Hatters heroes led the way in First World War Footballers’ Battalion

Luton Town players who joined the Footballers Battalion
Luton Town players who joined the Footballers Battalion
0
Have your say

Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph, December 19, 1914.

The players of the Luton Town Football Club have given a fine lead to the members of the other professional clubs throughout the country. Eight of the Luton men have joined the Footballers’ Battalion of the new Army – a number which is larger than that of any other club except Clapton Orient.

The Luton players who have enlisted are: John Dunn (full back), Robert Frith (centre half), T. T. Wilson (half back), Hugh Roberts (outside right), Arthur Wileman and Arthur Roe (inside rights), Ernest Simms (centre forward) and Frank Lindley (outside left).

The ball was set rolling on Tuesday (December 15) when there was a big meeting at Fulham Town Hall to explain the idea of the Footballers’ Battalion. Roberts and Lindley had expressed their intention of going up to hear about it, and a number of the other players who were also getting keen about enlisting suggested that the two should represent them.

Learning about the proposal, the directors of the club intimated that they would pay the fares of the delegates. The attendance at the meeting was beyond all expectations.

“The organisers soon found that the room was not large enough,” said Roberts in a short chat with the Saturday Telegraph representative, “so they shifted the tables and chairs into the big room at the Town Hall, and the place was filled with professional footballers, officials of the various clubs, and others interested.”

Mr W. Joynson-Hicks MP, who presided, said that they had had interviews with the War Office, and as the result Lord Kitchener had made an important concession – that players under contract with their clubs should be granted leave of absence on Saturdays to enable them to play for their clubs until the end of the season.

A large number of applications had been received from well-known footballers to enlist in the ranks, and from others to become officers and non-commissioned officers, and he was sure footballers would prefer to be led on the field of battle by those who had led them on the field of play.

They would have some first-rate non-commissioned officers, as men who had been in the Guards and other regiments had written stating that they would like to rejoin and be attached to this battalion.

The remark of the chairman that the affair would not be a picnic, but that the war was one of bitterness and danger, found an echo later when Mr Hayes Fisher, president of the Fulham club, touched upon the very important question of provision for footballers who became disabled when soldiering.

Having called attention to the comparatively short period of the professional player’s life as a player, and of his inability to start replaying after the war in the event of serious injury to his legs, he suggested that steps should be taken through the big insurance companies specially to insure the members of the Footballers’ Battalion against loss in the event of wounds received in action bringing their careers as players to an end.

It was stated by Mr Joynson-Hicks that the question of special insurance would certainly be considered, and that the necessary fund would be raised. He emphasised that there was room in the battalion for amateur players, for spectators and for professional players. They wanted them all to come along.

When the time came for recruits to offer themselves, Parker, of Clapton Orient, was the first to come forward. Then came Needham of Brighton, Buckley of Bradford, and Roberts and Lindley of Luton. These were the first five to mount the platform, and they were greeted with great cheering. As they were being sworn in, up came others, until there was a total of 35.

“On the platform they had put five chairs for the recruits,” said Roberts, “and they had 35. They had to send out hurriedly to the adjoining recruiting stations to get the men and papers in order to sign us on.

“Afterwards, we were formed up and put through a few movements and then marched through the streets to Chelsea Barracks. One of the officers remarked, ‘You men march well. You do it better than some of the fellows in the Regulars. You ought not to take too long to train.’

“At the barracks we were given ten days’ leave, and those of us who live out of London were paid in advance. We get 2s 9d a day while at home. When we are called up we shall all go in training at Richmond, where they are building huts on the football ground. Our regiment will be the Middlesex - the famous ‘Die Hard’ regiment - and the number given to the Footballers’ Battalion is the 17th.”

On hearing the reports by Roberts and Lindley on Wednesday morning, Dunn, Frith, Wilson, Wileman, Roe and Simms decided to enlist, and they caught the 1.12 train to London. Accompanying them were J. Johnson and Trainer “Billy” Lawson. The latter would have given a lot to have joined also, but being unable, is going to do his little bit by becoming a member of the Luton Voluntary Training Corps. The six were readily accepted, and were afterwards given leave.

Some supporters on hearing of this large enlistment among the Luton men were wondering what would happen to the club’s programme, but the players will be able to turn out for their Cup and League matches up to the end of the season. Meanwhile they are to get both their Army and football pay. Of course, there will be usual allowances for the dependants. Roberts, Wilson and Frith are married.

Players from Arsenal, Bradford, Bright and Hove, Clapton Orient, Crystal Palace, Chelsea, Croydon Common, Fulham, Millwall, Queen’s Park Rangers, Southend United, Tottenham Hotspur and Watford had enlisted along with the eight from Luton Town.

> Hugh Roberts survived the war but his playing career was ended by an ankle injury sustained in an accident in France in September 1918. He died in December 1969.