Adam Black

Leicester Fosse & The First World War: Adam Black

Adam Black was Leicester City’s full back from 1920-1935. His 528 League games for Leicester City is a Club record.
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He was a key member of the side which finished runners-up in the football league in 1929, coming within a point of winning the top flight title.

He was also a decorated First World War hero.

Memories of Adam have been kept alive by a collection of artefacts, photographs and documents kept by his grandsons Allister, Adam and Neil Black. The collection is now part of the Club’s ever-expanding Digital Archive.

Had it not been for the items in this family collection, the extraordinary events of 20 March and 21 March, 1918 might have been obscured by the passage of time. In a space of less than 24 hours, Adam won both a Battalion football medal and a Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for gallantry.

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Adam Black's DCM certificant
Adam Black's DCM certificant

The citation for the DCM describes how Adam 'bombed out a large portion of a trench captured by the enemy in spite of strenuous opposition. His initiative, leadership and personal gallantry were worthy of the highest praise'.

The family possesses a photograph of Adam on the back row of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders 7th Battalion B Company football team. The picture was taken just before the team won the 51st Divisional Cup on the Western Front near Cambrai on 20 March, 1918. The photograph is poignant as several team members were soon to die. This was because the next day, on 21 March, 1918, the Germans unleashed their massive Ludendorff Offensive.

Reference to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental records describe in detail the events of 21 March.

A tremendous German bombardment opened on the whole British front. On Adam’s section of the front, near Moeuvres, the bombardment and gas attack began at 4:50am and lasted for four-and-a-half hours, heralding the launch of the Ludendorff Offensive, the ultimate object of which was to achieve final victory for the Central Powers. 

The morning was misty and raw. The old familiar trenches that had been occupied at regular intervals for five months by the 51st Division, took on ‘a weird appearance’ after only a few minutes of bombardment. Shells were falling where none had ever fallen before. Direct hits on the Division’s line followed each other in quick succession until the trenches were switchbacked and the sector had become unrecognisable.

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Adam Black's war medals
Adam Black's war medals

Adam Black was a decorated hero of the First World War.

The first hour’s bombardment took a heavy toll on the men. It also destroyed the barbed wire in front of the line making defence extremely difficult. Furthermore it cut all the telephone wires so that communication was seriously interrupted.

The enemy then entered the trenches occupied by the 51st Division to the north of the Bapaume-Cambrai Road. This advance surrounded some of Adam’s 7th Battalion who were still in their original positions. They were therefore in danger of being cut off as the enemy was now in their rear. Meanwhile the Germans had made their way along the Division’s front line using flamethrowers. These inflicted horrible burns on the defending British. 

Adam was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions that morning. A slip of paper signed by his Major-General reads British Expeditionary Force. Gallantry on Active Service. I wish to congratulate 275883 Cpl A. Black on the gallantry displayed by him on 21st March 1918'. The citation for the DCM describes how Adam 'bombed out a large portion of a trench captured by the enemy in spite of strenuous opposition. His initiative, leadership and personal gallantry were worthy of the highest praise'.

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Andrew Neville, John Hutchinson, Alan Birchenall & Nigel Pearson
Andrew Neville, John Hutchinson, Alan Birchenall & Nigel Pearson

Andrew Neville, John Hutchinson, Alan Birchenall and Nigel Pearson all visited the site of Adam’s bravery near Moeuvres

The battalion withdrew during the day and under cover of darkness straggled back through a narrow gap to take up new positions, further west astride the Bapume-Cambrai road. This line was held that day but a further German onslaught on 23 March caused part of the front line to give way. Adam’s 7th Division retired to high ground near Betincourt, with men ‘woefully thinned in numbers, tired, dirty, hungry, and thirsty but still game'.

After the War, in 1919, Adam was awarded a gold watch by his hometown in recognition of his bravery. The inscription reads 'Corporal Adam Black DCM. From the people of Denny and Dunipace, in appreciation of the honour brought by him to the District. August 1919'. This watch, along with Adam’s medals, is now kept at the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental HQ at Stirling Castle.

In October 1914 a party from Leicester City Football Club, including former manager Nigel Pearson, Club Ambassador Alan Birchenall and Football Operations Director Andrew Neville visited the site of Adam’s bravery near Moeuvres, not far from Cambrai.

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