Leicester Fosse And The First World War: Part One

The Early Months Of The War

In a new 25-part series, Club Historian John Hutchinson investigates the stories behind Leicester Fosse and the First World War. 2014 marks the one hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War.
There were huge losses on both sides of the conflict. Over fifty players from Leicester Fosse Football Club fought in that War. They served in a variety of regiments, including the famous Footballers’ Battalion. Four Fosse players were decorated during the conflict, and 11 were killed in action.
Despite the fact that War had broken out the previous month, the 1914/15 Football League season kicked off as normal.
In the first game of the season, on September 2 1914, Leicester Fosse drew 2-2 at Filbert Street in a Second Division game against Lincoln City.
On the day of the match, the British Expeditionary Force, which had gone to Belgium to try to halt the German advance towards Paris, was still involved in its great retreat in the aftermath of its defeat at the Battle of Mons in Belgium on 23 August.
Closely pursued by the German Army, the retreat covered 250 miles, was often chaotic and confused and took the BEF to the outskirts of the French capital. On September 5 1914, Leicester Fosse beat Birmingham City at Filbert Street in their second game of the season.
On the very same day, the week-long First Battle of the Marne started. This battle, fought at such a great cost in human life, was a decisive Allied victory because, after one week’s fighting along the River Marne, on the outskirts of Paris, the Allies finally halted the German advance into France.
One of the features of the battle was the use by the French of 600 taxi cabs to transport 6,000 French reserve infantry to the front line.
The battle finished on September 12 1914, which was the same day that Leicester Fosse lost at Grimsby Town. In the week between Fosse’s second and third games, over two million men had fought on both sides, and about half a million were either killed or wounded. No future battle on the Western Front would average so many casualties per day.
Despite this carnage, League football continued. In the following weeks, the ‘Race to the Sea’ took place with both armies trying to outflank each other, setting the stage for four years of trench warfare on the Western Front.
The Football League was finally suspended for the duration of the War at the end of the 1914-1915 season. Many of the players who turned out for Leicester Fosse that first year of the War went on to join the forces.
Jimmy Harrold (pictured above) became an Air Mechanic. Horace Burton joined the Leicestershire Regiment and became a prisoner of war. George Douglas (pictured below, and whose family has loaned much of his memorabilia to the Club) joined the Leicester Royal Horse Artillery, whilst Stephen Sims and Norman Whitfield also became artillery men with the Royal Field Artillery and the Royal Garrison Artillery, respectively.
Three of the Fosse players from the 1914/15 season were wounded. Billy Mills lost his foot on the Western Front, Dick Taylor was wounded at Arras, and Tommy Codd (who had joined the Footballers’ Battalion) lost an eye at Vimy Ridge as well as suffering from shell shock.
In addition there were many other players who also served in the forces during the War. These had either played for Leicester Fosse in the years leading up to the outbreak of war, or were to join Leicester City after the War.
We will return to the stories of these men later in this series, with the next instalment coming on Wednesday 14 January.
To watch Foxes Remembered: The Story of Leicester City and the First World War - a special documentary that recounts the stories of some of the Leicester Fosse and Leicester City players to have fought during the First World War - click .

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