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Remembrance Day: Palace's Involvement In The Great War

12 November 2017

On Remembrance Day we honour those that served their country during conflict, Alan Russell pays tribute to those serviceman that also played for Crystal Palace.

A number of ex-Palace players lost their lives during the Great War of 1914-1918, but due to the differing nature of World War II, no-one that appeared for the club then are known to have met that fate, with football then generally a lot less disrupted compared to World War I when most of the country’s male population travelled to Europe to be actively part of the conflict.

In early December 1914 a meeting was held at Fulham Town Hall to recruit players for what would be known as the “Football Battalion”, with the unit’s official name being the Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex) Regiment, 17th Battalion

Present at this gathering were players from many clubs in the south, plus other personnel associated with the sport such as the first chairman of Crystal Palace, Sydney Bourne. At this first meeting, William Middleton from Tyne and Wear and James Bowler, who hailed from Staffordshire, became the first Palace players to enlist out of the 30 from clubs in London that were represented that night.

Both men would return home safely at the end of the war, despite the battalion suffering heavy losses, including at the Battle of Delville Wood and during the Battle of the Somme.

After that meeting, any other players that would go on to serve in the army, or even indeed the navy, would usually simply walk into a local recruitment office and then eventually be posted to a division.

Many footballers who had (or would) play for Palace signed up for service in the army, but sadly not all would return home. Six players that are known to have played for the Glaziers tragically perished during the conflict, including Richard Hawker and Joseph Bullock who would both receive the Victory and Bristol medals for their bravery. There were also others associated with the club who would also lose their lives, but who weren’t involved in a footballing capacity.

While some players did not travel to Europe and continued to play football, it did not mean they didn’t contribute to the war effort of the time. For example, goalkeeper Joshua Johnson, defender Horace Colclough and forward Sidney Sanders were all involved with the Royal Engineers, stationed in London.

Another defender Ben Bateman was noted at one time as recovering from wounds and would be “returning soon to the trenches”, whilst guest forward John Lockton, who played a number of times over several years, was at one time gassed during an attack, but while at home was again noted to be returning to the battlefield soon.

Ultimately the list of players that served during World War I is long and more involved than seen at first glance. Almost all players either visited a battlezone at some point during the conflict, or were working at home on government business not always disclosed, such as engineering, munitions, working on aircraft or war planning.

Today, we will remember all of those that paid the ultimate sacrifice, and thank everyone for their service to club and country. It is their footballing careers, along with their service to their respective nations, that ensures they will forever be remembered.

Of those that served, the following played for Crystal Palace and are known to have lost their lives:

Private Joseph Bulcock
Welsh Regiment,
9th Battalion

Private Richard Harker
Northumberland Fusiliers,
20th (Tyneside Scottish) Battalion

Corporal Edwin Myers
London Regiment (First Surrey Rifles),
21st Battalion

Guardsman George Smith
Scots Guards,
1st Battalion

Private John (also known as James) Williams
Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex) Regiment,
17th Battalion

Sergeant Norman Wood
Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex) Regiment,
17th Battalion


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