VE Day: 75 years on

By David Bull and Gary Chalk time Fri 08 May History

As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, club historians David Bull and Gary Chalk recall how the Saints celebrated with two nine-goal hauls against the Armed Services over the next four days…

How better to celebrate the Armistice of May 8th than by bringing an Army XI to The Dell the next day?

Obviously, both sides needed to field locally-based players. The hosts had five men who had been turning out for one or the other aircraft factory.

Registered Saints Ted Bates and Bill Dodgin – two future managers who require no introduction, here – had been playing much of their war-time football for Folland Aircraft, along with local lad De Lisle, while Sam Warhurst and Len Wilkins had been doing their bit for Cunliffe-Owen.

Goalkeeper Warhurst would become Dodgin’s first trainer. He had made his last-ever peace-time appearance for the Saints on September 2nd 1939, the very eve of the War. Wilkins, by contrast, was a 19-year-old who would join the club come October 1945 and would have long been a stalwart of the defence by the time he migrated to Canada in 1958.

Among those joining the five factory-hands were Don Roper and Bill Stroud, products of the high-scoring “B” team of 1938/39, so prolific that Stroud, with 41 goals, had been only the third-highest scorer. Roper had top-scored in the various competitive leagues, although his 86 goals would not count in the game’s official records.

Don Roper and Bill Stroud
Don Roper (left) and Bill Stroud

Full-backs Jack Gregory and Albie Roles and inside-left Bobby Veck had also come through from the junior ranks. All would play first-team football, post-war, although Roles, who made more war-time league appearances for the Saints than anybody, would feature only once in the Football League, post-war. A stark example of a young hopeful treading water during this war.

The other two men in the side that beat the Army 9-2 were Charles Lonnon and Eric Osgood. Lonnon had managed one war-league game and this match would be his swansong. Osgood was working for Carey and Lambert, whose functions included car repairs, an activity that granted exemption from conscription. He marked this VE Day celebration with a hat-trick, outscoring even Roper. Bates was the only forward not to score.

Three days later, a slightly-changed side ventured to Trowbridge Town’s ground to play an RAF XI in aid of the Red Cross Prisoners of War Fund. The programme billed it a “Grand Football Match”, with Jack Gibbons of “England and Spurs” the main attraction.

RAF XI programme
The matchday programme introduces the two teams, as Saints faced an RAF XI 

His three international appearances in 1939-43 had all been “unofficial”, though. The star forward on show was undoubtedly Roper, who would go on to play more than 300 games for Arsenal and win England “B” honours. He scored five times in the Saints’ 9-3 defeat of the airmen. Osgood bagged another couple and the other scorers included George Higgins.

A serving Royal Engineer, he had impressed for the Army three days earlier. Signed for the following season, he would manage no more than five games for the Reserves. Osgood would fare better with 15 outings and half-a-dozen goals, but his first-team appearances would be restricted to just those two friendlies that followed the Armistice.

He now dropped down to non-league football, principally with Totton. He would make a surprise re-appearance in 1998, at the launch of Ted Bates’s biography, reuniting with some of the men who had played with him in May 1945, when he was outscored only by Don Roper.

For details of the upcoming book, SAINTS AT WAR, on which David and Gary are working, with fellow historian Duncan Holley and other fans, please visit hagiologists.com.

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