Memorial to fallen members of the ‘Football Battalion’ unveiled on the Somme

22 July 2011 | Kate Clements

Photo: Steve Jenkins

A new memorial has been unveiled at Flers, on the Somme, to commemorate the sacrifices of Clapton Orient Football Club during the First World War.

The granite monument was financed by donations from supporters of Leyton Orient FC, which Clapton Orient is now called. Around 200 club supporters travelled to northern France to witness its dedication.

Local residents turned out for the ceremony, which featured prayers, a pipe band and a wreath-laying. A piece of pitch from the team ground at Leyton was also planted at the site.

The memorial features the club crest, as well as a carved football and football boots, and is engraved with the names of three Clapton Orient players who lost their lives during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

Richard McFadden, William Jonas and George Scott were all star players with Clapton Orient who signed up to serve with the 17th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, which became known as the ‘Footballers’ Battalion’.

The club supporters went to all three of their graves during their visit, to lay wreaths and pay their respects.

The decision by clubs to continue with the football season after war broke out drew criticism from those who felt their young, healthy players should instead be fighting for their country. The FA eventually bowed to pressure and allowed professional footballers to be released from their contracts, so that they could join up.

Richard McFadden was with William Jonas when he was killed, and later wrote a letter home detailing his last words:

Both Willie and I were trapped in a trench near the front in Somme, France. Willie turned to me and said, ‘Goodbye Mac. Best of luck, special love to my sweetheart Mary-Jane and best regards to the lads at Orient.’

Before I could reply to him, he was up and over. No sooner had he jumped out of the trench, my best friend of nearly 20 years was killed before my eyes.