100 years ago, Coventry City players were called up to serve in the army during the First World War...
“War. Germany. Act.” This was the simple and fateful message sent to British forces 100 years ago on 4th August 1914 at 11:20pm, as Britain declared War on Germany.
The British people almost overnight came together with determination to beat the enemy. They were told “This will be the war to end all wars.” Unfortunately it was not so.
This was a new kind of war, one fought at home and abroad that affected every part of British life and every person in it. As war continued through endless months and bloodshed, men (and boys) in all parts of society rushed forward to volunteer to serve their country.
Initially, football continued during the war. Coventry City kicked off the Southern League Division Two and football continued as usual until the end of the 1914/15 season, when hostilities prevented any further organised sport. CCFC were relegated from Southern League Division 1 in 1914 & were in a parlous financial state. Division 2 of SL was mainly teams from Wales and with the War on and poor football on offer, the gates dwindled. The football authorities were severely criticised for continuing with organised football after the outbreak of war in August 1914 and at the end of 1914-15 season the FA called a halt to the game.
As the war effort continued, footballers past and present signed up for service- including a number of Coventry City players.
The following Coventry City players lost their lives during the First World War:
John Harkins - Harkins was a right-half, who was born in Midlothian in 1881. Initially with the Army, he left the Black Watch Regiment in 1906, when Middlesbrough bought him out of the Army. He signed for Coventry City in May 1914, making 18 appearances and scoring 1 goal. After one season in the Southern League, he re-joined the Black Watch in 1915. He was killed in action aged 35 during the defence of Kut Al Amara in Iraq on 22nd April 1916.
Steve Jackson - Jackson was born in 1890 in Birmingham, he signed for Coventry City in 1911 and went on to play 12 games over 3 seasons. He enlisted in September 1914, becoming Sergeant in the South Staffordshire Regiment. He served in the 7th South Staffords in the Dardanelles before being wounded. Upon his recovery he was posted to the 1st Battalion in France. Jackson was awarded the Military Medal for his conduct during fighting at Bullecourt in April 1917. He was later appointed as an Acting Company-Sergeant-Major to "B" Company and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his conduct during a raid in the Bullecourt sector.
His citation, published in the London Gazette, described the circumstances of the award:
"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during a raid. Although not taking part in it, he went out under heavy fire at a critical moment, having learnt that the raid was making very little progress owing to the considerable opposition. He reorganised the parties and led them forward, afterwards personally conducting stretcher-bearers up to the enemy's firing line and clearing No-Man's Land of wounded. His fearlessness and splendid initiative at a trying time proved invaluable to the success of the operation."
Jackson was killed on 26 October 1917 during his battalion's attack on a fortified mound south-west of Hamp Farm, in front of the village of Gheluvelt.
F. Walter Kimberley – Kimberley joined Coventry City in 1912, having previously played for Aston Villa and Walsall. He made 23 appearances and scored 1 goal for the club before War was declared. He left the club to enlist during August 1914 in the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards. He was originally reported as killed in action but was actually captured in the severe fighting at the battle of Marne and held as a prisoner of war in Germany. Lance Corporal Kimberley was discharged suffering from tuberculosis, which he had picked up during his captivity. He died on 22nd April 1917 in Birmingham.
Tom Morris - Born in 1884, Morris reunited with his manager Frank Scott-Walford when he took up the reins at Highfield Road. A centre-half, he played for the club during the 1914-15 season in the Southern League, making 19 appearances and scoring 2 goals. Morris joined the Army in March 1915, serving as a Sergeant in the 2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment. He was killed in action.
John Tosswill – Tosswill was born in Eastborne in 1890. He played for Coventry City during the 1913-14 season, making 17 appearances and scoring 1 goal. He enlisted in his hometown, joining the Royal Engineers Signal Depot at Dunstable as a Corporal in the summer of 1914. The signal training centre taught communication including the use semaphore, lamps and telephone line laying –all key parts of the war effort. Tosswill was taken ill while with the unit at Southampton, and died following an operation on 28th September 1915.
The following obituary was published in the Liverpool Echo on 2nd October 1915:
A likeable fellow, somewhat eccentric, deaf, and a good-class footballer. That is how one might sum up Corporal J.S. Tosswill, whose death is announced this morning. His ear deficiency used to cause some curious happenings in football matches, for he was not able to hear the referee’s signal, and oftimes was seen to proceed to score goals what time the crowd and other players were waiting to take a free kick! Poor Tosswill (writes “Bee”) was a bit of a wag, and his letters to me were always novel and interesting. He was with Liverpool but for a short time, afterwards proceeding to Coventry City. He was brought from Queen’s Park Rangers, and learnt his game with Tunbridge Wells Rangers. On the outbreak of war he joined the R.E. section, and was soon made a corporal.
A capital cricketer, he played for a time with Stanley. His death took place this morning as a result of an operation at Eastbourne.
George ‘Tubby’ Warren - Warren spent 4 seasons with the club, playing 109 games and scoring 56 goals from 1907 to 1911. He was a member of the FA Cup giantkilling teams of 1908 & 1910 & scored two of City's goals in the famous 3-1 third round win over Nottingham Forest in 1910. When war broke out he was playing for Nuneaton Town and enlisted in February 1917, serving with the 2nd Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment.
He was killed in action in France on May 17, 1917.
The following players were wounded during the First World War:
Jerry Best - Born on 22nd April 1897, Best served in the Army prior to joining Coventry City. A goalkeeper at only 5 foot 7 in height, he suffered an injury to his arm during the war which makes it even more remarkable that he made 236 appearances for the club from 1920 to 1926.
Stanley Day – was on the books of the club, but never made an appearance.
Eli Juggins - A stalwart of the club from 1907-14, Eli made 111 appearances and scored 7 goals before being appointed trainer in 1913. He left City shortly before the outbreak of war to join Southampton. He then served with the Cheshire Regiment where he was wounded in action. He later rejoined the club as ground superintendant.
Walter Wilson - Wilson made 4 appearances in total for the club. He enlisted in March 1914 (prior to the outbreak of war) and served in the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, a regiment that saw action at Gallipoli and the Somme. Wilson was badly injured and was awarded the Military Medal.
Billy Yates – Yates made a total of 111 appearances for Coventry City after playing for Manchester United, Hearts & Portsmouth. A tough-tackling defender, he was club captain in 1912-13.
The following former CCFC players also served during the First World War:
Bob Alderson – Made 15 appearances for the club, scoring 3 goals. He served as a Sergeant with the Tyne Electrical Engineers.
John Doran - played only one game for Coventry City, but scored two goals in that game – he would go on to play for several clubs and earn 3 Ireland caps. His spell at Coventry was cut short by the war, as he left to enlist. Serving in the 17th Middlesex Regiment (1st Football Batallion), he was awarded the Military Medal when fighting in France in October 1916 and the Good Conduct Medal. He was demobbed as a Corporal in 1919 and resumed his footballing career.
Joe Enright - An Irish international inside-left, Enright made 22 appearances for the club, scoring 9 goals. 4 of these came in a 10-1 win for Coventry City against Newport County. He served with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps until 1919, when he returned to Ireland.
Patsy Hendren – He played 33 games for Coventry at inside -forward, scoring 14 goals. Like Warren & Tickle he was a member of the 1910 FA Cup giant-killing side that reached the quarter-final and scored one of the goals in the famous 2-1 win at Preston. Joined the 1st Sportsman’s Batallion (23rd Royal Fusiliers) upon its formation in September 1914. Following the end of the war, he resumed his football career with Brentford but was more famous as a cricketer for Middlesex and played 51 tests for England averaging 47.63. He has the third highest first class run aggregate of 57,611 runs (after Sir Jack Hobbs and Frank Woolley), and his total of 170 centuries ranks second only to Hobbs
Tom Shields - 4 games for the club in 1914-15.
Charlie Tickle - A right-winger, Tickle joined Coventry City from Birmingham City at the start of the 1908/09 season and remained with the club until 1913. He played 125 games and scored 21 goals, before moving to Worcester City. He was a member of the FA Cup giant-killing side of 1910. When on form, Tickle was described as ‘fast, clever in footwork and able to centre accurately’.
Robert Turner - 14 games, 1 goal in 1914-15 season.