As I think of the words to construct this article, my mind drifts back one hundred years to the Battle of the Somme. For it was on this day, 01 July 1916, that one of the most famous battles during World War One commenced. It is reported that nearly 20,000 soldiers, mainly from Britain and Ireland along with India and South Africa lost their lives on the first day of this bloody battle. By the time the Battle of the Somme, which took place in northern France, had ended five months later, over one million soldiers from both sides of the war had either lost their lives or been injured. I find it hard to imagine what the conditions must have been like for the soldiers in the trenches.
During the BBC1 news programme which aired at 10pm on 29 June 2016, there was a news feature focussing on the Battle of the Somme. Within this piece, the news reporter highlighted that Evelyn Lintott was one of those who tragically lost their life on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. The news item correctly stated that Evelyn played football for Queens Park Rangers and England, but unfortunately they didn’t mention that Evelyn also played for Bradford City.
Why am I referring to World War One and a former Bradford City player? Well, please let me continue my story. In early 2015, Andrew Ashcroft and Stephen Onions who are also Bradford City supporters, along with me decided that we would try to obtain some tickets for the Euro 2016 tournament. Indeed, Andrew and I had been to Switzerland and Austria in 2008 to attend a couple of matches during the Euro 2008 event. Thanks to the efforts of Andrew, we obtained tickets via the official UEFA website, for a game in Paris which would take place on 13 June 2016. At this point in time, the draw had not been made for Euro 2016 so we didn’t know who we were going to see play. However, in early December 2015 the draw was made and we knew then that we were going to see the Republic of Ireland play Sweden. Ironically, Andrew and I had seen Sweden lose to eventual winners Spain, back in 2008.
As time moved on, Andrew was keen to obtain tickets for another game as he had originally applied for tickets for three games. In 2016, further tickets were released by UEFA and we were fortunate enough to purchase tickets for the Germany verses Ukraine game which would be played in Lille on Sunday 12 June 2016. During the planning stages for our trip, we decided that we would visit Dochy Farm New British Cemetery. As many well informed readers of this article will know, our goal scoring captain from the 1911 FA Cup winning team, Jimmy Speirs, is laid to rest at this cemetery near Ypres in Belgium.
The morning of Saturday 11 June 2016 arrived. Andrew came to pick Stephen and I up then off we headed to Kent. As we were booked on the 8:30am ferry from Dover to Calais on 12 June, we decided that it would be better to stay in Kent on the evening of 11 June. That evening a few pints from the Shepherd Neame brewery were consumed in the Binger’s Finger pub in Canterbury whilst watching England’s first game in Euro 2016. A last minute goal was conceded against Russia and things were only going to end one way for Roy Hodgson’s squad in this tournament!
We departed the Travelodge at 6:30am on 12 June, much to the surprise of the staff member on the desk. Little did they know that later on that day we were going to pay our respects to Jimmy Speirs and many other soldiers at Dochy Farm New British Cemetery.
The ferry crossing passed by without any problems apart from queuing for nearly one hour to get on to the ferry owing to the 700 cyclists who were also travelling on the same ferry as us. So into Calais we arrived and then we travelled across northern France and over the border into Belgium. I hadn’t appreciated how many cemeteries there are in southern Belgium where thousands of soldiers are buried. We eventually saw a road sign for Dochy Farm New British Cemetery. I don’t know what I was quite expecting at the cemetery apart from row after row of headstones. As we drove down a rural road, we came across Dochy Farm New British Cemetery on our left hand side with a stone bearing the words: THEIR NAME LIVETH FOR EVER MORE. To be honest, the cemetery was smaller than I had expected even though there are nearly 1,500 headstones there. What I remember most is how quiet and peaceful the cemetery was. The only noise that the three of us could hear was that of melancholic birdsong. Our research had involved locating the headstone for Jimmy Speirs prior to our visit so we had an idea of where Jimmy had been buried. After a few minutes of walking we found his resting place. For a while, Andrew, Stephen and I didn’t speak to one another and stopped to take in our surroundings. I don’t know what Andrew and Stephen were thinking at that moment in time but I imagined how different this landscape must have been a century ago and how less than seven years after winning the world’s greatest cup competition, Jimmy Speirs was killed serving his country. During these sombre moments, I also thought about my mum along with Andrew’s mum, who had unfortunately both passed away in the previous eight months. I can’t remember exactly how long we stayed at the cemetery for, but prior to leaving we did write a note in the visitors book. We also noticed other individuals who had made reference to Jimmy Speirs in the visitors book. Owing to time constraints we didn’t visit any of the other cemeteries in southern Belgium, however we were pleased that we’d found Dochy Farm New British Cemetery.
During World War One Jimmy Speirs achieved promotion to Sergeant with the Cameron Highlanders and was said to show great leadership qualities. Maybe he took these with him from the football pitch? He was also awarded the Military Medal for his bravery. Aged just 31 years young, Jimmy Speirs was killed in August 1917. He achieved so much in a life that ended far too soon. We should never forget or underestimate the sacrifices that many people made in World War One and as Bradford City supporters, we must never forget Jimmy Speirs.
Photo of Jimmy Speirs’ grave by Mark Parkinson below: