Football on the Front

A lot of Wolverton men ended up in Salonica in October 1915, where, after the initial failed assault on Gallipoli, there was little action. Here is an account of a football match played there 100 years before the present European Cup. The teams included some useful players: lewis a former Watford FC goalkeeper and Laddie Brown from Cosgrove, who was an exceptional young talent.

Private Frank Williams, of “D” Co., 7th Oxon and Bucks Light Infantry at Salonica, sends the following letter to the editor;
“A very interesting football match took place last Friday, March 24, in the vicinity of Salonica between two Companies of the 7th Oxford and Bucks. L.I., who are now doing active service in Greece, the two Companies being ‘D’ Co, and the Headquarters Company. This match was played after the Tommies had had a hard days work with the pick and the shovel, kicking off at 5.30 with an Aegean breeze. ‘D’ Co, won the toss, and the Headquarters kicked off before a fair crowd, consisting of British and French troops. After a little even play the Headquarters were having all the game in their favour, and with a little excitement, Tolley, of the Headquarters, only just missed scoring. The Headquarters, only the sea breeze in their favour, were well over their opponents. Sherwood, at centre half, was showing his Northants. League form for the Headquarters, but was unable to find Lewis, the old Watford goalie weak, and as the whistle blew half-time it was no score. During the next half play was very even. E. Bennett, of the Headquarters, was very consistent at left half, but as the crowd emerged from the ground A. J. Ross placed the ball well in the goal mouth, and after a very excitable time, Laddie Brown scored the only goal of the match. Thus ‘D’ Company won by 1 goal to nil. Look out for further accounts of other matches later on. Hoping you are in the best of health, as it leaves me top hole. We are having extraordinary hot weather.”
Private Williams is the son of Mr. W. H. W. Williams, of Green Lane, Wolverton. W.E. 1916 Apr. 14th

Unfortunately, Laddie Brown had only a few months to live as he was killed in action on August 19th 1916.

Aged 31, Lance Corporal William “Laddie” Brown, 7th Battalion, Oxon and Bucks Light Infantry, was killed in action on Saturday, August 19th. A native of Cosgrove, he had been a keen sportsman, and some years ago played some ‘sterling games’ for the Cosgrove and Wolverton football clubs. His parents, William and Margaret Brown, of 62, Peel Road, Wolverton, have now received the following letter;

“Dear Mrs. Brown. – It is with feelings of heartfelt sympathy and deepest regret that I write to tell you of the death of your ever brave and cheerful son ‘Laddie’ (he was known as ‘Laddie’ throughout the whole battalion and was immensely popular). On the night of the capture of Horseshoe Hill, your son went with me and the rest of the left-half company through an intense barrage of shrapnel and high explosives which the Bulgarian batteries were sending over. We were carrying tools so that we could get ‘dug in.’ We managed to get there and had to dig in solid rock. Everything seemed hopeless, but ‘Laddie’ and the rest of the boys stuck it, even though we were being shelled all the time and were without water or rations. On the afternoon of the 18th Captain Martin, Mr. Steele and myself were discussing how we were going to hold the position in the event of the counter attack being made, and your son was less than three yards away on our left. Suddenly an immense 3.4 high explosive shell burst about 15 yards to our left, and your brave boy was hit in the abdomen and in the leg. He rolled over and fell at my feet, and gasped,”Oh! I am bleeding to death.” We tried our best but, Mrs. Brown, it was a hopeless case and your gallant boy died in twenty seconds. His death unnerved the rest of the platoon as he was such a favourite amongst us all, and took from me bits of the best of good fellows (sic). The Oxfords, who got through, have lived through absolute hell, as we were exposed to frontal fire, enfilade fire from both flanks and defilade fire from our left flank by the Bulgarian batteries, which were absolutely raining shrapnel and high explosives on to us. Some of the high explosive shells were ??, and never will I be able to realise how the fellows got through that barrage of fire, how they escaped casualties in repelling two counter attacks made by 600 Bulgars, and how any of us got out of that hell-spot alive. I have other letters to write to the relatives of my wounded men, so I will conclude after once more expressing my deepest regret. I am, yours very sincerely, A.P. Boor, Lieut., O.C. 15th Platoon. “D” Co.”
The deepest sympathy is extended in the village to the bereaved parents, who lost another son, Private Joseph Brown, at the battle of Hooge nearly 12 months ago.
(Private William Brown is buried in Karasouli Military Cemetery, Greece.) W.E. 1916 Sep. 22nd