Brechin City: 1906-1920, the Early Years
By ALEX. WOOD
CHAPTER 7 1914-1915, THE FIRST YEAR OF THE WAR
Football and the War
Football was, as it always has been, ritualised conflict. Whether of course as a pressure valve to work off innate aggression or as means of fuelling that aggression remains endlessly debatable. Above all of course, football was team work. Controlled aggression and disciplined team work were essential to effective soldiering. .
The authorities were well aware of the potential of football and of sport in general to test those they were about to send to war. In particular they perceived sportsmanship as an attribute of leadership. William Carr, who came from a Kincardineshire farming family, tells the story of his Commission Board.
‘“What games did you play at school?”
‘“We didn’t play games, Sir.”
‘“You didn’t play games?”
‘The officer stared at me in disbelief.’
Carr did not, at that stage, receive his commission and the reason may well have been the fact that he had gone to a school at which ‘games’ were not at the peak of the curricular hierarchy, and by definition therefore he could not have been a gentleman. Had he gone to such a school and told the Board so, his sporting experience would have been analysed as a sign of his potential strengths as an officer.
Footballers and the War
The recent publication of Jack Alexander’s superb McCrae’s Battalion, the history of the 16th Royal Scots, charts the fate of a first world war battalion with a significant contingent of professional footballers in its ranks. In the case of the 16th Royal Scots, the biggest single contingent, fifteen men, was from Heart of Midlothian Football Club. Others who served had played for a plethora of Scottish clubs including Hibernian, Cowdenbeath, Dunfermline Athletic, East Fife, Falkirk and Raith Rovers. Eleven Heart of Midlothian players died in or as a result of the war.
The contribution of Scottish footballers to the military effort of 1914-18 was of course enormously wider than that which could be portrayed in Alexander’s superb book. He has however helped rekindle an interest in the wider story of the 1914-18 War and of how it impacted on so many aspects of Scottish life. In particular, he has focussed on a cohort of men who, despite their ordinary backgrounds but because of their extraordinary skills with a ball, were heroes in their time and communities.
If the story of Heart of Midlothian was of glory days and glamorous players, the story of Brechin City is more typical of Scottish football, with its proud but often struggling teams (at every level) and their proud but often frustrated supporters across the industrial towns of Scotland. While, moreover, Alexander drew on the tragedy of the sacrifices of the mighty Hearts, with its eleven mortal casualties, it is sobering that tiny Brechin City, with its at least nine fallen players, should have lost only two fewer of its players. Given also, that Brechin City, like most small town teams of the time, recruited most of its players from the town itself, the local impact of that sacrifice was even more dramatic.
1914-15: an Era Ends
As the 1913-14 season drew to a close four ‘stalwarts’, Hunter, Richardson, Heatherington and Laing, re-signed, Bob Laing however, as an amateur.
WAR AND THE BRECHIN TERRITORIALS
The 1914-15 season started shortly after the declaration of war on 4th August. The Brechin Advertiser noted that the 5th Black Watch, the Forfarshire Territorial battalion, had, on the previous week, been at Monzie, near Crieff, on its annual training camp. Late on the Wednesday (29th July) the Battalion’s Special Service men were informed to be ready to march off at six the next morning. Some two hundred of them, including some twenty five Brechin men, entrained at Crieff on the Thursday morning. For these two hundred, full-time war service had begun, although their initial duty was guarding the Tay Bridge rather than embarking for the continent. That came, for most of the Battalion, less than three months later. The remainder of the Battalion, in the meantime, completed its camp and returned to their home towns on the Saturday, 1st August, and Sunday, 2nd August, the Brechin detachment, under Lieutenant Archibald Duke, attending Divine Service at the Cathedral on the Sunday. After further training, the 5th Black Watch was among the first Scottish Territorial battalions to reach the front line, arriving in Le Havre on 1st November.
FOOTBALL AND THE WAR OF WORDS
Within days of the declaration of war, Mr T Forsyth the chairman of Airdrieonians Football Club added his voice to patriotic crescendo. “I am very much disappointed that in this serious crisis in the nation’s history no step has been taken by the Scottish Football Association nor by the Scottish League to lend their valuable help to their country in its time of need. There may, no doubt, be in course of time subscriptions and ‘gates’ to the funds, but that is a mere trifle. More than that is needed. Lord Kitchener has asked for additional men for the army, and in the face of that requirement we are faced with the ironic fact of about 10,000 of the finest trained men in the country, disporting themselves at the game of football. Playing football at a time when our men are fighting and dying on the battlefield is too repugnant for anyone to be a party to, and unless some action is taken I will feel compelled to resign as chairman of the club, and take no further part in football.”
Forsyth’s fulminations did not go unanswered. George Cumming, Secretary of both BrechinCityand the Forfarshire Football Association, at the county association’s AGM, stated that “the past year had been the most remarkable in the history of football. The war had played havoc with the national game and the tams engaged in it, and it looked as if next season would be no better. There was no club in Forfarshire which had made money this season. Montrose put up the shutters after a few weeks, while Brechin had had the peculiarly remarkable record of not having a home engagement in the first half of the season. Arbroath Amateurs gave up football entirely for the cannon ball. All honour to the members of that club, and their fallen heroes. In recent months, said Mr Cumming, much undeserved criticism had been directed against footballers for not coming forward to enlist. Footballers were just as good patriots as any other class of sportsmen, and out of the seven senior clubs in Forfarshire over eighty members had joined the colours.”
BRECHIN FOOTBALLERS IN THE FIRST MONTHS OF WAR
The war had an immediate effect on football in Brechin. D Company of the 5th Black Watch, the local company of the local Territorial Battalion, included in its numbers Private Tom Irvine, who had played occasionally for City over the years, and, as of September 1914, Private James Milne, the ex-Dundee player who had played for Brechin in 1910-11 and 1911-12, both of whom volunteered for foreign service. Also among the 5th Black Watch volunteers for foreign service in September 1914 were local Junior footballers, Robert Jaffrey, Gordon Macfarlane and David Vallentine, Macfarlane and Jaffray each having played for City. James Adam, vice-captain of Brechin Hearts, who like Macfarlane and Jaffray, had played one game for City, enlisted early in the war. David Vallentine’s brother, James Vallentine, “a well-known football player with the Hearts, (who) occasionally sported the City colours,” enlisted in the Scots Guards. George Cumming junior, himself a junior player and the son of George Cumming, the secretary, of Brechin City FC, was serving in the 5th Irish Lancers and later transferred to the Scots Guards.
By November, former regular City player David Easson was serving with the Army Service Corps. In December 1914 Davie Glen, Brechin’s veteran goal-scorer, enlisted in the Royal Scots. By January 1915 George Richardson, who had played for Brechin Hearts, Brechin Rovers and Brechin City, had enlisted in the 6th Scottish Rifles, the Cameronians. Richardson, who was a joiner to trade, was to become a sergeant, transfer to the Machine Gun Corps and win a Military Medal, arrived in France during 1915. In January 1915 there enlisted, in the Royal Army Medical Corps, Frank Forbes, who had played his last game for City in November 1914. Later that month Willie Campbell, the Edzell greenkeeper and regular City player over many years, enlisted in the Royal Scots. James Melvin enlisted in April 1915 in the Motor Transport Section of the Army Service Corps.
THE NORTHERN LEAGUE: A DISMAL SEASON FOR CITY
Brechin City played out season 1914-15 in the Northern League which thereafter ceased to function until after the war ended. The most complete league table traced illustrates what a poor season 1914-15 was for Brechin.
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Although the league fixtures were unfinished Forfar Athletic were recognised as champions. With one league win, one draw and six defeats and twenty eight goals against and only seven goals for, this last season was the nadir of City’s fortunes.
THE CUP COMPETITIONS
In addition to the dismal league record, Brechin beat Montrose 3-1 in the first round of the Qualifying Cup but lost 7-1 to Lochgelly in the second round. Arbroath beat Brechin by three goals to nil in the first round of the Forfarshire Cup.
Brechin Advertiser reports of the fixtures in 1914-15 are of limited quality, team lists are frequently missing and scorers seldom quoted. In a few cases partial team lists can be adduced from names quoted in the reports.
The most regular players in the Brechin line-up were Allan with at least nine games, Laing with seven, Hunter, Robertson and Richardson with six each and Harry Hampton and George Hastings with five each.
Robertson had at least six games in goal and Sturrock one.
Skene and Johnstone had at least two games each at right back and Aitken and Hill at least one. Laing appears to have played at left back on at least nine occasions.
Richardsonseems to have played at right half at least six times and Rae once. Hetherington and Laing had at least three games each at centre half and Hill one. Laing and Wallace each had at least three games at left half.
Irvinehad at least three games on the right wing while Hastings and Strachan had two each. John Strachan was a regular soldier who played while home on leave after having been wounded early in the war. Forbes and Anderson had at least two games each at inside right and Hastings, Stratton and the aforementioned Strachan had one each. Andersonhad at least four games at centre,Hamptontwo andHastingsand Laing one each. Harry Hampton had at least five games at inside left and Hunter two. Hunter had at least four games on the left wing and Hastings and Fuller (almost certainly a misprint for Fowler) had one each. For the first season since City’s inception there is no record of any games played by Davie Glen. As stated, he had enlisted in December 1914 in the Royal Scots.
NEWS FROM THE WAR: THE FIRST CASUALTIES
As a miserable season for Brechin and the world drew to a close, the war claimed the first football casualties from the ancient city.
James Adam, killed
The first fatality among City’s footballers was the vice-captain of Brechin Hearts in 1913-14, James Guild Adam, sometimes noted as James Guild and popularly known as ‘Guildie’.
James Guild Adam was born at 7 Montrose Street, Brechin, (coincidentally two doors away from the home for many years at 11 Montrose Street of Walter Fowler, his team-mate and captain at Brechin Hearts ) on the 27th April 1891. He was the son of Christina Adam, a linen factory worker, later Christina Mitchell, and was living in 1901 with his mother and his grand-mother, Christina Adam, in City Road. Both his mother and his grandmother died when he was a boy, his mother in 1908 and his grandmother in 1903. He is noted by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as the ward of Jeannie Taylor of City Road, Brechin, a wardship which doubtless followed the death of his mother.
James Adam had been the centre forward, occasional inside right and vice-captain of Brechin Hearts (for whom he had scored a hat-trick in the Arbroath and District Cup final in April 1914) as well as a regular player for Brechin Cricket Club. He played one game for BrechinCity, in December 1910, against Brechin Rovers and can therefore legitimately be considered Brechin City’s first war death. He was employed at Brechin Castle Gardens, had enlisted in the 5th Black Watch at the beginning of the war and gone to France with one of the first reserve contingents, disembarking on 17th December 1914. He was wounded in the chest and face and died, a few days later, on 14th March 1915. He is buried at Merville Communal Cemetery in France.
David Vallentine: wounded
In May came the news of David Vallentine, a prominent junior player, being wounded.
John Strachan: seriously wounded
News also reached Brechin of the fate of John Strachan. Lance Corporal John Strachan of the 2nd Battalion, The Black Watch, had been serving in India when war was declared. He arrived in France, was wounded and was invalided home in late January 1915. He played at least three games for City while on leave. At the end of that leave he returned to his battalion and as a result of action in early May 1915 “his leg was shattered and it had to be amputated.” He survived the amputation and had been discharged from the army by January 1916.
Tom Irvine: killed
Some few weeks later however, arrived news of the second City player to die as a result of the war. Tom Irvine, had played for City on single occasions in each of 1907-08, 1910-11 and 1911-12. Irvinewas wounded in May. By a remarkable coincidence both John Strachan and Tom Irvine were almost certainly wounded in the same action, Aubers Ridge, in which their separate battalions (2nd and 5th respectively) of The Black Watch were both engaged. Both had their legs shattered and each of them had a leg amputated. Strachan survived but tragically, after a seeming recovery,Irvine had a relapse and died in hospital inLondon in June.
Tom Irvine was the son of George Irvine, bleachfield worker, and Ann Irvine(nee Reid). He was born on 6th November 1886 at52 Montrose Street, Brechin. By 1901 he and his family were residing at159 Montrose Street and he was noted as a mill flax and tow preparer. He played at outside right for Brechin Hearts in 1905-06 and thereafter played occasionally, but over a long number of years, forBrechinCity.
He was noted as a member of the 5th Black Watch at the outbreak of war and as having volunteered for foreign service. His service number was 573. His medal card shows him as having qualified for his 1914 Star (which was achieved by arrival in France) on 1st November 1914. He appears therefore to have gone to France with the very first detachment of the 5th Black Watch. His home address while in the army was Nursery Lane, Brechin.
CHAPTER 8 CAN BE ACCESSED AT https://www.alexwood.org.uk/2012/08/brechin-city-the-early-years-chapter-8/
BUILDING THE ARCHIVE
The author of this article would be glad to hear any information which corrected, improved or enhanced any of the information given here and would be delighted to hear of any readers who have documents, photographs, articles or simply memories or knowledge of any of the names mentioned or of any other Brechin footballing connections with the 1914-18 War. The author can be contacted at: email@example.com .
Any such material will be used to supplement this article.
The major sources for this work were:
Adams, David G: The Kirn Poke o’ Brechin, Chanonry Press, Brechin (1986)
Adams, David G: The Brechin Bran Tub, Chanonry Press, Brechin (1987)
Adams, David G: The Brechin Rag-Bag, Chanonry Press, Brechin (1988)
Adams, David G: The Brechin Lucky Dip, Chanonry Press, Brechin (1989)
Alexander, Jack: McCrae’s Battalion, Mainstream,Edinburgh (2003)
Carr, William: A Time to Leave the Ploughshares,London (1985)
Cheshire, Scott: Chelsea, A Complete Record 1905-1991, Breedon Books (1991)
Crampsey, Bob: The Scottish Football League, the First 100 Years, SFL,Glasgow (1990)
Cumming, George: Through the Years with Brechin City FC, Simmath Press,Dundee (1948)
Falls, Cyril: History of the Great War, France and Belgium, 1917
Gibbs, Philip: The War Dispatches, Tandem,London (1968)
Gourlay, David M.A.: A Brechin Eleven and A Printer’s Dozen, Wm. Hendry, Brechin (1956)
Hampton, W: Collection of Colin Hampton Memorabilia (including medals, press cuttings and photographs)
Lynch, Michael: Scotland, A New History, Pimlico,London (1992)
McArra, Kevin: Scottish Football, a Pictorial History,Edinburgh (1984)
McLeod, Rod: 100 Years of Scottish Football, STV,Glasgow (1973)
Price, Norrie: Up Wi’ The Bonnets, N Price,Aberdeen (1993)
Smailes, Gordon, Scottish Football Records,Derby (1995)
Smout, T.C.: A Century of the Scottish People, 1830-1950,Fontana,London (1997)
Swinburne, John: Motherwell Football Club, 1886-1999, Tempus, Stroud (1999)
Wilkie, Jim: Across the Great Divide, Mainstream (1984)
Wood, Alex.: Collection of Walter Fowler memorabilia (including medals, photographs and Brechin Hearts membership card)
The Brechin Almanac 1918
The Brechin Almanac 1920
Brechin and The Great War 1918 (Brechin Advertiser, February 1919)
The Brechin Advertiser
The Courier and Argus
The London Gazette
D & R Duke, Denburn Works, Roll of Honour, Brechin (1919?)
Relichtie Arbroath FC fans’ website http://www.relichtie.plus.com/directory.htm
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Debt of Honour web-site http://www.cwgc.org/cwgcinternet/search.aspx
The County of Angus Roll of Honour http://vzone.virgin.net/ian.edwards2/index.htm
Corstorphine, James K: The East Fife Football Historian website http://members.tripod.com/~corstorphine/historian.html
Dundee United FC website http://www.dundeeunitedfc.co.uk/
Fulham FC website http://www.fulhamfc.com/
Loons Mad, independent Forfar Athletic fans website http://www.forfarathletic-mad.co.uk
The National Archives, Documents on Line, for World War One medal lists http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documentsonline
McColl, Brian: Scottish Football Encyclopaedia website http://www.geocities.com/brianmccoll19662003/ScottishFootballAtoZ.html
Parker, Jim: Machine Gun Corps Research website www.machinegun.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk
Ross, James M: Scotland – List of Qualifying Cup Winners, website http://www.rssf.com/tables/scotqualcuphist.html
Tangerine Dream, independent Dundee United fans website http://www.geocities.com/Colosseum/Park/8250/united.htm
WELLnet, Motherwell FC website http://members.lycos.co.uk/kissmyzeus/pa/h.html
Birth Certificates were traced for most mentioned men and marriage certificates for several via Scotland’s People, the web site for the General Register Office forScotland, from which were also traced census entries http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/
In addition the following individuals and institutions were of enormous assistance in compiling the material on which this article was based and their efforts and support is acknowledged with gratitude:
Chelsea Football Club (Claire Lait);
CrystalPalaceFootball Club (Rev Nigel Sands);
DundeeFootball Club (David Forbes);
DundeeUnited Football Club (Mike Watson and Steve Gracie);
Bill and Agnes Hampton, Brechin;
Jenny Hill, The Brechin Advertiser;
James Livie, Brechin;
Ken Macaskill, ofEdinburghand formerly of Brechin
Steve Mitchell, Editor,BrechinCityProgramme and Director, Brechin City FC;
Jack Souter, Luthermuir;
The Staff, Brechin Public Library;
The Staff, The National Library ofScotland.