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Der­byshire is home. So an ev­ery­day Satur­day would be great. Awake to glo­ri­ous sun­shine. 9am at the 5km Markeaton ‘Park Run’ break­ing my per­sonal best. Re-fuel on a Birds sausage cob. Watch Derby County cruise to vic­tory. Quick ten­nis ses­sion fol­lowed by es­sen­tial re­hy­dra­tion with lo­cally-brewed prod­ucts, be­fore din­ner out with my part­ner and a glo­ri­ous coun­try view. Fi­nally home to dis­cover our big lot­tery win!

As the First World War cen­te­nary comes to a close, Peter Sed­don con­sid­ers a poignant ‘plaque to the fallen’ at Pride Park Sta­dium

The four-year-long First World War Cen­te­nary comes to a close on 11th Novem­ber 2018. Af­ter thou­sands of poignant events this par­tic­u­lar Armistice Day can be over­laid by a tone of jus­ti­fi­able cel­e­bra­tion. The date marks 100 years since the Great War ended. The day will cul­mi­nate with the light­ing of bea­cons and ring­ing of bells across the coun­try.

Re­mem­brance cer­e­monies will take place as ever at the countless war memo­ri­als hon­our­ing the fallen. Most of these revered mon­u­ments were erected as soon as prac­ti­ca­ble af­ter peace was de­clared. But one of Der­byshire’s most un­usual is much newer, ap­pear­ing only at the start of the Cen­te­nary pe­riod.

The mod­est but pro­foundly telling plaque at Pride Park Sta­dium was un­veiled in Novem­ber 2014 af­ter Derby County re­sponded pos­i­tively to a sup­porter’s ini­tial sug­ges­tion. The Span­ish dolomite tablet fixed to the sta­dium wall might eas­ily be over­looked in the hurly-burly of a match day. But the club and its sup­port­ers are proud to have recorded for pos­ter­ity the names of six Derby County play­ers known to have per­ished dur­ing the First World War.

It is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine to­day’s equiv­a­lent – well-known foot­ballers swap­ping shirts for mil­i­tary uni­form, the foot­ball field for the bat­tle­field, fa­mil­iar rou­tines for the com­plete un­known. Yet hap­pen it did in an age rel­a­tively ‘not too long ago’ – but starkly dif­fer­ent.

When Bri­tain de­clared war on Ger­many in Au­gust 1914 there was no rea­son to imag­ine that first-class foot­ball would be dis­rupted – surely the con­flict would be ‘all over by Christ­mas’.

For the 1914-15 cam­paign Derby County were in Di­vi­sion Two of the Foot­ball League hav­ing been rel­e­gated from the top flight the sea­son be­fore. In the open­ing game on 2nd Septem­ber 1914 the Rams thrashed Barns­ley 7-0 at the Base­ball Ground. As war pro­gressed over the Chan­nel the fix­tures were com­pleted much as be­fore – and on the fi­nal day in April 1915 Derby County beat Pre­ston North End to clinch the Sec­ond Di­vi­sion Cham­pi­onship.

Two of the Rams play­ers that day were Ge­orge Brooks and Tommy Ben­field. Lit­tle would they imag­ine that a cen­tury later their names would be en­graved on the Derby County War Memo­rial. Both per­ished in the Great War – think Craig Bryson and Ma­son Mount from the cur­rent team. Or any com­bi­na­tion of per­sonal favourites – it brings it home.

Af­ter the sea­son closed the sus­pen­sion of the Foot­ball League was en­acted al­most in­evitably af­ter wide­spread crit­i­cism that fight­ing-fit ‘pro­fes­sional foot­ballers’ were set­ting a poor ex­am­ple in con­tin­u­ing their trade. In truth sev­eral thou­sand had al­ready en­listed – but the rhetoric stuck. In con­se­quence the 1915-16 sea­son never kicked off – not

un­til 1919-20 did League foot­ball re­sume.

Dur­ing the four-sea­son en­forced hia­tus a Derby County team com­peted ini­tially in re­gional com­pe­ti­tions con­cocted to fill the void. The matches re­main in the record books but proved merely tran­si­tory and of lit­tle last­ing sig­nif­i­cance – by April 1916 all foot­ball at Derby County ‘ceased for the du­ra­tion’.

By then a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of play­ers had al­ready left the foot­ball field for the bat­tle­field. The foot­ball au­thor­i­ties – ini­tially so re­viled for their per­ceived bad ex­am­ple – had played a key role in re­cruit­ment. Cam­paigns em­ploy­ing foot­ball themes proved par­tic­u­larly suc­cess­ful in the ‘vol­un­teer’ pe­riod be­fore com­pul­sory con­scrip­tion was in­tro­duced in Jan­uary 1916 – and once that took ef­fect countless foot­ballers and sup­port­ers were fight­ing for ‘King and Coun­try’.

The ex­em­plar of this re­cruit­ment cam­paign was the 17th Mid­dle­sex Reg­i­ment com­prised al­most en­tirely of foot­ballers – the fa­mous ‘Foot­ballers’ Bat­tal­ion’. It had a strong Derby County link too – the bat­tal­ion was un­der the com­mand of Ma­jor Frank Buck­ley, the hard-as-nails cen­tre-half who had cap­tained the Rams 1913-14 team.

‘The fa­mous ‘Foot­ballers’

Bat­tal­ion’ had a strong Derby County link... it was un­der the com­mand of Ma­jor Frank Buck­ley, the hard-as-nails cen­tre-half who had cap­tained the

Rams 1913-14 team’

Ma­jor Buck­ley is not hon­oured on the Rams’ war memo­rial – he sur­vived to be­come a cel­e­brated man­ager of Wolver­hamp­ton Wan­der­ers. In con­trast his six kin­dred spir­its never re­turned – but through the memo­rial their names live on.

Sergeant Thomas Ben­field (Le­ices­ter­shire Reg­i­ment) al­most emerged from the con­flict with his life in­tact. But hav­ing sur­vived countless dangers he died of wounds on 19th Septem­ber 1918 less than two months be­fore Armistice Day.

By cruel co­in­ci­dence his erst­while team-mate Lance Cor­po­ral Ge­orge Brooks (York and Lan­caster Reg­i­ment) suf­fered an even more un­timely end. He died in France on 8th Novem­ber 1918 just three days be­fore the war ended – in foot­ball par­lance a sick­en­ing de­feat in ‘time added on’.

Cam­bridge Grad­u­ate 2nd Lieu­tenant Reg Cal­len­der (Durham Light In­fantry) was a much ear­lier ca­su­alty. He was killed in France on 5th Oc­to­ber 1915. An Eng­land am­a­teur in­ter­na­tional, Cal­len­der had a dou­ble link with Der­byshire foot­ball, hav­ing played for both Derby County and Glos­sop.

His end car­ried a par­tic­u­larly dis­tress­ing irony – killed not by the en­emy but by a grenade which ex­ploded in his hand while he was demon­strat­ing to his men.

The fiery inside-for­ward Pri­vate James Steven­son (Highland Light In­fantry) was from an ear­lier era in Derby County his­tory. The pop­u­lar Scot played along­side the leg­endary Steve Bloomer in his prime in the 1890s. ‘Jimmy’ was quite old to be in the trenches: al­ready 38 when the War be­gan, he was aged 40 – the up­per limit for ‘el­i­gi­bil­ity’ – when he was killed in ac­tion at the Bat­tle of the Somme on 3rd July 1916. His body was never iden­ti­fied.

Unique among the plaque’s six names is Al­fre­ton-born Lieu­tenant Fred­er­ick Wheatcroft – the sole Der­byshire na­tive. An Eng­land am­a­teur in­ter­na­tional, Fred Wheatcroft was a school­teacher for much of his ca­reer, but found time to play first for Al­fre­ton

Town and later for Derby County. As a cen­tre-for­ward he led the at­tack – by all ac­counts match­ing those en­deav­ours ad­mirably in the more se­ri­ous field of con­flict.

His eight goals in 25 games for Derby County will never

be erased – nor will his army ser­vice record which har­bours an in­deli­ble statis­tic of a dif­fer­ent kind. Se­verely out­num­bered near the French vil­lage of Bour­lon he was killed there on 26th Novem­ber 1917 aged 35.

The fi­nal player on the Rams memo­rial shares com­mon ground with Wheatcroft – again a cen­tre­for­ward and school­teacher. But he is more glo­ri­ously unique. Cam­bridge grad­u­ate Lieu­tenant Colonel the Rev­erend Bernard Vann (Sher­wood Foresters) was awarded the Vic­to­ria Cross, the only Church of Eng­land cleric to win the VC dur­ing World War One as a com­bat­ant.

No mat­ter that Vann played only three first-team games – he wore the Rams shirt and won the cov­eted medal. That makes him unique in the club’s his­tory.

He won the VC for his ac­tions on 29th Septem­ber 1918 in an at­tack at Bel­lenglise and Le­hau­court in France. Un­der heavy fire, show­ing con­tempt for dan­ger, Vann ad­vanced his bat­tal­ion and took out three men sin­gle-handed to ‘change the whole sit­u­a­tion’. He sur­vived the in­cur­sion but four days later was killed by a sniper’s bul­let. Bernard Vann died never know­ing that he had won the high­est Bri­tish mil­i­tary hon­our.

Although that com­pletes the six names on the Derby County memo­rial, the roll-call isn’t com­pre­hen­sive. At least five more Derby play­ers were killed in the Great War, and a fur­ther eleven served and sur­vived. Over­all at least 22 Derby County play­ers ‘past and present’ gave ac­tive ser­vice dur­ing World War One.

The plaque tac­itly ac­knowl­edges that. It is a sym­bol hon­our­ing ‘all those con­nected with the club’ – play­ers, of­fi­cials and sup­port­ers – who lived through the First World War.

Its word­ing also em­braces the Sec­ond World War.

The wider scope per­mits ac­knowl­edg­ment of two fur­ther mem­o­rable char­ac­ters. Derby County’s record scorer Steve Bloomer did not see ac­tive ser­vice – al­most 41 at the out­break, he was con­sid­ered ‘too old’. But the ‘De­stroy­ing An­gel’ suf­fered a great deal – spend­ing al­most the en­tire du­ra­tion im­pris­oned at the Ruh­leben civil­ian in­tern­ment camp near Berlin. Not know­ing what lay ahead, Bloomer went to coach in Ger­many only months be­fore the war be­gan. For once the great striker’s tim­ing failed him.

Fi­nally per­haps the most ex­tra­or­di­nary char­ac­ter of all – yet an­other cen­tre-for­ward and again a cleric. The Rev­erend Llewellyn Henry Gwynne scored eight goals in his seven games for Derby County in 1887-88, and was cap­tain once. His finest hour was scor­ing four in a Der­byshire Cup match on Christ­mas Eve.

But life af­ter foot­ball eclipsed that tran­sient star­dom. Be­tween 1920 and 1946 Gwynne served in Africa as the first Bishop of Egypt and Su­dan, but prior to that ful­filled a key non-com­bat­ive role in the First World War.

In July 1915 Gwynne was ap­pointed Deputy Chap­lain Gen­eral of the Al­lied Forces in France, charged with lead­ing a team of army chap­lains tasked with the vi­tal role of main­tain­ing faith and morale in the fight­ing ranks. Gwynne did this so ef­fec­tively that the cel­e­brated Gen­eral Sir Herbert Plumer later re­ferred to him as ‘the sin­gle per­son who did most to win the war for the Al­lies’.

As ac­co­lades go that is quite some­thing – a Rams cen­tre­for­ward with rare qual­i­ties in­deed. Of to­day’s breed we ask for lit­tle more than 20 goals a sea­son… and that rarely de­liv­ered. With that sober­ing con­trast in mind, Rams fans might wish to seek out the Derby County War Memo­rial for a mo­ment’s con­tem­pla­tion – Lest We For­get.

Steve Bloomer (inside right), sketched dur­ing his in­tern­ment at Ruh­leben Camp

1914 car­i­ca­ture - The Royal Engi­neers’ ‘game plan’ for Kaiser Wil­helm

The new memo­rial plaque at Pride Park sta­dium

Llewellyn Henry Gwynne (cen­tre-for­ward) - once la­belled ‘the man who did the most to win the war’

Mr Punch takes a swipe at pro­fes­sional foot­ballers – Oc­to­ber 1914

Reg Cal­len­der (out­side-left) - killed in a freak hand grenade ac­ci­dent

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