The 17th Middlesex ‘Footballers’ Battalion
The 17th Middlesex, known as the ‘Footballer’s Battalion’, was a ‘Pals’ battalion raised by William Joynson Hicks in December 1914. Joynson Hicks was a Conservative MP whose country home was Holmbury House.
The aim of ‘Pals’ Battalions was to encourage men to enlist, with the promise that they would serve alongside their friends, neighbours and work colleagues. Around two hundred professional players with connections to over sixty clubs enlisted in the 17th Middlesex and were joined by amateur players, club officials, and fans eager to serve alongside their heroes.
Joynson Hicks made the grounds of Holmbury House available for a training camp and the battalion arrived in April 1915. The people of Ewhurst gave them a warm welcome and various events for their entertainment were planned. On Saturday 1st May the Surrey Advertiser reported -
“RECREATION FOR SOLDIERS – The local Patriotic Committee have made arrangements to entertain the soldiers now at Holmbury and the Reading Room, rifle range, village hall and congregational schoolroom are to be placed at their disposal for recreational purposes.”
This was followed by a series of concerts in the village hall -
“CONCERT FOR SOLDIERS – The Village Hall, which has been set apart for the men of the Sportsman’s Battalion at Holmbury, was well filled on Friday evening last week when the first of a series of concerts was given. An interesting musical programme was gone through. Amongst those taking part being Mrs English, Miss Smith, Miss Stephens and Miss Warrington. Miss Topham was responsible for the arrangements.”
On Saturday 29th May 1915 the Surrey Advertiser reported
“HOLMBURY – For some time now the
Footballers Battalion have been encamped at Holmbury St Mary and high old times
they have been having. Notwithstanding that, they have plenty of work to do, so
there is no fear of their getting stale. On three evenings a week there is
evening drill and at midnight on Thursday last week Col. Grantham ordered the
buglers to sound the fire alarm to see how quickly they turned out. The
football season may be closed now under F.A. rules, but two dozen footballs
have been presented to the Battalion by Col. Fenwick second in command and
every field in the vicinity of the camp is used nightly, one of the eager
participants being Lieut. Vivien Woodward, the well known International and
On the formation for the battalion Col. Grantham promised the professional players that as they would be assisting their clubs at Christmas and Easter and thus not get the usual military leave, he would make it up later on. This promise was kept last weekend and on Friday night 140 of them left camp for ten days leave of absence, being inoculated before leaving. On Wednesday night previous an impromptu concert was given by the officers, whilst on Saturday night another concert was given by the sergeant’s mess, many people from the neighbouring villages being invited as guests.
News from the Front
Pte George William Eldridge Killed in Action
George William Eldridge, a private in the Queens (Royal West Surrey) Regiment, was reported Missing and later confirmed Killed in Action, at the Battle of Festubert, on the 16th May. He was 34 and his family lived in Gadbridge Lane. George had enlisted at Stoughton Barracks in September 1914 and had taken part in the first Battle of Ypres in October 1914.
Lieutenant Evelyn Maxwell Webb wounded
News also came that Lieutenant Evelyn Maxwell Webb has been wounded. Evelyn was the son of Walter and Annie Webb of Malquoits [Cornhill Manor] and was just 18 years old. He had joined the 3rd Battalion King's Royal Rifle Corps in January 1915. In April he took part in the second Battle of Ypres and was wounded on 24th May whilst participating in a counter attack in the area of Bellewarde Ridge, to the east of Ypres. A bullet struck Evelyn's left arm, which entered to the rear of his elbow, exited his front forearm before continuing to cause two wounds to the left side of his chest. He was evacuated to England and admitted to the Lady Evelyn Mason's Hospital in London.