Ernest Nuttall, with the ball

Leicester Fosse & The First World War: Ernest Nuttall

The final Leicester Fosse player to die and be buried in a Commonwealth War Grave was Ernest Nuttall.

Ernest, pictured above, holding the ball, was the oldest ex-Fosse player to lose his life, at the age of 49. He was also the player who served the furthest from home, thousands of miles away in Siberia, when he became embroiled in the Russian Civil War, which was inextricably bound up with the final phases of the First World War, and continued until 1920, long after the Armistice had been signed.

Paul Taylor’s research has already established Ernest’s pre-war football career.

Born in Leicester on 1 February, 1871, he was a wing-half who played for Syston Wreake Valley and Mill Hill before signing for Leicester Fosse in 1889.

He played in the Fossils' first-ever FA Cup game in 1890, was in their County Cup-winning team in 1891, scored his side's maiden FA Cup goal in 1891, and was the Club’s captain for its first season as a Midland League side in 1891/92, when Leicester moved to Filbert Street.

After playing 35 games for the Fossils in their first two seasons in the Midland League, he moved to London, became a solicitor and played for Crouch End.

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Allied officers at the front near Omsk
Allied officers at the front near Omsk

Allied officers photographed near Omsk.

Researching Leicester Fosse players’ involvement in the First World War for this series has unearthed for the first time the truly remarkable story of Ernest’s experiences as a combatant in Siberia.

At the outbreak of war, Ernest, already in his mid-40s, was still practicing as a solicitor and living with his wife and son in West Kensington.

He enlisted in the 25th Middlesex Garrison Battalion which was posted to the Far East in December 1916. In April 1917, the Battalion arrived in Hong Kong for garrison duty. 

Sixteen months later, it was then posted to the Russian port of Vladivostock, at the eastern end of Siberia. Ernest arrived there on 3 August, 1918.

By this time, the old Russian Empire, which had been on the Allies side from the outset of the First World War, had dropped out of the conflict following Lenin’s Bolshevik Revolution in October 1917.

The British, along with the other Allies, were in Siberia to support the Russian counter-revolutionary forces (the Whites) against Lenin’s Bolsheviks, or Communists (the Reds).

The Allies’ aim was to defeat the Bolsheviks, and install a White Russian government which would re-enter the war against Germany.

There exists a very detailed account of the 25th Middlesex’s experiences in Siberia written by their commanding officer, Colonel John Ward.

It is called 'With the Die-hards in Siberia'. From this we can piece together Ernest’s experiences. It is a complicated story...

The 25th Middlesex was considered to be a low grade unit composed of men unfit for service in an active theatre of war. Ernest was probably assigned to it because of his age, although it does seem strange that a man of his education and background remained a private throughout the war.  

Ernest’s battalion was the first Allied contingent to land in Siberia. They were soon joined by other Allied soldiers from France, Japan, the USA, Canada, Italy, Poland, Serbia and Romania. This multinational army was under the command of a Japanese General.

In mid-October 1918, Ernest and the 25th Middlesex travelled 3,500 miles west on a month-long train journey to Omsk, a city in the heart of Siberia. Part of their mission was to protect the famous Czech Legion.

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British soldiers on parade at Omsk
British soldiers on parade at Omsk

A march of British soldiers in Omsk.

This was a force of Czechs and Slovaks who were in Russia and who wanted independence from Austria, Germany’s ally. Many of them had been Russian prisoners of war.

In an attempt to rejoin the war on the Allies side against Germany and Austria, the Czech Legion decided that the best way out of Russia and back to the Western Front was to travel thousands of miles east along the Trans-Siberian railway to Vladivostock and then travel by sea to France. While strung out along the Trans-Siberian railway, they regularly attacked the Bolsheviks.

Part of the multinational Allied army’s mission was to provide troops, money and supplies to help the Czech Legion. This is why Ernest found himself in Omsk, a city on the Trans-Siberian Railway.

In Omsk, Ernest’s battalion was only really capable of 'showing the flag', but in November 1918, they went to the front with a regimental band as a guard for the White Russians’ new Minister of War, Admiral Kolchak, who was visiting the Czech Legion.

On 18 November, 1918, a week after the war had ended in Europe, Ernest found himself involved with his Battalion setting up machine gun posts in Omsk, supporting a coup by Kolchak which had made him the Supreme Commander of White Russia.

With the war over in Europe, the Allied soldiers, Ernest amongst them, obviously wanted to return home. However, the British government, heavily pressured by War Minister, Winston Churchill, wished to retain a military mission in Siberia as a counter to Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks, whom they saw as a great threat to the post-war world.

Consequently, Ernest had to endure a long cold winter in distant Siberia. It wasn’t until May 1919, following a big press campaign back in Britain to bring the 25th back home, that Ernest’s battalion started the long train journey back east to Vladivostock.

They reached there in July 1919 and, by September 1919, Ernest was back in Britain. This had been a gruelling experience for Ernest, who was not that far off from his 50th birthday.

His health had suffered in frozen Siberia and within five months of returning home he had died of tuberculosis.  

Ernest is buried in East Sheen Cemetery in Surrey, one of 33 First World War burials.  

The story of Ernest Nuttall, the last and oldest player to count among Leicester Fosse’s war dead, and the player who served farthest away from Filbert Street, concludes this series.




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