Over two hundred Leyton Orient supporters and friends of the Club set off from the O’s early on a Friday morning to head towards the battlefields of northern France, to pay their respects at the resting places of Clapton Orient legends; William Jonas, Richard McFadden and George Scott. All three lost their lives during the Battle of the Somme in 1916 whilst serving with their O’s pals and colleagues from other clubs in the 17th Bn Middlesex Regiment (the Footballers’ Battalion).
Having sailed to Calais from Dover, the group made their way to St Souplet where George Scott is buried. Pat and Pam Smith who are related to George and who had travelled down from Bolton, laid a wreath on behalf of the Supporters Club and Football Club. They also presented their own tribute and Pat read some words as to what the trip meant to her and Pam. Howard Miller then read a poem.
Afterwards, the coaches headed to Arras where everyone was booked at the Holiday Inn Express hotel. The next morning everyone headed to Thiepval to commemorate the life of the O’s centre-forward and ladies’ pin up William Jonas. During the Act of Remembrance, members of William Jonas’s family Doreen Jonas and Karen Plewes – who had journeyed all the way down from Gateshead laid a wreath in his honour. This was then followed by the reading of a poem by Theresa Burns. The O’s Somme Banner was also displayed for the first time on the Somme and very good it looked, particularly when it was held up against one of the panels to enable a good photo opportunity.
Leaving Thiepval, the coaches made their way to Contalmaison to hold a short service and lay a wreath at the memorial in honour of the 16th Royal Scots. This regiment was boosted by the footballers, staff and officials from a number of Scottish clubs, including Dunfermline, Falkirk, Heart of Midlothian, Hibernian, Raith Rovers and Mossend Burnvale along with many other sports clubs. Pipe Major Eddie McHale laid the wreath and Khris Raistrick read a poem that he had written specially for the occasion.
Lunch was taken at The Three Pigeons in Albert where there was an opportunity to visit the huge and ornate Basilique, the museum and underground tunnels.
Before returning to Arras, the coaches made their way to the small village of Couin and the British Cemetery where O’s inside- forward and life saver Richard McFadden is buried along with the Grimsby Town captain and full-back Sid Wheelhouse. Sid ‘guested’ for the O’s whilst waiting to travel over to France with the Footballers’ Battalion. O’s supporter Tony Evans laid a wreath at the grave of Sid Wheelhouse and the Nicki and Siobhan Hammett laid a wreath at the grave of their great, great uncle Richard McFadden and Nicki read a poem.
After checking out of the hotel, everyone made their way to Longueval for the laying of a wreath at the Football League’s memorial. Supporters Club committee member Keren Harrison read a poem and the wreath was laid by Supporters Club Chairman David Dodd. The Act of Remembrance was then paused whilst everyone went the 600 metres or so along the road to Delville Wood, where Rhiannon Harrison read a poem and the Act of Remembrance was completed – it was in Delville Wood where William Jonas lost his life. After the service many of those present made their way into the impressive South African memorial and museum.
Having left Delville Wood, the coaches drove the short distance to Flers to visit and lay a wreath at the O’s Memorial, which is in the grounds of the church of St Martin and right by the main through road. Alan Comfort lead the service and the major of Flers Pierrick Capelle welcomed everyone. Rhiannon Harrison laid the wreath and each of the three families planted a small cross in honour of their ancestors. A wreath was also laid at the village memorial.
The villagers of Flers were so very pleased to meet everyone and had even changed the date of the annual Fete to coincide with the visit of so many O’s supporters and friends.
At each of the cemeteries and at the Thiepval Memorial, the Act of Remembrance was lead by the chaplain of Leyton Orient Alan Comfort. Supporters Club Deputy Chairman Steve Jenkins gave a talk as to the historical background of the visit and the O’s Bugle Team played ‘Last Post’ and ‘Reveille’.
Lunch was held at Flers and there was time for everyone to have a look around the various stalls and attractions before leaving for Calais at 3pm.
Following a very comfortable journey back to the UK, the coaches arrived back at Leyton at 9pm on the Sunday evening.
It was strange, although very welcome, that throughout the weekend there was periods of very heavy rain as well as storms, and yet when the coaches pulled up at the cemeteries and visited Thiepval, the rain stopped and the sun began to shine!
This was the fourth O’s Somme trip and was felt to be the most successful to date, plans are already being put in place for 2016 which is the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.
WE WILL REMEMBER THEM