FOOTBALL DURING WORLD WAR II
Posh eventually played Regional League football. The players went into the services or local factories. Sam Haden, Harold Smith, Tommy Johnston, and Tommy Rudkin were joined by Jack Hewitt (Ex Norwich and Northampton) at Hall’s Works (Queen’s Walk) making ships pumps for the Admiralty and Merchant Navy. Charlie McCartney, Sam Rowbotham, Howitt Fielding, Jack Fletcher, Jack Rose (QPR) and Bill Hilliard were at Peter Brotherhood’s making various weapons, Jack Smith (BTH) and Fred Warnes also stayed local.
Come 1940. Apart from the influx of evacuees, mostly from the Hornsey area of London, and no street lights, the war was still a long way off - until Dunkirk!, all of a sudden it was serious - and I was about to leave school!
Shortly after leaving school, I joined some friends, working at Hall’s Engineering, in Queen’s Walk, and found myself working amongst my idols, Posh footballers, including the manager. London Road ground was only being used occasionally so the manager made it available to Hall’s Works from time to time and I had the pleasure of playing a few games with professionals.
With Regional Leagues now suspended, some Posh players played for Bourne Town, Tom Johnston, Jack Hewitt, Eric Shelton, Hubert Tasker, Fred Tolliday, to name a few, and I was fortunate to be asked to play on three occasions against Service teams. At the age of 15 this was a little overwhelming. The Abbey Lawn was immaculate, a real lawn at that time. I was not of the standard to maintain a regular place so I was instrumental in forming Fletton Boys Club, which at the time included some of the best 15-18 year olds in the south of Peterborough, to name a few - Mick Bellamy (Yaxley), Tom Wright, Gordon Cameron, Des Farrow, Derek Farrow, Denis Blewett, Fred Cocker (killed near Caen, 1945), Cecil Ward, Don (Muz) Woods, ‘Pom’ Polhill, Joe Landin, Jim Ringham, Midge Wilkinson, Tony Walker, Tom Hobbs.
Matches were played against Grammar Schools, Laxton (Oundle), Huntingdon, Ramsey Abbey, Fletton and Wisbech, as their players were of similar ages but staying on at school. Local exceptions were March Grammar and Bourne Grammar, they would not entertain us as we were not ex-Grammar School pupils! Matches were also played against R.A.F. teams at Graveley and Upwood, which usually included a beanfeast in their NAAFI - in wartime this was our losing bonus! We also played at the County Ground, Northampton, against their ‘A’ team and lost 6-1. Most of our games were played away, travelling by train to Huntingdon and Wisbech, and by service bus to others. A few home matches were played on the Old Fletton School pitch at Belsize Avenue.
Comings and goings of wartime made it difficult to continue and Fletton Boys Club was disbanded.
I then joined Phorpres Juniors alongside Les Woods, Peter Newell, Keith Ludman, Alan Bains, Ron Abbott, Basil Hill, Tony Walker and Peter Wright. One particular Cup Final was against North Ward Juniors, their team including Ray Gostlow, Ted Tasker, Jock Porter, Alan Newson, Alan Ding, Nat Nicholls, Derek Boughton, N. Lubbock and ? Perry.
A trial for Wolves
In the darkest days of the War, I was working with Jack Hewitt (Posh and Bourne Town), he was at the time guesting for Clapton (now Leyton) Orient in the South Regional League. He had written to Major Buckley, manager of Wolves, recommending me as promising (?). Major Buckley, who managed Wolves in the 1939 Cup Final was renowned for his youth policy and signed hundreds of youngsters. I was duly asked to present myself at Molineux to play for Wolves Reserves. Sounds exciting - but how do I get there? I knew no-one with a car, but anyway, petrol was rationed. I arranged to go by train. Getting up at 3.30 a.m. to walk to Peterborough East Station (about 1 and a quarter miles) and get the 4.30 a.m. train to Rugby. Trains stopped at every village station and I had to change trains at Rugby for Crewe, and then change again to get to Wolverhampton High Level where I arrived at around 12.30 p.m. In a strange place and my head in the clouds, I don’t think I ate anything, and made my way to Molineux. The stadium seemed to be in a hollow, and was vast, the dressing rooms were very spacious, I had never seen such grandeur. The playing kit was all laid out and an array of soft drinks on a table. Our match was against Rubery, Owen & Co, a major munitions producer in Darlaston, expected to be formidable opposition in this Birmingham League match. Wolves 1st team were playing away in the Midland Regional League, including the renowned Billy Wright.
In our team was 15 year old Cameron Buchanan who at that time held the record as the youngest player to play League football - 14., and two brothers named Crook, who also played in the 1st team. See newspaper article from the Daily Mail 26th December 2011, with Cameron Buchanan pictured.
Unbelievably, in the first minute of the game a cross came in from the left and running in, I breasted the ball into the net, having scored a goal without kicking a ball, and although we won 10-1, that was my most memorable contribution.
It was midnight when I arrived home, over 20 hours since I left. I think I received about £2 expenses - almost a week’s wages!
Posh Reserves, injury and the end of the war
In 1944 season I played a couple of games for Posh Reserves and then suffered a torn cartilage. I had 6 months of diagnosis and examinations by Mr Noel Smith, then the Orthopaedic surgeon at Peterborough Memorial Hospital.
I was called up for army service early 1945 and posted to Brittannia Barracks, Norwich - what a shock to the system!! Running in a vest and shorts on Mousehold Heath, a winter morning, and before breakfast.
However, before my 6 weeks initial training was completed it was agreed that I needed an operation on my knee. So, off to Colchester Military Hospital for the removal of a cartilage in my right knee. I had the operation and after 4 weeks was sent to Stansted Hall for recuperation, and just before completion of this process, Germany surrendered.
Everyone was celebrating, we clambered aboard a Benskins Brewery lorry going to nearby Bishops Stortford. In Hospital Blue, white shirts and red ties we thought hero worship would come our way, but alas, it was recognised that hospital patients should not be served alcohol, and most publicans observed these rules. However, the demand was such that there were not enough glasses available, and people were going from pub to pub carrying their glass - until the beer ran out!
With Stansted making room for the war wounded to recuperate I was posted to Kempston Barracks, Bedford, for rehabilitation. This was nearer home and when passes were available I could get home by hitch-hiking, motorists would usually stop for service personnel. A short move across the road to Grange Camp and then on to Bradford, a re-assembly unit of odds and sods, ex-convicts, ex-Army prisoners, deserters, ex-conscientious objectors, and like myself, ex-army hospital patients separated from their original units.
I survived my 6 weeks at Bradford (just), during which time the atom bomb was dropped and great celebrations went on, particularly in Forster Square where the Police Band played to the crowds. I watched Bradford Park Avenue v Newcastle (2nd Division). Bradford included Ron Greenwood, later to manage England, whilst the great Len Shackleton performed for Newcastle. Our Army Physical Training was carried out at Valley Parade, the home of Bradford City.