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Woodland commemoration for footballers who fought in First World War

Published 05/07/2016

Walter Tull was the first black officer to lead white troops into battle
Walter Tull was the first black officer to lead white troops into battle

Footballers who went to fight in the First World War are being commemorated in a woodland planted to mark the conflict's centenary.

Supporters and clubs from throughout the English league will have the chance to dedicate trees in "team groves" at the Woodland Trust's First World War centenary wood at Langley Vale in Epsom, Surrey.

The scheme, which is spearheaded by footballing legend Sir Trevor Brooking and involves the National Football Museum, will create a "lasting living legacy" to players sent to the front between 1914 and 1918, many of whom never came home.

Players the wood is commemorating include Bradford Park Avenue's Donald Bell, the first professional English footballer to enlist in the British Army, and the only one to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

Promoted to lance corporal and commissioned into the 9th Battalion, the Green Howards (Alexandra, Princess of Wales' Own Yorkshire Regiment) he was awarded the VC for his actions on July 5 1916, at Horseshoe Trench in the Somme.

He died in action on July 10 1916.

Among the other footballers who lost their lives in the conflict was Walter Tull, the first black outfield player in the top flight, who joined Northampton from Tottenham in 1911, before signing up to the Footballers Battalion in 1914.

He was promoted to sergeant in 1915, served on the Western and Italian fronts in the war and was the first black officer to lead white troops into battle. But he was killed in action at the Battle of Arras in 1918, with his body never found.

People can find out more about the project and the role their team's footballers played in the First World War at and everyone who donates to the woodland will be remembered in a roll of honour.

Sir Trevor said: "The Woodland Trust and the National Football Museum's For Club And Country project is the perfect way to commemorate football's important role in the First World War.

"By planting groves of trees for every club whose players bravely fought for their country we are creating something beautiful and long lasting for future generations.

"Every football fan needs to get involved and make sure their club is remembered in the football groves at Langley Vale Wood.

"If you love football as much as I do, please get your team represented and see your own name listed on the supporters' roll of honour."

The Woodland Trust's First World War centenary woods project involves planting millions of trees across the UK and creating four flagship woods - in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - to mark 100 years since the war.

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