Today marks seventy-five years since the tragic passing of former Bolton Wanderers Captain, Henry ‘Harry’ Goslin.
Goslin, Captain of the famous Wartime Wanderers, was the only member of the squad not to return home after the second World War. His story and his heroics on the pitch and on the battlefield deserve to be remembered.
Harry Goslin was born 9th November 1909 in Willington, Chesire. After his family moved to Nottingham, Goslin began his footballing career with amateur club Boots Athletic, before Charles Foweraker brought him to Burnden Park for a fee of £25 in 1930.
Foweraker, the most decorated and longest serving manager the club has ever had, oversaw the club’s three FA Cup wins of the 1920s. But by the start of the 30s, Wanderers’ side was in decline, which culminated in relegation to the second division in 1933.
Harry Goslin was an integral part of a vibrant, younger Bolton side that was intent on getting back to the top flight. Two years later, they achieved promotion as Goslin was a mainstay in the side. The next season, he became Captain of the club.
A local hero in the town, Goslin had one eye on his future after football, and with his wife and two children to support at home, he opened up a sports shop in the town.
Earning a reputation as one of the best defenders in the country, Goslin helped Wanderers to finish in the top half of the league in 1938.
The club would be well on their way to repeating the feat in the 1938/39 season, but circumstances would unfortunately change.
On 15th March 1939, Adolf Hitler ordered the German army to invade Czechoslovakia. War seemed inevitable and the FA sent a memo to all of its members, asking them to take a patriotic stance and help to encourage people to enlist in the Territorial Army or other National Service organisations.
So, on 8th April 1939, Harry Goslin stepped up to a microphone on the pitch prior to the match against Sunderland. Goslin, with all 23,000 in attendance fixated on his every word, stated:
"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."
Goslin’s word had a profound affect. Just two days later, fifteen of Wanderers’ players went to the Territorial Army office on Bradshawgate to join the 53rd Field Regiment of the Bolton Artillery. In total, 32 of the 35 staff at Bolton signed up.
Goslin’s professional Bolton career lasted nine years, in which he scored 23 goals in 306 league games.
As Britain wasn’t fighting with Germany at that time, football games were allowed to be continued, but teams were limited to travel a maximum of fifty miles. Leagues were segregated, with Bolton participating in the North East regional league.
In the 1939/1940 season, Goslin played four of Wanderers’ twenty-two games. Also during that time, unofficial international games took place, with Goslin playing for England against Scotland. He went on to play four times for England during the war.
In April 1940, with British troops needed to prevent German troops from reaching English soil, the 53rd regiment were sent to France. During the battle of Dunkirk almost two months later, Goslin was credited with destroying four enemy tanks. For his efforts, he was promoted to the rank of luitenant.
Goslin, Don Howe, Ray Westwood, Ernie Forrest, Jack Hurst and Stan Hanson, were lucky to make it back to the French port of Dunkirk where they were rescued by British ships.
Ernie Forrest had to swim after a small coastal steamer to escape the beach. Shortly before midnight on 2nd June, Goslin and his men embarked on the HMS Locust.
For the rest of 1940 and whole of 1941, the 53rd Field regiment were tasked with building coastal defence constructions, manning anti-aircraft batteries and patrolling potential enemy landing sites all along the East Anglia coastline. This enabled the team to make occasional appearances for Wanderers in the NE league.
The following year, the 53rd Field regiment were sent overseas to Egypt, where they were involved in defending Alam el Halfa. Later that year, they took up battle positions as General Bernard Montgomery launchced Operation Lightfoot, the largest artillery bombardment since the First World War.
Despite not having success with that operation, they eventually managed to recapture Tobruk by November during Operation Supercharge. Lieutenant Harry Goslin and the 53rd Field Regiment joined the pursuit. The Eighth Army broke through the German lines and Erwin Rommel, in danger of being surrounded, was forced to retreat. Those soldiers on foot, including large numbers of Italian soldiers, were unable to move fast enough and were taken prisoner.
The 53rd Field Regiment were then sent to Baghdad at the start of 1943. Whilst there, Goslin, Hanson, Howe and Forrest played for the British Army against the Polish Army in Baghdad. Howe scored one of the goals in the 4-2 victory.
After five months in Iraq, Goslin and the 53rd Field Regiment rejoined up with General Montgomery and the 8th army in the invasion of Italy. Goslin and the 53rd regiment reached Foggia without too much opposition.
However, when the men were ordered to cross the River Sangro the regiment took part in some of the most difficult fighting of the Second World War. Several of the Wartime Wanderers almost lost their lives during this time.
At the end of November, Don Howe was wounded and evacuated to a dressing station. Ray Westwood and Stan Hanson came close to being killed after an air attack. Enemy shelling was relentless & on 14th December 1943, after an explosion right next to the tree above the slit trench in which Goslin was situated, he was hit in the back by shrapnel. Goslin sadly died a few days later, just weeks after his 35th birthday.
The Bolton Evening News later reported:
"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."
Harry Goslin was the only member of the Wartime Wanderers not to return from the war.
His story and the heroics of all of the Wartime Wanderers can be found in the fantastic book by Tim Purcell & Mike Gething. This article does the whole story no justice. It’s a tale that deserves to be more known outside of Bolton and one that needs to be told on the screen. Hopefully one day, we’ll get to see the Wartime Wanderers film.
Today, we remember the life of Harry Goslin. A true Captain and leader.