Leicester Fosse And The First World War: Part Nine
In a new 25-part series, Club Historian John Hutchinson investigates the stories behind Leicester Fosse and the First World War. 2014 marked 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 , John looked at the story of William Sharpley.
James Stevenson was the third player from Leicester Fosse to be killed in the First World War. He was killed on the 3 July 1916, the third day of the Battle of the Somme.
Born in Paisley in 1877, James had played for Clyde, Derby County, Newcastle United, Bristol City and Grimsby Town before signing for Leicester Fosse in January 1902. An inside forward, he played seven games for the Fossils before returning to Clyde.
When he was killed, James was serving as a private in the Highland Light Infantry. He was in the 15th (Glasgow Tramways) Battalion which been raised in Glasgow September 1914. By the time the Battle of the Somme started on July 1 1916, James’ 15th Battalion was part of the 32nd Division’s 14th Brigade.
The British offensive on the River Somme, originally intended for August, was brought forward a month to relieve pressure on the French Army further south at Verdun, where they had been suffering terrible losses since February. In the eight days preceding the battle, the British had pounded the German lines with a constant artillery barrage from one thousand guns.
Surprisingly this onslaught failed to have any real effect on the Germans, who emerged from their shelters dug up to 40 feet deep in the chalk soil to machine gun the advancing British at will.
On the first day of the battle, when the British suffered 57,470 British casualties, including 20,000 fatalities, the 14th Brigade had been held in reserve. James’ 15th Battalion in that Brigade nevertheless suffered some losses from shellfire.
On the third day of the battle, the 15th Battalion took part in an attack on a German stronghold known as the Leipzig Salient, just south of Thiepval. The plan of attack was confused and poor. The attack, initially planned for 3am, was delayed for three hours. The infantry received the new orders, but the artillery did not. This meant the barrage started three hours too soon and when they tried to repeat the process at the rescheduled time of 6am, they quickly ran out of shells. This had disastrous consequences. Two companies of the 15th, including James in their number, attacked at 6.15am. They entered the German lines twice, but were forced out both times. 285 men were killed in the attack. Sadly James was amongst them.
The Battle of the Somme continued along a 20 mile front until November 1916, by which time the Allies had only advanced, at the most, 10 miles. When the battle ended, a total of over one million casualties, either killed or wounded, had been sustained on both sides. James’ name is one of the 73,000 on the huge Memorial to the Missing at Thiepval (pictured above).
In October, when a party from Leicester City visited the Western Front to pay tribute to the Leicester Fosse fallen, Football Operations Director Andrew Neville laid a remembrance poppy at the foot of the archway containing the panel (15C) on which James’ name is recorded (below).
The documentary film Foxes Remembered: The Story of Leicester City and the First World War can be viewed here.
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