Sunday 10 June 2018

Dulwich Hamlet FC: Community Football in peace and at war

Regular readers will know that in recent years, I have drifted into the world of following non-league football and have found myself supporting my local team, Dulwich Hamlet FC. Non-league football has a way of getting under one's skin and it is very easy to get involved as a volunteer performing all manner of duties. Supporting the Hamlet has allowed me to meet some fantastic people and make many new friends and this aspect has really rekindled my love of the sport.

I guess that it was inevitable that my love of history would cross over in to the world of non-league football and last year, I was honoured to be asked to write about the history of the four players who feature on the club's Second World War Roll of Honour. This book would eventually become entitled "For Freedom" as this was the motto of 106 Squadron, with whom one of these casualties, Reg Anderson, was serving when he was killed.

Last week, I was asked to speak at Wolverhampton University as part of their Football and War initiative, both about the casualties who are honoured in the booklet and about the club's wider history, both in peace and wartime. For those readers who are based "down south" or based overseas, I appreciate that Wolverhampton isn't the easiest place to reach and although we hope to repeat the seminar in the autumn at a London venue, I thought it a good idea to repeat the talk here for anyone interested.

Dulwich Hamlet is one of the oldest and best known names on the non-league circuit, having been founded as a Sports Club in 1893 by Lorraine ‘Pa’ Wilson, who was a Bible teacher at Dulwich Hamlet School and also a local councillor. This was done at the request of some of the pupils of the school who collected the princely sum of 1/8 (about 8 pence in today’s money) for him to do so. You will no doubt note from the founding year of 1893 that we are celebrating our 125th anniversary this year.

Lorraine "Pa" Wilson (Hamlet Historian)

Next month we travel to Hamburg to play Altona 93 who also commemorate the same anniversary and will be perpetuating a fixture that was first played in 1925 in Hamburg.

The club began in very humble circumstances in Woodwarde Road, Dulwich and the park players amongst you will recognise the routine of carrying corner flags and kit to the ground on match days, which is what these early Hamlet players had to do, only in their case, they also had to carry the goalposts as well! There was a local pub on the route and no doubt after matches, a few beers would be taken on the way home for those old enough to imbibe!

The Club’s first colours were described as “dark blue and red” but in reality was most likely a collection of whatever could be gathered together at the time. Fortunately, one of the founding members of the club, WT Lloyd, also happened to be a former pupil of Westminster School and had played football for “The Pinks” which was the name of their ‘Old Boys’ team. The Club’s colours were changed to pink and blue – the same as Westminster School’s – allegedly in his honour but most likely because he had obtained some second-hand kit from his old school. The Club’s colours have remained the same with minor variations ever since.

Champion Hill Stadium in the 1930s (Hamlet Historian)

The Club first played at Champion Hill in 1912, playing initially on the Greendale pitch, which visitors to Champion Hill will know as being the pitch at the top end of the current ground. The stadium was moved to the site of the current stadium in 1931 to become one of the largest and best appointed stadiums in non-league football and was also used during the 1948 London Olympics when it staged South Korea v Mexico on 2 August, which the Korean side won 5-3 in front of a crowd of 6,000 people. The stadium often attracted five-figure crowds for league matches, amateur internationals and representative matches – the stadium record being 20,744 for the Amateur Cup final between Kingstonian and Stockton in 1933. With the abolition of amateur status in the early 1970s and the subsequent decline in the club’s fortunes, the stadium fell into disrepair and was redeveloped into its present form in 1992. It remains to be seen when we will be allowed to return home.

The club once had thriving athletics, gymnastics, cricket, cycling and chess sections, as well as the football club and today would no doubt be called a “Multi-Sports” club. The football club itself is Wilson’s enduring legacy and memorial. Wilson was a far-sighted man, who like many of his contemporaries embraced the Corinthian ideal of “Playing the game for the sake of the game” but took this a step further to ask “How can we improve the game?” He was looking at the game from the point of view of players, officials and spectators and how they were treated; he wanted to ensure that anyone who visited Champion Hill went away knowing that they had been well looked after and had been treated with respect. He also felt it was part of the club’s duty to become an integral part of the community and to serve it, rather than just being a sports club that happened to be in Dulwich.

Because of this, he would be undoubtedly proud of the our current reputation as being an integral part of the local community and serving it with imaginative initiatives such as the Aspire Academy for young players, support of local charities and matches played against Stonewall in support of the LGBT community, Assyria (a Syrian expat team) to support the refugee community, to name but a few. We hold a Charity Day at a home match each year and ‘adopt’ a local charity – last season we adopted the Coplestone Centre, a community centre in East Dulwich based around a local multi-denominational church that does great work in helping local disadvantaged people. We also support the Royal British Legion every year around Remembrance Weekend.

Today, our support has a reputation encouraged by some lazier journalist as being “hipster” and “Left Wing” – incidentally, for what it’s worth I fit neither of those labels but just happen to think that I am supporting a football club that has a social conscience. In any event, I am immensely proud of what the club has achieved and continues to achieve both on and off the pitch at the centre of our community – and I’m sure ‘Pa’ who incidentally was a Conservative Councillor – would also be proud of what his club has become.

The War Memorial is rededicated in 1949 (Hamlet Historian)

This involvement in the local community began with the formation of the club itself and was cemented after the Great War, during which over 100 members served, of whom a staggering 22 perished, with others suffering life-changing injuries. During the war, Wilson had allowed the ground to be used to entertain the troops on leave and had published a magazine named “News of the Pink and Blue Brigade” for the men serving overseas in order for them to keep up with news from home and also keeping them updated as to news of their friends serving elsewhere. After the war, he ensured that a fitting memorial was established to preserve the memory of those who had died and from May 1921, began to sponsor a bed at nearby Kings College Hospital – “The Pink and Blue Bed” which remained in situ until 1947, long after Wilson’s own death in 1924.

The football club started by playing in the local Camberwell league but in 1907 joined the Isthmian League and was a member for 111 years until our recent promotion last month. The first Isthmian League title came in 1919/20 and we also won the FA Amateur Cup in that same year. In total we’ve won the league on four occasions – the last time being in 1948/49 and have won the FA Amateur Cup on four occasions, the last occasion being in 1936/37. Dulwich Hamlet’s strongest period was undoubtedly during the inter-war years, when the mainstay of the side was the legendary Edgar Kail.

Edgar Kail (Hamlet Historian)

No talk about Dulwich Hamlet would be complete without mentioning this legend of amateur football, who joined the club as a 15 year old in 1915 and broke through into the First Team as a result of the absence of older, more established players who were serving in the forces. With other young players coming to the fore at the same time, Kail ensured that the club kept going during the war and in the immediate post-war years. He scored 427 times in a career lasting from 1919 to 1933 and once scored 53 goals in a season (1925/26) which is not surprisingly, a club record. He was a committed amateur who resisted all calls to turn professional. He was an England Amateur International and also played three times and scoring twice for the Full England side, being the last non-league player to do so (although not the last amateur – Bernard Joy of Arsenal holds that distinction.) The club suffered harder times during the 1970s and in 1977 found itself in the second tier of the Isthmian League, as we did also in 2001. More recently, under the management of Gavin Rose, the Club regained its position in the top tier of the Isthmian League in 2013 and finally achieved promotion to the National League South by winning the play off final on May 7 against a very good Hendon team. Quite an achievement considering everything that the club has had thrown at them off the field this season .

When Shall Their Glory Fade (author's photo)

My friend and fellow Hamlet fan Roger Deason has written about the club’s Great War casualties and hopefully will contribute a future seminar concerning these men but until recently, the casualties from 1939-45 have been somewhat overlooked – even though two of them were relatively high-profile England Amateur Internationals – and it is for that reason that we will concentrate on these men tonight. In November of last year, we released “For Freedom” which tells the story of the four players on the Second World War Roll of Honour.

DHFC Juniors - September 1940 (Hamlet Historian)

The coming of another war in September 1939 meant that Dulwich Hamlet would once again lose players to serve in the armed forces and ensured that once again would look to the juniors to ensure that fixtures were fulfilled.

The Isthmian League was suspended at the outbreak of war but the club carried on and continued to play in a much smaller and more localised league, known as the South Eastern Combination, which consisted of teams including Bromley, Epsom, Erith & Belvedere, DHFC, Sutton Utd, Tooting & Mitcham, Walton-on-Thames, Wimbledon and Woking – all reasonably local, so as to cut down travelling. As the league was quite small, there were not enough fixtures to fill every Saturday in the season and so vacant weeks were filled by friendly fixtures quite often against service teams. The composition of the teams we fielded varied greatly and as in the Great War, consisted of a few older players and guest players from amongst locally serving servicemen, with the gaps filled by members of the junior teams who were given their chance.

A wartime friendly programme against the Royal Warwickshire Regiment (Hamlet Historian)

By January 1945, some 80 Dulwich players had been called up, of whom about half served with the RAF, of the remainder, the split was roughly 50:50 between the Royal Navy and the Army and at least one who served as a Bevin Boy in the coal mines.

Flight Lieutenant Richard Boyd DFC (Hamlet Historian)

One of these players who served as aircrew – Richard Boyd – is still with us at the age of 97 and today lives in the USA, quite appropriately for a former Bomber Command Pilot, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Richard was born in Brockley in November 1921 and lived in Evelyn Street, Deptford. He joined the Dulwich Hamlet junior team following a trial at the beginning of the 1938/39 season. His big chance came in August 1940 when he made his senior debut in another trial match and was by all accounts, man of the match playing at right half.

Richard’s debut in a league match came on Saturday 7 September 1940 against local rivals Bromley. This date proved to be the first day of the London Blitz and with about 20 minutes play remaining, with the Hamlet winning 3-2, the air raid sirens sounded and the referee duly abandoned the match. By 5pm, having quickly showered and changed, the players were heading out into Dog Kennel Hill but by this time, there were scores of aircraft appearing overhead. As the bombs began to fall, it was now all about getting home to Deptford, which he managed to do with great difficulty and not without fear. As part of his local Scout group, Richard acted as a messenger during the Blitz and later joined the Home Guard helping to protect the Surrey Docks. Richard volunteered to serve as aircrew and following his initial flying training in 1941, was sent to the USA as part of the Arnold Scheme. He was an excellent pilot and after qualifying, was retained as an instructor and did not return to the UK until 1943, when he was posted to Bomber Command. He served a full tour with 195 Squadron and was awarded the DFC for gallantry in bringing his damaged aircraft home. In Spring 1945, he transferred to Transport Command but in April 1946, was involved in a crash in which he broke his leg and which kept him in hospital for three months. He was demobbed in January 1947 but when he attempted to play again, he found that his leg would not stand up to the strain of playing competitive football. He later took up a non-flying role with BOAC and moved to the USA where he still lives.

Sadly, the new war ensured that further members of the club's playing staff were to lose their lives and we now look at those who feature on the club's Roll of Honour.

Eric Pierce (Gavin Heaton)

The first of our 1939-45 casualties was Eric Pierce, whose senior Dulwich Hamlet career would be over almost as soon as it started. Eric was born in Camberwell on 15 June 1921 and had played all of his football prior to the outbreak of war for the club’s junior teams. He was also a keen cricketer who played for Dulwich Hamlet Cricket Club whenever possible. It seems an alien concept for footballers nowadays but it was by no means uncommon at the end of the football season to simply swap one set of playing kit for another and continue to play another sport for the same club.

The loss to service of many of the club’s more senior players saw Eric break through into the First Team for some of the local wartime league matches that replaced the usual Isthmian League fixtures but on 23 January 1941, Eric enlisted into the RAF to train as a pilot. He was undergoing training at 16 Elementary Flying Training School at RAF Burnaston and had passed a major milestone for any aspiring pilot by achieving solo flight - about a quarter of any new intake of prospective pilots failed to go solo, so Eric was obviously a competent pilot. Unfortunately, on 12 October 1941 when undertaking aerobatic duties, his Miles Magister trainer aircraft suffered an engine failure whilst at low altitude and despite his attempts to make a forced landing, Eric’s aircraft crashed into a field at Broken Flats Farm in Derbyshire, which killed the young pilot instantly.

Ron Ebsworth (Hamlet Historian)

The second to perish was 35 year old Ron Ebsworth, who had been born in Ilford in 1906 and played for his local club Ilford FC who were at that time an established amateur club who also played in the Isthmian League. He joined Dulwich in 1936 and in contrast to Eric Pierce, was perhaps coming towards the end of his playing career when he joined us. Ron was one of those people that you need at any amateur club, whether it be football, cricket, rugby or whatever sport – he was always available to play and would happily play in any team and in pretty much any position. He was a very popular figure at the club because of this willingness to play anywhere and his uncomplaining nature. 

He preferred to play either at full-back or wing-half and whilst he played a number of times for the Hamlet First Team, he played the majority of his football for the club’s Reserves. He was initially Vice Captain of the reserves but was named Captain of the Reserves for the 1938-39 Season and led the team to the runners-up spot in what must have been a very tight competition as his team had remained unbeaten until 13 April 1939 but were pipped at the post by his former club, Ilford. He would have been Reserve Captain again for the 1939-40 Season had it not been cancelled due to the outbreak of war. He was also a keen cricketer and in common with many of his team mates, played for Dulwich Hamlet CC during the summer months. 

Like many of his team mates, Ron volunteered to serve as RAF aircrew and enlisted into the service on 13 July 1940. He trained and qualified as a Wireless Operator/Gunner and was posted to 214 Squadron, Bomber Command, which flew the Vickers Wellington bomber, at that time the main workhorse of the RAF’s bomber squadrons. Ron and his crewmates completed four operational flights but they were not to return from their fifth, a mission to Hamburg on 30 November 1941, during which their aircraft was lost without trace near the Dutch coast. Only one crew member's body was ever recovered and today Ron, with the remainder of his missing crew mates, is remembered on the RAF Memorial at Runnymede in Surrey.

Reg Anderson (kneeling, second from left) (Hamlet Historian)

Our third casualty was Reg Anderson, who like Eric Pierce had joined the club as a youngster and had progressed through the club’s junior teams. Reg was a local boy, born in Peckham and who lived in Woodwarde Road, the location of the Club’s original ground. He was a natural sportsman and had played football for Wilson’s Grammar School in Camberwell and subsequently for his Old Boys club before signing for the Hamlet in 1934 as an 18 year old. He played on the right wing and progressed quickly through the junior teams. He broke into the First Team in late 1936, making an early impression by scoring the winner over Margate in a shock FA Cup victory in November of that year. Margate were an unofficial ‘nursery’ side for Arsenal at that time and were regarded as the strongest team in the competition at that stage.

Reg was also part of the team that lifted the FA Amateur Cup for the final time in the club’s history in 1937 when they defeated Leyton 2-0 in front of 33,000 spectators at Upton Park, as seen in the photograph above. He played in another cup final that same season when he scored in a 2-0 victory over Kingstonian in the Surrey Senior Cup final that was played at Plough Lane

Reg’s form also attracted the attention of the selectors for the England Amateur side and he scored a hat trick on debut against Wales in an 8-2 victory at Rhyl in January 1938. Almost certainly as a result of this performance, Reg was approached by Sir Herbert Merrett, the industrialist and chairman of Cardiff City to play for them as an amateur, with the offer of a job in Wales as a sweetener. He accepted the offer and made his debut in a 1-1 draw at Notts County on Easter Saturday 1939 – he played at home against the same opposition two days later when he scored in a 4-1 win, in which he was by all accounts man of the match. The 1939-40 season was cancelled in common with all senior football but Reg nevertheless made three wartime appearances for the Bluebirds. Shortly after this time, Reg had decided to leave Cardiff and return to Dulwich – this was possibly down to a change of manager at Cardiff which wasn’t to Reg’s liking and in all subsequent representative matches, he is described as a Dulwich Hamlet player.

He played in some wartime football for the Hamlet and continued to play representative football but volunteered to serve as RAF aircrew and enlisted on 22 July 1940. Reg trained and qualified as an Observer and was posted to Bomber Command, joining 106 Squadron. Reg was lost on his fifth operational flight, when his Hampden bomber was shot down over the Danish island of Sylt whilst on a minelaying mission, with the loss of all four crew. Reg and his crewmates are buried together at Kiel War Cemetery in Germany.

Bill Parr in the RAF (John Cross)

The final name currently on the Roll of Honour is 26 year old Bill Parr, who unusually for the time was an established England Amateur International when he joined Dulwich Hamlet in early 1939, having already played seventeen matches for Blackpool in the old First Division of the Football League. Bill had played alongside Reg Anderson during the latter player’s England Amateur debut against Wales and the two men had run riot down the right hand side of the pitch, with Bill scoring four goals and Reg a hat trick, so he undoubtedly joined Dulwich in order to replicate this partnership with a player with whom he had formed an immediate rapport. The new club partnership bore immediate fruit when the Hamlet lifted the London Senior Cup but having played for Blackpool at the very highest level of English football, perhaps Bill found the Isthmian League a little too easy and in May 1939, Arsenal announced that he was to play the next season for them as an amateur. The 1939-40 season was abandoned and so there remains some doubt as to which club Bill would actually have played for, as some programmes for representative matches at this time still show him as a Dulwich Hamlet player. Like his three Hamlet team mates, Bill volunteered to serve as RAF aircrew and in his case trained as a Pilot. On completion of training, he was posted to Coastal Command to fly the Lockheed Hudson light bomber on Maritime Patrol duties covering the vital convoy routes on the Western Approaches. Bill was killed on 8 March 1942 when his aircraft suffered engine failure just after take-off on a night navigational training flight.

When I was asked to come and speak here tonight, I though that this was the end of the story - that was until a couple of months after the publication of “For Freedom”. I then received a slightly sheepish email from one of our supporters who had successfully bid for a job lot of old wartime programmes from an internet auction site. Wartime programmes for the Hamlet are quite rare as they were not produced in great numbers and long periods elapsed when they were not produced at all due to material shortages. 

Unlike most professional clubs, we do not have a club statistician, neither do we have a museum with an exhaustive database of programmes to call upon – like most amateur clubs, we accepted that there was quite a high turnover of players and that it was almost impossible to keep an accurate handle on everyone who had ever appeared for the club. Neither was there in those days quite the same obsession with statistics that we have in today’s game. We had however, assumed that the Club Committee at the time had kept an accurate record of the wartime casualties and had accordingly included all of the relevant names when the memorial was updated in 1947 to include the Second World War casualties. At the end of the day, when the booklet was written, we had to take a leap of faith and go by the information that was available to us on the Roll of Honour.

The email I received uncovered what can only be described as an astonishing oversight on the part of the then Club Committee, for these programmes revealed that two further players – one a former player at the time of his death but the other still very much a current member of the playing staff – had died on active service during the war but had not been included on the memorial.  To omit a former player was perhaps an understandable policy decision taken at the time but to ignore someone who had been acknowledged by the Club itself at the time as having represented Dulwich Hamlet in wartime matches seems unbelievable. It therefore seems only right and proper that we should record the stories of the two men concerned.

Charles Ede (Richard Coulthard)

Charles Ede was born in Croydon in 1911 and thus was another local lad. He’d joined the club as a junior and had progressed through the ranks. He was a good player in his own right but unfortunately for him, played at inside right – which was the same position as the legendary Edgar Kail. Because of this, he played most of his football for the reserves for whom he was a regular goal scorer. Appearances for the First Team were largely restricted to when Kail was injured or on representative duty but when he did play, he rarely let the side down, which must have added to his frustration. In early 1934, Charles requested a transfer to Kingstonian, which was granted by the club committee. He made 43 appearances for the Ks and scored 20 goals for them before he faded from the football scene at the end of the 1934/35 season, perhaps to concentrate on his job as an editor of a food magazine. He was called up in 1940 and served with 45 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, which after serving on Home Defence duties outside Crewe during the Blitz, was deployed in October 1942 to North Africa as part of Operation Torch. On 20 November 1942, his unit was based in Djidjelli (now called Jijel), on the Algerian coast about 320 kilometres east of Algiers, which was the location of an Allied airfield. On this day, Charles was killed during an air raid on the airfield by a single Ju88 bomber. He is today buried at the Deli Ibrahim War Cemetery, near Algiers.

Alan Adams - nicknamed "Boy" whilst in the Army (Luuk Buist)

Alan Adams was yet another local boy, born in Camberwell in 1925 and thus by far the youngest of our casualties, being only just 19 when he died. Alan was a pupil of Archbishop Tenison’s Grammar School (the large school opposite the Oval Cricket Ground) and on the outbreak of war, was evacuated with the entire school down to Reading in Berkshire. He was an accomplished sportsman and represented his school at athletics, cricket and football – these latter two at First XI level. He also appeared to have an interest in military life from an early age and was a member of his school Cadet Corps from 1937 to 1940 and then transferred to the Air Training Corps when this was established in 1940 during the Battle of Britain, which would indicate that he had an eye on a career as a flyer. He left school in 1941 and took up a job as a junior insurance clerk but also joined his local Home Guard unit in Dulwich the following year once he turned 17.

He made his senior debut for Dulwich Hamlet at this time, having been previously a member of our junior team. His first match was against the London Fire Force at Champion Hill and thus played in an away match at his normal home ground. He was a left back and his first appearance came about due to the absence of the regular left back, Roger Bishop, who had been detained at work. No doubt the fact that Alan lived close to the ground at Herne Hill enabled him to make a quick dash to Champion Hill. Alan enlisted into the Army in May 1943 and after basic training with the Gordon Highlanders, he transferred to the Army Air Corps to train as a Glider Pilot. He qualified just too late to serve at D-Day but did serve at Arnhem. On 18 September 1944, the Horsa glider that he was piloting was shot down whilst part of the Second Wave of landings during Operation Market Garden. Alan had been hit by shrapnel from an anti-aircraft shell and although his Co-Pilot made a forced landing, they overshot the landing zone and hit trees at over 100 mph. The Co-Pilot was catapulted through the Perspex windscreen of the glider but survived unscathed but unfortunately, Alan was killed when the load (a Jeep and two trailers of ammunition) shifted forward and crushed him. The remaining two Army passengers also survived the crash. Alan was buried initially in the grounds of the Psychiatric Home at Wolfheze but later reinterred at the main British war cemetery at Oosterbeek.

We hope to add the names of these last mentioned men to our Roll of Honour but obviously, as this is on display in the Boardroom at our historic home of Champion Hill Stadium, access is currently not possible. 

In normal times, today’s fans of Dulwich Hamlet continue to honour these players from the club’s past who made the ultimate sacrifice. Hopefully, the impasse over the future of Champion Hill Stadium will soon be resolved and we will be able to add these men’s names to the Memorial and provide belated recognition to their sacrifice.

Thanks are due to Alex Alexandrou at the Football and War Project for inviting me to speak at the seminar. Hopefully a London date will be arranged in the autumn, which will also include other speakers. Once this date is arranged, I will advise this via social media.