Belgian Blog - Day Two
Sat, Jun 1 2013 09:02 | #glorious2013, Jimmy Speirs, #glorious1911, FA Cup 1911, When the FA Cup Came Home
Glorious sunshine greeted the second day of the bantamspast trip to the battlefields of the Great War. In the morning we left a football, used in the warm up at Wembley this year, at the site of the 1914 Christmas Day truce when British and German troops played football in no man's land. The site is marked by a wooden cross where visitors regularly leave footballs. Bradford City chairman Mark Lawn kindly supplied a ball and he wrote a message of remembrance from all at Valley Parade.
The day was to be dominated by thoughts of City's captain and goal scorer in the 1911 FA Cup Final Jimmy Speirs. A chance meeting at the site of one of the huge British mines exploded on the Messines Ridge with a group of Scottish doctors, who were undertaking a cycling tour of the Ypres area, gave us an insight into the fate of Jimmy Speirs. One of the doctors had written a book entitled 'War Surgery 1914-1918' examining the treatment of wounds during the conflict. Jimmy Speirs was shot through the thigh during the Battle of Passchendaele. The doctor explained that he would have suffered a broken femur. By 1917 the rapid strapping of such wounds, using a specially developed strap, vastly improved survival rates. However, it had to be applied almost immediately and as Jimmy was shot advancing across an open field it is probable that such a procedure was unlikely. His fate was probably sealed the moment he was shot. The muddy shell hole he was placed in lessened even further the chances of survival as infection was probable. In the end Jimmy was left in the shelter of the shell hole as his company continued their advance. The intention was to return, but sadly they were unable to and Jimmy was never seen alive again. In all probability he died an agonising and lonely death.
In the afternoon we visited the exact spot where he died, The two farms, named Iberian and Gallipoli by the British troops, from where the German's opened fire on Jimmy's company are still in existence - although they were probably rebuilt after the war. The open field over which Jimmy advanced offered little cover. We looked across the windy farmer's field where our great cup winner met his untimely end, it was difficult to visualise how it would have looked during the war. Appropriately we ended our trip at the graveside of Jimmy Speirs. Once again Bradford remembered.
Blog from Belgium - Day One
The annual bantamspast trip to the battlefields of the Great War is this year concentrating on the Ypres Salient in Belgium. Scene of some of the most bloody fighting of the conflict, Ypres became the final resting place of Bradford City's FA Cup winning captain and goalscorer Jimmy Speirs and the man-of-the-match in the replayed final Robert Torrance.
The first day commenced in drizzly conditions at Essex Farm Cemetery where John McCrae wrote the famous poem 'In Flanders Fields' whilst serving with the Canadian Army Medical Corps. Adjacent to the cemetery is the large obelisk memorial to the 49th West Riding Division. The division included the Belle Vue based 1/6th West Yorkshire Regiment. Among their casualties was City reserve Ernest Goodwin. Part of the divisional artillery was the 2nd West Riding Royal Field Artillery. They were based at the Valley Parade Drill Hall. When they mustered to depart for France at the start of the war it is reported that they used the Valley Parade pitch to store their guns and horses.
We moved on from Essex Farm to visit several cemeteries. The highlight was Lijssenhoek, which is the second largest British war cemetery in the world with some 9,901 burials. A highly informative visitor centre illustrates the work of the adjacent casualty clearing station which treated 300,000 injured soldiers.
After lunch and in increasingly glorious sunshine we searched for the site of the location where Robert Torrance was mortally wounded. Sadly he has no known grave. However, just across the fields from where the action took place where Torrance lost an arm and later died, is Klien Vierstraat British Cemetery. It is the home of bodies discovered after the war and if Robert does have a grave he is likely to be among the 109 that are marked 'A Solider of the Great War, known unto God'.
We continued the unforgettable day at the famous locations of Sanctuary Wood and Hill 60. Tomorrow we will seek out the location where Jimmy Speirs met his untimely end. Find out if we were successful when the blog is published tomorrow night.