TWIH: Fosse Players In WW1

The 94th anniversary of the final week of the First World War.

In the latest of his ‘The Week in History’ blogs, Club Historian John Hutchinson remembers the ten Leicester Fosse players who lost their lives in the First World War.

As we approach to the Remembrance fixture against Nottingham Forest on Saturday, it is a good time to recall the 94th anniversary of the final week of the First World War which finally ended on November 11th 1918. It is also a good time to recall the ten Leicester Fosse players who gave their lives in this conflict.
 

The first to die was outside-right Jack Sheffield, who was killed on the Western Front in March 1915. 

Three more Fosse players were killed at the battle of the Somme in July 1916. These  were William Sharpley of the Essex Regiment, (who had earlier been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal  for bravery), James Stevenson of the Highland Light Infantry and Bert Waterfield of the London Regiment,  who had guested for Fosse  only three months before being killed in action. 

Centre-forward George Warren of the York and Lancaster Regiment and outside-right Arthur Beadsworth of the Royal Leicestershire Regiment were killed in France in 1917. 

In the final year of the war, four more Fosse players fell. The first of these was reserve full-back George Draycott of the Lincolnshire Regiment who was killed in Flanders on 18thSeptember 1918. The next day Tommy Benfield of the Royal Leicestershire Regiment died from sniper wounds on the Western Front. 


In October Lieutenant- Colonel Bernard Vann, (VC, MC and Bar and Croix de Guerre), a Fosse reserve player ten years previously and a Lieutenant- Colonel in the Sherwood Foresters,was killed in Belgium.

The final casualty was killed less than four weeks before the war ended. He was Robert Messer of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers who lost his life in Flanders on October 16th 1918. 

Just over a year ago, I was received an e-mail from Paul Taylor, one of the co authors of ‘Of  Fossils and Foxes’, which read,“just a quick pointer. Not sure you can / would want to do anything about it, but just noticed that Robert Messer's WW1 medals are up for sale”. Paul then provided me with a link. 

This was too good an opportunity to miss and within a couple of hours, Robert’s medals, illustrated here, had become a valued part of the Club’s collection.  The medals are the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. Robert’s number, rank, name,  and regiment are inscribed on the outside rim of each medal, establishing their provenance beyond all doubt. 

Tommy Benfield also has links with the Club today. Ben Swift, the Club’s Retail and Merchandising Manager, is his great-grand-nephew.

Tommy’s story is worth re-telling.

After representing the Army at Football in 1910, Benfield made his Fosse debut 102 years ago next week, on November 12th 1910.’Old Fossil’, commenting on his debut in the Leicester Daily Mercury, wrote “Osborn and Benfield, who made a most promising debut, should make a fast, thrusting and effective right wing”. 

Nearly three years later, on September 6th 1913, Tommy became part of football’s folklore when he scored the first ever goal at Highbury. Leicester Fosse were Woolwich Arsenal’s opponents in the inaugural fixture at their new ground following their relocation from their ground at Plumstead. 

‘Old Fossil’ described Tommy’s historic goal in the Mercury. “Waterall trapped the ball and, avoiding the rush, gently tapped the ball to Benfield, who, without wasting time, took deliberate aim and crashed the ball against the rigging-a brilliant shot that left Caldwell helpless.” 

Tommy was Fosse regular until 1914-15, when he transferred to Derby County, with whom he won a Second Division Championship medal.Between 1915 and 1918, Tommy played for the Fosse in the wartime competitions, when army duties allowed. 

On September 19th 1918 Tommy tragically died of his wounds, eight days after being hit by a sniper’s bullet on the Western Front. His obituary in the Leicester Daily Post stated: “Followers of Leicester Fosse will learn with regret that Sergeant. “Tommy” Benfield died on 19th September from wounds received in action eight days earlier. A cheery and genial personality he was always popular with the crowd at Fosse and at Derby. Besides being a first class forward he was a reliable hal- back. His last appearance for Fosse was on March 16th this year”.

It is highly appropriate that this week, as we approach the 94th anniversary of the end of the First World War, we remember not only Robert Messer and Tommy Benfield but also the other eight Fosse players who died on the Western Front during the First World War.

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