Leicester Fosse And The First World War: Part 21

The story of Maurice Woodward.
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. Twelve more were killed in action. A thirteenth player died in a Prisoner of War camp. 

In , John looked at the story of Billy Williamson. 

Three seasons ago, the Club was contacted by Marjorie Knowles. Her mother’s only brother was Maurice Woodward. He was a Leicester Fosse player who fought in the Footballers’ Battalion on the Western Front during the First World War. 

Marjorie provided us with some fascinating information about her Uncle Maurice. Maurice was born in Enderby in 1891, and played local football there before joining Leicester Fosse as a centre-half in August 1912. 

Hampered by an ankle injury he only played two games for the Fosse. He signed for Southern League Southend United in July 1914, but war broke out before he could play for them. When the First World War broke out, league football continued for the whole of the following season. 

Footballers came in for much criticism for ‘not doing their bit’. This led to the ‘Footballers’ Battalion’ (otherwise known as the 17th Middlesex Battalion) being created in December 1914 at a meeting at Fulham Town Hall. Quite soon professional footballers with connections to over 70 clubs, including Leicester Fosse, signed up. 

The Battalion was brought up to strength (about 1,000) by amateur players, officials and football fans eager to serve alongside their favourite players. 

In November 1915, Maurice went to France with the Footballers’ Battalion where he served under Bradford City’s England international Major Frank Buckley, who later became a famous manager at Wolverhampton Wanderers. The battalion first saw serious action on the Somme, losing over 500 officers and men between 25 July and 11 August 1916. 

On 24 July 1916, the day before his Battalion’s serious involvement in the battle, (which had already been raging for three weeks), Maurice, by now a sergeant, played for a team of NCOs against a team from ‘B’ Company. One of the players in the ‘B’ Company team was Joe Mercer, the father of the famous player Joe Mercer, who later managed Manchester City against Leicester City in the 1969 FA Cup Final. 

The following day the Footballers’ Battalion moved up to the front with a fighting strength of 38 officers and 872 men. They occupied some recently captured German trenches astride the Montuban-Carnoy Road, relieving the 10th Royal Welch Fusiliers. The trenches had been badly damaged by British guns prior to their capture, and were littered with the bodies and body parts of many dead German soldiers, together with many dead horses. 

Soon afterwards, the Battalion was involved in an assault on Delville Wood and Longueval. Over the next eighteen days, the Battalion lost over 500 officers and men. 

In 2010 a memorial to the Footballers Battalion was erected in this area (above). Four months later, the Battalion suffered another 300 casualties at Redan Ridge and 462 more at Oppy Wood, near Vimy Ridge, the following spring. Maurice was wounded twice during the war but survived and rejoined Southend United before joining Second Division Wolverhampton Wanders in April 1920 for a fee of £700. 

He was badly troubled by sciatica, but he was fit to play for Wolves in the 1921 FA Cup Final at Stamford Bridge against a Tottenham Hotspur side which contained his former Fosse team mate Tommy Clay as well as Jimmy Seed, the brother of Leicester Fosse’s Angus Seed, another member of the Footballers’ Battalion who won a Military Medal and whose story was told in part 10 of this series. 

Tottenham Hotspur won the Final 1-0, their goal coming after the ball bounced off Maurice’s thigh into the path of the Spurs winger Dimmock whose 25 yard shot skimmed off the very muddy surface before sailing over the Wolves goalkeeper into the net. 

His sciatica and a knee injury kept Maurice out for most of the following season. He was transferred to Bristol Rovers but was never able to play for them. 

Whilst playing for Wolves, Maurice lived in Nuneaton and played as a batsman for Chilvers Coton Cricket Club alongside ‘Billy’ Barratt the Leicester City full-back. In later life, Maurice kept the Old Bush Inn at Wall Heath near Wolverhampton.He died on February 17th 1950 at West Bromwich General Hospital. 

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

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