Leicester Fosse 1914/15 team photo

Leicester Fosse & The First World War: The Early Months

This year marks the 105th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. There were huge losses on both sides of the conflict. Over 50 players from Leicester Fosse Football Club fought in the War.

They served in a variety of regiments, including the famous Footballers’ Battalion. Four Fosse players were decorated during the conflict, and 10 were killed in action.

In this series, ahead of Leicester City's annual Remembrance Fixture on Saturday, Club Historian John Hutchinson investigates the stories behind Leicester Fosse and the First World War.

On 2 September, 1914, when Fosse drew 2-2 at Filbert Street in a Second Division game against Lincoln City, the First World War was entering its fifth week. 

On the day of the match, the British Expeditionary Force, which had gone to Belgium to try to halt the German advance towards Paris, was still involved in its great retreat in the aftermath of defeat at the Battle of Mons in Belgium on 23 August.

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George Douglas
George Douglas

George Douglas joined the Leicester Royal Horse Artillery.

Closely pursued by the German Army, the retreat covered 250 miles, was often chaotic and confused, and took the British Expeditionary Force to the outskirts of the French capital.

On 5 September, 1914, Leicester Fosse beat Birmingham City at Filbert Street in their second game of the season. On the very same day, the week-long First Battle of the Marne started.

This battle, fought at such a great cost in human life, was a decisive Allied victory because, after one week’s fighting along the River Marne, on the outskirts of Paris, the Allies finally halted the German advance into France. One of the features of the battle was the use by the French of 600 taxi cabs to transport 6,000 French reserve infantry to the front line. 

The battle finished on 12 September, 1914, which was the same day that Leicester Fosse lost at Grimsby Town. In the week between Fosse’s second and third games, over 2M men had fought on both sides, and about 500,000 were either killed or wounded. No future battle on the Western Front would average so many casualties per day. 

Despite this carnage, League football continued. In the following weeks, the ‘Race to the Sea’ took place, with both armies trying to outflank each other, setting the stage for four years of trench warfare on the Western Front.

The Football League was finally suspended for the duration of the War at the end of the 1914/15 season.

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Jimmy Harrold
Jimmy Harrold

Jimmy Harrold, who served as an Air Mechanic.

Many of the players who turned out for Leicester Fosse during that first year of the war went on to join the forces.

Jimmy Harrold became an Air Mechanic. Horace Burton joined the Leicestershire Regiment and became a prisoner of war. George Douglas joined the Leicester Royal Horse Artillery, while Stephen Sims and Norman Whitfield also became artillery men with the Royal Field Artillery and the Royal Garrison Artillery, respectively.

Three of the Fosse players from the 1914/15 season were wounded. Billy Mills lost his foot on the Western Front, Dick Taylor was wounded at Arras, and Tommy Codd (who had joined the Footballers’ Battalion) lost an eye at Vimy Ridge as well as suffering from shell shock.

In addition there were many other players who also served in the forces during the War. These had either played for Leicester Fosse in the years leading up to the outbreak of war, or were to join Leicester City after the War. We will return to the stories of these men later in this series.

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