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Cpl Heber ‘HP’ Slatter

156 (Oxford) Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery

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Heber was born in Earley in 1887, but his family soon moved into Reading. On leaving school Heber worked for Reading Council, becoming a rate collector, but his first love was football.

A stocky left half, Heber was a well-known local amateur footballer who played for the county as well as several top local clubs.  Inevitably, Heber’s talents came to the attention of Reading FC, which is hardly surprising when you consider that he was living at 77 Norfolk Road – virtually opposite the players’ entrance of Elm Park.  Playing as an amateur, and so shown in the team sheets as ‘HP Slatter’, Heber made his Southern League debut during the 1909-10 season that saw Reading relegated from the First Division.

Heber retained his place the following season, only to suffer an injury that kept him out for a while.  Fully recovered, he was recalled for the final eight games of that season as Reading clinched the Southern League Second Division title. During this spell, Heber hit the best form of his career and his 10 games in 1910-11 saw Reading win eight times and draw once, his defensive skills being highlighted by the fact that during those 10 games Reading conceded just one goal.

A feature of Heber’s play was the strength of his kicking. This saw him nicknamed ‘Little Eva’ after a powerful cannon of the time and he was described at the time as ‘one of the best half-backs Reading have produced’.  Heber left Reading early in the 1912-13 season, having played 35 Southern League games for the Biscuitmen, but he was soon back at Elm Park for the biggest game of his life.  A move to Oxford City saw him star in their progress to the Amateur Cup Final, a game staged at Elm Park on 12th April 1913.  City drew that game, but opponents South Bank won the replay by the only goal of the game.  In total, he played 72 games for City, scoring seven times.

Heber enlisted in the Royal Garrison Artillery in November 1915 and was posted to France the following year, serving as a Gunner, and he was promoted to the rank of Corporal. Like most soldiers, Heber wrote home regularly: ‘We have been so busy moving up and down that I scarcely find time to write. Up to the present, I have been keeping quite fit, but we have had some very big bombardments. Everything looks very bright from all sides and I shall be pleased to see the finish. I have had a letter from my father, he is getting on well. I am writing this sitting on the ground with the paper across my knees.’

He fought in several of the fiercest battles of the war but, on 3rd May 1918, whilst serving with his battery in Foncquevillers during the final German advance of the War, Heber was seriously wounded by a shell and, four days later, a true Reading hero died in a field hospital.  What makes Heber’s death even more tragic was that, despite having been subjected to a heavy bombardment and a gas attack, the Reading player was his unit’s only casualty.  Heber is buried in Couin New British Cemetery.

He left a wife and two young children, so in September 1918 the club staged a benefit game that raised £196 9s 4d for his family.  Kate Slatter’s anguish at her husband’s death was made worse by the fact that she had to battle with the War Office for ten months to recover her husband’s possessions, including photographs, English, French and German coins and a pack of playing cards.

Died of wounds at Fonquvillers, 7th May 1918.
Buried at Couin New British Cemetery, France.

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