Poppy tribute for Remembrance on the East Stand window at Old Trafford

Remembrance: The players we lost in war

Saturday 11 November 2023 11:00

Words like 'heroic' are so widely used in football these days that it's easy to forget their true meaning. Yet there are some Manchester United players, including from the Newton Heath era, for whom the use of such a term is fully deserved.

Here, with the help of United's former museum curator Mark Wylie, we pay tribute to the men who played for our football club and then perished in war...


Driver 12690 Gilbert Godsmark | Army Service Corps (att. 75th Battery Royal Field Artillery) | Newton Heath 1900
Although he wasn’t a serving soldier when he joined Newton Heath, Godsmark was called up just months later as a former soldier at a time of national emergency. Regarded as quite a prospect on the football pitch, having been spotted by ex-Heathens forward Bob Donaldson while playing in Kent, the 25-year-old succumbed to disease while serving in Pretoria.


Sergeant 11677 Arthur Beadsworth | 7th (Service) Battalion Leicestershire Regiment | Manchester United 1902-03
One of many players signed in the first season after the club's name was changed to Manchester United, the forward from Leicester made nine league appearances for the Reds – scoring the winner against Arsenal on his debut. Having previously served in the militia, the territorial army of its day, he joined the Leicestershire regiment but died of wounds in 1917 near Boulogne in France.

Private 34893 Thomas Clifford | 6th/7th (Service) Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers | Newton Heath 1896-97
The Scotsman, from Ayr, played for a number of teams either side of the border and represented the Heathens at reserve level. Mark Wylie, curator for Manchester United's museum, informed us: "Thomas was actually quite old when he joined up so it’s possible he lied about his age. Most of his service was in the UK and he was only abroad for a matter of weeks when he was killed on the Somme." His name is one of the 72,000 listed on the Memorial to the Missing in Thiepval.

Private 2289 Bernard Donaghey | 1st Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers | Manchester United 1905-06
An Ireland international who played for the Irish League, Hibernian in Scotland and Burnley but made only three appearances for the Reds. A Catholic serving in the British army, he was a reservist before the war and was in action soon after the outbreak in 1914. He served in Gallipoli and then in France, and was killed on the first day of the Somme. Like Clifford, he is also named on the Thiepval Memorial.

Lance Corporal 18619 George Elmore | 15th Battalion (1st Edinburgh) Royal Scots | Manchester United 1902
Given a trial match after joining from Burton United in December 1902, Elmore was released later that same month without making a first-team appearance. The forward represented a number of other clubs in our region, such as Altrincham (then called Broadheath), Blackpool, Glossop, Northwich Victoria and Witton Albion, before moving north of the border. In Scotland, he had stints with the likes of Partick Thistle, St Mirren and St Bernard's, the latter being based in Edinburgh where he signed up for military service with the Royal Scots. Missing, presumed killed, in action on 1 July 1916, he is commemorated on war memorials at Thiepval, Northwich in Cheshire and Edinburgh Castle.

Private 2663 Alfred Griffiths | 1st Battalion Manchester Regiment | Newton Heath 1901-02
Alfred was a goalkeeper and research suggests he was registered as a Newton Heath player on 29 November 1899. He served in the Anglo-Boer War during 1901 and was back in Manchester a year later, when he had the chance to play for the Reserves against Burnley the Lancashire Combination. A clean sheet was kept and the Athletic News noted he had been "severely tested" during the match. Griffiths' death was assumed to have happened on 8 March 1916.
Private 515549 Hugh S. Kerr | 14th (City of London) Battalion (London Scottish) London Regiment | Manchester United 1904
This Scottish forward made two Reds appearances after he joined from Ayr, and is the most recently added to the list of players lost in conflict. Mark Wylie: "What confused us was that he was in a London battalion but we then discovered it was the London Scottish. It turns out he became a tailor in London and so we followed the trail and Ayr confirmed he was our player." Kerr died of wounds in a hospital near Boulogne, France.

Private 43594 Harry Levis | 22nd (Service) Battalion (7th City) Manchester Regiment | Manchester United 1913-14
Mark Wylie: "We haven’t found any match reports stating he played for us, but his inclusion here is justified because he was a reserve player and was registered with the club. The name Harry Levis appears only three times in the 1911 census, two of them from the North West with one of those in Salford. He went missing in action with the Manchester Regiment and is commemorated at various churches in the Eccles/Salford area. We’re pretty certain he’s our player and was a war casualty."

Private F/1723 Oscar H.S. Linkson | 17th (Service) Battalion (1st Football) Middlesex Regiment | Manchester United 1908-13
The full-back spent five years at the club, making 59 appearances, including seven in the title-winning season of 1910/11. Hailing from Barnet, he enjoyed a couple of good seasons with the Reds but after being hampered by injuries he moved to Ireland to play for Shelbourne. He joined the footballers’ battalion and was killed on the Somme. His name is also on the Thiepval Memorial.

Private 24744 Patrick McGuire | 17th (Service) Battalion (2nd City) Manchester Regiment | Manchester United 1910-11
He played for both Manchester clubs: while only representing the reserves for United, he turned out for City’s first team. Although he never really made it at United, McGuire was a well-known player around the Manchester area – representing a number of clubs including Hurst, now Ashton United. He was relatively early to sign up, joining one of the early pals battalions of the Manchester Regiment. Another to die on the Somme, he is commemorated in Thiepval and also at St Chad’s Church in Cheetham Hill.

Lieutenant Charles N. Newcombe | 7th (Service) Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry | Manchester United 1913-14
The only officer among our players killed in conflict. An amateur with the reserves, he was educated at a private school in Chesterfield. Mark Wylie told us: "He had been desperate to join the army at the outbreak of war and applied for commissions to get in as an officer, eventually getting one with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. He was shot by a sniper while serving near Armentieres, France, in 1915."

Private 28819 Harry Reynolds | 20th Battalion Manchester Regiment | Manchester United 1907-09
Part of the 20th Manchesters, Reynolds lost his life on the first day of the Battle of the Somme (1 July 1916). Born in Blackley, Manchester, in 1884, he became a noted athlete and signed for United on 10 August 1907 as an amateur player. Records show he played only three times for United’s reserve team, doing so as an inside-forward in Lancashire Combination matches against Oldham Athletic, Bolton Wanderers and Burnley in April 1909. He volunteered to serve in the army in 1915 and is buried in Dantzig Alley British Cemetery in northern France.

Private 6041 James Semple | 10th (Service) Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers | Manchester United 1908-09
Another Scot, from Perth, he was a baker before he became a footballer and played for a number of non-league clubs in Scotland before joining United in 1908. He never made the first team, however, and returned north of the border. Mark Wylie: "By 1911, he was back down in England, living in Liverpool as a baker, which explains why he joined the Lancashire Fusiliers rather than the Black Watch in Scotland. He was in a battalion known as the Bury Pals, and was another lost on the Somme.”
Bryan Robson visited the Imperial War Museum in 2016 to learn more about his ancestors who fought in the war
Private 244238 John Thornley | 10th Battalion Cheshire Regiment | Manchester United 1905
Born in Hayfield near Glossop, Cheshire (both are now part of Derbyshire) in 1886, John was the brother of Manchester City and England forward Irvine Thornley. He registered with United as an amateur in 1905 and made one reserve team appearance in a 4-1 win against Northern Nomads. In 1915 he enlisted into the 5th Battalion Cheshire Regiment, transferred to 10th (Service) Battalion of the Cheshires in 1917, and was wounded during the Battle of St Quentin. He died of his injuries on 31 March 1918 and is buried in Wimereux Communal Cemetery, near Boulogne.

Lance Sergeant 28427 Alexander 'Sandy' Turnbull | 8th (Service) Battalion East Surrey Regiment | Manchester United 1906-15
The most famous United player to die in conflict, Turnbull won the FA Cup with both Manchester clubs and two league titles with the Reds. A crowd favourite, he signed up to the Middlesex Regiment in the Football Battalion, despite being banned from the game due to the match-fixing scandal of 1915. Little is known of his wartime movements, but he was transferred to the East Surreys due to them needing men and steadily promoted up to the rank of Lance Sergeant. He went into action in Arras and after initially being assumed captured, he was listed as missing and then six months later he was assumed killed. His name is on a memorial in Arras and another one at Gorse Hill, near Old Trafford.

Private 50875 Thomas H. Wall | 2nd/10th Battalion Manchester Regiment | Manchester United 1908-10
The younger brother of famous United winger George Wall, Thomas was at the club briefly and played in the same position as his sibling. Although he was regarded as a good Reds prospect, he didn't progress beyond reserve-team level. Mark Wylie: "He died at the battle of Passchendaele in Belgium and is commemorated as one of the missing in the nearby Tyne Cot cemetery."


Gunner 957763 Francis B. Carpenter | 61 (The Denbighshire Yeomanry) Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery | Manchester United 1939-40
This reserve-team player was in the territorial force, a gunner in a medium artillery regiment. He had hardly made any appearances for United by the time he was being shipped off to France. He was killed during the retreat to Dunkirk, being listed as missing.

Pilot Officer 117256 George Curless | 625 Squadron, Royal Air Force | Manchester United 1940-44
A graduate of the Manchester United Junior Athletic Club, Curless was not only a young reserve-team player but also part of the ground staff working as a clerk in the offices. From Orrell, he joined the RAF volunteer reserve and underwent pilot training in the United States. He was flying from RAF Kelstern in Lincolnshire when his aircraft disappeared on a bombing raid of the Kiel canal in northern Germany. The squadron war diary recorded ‘no contact’ from his plane; it was his very first mission.
Flying Officer 179037 David H. Fenner | 98 Squadron, Royal Air Force | Manchester United 1944
This Glaswegian was a guest player for the Reds on six occasions – being registered with Airdrieonians and then Stenhousemuir in the late 1930s. United's museum curator Mark Wylie told us: "Fenner served in 98 Squadron, which were doing army co-operation sorties after the invasion of Normandy – such as knocking out strong points, bombing tanks and hitting rail heads The squadron’s war diary states his aircraft as last being seen flying into a cloud over Holland but it’s not known what happened after that."

Pilot Officer 119552 George L. Gosnell |2 Squadron, Royal Air Force | Manchester United 1941-42
Mark Wylie: “We’re unclear whether he was an Oldham Athletic player who guested for Manchester United or vice versa, he could even have been somebody else’s player who guested for both. A pilot flying North American Mustangs in army close support and photo reconnaissance, he seems to have crashed his aircraft in the UK and died of his wounds. His grave is in Oldham.”

Gunner 1697582 Frederick Okoro | 2/1 Maritime Regiment, Royal Artillery | Manchester United 1936-37
Fred Okoro was born on 11 December 1919 in the St. Chads area of Manchester and later lived in Moss Side. He had signed for United as an amateur on 28 August 1936 and is likely to have appeared in pre-season practice matches, but there is no definitive evidence that he played a competitive game. Okoro was released in 1937 and presumed to have been killed in action on 2 November 1942.

Corporal 3660044 Hubert Redwood | South Lancashire Regiment | Manchester United 1933-43
He was a first-team player in the 1930s, a highly regarded full-back, and but for the war he may very well have gained Football League representation and even represented England. From St Helens, he was serving in the forces when he caught tuberculosis, was discharged from the army and later died. He has a war grave, in his home town, due to his army service resulting in his early demise.

Walter Spratt | Civilian | Manchester United 1915-20
Spratt represented the Reds during the First World War, having joined from Brentford in early 1915 and played only once after the conflict. By the Second World War he was living in London and working in Southwark, and was among 35 people killed by a V2 rocket. Mark Wylie: "We have included him here because he lost his life due to enemy action."

We will remember them all.