Prisoners of war were marched at gunpoint across Hatfield for a game against Hatfield Heath FC on Boxing Day 1946, which has gone down in history in the village
Image: Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)
A village is marking the 75th anniversary of its football club’s biggest defeat – an 11-0 thrashing by a team of prisoners of war.
Players and officials from Hatfield Heath FC will retrace the steps of the PoWs who were marched at gunpoint across the village to take part in the game on Boxing Day 1946.
The “visiting” team was made up of Germans, Austrians and Italians who were inmates at a prisoner of war camp in Hatfield Heath.
Club secretary David Pyle, whose grandad Howard owned the pitch where the match was played, said: “It has to be the most famous match in our history.
“There can’t be many clubs who commemorate their heaviest defeat. But it will be an honour for us to do so.”
Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)
Brothers David and John Brown will take part in the memorial walk on Monday. Their dad – club legend George Brown – was in the Heath side for the match against the PoWs.
John, 79, said: “I was very young but I remember being taken to the game and the crowd being three or four deep around the pitch. I remember the PoWs – all in dark uniforms – who weren’t playing being brought to the pitch.”
David, 75, who lives a stone’s throw from the old ground, said: “I remember my grandad telling me there was a huge column of PoWs who were allowed to watch the game who were marched from the camp to the pitch.
“They were under strict orders that they had to behave themselves and were only allowed to clap politely.”
The PoWs had to stand on one side of the pitch and villagers were on the other.
The inmates were only allowed to clap when their team scored and were not allowed to cheer. It is estimated the attendance was between 750 and 1,000.
David added: “Dad never really spoke about the game much. I think it was one of those occasions that, as time has gone on, it has become more special.”
After the game the Heath side went back to the camp for refreshments. Folklore has it that supplies were smuggled out of the village’s pubs so the teams could enjoy festive drinks together.
The last surviving Heath player who took part in the match, Ron “Pudding” Jones, died several years ago. The club were never able to trace any of the PoW team.
Local historian Mark Ratcliff said: “There were up to 1,000 men in the camp at one stage.
“There is no record of the match taking place, but the memories of villagers have kept it alive. The camp opened in 1942 and didn’t close until 1948.”
Several of the PoWs settled in the area after being freed but have died.
Developers have recently tried to knock the remains of the camp down and build an exclusive housing estate.
But a campaign in the Essex village resulted in officials refusing permission, though its future remains uncertain.
Neil Jones’ grandad Fred Bruty was also in the side in 1946, and his great-great uncle Bill Bruty – club chairman at the time – organised the match.
Bill wanted to extend a hand of friendship to the PoWs, all of whom were working class men who had been conscripted before being captured.
Neil said about the 1946 game: “It’s not as famous as the match on Christmas Day 1914 in no-man’s land on the Western Front, but it’s our little bit of history and we’re very proud of it.”
- What was your local football team’s most famous match? Send details and photos to [email protected]
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.