Maurice Woodward

Leicester Fosse & The First World War: Maurice Woodward

Maurice Woodward was a Leicester Fosse player who fought in the Footballers’ Battalion on the Western Front during the First World War.

A few years ago, the Club was contacted by Marjorie Knowles. Her mother’s only brother was Maurice. Marjorie provided us with some fascinating information about her Uncle Maurice.

Maurice was born in Enderby in 1891, and played local football there before joining Leicester Fosse as a centre-half in August 1912. Hampered by an ankle injury, he only played two games for the Fosse.

He signed for Southern League side Southend United in July 1914, but war broke out before he could play for them.

When the First World War broke out, league football continued for the whole of the following season. Footballers came in for much criticism for ‘not doing their bit’.

This led to the ‘Footballers’ Battalion’ (otherwise known as the 17th Middlesex Battalion) being created in December 1914 at a meeting at Fulham Town Hall.

Quite soon, professional footballers, with connections to over 70 clubs, including Leicester Fosse, signed up.

The Battalion was brought up to strength (about 1,000) by amateur players, officials and football fans eager to serve alongside their favourite players.

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Footballers regiment  monument
Footballers regiment monument

The recently-erected Footballers’ Memorial at Longueval, near to the site of where Maurice saw acton on the Somme in the summer of 1916.

In November 1915, Maurice went to France with the Footballers’ Battalion, where he served under Bradford City’s England international Major Frank Buckley, who later became a famous manager at Wolverhampton Wanderers.

The battalion first saw serious action on the Somme, losing over 500 officers and men between 25 July and 11 August, 1916. On 24 July 1916, the day before his Battalion’s serious involvement in the battle, (which had already been raging for three weeks), Maurice, by now a sergeant, played for a team of non-commissioned officers against a team from ‘B’ Company.

One of the players in the ‘B’ Company team was Joe Mercer, the father of the famous player Joe Mercer, who later managed Manchester City against Leicester City in the 1969 FA Cup Final.

The following day, the Footballers’ Battalion moved up to the front with a fighting strength of 38 officers and 872 men.

They occupied some recently-captured German trenches astride the Montuban-Carnoy Road, relieving the 10th Royal Welch Fusiliers.

The trenches had been badly damaged by British guns prior to their capture, and were littered with bodies.

Soon afterwards, the Battalion was involved in an assault on Delville Wood and Longueval. Over the next 18 days, the Battalion lost over 500 officers and men. In 2010, a memorial to the Footballers Battalion was erected in this area.

Four months later, the Battalion suffered another 300 casualties at Redan Ridge and 462 more at Oppy Wood, near Vimy Ridge, the following spring.

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Royal Oak, Wolverhampton
Royal Oak, Wolverhampton

In later life, Maurice kept the Royal Oak in Compton Road.

Maurice was wounded twice during the war, but survived and rejoined Southend United, before signing for Second Division side Wolverhampton Wanders in April 1920 for a fee of £700.  

He was badly troubled by sciatica, which typically involves pain down the leg from the lower back, but he was fit to play for Wolves in the 1921 FA Cup Final at Stamford Bridge against a Tottenham Hotspur side which contained his former Fosse team-mate Tommy Clay, as well as Jimmy Seed, the brother of Leicester Fosse’s Angus Seed. Tottenham won the final 1-0.

Maurice's sciatica and a knee injury kept him out for most of the following season. He was transferred to Bristol Rovers but was never able to play for them.

Whilst playing for Wolves, Maurice lived in Nuneaton and played as a batsman for Chilvers Coton Cricket Club alongside Billy Barratt, the Leicester City full-back.

In later life, Maurice moved back to Wolverhampton, where he kept the Royal Oak in Compton Road and then the Old Bush Inn at Wall Heath near Wolverhampton.

He died on 17 February, 1950 at West Bromwich General Hospital.

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