One hundred years ago today, on October 3, 1917, former City player William Kirby lost his life in action in France.
The news was reported in Devon over a month later. ‘Kirby,’ the Western Times report ran, ‘was with the City in the season 1913/14. He made his reputation with Preston North End and Portsmouth, and in his best days at North End was one of the most successful forwards playing.’
He was signed as part of a rebuilding process, over half the team having left during the 1913 close season. Arthur Chadwick, the City manager, used him as an inside-forward, and made him skipper. During pre-season, one observer noted that Kirby ‘possesses shooting powers above the average, while his deft passes to the wing were cleverly executed.’
These qualities, however, did not guarantee Southern League success. In Kirby’s five League games for City, the side failed to register a single goal. When they did finally score, he was sidelined. Had he picked up an injury? Was he not fully fit? It’s not clear, but by November 1913 he’d asked for a transfer. And his move to Merthyr Town was confirmed.
For the Western Times, William Kirby ‘will always be remembered as one of the players of national repute who have donned the City’s colours’.
The player, along with twelve other WW1 fatalities, is commemorated on a plaque in the memorial garden at St James Park.