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The Wartime Wanderer: Harry Goslin

They paid tribute to him at the Macron on Saturday. For those who missed it or don’t know who Harry Goslin is here is a little about the man and the 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment.

Members of the 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment, Harry Goslin standing second from the left.
Members of the 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment, Harry Goslin standing second from the left.

A fitting choice of player to remember on remembrance weekend from Bolton Wanderers. Harry Goslin is of course famous as the captain of the Bolton team dubbed the ‘Wartime Wanderers’.

Goslin was born in Willington in 1909 and played for amateur Nottingham club Boots Athletic before singing for Bolton for £25 in 1930.

In the 1932-33 season Bolton dropped out of the top flight to spend what was, at the time, a rare spell in the second tier of English football. Bolton failed to bounce back at the first attempt, but the next season Goslin was an ever present as Bolton were promoted to the top flight. The year after that, 1936, he was made captain of the club.

By the 1938-1939 season Goslin was considered to be amongst the best defenders in the country. During his nine year spell at the club he managed 23 goals in 306 appearances. During that time Goslin had also began to prepare for the future opening a sports shop in the town.

It is though not his exploits playing for Bolton for which he is best known.

On the 8th April 1939, with war seeming inevitable, Goslin delivered a speech to 23,000 people at Burnden Park. He said;

"We are facing a national emergency. But this danger can be met, if everybody keeps a cool head, and knows what to do. This is something you can't leave to the other fellow, everybody has a share to do."

After the match the Bolton squad showed their commitment joining up almost to a man with 32 of the 35 man playing staff joining the military or police service. The other three would also join the war effort in industry.

Then the inevitable happened.

On Friday 1st September Adolf Hitler order the invasion of Poland. The result of this was that Neville Chamberlain declared war on Germany on Sunday 3rd September. The fact that war was not declared until the Sunday meant that Saturday football went ahead as usual, this would be the last match of the regular season as the Football League brought the competition to an end.

17 of Bolton’s players, including Goslin, would join the 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment at the outbreak of war.

As fighting was not taking place between Britain and Germany at this point games did continue to take place on a regional basis with Goslin himself playing four games in the 1939-1940 season. He was even called up to a game between England and Scotland in 1939.

On 19th May 1940 Hitler invaded France and the 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment was sent to help on the continent. They came under attack from Panzer divisions and Goslin was credited with destroying four enemy tanks. As a result of this Goslin was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant.

The Bolton players involved in France managed to make it back to Dunkirk where they were rescued by the British ships. It is said that at least one member of the Bolton squad had to swim in order to get to a ship.

They spent the remainder of 1940 and the entirety of 1941 stationed at various camps in Britain. During this time they were even able to find time around their duties to play occasionally for Bolton in the North-East League. Goslin was again selected for England during this time playing against Scotland and Wales in 1941.

On 15th July 1942 the 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment was sent out to Egypt and were involved in defending Alam el Halfa. They helped with reinforcing the defensive line, and the result of this was that the German Army was not able to advance any further into Egypt.

On 22nd October 1942 the 53rd (Bolton) field Regiment was involved in Operation Lightfoot. This operation brought about little progress and was ended. This was followed by a German counterattack which itself was followed by a further Allied offensive. On 1st November 1942 the Allies launched an attack which the Germans lacked the resources to repel. A decision to withdraw was though overruled by Hitler.

This did not stop the Allies getting their break through. They recaptured Tobruk suffering far fewer casualties than the Axis troops.

The 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment then spent some time in Baghdad before moving onto Kirkurk and finally Kifri. While in Kifri Goslin, and some of the other Bolton players, represented the British Army against the Polish Army. Bolton’s Don Howe was on the score sheet in a 4-2 victory for the British Army’s team.

They then joined back up with General Bernard Montgomery (who had been their General in Egypt) for the invasion of Italy. At first they were able to move through Italy up to Foggia without too much opposition. When they then looked to cross the River Sangro they took part in some of the worst fighting of the Second World War.

Don Howe was wounded and evacuated at the end of November and Ray Westwood and Stan Hanson, also form Bolton, were close to being killed around the same time.

On 14th December 1943 Harry Goslin was hit in the back by shrapnel and he died a few days later of his wounds. The Bolton Evening News reported that:

"Harry Goslin was one of the finest types professional football breeds. Not only in the personal sense, but for the club's sake, and the game's sake. I regret his life has had to be sacrificed in the cause of war."

The man who just a few years earlier was opening a sports shop in Bolton with retirement from football in mind was killed at the age of 34 on the battlefield in Italy. He was buried at the Sangro River War Cemetery in Italy and left behind a wife and two children.

He was the only member of the ‘Wartime Wanderers’ to lose his life during the Second World War. A quite remarkable fact when you consider they fought in France surviving the retreat from Dunkirk and then were involved in heaving fighting in both Egypt and Italy.

The man who inspired them all to join the fight for their country will forever be remembered for his story and for being the captain of the ‘Wartime Wanderers’ both on and off the field.