The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Princess Sophia of the Austro-Hungarian Empire on the 28th of June 1914 is remembered as the catalyst that began the First World War.
As armies and alliances around Europe began to mobilise, footballers from across the continent would find themselves swapping their football jerseys for army uniforms. Instead of carrying football boots to training, these men found themselves carrying rifles into trenches.
There are many stories of footballers fighting across the Western and Eastern fronts, serving their respective nations valiantly in the face of industrial scale killings with high powered weaponry.
One such story is that of Liverpool FC forward Wilfred Bartrop.
Bartrop was signed from Barnsley by Liverpool manager Tom Watson for a reported fee of £900. He had played an integral role in winning the 1912 FA Cup Final.
However, despite the huge expectations surrounding his arrival at Liverpool, Bartrop managed only 3 league appearances in the First Division for the Merseyside club. His career like countless others was interrupted by the outbreak of war in July 1914.
Before enlisting, the Liverpool footballer carried out very important work in the Manton Colliery coal mine for the war effort back home in Nottinghamshire.
Like many of his contemporaries, in January 1918 Bartrop offered his services to the army. After six months of training was completed, Bartrop was posted to 40th Division’s X.40 Medium Trench Mortar Battery of the Royal Field Artillery (RFA). Gunner Bartrop was assigned the number 252418.
The Liverpool player was sent to France in June 1918 where he found action outside the village of Cambrai. As an artilleryman, Bartrop’s regiment was tasked with providing trench mortar support to the attacking infantry charging towards German lines.
On November 7th, Bartrop and his battery were at the Belgian village of Warcoing when they came under heavy fire from enemy artillery. Without sufficient cover and under severe aerial artillery, Bartrop was badly wounded in the legs and chest. He succumbed to his wounds shortly after.
Bartrop was 30-years-old. He left behind his wife, Ruby, whom he had married just weeks after tasting FA Cup glory in 1912.
What is perhaps most tragic about this individual story is that November 7th proved to be the final day of Germany’s offensive on the Western Front. Wilfred Bartrop was mere hours away from survival. The famous 11 minutes passed 11 on the 11th of the 11th Armisitice was signed only days later.
Bartrop is buried at the cemetery at Warcoing Church, Belgium.
More information about Wilfred Bartrop and other Liverpool footballers who served in the First World War can be found at footballandthefirstworldwar.org.