Thursday, 17 September 2015 22:53

Wrexham AFC honour former player and war hero. Featured

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bert5At his first meeting after joining The Wrexham Supporters’ Trust (WST) board, the governing body of Wrexham AFC, Stuart Roberts was informed of a former player and war hero who was buried in Wrexham cemetery without a headstone to mark his final resting place.

Bertram Ernest Foster or Bert, as he was known, played in Wrexham’s first ever football league match against Hartlepool’s United, in 1921. After signing up to join The Welch Regiment at the age of 17, it was said that he'd 'seen considerable service' and was 'a crack shot' He survived the Great War, but died in 1922 at the young age of 23 in The Turf Hotel which is situated overlooking the Racecourse Ground at Wrexham. The cause of death was thought to be pneumonia.

bert3The WST felt that as a community owned football club, Bert’s resting place should be marked with a headstone on his grave. As a former soldier himself, Stuart volunteered to run with the project. What he thought would be a simple fundraising project turned into an epic adventure through Bert’s life and Stuart found many obstacles along the way.

The first of which was the council’s requirement to have a letter of indemnity from Bert’s surviving family for them to give permission for a headstone to be erected on his grave. With the aid of former Royal Welch Fusilier, Al Poole, Stuart’s research found Bert to have had only one sister, Cissy May Foster who married Richard T Jones in 1928, but passed away in Wrexham Maelor hospital in 1986 leaving her daughter, Miss Connie (Constance) Jones. Eventually, with help from Al, a call to arms to the local community from The Wrexham Leader and many hours of exploring local knowledge, Stuart found that Connie was still alive and living on Bryn-y-Cabanau road, in Wrexham.

Jim Evans, a family friend had seen The Leader article and provided some information to work with and contact was made and the council paperwork was completed on December 4th 2014. With permission in place Stuart began his fundraising. Unfortunately, even the most basic of headstones don’t come cheap and Russ from Mossfords Memorials, although trying to keep costs to a minimum, provided a quote for £1000. This proved difficult as Stuart was conscious of a very important project that was calling on Wrexham fans to fund a viewing platform for members of the Wrexham AFC Disabled Supporters’ Association.

bert1Further discussion with Russ and considerations being made to the location of Bert’s grave in the older part of the cemetery, it was decided to use a reclaimed sandstone headstone which would be more in keeping with that part of the cemetery.

Donations flooded in from throughout the community and with help from The WST all the money required for a suitable headstone, was in place. Russ provided the headstone at a tremendous price and it was put in place in June 2015. The simple epitaph reads: Bertram E Foster, The Welch Regiment, Wrexham Football Club, “Fearless in Devotion”

In addition to this simple but fitting commemoration to Bert’s service to both his club and country, Stuart extended the link to Wrexham AFC and approached the groundsmen to see if it would be possible to remove the top layer of the grave and replace it with the same composition as the playing surface at The Racecourse Ground.

Paul Challinor (Chally) and his staff came and helped with the manual labour and carried out the necessary technical stuff. The top two inches were replaced with the same top soil and seed as at the ground and the rest was a case of lots of TLC. Stuart visited Bert daily to ensure that the seed was getting all the water that it needed but it soon became apparent that things weren’t going as planned. After a few weeks, parts of the plot were plush and green but there was no sign of any life in three specific areas of the grave. Stuart consulted Chally who provided him with more seed and everything else needed to carry out some repairs. Eventually, after approximately two months the grass is thriving!

bert4Although this is a good news story we do have to share some bad news with you. As mentioned earlier, the relevant permission required by the council before we could take on this project, was obtained through Bert’s niece, Connie. Unfortunately, only a few weeks after Connie signed the paperwork, she passed away so will never see the tribute that Wrexham AFC has paid her Uncle Bert.

Julie, Connie’s Power of Attorney contacted Stuart in late June to inform him of the sad news and also offer him some of Bert’s belongings that were in Connie’s possession. These belongings include his war medals, a Welsh Cup runners up medal which Bert received whilst playing for Wrexham in 1920 and a team photo taken for the 1919-20 season.

It is Stuart’s plan for Bert’s belongings and this story be available to view by all and a display will be produced. Stuart would like to thank Wrexham Football Club, Wrexham Supporters’ Trust, Al Poole, The Maesgwyn and EVERYONE else who helped in any way.

The WST would like to thank Stuart for his tireless work over the past year to ensure that Bert's memory and service to both the Club and his country have been honoured in this way.