Billie Nevill

Footballer of the Somme by Alexander Korintus

Captain Nevill
experiment

Wilfred Percy (Billie) Nevill was born 14 July 1894 to a large family, with a half dozen other siblings. He was one of countless young British men who eagerly joined the war effort with patriotic fervor following the declaration of war in 1914.

A Young Leader

After his military training, Billie soared through the ranks, quickly becoming Captain of the East Surrey Regiment, part of the 18th Division. By 1915, he was stationed in France, where he remained for the next year. Billie frequently sent letters home to his mother, sisters and other family and friends. Most of these letters were saved, and they give us certain insight as to what life may have been like in the trenches.

While on leave during the spring of 1916, Billie had purchased two footballs, which he planned on bringing back to France for the East Surreys. On 1 July 1916, Billie’s Division had been given orders to go over the top, and capture the German line of trenches 200 yards away, then continue to the fortified village of Montauban. At about 7:30 a.m. Billie and his fellow officers had led the East Surreys over the parapet and into No Man’s Land.

Over the Top

Billie punted the two footballs ahead of his men, and they all together dribbled and kicked the balls as they stormed towards the Germans. That morning, Billie Nevill was shot and killed right in front of the German trenches. Nearly 60,000 other British soldiers would give their lives on the first day of the Somme alone. However, because of the ‘Football Charge’, his men were able to accomplish their objective. Billie’s footballs undoubtedly brought the East Surreys some comfort, and reminded them of home. Billie is always remembered for how brave and courageous he was the day he died, and for how charismatic and funny he was all the days that he lived. Following his death, a poem was published in The Daily Mail:

On through the hail of slaughter,
Where gallant comrades fall,
Where blood is poured like water,
They drive the trickling ball.
The fear of death before them,
Is but an empty name;
True to the land that bore them,
The SURREYS played the game.

 

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This page was added on 29/09/2014.
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