They uncovered the vital roles played by women in the war effort, how families coped in the face of food shortages, hardship and the threat of aerial bombardment, and how Barnwell rolled its sleeves up and did its bit.
Accounts of the World War I experiences of Cambridge University undergraduates and dons are not difficult to unearth but narratives of the Barnwell working class, many of whom served their Varsity masters before signing up, have been all but ignored.
Barnwell at War reinstates the cultural memory of an area of Cambridge beyond the touristic gaze, and indicates a pattern of life for the majority of the UK population through an era of unparalleled trauma.
Researchers also sought to find out what became of the young men who played for the newly formed Abbey United Football Club in 1913/14, shortly before the outbreak of hostilities. They came very close to identifying those players; work in this area continues, with a possible breakthrough imminent.
Published by Lovely Bunch, Coconuts’ publishing operation, at £4.99 (£1 discount for CFU members), Barnwell at War is available through the CFU online store. It will soon also be available through the CFU caravan on match days, Cambridge booksellers and other outlets in the city.
The attractively designed booklet is illustrated by many seldom-seen photographs and features an introduction by Michael Hrebeniak, Coconuts committee member and Director of Studies in English at Wolfson.
An edited version of this article appeared in the Cambridge match day programme for the game against Macclesfield Town on 27 October 2018.
It won’t have escaped your notice that the UK is marking two 100th anniversaries of great historic significance this year: the end of World War I and the first acknowledgment of women’s right to vote.
Only some women, mind: following the passing of the Representation of the People Act 1918, it would take another ten years for Parliament to decree that they should be able to vote on the same terms as men.
I’ll examine how women have always been crucial to the success of our club in a future programme. For now, with November 11 approaching, it’s an appropriate time to focus on the Great War and what it meant for Abbey United.
The easy answer is ‘not a lot’. As far as we know, the young club, formed in 1912, stopped playing at the end of the 1913/14 season and didn’t resume until September 1919 – ten months after the cessation of hostilities – with a 6-3 friendly spanking of Ditton Rovers.
If you think the Abbey were unlucky to have their fledgling career halted by the outbreak of war, though, spare a thought for Harrogate AFC who, newly founded and enrolled in the Northern League, were scheduled to play their first ever match in September 1914. The outbreak of war put the kibosh on that plan.
Deprived of their football, the young men of Abbey United turned their attentions to other matters. Did they sign up and march off to the front? If so, did they ever come home? Or did they do their bit for the war effort by keeping the wheels of industry, commerce and education turning?
We wish we knew. A recent Coconuts research project, carried out with Wolfson College and the University of Hertfordshire’s First World War Engagement Centre, and funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, aimed to find out. Sadly, it failed.
We came very, very close to identifying the Abbey United players who represented the club in 1913/14, but we weren’t close enough. Hampered by the absence of players’ first names in the records, we just couldn’t pin them down with sufficient certainty.
A lot of good has come out of the effort, though: we haven’t given up trying to track these blokes down and, as recently as this week, Coconuts skivvies started to follow a new line of research on a particular player. We may be on the verge of a breakthrough.
What’s more, you will shortly be able to buy and read the fruits of the original research: a lovingly created 40-page booklet called Barnwell at War.
Priced at £4.99 and published by Coconuts offshoot Lovely Bunch (which also brings you Andrew Bennett’s Celery & Coconuts history series and has other titles in the works), it illuminates the everyday lives of the working-class people of east Cambridge during the Great War.
This is a facet of Cambridge history that, unlike WWI as experienced by the officer class supplied to the battlefields by the University’s students and dons, has received scant attention.
Lovely Bunch has gone some way towards putting that injustice right with this fascinating little read. It will be available soon from the CFU online store or caravan and several purchase points in town.
Initial orders are being taken through the CFU online store and at the CFU caravan on a match day. Email 100 Years of Coconuts if you have any questions.
Champagne & Corona: The Story of Cambridge United Football Club 1970-1980
Paperback; 360 pages
£18.99 if collected from the CFU outlet; £17.99 for CFU members
£21.98 for postal deliveries; £20.98 for CFU members
This article appeared in the Cambridge United official programme for the game against Accrington Stanley on Saturday, 1 October 2016.
Footballers’ nicknames can be really boring, can’t they? Too often it’s just a case of adding a ‘y’ or an ‘o’ to a surname – Mooro, Bally, – or shortening the name and adding an ‘s’ – Becks, Blatts, Cholmondeley-Warns.
The U’s have been as guilty of this lazy practice as any other club. On the other hand, we have a proud history of nickname creativity: who was the genius who first dubbed John Taylor ‘Shaggy’? How did Gary Clayton become Hedgy? Was Lindsay Smith’s ‘Wolfie’ moniker the result of a Habbin wit’s contribution to a Saturday afternoon?
Go further back in U’s history and you’ll come across the likes of Buzzer, Cruncher and Scobie. But if you explore the period covered by Andrew Bennett’s wonderful book Newmarket Road Roughs, published this month by Lovely Bunch, you’ll be able to mine a fabulously rich seam of nickname gold.
Here are some of the mysteries 100 Years of Coconuts researchers hope to solve (if you know the answers, please get in touch at email@example.com): whence came the ‘Pop’ in Stan ‘Pop’ Ballard? Why was Harold Watson known as Darley? Who put the ‘Pim’ in Bill Stearn? What was the story behind Jim ‘Squatter’ Smith? Why did everyone call William Freeman ‘Fanny’? Was it a result of dressing room bants? I shudder to think.
My favourite is the byname bestowed on Albert Dring, who was Abbey United’s top goalscorer in 1922/23 and finished his Wasps career with 34 goals from 46 appearances. I would love to know why he rejoiced in the nickname ‘Twitter’. We can rule out the suggestion that he spoke in sentences of 140 characters.
An extract from Newmarket Road Roughs (yours for £14.99, or £13.99 if you’re a CFU member, via the CFU online store or the caravan on a match day) shows how important Twitter was to the Abbey, and gives a flavour of the kind of football they were playing in the 20s: ‘In the Minor Cup, Abbey were favourites to beat Soham Comrades in the semi-final at Cambridge Town’s new Milton Road ground, but found themselves two goals down after 70 minutes. Wilson then swapped positions with Dring and converted a penalty to pull one back before Soham’s Talbot skied a spot kick that would surely have clinched it; duly encouraged, Dring headed an equaliser ten minutes from time and seconds later right winger Tom Langford snatched a dramatic winner.
‘The final at the same venue two weeks later was against Cambridge GER, whom the Abbey had already thrashed 10-2 and 5-1 in the league, but they were shocked when Cracknell fired the Railwaymen ahead inside the first minute. Dring soon equalised, but GER had a game plan that involved stopping the Abbey from playing their normal game and the nearest United came to scoring again was when Wilson hit the post in the second half.
‘United had no such difficulties in the league. In February they thrashed their nearest rivals, Newnham Institute, 6-0, with Wilson and Dring contributing two goals apiece. “Abbey played on the top of their form, and won with ease,” stated the match report. “They are a well-balanced side, and it will not be a surprise if some of their players find a way into higher class teams.”’
Recognise the players pictured above? Of course you do. Now, recall their nicknames, then order Newmarket Road Roughs here and enter a nickname wonderland.
Packed with the fascinating stories of the characters who saw our club, always firmly based in its community, through its formative years and on to the brink of national recognition, Newmarket Road Roughs comes with details of every game played by Abbey United in its first 40 years, plus league tables and playing records.
Those appendices alone are worth the cover price of £14.99 for this attractively designed hardback book – the first of many to come from Andrew Bennett and Lovely Bunch. To preorder your copy, go to cambridgefansunited.org/store/c4/Books.html or visit the CFU outlet on a match day. Alternatively, drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org. Members of CFU enjoy a £1 discount.
We’ll let you know when your copy of Newmarket Road Roughs is available to pick up or is in the post. By choosing to collect from the CFU caravan you will avoid the postal charges of £2.99 for normal post and £5.99 for Royal Mail special delivery.
Happy reading! The past will soon be present.
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I'm the living embodiment of the spirit of the U's, and I'll be blogging whenever I've got news for you, as long as I don't miss my tea.