July 29, 1916
“Kicking footballs towards the German trenches under a hail of shells.”
“On through the hail of slaughter… They drive the trickling ball.”: Men of the East Surreys charging towards the German trenches at Contalmaison.
The association between the spirit of our national games and the spirit that inspires our troops in the great game of war has received fresh proof on the battlefield. As on previous occasions in the war, footballs have been used during the great British advance of this month as a help to the men in advancing to attack.
For example, a Reuter correspondent writes regarding a certain battalion of the East Surrey Regiment which took part in the assault:
“The Captain of one of the companies had provided four footballs, one for each platoon, urging them to keep up a dribbling competition all the way over the mile and a quarter of ground they had to traverse.
“As the company formed on emerging from the trench, the platoon commanders kicked off, and the match against Death commenced. The gallant Captain himself fell early in the charge, and men began to drop rapidly under the hail of machine-gun bullets. But still the footballs were booted onwards, with hoarse cries of encouragement or defiance, they disappeared in the dense smother behind which the Germans were shooting.
“Then, when the bombs and bayonets had done their work, and the enemy had cleared out, the Surrey men looked for their footballs and recovered two of them in the captured traverses. These will be sent to the Regimental Depot at Kingston as trophies worth preserving.”
This incident formed the subject of a set of verses by the “Daily Mail” poet who writes under the name of Touchstone. The first of the three stanzas runs as follows :
“On through the hail of slaughter Where gallant comrades fall, Where blood is poured like water, They drive the trickling ball. The fear of death before them Is an but empty name; True to the land that bore them The Surreys play the game!”
In our illustration one football is seen on the right and a second is in the air towards the background near the centre.
(Source: Illustrated London News: July 29, 1916)