On a recent research trip to France, Peter-William Slade placed crosses of gratitude for William Arnold Fergusson and Osmond Kidwell at Kidwell’s gravesite. Peter-William Slade photo

A century later, two Abbotsford soccer teammates killed in First World War remembered

Pair of soccer teammates fought and fell in First World War

Nineteen young men from the Abbotsford area served and fell in the First World War but were forgotten and their names not listed on the Abbotsford Cenotaph. One of them was Osmond Kidwell.

Mt. Lehman F.C. had a successful season in 1914, losing in the final of the Packenham Cup but winning the Haddad Cup beating Coquitlam 3-1.

A photograph from the time shows 11 men sitting behind a small trophy. In the front row, three men have their arms crossed. Within three years, at least two of them would be dead, killed in Europe in the Great War, including Osmond Kidwell.

In the photo, Osmond Kidwell is sitting on the right in the front row. Next to him is the goalkeeper, probably William Arnold Fergusson, who was also killed in action.

Kidwell came to Abbotsford in 1910 from Colwich, Staffordshire, in England, when he was about 15 years old. Once living in the Abbotsford area he worked as a planer in a sawmill and played soccer for Mt. Lehman F.C.

Osmond and Fergusson both did military training with the 104th Regiment (New Westminster). When war broke out Fergusson signed up in September 1914 with the 7th Battalion (BC), while Kidwell – then 20 years old – enlisted in May 1915, with the 47th (BC) of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF).

At Shorncliffe Camp in Kent, England, Kidwell was transferred to the 30th Reserve Battalion. After other transfers and a bout of influenza, he joined the 7th Battalion on Oct. 23 1915. By that time, the Great War was just a little more than one year old, but Fergusson and two other Abbotsford-area forgotten soldiers – Privates Harold Guy and James McDonald – all in the 7th Battalion, had all been killed in action, such was the very high casualty rate for the Canadian soldiers in those early battles.

Kidwell did not arrive in Europe in time for the Second Battle of Ypres (St. Julien) in April 1915, or at Festubert in May, 1915, where the other three were killed. But he may have been involved in the “Actions of St. Eloi Craters” from March 27, to April 16, 1916.

That battle was named for the massive craters left after troops detonated explosives under German defences at 4:15 a.m. on March 27. Those explosives began nearly three weeks of attacks and counterattacks.

The end of the actions did not mark the end of danger, though, and Kidwell met his death on May 5, 1916. The Canadian Expeditionary Force Burial Register reports that Kidwell was killed by a miniature mine explosion whilst in his dugout.

Unlike those three other Abbotsford soldiers whose bodies were not recovered, Kidwell’s body was found, and he was laid to rest in the peaceful and picturesque military cemetery called Chester Farm, five kilometres southeast of the town on Ypres. Otherwise his name would have been inscribed on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, as is Harold Guy’s. William Arnold Fergusson’s and James McDonald’s names are inscribed on the Vimy memorial as they were both killed in Festubert, France.

On a trip to France in April 2017, as I researched Abbotsford’s Forgotten Soldiers, I visited the graves and memorials for most of Abbotsford’s WWI soldiers and placed a cross of gratitude on behalf of the City of Abbotsford for the service and sacrifice of Abbotsford Soldiers.

Osmond Kidwell’s grave bore the Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone, the standard for all British and Commonwealth soldiers with known graves. The families could choose the inscription for the base of the headstone.

Kidwell’s says:

Greater Love

Hath No Man Than This

May He Rest In Peace

The inscription alludes to a Bible verse that says: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

I placed a cross expressing gratitude from the people of the City of Abbotsford for Osmond Kidwell. I also placed a cross for William Arnold Fergusson, Kidwell’s team-mate in the Mt Lehman F.C. soccer team. Sgt. Fergusson’s body was not found after he was killed at the Battle of Festubert and his name is inscribed on the Vimy Memorial. Hence it was felt appropriate to unite the team-mates this way.

Peter-William Slade is researching a book about Abbotsford’s Forgotten Soldiers. So far he has found 19 such men. The book is planned for publication in 2018.

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Osmond Kidwell, front right, helped lead Mt. Lehman F.C. to the Haddad Cup in 1914. He was killed two years later in the First World War, as was the club’s goaltender, William Arnold Fergusson. Photo courtesy of Daphne Barclay

Osmond Kidwell enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in May 1915 at the age of 20. He was killed one year later. Photo courtesy Veterans Affairs Canada

After his death in 1916, Osmond Kidwell was buried in a military cemetery southeast of Ypres. Peter-William Slade photo

On a recent research trip to France, Peter-William Slade placed a cross of gratitude for William Arnold Fergusson. Peter-William Slade photo.

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