In from the Cold, Herbert Nobby Nightingale

Let those that come after see, that this name is not forgotten…

As a lifelong Charlton fan and a military historian I had always been intrigued by the oft repeated post war quote,

We have a war record of which we are justly proud. Some thirty of our members served in HM Forces on the various battlefields of Europe. We regret that of this number, three have paid the supreme sacrifice, while six others have been wounded’.

Though programs, team sheets and match reports are scarce from those early years of our history, I always felt that it must be possible to locate the three men by name, to bring them back in from the cold, to complete the story first told when ‘our club reformed at the Mission Hall, Troughton Road on Wednesday 9 January 1918’ before the guns had even fallen silent on what was to become known as the war to end all wars.

Richard Redden & Colin Cameron both identify early club secretary Jim Mackenzie who lost his life at sea in September 1917 when the SS Heron was sunk.

Whilst writing ‘The Greater Game’ in 2007 I was able to add a second man Fred Chick, part of the backroom staff who was killed on the Somme in August 1916 serving with the 13 Middlesex Regiment to the list. When we unveiled the war memorial at the Valley in November 2014 however, we were still ‘one man down’ and the search continued, until now.

Ben Hayes and I spent hours skimming through the Kentish Independent held on microfiche at the Greenwich Heritage Centre to no avail, we spent even longer searching the archives held in the museum, the largest collection of club history ever held together, including the club board minutes dating back to the early 20’s but still no luck.

The man to change this was fellow supporter Paul Baker. Paul a collector of early Addicks memorabilia was able to share his collection of club handbooks with us dating back to the 1920/21 season. I could hardly contain my excitement as I read through the pages and found an early history of our club written by stalwart Eddie Heath, a man connected with the club in 1905 at its very origins.

There in black and white, it stated clearly,

‘At Christmas 1914 the club was forced to close down, the majority of the “Boys” having left to take their part in the great game overseas. The club are proud of their history during the war. Two of the members answered the last call, J. Mackenzie, the first honorary secretary and A. Nightingale, a clever half back, in addition, five other members of our pre-war team are privileged to wear the gold stripe that donates wounds of honour’.

So who was A. Nightingale? A cursory search of named team groups did not reveal any answers and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission listed 19 men with that name who fell in the Great War. Whilst there were a couple from London no-one really stood out and it seemed that once again we had hit a brick wall.

It was Ben that offered the suggestion that perhaps the ‘A’ was really an ‘H’ if only we could see Eddie Heath’s handwriting, fortunately I remembered a hand written letter we have from him in the museum connected to the sale of Scott Kingsley to Fulham, Nick Tondeur one of volunteers in the museum promptly sent me a photo of it and never has a man’s ‘H’ looked more like an ’A’ the search was back on.

Within minutes Herbert Barlow Nightingale caught my eye, the CWGC records gave him as living at 61 Mount Street, Charlton. Could this be our man?

Further research revealed an encouraging report from the Woolwich Polytechnic Athletic Club dating from 1916 that stated,

‘It is with deep regret that we have received the news that H Nightingale, known as ‘Nobby’ has been killed at the front. Herbert was always a keen and efficient member and his prowess as a centre half has frequently been brought home to many a forward when well away to the Poly goal’.

‘Nobby’ Nightingale was born in Silvertown in 1888 where his father worked for a local rubber works, it may be that his first encounter with Charlton was in 1910-11 when we drew the famous Silvertown Rubber Works FC in the first round of the Junior London Cup. The game was described as being played ‘like a proper local derby and ended 2-2 before Charlton were beaten 4-1 in the replay at Angerstein Meadows.

Shortly after the Nightingale family moved south of the river and the 1911 census shows them living at No 64 Mount Street, Herbert being shown as a clerk at the local electrical engineering company Seimens, the links between this company and Charlton remained strong well into the 1930’s as Paul Baker has discovered no less than 6 of the 1919 team still worked there in 1937!

Once again Paul Baker was to prove a star in all this when he found an H Nightingale playing for the Charlton team in a number of 1915 team sheets, these included the clubs first ever FA Cup tie at Dartford, on that day he is shown as playing at right half. We had definitely found our man, it seems he played for both Woolwich Polytechnic and Charlton simultaneously! It is worth remembering that at this time in our history the club was struggling to find a full team due to men enlisting, it may be that ‘Nobby’ played for us during this period and explains why he did not appear in the official team photo for that season. On the same day Pauline Watson from the Greenwich Heritage Centre located a match report showing ‘Nobby’ playing for Charlton ‘A’ team for October 16 1914

Turning to his military career, Herbert B Nightingale became Gunner 58017 when like so many of his friends joined the Royal Garrison Artillery locally in Woolwich. After his training he arrived in France on 6 June 1915, he served with the 35th Trench Mortar Battery firing ‘Toffee Apple’ Bombs.

His overseas service was entirely in the defence of the Ypres Salient notably around the village of Hooge, it was here in late July that flamethrowers were used for the first time as the German desperately attempted to break through to the Ypres Salient and capture the channel ports. As the year came to a close the war was very different from the one he had signed up for, Blackheath had been bombed by an airship, gas had been used in the April and he had himself witnessed the flamethrowers of Hooge. His unit were attached to the 1st Canadian Division located between Wytschaete and Wulverghem around 5 miles south of Ypres.

From the war diary we can see that they were involved in a local artillery duel with the Germans on the night of the 11/12 January 1916. The following day on the 13 January 1916, a century ago to the day as I write, the diary records,

‘Occupied new dugout at L.S.14, Infantry working party was close by in ruins of Messines and fired upon by the enemy. 18 pound High Explosive round struck our dugout and killed 2 men of the battery killed and 2 wounded (one slightly)’

We know that one of those killed was Herbert ‘Nobby’ Nightingale, he was buried by his comrades, behind the lines in R.E. Farm Cemetery, in a small corner of Belgium that he still remains to this day.

From an obituary found by Pauline Watson we know that Herbert had enlisted in May 1915 and had spent the New Year at home on leave with his family in Mount Street just a week before his death.

On the centenary of his death we posted a thread on Charlton Life,to the effect that Herbert had been identified as one of our own, amazingly, supporter Terry Futter spotted that the Daily Telegraph‘In Memoriam’ section contained an entry:

Gunner Herbert Barlow Nightingale. Royal Horse Artillery, killed in action on 13th January 1916 at Messines, Belgium. Remembered with pride.

This welcome coincidence meant that someone else was thinking about Herbert, perhaps even a family member, Terry contacted the paper and was passed the details for Bruce Hewitt, the great nephew of Herbert, he was able to verify a lot of the details we had but was pleased to learn of his link to Charlton Athletic. It prompted him to contact his relatives on the matter one of who unearthed a photograph of Herbert Nightingale, in his uniform, the only photo known to be in existence, Terry also found him listed on the Woolwich Post Office Memorial, and again this was news to the family.

So after almost a decade of searching, and having avoided every history book ever written about our club, (one that has been extremely fortunate to have such committed historians like Colin Cameron and Richard Redden), and exactly a century to the day, now on 13 January 2016 we are at last able to welcome ‘Nobby’ back into the fold. This gesture, however late is all the more poignant when I discovered the inscription on his grave,

‘Let those that come after see, that this name is not forgotten…’

Welcome home Nobby, it’s been far too long but the Charlton Athletic family will not forget you or your sacrifice for your country and Belgium a century ago.

Clive Harris 2016

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