Leicester Fosse And The First World War: Part 23
2014 marked the 100th 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. Twelve more were killed in action. A 13th player died in a Prisoner of War camp.
In , John looked at the story of Shirley Hubbard.
When Belgian international Richie De Laet signed for Leicester City in 2012, he was following in the footsteps of another Leicester player who went on to become a Belgian international footballer.
His name was Honoré Vlamynck (sometimes spelt Vlaminck) who became the first of his countrymen to play for Leicester Fosse.
Honoré arrived in Leicester in the first few weeks of the First World War. He had not come to play football, but to recover from his wounds. He had sustained these in the great Allied retreat through Belgium in face of the Schlieffen Plan, which was the initial German onslaught in the early weeks of the First World War. He was just one of an estimated 25,000 wounded Belgian soldiers who convalesced in the UK during the conflict.
Honoré would have arrived in Leicester by rail, on one of the many trains carrying Allied wounded soldiers. Their arrival, often on stretchers, became a regular sight at Leicester railway stations during the war. The ‘Leicester Daily Mercury’ regularly published the names of these casualties.
On arrival in Leicester, he would have been taken from the station to the fifth Northern General Hospital. This was conveniently close to the railway station and the cemetery. It was based in what is now the Fielding Johnson Building of Leicester University which had been vacated in 1908, when it ceased to house the town’s Lunatic Asylum, which had been its main function since it had been built in 1837.
On the outbreak of war, the building was designated as a Territorial Force Medical Unit. As the photograph of wounded Belgian soldiers at another hospital shows, they would have been cared for by the Red Cross, by the St John’s Ambulance Brigade and by V.A.D (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurses, who worked alongside regular nurses.
In addition to the main hospital building, four flat-roofed brick huts were built nearby to house wounded officers on what is now the Leicester University Sports Centre Carpark. Until the 1960s these additional buildings were later used as classrooms by Wyggeston Boys’ Grammar School. On a personal note, I am an old Wyggestonian and one of these brick buildings was my form room in 1963/64!
Such were the casualties during the war that eventually the hospital expanded from its base into a local network of more than 60 locations. Convalescing soldiers in ‘hospital blues’ became a familiar sight around Leicester. Honoré would have been one of them.
He wasn’t the only wounded Belgian soldier at the hospital. Nine of his compatriots died there. Eight of these soldiers are buried in the Welford Road cemetery, just across the road from where the hospital was located. The body of the ninth soldier was repatriated. There is a memorial to all nine in a quiet corner of the cemetery. The memorial also remembers the Belgian civilians who arrived and died in Leicester during the war. These were among the 200,000 refugees who fled to Great Britain from that stricken country between August and December 1914. In August 2014, 100 years after the initial German onslaught, representatives from the Belgian Embassy paid tribute to these dead Belgian soldiers and refugees.
Once recovered from his wounds, Honoré resumed his football career. Before the War he had played lower league football in Belgium as a centre-forward for VG Oostende in the 1913/14 season. Paul Taylor’s research has unearthed the fact that he started playing for Leicester Imperial from 1915. It is not clear why Honoré stayed in Leicester but in November 1918, just before his return to his homeland, he played in four games for Leicester Fosse in the Midland Section of the Wartime Football League. The first two of these games, both against Sheffield Wednesday, were played in the nine days leading up to the Armistice. In one of these, the fixture at Filbert Street, he scored twice in a 7-3 victory. His third and fourth games, played in the fortnight after the Armistice, were against Huddersfield Town. He scored his third goal in four games in the 3-1 victory at Filbert Street in what was his last game for the Fosse. Playing alongside him in all four games was Sergeant Shirley Hubbard who was featured in of this series.
On 3 May 1919 he played for the Belgian Army against the British Army at Stamford Bridge. He scored the winning goal in a 2-1 victory. Some Pathe News film footage still exists of what we think might be the teams running out at the start of the game. If that is the case, we do not know which of the players is Honoré Vlamynck because, despite his distinguished post-war football career in Belgium, we have not been able to find a picture of him to establish what he looked like.
In July 1919, Honoré signed for the Belgian First Division ‘Daring Club de Bruxelles’. In his first season he was the country’s top scorer with 26 goals, with his team finishing third. The following season they won the Belgian title. By the end of the 1927/28 season he had played 128 matches for his club scoring 86 goals. He also played one game in the 1932/33 season. I am not sure what he was doing in the intervening years, although some records seem to suggest that he was still with the Club.
He also played four internationals for Belgium. The first of these was against France in Uccle, in March 1919. This was a 2-2 draw. In February 1919, he played in an amateur international against England in Brussels. A month later he scored for Belgium in a game against France at the Parc des Princes. His final international was at Highbury when he scored Belgium’s only goal in a 6-1 defeat by England. Playing for England that day were two future managers of Leicester City. These were Liverpool’s Tom Bromilow and Bury’s Norman Bullock, who scored. (The relatives of both have recently been in contact with me at the Club).
Honoré died aged 77 in September 1974.
Very few people realise that Honoré Vlamynck, a wounded Belgian soldier who recuperated from his wounds in Leicester, whose fellow Belgian comrades-in-arms are buried in the Welford Road Cemetery, and who went on to become a top footballer in Belgium at club and at international level after the War, honed some of his football skills playing for Leicester Fosse at the end of the First World War.
The documentary film “” can be viewed at the LCFC YouTube channel .
1. Main gate to Fifth Northern General Hospital, Leicester.
2. Main Building, Fifth Northern General Hospital, Leicester.
3. Memorial to Belgian soldiers and civilians who died in Leicester in First World War.
4. Belgian soldiers convalescing elsewhere in Britain.
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