Ronnie Poulton-PalmerSport, especially football, was sometimes a feature of the First World War. In the famous “Christmas truce” of 1914, evidence suggests that several football games were played between British and German armies during an agreed ceasefire. These impromptu matches may have been played with footballs or, in one or two cases, with old bully beef tins.

Another soccer story of the First World War involved Captain Wilfred (Billie) Nevill, who kicked a football towards German lines as his men went over the top during the first Battle of the Somme. Two footballs were kicked across no man’s land by the East Surrey Regiment under his command. Captain Nevill, an all-round sportsman, did not survive the attack.

Inevitably, as people from all walks of life enlisted during WW1, so did many professional athletes. In fact, propaganda posters depicting them were used to encourage others to join up. A shortened quote from Lord Roberts was included: “This is not the time to play games”.

Here are just a few of the numerous accomplished sportsmen who gave their lives during WW1:

  • Ronnie Poulton-Palmer, a former England rugby captain who was killed at Ploegsteert Wood in 1915. Propaganda posters claimed over 90% of rugby union footballers had enlisted.
  • Dave Gallaher, a famous All Blacks rugby player killed at Passchendaele in 1917.
  • Donald Bell, a professional footballer who was posthumously awarded a VC for heroic actions in 1916.
  • Colin Blythe, who played Test cricket for England and was killed at Passchendaele in 1917.
  • Anthony Wilding of New Zealand, who was undoubtedly the world’s best tennis player before being killed in action in 1915, at the Battle of Aubers Ridge.
  • Henry Macintosh, a Scottish runner who won a gold medal in the 4 × 100 metres relay at the 1912 Olympics. He died in 1918 from wounds sustained in battle.
  • Reggie Pridmore, who won a gold medal playing hockey for the England team at the 1908 London Olympics. He also played first-class cricket for Warwickshire. Major Pridmore was killed in action in Italy in 1918.