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The O’s return to the Somme

This is a story from the FSF archive – the FSF and SD merged to become the FSA in 2019.

More than 180 Leyton Orient Supporters’ will travel to northern France to visit the First World war battlefields of the Somme, over the weekend of July 12 and 13.

And, accompanied by members of the Royal British Legion, they’ll be visiting the resting places of three former Clapton Orient footballers who made the ultimate sacrifice on the Somme back in 1916.

During World War One professional sport, particularly football, was very much frowned upon. So the FA and the War Office decided to get the public on their side by forming a ‘Footballers’ Battalion. One of the many ‘Pal’s Battalions’ formed at the time, it would eventually become officially known as the 17th Middlesex Regiment.

Clapton Orient Chairman, Captain Henry Wells-Holland, who had wanted since the outbreak of WW1 to form a platoon made up entirely of Clapton Orient footballers and staff, assisted the FA with their plans. A meeting was held at Fulham Town Hall on December 16, 1914 for all footballers interested – and ten Clapton Orient players signed up. In the weeks and months which followed, more and more players enlisted into the 17th Middlesex.

So the O’s were the first Football League Club to enlist en masse, and some forty one players and staff from Clapton Orient saw active service during World War One.

Three lost their lives – Company Sergeant Major Richard McFadden MM F/162 October 23 1916 (68 goals in 142 O’s games,
Private William Jonas (July 27, 1916) 23 Goals in 74 O’s games and Private George Scott ( August 16, 1916), 34 Goals in 213 O’s games.

Sergeant Major McFadden was something of a hero. Before he joined up, he’d already saved the lives of both a man trapped in a burning building, and a small boy who was drowning in the river Lea. Whilst on the front line in France, McFadden frequently went out into no-mans land to bring back wounded colleagues, and was awarded the Military Medal for his bravery.

Leyton Orient Deputy Chairman Steve Jenkins, who has written a book entitled They Took The Lead about Clapton Orient’s major contribution to the Footballers’ Battalion during the Great War, said: “Leyton Orient Football Club is very proud of its service in the Great War and continues to remember the O’s who fell. Sadly, the Orient have been even more closely connected with military loss much more recently, too, with the sad loss of Private Robert Foster, who lost his life in Afganistan in late Summer 2007. Robert was a former steward at the Orient, while his father is chief fire safety officer at the Matchroom Stadium.

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