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:-
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