Centre Forward Frederick George Wheatcroft scored 86 goals in 216 appearances over his three spells at Swindon Town Football Club. Born in Alfreton, in East Derbyshire, the youngest son of Mary and James Wheatcroft, who was a grocer. Freddie had two younger sisters, Ethel and Gertrude, and four older brothers – Leonard died young but William, Samuel and Arthur all grew up with Freddie above the shop on King Street in Alfreton.
Freddie started his playing career with his hometown club, Alfreton Town. He moved to Derby County for the 1903 season, and over the next six years he was quite the itinerant, notching 31 goals for Derby, Swindon, Fulham and Reading. In 1909 he came back to Swindon for the most productive period of his career, making 183 appearances, until he was called up in 1916.
One of Freddie’s finest moments as a footballer was in the title six-pointer against Crystal Palace on New Year’s Eve 1910. Freddie scored two and assisted another to help Swindon recover from being 0-2 down to come out 5-2 winners, taking them top of the table. The Robins won the Southern League title that year, with Freddie contributing 16 goals. Another fine performance was providing an assist in Swindon’s FA Cup giant-killing of Everton on the 9th of March 1912, which they won 2-1. This was an Everton side boasting five internationals, and who were fighting it out with Blackburn for the Division One title.
Freddie volunteered to go to war under the Derby Scheme, a voluntary recruitment policy whereby the Army would be able to call up registered men only when they were needed. Freddie had not been called up by the time the Military Service Act came into effect, and he became one of the first men to be conscripted in May 1916. He was soon promoted to Corporal, then Lance Sergeant, and his leadership qualities were evident enough that he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant a year after he enlisted, in May 1917
Six months later, he was attached to the 13th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment, and found himself leading a platoon of men during the desperate fighting for the strategically vital high ground to the northwest of Bourlon Wood. They were tasked with taking control of Bourlon village with tank support, but when the time came for Freddie’s battalion to attack at 6:15 am on 25th November 1917 the tanks had not arrived. The battalion were ordered to commence the attack regardless, but the Germans put up strong resistance, hitting the East Surreys with heavy machine-gun, rifle and mortar fire.
Unable to get any further, the battalion clung on desperately until the decision was made to extricate the men the following day. Once again, tank backup was promised to cover the retreat. Freddie, along with a few other men who had pushed on into advanced positions, was still fighting for his life. For a second time, the tanks never showed, and as the withdrawal got underway unaided, Freddie was mortally wounded, and and was buried in Anneux British Cemetery.
Freddie Wheatcroft had stuck to his post to the last and had died along with his men. He left a wife, Susan, behind.