Stowmarket’s charity cyclist referee will lay wreath to Footballer Battalions

Paul Quick with his bike and one of the Apaches he works with
Paul Quick with his bike and one of the Apaches he works with
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When Paul Quick had a phone call from the organisers of a charity cycle ride to the Somme, he thought there was something wrong.

But the organisers of the ride in aid of the Soldiers, Sailors and Air Forces Association had heard of the ex-Army man’s football roles as a Ryman League referee and Conference League linesman and wanted him to lay a wreath on the Football Battalions’ Memorial at Longueval.

Paul, from Stowmarket, said: “I’ve done Ride London for the last two years and I’ve had email contact, but I’ve never had a phone call from organisers. It was nice they wanted me to do it.”

Paul was an Army Air Corps engineer for 30 years and though he left four years ago, still works at Wattisham as a fleet planner for the Apache squadrons, moving aircraft in to either servicing or where they are required. But in spite of his Army and football background, he had never heard of the Football Battalions.

Paul said: “It was people from the football community. They thought if they could recruit players they could get some officials and fans, too.”

At the start of World War One it was thought allowing football matches would boost morale, but public opinion turned.

Men wrote from the front objecting to ‘hirelings playing football’ while others gave their lives. So the a ‘Pals Battalion’ of footballers was formed in January 1915 as the 17th (Service) Battalion , Middlesex Regiment, though the Heart of Midlothian team had signed up for the 16th Royal Scots before that.

In June 1916 they were joined by the 23rd (Service) Battalion commanded by ex-Spurs player Alan Haig-Brown.

The Longueval memorial, dedicated in 2010, was paid for by football supporters, having been promoted by former professional footballer and SAS soldier Phil Stant.

The ride will also be following the wheel tracks of the cyclist battalions. They served mainly in a reconnaissance role and one was attached to the Suffolk Regiment, who Paul will represent.

The 230-mile ride, beginning on August 30, visits the Arras battlefield on its century and the memorials at Vimy Ridge, Tyne Cot and Thiepval.

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