Wycombe Wanderers began their commemorations of the centenary of the start of World War I by spending two days in the battlefields in the north of France this week.Gareth Ainsworth led his staff and players to the Somme region to visit cemeteries, memorials and museums, while there was also a special return for the Wanderers manager to the Footballers’ Battalion Memorial at Longueval, which was unveiled by a select group of Football League representatives including Ainsworth in 2010.
The trip 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 and 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 were able to lay a poppy tribute to former Wycombe Wanderers player James McDermott at the Thiepval Memorial, which commemorates soldiers who died in the Battle of the Somme but whose bodies were never found, while they also had the chance to research and visit the burial sites of relatives who may have fought in the war.
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 Trust, and historian Andrew Riddoch, author of ‘When The Whistle Blows’ – the story of the Footballers’ Battalions.
Ainsworth said: “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. It was part of our development for the team and it was great to go over there at a time when they have been performing so well.
“The players really bought into the whole experience and I was a proud man to see the respect, interest and enthusiasm they showed throughout the whole trip.”
Captain Paul Hayes, who laid a wreath at the memorial on behalf of the club, said: “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.”
The club will soon be releasing a video and photo book from the trip, and will once again be hosting the launch of the countywide Poppy Appeal later this month, in partnership with the Royal British Legion, when they meet Dagenham and Redbridge at Adams Park on October 25th.