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.
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