Remembering Cambridge Town’s Fallen Heroes
At this time of the year we remember the members of the armed services who have died in the line of duty. Among the millions who died in conflict and making the “ultimate sacrifice”, a small number were players for Cambridge Town FC.
World War One
In the last 10 months great strides have been made in being able to identify many more Cambridge Town players who died in the Great War. This has been made possible by the digitisation of local newspapers that are available on the British Newspaper Archive and via invaluable assistance from Stephen Harper-Scott who has been able to cross-check names via various family history archives he has access to. Those now known about are Harry Carrington, WS Fishenden, Owen Horn, Albert Langley, William Shipp and Sydney Wigg. In time the stories of these men will be told in more detail. Other names are known about but are still to be confirmed as definitely being Cambridge Town players.
The story of Herbert Leonard “Hop” Halls has been told before and is repeated in his honour here: Born in 1888, and played for Cambridge Town in the club’s first ever match at Bury United on 3rd October 1908. Hop was a regular player in all the six seasons up to the outbreak of the war, and by the end of the 1913-1914 season he had played 160 games, scoring 73 goals. The following season was truncated as playing football was frowned upon; the view was that young men should be at war, not kicking a football about. However, a few charity matches were played and almost inevitably Hop Halls appeared in these games. He made a further 5 appearances and scored 4 more goals, including two in the last match before football finally went into hibernation for the rest of the war in February 1915.
Away from football Hop worked at the Cambridge University Press. He was also an accomplished cricketer, and played for the victorious University Press side in the Final of the Cambs Junior Cup in 1913. Hop married one of (Sir) Jack Hobbs’ sisters and they lived at 28 Hooper Street. For those of you who don’t know, Jack Hobbs was the outstanding cricketer of his generation and played for Surrey and England. Hobbs’ father was a groundsman for Jesus College and Jack learnt his cricketing skills on Parkers Piece in the centre of Town. It is not known if Jack Hobbs and Hop Halls ever played in the same cricket XI but it would be nice to think that they did. They did however both play football in the same team on a number of occasions whilst playing for Cambridge St Mary’s. The Cambridge Town club had a direct lineage to the old St Mary’s team with many of their players and officials helping to form Town in 1908.
Hop Halls made his St Mary’s debut away to Ely City in the Cambs Senior League in November 1905. In March 1906 Hop played his first match for the Cambridgeshire County team, a major honour back in those days. Hop played 50 or so games for St Mary’s, scoring 11 goals. Before playing for St Mary’s Hop lined up for St Mark’s as a 14 year old and then had a spell with Grantchester before joining St Mary’s.
Hop Halls died towards the end of the Great War, on the 29th March 1918 to be exact. Hop was a Driver with the Royal Field Artillery. His death was tragic as he was killed accidentally by a horse. Hop is buried in Chauny, a village midway between Amiens and Reims in Northern France.
Finally for World War One, the following men all need to be mentioned in dispatches as they played for either St Mary’s (the direct predecessor club to Cambridge Town), Chesterton Laurels (direct predecessor of the original Cambridge United) or the original Cambridge United FC themselves, who merged with Town in 1915: William Argent (Cambridge United), Charles Bareford (St Mary’s), Noble Dewey (St Mary’s & Chesterton Laurels), Charles Green (Cambridge United) and Jimmy Valiant (Cambridge United).
World War Two
Five Cambridge Town players are known to have died during the Second World War on active service. Max Elsden made his debut for the reserves in August 1938, with his first team debut coming at Southgate in the AFA Senior Cup in January 1939. He was a regular during the early wartime period, peaking with 19 goals in 46 appearances during the 1940-41 season. His final game for Town was in April 1942, a home defeat to RAF Waterbeach at Milton Road in the East Anglian League. An RAF Volunteer Reserve, Maxwell Charles Elsden died on the 31st July 1943 age 21.
Len Kimpton was a full back who made his Town debut in the biggest game of his era, the local derby with Ipswich Town, played on Good Friday 1934. Not a day to remember for Len as Ipswich won 6-0 at Milton Road in front of just under 7,000 people. Retained for the return at Portman Road on Easter Monday, over 8,500 saw Ipswich win again, this time 3-1. A regular for the rest of the 1933-34 season as well as at the start of the 34-35 campaign, he had dropped into the reserve team by November. His last first team game was in the Amateur Cup win over Chatteris Engineers in January 1936. A Gunner in the Royal Artillery he died in January 1941 aged 29 and is buried in Cambridge.
Len Pratt was a Cambridge University Press man who made his Town debut in a 4-1 home win over Newmarket Town in the East Anglian League in October 1941, scoring twice. He was a regular until the middle of February, ending up with a tidy 12 goals from 12 games. Len was back in action in the opening game of the 1942-43 season. Town beat an Army AA XI 4-3 with Len bagging a hat trick. His next game was in November 1942 against a Letchworth based team called Kryn & Lahy, an engineering company. Town won 9-0 and Len again scored a hat trick. His final appearance for Cambridge Town FC was on the 28th November 1942 when an RAF League XI beat Town 5-1 in a match in aid of the RAF Benevolent Fund. Within a year Len was dead, killed on active service in Southern Italy as part of the Allied invasion which commenced in September 1943. Len was a Trooper in the Royal Tank Regiment and he died on the 7th November 1943 aged 21. Francis Leonard Pratt is buried at the Sangro River War Cemetery in Italy.
The death during active service of Sergeant Guy Rowell has recently come to light. Guy was a regular member of the Town team from 1919 to 1926, and played in the very first game at Milton Road in 1922. He moved to west London in the 1920’s and was employed by the “Shell-Mex and BP” organisation. He played football with Kingstonian after leaving Town. He died on 21st June 1945, just twenty five days before demobilisation and right at the end of the War. He died whilst driving for The Royal Army Service Corps whilst on duty in Neath, South Wales. Guy was 45 when he died, leaving a widow and six children.
Ernie Rowe made his Town first team debut in a Boxing Day friendly in 1937 and became a regular in the team in March 1938. He played twenty games in total that season and scored a solitary goal against Grays Athletic in the East Anglian Cup. He made just two further appearances for the club, both in the 1939-40 season. His final game was against an Army XI at Milton Road on 8th June 1940, the last game of the season. Ernie was a Sergeant in the Royal Welch Fusiliers and died in action in September 1944. He is commemorated at the Groesbeek Memorial near Nijmegen on the Dutch/German border. Ernie was survived by his brother Dan who had a long playing career at Milton Road that stretched from 1938 to 1954.
In addition to the five Town players known to have died in active service, Tommy Whewell’s name is recorded on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website as a “civilian death”. Tommy was a very well-known cricketer, being a Cambridge Blue and played Minor Counties Cricket for Cambridgeshire. Also an accomplished footballer, he had captained the England Amateur team. He played occasionally for Town in the 1920’s and the 1930’s. He died with his wife Eileen in a bombing raid on 2nd October 1940 aged 36. Tommy was an active sportsman up to the time of his death, and featured for an FA XI that beat the Sussex FA 4-1 in a Red Cross Charity match in Hastings in April 1940.
Neil Harvey CCFC historian
we will remember them