Football Remembers: Josser Watling's story

8 May 2020

Former Bristol Rovers player who served in the Arctic during the war, shares his experiences with youngsters from club's academy

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As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day to mark the end of World War II in Europe, players from 11 club academies visited ex-footballers who served in the armed forces to learn about their lives and the sacrifices they made.

Josser Watling (Bristol Rovers)

Watling joined the Royal Navy at 18, working on the Arctic convoys during the war. This involved sailing in often treacherous conditions to Russia to provide essential supplies. 

"It was rough," he told Scott Isherwood and Josh Bailey, who visited from Bristol Rovers' Development squad.

"I was a seaman. In other words if we were being attacked, the first one there had to load up the shells.

"You had to close your fist to push the shell in, [so you could] then get the ram-rod in. Otherwise, if you didn't close your fist, it would take your fingers off."

Personal loss

For Watling the war also brought personal tragedy.

"It was brilliant to get home after, but I lost my [two] brothers. That is the sad part about it. War is a terrible thing."

Once the war was over, Watling's football career took centre stage and he made 323 appearances for Rovers, the only professional club he played for.

"Every time I played for Bristol Rovers it was beautiful," he said, before giving advice to the youngsters.

"And you've got a wonderful life ahead of you if you behave and listen to what you're told and do the easy things - get it down, use it, get it down, use it."

With the help of Football Remembers, Watling successfully applied for his Arctic Star medal, earning official recognition for his service.

Get In Touch

The Academy visits, organised by the Premier League's Education Department, in partnership with Big Ideas, are an inspiration and a tribute from the football family to all those - players and supporters - who served their country during World War II.

Football supporters can get involved in this Football Remembers activity by sharing a short video message for the nation’s World War Two veterans on Twitter using the hashtag #FootballRemembers or by uploading their video message on the Big Ideas website.

Or you can show your support for an older person who may be isolated at the moment by taking part in our #GetInTouch activity.

Write and share a letter, or make a phone call to an older relative, friend or neighbour to make sure they are OK and to help them not feel isolated.

See: Football Remembers WWII

Also in this series

Part 1: Arthur House's story
Part 2: Tony Collins' story
Part 4: Gordon Astall's story
Part 5: Charles White's story
Part 6: Charlie Chase's story
Part 7: Bobby Brown's story
Part 8: Bill Blount's story
Part 9: Tommy Docherty's story
Part 10: Reg Harrison's story
Part 11: Dudley Kernick's story 

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