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Remembrance Day: Palace's involvement in the Great War

11 November 2018

On Remembrance Day we honour those that served their country during conflict. Here we pay tribute to those serviceman that also played for Crystal Palace.

During World War I, a number of footballers who played, had played for or were contracted to Palace travelled to Europe to serve their country on the battlefields of Belgium or France, as the nation was swept up in a great wave of patriotism as most of the country’s male population travelled to be part of the conflict.

A meeting was held at Fulham Town Hall in early December 1914 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.

Players from many clubs in the south were present, as were other personnel associated with the sport such as the first chairman of Crystal Palace, Sydney Bourne. At this 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 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. Eight 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 - for example one of Palace’s directors at the time lost a son. 

Wolves v Palace Remembrance silence 20-21.jpg

While some players did not travel to Europe and continued to play football, they still contributed to the war effort. 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 and every day, we 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:

Joseph Bulcock (1909-1914, 146 games, 2 goals)
Private, 63064, Welsh Regiment, 9th Battalion
Died of Wounds, France & Flanders, 20/04/1918
Cemetery - Haringhe (Bandaghem) Military Cemetery, grave V. C. 21

Richard Harker (1905-1907 & 1911-1912, 83 games, 19 goals)
Private, 27/1460, Northumberland Fusiliers, 20th (Tyneside Scottish) Battalion
Killed in Action, France & Flanders, 09/04/1917
Memorial - Arras Memorial, bay 2 and 3

Edwin Myers (1909-1912, 23 games, 1 goal)
Corporal, 2259, London Regiment (First Surrey Rifles), 21st Battalion
Killed in action, France & Flanders, 15/09/1916
Cemetery - Adanac Military Cemetery, Miraumont, grave VII. F. 28

George Smith (1907-1908, 11 games, 2 goals)
Guardsman, 11846, Scots Guards, 1st Battalion
Killed in action, France & Flanders, 27/09/1915
Memorial - Loos Memorial, panel 8 & 9

Jimmy ‘Ginger’ Williams (1909-1914, 149 games, 57 goals)
Private, F/57, Duke of Cambridge's Own (Middlesex) Regiment, 17th Battalion
(Seconded to Royal Engineers)
Killed in action, France and Flanders, 05/06/1916
Memorial - Arras Memorial, bay 7

Norman Wood (1909-1910, 1 game, 0 goals)
Sergeant, F/663, Duke of Cambridge's Own (Middlesex) Regiment, 17th Battalion
Killed in action, France and Flanders, 28/07/1916
Memorial - Thiepval Memorial, pier and face 12D and 13B

Two further players associated with Palace were also killed, having won military honours for their service:

Donald Bell (Signed a contract with Palace, but there is no record of him playing to date)

Edward Bell (Played for Palace's reserve team)

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