Report by Nicholas Ralph
This game is famous for a number of reasons, some of which will be explained - and some which can't because of war-time secrecy etc., and also because my memory may conceivably be slightly off in some of the minor details.
Firstly, it is famous for the fact that anybody actually got to the match what with there being no advertising, and with the weather being so awful. I'd been given a firm "no" to the idea of going to Luton on Christmas Day where the lads chalked up a 2-0 victory, and also for the Boxing Day rematch, the result of which we still didn't know for certain until we turned up for Aldershot. And I only got permission for Aldershot because Grandad said it was the only way to shut me up - not in any way connected with the fact that Aldershot were always rated at the time in view of the number of professionals stationed there at any given time.
Secondly, it is famous because of the guest system. Any player could represent anyone, subject to permission which was freely given, and against Aldershot, teams tried to pull in some of the best. Maybe Stanleys Matthews or Mortensen would show up (the latter eventually did, in 1945-46) - or the amazing Lewises, who between them played so many games and scored so many goals during the War, would be there and on form. On this day - as I remember it - Pat Molloy made his one and only appearance for Watford, and as a guest, to boot.
Thirdly, it is famous because the weather was appalling to the point where, today, they wouldn't even bother with a pitch inspection: but the match went on. In the crowd were probably the most wildly mixed bag of personalities you'd find at any event anywhere, including two POW's who having helped prepare the pitch were then, in that peculiarly British way of doing things, allowed to stay and watch the match. I didn't hear a word said against them, though I can't say there was a rush to buy them drinks either.
Fourthly, it is famous because it was - to me - a miracle that any football was being played given the general situation at the time. At school, the daily schedule changed daily, and football was played on "safe" days. I didn't find out for years that it was our insane, though much-loved, art teacher who used to make the decision - she'd been right about the bombings which would affect west Watford and Croxley some months before and had been seen as something of a prophet ever since.
Mainly, it was famous because - just like the few other occasions when we managed to get to the football - it was pure magic. For children at the time, the war was terrifying, and also very exciting: but it was mainly about there being nothing like enough food, and the constant threat of being evacuated which, for some reason only children understand, was by far more horrifying than the possibility of the house being bombed.
The match itself was quite exciting really. Aldershot had half a dozen "co-opted" German internationals in their side, though their names were of course announced in code as Abblett, Broad, Coleman, Duff, Ecstasy, and Fornicator, W., and they were, it's true, somewhat hampered by the chains attached to their feet. For our own part, we were delighted to learn that quite a few Lewises would be playing, and that the match would probably start on time at 2:30pm...no make that 3:15pm...in the end 1:45pm, so we missed most of the first half.
After quite a rousing half-time military march past of the 1st/27th Leicestershire Dragoons, replete with howitzers and an excess of military umbrellas, we were further entertained by the band of the Combined Home Guard (Pontypridd and District) which had been on its way home from training in London and had been forced off the train at Watford, and at gunpoint, by a group of invading Japanese on bicycles - all stolen from Spivey's in the High Street, I might add. These servants of the Emperor were determined to get to Maine Road for the clash of the Manchester giants (2-3 in favour of City) and returned home to Japan in a very orderly manner directly after they'd had a few pints in Oldham, on the BOAC 747 service from Leavesden to Tokyo non-stop (bring your own avgas coupons).
Down 0-3 at the half, our brave lads in a mixture of blues and greens stuck it to Aldershot ringers, Morgan-ap-towethimself Lewis getting five goals in as many minutes before the sirens went off, as they always did when we were two goals ahead, at 2:57.
We went home, via the Artichoke on Croxley Green and Saunders butchers in New Road (where we very unsubtlely tried to score some spare bits of meat like, for example, filet mignon or even a couple of dozen best-lamb-and-beef sausages but in fact got the square root of bugger all). Tea was not much different from before the war. Mountains of bread, hardly any butter or margarine, a pinhead of jam per person per week, and all the tea you could drink (keeping in mind that there was hardly any tea and next to no milk to speak of. And no sugar because it all went into the Sunday Cake. Which was made - just like everything else, including road signs, horse shows, and a good number of bullets, from suet).
A happy time during these dreadful years was early evening as Grandad wrestled - sometimes literally - with the "steam" radio trying to catch the BBC as it tried to bypass the Watford area completely, our share of the broadcast being sucked in a vortex toward Bletchley Park where enigmatic people sat around breaking wind, or something like that. We would catch little blurts of information such as "Japan today invaded phsthstch" and could spend days debating where "phsthstch" was only to find out it was a small village in Manchuria and not Scotland, as some of the family so fervently hoped. Or we'd occasionally get a lovely music programme, starring Billy Cotton and his Replacement Band (all those capable of breathing well enough to play the saxophone, you understand, having been dragged off to fight "over there" or "somewhere in France"). The music, even then, did not exactly set us tapping our feet, but it was a pleasant change from hearing that rations had been cut again, or that the average age of a Spitfire pilot was now eleven and a half.
The best things we ever got from the radio were the footie results, even including our own modest accomplishments. Huge scorelines were not uncommon at all, and for some reason a sweet factory in Wales (Lovell's Athletic) was allowed to join the league for a while.
Then it was homework, which was also very different in those days. Geography focused on the Empire, of course, with our enemies of the day blotted out "by order of W. Churchill, so there", and English was concerned mainly with spelinge, at wich I was not good. Maths, though, was truly scintillating as we answered thousands of questions about men building walls which, as the war went on, changed to men digging trenches. For example, here's one from early 1943:
"If it takes thirty men who are three-quarters fit and of an average height of five feet seven one hundred and two and a third hours to dig a trench one and a quarter miles by eleven feet by twenty one foot four and nine sixteenths inches from shale and sand at a temperature of one hundred and eighteen degrees Fahrenheit, how many troops should we send to Burma? Submit your answers in the War Office envelope provided".
Seriously, wasn't it such a good idea that, despite everything, football continued through WWII? It might have bordered on the farcical at times, but it did a lot for people at home. Rather proud that Watford FC did as well as it did at the time, too.