Arsenal in wartime: November and December 1916

By Tony Attwood

At the start of November 1916 the London County Council (the body that oversaw the workings of the capital as a whole) confirmed the decision to appoint Henry Norris as one of Fulham’s two councillors.  Normally LCC councillors were elected of course, but these elections, like those to the local council, and to parliament, were suspended until the end of the war.

Meanwhile back on the pitch on 4 November Arsenal beat Watford away 4-2 in front of 2500.  It was the first time in the season Arsenal had won successive matches but was only their third win of the season after playing ten games.  It was also the first time they had scored four goals in a match this season.

Five days later, on 9 November, Henry Norris was also re-elected mayor of Fulham by his party.  Once again there was no public election: it was to be his eighth year in the post.

Norris used the occasion to present the Distinguished Conduct Medal to a local man who had been serving in the Welsh Regiment – a much better idea than launching another attack on those who criticised the way things were being done (which was, in fairness, no different from the way they were being done virtually everywhere else).  The local elected representatives were seen more as officers of the state who could try and hold the country together and deliver basic services while parliament focused on the war.

Sally Davis has provided some context to this situation with the mayors, noting that, “Of 29 mayors in London boroughs elected on 9 November 1916, only three had never held the office before.”  This shows how the war was changing the democratic process while keeping up the pretence of democracy: once a man had power, he tended to hold onto it either until he didn’t want it any more, died or did something fairly awful and got kicked out.

Back on the pitch, on 11 November Arsenal showed that they really were starting to pull things around, with their third successive win: a 4-0 home victory over Clapton Orient.  I can’t say for sure the reason for the upturn without a full reporting of the games taking place in the press, but two players at this time seem to have made quite an impact on the games.

Edward “Ned” Liddell had been playing for Southend United and had joined Arsenal at the end of the 1914/15 season, and continued to play for the club in the war years.  His appearance in the team for the first time this season on 28 October came at the time when Arsenal had played eight but had won just one game.  When he was in the team from this point on, Arsenal won seven, lost three and drew one, a significant improvement.   He ultimately returned to the reserves for the first post-war season, and then in 1920 was appointed manager of Southend taking them from the Southern League into the newly formed Third Division of the Football League.

This move makes me wonder if having joined the club (obviously as an amateur player, as all were in the war) he began to lend Punch McEwen a hand in terms of team selection and tactics.   Certainly after the war Liddell worked consistently as a manager, moving on to be manager of QPR for four years before returning to Southend and later being chief scout and finally manager of Fulham.  His ultimate managerial position was with Luton from 1936 to 1938.  Also we know that after the war he scouted for various clubs – something he continued to do until his death at the age of 90 in November 1968.

The other player who seemed to have a real influence was Harold Thomas William Hardinge, who also came in for the Millwall game, and continued to have an impact thereafter playing at at right and left half, centre forward or inside right.

Wally Hardinge as he was known was born 25 February 1886, and died in Cambridge on 8 May 1965.  He was not only an Arsenal man, he was also an England international, and additionally played cricket for Kent and again for England, starting out in first class cricket aged 16 and scored 33,519 runs.  He played in one Test match against the Australians and in 1913 he scored four consecutive centuries.  He also bowled and took 371 wickets – and was Cricketer of the Year in 1915.

In terms of his football career he had started out playing inside forward, moving from Kent to Newcastle United in 1905.  After just nine games in nearly three years he went to Sheffield United for £350 and scored 50 goals in 150 games, as well as getting an England game against Scotland in 1910.

Wally joined Woolwich Arsenal in the summer of 1913, signed by George Morrell as Arsenal dropped to the second division and moved to Highbury.  He played in Woolwich Arsenal’s first-ever game at Highbury, the 2-1 win over Leicester Fosse on 6 September 1913.

Harold Thomas William Hardinge

After the cessation of the Football League Wally Hardinge served as a CPO in the Royal Navy, hence his only occasional appearances in the war leagues, although across the four years he did play 70 games in the war leagues.

After the war he played one more season for Arsenal’s first team and then continued in the reserves however until 1921 playing a total of 55 first team matches and scoring 14 goals.

Upon retiring from both cricket and football, Wally worked as a sales rep for John Wisden & Co the cricket manual publishers.  He also went and worked as a coach for Tottenham Hotspur, having responsibility for the reserves, and was also caretaker manager of the first team in 1935 for a short spell.

Again, looking at his future development, it is not too far fetched I feel to suggest that he too might have lent Arsenal’s temporary manager a hand at picking the side, and the tactics to be used.

Meanwhile, away from the football, Henry Norris was sworn in to his new position with London County Council on 14 November and attended his first council meeting that day.

The next Arsenal match was on 18 November: away to Fulham.  We have no record of whether Henry Norris was at the game – and indeed only 1,500 turned up to see Fulham end Arsenal’s recent upturn in results, Fulham winning 2-0.

In the following week, on 21 November, the news from the war was once again bleak with the hospital ship HMHS Britannic being sunk in he Aegean Sea after hitting a mine.  This was the largest ship to go down during the whole of the war.

22 November shows us that Norris had certainly not returned to work for the War Office in Worthing as he oversaw the council meeting of the London Borough of Fulham and then (as Sally Davis has discovered) “presented a Royal Humane Society award to a local child who’d pulled a girl out of the Thames when she was drowning.”

Saturday, 25 November saw the end of Arsenal’s recent short good run confirmed as the club lost 2-0 at home to West Ham with 8000 in the crowd, making it two defeats in a row.

The following Tuesday saw yet another escalation in the war with the first bombing of central London by a fixed-wing aircraft as a German bi-plane dropped six bombs near Victoria Station, just at the time that, a short distance away, the London County Council was holding its fortnightly full meeting with Henry Norris in attendance.

Here are the November matches…

Match Date Opposition Venue Result Score Crowd
10 4/11/16 Watford A W 4-2 2500
11 11/11/16 Clapton Orient H W 4-0 7000
12 18/11/16 Fulham A L 0-2 1500
13 25/11/16 West Ham United H L 0-2 8000

The next Arsenal game, on 2 December, was one of those that provides evidence that helps pull together the issue of what had happened to Tottenham Hotspur’s ground during the war.  It was designated as Tottenham v Arsenal (ie a Tottenham home game) but actually was played at Highbury – confirming that the take over of WHL by the military had now happened.  Tottenham beat Arsenal 4-1 making it Arsenal’s third consecutive defeat after having achieved three consecutive wins.

And then, with no warning from the heavily censored newspapers, the government collapsed.  There had been a long running dispute between the Prime Minister HH Asquith and the Chancellor David Lloyd George (both members of the Liberal Party) as to the conduct of the war.

At the last general election, in December 1910, the Liberals had got 272 seats to the Conservatives 271, with the Irish Parliamentary Party getting 74 and Labour 42 and the previous administration had fallen in May 1915 over the issue of a shortage of munitions and Asquith had formed a coalition government. However, the failure of the Dardanelles expedition, the stalemate on the western front and the Easter Rising in Dublin, plus the huge casualties at the Battle of the Somme made Asquith’s position untenable.

But with neither politician able to agree with the other, on 5 December both Asquith and Lloyd George resigned  and King George V asked the Conservative Party leader Bonar Law to form a government.  However after taking soundings Bonar Law realised he had a hopeless task and declined the request, feeling it would be impossible to hold any sort of administration together.

And so on the next day, 6 December, the King turned back to the Liberals, and Lloyd George was asked to form a government in cooperation with Bonar Law.  Lloyd George dutifully followed his sovereign’s orders, but also formed a small inner war cabinet specifically to direct the conflict from thereon. Among many changes he subsequently introduced was the creation of the Ministry of Labour on 11 December.

And meanwhile, of course, the football continued, and on 9 December Arsenal suffered their fourth consecutive defeat, this time at home to Crystal Palace 1-2.  There were just 3000 in the ground.

It is at this time there we now get a slight hint that Norris was involved in some work for the War Office again as on 12 December he did not attend the fortnightly LCC meeting (although in his absence they appointed him to the Public Health Committee – one of the committees that actually did the work of the council, and which then reported its findings back to the whole council for ratification).  I appreciate this is a tenuous assumption, but the fact is that by and large Norris did not miss meetings unless there was something very important afoot, and he had only just been appointed to the LCC, is, I believe, suggestive.  What’s more it was only a few months before that he had been promoted and summoned to the south coast to help oversee the recruitment work.  There is nothing to suggest there was anything amiss with his work in that spell, and indeed had there been I am sure word would have reached the LCC that Norris was no longer considered reliable.

Back with the football you will have noticed that during this whole period of the war league games were played only on Saturdays, with the exception of Christmas and Easter.  Midweek games would have been difficult for players to attend and would have attracted even lower crowds than the clubs were now getting and so there was no thought of holding them.

However suddenly there was a Saturday missed from Arsenal’s schedule: there was no game on 16 December, and I think it possible that this was the date scheduled for the match away to Brentford.  It was extremely cold in London at this time, and there were very sharp frosts, as well as there having been some snow, so it is quite possible that the ground was simply unplayable.  The missing Brentford game was actually played on 26 April.

On 20 December Henry Norris was once more engaged in his duties as Mayor of Fulham, chairing a discussion on the growing crisis in refuse disposal in the Borough.  For the first time since war was declared, a vote was held as members could not agree on the solution – until this point, as we have noted, everything had gone through on the nod.

Then on 23 December Arsenal finally won a match after four successive defeats, beating Chelsea 2-1 at Highbury in front of just 4000 fans.  Hardinge and Liddell were back in the squad and it appears once again it made a difference.

This was match was followed by two games against QPR – away on Christmas Day and at home on Boxing Day.  The first was won 3-2, the second drawn 0-0.

There seems little doubt that if Henry Norris was engaged in some sort of government work at this time (and it is hard to imagine a man who had been involved in so many activities all his working life not being engaged in some work or other) and it was either in relation to the building partnership or with further work for the Ministry of War.   He certainly was in London for Sally Davis reports him chairing another meeting of the London Borough of Fulham on 28 December.  She reports that at this meeting, “The councillors decided to eject the press while they discussed whether to award the Town Hall staff some bonuses.  As Norris was the mayor and the meeting’s chairman, he gave the order to throw out all the reporters.  Over the next few weeks he reaped the inevitable whirlwind in the local papers.”

The final game of the year for Arsenal was an away win on 30 December at Southampton.  The rot had ended with three wins and a draw in the last four games.

Here are the December games.

Match Date Opposition Venue Result Score Crowd
14 2/12/16 Tottenham Hotspur A* L 1-4 8000
15 9/12/16 Crystal Palace H L 1-2 3000
16 23/12/16 Chelsea H W 2-1 4000
17 25/12/16 Queens Park Rangers A W 3-2 3000
18 26/12/16 Queens Park Rangers H D 0-0 4500
19 30/12/16 Southampton A W 1-0 3000

* Played at Highbury.

he Henry Norris Files Section 1 – 1910.

Section 2 – 1911

Section 3 – 1912

Section 4 – 1913

Section 5 – 1914

Section 6 – 1915

Section 7: – 1916

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