Arthur Jones: The remarkable life of the Romford goalscorer killed in war a century ago

Arthur Jones. Picture: Terry Felton and Linda Rhodes

Arthur Jones. Picture: Terry Felton and Linda Rhodes - Credit: Archant

Exactly 100 years ago this week, on August 27 1917, Arthur Edwin Jones was mortally wounded at the Battle of Passchendaele and died two days later.

Arthur Jones. Picture: Terry Felton and Linda Rhodes

Arthur Jones. Picture: Terry Felton and Linda Rhodes - Credit: Archant

He was mourned not only in Romford, his home town, but far and wide, being the most well-known footballer in Essex.

He was also a Special Constable, so the Essex Police Memorial Trust has commissioned a memorial plaque to him which will be unveiled at the Essex Police headquarters on Saturday November 11.

Arthur was the seventh of eight children of Evan Jones, a Romford Brewery salesman, and Eliza Annie (nee Pashley). He was born on 27th August 1880 at the family home in Victoria Road and baptised at St Andrew’s, nicknamed the ‘Brewery Church’.

In 1892 Arthur and his elder brother Evan joined their local junior football club, Romford Excelsior. The pair made an instant impact, catching the eye of local press reporters who noted the ‘Jones brothers were on the score sheet again’ and ‘The brothers Jones played up to their best again’.

Arthur Jones. Picture: Terry Felton and Linda Rhodes

Arthur Jones. Picture: Terry Felton and Linda Rhodes - Credit: Archant

It wasn’t long before the town’s senior club, Romford FC, took notice.

In 1893 they signed 18-year old Evan, who spent a season in the reserves helping them to the Grays Charity Cup Final. Arthur followed his brother to Romford in 1896 and spent his first season playing in the reserve team. Arthur made his first team debut in 1897, aged 17, and soon became the bane of opposing goalkeepers with his trademark piledrivers.

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In only his second season as a first team regular, Arthur was selected to play for Essex County in October 1898 against Suffolk.

Romford FC was an amateur club, and both Arthur and Evan earned their living as brewery clerks.

Arthur Jones. Picture: Terry Felton and Linda Rhodes

Arthur Jones. Picture: Terry Felton and Linda Rhodes - Credit: Archant

However, a host of professional clubs were already taking an interest in Arthur. During his playing career Woolwich Arsenal and Portsmouth were among the professional clubs interested in signing him, and he played two matches for Southern League side Luton.

Arthur was, however, content to stay in amateur football and his job at the brewery. He never married and remained at the family home, ‘Rosebank’, 171 Victoria Road, which still stands.

During the summer of 1899 the Jones brothers left Romford FC and signed for local rivals Romford St Andrews.

Arthur, known by all as ‘Diddy’, spearheaded the attack and scored an amazing four goals in each of his first three games! St Andrews then won the Romford & District League Championship in three successive seasons.

In 1902 the brothers rejoined their old club, Romford FC, and Arthur scored over 30 goals to help Romford win the South Essex League Division Two West championship.

The following season he was appointed captain, but upset the locals by taking a fortnight’s holiday in Suffolk after the season began and sending a postcard home saying he had played for three local teams and scored 14 goals!

Arthur was soon forgiven as his 28 goals helped the club top the Romford League table and become runners-up in the South Essex League Division 1b.

Arthur signed for Isthmian League team Ilford FC for the 1904-5 season, but made a gentleman’s agreement to play for Romford if Ilford didn’t have a game or his services were not required by them.

He scored 20 goals for Ilford as well as making six loan appearances for Romford, scoring eight times and helping them to win the coveted West Ham Charity Cup with a 2-0 victory over Clapton.

Playing for Ilford made Arthur eligible to be selected for London. He played for London against Essex, scoring a hat-trick in a 5-2 victory.

After the season at Ilford Arthur re-signed for Romford, and in 1909 he scored a hat-trick in the West Ham Charity Cup Final victory over Leytonstone. The following year, aged 30, he left senior football to join local club Mawney Institute, nicknamed the ‘Stutes’.

As captain and goalscorer he led them to a host of trophies before the First World War brought local football to a halt.

Arthur Jones scored 365 known career goals, as follows: Romford FC 213; Romford St Andrews FC 64; Mawney Institute FC 30; Romford Thursday FC 27; Ilford FC 20; Essex County FA 8; and London FA 3.

A complete listing is not possible due to many match reports only giving results without naming the scorers. Arthur played in over a hundred such games, so it’s likely that he scored considerably more than the 365 goals actually attributed to him.

The First World War

Unfortunately Arthur’s service record has not survived, but we know he served with the rank of Corporal, first with the Essex Regiment (service number 400278). He was later transferred to the 1/6th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment (service number 260114) and fought with them in the Third Battle of Ypres, known as Passchendaele.

The regimental diaries mention a Corporal Jones, who is possibly Arthur though his service number is not given, in a party which raided German trenches in the early hours of 16th July 1917.

On 27th August 1917, Arthur’s 37th birthday, he and his colleagues were sent ‘over the top’ to attack enemy lines near St Julien.

Following torrential rain the previous day they waded through heavy mud towards well-fortified German positions. The plan ended in total failure. The war diary states ‘Advance impossible due to state of ground & fire from MGs [machine guns] & snipers in concrete emplacements’.

Arthur was mortally wounded during the attack and died two days later.

He was buried at Dozinghem Military Cemetery (plot number IV E 19).

The Essex Times obituary reads: “It is with deep regret that we announce the death of Corporal Arthur E. Jones on August 29th 1917 of wounds received in action in France.

“The deceased, who was 37 years of age, was badly wounded on August the 27th and his untimely end will be deplored by all Essex footballers. Without doubt he was the most prominent footballer in the county and was the idol of the Romford crowd, by whom he was affectionately known as “Diddy”.

“As an amateur forward he was probably without an equal for his shooting, and many visiting goal keepers have reason to remember his pile drivers.

“On many occasions he represented his County and was considered a valuable acquisition.

“Other clubs that Jones played for were Romford St. Andrews, Mawney Institute, Ilford and Luton, as well as having a trial with Portsmouth.

“Despite his prowess he was of an unassuming nature and he died as he would have wished, a hero’s death.

“When he joined up he had an opportunity of joining a unit removed from the firing line but characteristic of Jones he remarked. “No, if my country is in for a scrap I am going to be in it”.

“Prior to joining up, Diddy was a painstaking member of the Romford Division of the Essex Special Constabulary.

“Much sympathy is felt for his brother and sisters in their bereavement.”

The Matron of No. 4 C.C.S. Hospital writes:

“29.8.17. I am very grieved to tell you that Corporal A.E. Jones, 260114 R.W. Regiment was very badly wounded in the leg and hand and although everything possible was done for him he passed away quite peacefully at 2.10 a.m. this morning.

“He was too ill to realize he was dying and was unconscious at the last.

“I told him during the afternoon that I was writing to you, and he said to give you his love.

“He will be buried with Military Honours and be with many of his comrades.

“The graves are very well looked after and his name and number will be put on the cross with much sympathy.”