Wilfred Nevill

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Wilfred P. Nevill
Nickname(s) "Billie"
Born 14 July 1894
Died 1 July 1916 (aged 21)
Montauban-de-Picardie, France
Allegiance Flag of the United Kingdom.svg British Empire
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 1914 – 1916
Rank Captain
Unit 8th Battalion, the East Surrey Regiment, part of the 18th Division.
Battles/wars World War I

Wilfred (Billie) Nevill (14 July 1894 – 1 July 1916) went to school at Dover College, where he distinguished himself as a scholar and a games player. He was Head Boy, played in the 1st XV for Rugby, the 1st XI for Hockey, the 1st Running team and was Captain of the Cricket XI. He went up to Jesus College, Cambridge in 1914, where he played hockey, but his academic career was cut short by the Great War.

Nevill joined the East Yorkshire Regiment but transferred to the East Surrey Regiment and was the originator of the East Surrey’s famous “Football Charge” on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916.

On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the 8th Battalion Royal East Surrey Regiment left their trenches at Carnoy to attack German positions 300 yards away.

The commander of "B" Company, Captain W. P. ‘Billie’ Nevill, had purchased two, not four as is often suggested, footballs to kick across 'No Man's Land'.

He and his fellow officers were concerned about how their men would behave when finally called on to go over the top. To provide his soldiers with a reassuringly familiar symbol, Nevill bought the footballs while on leave in London and took them back with him to France.

In the face of murderous fire, and sustaining heavy casualties, they charged across the intervening ground with the footballs bouncing encouragingly before them. The combination of Nevill's initiative and their gallantry proved successful and they gained their objective. Nevill did not survive. He was killed just in front of the German barbed wire. Both footballs were later recovered.

One of the balls is currently displayed at the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment Museum at Dover Castle and the other at the Queen's Royal Surrey Regimental Museum near Guildford, until the latter burnt down in a 2015 fire. Now only one ball remains.

[1] Nevill died on the same day, just two weeks short of his 22nd birthday.

"Touchstone" of The Daily Mail penned the following verse in tribute:

On through the hail of slaughter,
Where gallant comrades fall,
Where blood is poured like water,
They drive the trickling ball.
The fear of death before them,
Is but an empty name;
True to the land that bore them,
The SURREYS played the game.[1]


Dover College Register

  1. ^ a b "The Football Charge of 8th Bn The East Surreys at The Somme" www.queensroyalsurreys.org.uk. Retrieved 18 December 2010.

2. Chart Sutton schoolboy George Majin finds rare World War I football used to 'attack' German trenches http://www.edp24.co.uk/news/chart_sutton_schoolboy_george_majin_finds_rare_wwi_football_used_to_attack_german_trenches_1_934830

3. East Surrey Regiments' 'football' charge July 1, 1916