Since the outbreak of the Great War, Encouraged by the success of the 16th Royal Scots volunteer battalion formed by Sir George McCrae, into which players and supporters from Dunfermline, Falkirk, Heart of Midlothian, Hibernian and Raith Rovers enlisted, along with members of other sporting clubs, the Clapton Orient chairman, Captain Henry Wells-Holland, had the dream of starting his own platoon consisting entirely of O’s players and staff.
With the authorities – mindful of the criticism of professional football continuing whilst a war was on – deciding to form a battalion specifically for footballers to join, a meeting was held at Fulham Town Hall on 15th December for players that wanted to join up into a newly formed battalion – the 17th Middlesex (the Footballers’ Battalion).
Ten Orient footballers enlisted straight away with more colleagues from the Club soon following their example. Thus it was Clapton Orient became the first English Football League club to volunteer en masse to serve King and Country. Although players from other clubs around the country also joined, it really was Clapton Orient – later, of course to become Leyton Orient – who Took The Lead.
The Club’s decision to do its duty was recognised throughout the land – and led to subsequent links with King George V and the Prince of Wales, who was the first member of the royal family to attend a Football League match when he watched the O’s in 1921.
Further to its original publication in 2005, They Took The Lead has now been revised and updated to 260 pages, nine additional chapters and an extra 80 images, many of which are in colour.
This special centenary edition tells the story of those brave Clapton Orient footballers, three of whom gave their lives on the front line in the name of freedom. Letters and stories from the trenches relate the heartbreak and suffering – but there is humour in adversity, too.
The successful search for relatives of the O’s heroes brings us right up to date. We read how the exploits of the Orient ‘Die Hards’ are now commemorated, both locally, nationally and abroad, including the erection of a permanent memorial in the village of Flers on the Somme in July 2011.
They Took The Lead is a moving and proud account of how comradeship stood firm – from the lush grass of Millfields Road to the mud of the Somme.
Stephen Jenkins has spent in excess of fifteen years researching this amazing, proud, albeit tragic story.
Available from the Supporters Club tomorrow before and after the game, They Took The Lead sells for £14.99
Former O’s striker Peter Kitchen and Mary Jaggs (Richard McFadden’s Great Niece), will both be present after the game to sign copies of this superb publication.
Should you wish to buy a copy of They Took The Lead but cannot get to the game, the book can also be purchased from Stephen Jenkins direct – for further details contact him at [email protected]