Footballing soldier’s life away from battlefield bravery

Footballing soldier’s life away from battlefield bravery

By Gareth Dennison | 10/07/2022

Footballing soldier’s life away from battlefield bravery

 

PLAYING football while crossing No Man’s Land in 1917 was just part of the tale for the brave Parkgate soldier known as Kuftee.

Last month we featured the time Cpl Ernest Evans boosted morale in his 2/5th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment with the idea of dribbling the ball across towards the village of Havrincourt, France.

As they made their way to the target — 7,000 yards nearer to Germany — the men kept kicking the leather footie between them despite the bullets flying thick and fast around them.

The courageous episode led to Kuftee returning home to Pottery Street a hero — and being awarded the Military Medal.

Following the Advertiser’s article in June, we spoke to Kuftee’s daughter Betty Watts, who is 98 and lives in Swinton, just a couple of miles from the family’s old home.

Just ten days after the heroics at Havrincourt in the Battle of Cambrai, Kuftee had to walk six miles for treatment after being shot and the lower part of his right arm was amputated.

The injury never changed his positive demeanour or stopped him working.

“I never heard my dad swear,” said Betty. “He never complained. I used to go up to the garden with him. He had an allotment down the back of the church at Rawmarsh.

“I was school age when he made a little barrow that a tub would sit in. After mum had done the washing up, she would empty the water in, and I would take it to Dad at the allotment.  

“After the war, when he came out, he went to the pit. He was at Roundwood, and he looked after the ponies. After the pit closed, Dad worked for the council as a roadsweeper.”

Kuftee, whose nickname started from his time boxing for the regiment, had a false arm worn on a harness which went around his back.

Betty said: “There was a bit that twisted out, where tools went in. One of the prongs on his fork was sharp so he could cut his food as well when he was eating. Nothing stopped him.

“I remember once changing a tyre, and someone said I had done it left-handed. That was because Dad had shown me how to do it.”

The football from the First World War was displayed at Clifton Park — just as Kuftee and the regiment had desired — but was moved and destroyed in the Second World War, according to Betty.

She said: “It was in the Rotherham museum. My dad brought it back. Then the powers that be in London said that the ball should be in possession of a museum in London.

“So it was taken down there, and then the Germans got their own back on it. There was an incendiary bomb and the ball was burned.”

Betty added: “Because of his arm, Dad couldn't do much in the Second World War other than firewatching.

“He went to the mortuary at Parkgate one night, at the back of the council offices, and was frightened to death.

“He saw a light was on and looked inside. He thought the figures were spirits, but it was actually people doing a postmortem.”

Kuftee was married to Rose, who was also keen on sports. The couple were big Rotherham United fans.

“Mum never let him gamble, and stopped him smoking,” said Betty. “She said ‘I’m not having you smoking in this house’ and so she gave his pipe to the kids to blow bubbles with.  

“I loved my dad. Everybody knew him. I could paper this house with photos of the family.”

Local historian Tony Dodsworth said: “There are many former residents of Rawmarsh and Parkgate that would today be described as ‘local legends’ but few deserve the title more than Kuftee.

“His fame was particularly linked to his heroic action with the football in No Man’s Land, which was recognised by the award of the Military Medal, and did wonders for his company’s morale and his CQMS (company quartermaster sergeant) said it was a ‘typical example of his brave and fearless self on all occasions when courage had been needed’.

“In March 1918, at the meeting of Rawmarsh UDC, the chairman Mr E Greaves presented Kuftee with his medal, saying it was a unique occasion — the first medal publicly presented to a soldier at a council meeting.”

The footballing antics were still not forgotten during the Second World War.

In July 1943, the Advertiser recapped his bravery of 1917 — and gave details of his family’s involvement in the services during the latter conflict.

Betty was in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and his other daughter, Gwen, was in the forestry section of the land army. His brother James was in the Royal Navy.

Betty had left school at 14 and soon met Philip, the man who would be her husband, while working at Parkgate general store.

Betty said: “When I was little, we lived at Pottery Street, the 13th house down. Everything was number 13. My husband was born on the 13th and he was on a boat which sunk and that was number 313.

“We didn’t have much. Dad should’ve been told that he could have claimed for us but he didn’t know until we were too old.

“There was a time at Baileys when Philip left a big barrel of treacle open, then went home for tea.

“When he came back, the yard was flooded with treacle. He had to put a cold tap on it and get a sweeping brush. We had some very fun times.

“In the Second World War, I went into the WAAF. Dad asked what I was going to do and I said cook. He said: ‘You can’t do that. You can’t boil water without burning it.’

“I said they didn’t want anyone who knew. They wanted people they can teach to do it their way.  

“I had a good time. Everything was good about it. We were preparing meals for 200 people from a book called AP87. Everything had a number like that.”

Philip’s family had moved from Conisbrough to Parkgate when he was five — and would later run the Watts chippy, on Broad Street, where Betty worked.

“I started there in 1945 and finished in 1986,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of people who might remember me from those days. You can tell them I’m still alive …and still talking!”

Betty and brother Albert were founder members of Rawmarsh and Parkgate Local History Group, and would give talks in schools.

“We just talked about the olden days,” she said. “Albert was brilliant at it. At one of the schools, he got asked what our bathroom was like when we were little.

“He said it was hanging by a nail in the yard!”

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