World War One Royals
Nine Reading Football Club players tragically lost their lives in World War One
All those men, along with Frank Ibbotson, Freddy Fisher and Joe Stephenson who passed in World War Two, are honoured at Madejski Stadium on a memorial wall next to the Players' Entrance.
A memorial service took place there on Saturday morning, with Sir John Madejski representing the club.
World War One:
Private Ben Butler , 17th Middx Regiment
Having joined Reading from Arsenal, Ben helped us to the Southern League Title, and off the pitch he was well connected with the town as his brother ran the Star Inn in Caversham. He volunteered to join the Footballers’ Battalion at aged 29, and was tragically wounded in Lens. The hospital chaplain’s account read, ‘A great big chap lies in this bed, a guard bulges up the blankets over his leg. I asked him, “Well corporal, how are you now?” He replied to me, “Bad, this leg is done in. No more football for me.” He fights for dear life for ten days and then goes out. He has played the game, I doubt not that he has won many matches, a fine fellow. May he rest in peace.’
Private James Comrie, 1st/7th Northumberland Fusiliers
Born in Denny in March 1881, joined us from Third Lanark, having featured in two Scottish FA Cup finals. He was virtually ever-present in his one season, making 35 Southern League appearances for us before moving on to the then League club, Glossop. Jimmy went on to play for Bradford City and Lincoln and his cousin John Comrie also played for Reading between 1912 and 1915. He was a Private in the Northumberland Fusiliers.
Sergeant Joe Dickenson, 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards
Described in the press as ‘a man who gave everything for Reading,’ he was part of our squad that thumped AC Milan 5-0 away from home. He would always ask about Reading FC in his letters home from the battlefields, but tragically he was our first casualty when he lost his life at Festubert on 19th May 1915, leaving his pregnant wife Winifred and young son Stephen. His name remains on a memorial at Le Touret.
Private Allen Foster, 17th Middx Regiment
One of the greatest players of his era, Allen Foster will always be remembered for his giant-killing goal against Aston Villa in 1912. Such was his prowess that he prompted a huge £750 bid from Villa, but the bid was rejected despite financial problems. He had the world at his feet, but duty called as war broke out. He kept a cheeky tone in letters home, writing, ‘We made old Fritz hop about! They were running about like lost sheep but we were popping away at him like blazes.’ Tragically slain in what proved to be a fruitless attack outside Delville Wood, back home the Reading Observer newspaper wrote, ‘The news of Allen Foster’s death came like a thunderclap and the death roll of Reading Football Club players is slowly mounting up. It seems impossible to believe that the fair-haired centre forward with a caustic tongue but lovable disposition would entertain us no more. One’s thoughts instantly flew to the quiet little woman and tiny babe.’
Sergeant Len Hawes, Berks Yeomanry
A promising forward who was killed at Gallipoli with the Berkshire Yeomanry in August 1915. Like so many soldiers of the time, his passing barely registered a mention in the press.
Private Jack Huggins, 1st/8th Durham Light Infantry
Teacher Jack played 31 times for the club in 1908-09. He was born in Whitehaven, playing for Bede College and Leadgate before a prestigious move to Sunderland. He then came to Reading, but despite a good goalscoring record of 6 goals in 31 matches he could not settle in the south and returned to Roker Park.
Edward ‘Ginger’ Mitchell, 164 Battery RFA
He played in the region of 15 games for the then-Biscuitmen and also lined up for Swansea before tragically losing his life while part of the 164 Battery Royal Field Artillery.
Corporal Heber ‘HP’ Slatter, 156 (Oxford) Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery
Only 5’5” and 9st11lbs, HP played for Berkshire at all levels and was already known for his tough tackling before joining Reading. Described as one of our best ever half backs, he lived on Norfolk Road, right next to Elm Park and the Spreadeagle pub. He was Reading through and through, and his relations still come to watch Reading to this day. A gunner in the war, he was tragically unfortunate to be the only man killed in a battle on 7th May 1918, and he fought for four days before his life was lost. To help Mrs Slatter and her family, a benefit game was played at Elm Park, raising £196 9s 4d.
2nd Lt Freddie Wheatcroft, 5th East Surrey Regiment
Our top scorer in 1908/9, he enlisted as a private in the 5th (Reserve) Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment (Territorial Force) at the age of 33. Killed in desperate fighting in Bourlon Wood, he left a wife, Susan Jessie, behind.
Lest we forget.