Somewhere between Ypres and Poperinghe there is a little plot of ground at Vlamertyngh which is 'forever England.' There sleeps the mortal remains of Edwin Gladstone Latheron, an English international footballer who has given joy to thousands.

James Catton, Athletic News, 30 October, 1917


In late October 1917, news arrived in England of the death of Gunner Edwin Latheron of the Royal Field Artillery. He was one of over 320,000 Allied casualties claimed by the Battle of Passchendaele between July and November 1917. To thousands of football fans though, he was better known as a star player with Blackburn Rovers and England.

Latheron cost Blackburn Rovers a mere £25 when he joined them from Grangetown Athletic FC in 1906. He went on to make 256 league appearances and score 94 goals, helping Blackburn to secure the First Division title in 1912 and 1914. A talented inside-forward, he was known to his teammates as 'Pinkie' due to his clean and youthful appearance.

A married man with a young son, he attested under the Derby scheme in 1915. In March 1916 he was called up, joining the Royal Field Artillery. In training he was joined by many other top footballers including his Blackburn team-mate Alec McGhie. While he was in training he also continued to play for Rovers when he could. His last game was on the 17 March, 1917, when he scored in a 2-2 draw at home to Bury. He and McGhie were then drafted out to the Western Front.

Latheron arrived in Belgium in time to be involved in the Battle of Passchendaele, which raged between July and November. An attempted British breakout became an attritional slog, made worse by bad weather in August and October. For men like Latheron, the already difficult task of moving the artillery forward to support the infantry became almost impossible as the ground turned into a quagmire of mud. Then there was the risk of Germany counter-battery fire, which in the words of historians Nigel Steel and Peter Hart, "meant that gun crews lived in a nightmare combination of tension and death with German shells raining down on observed or likely gun positions behind the British lines."

It was in such circumstances that Latheron was killed on the 14 October. The news was relayed by his club team-mate Alex McGhie, who described to the club secretary Robert Middleton how he came to find his friend dead.

"This morning word came down the gun line that he was missing. I obtained permission from the Major to go up and see if I could get any information. On my arrival there I found him dead. It seems a shell dropped just by our dug-out and the splinters passed through the opening killing both Eddie and another gunner. I have lost my best friend, and just now I feel so terribly lonely."

The news of Latheron’s death created deep sympathy within the football community, with sports writers and players alike sharing their sadness. His team-mate McGhie wrote:

"He was a happy, strong and tremendous worker, and a very fine soldier. If anybody has done their bit in this war it has been Eddie. He was the last of his detachment left up at the guns, the remainder being wounded and sick. He was extremely popular in the battery, and everybody is sincerely sorry."

His international team-mate Harry Hampton wrote to Robert Middleton to offer his condolences.

"I have just been reading with the deepest regret about the death of poor Eddie Latheron, whom I held in the greatest respect. We have lost a very good player and sportsman. Believe me, I feel it as if he had been my own club mate. He was a smiling, whole-hearted trier, and a grand sportsman. I have had the pleasure of playing alongside him in international matches and have had experience of his ability. I must say we have lost one who always did credit to the game, and your club, particularly, will miss him very much. I offer you my deepest sympathy in the loss of such a player. I also my sincere sympathy to his wife and dear child."

For 'Vin' of the Liverpool Football Echo, Latheron’s initials, EG, stand for example. "And such was he. A happy, strong, adroit, assiduous worker, a decent man and a sport – in one word, a soldier and a great man," he wrote.

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