Pte Allen Foster
17th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment
Allen Foster was born in Rawmarsh, a village just north of Rotherham in South Yorkshire, in late 1887. He married Beatrice Jennings in the spring of 1912 in Bristol and the couple moved into a house at 14 Kent Road in Reading, just yards from Elm Park.
He had begun his football career with Rotherham Town, a club playing in the Midland League (which later amalgamated with Football League club Rotherham County to form Rotherham United). Moving to Football League club Bristol City in January 1909 he made 13 appearances, scoring one goal, before transferring into the Southern League with Reading in August 1911 for a transfer fee of £75.
A successful player at Reading, virtually ever-present for the next four seasons, Allen was top scorer in each of those seasons with a total of 67 league goals from 146 appearances. A left-footed inside forward, forming a deadly partnership with Joe Bailey, he is particularly remembered for two scoring feats…
The first was a stunning volley winner in the FA Cup Second Round Replay against First Division Aston Villa in February 1912, prompting a bid of £750 from Villa, which the Reading FC directors rejected despite the Club being in significant financial difficulties at the time. The second came during the club’s successful end of season tour of Italy in 1913, where he scored a hat-trick against Italian giants AC Milan in the club's 5-0 victory. The result prompted the leading Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera to report that, ‘without doubt, Reading FC are the finest foreign team seen in Italy.’ Allen was tipped for an England call up but war intervened.
During 1915, Allen – along with many other professional footballers – volunteered for active service in Lord Kitchener’s ‘New Army’ battalions joining the 17th Middlesex Battalion (the Football Battalion). On 14th April 1915 the 17th Middlesex played the Royal Navy Division in a match at Crystal Palace. The match ended in an 8-0 victory for the 17th Middlesex, with Allen scoring a hat-trick and fellow Reading forward Joe Bailey scoring two. On 26th April the battalion beat a team from 23rd Royal Fusiliers 2-0, with Allen scoring both goals. Training for war gathered pace and the battalion embarked for France on 16th November 1915.
By May 1916, it was clear that some of the battalion’s men were beginning to suffer from psychological injuries, which Allen described in a letter to his wife as, ‘very trying to the nerves, and lots of fellows get what they call shellshock. What with the continual bursting of the shells etc and the thundering of the guns, they seem to go all to pieces. So I am afraid you won’t last long out here, but there is no need to worry as I am A1.’
Allen was involved in the 17th Middlesex battle in Delville Wood during July. At 4am on 8th August 1916 at Guillemont, near Delville Wood Allen was part of the 17th Middlesex attempt to attack German trenches north of the village. Early in the advance he was wounded in the arm, thigh and abdomen. After being recovered by stretcher bearers, which shows that he did not venture far before being hit, he was evacuated 16 miles to the No.5 Casualty Clearing Station at Corbie, where he died of his wounds. Allen is buried in Corbie Communal Cemetery Extension.
When news of his death reached home the Reading Observer wrote, ‘The news of Allen Foster’s death came like a thunderclap and the death roll of Reading Football Club is slowly mounting up. It seems impossible to believe that the fair-headed centre forward with a caustic tongue but lovable disposition would entertain no more.’
Reading FC manager, Harry Matthews, wrote to Allen’s wife, ‘Allen I cannot imagine ever had an enemy. He was liked by all and has done a great deal for the club. I’m quite sure we shall ever miss his company, and he will leave us all with a fragrant memory.’
On 18th November Reading FC played a benefit match for Allen’s widow, Beatrice and Richard, his 3-year-old son, against a Football Battalion team comprising of soldiers of 27th Middlesex battalion. Ted Hanney was one of the linesmen and Joe Bailey appeared for Reading. More than 1,000 spectators braved the heavy rain to watch the match which ended in a 5-2 victory for the 27th Middlesex.
Died of wounds at No. 5 Casualty Clearing Station, Corbie, 8th August 1916.
Buried at Corbie Communal Cemetery Extension, France.