At 06.30 hours on this day in 1915, on the command “Irish Up and Over!”, Riflemen Frank Edwards lobbed his football into the No Mans Land which separated the British and German positions at Loos-en-Gohelle. Frank, along with his London Irish team-mates, Mickey Mileham, Walter ‘Jimmy’ Dalby, Bill Taylor and Bert Coward spread out like a line of forwards and went after the ball, “all the while shells bursting among them and shrapnel screaming overhead”.
So started the Battle of Loos, the first large scale British offensive of the First World War, referred to at the time as ‘The Big Push’. Despite heavy casualties, there was considerable success on the first day in breaking into the deep enemy positions but the reserves had been held too far from the battlefront to be able to exploit the successes and succeeding days bogged down into attritional warfare for minor gains.
The football continued in play, ending up somewhere on the German wire, but Frank was not so lucky. Going down wounded, it was Micky Mileham who stopped to fix the tourniquet that saved his pal’s life.
In a different war in a different century, fighting for our survival, trapped and cut off from our resupply chain and slowly but inexorably running out of supplies and ammunition, I experienced the same sense of belonging that sustained my London Irish forbears and which had convinced them it would be a good idea to “charge across No Man’s Land passing the ball forward” .
It is such a potent force that the British Army has harnessed it for its latest advertising campaign. “Belonging sees you through whatever life – on or off the battlefield – may throw at you.”
SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand. A true story of love, service and incompetence.
Over-matched, over-ruled and over-weight, Spin Zhira is a tale of one man’s personal battle against the trials of middle age set on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan. Guaranteed to make you laugh and cry or your money back.¹
‘Brims with authenticity and dark humour.’
Patrick Hennessey, The Junior Officers’ Reading Club
‘A must read.’
Richard Dorney, The Killing Zone
‘The best book by a soldier concerning the Afghan War that I have read.’
Frank Ledwidge, Losing Small Wars
Doug Beattie MC, An Ordinary Soldier
Dr Mike Martin, An Intimate war
¹Check the small print first