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📜 Celebrating the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe | The tales of Bacon, Stephenson, Chitty, ‘Lucky Johnny’ and more…

A few more Royals-related facts and fables from the front line 75 years ago…

8 May 2020

Today marks the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day and the country comes together, albeit in lockdown, in celebration.

We would like to take this opportunity to remember some of the tales of World War II which involved those connected to our club all those years ago.

The only known Reading player on our books at the time to die in conflict was Frank Ibbotson and his tale is told separately.

But there were more stories from World War II which, with the help of historian Alan Sedunary and STAR, we are able to shine a light on today.

Two more of our fallen former players
One of many tragic deaths in WWII, albeit after his playing days were over, befell Alf Bacon.

The scorer of a club record six league goals in a game, against Stoke City on Good Friday 1931, Alf later lost the sight in one eye due to damage caused by a lace when he headed a ball.

During the Second World War, Alf was a volunteer fireman and a special policeman in Derby and was on duty on the night of 27th July 1942 when a bomb exploded at the nearby Rolls Royce factory with fatal consequences.

Joseph Eric Stephenson, an England international and a World War Two guest from Leeds United who played twice for Reading in 1941-42, also lost his life in World War II

Serving with the 2nd King Edward VII's Own Gurkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles), Stephenson’s life was taken during the Burma campaign.

Mention should also be made of Dennis Gill, who had worked as a clerk in the club’s offices but who died in India whilst serving with the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

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War wounds
Other players suffered less serious injuries during the war and winger Wilf Chitty even managed to sustain a war wound without leaving Reading when he was hit by shrapnel from a nearby bomb.

Wartime guest Bill Ratcliffe suffered a shoulder injury and was taken prisoner of war in Italy but recovered to sign permanently for Reading at the age of 37. He carried on playing league football past his 40th birthday!

The incredible tale of ‘Lucky Johnny’
An even more remarkable recovery was made by local favourite, Johnny Sherwood. A member of a family music hall mime act, Johnny was top scorer when he toured with the select amateur side, Islington Corinthians.

Visiting 15 different countries, Johnny was introduced to the King of Egypt but, according to rumour, the good-looking Reading youngster made more of an impression with the young actresses when the tour reached Hollywood.

Posted to the Far East during the war, Johnny was captured by the Japanese in 1942 and forced to work on the notorious Burma Railway for three and a half years.

As the Allies advanced he was shipped to Japan but his vessel was torpedoed and he spent three days in shark-infested waters.

He was then rescued but unfortunately it was by another Japanese ship. Just when he thought it couldn’t get any worse he was taken to Nagasaki where he witnessed the dropping of the atom bomb.

Despite these terrible ordeals, Johnny’s natural fitness and personality saw him not only survive the war but return to Elm Park as a player.

He topped the reserves scorers in 1946-47 and also re-established the refreshment facilities at Elm Park, overcoming the problems caused by post-war rationing.

Records and a resumption
According to STAR board member, Roger Titford, another specific casualty of World War II for the club were its records; many were lost when the club’s town centre office was struck by a bomb in February 1943.

And it is worth all Royals fans noting, during this suspension of football, that Reading came bouncing back strong after World War II.

We were top of Division Three South when war was declared in 1939 and we won our first two league home matches after the resumption in 1946 by scored of 10-2 and then 7-2!

 


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