How Armistice Day has been marked at United

Thursday 11 November 2021 11:00

Manchester United’s annual tributes to all those who lost their lives in conflicts across the world began last weekend with a minute’s applause prior to kick-off against Manchester City.

Both teams and the match officials had their shirts specially embroidered with a poppy, and those worn by the United players in the derby – and also in the previous Premier League game at Tottenham – are being auctioned for charity throughout November and December. 

Funds raised will go to the Royal British Legion, as the charity marks its centenary year. This is a unique opportunity to own a piece of history while supporting the Royal British Legion’s vital work. The charity relies solely on the support of the public in order to provide lifelong support for both serving and ex-serving personnel and their families. They give the Armed Forces community a voice,  championing their interests to try and affect positive change. To find out more, including how your contribution will have an impact, visit To get involved in the auction, head to
On this Armistice Day at, we are recalling how United, like almost every football club across the UK, lost players in global conflicts. The thoughts of everyone connected to the club will also be with the 23 men known to have represented the Reds who later lost their lives while serving their country. Gilbert Godsmark, who played for Newton Heath LYR, lost his life in the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), 15 former players were killed in the First World War (1914-18) and a further seven ex-Reds lost their lives in the Second World War (1939-45).

Perhaps the most famous of those 23 casualties is Sandy Turnbull, an FA Cup winner with both United and City. A war memorial at Gorse Hill on Chester Road, a short walk from Old Trafford, bears his name: ‘Sgt A. Turnbull’. He was better known as Alexander ‘Sandy’ Turnbull to football fans in the early 20th century, being regarded as a brilliant inside-forward. Turnbull won the FA Cup with the Blues in 1904, then scored the only goal when the Reds lifted the Cup by beating Bristol City in 1909. He also won the league championship with United in 1908 and 1911. Sadly, Turnbull was killed in the Battle of Arras, in France, on 3 May 1917.

The players we lost in war


We mark Remembrance Day by recalling the Newton Heath and Manchester United men who died during conflicts.

United museum curator Mark Wylie expects more former players will be found to have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the defence of their country. He says: “The 23 names on the list currently are those confirmed to have played for Manchester United’s first team, Reserves or ‘A’ team, and known to have been killed in armed conflict. Plus, there are another four casualties who we suspect were players for the club but have not been able to confirm.”

Football match reports regularly include words like ‘heroic’ and ‘brave’, but efforts on the pitch pale in comparison to the truly heroic actions of those who gave their lives for their country. Their sacrifice is remembered by the wearing of the poppy and in the two-minute silence being observed across the country today (Thursday) at 11:00 GMT.


In addition to the 23 players who lost their lives serving their country, many thousands more supporters of this football club also perished on battlefields around the world. Last year, Mark Wylie even discovered one fan who died while attending an Old Trafford home match. Private Harold Birley, of West Fleet Street in Salford, died while attending a wartime fixture against Stoke City on 30 March 1918. Birley was shot in the chest at the Battle of the Somme in 1916, but the bullet could not be removed. After lengthy stays in various hospitals, he was deemed unfit for war service and discharged from the 1st Salford Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers on 31 August 1917. He died aged 20 and was laid to rest in Weaste Cemetery, Salford.