Robert H. Allen
West Ham's Forgotten War Hero ...
Robert Allen is one of 84 West Ham United players to have made just one appearance for the Hammers first team. His sparse five-line entry in the ‘West Ham United Who’s Who’ book reads:
“A mysterious figure from Hammers' first League season who, according to the record books, came from Dundee and made only one Second Division appearance - albeit a scoring one. His moment of glory came on 1 November 1919, when he netted from the centre-forward position in the 1-2 home defeat v Birmingham", a game in which Percy Allen also made his claret and blue debut”.
Unlike his unrelated namesake and fellow debutant Percy Allen, Percy is recorded as being born just a short corner-kick away from the Boleyn Ground on July 2, 1895, which was two-months before Thames Ironworks took to the field in the club’s historic first match against Royal Ordnance at the Hermit Road ground.
Robert Allen's "Who's Who" entry
Contrasting to Robert’s unknown origins and solitary appearance in the claret and blue, Percy, went on to record 86 West Ham appearances and scored 5 goals, Percy Allen passed away on October 21, 1969 aged 74.
Researching the Past
For club historians, piecing together West Ham United’s long forgotten history is never easy, the benchmark for Robert Allen’s lost story, and like so many others can be traced back to the height of the Second World War. The East End of London contained some of the city's most important dockland areas. At the time, it was a hub for imports and was used to store vital goods for the war effort, making this a prime target for bombing raids.
One such raid In August 1944 a German V-1 (Vengeance) rocket fell on the south-west corner of the Boleyn Ground. No one was injured but the devastation caused a huge crater on the pitch and an outbreak of fire in the Club's offices, which destroyed many historical documents and records including those that would have related to Allen’s 1919 registration in claret and blue.
South West corner Boleyn Ground
The first clue to the mysterious Robert Allen’s identity is a newspaper report of the game published two days after his debut against Birmingham on November 1, 1919 in which the 'Birmingham Gazette' newspaper in their printed team line-up lists him as Major R.H. Allen.
On the morning of the first Saturday in November 1919, West Ham United were ninth in the Second Division of the Football League, having won six, drawn two and lost three of the 11 matches played. Visitors to Upton Park that day were Birmingham who were two places above West Ham in the table. The word “City” would be added to their title in 1943. Although the Hammers had beaten the Blues at St. Andrews the previous week, the return proved to be one in which the Midland side would gain revenge.
3 November 1919
Documents from the Past
The West Ham side included two amateurs, local-born Lieutenant Percy Allen in the number seven shirt and Major Robert Allen from the Corinthians at inside-right. Although it was his first appearance in senior football, “Percy Allen did well enough” as one newspaper reported - "to warrant further trial".
His namesake's career, however, was not as prolific. Despite scoring a dream debut goal after just ten minutes "the pace of the play was much too fast for him. Major Allen was not given time to do the things that occasional clever touches suggested he was capable of" was the same reporter's conclusion.
The game proved to be his sole appearance for the Hammers. The Birmingham forwards dictated the pace of the game and treated the 20,000 crowd to a fine display of fast and skilful football. Hammers fullbacks Cope and Burton were given a torrid time and only goalkeeper Ted Hufton earned any credit during the afternoon. Although Birmingham only scored twice - during a particularly fine 15 minute spell in the first-half - they were much the better team all-round and deserved their victory.
Research from the British Newspaper Archives reveals further reports of the game confirming both Allen’s Army ranks.
The next step was to enlist the help of someone who knew their way around tracing ancestry records, lifelong West Ham supporter Barbara Shrimpton was the ideal person to call upon, having previously researched over 200 unrecorded birth and death records of former Hammers' players.
ROBERT ALLEN was born Robert Hall Allen on June 11, 1886 in Calcutta (now Kolkata) India, and not in Dundee as the “Who’s Who” stated.
The 1901 Census records him as a 14-year-old and boarding as a pupil at Charterhouse School in Godalming, Surrey.
With a good education under his belt he was commissioned into the Royal Regiment of Artillery on December 20, 1905. The Census returns for 1911 shows the 24-year-old was now stationed back in India and was a Lieutenant with No.4 Ammunition Column RFA.
Three-years later he took up an appointment at the Royal Military Academy. He was by all accounts a very good amateur footballer and was in the Corinthians team which played West Ham United in a charity match at Upton Park on Monday April 27, 1914.
Nottingham Journal and Express
The Evening Telegraph
‘The Globe’ newspaper archives for October 30, 1919 reported that "Major R.H. Allen, the Corinthian, will play at inside right for West Ham on their return match with Birmingham at Upton Park on Saturday". The paper went on to say “Major Allen signed forms for the Hammers in 1914”.
The ‘Dundee Evening News’ comments that Major Allen was “a fast dribbler and deadly shot who had created such an impression when he played for the Corinthians at Upton Park before the war that the West Ham officials persuaded him to sign on”. However the Great World War would prevent him from playing for the Hammers until 1919.
West Ham United team:
Lonsdale, Brandon, Burton, Whiteman, Askew, McKinnon, Ashton, Bailey, Puddefoot, Leafe, Casey.
Daniel Bailey, Richard Leafe and Syd Puddefoot were the Hammers' goalscorers in the 3-2 West Ham Hospital Fund victory over Allen's Corinthians side.
The ‘Westminster Gazette’ from the Newspaper Archives dated 28 April 1914
"The visit of the Corinthians to Upton Park to play West Ham in a match on behalf of the funds of a local hospital was productive of much enjoyable football last evening. West Ham won on their merits by 3 goals to 2. They had a sounder defence than the amateurs, whose forwards, however, played delightfully. R.H Allen. the Old Carthusian, who has just returned from foreign service, gave a splendid exhibition of forward play at inside right. Heavy and fast, he exercised a wonderful control over the light, dry ball, dribbling in a style reminiscent of the old-time Corinthians, and giving perfect passes, almost invariably along the ground. The Corinthians were best in the first half and led by 2 to 1, but in the second half training told its tale, and West Ham won as stated. A crowd of some 3,000 watched the game, and West Ham Hospital will benefit to the extent of £87. The Corinthians had quite an ovation at the close."
Although Robert Allen is captured in the 1914-15 team photograph, it would be another 5-years before he would play for the Hammers
With the outbreak of the First World War in July 1914, Lieutenant Allen was promoted to the rank of Captain in October, and a year later he joined the 58th Brigade which saw action in Gallipoli.
He is mentioned twice in the Royal Field Artillery War Diaries. August 20, 1915 Gallipoli - 11th Division (Northern) - RFA 58th Brigade and again on September 18, 1915 (Suvla)
Allen returned to England in 1916 and later that year he was promoted to Major. On his application for a ‘Marriage Licence’ in June 1916 he lists himself as being a part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force in Gallipoli.
He was awarded the Military Cross on January 11, 1917 and between May 1917 and March 1918 he was Deputy Assistant Adjutant-General.
Supplement to the London Gazette
1915 Medal Roll Index Card
Royal Field Artillery War Diaries
Post First World War
With hostilities now at an end Major Allen's Army life would still continue, becoming involved with the training of cadets at the Staff College in January 1920 and in July that year he took first place in a jumping competition at the Aldershot Horse Show which was open to Officers of the Aldershot Command.
National Registration Act 1939
The National Registration Act 1939 was an Act of Parliament. The initial National Registration Bill was introduced to Parliament as an emergency measure at the start of the Second World War.
As the 1931 census records were destroyed by fire during the war and their was no Census undertaken in 1941 due to hostilities.
The Act established a National Register which began operating on 29 September 1939 (National Registration Day), with the introduction of identity cards, with the requirement that they must be produced on demand or presented to a police station within 48 hours.
The lack of both the 1931 and 1941 Census meant that the 1939 Register provided the most complete survey of the population of England and Wales between 1921 and 1951, making it an invaluable resource for family, social and local historians. In fact, until the 1921 Census is made available (January 2022), the 1939 Register is the most complete publicly available detailed record of the population of England and Wales since the 1911 Census.
Post Second World War
Between 1940 and 1942 he commanded a number of Anti-Aircraft Divisions which protected much of Southern England and Wales during the Battle of Britain. His Army rank in 1940 was Major General. He retired from military service 1942.
In March 1947 the retired Major General took up the position as chairman of the Castle Combe and District British Legion. At the time of his death the war veteran lived at The Old Vicarage, St Mary Street, Chippenham. Wiltshire.
Thanks to Barbara Shrimpton's diligent research only now can the story of the ‘mysterious figure from the clubs first Football League season’ be truly recorded and told.
ROBERT HALL ALLEN died September 20, 1981 Chippenham, Wiltshire (aged 95)
West Ham United Who’s Who
Made one appearance in match v Birmingham 01 Nov 1919. Scored 1 goal.
Birmingham Daily Gazette 03 Nov 1919
Played for West Ham v Birmingham. His name was Major R.H. Allen. He previously played for Corinthians.
Globe 30 October 1919
Signed forms for the Hammers in 1914, but the war prevented him playing before this.
Dundee Evening Telegraph 06 Nov 1919
He had played for the Corinthians at Upton Park before the war.
Westminster Gazette 28 Apr 1914
Played for Corinthians v West Ham. He was an old Carthusian [former pupil at Charterhouse School] and had just returned from foreign service.
Globe 27 Feb 1915
Played for Corinthians On Service v the Aldershot Command. His name was Captain R.H. Allen, R.A. [Royal Artillery].
Sources for Army career:
Medal Rolls Index Cards
Robert Hall Allen - D Battery 58th Brigade 11th Division Royal Field Artillery - Captain, later Major
Pall Mall Gazette 21 Jul 1920
Reports that Major R.H. Allen, RFA, Staff College came first in a jumping competition during the Aldershot Horse Show.
Website dedicated to the 58th Brigade Royal Field Artillery
Includes profile of Robert Hall Allen.
WW1 War Diaries
Mediterranean Expeditionary Force - Gallipoli - 11th Division (Northern) - RFA - 58th Brigade
Captain Allen of D Battery mentioned 20 August 1915 (Gallipoli).
Captain Allen mentioned 18 September 1915 (Suvla)
British Army Officers 1939-1945 includes profile of Robert Hall Allen including all appointments and promotions.
Sources for personal life:
Army List 1916
Robert Hall Allen, Captain, Royal Artillery, born 11 June 1886.
Charterhouse Boarding House, Charterhouse Road, Godalming, Surrey
Boarder - Robert H Allen - age 14 - Student - Born in India
Military Returns, India - Robert Hall Allen - Lieutenant - 24 - Single - No. 4 Ammunition Column RFA - Born Calcutta, India
Marriage Bonds and Allegations [application for marriage licence] dated June 1916
Application for a marriage licence from Margaret Lawrence Mercer of the Parish of St Marylebone, London, a spinster age 21 and upwards to marry Robert Hall Allen of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force a bachelor aged 21 and upwards.
GRO Marriage Index
Robert H Allen and Margaret L Mercer 1916 - Sep - Marylebone
Holm Ray, Sodbury, Gloucestershire
Robert H Allen - born 11 June 1886 - Army Brigadier
Margaret L Allen - born 06 January 1894 - Unpaid Domestic Duties
Jessie Joan Ann Mercer - born 20 April 1911 [Jessica Joan Ann Mercer - a relative of Margaret]
Wiltshire Times 29 March 1947
Major R.H. Allen was chairman of the Castle Combe and District British Legion.
GRO Death Index
Robert Hall Allen (95) born 11 June 1886 - Death registered 1981 - Sep - Chippenham
Wills and Probate Calendars
Robert Hall Allen of The Old Vicarage, St Mary Street, Chippenham, Wilts, died 20 September 1981.
A special thank-you to Barbara Shrimpton for help in recording Robert Allen's life history