The London County Council sports teams’ trip to Germany in Summer 1914 had to be abandoned. By the time that they were meant to be Cologne, many of the sportsmen were in the armed forces preparing to fight against the very Germans they had been planning to race and play sports against just weeks earlier.
The August 1914 edition of the London County Council (LCC) Gazette carried the details of the sports teams’ trip to Cologne, due to take place that month. They were to compete against athletic clubs from the German city. The city authorities were clearly excited by the Anglo-German contest, as medals were being struck especially to be awarded to the winners in the contests.
The planned schedule for the games was:
- Tuesday August 18th: Football
- Wednesday, August 19th: Lawn Tennis
- Thursday, August 20th: Swimming
- Friday, August 21st was held in reserve for playing off draws in the sports already played
- Saturday, August 22nd: Athletics
In the end, the great mortal contest between Britain and Germany began in earnest on August 23rd – not in Cologne, but in Mons, Belgium, when the British Expeditionary Force met the German Army for the first time. 870 of the LCC’s staff had been called up for military service (as well as 436 naval reservists) and some of these men were in action at Mons – George Baker (who worked at Colney Hatch mental hospital) and L/Cpl E.W. Stretton were reported missing, and John Yates died of wounds the next day.
The LCC’s trip to Germany is a fine example of the general lack of antagonism between Britons and Germans in the months and years preceding the Great War. It also shows how unexpected the war was, as the September edition of the magazine noted: ‘A glance at the August Gazette brings home the suddenness of the catastrophe’.
Several of the LCC organisers joined the British armed forces during the war: Arthur Attwooll of the clerk’s department, the organiser of the football matches, served in the Royal West Kents and in a trench mortar unit. Walter N Halliwell (tramways department), the organiser of the swimming, was a serjeant in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
Twenty-seven year old George Deane Turk, from Walthamstow, worked as a clerical assistant in the Comptroller’s Department, and was responsible for planning the athletics on August 22nd along with Otto Marum in Cologne (who was also the football organiser on the German side). Turk was also honorary secretary of the sports club.
By the end of the August 1914, though, Turk was serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He became a corporal in the 85th (3rd London) Field Ambulance, part of 28th Division, and served in Salonika. In late 1916, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Essex Regiment and was posted to the 1st Battalion in 1917. On 14 April, he was taken prisoner when his battalion fought at Monchy-le-Preux. The battalion attacked at 5.30 that morning 31 officers and 892 men strong, captured the first German line, but they suffered heavily in the counter-attack. Turk was one of 17 officer casualties; 644 other ranks were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission database lists 187 officers and men who died on 14 April from the 1st Essex alone – 181 of whom are remembered on the Arras Memorial, meaning that their bodies were not found or could not be identified.
Turk did survive 14 April, but sadly died of his wounds on 23 June 1917. Another prisoner, Sergeant George Rogerson of the Rifle Brigade, wrote to Turk’s mother with the details. In one of the horrible ironic twists of fate that war throws up, 2nd Lt G.D. Turk was buried in Cologne Southern cemetery, one of over 1000 allied prisoners of war buried there (he is also commemorated on a grave at Chingford Mount Cemetery, possibly his parents’ grave). His service file doesn’t say whether he was in hospital in Cologne during his two months of captivity. If he was, one has to wonder whether he thought about the irony of having arrived in the city where he had planned to spend late-August 1914.
His correspondent in 1914, Otto Marum, also appears to have died during the war. The German army records on ancestry.com list an Otto Marum, born in Koln in 1885 as having died while on active service on 7 August 1916.*
For George Deane Turk and other sporty staff at the London County Council, August 1914 should have been a time when they were traveling and competing with German friends. In the end, Turk and many others ended up fighting the Germans. One must suspect that the LCC and Cologne athletes would have been among the generation hardest hit by the war, being healthy, relatively young adult men in 1914. How many, like Turk, lost their lives in the conflict?
J.W. Adamson and L. Hudson (eds), A London Town Miscelleny, vol 1 (which reproduces articles from the LCC Gazette)
G.D. Turk’s service records
1st Essex war diary
Ancestry: German casualty lists, 1911 Census, British soldiers’ service records.
* The entry for Otto Marum in a list of casualties lists his unit as “Fusla. Btt. 481 Vz Wachtm”. I would be interested to know what that means, if anyone can help.