Leicester Fosse And The First World War: Part 15

The Story Of Tommy Benfield
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 George Draycott.

Tommy Benfield’s story is a poignant one. On September 6 1913, his goal for Leicester Fosse at Highbury’s inaugural match was the first ever goal scored at that ground. Almost exactly five years later, on September 11 1918, he was he shot by a sniper near Heudicourt, a location on the Western Front in the Somme area not far from Cambrai. He died eight days later on September 19. Three weeks later the war ended. 

Tommy played over 100 games for Leicester Fosse between 1910 and 1914. His goal at Highbury, in front of a 20,000 crowd was impressive. A contemporary report described how Benfield, “without wasting time, took deliberate aim and crashed the ball against the rigging- a brilliant shot that left Caldwell helpless.” 

To mark the centenary of this fixture, in September 2013, Arsenal’s chairman Sir Chips Keswick presented Leicester City with a framed memento. 

In June 1914, Tommy transferred to Derby County. He continued to live in Leicester with his wife Elsie at 31 Woodland Road. League Football was suspended in April 1915. 

Tommy, who had been a professional soldier in the Leicestershire Regiment until he joined Leicester Fosse in 1910, guested for the Fosse in wartime regional football, mainly in 1915/16. 

His last game for the Fosse was in March 1918. By this time he was serving as a sergeant in the 6th Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment. His last days can be pieced together by studying the Battalion’s handwritten War Diary and Intelligence Summary, held at the Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Record Office. 

Following an attack at Beaulencourt, near Bapaume, on September 1, the Battalion held their newly gained position until being relieved for a day’s rest south of the Beaulencourt-Villers road. On 6 and 7 September the Battalion moved to a wood 1600 yards NW of Etricourt-Manancourt and bivouaced there, before setting off at 4am on the 8 September to relieve the 1st Lincolns at Equancourt. 

By 9pm, they had established the Battalion HQ 500 yards north of Heudicourt. On the 11 September, the day that Tommy was shot, parts of his Battalion moved to front line positions east of Heudicourt. 

At some stage, Tommy was hit by a sniper. During the eight days that Tommy was dying, his Battalion relieved the 7th Leicesters on the front line on 12 September and suffered an enemy attack on 13 September, before being relieved from the front line on 15 September. 

When Tommy died on 19 September, his battalion had been moved back to billets at Etricourt-Manancourt for a five day rest. 

Tommy’s obituary in the Leicester Daily Post described him as “a cheery and genial personality who was always popular with the crowd. Besides being a first class forward he was also a reliable half back”

In October 2014, a party from Leicester City paid their respects at Tommy’s grave at the Varennes Military Cemetery. In addition, Tom Hopper, along with other first team players, paid his respects at The Victoria Park War Memorial. 

The documentary film “Foxes Remembered: The story of Leicester City and the First World War” can be viewed .

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