An excerpt from a new book by David Bull to be published in 2019. David writes about some of Southampton's footballers who enlisted in the Hampshire Regiment. Charles Ireland is buried in Netley Military Cemetery.
Thank you David.
We have previously noted how several ex-Saints, signed from afar, returned “home” in 1914 or 1915, in some cases there to join up. On the other hand, some of Southampton’s footballers enlisted in the Hampshire Regiment.
In this section, we consider those men who served with the Hampshires’ 1/5th or 2/5th Battalion in India. On 2 September 1914, the very day on which Southampton’s Southern League season kicked off, Hampshire skittled out Kent, to win by an innings and to terminate their county-cricket season a week ahead of schedule.
This premature climax was cricket’s response to the retreat from Mons – the inaugural setback for the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) – which had been quickly followed, on 27 August, by a letter to The Sportsman from W.G. Grace, no less, asserting that the War should stop play, “for it is not fitting at a time like this that able-bodied men should be playing cricket [while] pleasure-seekers look on.” It was time for “all first-class cricketers of suitable age [to] set a good example and come to the help of their country without delay.”
Foreshortening the cricket season by a week was surely of symbolic significance only. It sufficed to set cricket apart from football, though, as the local press proclaimed with a full-page spread headed “Bravo, Hampshire!” It featured 11 of the county’s cricketers who’d already “obeyed the call to service,” including six of the men who had seen off Kent only a week before.
Two of the 11 – Phil Mead and C.B. Fry – had played for the Saints. Mead would go on to play in 17 Tests and to rack-up a record 48,892 runs for Hampshire, top-scoring in every season from 1913 to 1936, bar two: the all-rounder, John Arnold, the Saints’ winger capped by England at both football and cricket, pipped him in 1930 and 1932.
Against which achievements, it rather borders on pretension to mention that Mead had been turning out at inside-forward for the Reserves when a goalkeeping crisis had required him to make his only first-team appearance for the Saints – in goal vs West Ham in December 1907: a slip-fielder who would take 675 first-class catches could surely be relied upon to field a few shots from the Hammers. As it happened he’d needed to save only two in a 0-0 draw.
Fry’s 29 appearances for the Saints were of a different order. They included all nine matches in the 1901-02 FA Cup run that culminated in a replayed Final, lost 2-1 to Sheffield United. He’d played at right-back for England, too, yet his footballing achievements were as nothing against his 26 Test matches and – for good measure (literally) – his world long-jump record.
The caption to the celebratory spread noted that Mead had failed, “to his chagrin, … to pass the medical test” to serve with his several team-mates in the Hampshire Regiment, while the 42 year-old Fry would be a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve. Denied active service, Mead would stay at home with the Army Service Corps. Fry’s would be an honorary title – as was his promotion to Commander in 1916 – and he would simply continue to contribute, as he had from 1908, to the running of the Mercury, a naval training ship.
While neither of those luminaries would see any action, then, team-mates who had enlisted in the 5th Hants Territorials were soon being photographed en route to Salisbury Plain. When the nation entered the War, this territorial battalion was in annual training on the Plain. It was then way under-strength, but it had acquired so many new recruits by 26 September that it split into two battalions: the 1/5th and the 2/5th. It is not unambiguously evident that the cricketers enlisted in time to join the 1/5th but this battalion’s cricketing successes, noted below, rather suggest that they did.
The 1/5th Battalion
Both battalions were selected for service in India, the 1/5th docking at Bombay on 9 November, completing a month-long, 6,167-miles journey. Why Bombay? Because in 1914, so many British troops were on garrison-duty around the British Empire – a kind of colonial police force – most especially in India, the “jewel in the crown,” where the British Army had almost 80,000 men.
That’s as many as had crossed to France in August, in the initial BEF contingent. India’s own army had more than twice that number of men – so there were approaching 250,000 soldiers in India, sufficiently trained to be brought to the Western Front. “Sufficiently”, that is to say, in comparison with the raw recruits whom Kitchener was rallying to the cause. But the Indian soldiers, who had been “highly trained”, as the military historian T.A Heathcote unapologetically puts it in The Military in British India, “to function as marksmen in the hills of the North-West Frontier,” would now be “used as mere cannon fodder on the Western Front,” where they would be “mown down in swathes.”
But as it would take a while to train Kitchener’s “New Army”, the Indians were the obvious go-to troops. Indeed, their duty, as defined by the Army in India Committee of 1912, was to be ready to serve overseas, “when the situation in India allows of it, in such direction as His Majesty’s Government may determine.” That government had two “directions” in mind when it began to mobilize the Indian Army on 8 August: Egypt, where the Suez Canal would need to be guarded; and the Western Front, where the BEF was struggling.
Which explains why the men of the Lahore Division who arrived at Suez between 9 and 13 September divided into two groups – those who entrained for Cairo and those who crossed the Mediterranean for Marseille, bound for the Front. More would follow: by the end of 1914, a third of the “British” army in France would be Indian – predominantly drawn from India’s Northern Army – which, Doherty and Donovan argue in The Indian Corps on the Western Front, was a superior force to the southern divisions who were sent to fight the Germans in East Africa.
The men landing at Marseille were handicapped not just by having had the wrong kind of training, as already explained, but by being equipped with outdated rifles and being under-dressed. Some serge clothing would gradually reach them but, even then, turbans would be a heavy burden in the rain. The manner in which they overcame their disadvantages was captured by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in a report on operations in December 1914:
As well turn a tiger loose upon an ice-floe and expect that he will show all his wonted fierceness and activity… The bravest of the brave, our Indian troops were nonetheless the children of the sun, dependent upon warmth for their vitality and numbed by the cold, wet life of the trenches. That they still in the main maintained a brave, uncomplaining, soldierly demeanour… against the fierce German assaults, is a wonderful proof of their adaptability.
Quoting that passage, Doherty and Donovan argue that their early withdrawal from the Front was because the Kitchener Armies were now trained for action and the deployment of the Indians to theatres nearer home was efficient, both in terms of reinforcements and of repatriating the injured.
The first Indians to reach France had done so as early as October 1914. The exodus from India needed to be replaced by more than the odd battalion: the Hampshire Regiment alone would send seven battalions to India.
Some of these men would transfer to Mesopotamia, where one of their purposes was to help guard against an enemy-invasion of India via the North West Frontier. Their success in that regard helped to make India a safe haven – so much so that the fate of its battalions, there, merits hardly a mention in the Hampshire Regiment’s 1914-18 history. There was simply “nothing to report.” And the cricketing achievements of the 1/5th receives more attention, in the history of the Hants Territorials, than its deaths from disease.
Stationed in north India, the cricketers reached the final of the Naini Tal Tournament, a prestigious event still held today in the Himalayan foothills, while three of them represented the Viceroy’s side vs an All India XI in Bombay. The photo reproduced here shows the battalion’s cricketers in Lahore, where the garrison was so quiet as not to be mentioned in the battalion’s history. When you think that London football clubs objected in 1917 to travelling to Hampshire, the county’s cricketers were making some challenging journeys across India to play matches.
The Lahore line-up includes two young all-rounders: the regiment’s sprint champion, Ken Boyes (who features, also, in the earlier photo of cricketers bound for Salisbury Plain) and Len Butt, each of whom had been on the county’s ground staff, before the War.
Although he had signed amateur for the Saints in March 1914, Boyes would have to wait until October 1919 to sign pro and make his Saints debut in the Southern League, whereas Butt had signed pro in December 1912 and had soon made his first-team debut. Yet he was not in the Saints’ pre-season photo for 1914-15. The inference, surely, is that he had enlisted along with the cricketing contingent.
Both men would go on to play for Southampton in the Football League, each making four appearances in the side that won the Third Division (South) in 1922. Neither man would go up to Division II, however. Boyes would remain in the Third South with Bristol Rovers, with whom his League career ended after two appearances, while Butt would captain Southern League Boscombe in 1922-23 and feature in their first Football League match in August 1923. Len died in December 1993, just 17 days short of becoming the Saints’ one and only centenarian.
Which puts into stark perspective the death, at the age of 25, of Charles Ireland. Despite shade temperatures of 125ºF in their first summer in India, the 1/5th Hampshires would lose but nine men to disease (out of 26 fatalities in all). Ireland, a parks-footballer who’d had a one-match trial with the Saints in 1909, was one of the battalion’s rare deaths from this cause. Having survived the journey home from India, Lance-Corporal Ireland died in the Royal Victoria Military Hospital at Netley and is buried in the neighbouring military cemetery.
Much of the above account has been exerpted, with permission, from SAINTS AT WAR by David Bull, to be published in 2019 by Hagiology Publishing.
See also: Mee Bertie