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Captain Nevill and his footballs

November 11th, 2005 (02:05 pm)

From the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on Wilfred Percy Nevill (1894-1916), army officer, by Roger T. Stearn:

The 18th division was part of the Fourth Army, commanded by General Sir Henry Rawlinson, which in 1916 was to attack the German lines at the Somme. On leave in England in May Nevill bought footballs for his company to dribble across no man's land in the offensive: he hoped that it would help their advance. There had been similar uses of footballs previously, but it is not known whether he had heard of them. At 7.27 a.m. on Saturday 1 July 1916, the first day of the battle of the Somme, Nevill went over the parapet, kicking off his football, and led his company across no man's land towards the German lines and Montauban. He was shot in the head and killed, just outside the German wire. He was buried in Carnoy military cemetery, Somme.

Nevill was one of over 19,000 British killed that day: available statistics indicate that the most vulnerable rank was captain. Nearly 1000 officers were killed, and of these very few gained individual recognition from the wider public. However, Captain Nevill and his footballs were featured in the local and national press: the Illustrated London News published a dramatic drawing by Richard Caton Woodville, ‘The Surreys Play the Game!’, and the Daily Mail published a verse, ‘The Game’. Nevill's deed was commemorated by his regiment, and the story was subsequently retold in successive accounts of the Somme.

Edit 5.22pm By popular demand, the 'Life of the day' for 11 November at the Oxford DNB is Noel Geoffrey Chavasse, medical officer.

Edit 12.52am I've now removed the link as it's out of date.


Posted by: Adilo Creamon (the_marquis)
Posted at: November 11th, 2005 04:55 pm (UTC)

Actually I preferred the item on Chavasse the non-combatant double VC.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 11th, 2005 05:27 pm (UTC)

Now restored!

Posted by: Adilo Creamon (the_marquis)
Posted at: November 11th, 2005 08:54 pm (UTC)

Huzzah! Thank you, despite actually being very downbeat, this chap's life does say great things about people.