Leicester Fosse And The First World War: Part 20

The story of Billy Williamson, Prisoner of War.
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. 12 Leicester Fosse players were killed in action. Today we look at the story of the death, in a prisoner of war camp, of a 13th Fosse player. 

In , John looked at the story of William Pepper.

Due to the research of Paul Taylor, we now know that a 13th ex-Leicester Fosse player died in the First World War. His name was Billy Williamson. He was not killed in action, but died as a prisoner of war at Hamelin in Germany on August 2 1918. 

Billy had been an outside-right who played twice for Leicester Fosse in 1910/11. Two other players on Leicester Fosse’s books that season, Tommy Benfield and Robert Messer were to die on the Western Front only a few weeks after Billy died. 

With the help of research commissioned by Paul Taylor and conducted by Charles Reid at the Gordon Highlanders Museum, we can piece together the circumstances surrounding Billy’s wartime experiences. 

Billy was born at Longton, Staffordshire, the son of a china manufacturer. Judging by his service number he enlisted into the Gordon Highlanders at Stoke-on-Trent, probably in September 1912, for a period of 12 years.

Nine years were to be spent with the Colours and three years with the Reserves. He did fourteen weeks basic training at the regimental depot at Castlehill Barracks, Aberdeen. Charles Reid’s research has unearthed a group photograph of a draft of named young soldiers, including Billy, (first right, back row on featured image) who after completing their basic training were to be sent to join the 1st Battalion at Colchester with a view to being posted to the 2nd Battalion in Egypt. 

Shortly after arriving at Colchester, Billy’s unit moved to Plymouth. We know that Billy was in Egypt before the outbreak of the First World War. The 2nd Battalion was stationed in Cairo as part of the British garrison whose main function was to safeguard the Suez Canal. At the end of September 1914, the 2nd Battalion returned to the UK and after refitting at Lyndhurst near Southampton, landed at Zeebrugge, Belgium, on 7 October as part of 20th Brigade, 7th Division, composed mostly of units stationed overseas. 

The 2nd Battalion took part in the First Battle of Ypres in October 1914 where, on either 29 October or 1 November 1914, Billy was wounded in left knee and left hand and then captured. At some point in 1916 he was in a camp in Krefeld. 

From an account of a fellow member of his unit who was also a prisoner of War, we can discern that Billy would have been reasonably well treated. Comparatively few Gordon Highlanders died in captivity. Most of the deaths which did occur were in 1918 when the Allied shipping blockade had its effect on the food supply to the German population. These shortages affected the well-being of the PoWs. 

In addition the “Spanish Flu” pandemic was beginning to appear so perhaps a combination of both of these factors resulted in Billy’s death at Hamelin Prisoner of War camp on 2 August 1918. Billy’s place of burial was not recorded. His name is one of 25 names of British servicemen who died in Germany, 19 of whom had been prisoners of war. These are commemorated on a plaque at the Cologne Memorial. Billy’s next-of-kin received his 1914 Star, British War Medal, and Victory Medal. 

To view Billy Williamson's Commonwealth War Graves Commission Certificate, . 

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

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