|Alan Adams (Luuk Buist)
As the author of the booklet, I was acutely aware that there were some gaps in the stories, particularly in the case of Eric Pierce, whose senior playing career for the club had ended almost as soon as it had begun. However, we made the best of the information that was available to us, starting with the Roll of Honour itself and had no reason to doubt the accuracy of this primary source of information.
|The DHFC War Memorial at Champion Hill (Duncan Palmer Photography)
What was harder to explain was the absence of the two players from the Roll of Honour. One of them, Charles Ede, was a former player who had left the club for pastures new at Kingstonian in 1934 and so perhaps had been deliberately omitted for that reason; but the other player, Alan Adams, was by the admission of the club itself in the programme in question, very much a current player at the time of his death and this makes his omission from the Roll of Honour all the more inexplicable.
|Alan Adams on the Roll of Honour at Archbishop Tenison's School (Laurence Weeks)
It was whilst serving with the Home Guard that the then 17 year old made his senior debut for the Hamlet on Saturday 7 November 1942 at Champion Hill in a 4-4 draw against the London Fire Force. Ironically, despite the match being played at Dulwich, this was in fact an away fixture for the Hamlet as the Fire Force also used the ground for their home matches – such oddities were not entirely uncommon in wartime football. Alan didn’t feature on the original team sheet but the following week’s programme explained that he had been a late call-up due to the regular left back Roger Bishop being detained at work and unable to reach Champion Hill in time for kick-off. Dulwich fielded a youthful team and in addition to Alan, there was another debutant on display, a young centre forward by the name of Charles Birdseye, himself a late replacement for Stan Smith who was suffering with influenza. Birdseye made an instant impression by scoring one of the goals during the Hamlet’s spirited fightback from 1-2 down at half time. Arthur Phebey with two and Gillespie were the other scorers in a match which the following week’s programme described as “…reminiscent of the peace time days when it was a bye-word that Dulwich Hamlet always played their hardest when up against it.” This same programme, which was for a match against the RAF on 14 November 1942, went on to say that “….the youngsters mentioned will be heard of again.” so we can only assume that Alan and his youthful team-mate performed well on their senior debut.
|Alan Adams' first mention in a Hamlet programme - 14 November 1942 (author's photo)
The role of a glider pilot was an extremely hazardous one, for not only were they expected to fly the heavily laden gliders into their landing zones through invariably hostile skies but upon landing, they were then expected to fight as infantrymen alongside the airborne troops they had just transported, until such time as they could be evacuated out of the landing zone back to friendly territory. The photograph that illustrates this article shows a young pilot wearing civilian clothes rather than Army uniform – this type of photograph was taken in case a false identity was required to smuggle the glider pilots from behind enemy lines following airborne operations and further demonstrates the precarious nature of the glider pilot’s life. Whilst we are not absolutely certain that the photograph (which was kindly supplied by Dutch military historian Luuk Buist) definitely depicts Alan, we see a hitherto unidentified pilot of E Squadron who is simply described as “Boy”. Given Alan’s extreme youth, coupled with his position as the youngest pilot in his squadron, it must be a fair assumption that this is him, especially as the physical description given on his Army service record “fair complexion, grey eyes and brown hair” matches that of the person in the photograph.
|Airspeed Horsa glider as flown by Alan Adams (IWM)
|"Handlebar Hank" aka Jimmy Edwards (with trombone) at a concert at RAF Down Ampney (author's collection)
Incidentally, one of the Dakota pilots of 271 Squadron was Flight Lieutenant JK Edwards, who became better known post-war as the handlebar-moustached trombonist and comedian “Professor” Jimmy Edwards of radio and television fame but who in wartime, appeared in RAF and service concerts under the stage name of "Handlebar Hank" in addition to his regular flying duties. Edwards was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery, when on 21 September 1944, the Dakota serial KG444 that he was piloting was shot down by FW190s over the Arnhem area. The aircraft caught fire and Edwards ordered his crew to bale out, an order which his Second Pilot and Navigator promptly obeyed. Edwards went aft to also bale out but discovered that three of his four Army Despatchers were injured and unable to jump. He promptly returned to the cockpit and despite having to stand with his head protruding from an escape hatch due to the smoke in the cockpit, he managed to crash land the Dakota in a lightly wooded area, at which point the aircraft went up in flames. Edwards had suffered severe burns to his face but was thrown clear by the impact. The unwounded Despatcher and his Wireless Operator, who had also remained on board to help, managed to escape the burning aircraft but the three wounded Despatchers were killed in the crash. In spite of his wounds and with some help from a Dutch civilian, Edwards was able to guide the other two men back to British lines.
Alan’s death was reported in the match programme for the fixture against Pinner on 2 December 1944, which went on to describe him as “a promising left back for the Reserves, who had one or two games for the senior side before joining the Forces.” The same article also hints at a wider family connection with the club as it mentions that “his father used to referee some of our games on the top pitch.” The report goes on to mention that Alan’s father had “some time ago suffered another great bereavement when his wife was killed by enemy action.”
|Richard Ennis' story in the Liverpool Echo of 4 October 1944 (British Newspaper Archive)
|Alan Adams' grave at Oosterbeek War Cemetery (wargraves.nl)
Towards the end of October 2018, came the momentous news that a deal had been reached that would enable Dulwich Hamlet to return home sometime in December, thus ending a near ten month exile. A bonus to this emotional homecoming will be the fact that we will once again be able to hold our traditional Remembrance Ceremony in the Boardroom and pay tribute to all of the club's fallen of two World Wars and this time, we will be able to belatedly remember these two hitherto forgotten men. Before too long, we shall hopefully add their names to the Roll of Honour, thus ensuring that they are forgotten no longer.
Dulwich Hamlet FC - programmes for various matches referred to in text - courtesy of Ian Colley
Glider Pilots at Arnhem - Mike Peters & Luuk Buist - Pen & Sword, 2014
Record of Service for RA Adams - Army Personnel Centre Historical Disclosures
Airborne Operations, NW Europe Arnhem: 2 Wing Glider Pilot Regiment, Army Air Corps - Enquiries into Missing Personnel - National Archives WO 361/505 & 636
Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell, Civil Defence Incident Log - London Borough of Southwark Archives
271 Squadron RAF, Operations Record Book - National Archives AIR 27/1574-9
RAF Down Ampney, Operations Record Book - National Archives AIR 28/211
The 'Tenisonian' Yearbook (various) - Archbishop Tenison School Archives, courtesy of Laurence Weeks