Bertie Waterfield's grave

Leicester Fosse & The First World War: Bertie Waterfield

When 23-year-old Bertie Waterfield was killed on the Western Front on 27 July, 1916, he was the sixth Leicester Fosse player to be killed in action during the First World War.
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Bertie was born in Birstall in 1893. He grew up living with his parents Philip and Sarah at 5, Roughton Street, in Belgrave. A promising full-back he played local football for Belgrave St. Peters and then in the Leicestershire Senior League for Leicester Imperial.

Following the outbreak of the First World War, Bertie became a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps. In early 1916, he was part of a draft of Yorkshiremen and Midlanders from the RAMC which was absorbed into, and trained by, the 2/20th Battalion of the London Regiment on Salisbury Plain. This was intensive infantry training to prepare for going to France.

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St. Peters Church
St. Peters Church

Bertie's sacrifice is commemorated at St. Peters Church in Belgrave.

It was while training on Salisbury Plain that Bertie made his two appearances in six days as a guest player for Leicester Fosse in the Wartime Football League Midland Section.  Between 22 and 26 April, 1916, he played in a 1-0 defeat at Stoke and in a 2-2 home draw against Chesterfield. Three months later he was dead. One of his team-mates in both games was Tommy Benfield, who was also killed in action two years later, and who will be featured in this series later this season.

On 31 May, 1916, Bertie’s 2/20 Battalion was inspected by King George V, and three weeks after that, he embarked for France and began training for crater-fighting under instructors from the 51st Highland Division.

From 6 July, 1916 companies from Bertie’s battalion went into the front line alongside units of 51st Highland Division. Within a week, the battalion became responsible for its own sector at Neuville-Saint-Vaast near Vimy Ridge.

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Danny Drinkwater at Victoria Park
Danny Drinkwater at Victoria Park

Former midfielder Danny Drinkwater holds up an image of Bertie Waterfield's name at Victoria Park in 2014.

Over the next fortnight, Bertie, by now a lance-corporal, was involved in action in the craters facing the German stronghold at Vimy Ridge, alternating with the 2/18th Londoners for eight-day spells in the line. He was killed in action on 27 July, 1916.

Bertie is buried at Ecoivres Military Cemetery at Mont-St. Eloi, less than five kilometres from Vimy Ridge. The cemetery is in a beautiful location and is meticulously looked after by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Members of Leicester City Football Club paid their respects at his graveside in October 2014. 

Bertie’s sacrifice is also commemorated at St. Peters Church in Belgrave, where he grew up and played some of his football. He is listed on an impressive memorial in the Church which was erected in memory of over 150 men from the Belgrave Parish who were killed in that dreadful conflict one hundred years ago.

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