Manchester FC during the First World War

A photograph of the 6th Manchester Battalion officers prior to Gallipoli. The Manchester FC players pictured are – On the bottom row, far right is WN Molesworth, wounded in Gallipoli (survived the war). Middle row – third from left is Stanley Foster-Jackson. Next to him is CS Worthington. On the far right is Oswyn St Leger Davies. Back row – on the far left, Edgar Kessler.

Rugby union was quick to mobilise after Britain declared war on Germany on the 4th August 1914. Soon after hostilities had commenced, the vast majority of rugby union players had enlisted.

Manchester FC was no different. By June 1915 the Manchester Guardian reported that 173 Manchester players past and present had joined up. Many Mancunians, such as Sidney Herbert Milnes were already in the territorial forces, and were soon called into action. Others, like Roger Noel Compton-Smith, dropped whatever they were doing (wherever they were in the world) and rushed home to enlist.

By the end of August, there were so few players remaining that the club could barely put out a team. The club met on the 28th August 1914 to officially confirm that it was abandoning all fixtures for the season ahead. Three days later, players and staff met at Prince’s Restaurant on Oxford Street and decided they would enlist the following day as a “pals’ squad” in Kitchener’s Army.

However, before this meeting even took place, the club had already lost somebody. Alfred “Harold” Widdowson, from Whalley Range, had been killed at Mons a week earlier. A significant number of former Manchester players went to Gallipoli with the Manchester Regiment and the Lancashire Fusiliers, and casualties were high. The Manchesters also fought at the Somme, Paschendaele and during the Spring Offensive. In total, 67 Manchester FC players were killed during the war, including former captains Leonard Haigh and Joseph Tolson, and many more were injured.

At this time, most of the Manchester squad were from wealthy families. Many were Oxbridge graduates, and quite a few worked as cotton merchants, bankers, or business owners. The Manchester recruits’ social status meant that most were favoured for official commission, a tally swelled by the number who had previously served in the Territorials. This meant two things – firstly, that the club suffered extremely heavy casualties (nearly 40% died). This was because many players, joining early, were sent to the deadly, stagnant conflict that festered on the jagged lands of Gallipoli. Six players died in Turkey on the 4th and 5th of June 1915, casualties of the Third Battle of KrithiaAdditionally, the “forward” mentality, straight out of the Muscular Christian culture that had prepped the boys for service in Britian’s imperial desires, and had fuelled the rise of rugby union itself, saw many officers lead their men over the top, and into the firing line.

Secondly, it meant that there survives a great deal of information concerning the fate of these fallen Mancunians. Officer casualties were often reported in detail in local and national newspapers – especially if they happened to be the famous son of a prominent local family, or else known well for their exploits with the oval ball. Likewise, the elite institutions where so many of the players were educated have committed time and energy into finding out more about their students who fought in the Great War.

Although some gaps exist, this has helped a great deal in piecing together the lives and deaths of Manchester FC’s war losses. But it must be remembered that this is a historical luxury not afforded to all, and that many who died without the fame and fortune of those discussed here – those who might have worked in the background, or reserve and junior players, those who received no commission, or the working class rugby players who represented the less prestigious clubs of both codes – their stories are much harder to tell, but are no less worthy of being told.


Manchester FC Players who Died during the First World War
(Click on the player’s name to learn more about them)

George Herbert Annaheim
Noel Armitage
T Beaumont
TR Bellamy
JH Boardman
Arthur Frederick Botham
Archibald Charles Watson Buck
GD Charlton
Alfred Victor Clegg
James Hamer Clegg
Robert Leslie Clegg
Edgar Francis Wanklyn Cobbold
Roger Noel Compton-Smith
John Daniel Cooney
Oswyn St Leger Davies
D Davisson
Arthur Edward Basil Dixon
D Duncan
John Barlow Emmott
NL Evans
Algernon Esme Hal Fenning
Dare Hamilton Field
Stanley Foster-Jackson
Peter Thomas Garvie
Arthur James Goodfellow
Leonard Haigh
ET Hicks
Humphrey King Hoyle
Allan Harrison Hudson
Austin Patrick Hudson
Percy Clarkson Johnson
William Morton Johnson
Thomas Kemp
Edgar Kessler
HG Langley
Reginald Redfern Langtry
Cecil Darley Farran Leech
Gerald Edward Levinstein
John Carlon Markes
Robert Hargraves Megson
Charles Henry Merriman
Leslie Milbourne
A Milne
Sidney Herbert Milnes
James S Moir-Byers
Denis Laurence Monaghan
Humphrey Kaye Bonney Nevinson
Charles Phethean
Samuel Pilkington
TW Pollard
John Russell Pound
Dr HF Ransome
Samuel Lees Redfern
Alan Lister Royle
George Ben Sayce
Edgar Adolphe Joseph Sternberg
RC Stewart
Reginald Sykes
Harry Tatlow
Arthur Thompson
Joseph Tolson
Claude Henry Slade Vaudrey
H Whitworth
Alfred John Harold Ryder Widdowson
DN Womersley
Claude Swanwick Worthington
ET Young