At this time of our commemoration of 100 years since the momentous event of the start of the First World War, let us remember our local home front defence of the realm by many local enlisted and volunteer servicemen.
The first volunteers when war was declared in August 1914 were 41 players – the highest number among all first class football teams – with the now Leyton Orient FC, then Clapton Orient FC.
They formed the Footballers’ Battalion as part of the Middlesex Regiment.
Clapton Orient FC first team players Richard McFadden, George Scott and William Jonas gave the ultimate sacrifice at the Battle of the Somme, in July 1916.
Heart of Midlothian FC enlisted seven first team and 16 players in all in November 1914 and were joined by 500 faithful supporters, who formed the Royal Scots footballer battalion.
As we remember this month the Battle of the Mons – the first action for the British Expeditionary Force in August 1914 – Private Sidney Godley of the Royal Fusiliers was awarded the Victoria Cross for his heroic defence action as final volunteer rearguard machine gun operator at Nimy Bridge, Mons, and this allowed a tactical retreat of the entire British force.
He was the last soldier to leave his post as he repulsed alone advancing German first and second armed artillery until wounded with shrapnel in the head and shoulder. He was then captured, but survived.
Pte Godley (who died in Epping) was given a full military honours burial at the Loughton town hall cemetery in 1957.
The gallantry of Jack ‘Boy’ Cornwell VC (born in Leyton in 1900) is remembered on his birthday each anniversary by the local Royal British Legion flag raising service at Manor Park Cemetery – I have attended in past years – to mark his bravery in not leaving his battle station post during the (naval) Battle of Jutland in 1916, despite all gun crew on HMS Chester being wounded or killed in action.
It is poignant to his award that his loving mother, living in East Ham in 1916, sped to Grimsby military hospital on news that her son was mortally wounded on board HMS Chester.
But sadly, due to her long journey time, was not able to reach him at the last.
Lest we forget.
Higham Hill Liberal Democrat.