The Footballer of Loos

Story courtesy of Ed Harris

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The Footballer of Loos 1916 Watercolour by Elizabeth Thompson (later Lady Butler):  Courtesy of The Irish Rifles Association

Frank Edwards, known as the “Footballer of Loos”, was a keen footballer who brought team spirit to the battle that was for the Allies, the first ‘big push’ in the First World War.

A list of men who appealed against conscription during the First World War has been made available by the National Archives. These were men who were not prepared to enlist for military service. One such claimant, Henry Henderson, resided at the house at Number 42, Colonial Avenue in 1914. Fifty years later, in 1964, reporters congregated outside Number 42, to report on the death of a new occupant living there – a man who had, in contrast to Mr Henderson, enthusiastically enlisted for service when Kitchener’s call to arms came.

His name was Frank Edwards.

Frank Edwards was born and raised in a working class district of Chelsea. At the age of just nineteen, he suffered the loss of his young wife and child, during labour. When the call for men to enlist came, it is little wonder then that he eagerly signed up with his then local regiment: the London Irish Rifles. A keen footballer, Edwards soon became captain of his regiment’s football team, and led them to a win at the Brigade Final, days before they left for France in March 1915. Within just a few weeks of arriving in France, Edwards saw action on the front line, and by September, the Rifles were “dug in” at a small mining village in the north, known as Loos.

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Frank Edwards Image Courtesy of Susan and Ed Harris

The 1914 Christmas ceasefire, and the football games played by both sides, had led to the banning of footballs on the Front Line. Many Generals in the military perceived socialising with the enemy as near mutiny. An attack by the infantry, which included the London Irish Rifles, was planned for the 25th September, 1915. Edwards, inspired by the Christmas Truce, was determined that he and his pals would enjoy the game as they went over the top of the line. Concealing a deflated ball in his tunic, he challenged the orders of the Generals, and when the whistle blew at 6:30am, the Rifles advanced towards the German lines, following Frank’s re-inflated football.

Dodging the hail of bullets, aerial mines and artillery shells bursting around them, the infantry took the first, second, and third German lines, finally halting close to the village of Loos, where they awaited reserves. The following days saw the German army prepare for a successful attack, which allowed them to recapture the British gains.

Suffering from not only gunshot wounds, but also from the effects of poison gas, Edwards was returned home. After the war, he worked in a variety of roles, including serving with the Military Police, and with the NSPCC. He and his family moved to Twickenham, and later, following the death of his wife, Edwards came to live with his daughter, in Colonial Avenue – once home to Mr Henderson.

His death in 1964 was widely reported. The story of Frank Edwards, the Footballer of Loos, thereafter became somewhat forgotten. The Loos football was stored in a shoebox before being uncovered in 2011, when its significance was rediscovered. The football has since been restored, and holds pride of place amongst the great history of the London Irish Rifles.

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Frank Edwards Image Courtesy of Susan and Ed Harris

At 6:30am on September 25th, a free 40 minute audio drama entitled ‘The Greater Game’ was released to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Loos. Click here for more information and to listen or download the podcast.

Find out more about Frank Edwards and the Battle of Loos at Twickenham Museum.

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