The Great War and the club.

The next years , of course, football was very much secondary, by the end of September thirty percent of the Yeovil and Petters players had signed up and were doing their duty. Not just the players, the Somerset FA amazingly carried on their quarterly meetings, Mrs Davis, wife of the previous Yeovil President Ernest Davis wrote to the Somerset FA with apologies for her husband's non-attendance but at that present time he was with the Somerset terratorial army in India! 

The facilties and football in general though was seen as advantages in raising much needed money for tobacco for the troops. In October, the new Yeovil and Petters President and Lord Mayor Norman Buchanan had arranged a match  between Yeovil and the 5th Battallion Somerset Light infantry (E Company). 

The match on the 21st November 1914, had one aim, to raise as much money as possible to buy tobacco for the Somerset Light infantry boys on the front line. Mayor Buchanan himself kick the match off. The E Company, mainly consisted of  men from the Yeovil district. . 

A team from the Somerset Light infantry 1916

The Yeovil team for the match included many recognisable faces from the local senior team, amongst them Johnny Hayward, Jack Taylor, and the Seymour brothers, Herb and Bill. A large crowd on a beautiful day, including many from the army, watched the Yeovil side win 7-5. More importantly over £14 had been raised for the tobacco fund. The President was happy to announce that the £14 had purchased 32,000 cigarettes and 200 tins of tobacco for 'our boys'. Weeks later a letter of thanks arrived from the Somerset boys from the front. 

'The first battalion of the Somerset light infantry thank the members of the Yeovil football team for their very handsome present of 32,000 cigarettes and 200 tins of tobacco which have been much appreciated' 

The reality of what the Yeovil boys were facing on the front and the anger for those who had not signed up was expressed from E. Young, from the Royal Engineers, a player that had turned out for Yeovil reserves and Petters, in a letter to his friend Percy Dicker, he wrote from Belgium;

I shall not be sorry when this business is over and I am back in Zummerzet. Our brigade has experienced some of the hardest times. As one can see by the papers, desperate fighting  is going on, but our chaps are driving then back when once we get a position, as the enemy have found to their cost. Their losses have been enormous,but they have sucb numbers to fall back on whereas we, with our small numbers in comparison, have had a desperate time. I can assure you. Every able bodied man in England wbo does not enlist should be pole axed. When you know who and how many  have lost their lives and think of the thousands at home who could lend a hand and don't, it makes one sick. They don't realise the position we are in and what lt would mean if we go under.

Football in Yeovil continued in the town,over January and February 1916, three matches were organised for various funds. The first being a prestigious friendly against Exeter City reserves. The Devon side 'showed their patriotism by only charging the bare minimum in travel expenses' arriving with a few professionals in their ranks. Over 2000, lined the roaps, including many soldiers were given free entry. Although, Yeovil put out  a representing side, it still contained the faces, Johnny Hayward, Harry Harbour, Bert Maughan amongst them. On the day the Exonians were far too good in a one way match running out 9-0.  A week or so later, the Army Service Corp played Yeovil a t Pen Mill, again in front of a large gate. The match being played as 'Patriotic Football match'. The town side including Rouse from Petters and Sims of Yeovil reserves won 8-1 with over £3 being sent to the effort. 

Matches continued on the Pen Mill pitch, mostly between army sides, in the district playing for War funds. Even a match between the Yeovil  Police v  Yeovil Fire Brigade drew a fair few to watch in a match where each side 'knew little about football' the Fire brigade won 2-1.

Good news came from the front in early 1915, Yeovil goalkeeper Douglas Nicholls who made twenty-eight appearances for the side from 1911 to 1913 was now a Lieutenant in the Light infantry in France. 

In March 1915, almost a full side of what we would have known as Yeovil & Petters United played SW Infantry Battalion, the match on aid of the local Red Cross attracted over a 1000 to Pen Mill who were entertained by music from a barrel organ. An entertaining game was drawn 1-1.

It was obvious by now, that football was one of the major distractions being used to entertain people and to take their minds of what the terrible happenings abroad. Each match, even if between two small army teams being heavily watched by soldiers and civilians alike. A few weeks later the Yeovil team took on the Wiltshire Royal Engineers team, a team including professional players from Swindon Town and Davies who had played for Middlesborough in Division one a season before. In the Yeovil ranks was Belgium player Veermesch, quite possibly one of the Belgium refugees who had been taken in on the town. The Engineers were rampant, winning 7-1.

By 1916, matches involving 'Yeovil' sides and Army sides ceased. With the Military Service act, all able bodied men between 18 and 41 were called up, except for the unfit, clergymen, medical staff and certain industry workers. Army teams now mostly found themselves in foreign lands. However, infrequent matches still took places at Pen Mill between factory sides. Petters, Whitehead (from Wyke Regis), Westland Works regularly played on the Pen Mill pitch. 

It wasn't long before the first casualties of players started coming through, Hutchins, one of the best players in the town from Petters United was reported shot in the shoulder and was now in base hospital in France. 

It also wasn't long before the first tragic loss. William Glanville had been one of the most influential Glovers players in the last few years before the war. Born in Burnham on Sea, William moved to Yeovil to take up a position with a bank in the town. It seems immediately he arrived  he joined the Yeovil Casuals. Starting off in the reserves, it wasn't long before he was drafted into the first team. Tall strong and powerful, mostly playing on the right side of defence, he played 58 times for the club, scoring 11 times. William died in Eqypt in August 1916. His name can be found on the war memorial at Burnham on Sea. 

William Glanville 

Charlie Larcombe, Yeovil born whose parents owned and ran Larcombe Stores along Sherborne Road, had been only second to Johnny Hayward in the hearts of the Yeovil faithful, before the 1913-14 season he had emigrated to Canada to take up a position with the Canadian customs office. In July 1916, after joining the Canadian Infantry he found himself on the front line in France. He wrote home to his parents in Yeovil :

' Well, here we are again, safe and sound after having a very hot time in the trenches. The last time I wrote I never thought I'd be up the front line so quickly. We reached our Battilion last Monday and were sent up lines to support within one hour. We have a fine officer and a good bunch of lads and upto now the living as been as good as  in England. While in support we occupied one of Friz's old dug outs which was captured a few weeks ago and they were very comfortable. The old Frizes must have had a cozy time in there last winter as they were 30 feet below. It's marvelous how the British ever got them out. I have just cycled up to Brigade Headquarters and since we have landed here the Germans have been beaten back two miles. So as you can see it is all coming out way. When our Battilion came out of line mostly everyone was wearing German helmets and caps and souvenirs of all descriptions which they'd gotten when they charged their parapet. As we went to the parapet the Germans came running out with their hands held high shouting 'Mercy Comrade, Mercy " they have no fight in them by this rate it can not  last many more months. For the last two days we've been on the march covering about ten miles a day. We then get billeted on small towns I guess we will be doing this until we get back to the trenches.'

On thr 25th April 1917, Charlie was sent to to mend a communications wire in the trenches, as he was performing his work, he was killed by a shell exploding nearby. The news of his death was felt throughout the town. He was aged twenty-six years old. His comrade in the trenches wrote to his parents to report the tragic news. 

'.... He was a good fellow, and the boys will miss him very much, for he was so well liked...He has made many an hour bright for us which would otherwise have been miserable. Charles, my chum Ledbury, and I, have spent many a pleasant hour together since he joined us at the Somme,and, believe me, we shall miss him very much. He died doing his duty, for he and Lance Corporal Leighton (who was badly wounded with the same shell) were mending one of our telephone wires when the sad event happened. He has been brought out of the trenches... and our Chaplain, Captain Kidd will bury him tomorrow'

Charlie Larcombe 

Frank Bailey was a name that was a constant in goal for the reserves around 1909, in 1910 when regular keeper Herbert Cook was indisposed Frank, living in Sparrow Road, would step up into the first team , which he did on three occasions. Frank was in Ypres when a shell exploded near him badly damaging his left side, he died from his wounds two days later. 

Up until the outbreak of War, no player had turned out more for the Glovers than Fred Peaty, since making his debut in 1904 he would, bar a couple of seasons, be featured in the team, making well over a 100 appearances. Poor Fred wasn't having the best of luck whilst serving King and Country, Fred had been shot in the nose and his wife at St Michael's Avenue received notification that he was now convalescing in a hospital in France. However, in a letter home he explained of a great coincidence, whilst in  laying in his hospital bed, he heard someone shout his name and was shocked to see Cornellus, a Yeovil reserve player who on occasion played for the first team

' I had to rub my eyes to make sure. He is looking very well and of course we will have things to talk about "

The meet up obviously did Fred some good because before long he was pushed back to the front line. His awful experience continued and again Fred was shot, this time in the arm and returned home ending up in a hospital in Stoke-on-Trent. 

Slowly the war was turning in 'our boys' favour, however still the horror of the experience kept hitting Yeovil. William Hallett, a player who made his debut in 1903/04 and played for the club for four seasons, scoring on many occasions. His parents in Union Street took the news that every parent, wife and family member dreaded, thirty-five year old William had been killed due to wounds he received in the Battle of Tardenois. William, who before the war, worked at the Corporation Gas works,  was described as a 'Good soldier and very attentive to duty' 

Another to fall was Herbert Purchase who although never making the first team was a valued member of the reserve side for many a season , being a much loved member of the team. Like William Hallett he was thirty-five years old. The letter arrived to his wife in Percy Road. 

'I am writing to ask you to receive the deep sympathy of the officers and men of (retracted) Company in your great loss of your husband on July 23rd. He was killed very early in the action which led to the capture of a very importÄ…nt village on the (retracted) He was a very courageous soldier, devoted to his duty and beloved by all those who knew him. The battalion suffered very heavy casualties that day, and I um the only officer left for duty in the Company the others are all killed and wounded. Your brave husband died a hero's death, fighting for his King and his country."

In Sherborne Road, the Larcombe family were still in bereavement for their beloved Son, Charlie killed just a year before. One can not imagine the pain that must have it them when they received communication that their Reg 'Dickie' Larcombe was missing in action [believed dead] in September 1918, just two months before Armistice Day. 

Dickie like his brother was an extememly talented footballer and well loved by the Pen Mill faithful. Playing 55 matches with an incredible 38 goals. Whilst on leave in February 1918 the then, Lieutenant Reginald Larcombe, played centre forward for West Ham against Crystal Palace and scored the team's only goal in the one all draw. 

Reginald 'Dickie' Larcombe 

Armistace Day came  on the 11th November 1918, untold heartache had been encountered by the horrific loss of life, hardly a football club, or any club, was not affected. 

However, as Yeovil fans we should remain proud and in awe of the bravery of these men, including the ones that returned and if possible continued playing the game they loved. We also shouldn't forget the other clubs in the town and villages , whilst researching this hardly a week went by when one of the local clubs in the Yeovil District didn't have to report one of their own missing, wounded or killed in action.  When passing the War memorial on the Borough, stop, search their names and remember these brave men, played for the club we loved and gave their lives for us. 

May they all rest in eternal peace. 


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