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Club Remembers its Somme Casualties

1 July 2016

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With today marking the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme, Chesterfield remember their three former players who died in the bloody conflict.

The World War One battle began in July 1916 and was the largest battle of the War on the Western Front, representing one of the bloodiest encounters in human history with over a million men killed or wounded before the battle ended in November 1916.

The first day of the battle, a century ago today, saw 19,240 men killed in the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army, and in the subsequent battle three Chesterfield players also met their ends.

Here we profile the Spireites who fell in the Battle of the Somme.

Fred Bulcock

Bulcock had played for Chesterfield Town reserves in the 1911/12 season and was the first Spireite to die during the battle, losing his life on July 8, a week after the start of the battle.

Bulcock had lived on Sheffield Road before joining the Royal Scots Fusiliers and is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial in the Somme.

Billy Gerrish

Inside-right Gerrish joined the Spireites in 1912, but after breaking his leg on his debut he made just eight appearances for the club. Gerrish was said to have clashed with authority figues at previous clubs Aston Villa and Preston North End but was well-remembered for his Chesterfield appearances in the Midland League. 

Joining the famed Footballers' Battalion (the 17th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment) and in giving blood, at the time very rare, to save a fellow soldier in 1915 he was described by Major Frank Buckley as "a splendid solider, most willing and brave".

Gerrish was one of 51 members of his regiment who gave their lives on August 8, 1916 as his legs were shattered by a nearby shell burst. Gerrish is remembered for laying quietly, smoking a cigarette, while waiting for the stretcher bearers and is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial alongside Bulcock.

Joe Smith

Smith died along with his two brothers during the Great War and as a Sergeant Major Smith fell during the last action of the Battle of the Somme at Serre in France in November 1916.

In his pre-war life Smith was a powerful centre-half who, formerly of Birmingham City, joined Chesterfield midway through the 1914/15 season.

Another member of the Footballers' Battalion, Smith was mentioned in dispatches for bravery after falling wounded, only to get up and continue the rush into battle before being shot down again.

For more information on the three players above, as well as the rest of the Spireites casualties during World War One, visit the Chesterfield FC Memorial Garden adjacent to The HUB at the Proact Stadium.

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