AS OLYMPIC fever grips the nation, an armed forces charity is calling on people not to forget sportsmen who gave their lives for our freedom.
A century ago sports clubs and communities across Portsmouth were mourning the loss of a generation of young men killed in the Battle of the Somme.
The losses are something we will rarely experience in modern warfare – individual deaths are tragic. But in the Somme, entire communities were lostJim France Royal British Legion’s area manager for Dorset and Hampshire
And with this year marking the centenary of the bloody conflict, the Royal British Legion is urging sports teams, associations and individuals to join its latest fundraiser to mark the role played by sportsmen in the war.
The fight lasted from July 1 to November 18 and was one of the most costly battles in the British Army’s history.
To aid the war effort, virtually all professional sport was suspended, with many athletes and players volunteering to fight on the front.
The recruitment drive saw entire communities joining Pals Battalions. Among these included the 14th and 15th (Portsmouth) Battalions Hampshire Regiment.
During the fight, hundreds of men from the Portsmouth battalions were killed, wiping out entire sporting communities in the city overnight.
Jim France is the Royal British Legion’s area manager for Dorset and Hampshire.
Mr France, a former squadron leader who spent 27 years in the RAF, fighting in the Falklands and the Gulf, said: ‘The Pals used Fratton Park as a recruitment ground.
‘Whole sports clubs and teams joined and were killed.
‘The losses are something we will rarely experience in modern warfare – individual deaths are tragic. But in the Somme, entire communities were lost, it was horrific.
‘Portsmouth has a crucial role to play. It was linked with two big Pals battalions and it’s vital that the city doesn’t forget this history.’
Sporting legends have also backed the campaign. Among them is Olympic gold medal winner Sally Gunnell.
She said was ‘proud’ to be part of the fundraiser and urged people to join it.
‘During the First World War many Olympic athletes swapped the track and field for the battlefield and made the ultimate sacrifice for their country,’ she added.
To join the effort, see britishlegion.org.uk.