Leicester Fosse And The First World War: Part 16
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 50 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 Tommy Benfield.
During the First World War, Lieutenant Colonel Bernard Vann won the Victoria Cross, the Military Cross twice and the French Croix de Guerre.
On October 3 1918, four days after winning the VC, and only six weeks before the War ended, he was shot dead by a sniper on the Western Front.
Eleven years earlier, Bernard was an amateur centre-forward for Leicester Fosse. Although he was only 20, he had previously played for Southern League Northampton Town in 1905, before spending the 1906-07 season playing in the Football League for Burton United (for whom he appeared against Leicester Fosse in March 1906) and Derby County.
The Leicester Fosse Directors’ Minutes indicate that although Bernard played for Fosse reserves twice in trial matches in August 1907, he never appeared in the first team. This was despite a contemporary report describing him as a pacey, dashing forward who possessed a good shot with either foot who was always dangerous in front of goal.
Later that season, Bernard became a student at Jesus College Cambridge. Before graduating three years later, he won a Hockey Blue. In 1910, he entered the Church becoming assistant junior curate at St. Barnabas Church in Leicester. He was ordained as a priest in 1912 and became chaplain and assistant school master at Wellingborough School, in 1913.
When War broke out in August 1914, Bernard enlisted in the 28th London Battalion and two days later he was commissioned into the 1/8th Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters Regiment. He arrived in France in February 1915.
In April, at Kemmel, under heavy fire, he rescued buried men in a blown out trench and led intelligence missions up to enemy lines. These actions resulted in him winning the Military Cross. He was also promoted to Captain. He was wounded in the Battle of Loos in October 1915.
In June 1916, Bernard won the Military Cross near Bellicourt for leading a daring raid and taking five prisoners ‘with great courage and determination’ despite two of the enemy coming at him with fixed bayonets. His actions resulted in his being awarded the French Croix de Guerre in February 1917. He assumed command of the 1/6th Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters in September 1917.
On 29 September, 1918, Bernard won the VC at Bellenglise. He led his Battalion across the St. Quentin Canal through thick fog under heavy fire. He secured the advance by rushing up to the firing line and singlehandedly knocking out a field gun.
Four days later he was dead, shot by a sniper at Ramincourt when his Battalion was about to attack on the Fonsomme-Beaurevoir Line.
Last October, a party from Leicester City Football Club visited Bernard’s grave in the Bellicourt British Cemetery. A Victoria Cross is engraved onto his headstone.
When the first team players paid their respects at the Victoria Park War Memorial, it fell to Jamie Vardy, as a striker, to pay tribute to Bernard.
The documentary film Foxes Remembered: The story of Leicester City and the First World War can be viewed .
1. Vann's grave at Bellicourt British Cemetery
2. Vann's name in Fosse reserve minutes book, August 1907
3. Bernard Vann
4. Jamie Vardy with Vann's picture at the Victoria Park War Memorial
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