The Patriotism of Small Clubs

In 1914 and 1915 tens of thousands of amateur footballers volunteered to serve in the British armed forces. Clubs across the country contributed their share to Lord Kitchener’s call for volunteers, including one on the edge of Greater Manchester; Aldermere AFC.

In August 1915, the leading sports newspaper of the day, Athletic News, printed a photograph of their first team on the front page. It proudly detailed the fact that 24 of the team had volunteered, including 10 in the photo. For the paper they were an example of the ‘patriotism of small clubs’ and typical of ‘northern grit.’ Over 100 years later, it is possible to find out a little more about what happened to some of these young men, including three who never came home.

Based in Flixton, Aldermere AFC were members of the Lancashire and Cheshire Amateur Football League. The club’s players were primarily middle-class, often public-school educated, while several were also members of Flixton Cricket Club.

With the outbreak of war, they joined a variety of units, ranging from the Manchester Pals to the Public Schools Battalions. Some had to be persistent like A.M. Cross, sitting on the bottom left of the photograph. Athletic News described how after being rejected, he ‘still persisted, and ultimately joined the 6th Cheshire Battalion.’

Out of all the units they joined, the most popular seems to have been the 1/6th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. This was a Territorial unit and almost exclusively composed of middle-class clerks working for banks, insurance, accountancy and legal firms in Manchester city centre. When it was mobilised in August 1914, it was not at full strength and the players of Aldermere AFC were among those that helped it become strong enough for active service.

The battalion formed part of the Manchester Brigade of the 42nd East Lancashire Division. Initially sent to Egypt in 1914, it was then sent to the Gallipoli peninsula in May 1915. Allied forces were attempting to break through the Turkish defences and the Manchesters would take part in the final two attempts. In June at the Third Battle of Krithia, 4,500 British casualties resulted in a gain of only 250-500 yards. Another attempt in early August around the Krithia Vineyard, cost another 4,000 casualties. In both actions the 1/6th Manchesters suffered heavily, with hundreds killed, wounded or missing.

Amongst them were several Aldermere players. Private A.A. Cross was wounded in June. He would be sent home to recover in hospital in Flixton, before being discharged from the army in 1916. Private J. Stott was wounded twice but recovered to re-join his unit.

Less fortunate was Private Herbert Colin Sames. He was badly wounded in the knee and thigh by shrapnel on the 4 June during the Third Battle of Krithia. He was evacuated to Alexandria, where he died of his wounds on the 23 June, aged 20. Before the war he had been learning the South American Shipping business at Messrs Grace & Co, Manchester. His brother, a Lieutenant in the 4th East Lancashire Regiment, also died from his wounds at Gallipoli.
Another member of the team to fall at Gallipoli was Private Fred Millington Clark. He was tragically killed by friendly fire on the 2 July. He was 27 years old and in 1911 the census recorded him living with his parents, two brothers and a sister in Urmston.

The other known member of the club to have been killed was Lance-Corporal Thomas Gratrix, who sits on the far left of the middle-row in the photograph. He served with the 1/6th Manchesters and then the 16th Manchester Regiment. He was taken prisoner by the Germans during their Spring Offensive of 1918 but died of his wounds on the 26 March. Before the war he had been an insurance clerk living in Salford, working for the Manchester Branch of the Legal Insurance Company. He was 24 when he died.

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