Reg Allen’s War Time Experiences

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Reg Allen was possibly our greatest ever goalkeeper or most certainly one of the greatest along with Charlie Shaw, Ron Springett, Phil Parkes and David Seaman. What follows is the account of his war time experiences which appeared in the first Club Handbook produced after the War. The Press photo shown below is the moment he broke his finger in the FA Cup Quarter Final replay against Derby County. Also pictured is George Smith, Reg re-appeared in the 2nd half and played out on the right wing:-

reg allen

After making a rather memorable debut in professional football at the age of eighteen, I was looking forward to a long and successful career in this first love of mine. Fate deemed otherwise, because after playing in only three matches of Season 1939, war broke out and I at once decided to volunteer for the Army. After making three attempts to enlist, I found myself landed in a Territorial Battalion of the 60th Rifles. During my battle training, I was selected for the International games at Paris, Rheims and Lille. We came through these games with full honours and in the opinion of Stan Cullis, our skipper, the French fielded one of the strongest sides England had ever played against.

On returning to England, I was again selected for the Army who were due to play a strong FA eleven at Liverpool but I had the misfortune to break my ankle during organised games for my unit. Then came the French debacle and our battalion was posted to first-line of defence at Dover. Here we had many exciting experiences with German aircraft which rather wetted my appetite for further action. About this time, the Commandos were being formed as an advanced striking force against German occupied Europe. This was my idea of soldiering, so I volunteered and I was sent to the wilds of Scotland for intensive training. I was more or less out of touch by this time with current sports news and was surprised when one day, I was asked whether I had read the morning’s paper as apparently I had been picked to play in the Army International at Ibrox. I only had two days before the game and in any case I had received no communication from the authorities and to my bitter disappointment, I had to abandon all hope of playing. George Tweedy, the Grimsby and England goalie was picked in my place.

The vigorous Commando training allowed me no time for sport, especially as I and ten others were picked to form the nucleus of a special branch of the Commandos which later became known as the Special Boat Service. This service did sterling work in Burma and the Mediterranian where we joined for service with the 1st Submarine Flotilla at Alexandria. After only six operations, I had the misfortune to be taken prisoner whilst in company with a Marine and attempting to sink a ship in Benghazi Harbour. This was in August, 1941 and I was taken to a transit camp at Capua after being on the loose for four and a half days. After being there for three months, I was moved to a P.O.W camp near Genoa. During this time of imprisonment, I assisted in the escape of a British and South African soldier. For this, I was sentenced to ten days hard punishment which included a heavy beating and followed by fifteen days light punishment.

I often wondered how I survived the twenty five months at this camp when you consider our main daily diet was five ounces of bread and one plate of soup which was nothing more than cabbage water. On the retreat of the Italian Army, I was moved by prison train to a German Camp in Munich. My next move was to Stalag 344 but after a while I was sent to a sawmill working party but after being concerned in a shooting ordeal in which a British sailor was killed, I was removed back to 344. This camp was in Upper Silesia and when the Russian advance came, I was again moved this time to 17b which was about 50 miles from Vienna. After being three days on the loose in Vienna, I was picked up by a British Liaison Officer and was flown to England in a Flying Fortress. This was in May 1945, which meant that I spent nearly four years as a P.O.W.

Among the various football personalities I can remember sharing my unforgettable experiences were Billy Stephens, recently transferred from Leeds to Swindon, Harry Roberts of Chesterfield, Paddy Radcliffe who went from Notts County to the Wolves, Blakeman, recently signed on by Brentford as well as well known sporting figures as Gordon Rolls, racehorse owner and Turf speculator, V.Mitchell, the winner of 1939 Lincolnshire Handicap, Tommy Barnham, the famous Fulham Boxer and Leslie Braybrooke of Notting Hill who by the way eluded the Germans for two and a half years. Owing to under nourishment, I was not able to touch a ball for four years, owing to boils and other complaints. The only thing we had to look forward to was our Red Cross parcels which came to us once a week but after a while they only came about every fortnight or three weeks. You can guess how glad I am to be back after this long lay-off and awful experiences and am able to take up the game where I left off
Steve Russell



17 Responses to Reg Allen’s War Time Experiences

  1. Kerrins says:

    Very interesting article.

    We were certainly unlucky with injuries in that Derby FA Cup quater Final…Even in the first match at Loftus Rd (1-1)..I think Ivor Powell banged his head when leaving the Dressing room!

  2. Martin says:

    Terrific article Steve. The Pathe News footage of the the Derby quarter final at Loftus Rd has turned up on You Tube recently:

    The Rangers team was:

    Reg Allen, George Powell, Arthur Jefferson, Ivor Powell, George Smith, Albert Smith, Danny Boxshall, Fred Ramscar, Heath, Cyril Hatton and
    Johnny Hartburn.

    1-1 draw – 28,000 crowd. The replay the following Saturday was lost 5-0 at the Baseball Ground. It was a bit of a kicking match with, as the article mentions, Reg Allen the Rangers keeper ending up playing on the wing after he’d broken his hand after only 30 mins – pre substitutes days of course. George Powell went in goal and let in 4 goals.

    My Dad was at both games. For many years he’d say “1948 was the only time Rangers were in the FA Cup semi final draw” – needless to say he was delighted when we beat WBA in 82 at Highbury to make it to Wembley.

    Martin

  3. George Powell (Jnr) says:

    It was my father George Powell who went in goal vs Derby in the cup

  4. Londonranger says:

    Well excellent memories and pick me out of crowd.

    this was not our best lineup so must have been injuries, Durrant, Heathcoat, Addinall were much
    better unless injured or cup tied and Danny Mills
    a rangy midfielder the inside left and brother or cousin of Freddy Mills could have helped.

    Having seen all our keepers, Allen was the best of course before 1940 I cannot comment but it needs review. Allens sad and tragic end was
    so unfair to the calibre and war history Of Reg.

  5. George Powell, what a wonderful person I new him and his family well and admired the man until he died in 1989. After retiring he went into amateur football in Hertfordshire first as a permit player and after that managing Hemel Town and Addmult in the South Midland League where he was probably the most successful manager in the history of the league. At the age of seventy I am proud to say that he was a friend of mine propably the finest person that I’ve ever met.

  6. dave allen says:

    Well
    I am Reg’s son.Not that I ever knew him.Or any of that side of the family.Sadly or maybe happily the ECT treatments wiped his memory or thats what my mum said.
    The only time I ever spoke to his brother on the phone he told me not to call ever again…but that was many years ago.I have seen the footage on Youtube.I still don’t know how to react to moving pictures of him.
    Anyway I am 57 now so its all a bit late in the day but I would like to hear from anyone who knew him or saw him.
    When I saw the launch of Subuteo pictures …I had to laugh.

  7. vic gibbons says:

    Dear Dave Allen

    I’ve only just seen your post on IndyR’s. Your existence was unknown to me during my research for a book about your father’s life. The book is now ready for publication – in fact has been ready a little while, but
    temporarily ‘suspended’ because there is interest in a film which we shall, of course, fully explore so that the launch of both products might (in an ideal world) coincide!

    Reg’s brother would not speak to me about the book and I, of course, respected his wishes not to be involved.

    I ‘knew’ him just by standing behind his goal at Loftus Road from 1946 until he left for Man Utd.
    I had many enlightening conversations, though, with his team mates including Ivor Powell, Bert Addinall, Arthur Jefferson. I also spoke to a number of Commandos who served with him and some imprisoned with him at Stalag Lamsdorf.

    If there are any ‘missing pieces’ from your information over which I might be able to assist you then I’d be only too pleased to hear from you.

    With my best regards

    VIC GIBBONS
    15 TENNYSON AVENUE
    ST IVES
    CAMBS PE27 6TU
    Tel: 01480 496394

  8. Mike Montague says:

    Dear Dave, It’s nice for the chance to talk to you about Reg Allen. I was a HUGE fan as a budding goalkeeper myself at the age of 13 in November 1947 when I went to watch a match at Loftus Road by myself.(QPR 1, Northampton 0 – goal scored by Billy McEwan). Whenever I went to matches I would get there early to get as close behind the goal as I could so I could watch every move by Reg and then be imitated when I played! I could even shout for offside as loudly as he did. When the teams came out on to the field for their kickabout before the kick-off and I was lucky enough to be at the end that Rangers went to for theirs, I always got a wink and a smile and a hallo of recognition as Reg ran to the goal to throw his gloves and cap into the corner of the goal and be ready to take the practice shots at goal. Right to the end of my own playing days I always played as if I was Reg Allen!
    (When was a youngster I kept a scrapbook of cuttings of photos of all the 1st Division ‘keepers – plus Reg Allen – and my photos of him outnumbered all the others combined.)
    That was the happy part. The sad part is that when I was working as a dispenser at Boots in The Mall, Ealing, in about 1957, I would travel to and from my home in Acton on the 607 trolley buses, and on my homeward journey one evening, as the trolley pulled away from the stop in Ealing Broadway (and you oldies reading might remember what tremendous acceleration they had)there was a tremendous thump from the rear platform and as I looked up startled to see what the cause was I saw Reg picking himself up from the platform, dust himself down and make his way “Inside” and sit down opposite me on the bench seats with a smirk of triumph.
    It was a tremendous feat enough to have run after the trolleybus then caught up with it at the speed it had reached, but then to have dived and caught hold of the vertical hand rail and pulled himself on to the rear platform was incredible.
    I recognised him immediately, but as soon as he saw me smile and was obviously going to speak he got up and went and sat up at the front and started to shout out loud either to himself or anyone whose eye he caught. Some of the language got a bit ripe and the conductor was going to stop and have him thrown off – and had already given the driver the emergency stop signal – but I told him who the troublesome person was and he relented, and the only action he took was to advise passengers not to sit too close because of the loud profanities.
    I was absolutely shattered to see my hero in such a condition, and was almost crying – in my mid-20′s – as I walked the distance to my home from my bus stop.
    There was a similar occurrence a few weeks later when at Ealing Common Station he got on the same trolleybus as the one I was travelling on. Once again he moved away quickly to another part of the downstairs “saloon” as soon as he saw me smile and it was obvious I was going to talk to him, and although he began muttering to himself and talking out loud it was scarcely audible what was being said and thankfully there was no trouble for fellow-passengers or, fortunately, Reg himself.
    It’s a long time ago and a long way away now as I have been living in Melbourne for 45 years, but I still support the R’s as well as I can from this distance and still have so many memories of the boys during the years I could get to the matches, but most particularly of Reg Allen and the effect he had on my sporting life.

  9. vic gibbons says:

    Dear Mike

    Your memories of Reg are confirmed by accounts by some of his nearby neighbours after his retirement and many of their stories are also quite harrowing. He was regularly seen in the Hanwell area – just passing time watching the traffic go by and he invariably shunned those who offered a lift home or who merely enquired of his well-being. Others believed that he still believed that he was playing football and witnessed him ‘training’ in that vicinity with long early-morning runs wearing only his underpants, often in the middle of winter.
    Steve passed on to me your Email and I was pleased to receive it. I’d be very interested to know a bit more
    of your own background and would appreciate you making contact with me if you are prepared to do so.
    I can be contacted via:
    cromwellmanagement@hotmail.co.uk
    or via snail mail:
    15 Tennyson Avenue
    ST IVES
    Cambs
    PE27 6TU
    or
    Tel: 01480 496394

  10. Bill Lerthorn says:

    Hi,
    As a boy I used to stand behind the goal in 1949 and have always considered Reg Allen to be the finest goalkeeper that I have seen at QPR. Definately the most daring ansd spectacular.
    I remember the game against Spurs, think it was 1950, when Spurs won promotion from Division 2. If my memory serves me well Spurs won 2 – 0 and the papers said that they had all the best players on the pitch except for one, Reg Allen – and remember Ted Ditchburn was in the other goal. On one occasion Eddie Baily the Spurs & England Left Winger, left the whole Rangers defence behind and as he ran into the penalty area, Reg dived head first at his feet to prevent a goal. (note head first not like they slide in nowadays protecting their heads).
    Reg was also a gentleman and I often carried his bag to the bus stop. I saw him once surrounded by autograph hunters amongst whom was a young girl being pushed away in the melee in tears. Reg took her up in his arms, wiped away her tears with a handerchief and signed her autograph book first
    Glad to know that a book on Reg Allen is due out soon. I sit next to Paul Finney at QPR and he did mention that a book on Reg was likely to be published.

  11. Andy Wardle says:

    Wow, what a brilliant read, Not just the article but the fan (& son) input. How he managed with the crap he faced up to in POW camps etc. The inner strength of the man. I guess in his latter years the toll had been taken grip of.

    A hero to QPR fans for his undoubted abilities in goal, but also a hero to the country he served. It is men like him to whom we owe the greatest debt. He should be honoured appropriately by the club and fans and so too should other QPR heros of the past.

  12. Kerrins says:

    Reg Allen was seven years before my time at Loftus Rd so I never saw the great man play.

    As a Child I was told tales of his superb talent…and sadly also of his rantings to himself in public places during later life.

  13. Martin says:

    I am really looking forward to reading Vic’s book. I was born in 1963 so obviously never saw Reg play but my Dad (a fan from 1926 until he died in 1982) said that, with the possible exception of Phil Parkes, he was the greatest goalkeeper that Rangers ever had. Clearly his wartime experiences caught up with him though and curtailed a great career. The only football match my mother ever went to was the Reg Allen testimonial v Man Utd in March 1954.

    I think a lot of people underestimate the mental strain that former POWs went through after the war. There’s a great book on the subject that was published a couple of years ago titled “Stranger in the House” which tells of the issues that men faced when they returned home from the war – and their wives and children:

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Stranger-House-Womens-Stories-Returning/dp/1416526846/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1307880569&sr=8-3

    Dave Allen – I have press cuttings of your parents wedding if you would like copies.

  14. Mike Phillips says:

    I was a great fan of Reg from the time he returned post war, until he left for Man Utd,I rate best England goalkeepers as Frank Swift (Man City)No1. Reg Allen No2. Gordon Banks No3. Reg, may have ruined his England chances with an incident related to me by Horace (John) Woodward,He joined QPR from Spurs, and befriended Reg. One Saturday evening the two of them were in Tottenham Court Road,(a favourite haunt of numerous footballers as there were a number of popular mens clothing stores, Cecil Gees being a favourite.)Woodward relates how Walter Winterbottom England manager at the time,approached where they were,When Reg saw him and Grabbed his lapels and pushed him towards a shop,demanding “What are you playing at Walter, picking a basketball player in goal?” Bernard Stretton of Luton Town had just been selected in goal for his one and only England cap.Woodward said that you could see from Winterbottoms face that he would never select Reg after that.A great shame,incidentally Reg who was a very handsome man with a terrific head of hair,used to spend some time before matches, at the dressing room mirror grooming his hair,was nicknamed The Baron.

  15. dave allen says:

    Hi Martin,
    This must have been a while ago …Thanks for your kind offer of copies of press cuttings.That would be great.The Baron indeed.
    ;–)

  16. Steve Russell says:

    Hello Dave, I know Martin and if you email me your address I will pass it on to him……
    srussell@harrow.ac.uk

    All the best – Steve

  17. ROY CAVANAGH MBE says:

    I did a self published book on all United goalkeepers, and Reg although only at Old Trafford a couple of years was regarded as a great goalkeeper. Had the real pleasure of writng books on ‘Busby Babes’ and meeting people such as Carey and Rowley.Heard varying stories of Reg’s last match at Wolves but never got a definitive answer as to what happened.


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