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Pte Jack Huggins

1st/8th Durham Light Infantry

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Jack was born at Crosby Ravenscroft, Westmorland where his parents ran the nearby Crown Hotel and moved with his parents to the Central Hotel, Whitehaven and then the Albion Hotel. Torn between teaching and football throughout his life, Jack joined Sunderland in 1906, initially as an amateur but then as a professional.

A speedy outside left, Jack soon made it into Sunderland’s First Division side and during his two seasons at Roker Park he made 14 League appearances, scoring twice, against Manchester United and Sheffield United. Both of those goals came in his first season and his first team opportunities were limited in his second.

It was regarded as something of a coup when manager Harry Matthews secured the signature of the promising winger as Jack joined Reading on 12th May 1908, although his contract did not start until August.  By coincidence, during the same month the club also signed Fred Wheatcroft, another war casualty.  Jack was a regular on the left wing, playing in 31 of the 40 Southern League fixtures plus all three FA Cup games. He scored six goals, all in league games, and his goals proved something of a good luck charm for the club as, of the five games in which he scored Reading won four and drew the other.

Christmas 1908 was to be the high spot of Jack’s time at Elm Park as he scored twice in the Christmas Day win over Brighton and then netted again three days later at Brentford. While at Reading, Jack continued his teaching career at the Swansea Road School. In those days a player’s contracts were for one season only and usually ran from August to May, so the clubs did not have to pay them during the summer. This also meant that there tended to be a large turnaround of players each season and this was the case in summer 1908.

After a distinctly average season (40 points from 40 games, 11 of which were won and the same number lost) the directors decided to retain only two of that season’s players. Jack had been one of the best players but it seems that he had trouble settling in the south so when his contract with Reading expired he took the opportunity to rejoin Sunderland.

Jack had been a member of the Bede College company of the 8th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry and as soon as war was declared he enlisted, passing his medical on 18th September 1914. On 20th April 1915 the battalion went to France and within three days they were ordered to the front line at the second Battle of Ypres.

It was during fighting in what is known as the Battle of St Julien that Jack was initially reported as missing and it was assumed that he had been captured and taken as a prisoner of war.  Subsequently, the Red Cross suggested that he had, in fact, been killed in action and buried by German soldiers at the German cemetery at Wallemolen (between Poelkapelle and Passchendaele). This proved to be the case and it seems that Jack was killed on 26th April after the battalion had taken up positions at Boetleer Farm, between the villages of St Julien and Gravenstafel. At the end of the war Jack’s remains were moved to the Perth Cemetery (China Wall), Ypres.

Killed in action at the Battle of St Julien, 26th April 1915.
Buried at Perth Cemetery, (China Wall), Belgium.

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