Leicester Fosse And The First World War: Part Six
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.
Up until recently, we thought that 11 Leicester Fosse players were killed in this war but recent research by Paul Taylor has revealed a twelfth fatality, whose story will be told later in this series.
In of this series, John took a look at the formation of the Footballers’ Battalion.
The first Leicester Fosse player to be killed in action in the First World War was John Davenport (Jack) Sheffield. He was one of 10 Leicester Fosse players who were killed on the Western Front, nine in France and one in Belgium, near Ypres.
Jack was born in Coalville in 1879. He had served as a corporal in the Leicestershire Volunteer Regiment in the Boer War in South Africa in 1901 and 1902.
Jack was an outside-right. In the years leading up to the First World War he played for teams from Coalville, Whitwick, Loughborough and Ibstock. He also played for two Football League sides, Burton United in 1902/03 and Leicester Fosse in 1904/05.
Jack only played twice for Leicester, as he was reserve to Fosse’s talented Arthur Durrant who played over 150 games for the Fossils.
Jack’s first game, in October 1904 was a 4-0 defeat at Anfield against the eventual Second Division Champions Liverpool. Three weeks later at Filbert Street, he faced Manchester United, (who were to just miss promotion at the end of the season), losing 3-0.
Playing alongside Jack in the Fosse team on both occasions was a very talented player called Arthur Mounteney, whose heroic action in the First World War will be recounted later in this series.
Soon after the First World War broke out, Jack enlisted in the Leicestershire Regiment, soon becoming a corporal. He was killed in action on March 13th 1915 at Neuve Chapelle, on the Western Front.
Three days earlier, the British had launched an attack on Neuve Chapelle with the aim of breaking through the German lines. This was an attack on a narrow front of about 3,600 metres. British and Indian troops outnumbered the Germans here by five to one. The German line was breached and Neuve Chapelle was quickly captured.
However, these gains could not be exploited due to inadequate reserves and communications. The Germans counter-attacked, and the British offensive was abandoned on March 13, the day that Jack Sheffield was killed.
He was one of 7,000 British and 4,200 Indian soldiers killed or wounded in the battle. The Germans suffered a similar number of casualties.
Jack’s body was never found. His memorial is to be found at Le Touret Memorial which is not far from Neuve Chapelle. This Memorial commemorates over 13,400 British soldiers who were killed in this sector of the Western Front between October 1914 and September 1915 and who have no known grave. The Memorial takes the form of a loggia surrounding an open rectangular court.
The names of those commemorated are listed on panels set into the walls of the court and the gallery, arranged by regiment, rank and alphabetically by surname within the rank.
Jack’s name is on Panel 11 (pictured below), along with the names of 152 other soldiers from the Leicestershire Regiment.
In November 2014 Leicester City first team players visited the Victoria Park War Memorial to pay their respects to Leicester Fosse’s fallen. The player chosen to hold up a picture of Jack Sheffield’s Memorial panel at Le Touret was Matty James.
The documentary film Foxes Remembered: The Story of Leicester City and the First World War can be viewed .
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