September over 500,000 men had volunteered. At the beginning of the War The iconic recruitment poster featuring War Minister Lord Kitchenerthe army had strict regulations about who could become soldiers. Men joining the army had to be at least 5ft 6in tall with a chest measurement of 35 inches. However, these specifications were loosened up in order to get more men to join the armed forces.

British forces were sent to help stop the German advance across France, and few thought that they would not return before Christmas. But by 1915 the opposing sides had dug themselves into a system of trenches that zigzagged along the Western Front, a battlefield extending some 450 miles across Belgium and North-Eastern France to the border of Switzerland. They remained deadlocked in this trench warfare until 1918.

Stephen Studd in Herbert Chapman: Football Emperor: "Britain was the only country entering the War without compulsory military service. As the football season approached, the question arose whether the League competition should be suspended so that players and officials could be free to volunteer for the war effort. It was a situation organised football had never had to face before, and there was no precedent on which to base a decision. Flying in the face of public opinion and patriotic fervour, the authorities decided to go ahead with games as planned.

"The reaction was one of violent denunciation. Newspapers said they would not report matches and carried a barrage of irate letters. A Yorkshire Post reader suggested that the King should resign as patron of the Football Association. At the same time the FA 'urged players and spectators who are physically fit and otherwise able to join the Army', and several players did so, but the Football League insisted that 'in the interests of the people of this country, football ought to be continued'.

back to top

"The League's attitude reflected the traditional belief that the ordinary citizen need not be affected by war. Wars had been fought before by the regular Army, and this one, it was supposed, would be the same: it would be over in a few months, if not weeks. So League teams kicked off in the usual way, while the guns blazed across the Channel. After a few weeks newspapers lifted their ban on match reports, and, while the War was waged on the front page, the struggle for League points gathered pace on the back."

The announcement by the football authorities that the football programme was to continue provoked a fierce backlash. Criticism was vociferous and clubs were accused of selfishness and conspiring with the enemy; the Dean of Lincoln wrote to the FA of "onlookers who, while so many of their fellow men are giving themselves in their country's peril, still go gazing at football".

Many senior players quit their clubs to volunteer for the armed forces, but the League decided to carry on with their programme. The football authorities contributed to war charities, and assisted in the recruitment of volunteers.

As most League players were professionals and thus tied contractually to their clubs, they could only join the forces if the clubs agreed to cancel their contracts. If they refused, the men could be sued by their clubs for breach of contract. Some newspapers suggested that those who did not join up were "contributing to a German victory," piling moral pressure on players.

Under considerable pressure, the Football Association eventually backed down and called for football clubs to release all unmarried professional footballers to join the armed forces. The FA also agreed to work closely with the War Office to encourage football clubs to organise recruiting drives at matches.

At Elland Road, Leeds City's management invited Lord Mayor Edward Brotherton and local Warring forces spoke the common language of footballMPs to address spectators at the end of the season's opening game in the hope of getting them to sign up. The club's official Receiver, Tom Coombs, came up with the idea and got support from Captain Kelly, the local head of army recruitment. Coombs undertook to provide the necessary support staff and resources to administer the exercise.

The Athletic News responded angrily to the general criticism of football: "The whole agitation is nothing less than an attempt by the ruling classes to stop the recreation on one day in the week of the masses... What do they care for the poor man's sport? The poor are giving their lives for this country in thousands. In many cases they have nothing else... These should, according to a small clique of virulent snobs, be deprived of the one distraction that they have had for over thirty years."

On 31 August, the Consultative Committee of the Football Association issued the following statement: "The Football Association earnestly appeals to the patriotism of all who are interested in the game to help in all possible ways in support of the nation in the present serious crisis, and particularly to those able to render personal service in the Army and Navy which are so gallantly upholding our national honour.

"To those unable to render personal service the Association would appeal for their generous support of funds for the relief and assistance of dependents of those who are engaged in serving their country.

"The Football Association will contribute £1,000 to the Prince of Wales' War Fund and £250 to the Belgian Relief Fund.

"It was stated that of about a million players only 7,000 were professionals and of those only 2,500 were exclusively engaged for football. The opinion of the War Office was in favour of continuing football. It was resolved that clubs should give every facility for the temporary release of players who desired to join the colours."

President John McKenna reported on the views of the League Management Committee: "Any national sport which can minimise the grief, help the nation to bear the sorrows, relieve the oppression of continuous strain, and save the people at home from League president 'Honest' John McKenna of Liverpool articulated the Management Committee's views on why football should continuepanic and undue depression is a great national asset which can render lasting service to the people.

"Just as we look hour after hour for the latest news from the theatres of war, our vast armies in the field will week by week look for papers from home, and insofar as their mind may be temporarily distracted from the horrors of war and the intense strain of days and weeks of almost unrestricted fighting, much will be done to give them fresh heart, fresh hopes and a renewed vitality for the work before them.

"At home our clubs were in a helpless position, as their contracts, entered into with all the formality of legal contracts, must be performed as far as possible. We feel that the advice offered by politicians, the Press, and commercial authorities that business should be carried on as usual is sound, well considered and well reasoned advice. We therefore, without the slightest reservation, appeal to the clubs, the Press and the public that our great winter game should pursue its usual course.

back to top

"Every club should do all in its power to assist the war funds. Every player should specially train to be of national service at least in national defence. Whilst we unreservedly authorise the due fulfilment of the League programme, we must all accept to the full every obligation that we can individually and collectively discharge for our beloved country and our comrades in arms who in this fight for righteousness and justice, at the risk of their lives, have answered to duty's call."

In the first week of September, FA secretary Fred Wall (later Sir Frederick) wrote to the War Office stating that the FA was prepared to request all their members to stop the playing of matches if the War Office was of the opinion that such a course would assist them in their duties.

The War Office expressed gratitude to the FA for their assistance in obtaining recruits for the army and in placing football grounds at their disposal, but went on: "The question whether the playing of matches should be entirely stopped is more a matter for the discretion of the Association, but the Council realise the difficulties involved in taking such an extreme step, and they would deprecate anything being done which does not appear to be called for by the present situation.

"Should your Association decide to continue the playing of matches, the Council trust that arrangements will be made so as not to interfere with the facilities at present afforded to the recruiting authorities. The Council also suggest that the Association might take all steps in their power to press the need of the country for recruits upon spectators who are eligible for enlistment, and they would further venture to suggest that some portion of the gate money might be set aside for the charitable relief of the families and dependents of all soldiers and sailors who are serving in the present war."

The public of Leeds played their full part in the war effort. The leeds-pals.com website carries the tale of the Leeds Pals, The 15th (service) Battalion (1st Leeds) The Prince of Wales' Own (West Yorkshire Regiment).

"The general idea of a Pals' Battalion was that the volunteers would join and serve with friends, relatives, workmates and colleagues, giving a feeling of comradeship that had never been seen before.

"Most major towns and cities … raised Pals' Battalions. To be accepted to these elite units, the recruits were to pass certain requirements. Education and intelligence were considered paramount to being accepted in the majority of cases.A photograph of the Leeds Pals Senior NCOs grouped in front of the Sergeant's Mess in February 1916 It was not only businessmen and local dignitaries however, that were recruited; Great Britain supplied its finest and for Leeds this meant several famous sports men also. Evelyn Lintott (later to be commissioned), a Leeds City and international half-back footballer, along with Morris Flemming, another footballer, were considered a bonus to the Battalion. Yorkshire cricketers featured among the recruits who included Major Booth, Arthur Dolphin and Roy Kilner. Team sports did not offer the only possibilities but also athletes such as Albert Gutteridge and George Colcroft were eager to be a part of something so patriotic and unique that it may never be seen again.

"By the 8th of September 1914 the Battalion had enlisted some 1,275 men after rejecting many on medical grounds. This number at the time was considered to be complete although the final number of Leeds Pals eventually rose to approximately 2,000.

"France was expected to be the Pals' first destination but this was not so. Early December 1915 saw the first group of Pals set sail for Suez. Inevitably France was to be for many of the Pals their final destination.

"On March 1st 1916 the Pals set sail for Marseilles as the Battle of the Somme became imminent. The battle was to prove tragic for the Leeds Pals. Twenty-four Pals' officers went over the top with their men on that fateful day, 1st July 1916. Lieutenant Major Booth, the famous cricketer, and Evelyn Lintott, the footballer, were just two of the many that were killed in action. Approximately 750 out of 900 involved in the Somme died.

"The patriotism shown by the people of Leeds at the outbreak of war with Germany was reflected in the City Council's approach to, and involvement in, the raising of the 1st Leeds Battalion. Quite a few family members of the raising committee were already serving or would later serve as officers with the Pals. Its first Colonel was Walter Stead, a prominent local solicitor and Council member, who had made the original application to Lord Kitchener for permission to raise the Leeds Battalion. This had been seconded in a telegram sent to Kitchener by Edward Brotherton, the Lord Mayor of Leeds, who personally bore the cost of raising and outfitting the Battalion. He also placed his personal fortune in the hands of the Council as a guarantee against the costs Leeds might incur in the War.

"Alderman Charles Wilson JP became the Quartermaster. Alderman and Solicitor Arthur Willey's son Tom and James Wardle's son James were commissioned into the Pals as Lieutenants, along with Maurice Bickersteth, son of the Vicar of Leeds. The zeal and patriotism of the Council was then applied to finding a site large enough to accommodate upwards of a thousand men, at a pace unheard of today, land at Breary Banks in Colsterdale owned by the waterworks department and being used for the building of a new reservoir was placed … at the battalion's disposal.

back to top

"The time spent at Colsterdale was for most, the best time of their lives. Carefree days with good food, good accommodation and good company, their civilian skills were soon being put to military use. When material started arriving for the City half-back Evelyn Lintott pictured in November 1915 in his uniformconstruction of more solid accommodation, recruits with the necessary backgrounds were employed on hut building, men with country backgrounds were soon catching the rabbits that were so abundant around Colsterdale, enabling the battalion cooks to serve up regular meals of rabbit stew, so regular that one Pal, Walter Astle, on returning home after the War, refused to eat rabbit for the rest of his life."

The country's professional footballers were pilloried for what was regarded as their unpatriotic reluctance to enlist for the war effort. Spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk: "On 6 September 1914, Arthur Conan Doyle (the creator of Sherlock Holmes and himself a goalkeeper with the amateur side, Portsmouth AFC), appealed for footballers to join the armed forces: 'There was a time for all things in the world. There was a time for games, there was a time for business, and there was a time for domestic life. There was a time for everything, but there is only time for one thing now, and that thing is war. If the cricketer had a straight eye, let him look along the barrel of a rifle. If a footballer had strength of limb, let them serve and march in the field of battle.'

"Frederick Charrington, the son of the wealthy brewer who had established the Tower Hamlets Mission, attacked the West Ham United players for being effeminate and cowardly for getting paid for playing football while others were fighting on the Western Front. The famous amateur footballer and cricketer, Charles B Fry, called for the abolition of football, demanding that all professional contracts be annulled and that no one below forty years of age be allowed to attend matches.

"William Joynson Hicks established the 17th Service (Football) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment on 12th December, 1914. This group became known as the Football Battalion. According to Frederick Wall, the secretary of the Football Association, the England international centre-half, Frank Buckley, was the first person to join the Football Battalion. At first, because of the problems with contracts, only amateur players like Vivian Woodward and Evelyn Lintott were able to sign up.

"As Frank Buckley had previous experience in the British Army he was given the rank of Lieutenant. He eventually was promoted to the rank of Major. Within a few weeks the 17th Battalion had its full complement of 600 men. However, few of these men were footballers. Most of the recruits were local men who wanted to be in the same battalion as their football heroes. For example, Olympic gold medallist Vivian Woodward was a notable member of the Footballers' Battaliona large number who joined were supporters of Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers who wanted to serve with Vivian Woodward and Evelyn Lintott.

"At the beginning of the 1914/15 football season, Hearts was Scotland's most successful team, winning eight games in succession. On 26th November 1914, every member of the team joined the British Army. This event had a major impact on the public and inspired footballers and their fans to enlist. Seven members of the Hearts team never returned to Scotland. Three of the men, Harry Wattie, Duncan Currie and Ernie Ellis, were killed on the first day of the Somme offensive. Another member of the team, 22-year-old Paddy Crossan, was so badly injured that his right leg was labelled for amputation. He pleaded with the German surgeon not to operate. He told him: 'I need my legs - I'm a footballer.' He agreed to his request and managed to save his leg. Crossan survived the War but later died as a result of his lungs being destroyed by poison gas.

"By March 1915, it was reported that 122 professional footballers had joined the battalion. This included the whole of the Clapton Orient first team. Three of them were later killed on the Western Front. At the end of the year Walter Tull, who had played for Tottenham Hotspur, Northampton Town and Glasgow Rangers, joined the battalion. Major Frank Buckley soon recognised Tull's leadership qualities and he was quickly promoted to the rank of Sergeant.

"On 15th January 1916, the Football Battalion reached the front line. During a two-week period in the trenches, four members of the battalion were killed and 33 were wounded. This included Vivian Woodward who was hit in the leg with a hand grenade. The injury to his right thigh was so serious that he was sent back to England to recover.

back to top

"Woodward did not return to the Western Front until August 1916. The Football Battalion had taken heavy casualties during the Somme offensive in July. This included the death of England international footballer, Evelyn Lintott. The battle was still going on when Woodward arrived but the fighting was less intense. However, on 18th September a German attack involving poison gas Walter Tull, a celebrated black footballer, who was promoted to Sergeant in the Footballers' Battalionkilled 14 members of the battalion.

"Major Frank Buckley was also seriously injured during this offensive when metal shrapnel had hit him in the chest and had punctured his lungs. George Pyke, who played for Newcastle United, later wrote: 'A stretcher party was passing the trench at the time. They asked if we had a passenger to go back. They took Major Buckley but he seemed so badly hit, you would not think he would last out as far as the Casualty Clearing Station.' Buckley was sent to a military hospital in Kent and after operating on him, surgeons were able to remove the shrapnel from his body. However, his lungs were badly damaged and he was never able to play football again.

"William Angus played for Glasgow Celtic before joining the 8th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry. On 11th June, Lieutenant James Martin led a covert bombing raid on an embankment in front of the German trenches. The party was spotted and the enemy detonated a large mine hidden in the earth. Martin was one of the causalities of the explosion. At first, he was thought to be dead, but he was seen to move as he pleaded for water from the Germans. The soldiers responded by throwing a grenade over the parapet.

"As soon as he heard what had happened, William Angus volunteered to attempt a rescue of the man who also came from Carluke. At first this was vetoed by senior officers who considered it a suicidal mission. Angus replied that it did not matter much whether death came now or later. Eventually, Brigadier General Lawford gave permission for Angus to try and save Martin.

"A rope was tied around William Angus so that he could be dragged back if killed or seriously wounded. Angus managed to reach Martin by crawling through No Man's Land without being detected. He gave him a drink of brandy before attaching the rope to Martin. Angus then tried to carry Martin back to the safety of the British trench 70 yards away. However, once upright, Angus was soon seen by the Germans and he came under heavy fire. Angus was hit and he fell to the ground. For the next few minutes he sheltered Martin with his own body. Angus then signalled to the British troops to pull Martin to safety. He then set off at right angles to the trench, drawing the enemy fire away from Martin. Despite being hit several times, he managed to drag himself back to the trenches. His injuries resulted in him losing his left eye and part of his right foot.

"His commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Gemmill later wrote that, 'No braver deed was ever done in the history of the British Army.' For this act of bravery William Angus became the first professional footballer to be awarded the Victoria Cross. Angus' citation read: 'For most conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty at Givenchy, on 12th June 1915, in voluntarily leaving his trench under very heavy fire and rescuing an officer who was lying within a few yards of the enemy position. Lance Corporal Angus had no chance of escaping the enemy's fire when undertaking this very gallant action, and in effecting the rescue he sustained about forty wounds from William Angus, who won a Victoria Cross for his braverybombs, some of them being very serious.'

"It has been argued that Donald Bell, a defender with Bradford City, was the first professional footballer to join the British Army after the outbreak of the War. He enlisted as a Private but by June, 1915 he had a commission in the Yorkshire Regiment. Two days after his marriage in November 1915, he was sent to France.

"Second Lieutenant Bell took part in the Somme offensive. On 5th July he stuffed his pockets with grenades and attacked an enemy machine gun post. When he attempted to repeat this feat five days later he was killed. He was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his action."

Such acts of bravery and selflessness are legion in the history of the Great War and it seems more fitting to remember them than the accusations of cowardice and self-preservation which were laid at the doors of those who were considered, even then, pampered and overpaid dilettantes.

Part 2 Ten years in the making - Part 3 Erratic in the extreme - Results and table - printer friendly version

back to top