George Lake (1889-1918). #mcfc & #cfc footballer. WWI soldier. My great uncle.
Last Sunday my wife Jo and were watching Match of the Day 2. The end of the programme featured a roll call of past footballers who had died in action during World War I.
We happened to notice that there was a 'George Lake' on the list. Jo asked me if I had any footballing ancestry. I replied that, as far as I knew I hadn't, and that no one in the family had ever mentioned anything. She then decided to do a bit of online investigating and discovered that a George Andrew Lake made one appearance for Chelsea FC in the 1913/14 season.
Jo then made contact with Chelsea FC's historian, Rick Glanvill, who had written about George in an article about wartime footballers. George was born in Eastham, Cheshire, in 1889 and later lived in the Manchester districts of Ardwick and Clayton. It seems he made just one appearance for Chelsea FC in the 1913/14 season, having been transferred from, believe it or not, my former club, Manchester City. He was conscripted to the forces in 1915, taking up duties as an army cyclist.
Tragically, George Lake died in November 1918 from injuries sustained in the same battle that killed the poet Wilfred Owen. He became the only serving Chelsea player (and probably the last English professional footballer) to die in the Great War, just days before the Armistice. Here's Rick's article:
Rick also gave us access to a private family tree that he'd created in relation to his feature. Much to my amazement, it confirmed that George Andrew Lake was in fact my great uncle (George's younger brother, Harold, was my paternal grandfather).
This has come as a huge surprise to myself and my siblings, who had no idea he existed. We're not sure why George's story wasn't passed down through the generations - my dad died in 1997 but never mentioned his uncle - but we have since learned that his grave is in Frasnoy, Normandy, and we understand that his name is on a war memorial in Clayton, not far from the Etihad stadium. We are hoping to get in touch with newfound relatives, including George's great-niece, to discover more about him, and have contacted MCFC historian Gary James too.
Fittingly, work has taken me to Ypres in Belgium this weekend as part of the Premier League's 'Truce' football tournament, which commemorates World War I by inviting youth teams from across Europe to play against each other and to learn about the wartime conflict (obviously this it has particular resonance during this centenary year). For me, hearing about the experiences that our ‘Tommies’ - including great uncle George - endured in the Great War has been hugely emotional.
I'm looking forward to learning more about my brave ancestor and just wanted to share my discovery with you.
RIP George Andrew Lake (1889 - 1918)