By Sibs (SibsTHFC)
On the outbreak of the First World War in 1915, many Spurs players and staff were recruited to form No 1 Section 22 Field Company, Royal Engineers. They had played football together, enlisted into the army together, fought side by side together and, sadly, eleven of them died together.
After the war the Spurs Handbook recorded the 11 deaths.
On the combined effort to achieve victory in the great game of war we can look with solemn pride. Naturally, our thoughts revert to those who fought and fell. It is rather a long list who made the supreme sacrifice. They were:-
J. Fleming, J. Jarvie, Alf. Hobday, J. Hebdon, E.J. Lightfoot, W.H.D. Lloyd, A. MacGregor, Finlay Weir, A. Wilson, N.A. Wood, and W.D. Tull.
To their memories we pay humble tribute, knowing full well that if they could send us a message to-day it would be just this-“Carry on!”
Of the soldiers who died, Walter Tull is perhaps the most famous. He was only the second black professional footballer, and the first to play in the top tier of English football. He was spotted playing as an amateur for Clapton before signing professionally for Spurs, where he played up front for for 3 years from 1909 to 1912. He then went on to play for Northampton.
Tull was also the first commissioned black officer in the British Army, but when first enlisted he served in what became known as The Football Battalion of the Middlesex regiment. There were around 5000 professional footballers at the start of the first world war, and it is thought that 2000 of them signed up fight, with a number of them joining the so called Football Battalion.
Walter Tull served in six major battles, but was killed in action on 25th March 1918 during the Spring offensive. His body was never recovered. Amongst the memorials at which he is remembered is one at Northampton’s Sixfield Stadium. In 2009 plans were unveiled to have a statue of in memory of walter Tull at the proposed new Tottenham Hotspur Ground. There have been repeated appeals for Tull to be posthumously awarded the Military Cross. However due to there being a colour bar at the time, which prevented black soldiers from rising to a position of command, Tull was not formally recognised as an officer in the army. Thus, due to this controversial interpretation of the rule book, he was classed as ineligible for such recognition after his death.
Another Spurs legend who was affected by the First world war was John Cameron, one of the scorers when Tottenham won the FA Cup in 1901. He went on to coach at Dresdner SC in Germany. While he was there the First World War broke out and he was interned at a civilian detention camp. The camp contained around 5000 prisoners and football league and cup competitions were set up. Cameron was prominent in organising and playing football and was secretary of the detention camp Football Association.
Back in England football tried to carry on as usual. However, White Hart Lane was commandeered by the government for army use, so Tottenham had to play most of their matches at Arsenal’s Highbury stadium. A stadium that Woolwich Arsenal had moved in to just two years previously.
During WWI much of White Hart Lane was again used for the war effort. The East Stand was used as a mortuary for blitz victims and gas masks were manufactured in other parts of the stadium. Football matches continued to be played, and as Arsenal’s Highbury stadium had suffered bomb damage, Tottenham returned the favour from Great War and allowed Arsenal to play their matches at White Hart Lane.
Urban legend has it, that to say thank you, Arsenal said they would always have the colour blue somewhere on their kit, even if it is just on the badge. True or not, it is something that many Spurs supporters take great pleasure in reminding Arsenal fans to this day.
The police thought it was a good idea to keep football matches going on during the war, writing that:
If there is no football each week our cells will be full because the young men of today will have nowhere to go and will fall into mischief… Let us have them in their customary winter quarters, not on the streets or in the pubs.
Any footballers aged 18 and over were called to serve in the armed forces, meaning that many football teams field very young teams. Players also played wherever they could get a game, leading to some players playing for numerous sides in both league and exhibition matches. Teams were often short of players, and it wasn’t unheard of for a manager to pull someone from the crowd to play.
Of course many Spurs players served during the Second World War.
Albert Hall was captured by the Japanese Army while in Singapore and spent several years in captivity. Hall escaped when he was one of the 58 survivors from a Japanese transport ship which was sunk in the Pacific in September 1943. After the war he returned to play for Spurs.
The legendary Bill Nicholson also served during the war. Having played a few games for Spurs he was called up to serve at the out break of war in 1939. As a professional footballer he was sent on a Physical Education course and was made a sergeant-instructor, training new intakes of troops throughout the war. The Second World War cost him most of his playing career, although he did not regret it as his experiences taught him the man-management skills which were to have such a great effect later in his career.
So on Remembrance Sunday whilst thinking of all the servicemen and woman who gave their lives to serving the country, spare a thought specifically for the former Spurs players, and all of the footballers, who lost their lives during the wars. And don’t forget the thousands of current servicemen for whom the beautiful game provides something of a joyful distraction when thousands of miles from home.