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The Real Newcastle United Heroes – Lest We Forget

6 years ago
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Many of you taking your seats for the Swansea game on Saturday will no doubt have plenty of opinions on who were your Newcastle United heroes over the years, and I guess most of you will have Shearer, Beardsley, McDonald or Milburn high on your list depending on your year of birth.

But how many of you will have Tommy Goodwill, George Rivers, Tom Cairns, Richard McGough, Dan Dunglison or Tom Hughes in that list?

100 years ago these men would have been the chosen few, in extremely hard times for the North East they were on the professional football ladder playing for the mighty Newcastle United, some were just 17 and 18 year old reserves but Tommy Goodwill was already an established first teamer.

Tyne Cot Cemetery, Belgium

Also,  let’s not forget the supporters, have a look around St James’s Park just before kick-off  and imagine everyone in the stadium being promised a great adventure, join your pals and travel to France to fight for your country, with a guaranteed hot meal each day, then imagine every one of them lying face down on the field in front of you.

There was no Internet, 24 hour sky news, or in-depth news coverage in 1914 and the propaganda machine  was in full swing, many young men had no choice but “to do the right thing” and sign up, little knowing that they would be lambs to the slaughter.

Of all the regiments from around the country, the Northumberland Fusiliers often known as the “Fighting Fifth”, raised no fewer than 51 battalions to serve in the Great War, making our own flesh and blood the second largest after the London Regiment. The Durham Light Infantry also sent huge numbers of North East men into battle, the total deaths in France and Flanders alone were 564,715, with many more than that number seriously injured.

With the war dead growing by the day, Lord Kitchener called out to professional sportsmen who had not been previously requested to sign up, the choice was entirely theirs and they could stay at home or pick up a weapon and go and fight in the trenches. The big difference that must be remembered is that these men had a choice, and out of a total squad of 40 Newcastle United players in the 1914 season, 27 of them picked up a rifle and went off to fight shoulder to shoulder with the supporters who had previously cheered them on from the terraces.

The six players named in the first paragraph, never returned and were killed in action, many others returned disabled and maimed. Some notable survivors of the horrors were Frank Hudspeth who served in the Royal Navy and went on to captain Newcastle’s FA Cup winning side in 1924, Colin Veitch who rose to the rank of 2nd lieutenant during the war having won three league championships and one FA Cup medal to display alongside his war honours, and Wilf Low – who still to this day can be found high on the list of Newcastle United all-time list of club appearances.

Myself and three other Newcastle fans have recently returned from a visit to Ypres and The Somme to pay our respects to fellow supporters and players who made the biggest sacrifice of them all, and I think it would be fitting if every fan today just gave a few minutes thought as 100 years ago it would have been you and me. What bonds those 6 heroes with every single Newcastle United fan today is they were literally Newcastle United until I die and we should never forget that.

The current Newcastle United of 2014 goes through one PR disaster after another these days and it really hits home when I see some of the players that don’t seem bothered about the shirt – It would be fitting 100 years on if Newcastle United as a club from chairman to players, mark this coming centenary with a full tribute to those supporters and players who never returned.

Tyne Cot Cemetery

Historical Information

‘Tyne Cot’ or ‘Tyne Cottage’ was the name given by the Northumberland Fusiliers to a barn which stood near the level crossing on the Passchendaele-Broodseinde road. The barn, which had become the centre of five or six German blockhouses, or pill-boxes, was captured by the 3rd Australian Division on 4 October 1917, in the advance on Passchendaele.

One of these pill-boxes was unusually large and was used as an advanced dressing station after its capture. From 6 October to the end of March 1918, 343 graves were made, on two sides of it, by the 50th (Northumbrian) and 33rd Divisions, and by two Canadian units. The cemetery was in German hands again from 13 April to 28 September, when it was finally recaptured, with Passchendaele, by the Belgian Army.

The TYNE COT MEMORIAL forms the north-eastern boundary of Tyne Cot Cemetery and commemorates nearly 35,000 servicemen from the United Kingdom and New Zealand who died in the Ypres Salient after 16 August 1917 and whose graves are not known. The memorial stands close to the farthest point in Belgium reached by Commonwealth forces in the First World War until the final advance to victory.

You can follow Martin on Twitter @WASNAPPER

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