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When the Whistle Blows: The Story of the Footballers' Battalion in the Great War Hardcover – 20 Nov 2008
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About the Author
ANDREW RIDDOCH grew up in Sheffield and has a long-standing interest in military history and football. JOHN KEMP lives in Essex and has followed the mixed fortunes of West Ham for many years.
Top customer reviews
The author has to my knowledge spent thousands of hours preparing the research and it has provided the foundation for a brilliant narrative of not only what happened to the battalion, but also to the individuals who served in it. We are taken through the experiences of Walter Tull, a professional footballer for Northampton Town, who overcame the prejudice of the football field to gain the trust and support of his soldiers. Many other professionals gave up lucrative employment to serve in the battalion and in doing so set a remarkable example. This tells their story. In many ways the real tragedy was the men who were wounded and faced the realisation that their career was over. One wonders if in similar circumstances their example would be so readily repeated today.
Many personal accounts have been woven into the narrative which explains the events with the absolute clarity that only comes from an author who really knows the battlefield and can therefore give meaning to what happened. This really is the ideal book for both the serious reader of Great War history and anybody who is fascinated by the history of football.
By Mike McCarthy
Editor 'The Battle Guide'
Guild of Battlefield Guides
This book was compelling from the first chapter which looked at the history of the game up until 1914 and detailed the initial hostility towards footballers when war broke out because of their initial decision to continue playing the sport. I would have to say that I found the information about the early days of football to be fascinating as so much was different from the game we love nowadays. Some of the rules that I have always been considered part of football were still only a few years old at the time war was declared and I was amazed to read the names of teams who were big in their time but whose fortunes through lack of finance (not a new thing in football!) and loss of players saw them dissolved prior to 1918. I was hugely intrigued about this history of football.
The chapters on warfare were equally fascinating and the authors should be applauded for keeping the account both lucid and highly readable. The maps that accompany each particular battle are clear and easy to follow and the inclusion of information about the composition of batalions, etc was very helpful having never properly understood the differences between companies, platoons, brigages, divisions, ect. There is much personal history here as well as accounts of the football matches played behind the trenches during the line spent out of the line to provide much human interest to contrast with the military information which puts the 17th Batalion's compaigns in context with the war as a whole. The appendices at the back of the book together with the potted biographies of the footballers ensures that this book is pretty much exhaustive.
In summary, I can praise this fascinating book enough. Easily one of the most interesting and original books about the First World War that I have read. Highly recommended.
Riddoch and Kemp illustrare clearly the initial problems faced by the top soccer clubs in that era with their gifted players joining the armed forces.
A detailed look at their preparation before leaving for the Front and their involvement in many engagements. In September 1916 at Delville Wood the 17th lost Pte William Jonas ( 74 apps for Clapton Orient ) and Sgt Norman Wood ( 88 apps , Stockport County 0. They , along with many comrades lie in Delville Wood Cemetery.
In August 1916, the Battalion suffered many losses in Guillemont including Pte William Gerriish ( 59 apps and a League medal with Aston Villa ); Pte Oscar Linkson ( 55 apps Man. Utd ); Pte Allen Foster ( 146 apps Reading ) and Pte George Scott ( 205 apps Clapton Orient ).
In the following month in action, at Serre, the supreme sacrifice was made by L/Cpl Sid Wheelhouse ( 235 apps, Capt of Grimsby Town ); Sgt Billy Baker ( 193 apps Plymouth Argyle ) and CSM Richard McFadden (144 apps Clapton Orient ).
Engagements at Redan Ridge , Nov 1916 and Oppy Wood , April 1917 followed and it was at Oppy Wood where the popular Pte Bob Whitley ( 320 apps Brighton and Hove Albion ) met his fate.
As the losses had mounted over a period of time , the 17th Middlesex, like so many other battalion, was amalgamated. A wonderful read, which details all ranks of the 17th Battalion and indicating the last resting places and memorials to those who failed to return home.
Cllr Ronnie Harkness , Poeradown, Craigavon, N.Ireland.
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