Alfred John Harold Ryder Widdowson
30th December 1893 – 25th August 1914. South Lancashire Regiment (2nd Battalion)
Alfred “Harold” Widdowson was from Whalley Range, growing up in the shadow of Manchester FC’s famous old ground. However, by the time Widdowson had donned the club’s famous red and white jersey, the team played in Kersal. He was educated first at the local William Hulme Grammar School, before moving to Manchester Grammar and then Sedburgh in Cumbria, where he participated in the school’s Officer Training Corps. This was part of the long tradition of independent schools preparing their pupils for leadership roles in British military, political and colonial bodies.
Widdowson played a prominent role in the Sedbergh rugby team; he was reportedly 13st 5lbs in his final year. Unsurprisingly, he played in the pack. As presented in the Manchester University Roll of Honour, Sedbergh described him as “very useful in the scrum,” but were critical of his progress. “He has hardly come on as much as expected, playing at times a far too leisurely a game in the open.” However, “his place kicking and drop kicking have been of great service.”
Returning to Manchester, Widdowson enrolled in UMIST in 1912 to study Mechanical Engineering and joined the university’s OTC. His rugby game and his prestigious schooling were enough for him to join Manchester FC, where he mostly represented the “A” team. There he continued to pursue a life as a goal-kicking forward, firing 26 goals between the sticks in the 1912/1913 season, including 10 for the first team.
In 1914, Widdowson joined the South Lancashire Regiment as a 2nd Lieutenant. Upon the outbreak of war, he was sent into Belgium with the British Expeditionary Force. Almost immediately, his unit was called upon to defend the Mons-Condé Canal against a German force enacting out the Schlieffen Plan, that sought to outflank the French Army through an invasion of Belgium. The British, massively outnumbered, outfought the Germans and were able to hold the line for two days, preventing any potential encirclement of the French. Widdowson did not return from the fighting; later he was registered as killed during the tactical retreat from Mons. “While the battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment to which Lieutenant Widdowson belonged was retiring he was wounded severely, and left behind at a farmhouse. A little later an explosion was heard in that direction.”
Widdowson was one of the first British soldiers killed in the First World War, and the first of the 67 Manchester FC player to perish in the hostilities.
Widdowson is buried in the Communal Churchyard in Briastre, Belgium. He is the only military serviceman buried in the yard, likely buried by the Germans.
World Rugby Museum