At least four former Rovers players were killed during World War One. Rovers historian John Coyle profiles them.
ERNEST EDGAR ELLIS (30/11/1885- 1/7/1916)
Ernest Ellis was born in Sprowston, near Norwich and played for Norwich City, then not a Football League club. In 1908-09 Rovers signed two players from Norwich, forward William Jex and goalkeeper Fred Thompson, who had won a FA Cup winners medal when at Bury. Thompson recommended Ellis to Rovers.
He joined the club in December 1908 and made his debut at right back on December 12 1908 as Rovers drew 1-1 with High Green Swifts in the Sheffield Challenge Cup. Rovers won the replay and Ellis made his Midland League debut on December 19 1908, a 1-2 defeat to Nottingham Forest Reserves. He went on to make 25 league appearances and four cup appearances.
In 1909-10 he started the season in the reserves but broke into the first team in September, going on to make four Midland League appearances. Some time after he joined Barnsley, initially playing in their reserve side. With Barnsley reaching the FA Cup final in 1910 he was called into the first XI for the final four Division Two games of the season, making his Football League debut at Oakwell against West Bromwich Albion on April 14 1910.
In 1912 he joined Hartlepools United of the North Eastern League and made 85 first-team appearances over two seasons. For 1914-15 he moved north of the border with Heart of Midlothian, but he played only one game for Hearts before volunteering for active service.
He joined the 16th Battalion of the Royal Scots, known as McCrae's Battalion after the local Liberal MP, Sir George McCrae who had urged sportsmen and sports fans to join up. Sixteen Hearts players signed up in all.
On July 1 1916 Private Ernest Ellis was one of five Hearts players killed on the opening day of the Somme Offensive. He is commemorated on the Thiepval War Memorial.
Ernest was the son of Harry and Marie Ellis, of 236, Sprowston Road., Norwich; husband of Isobel Ellis, of 25, Tarvit Street, Edinburgh.
FREDERICK WATERSON (1877-12/10/1918)
Frederick Waterson was born in Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire in 1877 and died in northern France on October 12 1918. A hard-working full-back, Waterson spent the majority of his career at Burton Swifts before having brief spells at Fulham and Doncaster Rovers. During the First World War, Waterson join the British Army and would lose his life just four weeks before the Armistice.
Waterson began his playing career at Burton Swifts, where he made his debut in a 1-1 draw at Lincoln City on March 20 1896. Over the following six seasons, Waterson established himself as a first-team regular and eventually made 132 appearances for the club, scoring nine goals. After playing a further 34 games for the newly-amalgamated Burton Swifts, Waterson finally left the Staffordshire club to join Fulham after a dispute over unpaid wages in the summer of 1903.
Waterson would find opportunities limited at Craven Cottage, however, and spent much of his time captaining the reserve side. Despite playing just 14 first-team matches in six seasons, he was rewarded for his services for the second string with a benefit game on Boxing Day 1908. He finally left Fulham in 1909 and moved to South Yorkshire to begin work at Doncaster Railway Works, where he would also have a brief spell at Rovers before retiring from the game.
Private 4237 Waterson initially enlisted in the 1/5th King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry during the First World War before subsequently transferring to the 2/6th Durham Light Infantry (Service No. 253232). By 1918, Waterson had risen to the rank of corporal and was serving in the recently-formed 29th DLI. As part of 41st Brigade, 14th (Light) Division, the battalion had landed at Boulogne on July 3 1918 before going on to take part in the final allied advances of the war in France and Flanders.
It was during the period that Cpl Waterson would sustain the wounds that would eventually take his life at a casualty clearing station near the French town of Hazebrouk on 12 October 1918. Waterson was 41-years-old at the time of his death and was subsequently buried at La Kreule Military Cemetery which is located 2km north of Hazebrouck, on the road to St Sylvestre-Cappel and Steenvoorde.
Waterson joined Rovers in October 1909 and made his debut at centre-half against Grimsby Town Reserves on 16/10/09. He went on to play 33 Midland League games and three cup matches. The following season, 1910-11, he played in 27 Midland League and five cup games. He retired at the end of the season and for 1911-12 he was appointed as Trainer for the Reserve Team.
His earlier football career was as follows:
1896-1900 Burton Swifts 103 Football League appearances, 2 goals. 9 FA Cup appearances, 1 goal.
1901-1902 Burton United 62 FL apps, 1 goal. 4 FA Cup apps, 0 goals.
1903-1908 Fulham (mostly in Southern League). 2 FL apps, 0 Goals
MAJOR WILLIAM BOOTH (10/12/1886- 1/7/1916)
Major Booth (his name not his military rank, which was 2nd Lieutenant) was the best known of the three, but not for his football exploits. Booth was a fine all round cricketer who made his debut for Yorkshire in 1908 and between then and 1914 took 603 wickets and scored 4,753 runs in first class cricket. He formed an effective bowling partnership with Alonzo Drake, better known as a footballer, who had played for Rovers in the Football League from 1901 to 1903.
Booth played two Test matches for England in South Africa in 1913-14. He took seven wickets with a best of 4/49 and scored 46 runs, top score 32. His cricket career is summarised in his Wisden obituary below:
BOOTH, WILLIAM, 2ND LIEUT. MAJOR, (West Yorkshire Regiment), born at Pudsey on December 10, 1886, fell in action in July. His earliest cricket was played at Fulneck School, and later he was associated with Pudsey St. Lawrence and the Wath Athletic Club, which played in the Mexborough League, and of which he was captain. He appeared regularly for Yorkshire 2nd XI in 1907 and two following seasons, and in 1908 received his first trial for the County. He did not, however, secure a regular place in the team until two years later, but in 1911 he scored 1,125 runs for his county and took seventy-four wickets, with a highest innings of 210 against Worcestershire on the Worcester ground.
He increased his reputation as a bowler in the following summer, and in 1913 made over a thousand runs and took 158 wickets at Yorkshire, his aggregate of 181 wickets in first-class matches being the highest of any bowler that season. In 1914 he was not so successful in batting, but he obtained 141 wickets for Yorkshire at a cost of 18 runs apiece. Although a fine punishing batsman, Booth's claim to fame will rest chiefly upon what he accomplished as a bowler. Possessed of a free, natural action, he made the ball come quickly off the pitch. On occasion his off-break was quite formidable, but his strong points were swerve and pace off the ground.
In two consecutive matches in August, 1914, he and Alonzo Drake (a former Rovers player) bowled unchanged throughout, Gloucestershire being dismissed for 94 and 84 at Bristol and Somerset for 44 and 90 at Weston-super-Mare. In the second innings of the latter match Booth had the very rare experience of bowling throughout without obtaining a wicket, Drake taking all 10 for 35 runs.
In 1913 Booth was chosen for the Players at Lord's, and during 1913-14 toured South Africa with the M.C.C.'s team under Douglas' captaincy. His doings abroad were somewhat disappointing, and so strong was the side that he was left out of three of the Test matches. In the 144 games in which he appeared for Yorkshire he scored 4,213 runs with an average of 22.65 and obtained 556 wickets for 18.89 runs each. Tall of stature, good-looking, and of engaging address, Booth was a very popular figure both on and off the field.
His brief Rovers career came in 1909-10 when he joined the club having been on Bradford City's books. He made his debut on September 4 1909 in a 1-1 draw with Denaby United at the Intake Ground. In his second game, away at Denaby, he sustained a ligament strain. He went on in all to appear in five Midland League games, failing to score, and played his last game on October 16 1909 at Grimsby, which co-incidentally was Waterson's debut. I have no information on his football career after that.
Booth joined the Army as an enlisted man and rose to the rank of Sergeant before being commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant on 16 July 1915.Later that year he was posted to Egypt arriving on 22 December 1915 before returning to the Western Front.
On July 1 1916 he went "over the top" near La Cigny on the Somme while serving with the 15th (Service) Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales's Own), also known as "The Leeds Pals". He was followed a short while later by another wave of soldiers among whom was Abraham Waddington (later also Yorkshire and England). Waddington was hit and found himself in a shell hole with Booth, who was also injured, and held him until he died. Booth's body then remained there until the spring, when he was buried at Serre Road No 1 Cemetery. He was Son of James and Louise Booth, of Town End House, Pudsey, Yorkshire.
HENRY (HARRY) BIRKETT SHIMELDS (1894-10/12/1918)
Henry Birkett Shimelds (pictured above, photo colourising by Photo Restoration Services) was born in 1894. He lived in Hexthorpe with his father, Newbold, mother Betsy and five brothers and sisters. His father had a confectioners shop when Henry was a child, though by the time Henry was 17 his father had become an insurance agent for the Liverpool Victoria friendly Society.
Henry worked as a wagon builders' apprentice and later as a wagon builder at the Great Northern Railway Works. He enlisted in January of 1916, serving as a Driver in France with the Royal Field Artillery. Before joining the Army, Henry had played for Rovers - and the Doncaster Gazette reported that just three weeks prior to his death he had played a match for the Plant Works Club whilst home on leave.
Henry died of Spanish Flu on the 10 November 1918 in a French hospital, just one day before the signing of the armistice brought the war to an end. Henry was buried at the Les Baraques Military Cemetery. He was awarded the British War and Victory medals.
NB. I have not been able to find a record of playing for the Rovers First XI, although my records are rather sparse for the period immediately before the war. Certainly he is not mentioned in Bluff.