Main gate to 5th Northern General Hospital

Leicester Fosse & The First World War: Honoré Vlamynck

Honoré Vlamynck (sometimes spelt Vlaminck) became the first Belgian to play for Leicester Fosse. Honoré arrived in Leicester during the first few weeks of the First World War.

He had not come to play football, but to recover from his wounds. He had sustained these in the great Allied retreat through Belgium in face of the Schlieffen Plan, which was the initial German onslaught in the early weeks of the First World War. He was just one of an estimated 25,000 wounded Belgian soldiers who convalesced in the UK during the conflict.

Honoré would have arrived in Leicester by rail, on one of the many trains carrying Allied wounded soldiers. Their arrival, often on stretchers, became a regular sight at Leicester railway stations during the war.

The Leicester Daily Mercury regularly published the names of these casualties.

On arrival in Leicester, he would have been taken from the station to the 5th Northern General Hospital. This was conveniently close to the London Road railway station and the cemetery.

It was based in what is now the Fielding Johnson Building of the University of Leicester which had been vacated in 1908 when it ceased to house the town’s psychiatric hospital, which had been its main function since it had been built in 1837.

On the outbreak of war, the building was designated as a Territorial Force Medical Unit. As the photograph of wounded Belgian soldiers at another hospital shows, they would have been cared for by the Red Cross, by the St John’s Ambulance Brigade and by V.A.D (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurses, who worked alongside regular nurses.

In addition to the main hospital building, four flat-roofed brick huts were built nearby to house wounded officers on what is now the Leicester University Sports Centre carpark.

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Wounded Belgian soldiers
Wounded Belgian soldiers

Wounded Belgian soldiers would have been cared for by the Red Cross among others.

These additional buildings were later used as classrooms by Wyggeston Boys’ Grammar School until the 1960s.

Such were the casualties during the war that eventually the hospital expanded from its base into a local network of more than 60 locations. Convalescing soldiers in ‘hospital blues’ became a familiar sight around Leicester. Honoré would have been one of them. 

He wasn’t the only wounded Belgian soldier at the hospital. Nine of his compatriots died there. Eight of these soldiers are buried in the Welford Road cemetery, just across the road from where the hospital was located. The body of the ninth soldier was repatriated. There is a memorial to all nine in a quiet corner of the cemetery.

The memorial also remembers the Belgian civilians who arrived and died in Leicester during the war. These were amongst the 200,000 refugees who fled to Great Britain from the stricken country between August and December 1914. In August 2014, 100 years after the initial German onslaught, representatives from the Belgian Embassy paid tribute to these dead Belgian soldiers and refugees.

Once recovered from his wounds, Honoré resumed his football career. Before the war, he had played lower league football in Belgium as a centre-forward for VG Oostende in the 1913/14 season.

Paul Taylor’s research has unearthed the fact that he started playing for Leicester Imperial from 1915. It is not clear why Honoré stayed in Leicester, but in November 1918, just before his return to his homeland, he played in four games for Leicester Fosse in the Midland Section of the Wartime Football League.

The first two of these games, both against Sheffield Wednesday, were played in the nine days leading up to the Armistice.

In one of these, the fixture at Filbert Street, he scored twice in a 7-3 victory. His third and fourth games, played in the fortnight after the Armistice, were against Huddersfield Town. He scored his third goal in four games in a 3-1 win at Filbert Street in what was his last game for Fosse. Playing alongside him in all four games was Sergeant Shirley Hubbard, who was featured in this series.

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Memorial to Belgian soldiers and civilians Leicester
Memorial to Belgian soldiers and civilians Leicester

A memorial to Belgian soldiers and civilians in Leicester.

On 3 May, 1919, he played for the Belgian Army against the British Army at Stamford Bridge.

He scored the winning goal in a 2-1 victory. Some Pathe News film footage still exists of what we think might be the teams running out at the start of the game. If that is the case, we do not know which of the players is Honoré Vlamynck because, despite his distinguished post-war football career in Belgium, we have not been able to find a picture of him to establish what he looked like.

In July 1919, Honoré signed for the Belgian First Division side Daring Club de Bruxelles. In his first season, he was the country’s top scorer with 26 goals, with his team finishing third.

The following season, they won the Belgian title. By the end of the 1927/28 season he had played 128 matches for his club, scoring 86 goals. He also played one game in the 1932/33 season. We are not sure what he was doing in the intervening years, although some records seem to suggest that he was still with the club.

He also played four internationals for Belgium. The first of these was against France in Uccle, in March 1919. This was a 2-2 draw. In February 1919, he played in an amateur international against England in Brussels. A month later, he scored for Belgium in a match against France at the Parc des Princes.

His final international was at Highbury, when he scored Belgium’s only goal in a 6-1 defeat by England. Playing for England that day were two future managers of Leicester City. These were Liverpool’s Tom Bromilow and Bury’s Norman Bullock, who scored. Honoré died aged 77 in September 1974.

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