In the latest in Bridgwater Town secretary Kerry Miller’s series on the sporting and social life in and around the town, the world is about to change for many years.

On June 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary’s Archduke Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated by a Bosnian teenager, triggering the catastrophic First World War.

While war was declared in Europe, those in and around the town had far less pressing engagements, as the Bridgwater Thursday FC held their AGM days later at the Alexandra Hotel.

Chairman Leslie Carder, a 22-year old bank clerk from Taunton Road, announced that the new honorary secretary would be Vic Sear, another 22-year old from further down Taunton Road.

They heard that the first team were runners-up in the Taunton Thursday League, albeit almost entirely unheralded, and would stay in it for another season; it was celebrated by presenting club caps to the players.

The Thursday club had been by far the most successful in the town up to that point, mainly due to not having to vie for public patronage on Saturdays, when most men would go to one of the rugby clubs.

Sadly, young Victor Valentine Sear would not return from fighting in France in 1917.

Across town, Bridgwater AFC had somehow made it to 1914 themselves, despite an almost constant struggle, and their own AGM was presided over by Fred Pierce.

A good attendance heard that the club’s adverse balance of £4 had been paid off by generous benefactors, and they were once again preparing for another campaign in the Weston and District and Highbridge Leagues, as well as the Churchill Cup.

An excitable correspondent stated that “there is a general good feeling which augers well, and it is a number of years since such a number of young enthusiastic players attended”.

It was all in vain, as within weeks men were enlisting into ‘Kitchener’s Army’, pumped up by patriotism and painfully unaware of the chaos into which they were headed.

Bridgwater Albion RFC postponed their AGM “for the time being”, while the town team at the Malt Shovel were first to cancel their fixtures, but then had a change of heart when the rugby authorities requested clubs to start their fixtures and give five per cent of the gate money to the Prince of Wales Relief Fund.

The Mercury was full of lists of men who were the first “patriots” to enlist, and the rugby world waved farewell to the likes of J Barbour, J Reed, F Tapper, and F Spriggs from Bridgwater RFC, and T Billings, W Fowler, J Dibble, A Holman and Edward Churchill from the Albion.

That club elected brothers Harry and Charlie Baker as captain and vice, but after a single trial game the September fixtures were wiped out, as they had seven men serving or awaiting to serve, while Bridgwater RFC had 28 men away.

The Thursday footballers disbanded their club in early September, with 10 men serving and others in Voluntary Aid Detachment, while another dozen from Bridgwater Rangers AFC enlisted in the Somersets or the Army Service Corps.

Predictably and tragically, it was not long before lists of casualties began to filter back, along with their unremitting horror at sea, in the air and on land.

One of the first was Charlie Willcox, a Bridgwater man who had been in the 1st Battalion Somerset Light Infantry since at least 1911, and by August 21 was already in France.

A large and athletic man who had been a forward with Bridgwater RFC, Sergeant Willcox was also a gifted swimmer, diver and water polo player, and his bravery in some fierce house-to-house fighting won him the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

He was severely wounded and returned home to convalesce in hospital in Hampshire, and soon after the war ended he was utilising his height and power when engaged as a sparring partner for British heavyweight contender Joe Beckett, in London.

After six weeks, the 16 stone giant had his first novice bout at the National Sporting Club but was knocked out and suffered a catastrophic head injury, dying soon after.

Sgt Willcox is buried in Wembdon Road cemetery and his medals were returned as undelivered after the war, remaining so for many decades until they, along with a contemporary photograph, were auctioned off in London recently, for £950 - a small price to pay to celebrate a remarkable and gallant man.

Bridgwater Mercury:

KILLED IN ACTION: Lt Cecil Banes-Walker

As the months wore on, those left in the town gradually came out of the imposed restrictions to organise some form of sporting entertainment, and a soccer match at the Albion rugby ground was arranged between staff from the GWR and Somerset and Dorset Railways in January 1915.

It was raising funds for Belgian Relief and local distress, and many hundreds of tickets were sold - although few actually watched the game due to the intense cold.

An old face refereed the game, as Phillip Headford was in charge, many years since he made the occasional headlines as a goalscorer in the early versions of Bridgwater AFC.

An Albion XV took on the West Somerset Yeomanry who were billeted at Minehead, in that town in February, again for local relief funds, and a big crowd was attracted by what was a novelty in the rugby-starved coastal town.

Harry Baker, Bert Jones, Arthur Gunningham and Hobart Hill were all in the side which triumphed 35-3.

It was a brief time away from sadness, but on their return it was announced that former Albion player Lt Arthur Davis, a 37-year-old solicitor’s officer who had served with distinction in Indian and South African wars, had died suddenly in the town.

The first wartime winter passed and in April a Bridgwater XI took on Street FC at soccer on a Saturday evening, “to enable everyone to have tea before”.

The Bridgy side comprised of rugby men and included the likes of FR Cook, Bert Jones, R Millard, H Potts, DW Slocombe, Jack Pippin, J Jarvis, SW Taylor, DR Brook, W Cave and W Parsons - and the town side won 5-4.

As thoughts turned to an occasional turnout at The Parks, the cricket club hosted matches, as did that in Burnham-on-Sea, in a field opposite the residence of Mr T Holt, a local landowner.

But it would be without Lt Cecil Banes-Walker, a 26-year-old from Verriers in North Petherton, who was killed in action in France with the 2nd Devons.

The young man had played a handful of matches for the county and was a former Bridgwater Cricket Club all-rounder.

Next in the series, the town continues to mourn its men while the war rages on. Should any readers have relatives mentioned in these articles they are welcome to email