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When Football Stopped - Part 2

The Great War to End All Wars 1 …. Aye, right.

4 April 2020

The Great War to End All Wars 1 …. Aye, right.

The "Great War" started in the summer of 1914, 4 weeks before the football season was due to start.  The football authorities, pretty much like everyone else, believed that it would be a short-lived affair, and would "all be over by Christmas!"  This view was shared by many of the combatants including Germany and France, so there didn't seem to be a lot of point in cancelling the 1914-15 football season.

Despite that, the British Army was deemed too small, and so a recruitment drive was started, centred on towns, or workplaces.  These were called Pals Battalions, but only one in the country was called "Chums" … the Grimsby Chums.  Locals flocked to the recruitment centres, encouraged by the Head of Wintringham School, and were soon up to strength.  By September 1914, they were photographed in training in Brocklesby Park - unusually with a fair number of rifles, though not uniforms which took longer to organise.

On the Humber, the seaplane base at Killingholme was established by August 1914, carrying out patrols across the North sea, and being interceptors of the German zeppelins.  Towards the end of the war it was taken over by the American Navy, and the personnel included many of the top Hollywood stars of the time!  The hangers from the base were taken down after the war and now form the bus depot on Victoria Street behind the "Grimsby Corporations Tramways 1925" frontage.

There were many large and small boatyards on the Humber at the time - every riverside village had at least one, and most of these were contracted to build naval designs of fishing vessels that were to be fitted out as minesweepers and other small naval boats (after the war they were converted to their peacetime purpose of fishing vessels) and many barges were also built, including ones designed to utilise the French Canals for supply of arms, or as hospital barges.

Wartime restrictions were placed on docks and wharves, one of which was that no photos, nor even drawings, were to be made of the installations.  A munitions factory in Victoria Street produced shells for the newly invented tanks, and was mainly staffed by women of the town.

The War soon made its presence felt in Grimsby as many of the port's trawlers were attacked by the German navy in September, in the North Sea, the crews taken prisoner and incarcerated in the German PoW Camp at Sennelager, until the end of the war four years later.

The War was not over by Christmas, far from it, but there was the famous football match between the trenches.  It was not repeated. 

There was much disquiet in the country that football was continuing whilst similarly-aged men were fight and dying just over the Channel.  Among the vociferous opponents was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the famous author who wrote the Sherlock Holmes books among others, and the best known cricketer of the age - W G Grace.  The matter was debated in Parliament, and at a meeting with the War Office, the FA agreed to the formation of the Footballers' Battalion.  In February several Town players joined the 17th Middlesex Regiment "the Footballers Battalion" - Dave Chalmers, Alf Gregson, Francis Martin, David Kenny, Sid Wheelhouse, and a short time later, Percy Summers and Tom McKenna.  Town finished the season 4th bottom of the Second Division (there were just two divisions at the time).

Among the teams in the same division as Town were Leeds City, Leicester Fosse and Glossop NE, as well as Derby, Preston, Wolves and Arsenal.  Despite Arsenal ending up 5th in this Second Division, this was to be their final season NOT in the top tier of English football!

Haile Sands Fort and Bull Sands Fort began to be built in the Humber as the football season ended in 1915, though neither Fort was finished until 1919.

Football could not continue its league programme - there would have been an even greater public outcry if it had!  Changes had to be made for the 1915-1916, though it was to go ahead to help keep up spirits at a time of national concern and stress.

On 3rd November 1915, the SS Mercian was shelled by a German submarine using its deck gun, in the Mediterranean.  It wasn't torpedoed, as the u-boat had run out of torpedoes!  On board was the Lincolnshire Yeomanry, a cavalry unit with horses as well as cavalry men.  In the action former Town player Harry Springthorpe was killed.  Although the Captain of the Mercian did all he could to evade the shelling from the submarine, there was severe damage to the ship, and to the steam pipes.  Fortunately, some of the crew were Grimsby trawlermen and knew how to make the ship watertight.  By great good fortune, the u-boat disengaged and dived out of sight and the Mercian limped in to Oran, Algeria, where the crew buried their dead at Le Petit Lac cemetery.  In a bizarre million-to-one-chance, the captains of the Mercian and of the u-boat met after the war.  When asked why the u-boat dived and left the Mercian when it had the ship at its mercy, the German captain replied that he had heard a voice in his head saying "If you allow the ship to survive, you will be saved yourself!" 

To be continued ……………


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