THE tale of one of Wanderers' true heroes will be told tonight at the Albert Halls - as members of Harry Goslin's family take part in a service of remembrance. Marc Iles examines the story of a man to led his team into battle, on and off the field.


“WE are facing a national emergency,” boomed the voice of Bolton Wanderers captain Harry Gosling with the help of a megaphone to a crowd of 22,692 at Burnden Park as Britain prepared itself for an inevitable war.

“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."

It was April 1939, and 28-year-old Goslin was recognised as one of the best defenders in the country, making more than 300 appearances over nine years, and repaying his £25 signing fee from Midlands amateur club Boots Athletic several times over.

It is a measure of the esteem in which Goslin was held in the town that his words, uttered against respectful silence on the terraces, had such an immediate effect. The Bolton Evening News noted queues of people outside the Territorial Army drill hall on Bradshawgate after the game. Among those waiting to sign up were 32 of the 35 men on the club’s playing staff, although others followed later, working in coal mines or munitions factories.

Fifteen Wanderers ended up in the the 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment - Goslin, Jackie Roberts, Don Howe, Ray Westwood, Walter Sidebottom, Ernie Forrest, Jack Hurst, Stan Hanson, Billy Ithell, Albert Geldard, Danny Winter, George Caterall, Jimmy Thompson and Tommy Sinclair. Syd Jones and Charlie Hanks also signed up but were considered too young to serve.

The Bolton News:

It was a patriotic and brave move, of course, but tempered with some common sense as the players were well aware that, if they waited for conscription, they could have been split up and sent wherever the War Office decided. West Ham United’s players employed similar tactics down in East London.

The fact the players stayed together ensured that the 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment would provide some of the stiffest footballing opposition on their travels around the world.

Goslin did briefly play for Bolton again, making four appearances in the truncated 1939/40 campaign before a blanket ban was placed on mass congregations of people, effectively spelling the end of the Football League as we knew it. Friendlies with 8,000 available tickets could – and were – played with the police’s say so, and so the era of guest players began.

The likes of Preston’s Tom Finney and Bill Shankly turned out for Bolton during the war years, while Goslin turned out for Norwich City and Chelsea, depending on the location of his UK base. He was also involved in two unofficial England games against Scotland in 1939 War was officially declared by Neville Chamberlain on September 3, two days after Adolf Hitler had ordered the invasion of Poland.

It was not until September 1940, however, that the team was sent out to the continent for the first time, travelling to France. There, the regiment was involved in heavy battle and Goslin was given credit for taking down four enemy tanks, earning a promotion to Lieutenant.

The Bolton News:

Goslin, Howe, Westwood, Forrest, Hurst and Hanson, narrowly got back to Dunkirk to be rescued by British ships and spent the next 18 months stationed in the UK. That changed in October 1942 when soldiers were moved to Egypt, eventually taking part in Operation Lightfoot – a battle to protect borders which resulted in heavy casualties for both sides, the British and Commonwealth forces losing more than 13,000 men.

It wasn’t all fighting for Goslin and his Bolton pals, however, as after being posted to the front line they were pulled out of battle by Egypt’s King Farouk to play for his team in Cairo.

Wanderers provided the mainstay of a British Army side which then played against Iraq in Persia in early 1943, finding their opponents had turned up without boots.

It proved only a temporary inconvenience, and after agreeing to play barefoot on the dusty desert pitch the British side conquered their handicap and won the game.

The same group took on the Polish national team in British colours in a quite unique game played in intense heat in the desert of Kifri, Iraq. Don Howe was on the scoresheet in a 4-1 victory which sadly proved Goslin’s last documented game.

After moving on to Italy to link up with the 8th Army Mediterranean Forces, Goslin and Co found themselves under General Montgomery, who had been in charge during their battles in Egypt.

Their passage down the east coast of the country had been largely uneventful until they came to cross the River Sangro, which resulted in a fierce battle.

Howe was wounded in November 1943 and withdrawn to a military hospital. On December 14, after heavy enemy shelling of the observation post positions, two serious casualties were reported – signaller Gunnar Plummer and Goslin, who had been hit in the back and paralysed by shrapnel from a bomb or mortar shell which had exploded in a nearby tree near his trench.

The Bolton News:

He was evacuated from the site but died four days later.

Westwood and Hanson also had a narrow miss as the fighting intensified.

The Bolton Evening News carried a brief tribute from the editor the following day, which read: "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."

The story of the Goslin and his Wartime Wanderers continues to capture people’s imagination decades later. It has been turned into a book and a film version has been in the pipeline for several years but has struggled to find the requisite funding.

The Bolton News:

Goslin’s story will be read at a special ceremony at the Albert Halls this evening, however, which will be attended by his son Bill, his grandson Matt, his great grandson and great granddaughter.

The Remembrance Concert will also feature performances by the Lancashire Artillery (V) Band and local artists. The Act of Remembrance will be conducted by The Vicar of Bolton Rev. Canon Dr. Chris Bracegirdle.

The ceremony begins at 7pm. Tickets are £6 with proceeds to cadet forces and veteran’s organisations. Remembrance Concert tickets are available from or by calling the ticket line on 0843 208 0500.