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GWR footballer was a WWI hero

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: January 14, 2014

By John Workman

  • Billy Box, GWR footballer and veteran of the First World War, who died at work under the wheels of a train in 1928

  • 1959 Springfield Road Boys Secondary Modern School basketball team. Back row, Dave Hingley, Michael Vaughan, (?), John Daker. Front, John Burgess, George Bytheway, (?), Gordon Williams, Alan Bridgen, Graham Ashead, (?).

  • A scene from the First World War

  • The GWR football team, c.1926

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ON the back page of last week's Black Country Bugle the question was asked whether a football team representing the Great Western Railway appeared in the first ever J.W. Hunt Cup competition in 1926.

The photograph and other relevant information were provided by Wilf Ellis, the vice-chair of the J.W. Hunt Cup competition, and so far we haven't received a definitive response from Bugle readers.

However, another item of interest arose from Wilf's correspondence. He named one of the GWR team as Billy Box who is the chap with the ball at his feet in the team photograph.

Billy was the best mate and brother-in-law of Vic Mitchell, the player who appears on the far right of the back row in the team.

Wilf also provided a team photograph of the Springfield Road Boys Secondary Modern School basketball team from 1959, and the lad on the far left of the back row is Dave Hingley, Vic Mitchell's grandson.

But it's Billy Box who deserves extra attention. According to Wilf he was a man who managed to survive the horrors of the First World War after seeing action on the frontline, but his heroics as a soldier resulted in him being wounded at least seven times. His stalwart demeanour in the picture demonstrates, perhaps, the reason why he survived; he was a tough, uncompromising character, but had a huge helping of luck on his side to avoid disabling injuries or even death.

The team photograph is thought to have been taken in 1926 but, unfortunately, given the many close shaves he must have experienced on the battlefield, Billy Box was dead two years later in 1928, killed at work, under the wheels of a train.

We will never know what caused the accident – complacency or sheer bad luck, who knows? But perhaps, like many who survived the war and returned to work, Billy had his mind elsewhere, the memories of death and destruction forever casting a shadow across his thoughts.

Did Billy Box's GWR team play in the first J.W. Hunt Cup? Have you any further information or more pictures like these? Contact jworkman@blackcountrybugle .co.uk or please write in.

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