The Great War Centenary Tour
Wycombe Wanderers first team management and players made a special visit to the battlefields in the north of France during October 2014 in order to pay their respects to those people who gave their lives fighting for their country during the First World War.
The WWFC squad began their commemorations of the centenary of the “Great War” by spending two days in the battlefields in the north of France where, led by Manager Gareth Ainsworth, they visited cemeteries, memorials and museums.
The trip also provided the opportunity for the Blues to learn about various representatives of the Footballers’ Battalions (Middlesex 17th and 23rd regiments) who fought in the war, including Frank Buckley, Vivian Woodward, Walter Tull (who was the second black professional footballer and the first black army officer), as well as PFA chairman Evelyn Lintott and Victoria Cross recipient Donald Bell.
The squad also included in their visit a trip to the Thiepval Memorial which commemorates soldiers who died in the Battle of the Somme but whose bodies were never found. While there the players had the poignant opportunity to research and visit the burial sites of relatives who may have fought in the war.
Another stop on the trip saw the players visit the Footballers Battalion Memorial at Longueval. This was the second time that Gareth Ainsworth had visited the spot after playing a prominent part in the unveiling ceremony of the monument erected by the Football League in 2010.
While there, club captain Paul Hayes laid a poppy tribute to former Wycombe Wanderers player James McDermott on behalf of the club. Following the laying of the commemorative wreath Paul Hayes summed up his feelings in the following way:
“It was a fascinating trip for the whole group and it was a real privilege to hear about the Footballers’ Battalion and the sacrifices they made. It’s important that everyone continues to respect and appreciate what the soldiers had to go through, and we as players have certainly taken a lot from the trip which I personally have found to be an emotional and humbling experience.”
Manager Ainsworth was clearly delighted with the way the trip went, and the benefits it achieved, saying:
“I’ve always wanted to take a team out to the battlefields since I first went to the Somme four years ago and I’m so pleased that I was able to make it happen, with the help of the club. It helped give the players a sense of perspective and a real insight into the heroism of footballers just like themselves who fought and died for their country.”
The Great War Centenary Tour was hosted by Phil Stant, the former professional footballer who fought in the Falklands and now works for the Football League, and historian Andrew Riddoch, author of ‘When The Whistle Blows’ – the story of the Footballers’ Battalions.
Following the clubs visit they released a video and photo book from the trip with all proceeds being donated to the High Wycombe branch of the Royal British Legion. In addition, and again in partnership with the Royal British Legion, WWFC hosted the launch of the countywide Poppy Appeal when they met Dagenham & Redbridge at Adams Park on October 25th.
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