Leicester Fosse And The First World War: Part 18

The story of Robert Messer.
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 Adam Black’s outstanding bravery. 

Outside-right Robert Messer, described at the time as ‘a fine wing player who is very fast and centres well’ appeared twice for Leicester Fosse in the 1910/11 season, against Clapton Orient and Huddersfield Town During the First World War, Edinburgh-born Robert became a private in the 6th Battalion the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. 

He was the 11th Leicester Fosse player to be killed in the conflict. He was killed on October 16 1918, near Ypres, at the battle of Courtrai. 

Since April 1916, the 6th Battalion was in the 9th Scottish Division, which had been on the Western Front since May 1915. In the months leading up to Robert’s death, the 6th Battalion was involved in the Battle of the Lys, near Ypres, in April 1918. 

It then became involved in the final push against the German forces in Belgium. This was after the Allies had broken through the Hindenburg line further south. 

This breakthrough led to the Allied strategy of pursuing the German Army for as long as possible before the winter set in. The final advance into Belgian Flanders, near Ypres, began on October 14 1918, two days before Robert’s death. 

This was the battle of Courtrai which raged between 14 and 19 October. The offensive began at 5.35 am. It was a joint operation involving 11 Belgian Divisions, 6 French Divisions and 10 British Divisions, one of which was Robert’s 9th Scottish Division. 

Under cover of a creeping barrage which advanced at 100 yards per minute, significant Allied advances had been achieved by the end of the day. Fighting continued the next day and by October 16, the day that Robert was killed, the British had advanced as far as the River Lys, which they crossed at several points. 

Following Robert’s death, the Allied advance continued. Bruges and Zeebrugge fell by 19 October and the Dutch border was reached the following day. The crossing of the Lys and the capture of Courtrai by the British Second Army on 19 October, led to a German retreat further south. Ten days after Robert’s death, his battalion was removed from the front line. 16 days after that, the war ended. 

Robert’s Medal Index Card records that he was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. These are now on display in the Stadium’s Reception area. Robert’s body was never found. 

He is one of over 35,000 names recorded on the Portland Stone panels which extend for 150 metres around part of the perimeter of the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing. 

The centre-piece of this hugely impressive memorial and cemetery is a large cross which surmounts a concrete German blockhouse captured by the Allies during the carnage of the Third Battle of Ypres, between July and November 1917. 

When the Leicester City players paid their respects to Leicester Fosse’s fallen at the Victoria Park War Memorial in October 2014, the player who paid tribute to Robert was Liam Moore. 

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

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