9 November 2021

Peter Bloor, with a cricket match in the background

By Sporting Memories volunteer Peter Bloor

You can read more about Peter at the end of this article

Lord Kitchener’s direct gaze and equally direct message –’Your Country Needs You’ – is the most famous World War One recruiting poster, but at the same time as it appeared at the end of 1914, others were making a more specific appeal. ‘Every Fit Man Wanted’ declared one, and more specifically still another: ‘Play the Greater Game and Join the Football Battalion’, below a taunting message supposedly printed in a German newspaper and the phrase ‘We knew you’d come’, a mind game of which Sir Alex Ferguson would have been proud.

© IWM Art.IWM PST 12071 and © IWM Art.IWM PST 11347

Two footballers who answered the call came from Romiley, near Stockport. One was a professional player, Julius Gregory, born there in 1882, the other the local doctor and all-round sportsman Thomas Parkyn Blades, who had ‘regularly assisted Stockport County at half-back’ and was ‘a great favourite with the players and the crowd... a very capable player, resourceful, clever and consistent…’ according to the Stockport Advertiser. Neither man would live to see the end of the war in 1918.

Julius's biography records a career with Bury, Manchester City, Brighton and Hove Albion and Luton Town in which his rumbustious style of play brought him into conflict with the authorities and on one occasion sparked crowd disorder and a subsequent inquiry. On the 1911 Census Julius was living on Partridge Road Rhondda and still gave his occupation as ‘professional footballer’, but by November 1915 he had enlisted in Manchester and crossed to France with his Battalion, the 20th Royal Fusiliers.

In July 1916 the Battalion was on the Somme and, as part of 19th Brigade, took part in the attack on High Wood on the 20th of that month, their War Diary recording ‘North corner & North West corner of wood not taken, rest taken & consolidated’ – but at a cost of 16 Officers and 375 Other Ranks killed, wounded or missing.  4904 Private Julius Gregory was one of those killed but having no known grave is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme with 87 of his comrades who also died that day, and on a memorial window endowed by his mother in St. Chad’s Church Romiley.

Julius Gregory war memorial inscription

Whenever he walked into the middle of Romiley along the main road, Julius would have passed The Beeches, the home of Dr Blades, ‘the trusted doctor’ for whom ‘nothing was too much to undertake to relieve pain and suffering.’ Dr Blades was one of those people who could do everything; he was a local Councillor who was re-elected with a large majority, a collector of and authority on furniture and ‘although small in stature his quick and eager eye made him a doughty exponent of all games’, hence in addition to his two seasons with Stockport County he was also a cricketer, a scratch golfer and ‘a good exponent of the Rugby game'.

He does sound like one of the ‘fit men wanted’ but when he offered his services at the start of the war the Army Medical authorities refused them, at 48 years old presumably on age grounds. He then turned his efforts to the Bredbury and Romiley St John Ambulance Division, which he had set up with William Warburton in 1902 and which held its meetings in the waiting room at the station, where there are now pictures of them drilling on the field at Romiley Cricket Club, Dr Blades also being the club’s first President between 1912 and 1918.

Unfortunately Dr Blades’ care for himself did not match that for others, and while carrying out his medical duties ‘He exposed himself to the worst of the weather, was irregular in his hours and so wore out his constitution’, making him too weak to fight the congestion of the lungs from which he died in April 1918.  Romiley came to a halt on the day of his funeral, which was attended by numerous representatives from the Bredbury and Romiley Charity Football Association and the golf and cricket clubs, and by those men of the Army Medical Corps who had formerly been members of the local St John Ambulance Division, having been given permission by their Commanding Officer to do so.

In 1921 Mr David Slater was presented with an award for his service and in his acceptance speech said that ‘When the Brigade returned from the war they received one of the highest commendations, stating that no Division had done more splendid work…None received a larger number of honours.’ Despite being rejected for active service in 1914, Dr Blades had still made his contribution to the war effort, for it was the men of ‘his’ St. John Ambulance Division under his co-founder, now Sergeant-Major William Warburton, who had served with such distinction, making this award a fitting, if indirect, commemoration of the sporting Doctor from The Beeches.

Peter and volunteering

Since October 2020 I have been tidying up and re-organising the Replay Sporting Memories database of memories, an opportunity I saw advertised on the Sporting Memories website and which appealed to me, coming as I do from a background in Information Management, of waiting around for the outfield to dry or for something approaching daylight to show itself, and of personal experience of the dementia that took hold of my step-father Keith, my Uncle Eric and a very good friend, Meirion.   

Having given up my job partly to arrange the on-going care needs of my step-father I was looking for a voluntary opportunity and immediately recognised that offered by Sporting Memories was one I really had to pursue. 

Our thanks to Peter for his article, and his continuing and valuable work on Replay Sporting Memories.

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