Leicester Fosse And The First World War: Part 22

The story of Shirley Hubbard.
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 Maurice Woodward. 

Mercifully, several ex-Leicester Fosse players survived the carnage of the First World War, although some had been badly wounded. Billy Mills lost his foot and Tommy Codd lost an eye (see ). 

Syd Owen, Fred Osborn, Fred Mortimer and Norman Whitfield were also wounded. After the war, five pre-war Fosse players were given contracts at the newly re-formed Leicester City. Four of these were George Douglas, who scored the first ever goal for new Leicester City, Jimmy Harrold, Sam Currie and Norman Whitfield, now recovered from his wounds. 

The fifth player to re-sign was Shirley Hubbard, who scored in the new Club’s first away win. Four years ago, Shirley’s great-niece Viv Beeby visited me at the Club. She told me that: “Until I was four, we lived in a flat above a greengrocer’s shop near Upperton Road. All my family were Leicester fans. Shirley was my mother’s uncle. Her father Ernest was Shirley’s brother. My grandmother Clara, who worked in a teashop for market workers on London Road called Winns, met Ernest when she was in her late 20s. She was very religious, prim and proper. Ernest wasn’t! He drank and did not work. They lived in Warwick Street off Tudor Road.” 

The 1901 census reveals 16 year-old Shirley, described as a shoe finisher, was living with his parents and his eight brothers, including 22 year-old Ernest, at 57 Western Road in Leicester. Viv told me that soon after this, Shirley left the boot and shoe trade to join the Leicestershire Regiment. 

He played army football in England (in Kent and Leicestershire) and, when the regiment was posted to India, in Poona (Pune), Bombay (Mumbai) and Madras ( Chennai). Viv went on to say: “The army and sport were good for Shirley. My mother told us that Leicester Fosse brought him out of the army when they signed him in 1907.” 

Shirley was a regular in the 1908 Fosse side that won promotion to the old First Division. The Club’s Minutes Book shows that he appeared in the first ever Leicester side to play in the top Division. Unfortunately, the team was relegated after just one season. Shirley did not play in the record 0-12 defeat by Nottingham Forest, when Fosse played the game suffering the after effects of an ex-team mate’s wedding party! 

In the 1911 Census, Shirley was living with his wife of two years and his infant son at 52 Lambert Road in Leicester. His occupation is listed as ‘Professional Footballer’. 

In 1913, after playing nearly 150 games for Leicester Fosse, Shirley joined Darlington. When War broke out he was playing for South Shields. In November 1914, Shirley enlisted in the recently formed 5th Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment. He landed in France in February 1915. Three months later the Battalion became part of the 138th Brigade in the 46th (North Midlands) Division. 

On 30/31 July 1915, the Division saw action at Hooge, (when the German Army used liquid fire) and in the attack on the Hohenzollern Redoubt on 13 October 1915. In December 1915, Shirley was back in England, presumably on leave. 

Paul Taylor has discovered that in December, Shirley played a match for Bloxwich Strollers. Bizarrely, his regiment was posted to Egypt in January 1916, only to be recalled almost immediately to France where it remained for the rest of the War. 

On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, on July 1 1916, the Division was involved in a diversionary attack at Gommecourt. Shirley was then back in England in December 1916 when he played four games for Leicester Fosse in the Midland section of the Wartime Football League. 

Paul Taylor’s research has further discovered that in February 1917, he played for Birmingham City against Leicester Fosse in the Midland section of the Wartime Football League. Back in France in 1917, Shirley’s Division was involved in operations at Ancre and Gommecourt on the Somme and in the German retreat to the Hindenburg line. 

In 1918, the Division saw further action in the various phases of battles of the Hindenburg Line (the battles of St Quentin Canal, Beaurevoir and Cambrai) and in the final advance into Picardy at the end of the War (the battles of Selle and Sambre). 

There has been some confusion concerning Shirley’s whereabouts in October 1918. Viv showed me an account from the record of the 1/5th Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment which mentions a Corporal Shirley Hubbard starring in a 5-1 victory in a game against a team of French soldiers at Fresnoy-le-Grand which took place behind the lines towards the end of October. 

However, Shirley was, by this time a sergeant. Also between October 12 and December 28 1918, Shirley was in Leicester. Making 13 appearances for Leicester Fosse. He is referred to in the Leicester Daily Mercury match reports as Sergeant Shirley Hubbard. 

Confusingly, there is no record of another Shirley Hubbard in the Leicestershire Regiment in the First World War, so the identity of the Shirley Hubbard playing in the game behind the lines in France remains a mystery. The demobilisation of Shirley’s Division began in January 1919 and was largely completed by June. 

That month, King George V visited Leicester as a prelude to City status being granted to the town. A month later, Leicester Fosse was wound up, to be replaced by Leicester City Football Club, whose new name reflected the town of Leicester’s newly elevated status. 

Although Shirley signed for Leicester City in time for the Club’s first post-war season he only played three games, scoring one goal. He remained on the local sporting scene though. At various times in the 1920s and 1930s he was involved with football in Ashby and Loughborough, he wrote a column for the local press and he had a coaching spell at Leicester City just before the Second World War. 

Shirley died at his home at Houghton on the Hill in February 1922, four days after his 77th birthday. On the site of the old Western Front where Shirley saw action there are memorials to the 46th Division. These are at Vermelles, the Hohenzollern Redoubt and near the Hindenburg Line close to Bellenglise. 

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

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