11 November 2016|Tottenham Hotspur
As the nation marks the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, John Fennelly looks back on the lives of two former Spurs players who paid the ‘ultimate sacrifice’ in that sad corner of France.
The Battle of the Somme was the largest battle of the First World War and one of the most harrowing in human history. It was fought between July 1 and November 18, 1916, and saw more than one million people killed or wounded.
The first day on the Somme was, in terms of casualties, the worst 24 hours throughout the existence of the British Army with more than 57,000 casualties. Britain’s troops in action featured the remains of the regular army, the Territorials and a force of volunteer recruits including many Pals Battalions of neighbours and workmates.
Among the Pals participants was the 17th (Service) Battalion, an infantry battalion of the Middlesex Regiment. At its core was a group of professional footballers plus others who were recruited locally and featured a large number of the Spurs groundstaff.
Parades and target training were staged at White Hart Lane and our players were well represented throughout its ranks.
The Lane was requisitioned by the Ministry of Munitions for the duration. While we played locally based ‘home’ games at Homerton or Highbury, Klingers Manufacturers used our ground to make protective clothing such as leather hoods for Navy gunners plus an estimated 11 million gas masks.
The 23rd (Service) Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, was formed in June, 1915, and became known as the 2nd Football Battalion as football on a national basis was suspended throughout the country and pressure was put on sportsmen at all levels to serve on the Western Front.
Our former winger Alan Haig-Brown, was appointed commanding officer of the 23rd and two other Spurs players - George Bowler and William Oliver - were among the first recruits when the club staged a rally at the stadium to encourage players and fans to join up.
Haig-Brown, from Cambridge, had played for Charterhouse (where his father was headmaster), his home town university and Corinthians before he joined us as an amateur in October, 1901, in our Southern League days.
He survived the Somme - as thankfully so did half-back Bowler and outside-left Oliver - and Alan also came through after a spell on the Italian front. He was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Distinguished Service Order but sadly died in March, 1918, when he returned to France during the German Spring Offensive. He was 40.
Bowler, from Newhall, Derbyshire, lived on until the age of 58, while Walthamstow-born Oliver suffered a knee injury early on active service and was subsequently discharged from the army in September, 1916.
Our England international centre-forward Vivian Woodward served as a captain in the Football Battalion with Walter Tull (pictured left) fighting for both the 17th and the 23rd. Tull was a sergeant on the Somme and when he was commissioned as a second lieutenant, he became the army’s first black combat officer in the field.
Tull, born in Folkestone from where he embarked with his regiment for the front, had joined us from Clapton in 1909 having served an apprenticeship as a printer at an orphanage in Bethnal Green. He got through the Somme and was recommended for the Military Cross for “gallantry and coolness” in Italy but died in action on his return to France at Pas-de-Calais in 1918. He was 29.
Woodward was wounded and, although he was able to fight on for the duration, his injuries forced him to retire from football at the cessation of hostilities.
Another pair of former Tottenham players who served in the regiment and happily survived the carnage were sergeant Ernie Coquet and private Percy Humphreys, an England international inside-right.
Sadly, two ex-Spurs men who made the ultimate sacrifice on the Somme were Archie Wilson and Norman Wood, who both feature on the front of today’s matchday programme.
Born in Ayrshire, Archie (pictured right) started out with Nottingham Forest and joined our junior staff in December, 1909, at the age of 18. However, there were doubts about the tricky winger making the grade and so he joined Southend United in the summer of 1911.
He did well there and continued his emergence as a quality player with Middlesbrough from July, 1914. When war broke out he joined the London Scottish Regiment and returned to guest for Spurs. After playing 10 games for us, he left for the Front where he was killed on the first day of the Battle. He was 26.
Norman (pictured left) came from Streatham and played for Bromley before he was spotted by Spurs when representing the London FA. He joined us in 1907 and played on the left wing for our Reserves for two years before spending time with Crystal Palace, Plymouth Argyle, Croydon Common, Chelsea and Stockport County.
He was also serving with the Middlesex Regiment, as a Sergeant at Delville Wood during the Somme onslaught, when he was killed in action on July 28, 1916. He too was 26. His name is inscribed on the Thiepval Memorial.
Ten more Spurs players would die in other sectors of the conflict. They were (with ages where known) – George Badenoch (27), Jim Fleming (33), Fred Griffiths (44), John Hebdon, Alf Hobday (28), John Jarvie (27), Ed Lightfoot (28), Harold Lloyd, Alexander MacGregor and Findlay Weir (29). Fleming, Hobday, Lightfoot and Weir are all pictured in the 1913-14 team group at the top of the page.
We salute them all.