Played 42. Days 108. Miles 10,000. Lost 2.

The remarkable story of Tommy Walker’s Touring XI in India at the end of World War II.

By Gary Cowen

This article first appeared in Issue 7 which was published in March 2018.

quotation mark
their schedule was similar to that of a troupe of performing actors, not professional athletes. Apparently travelling approximately 10,000 miles during the tour, the squad played 42 games in 108 days, akin to playing a full league season between September and December.

It is seldom the case that a single individual can lay claim to being one of the greatest players ever to represent his club and then go on to be the same club’s most successful manager of all time. Neither John Greig nor Kenny Dalglish distinguished himself in the manager’s office of the clubs where they made their names as a player. But Tommy Walker was a breed apart. Not least because the young Walker, born in Livingston Junction in West Lothian in 1915, had formed an intention from a young age to forge a career as a Church of Scotland minister. His footballing talent, displayed for Livingston Violet and Broxburn Rangers, soon offered Walker a more earthly route to fulfilment. Signed by Hearts in 1932 at the age of sixteen, he was a regular in the first team at Tynecastle by 1933.

By the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Tommy Walker was only 24 years old and yet he was as famous a name in Scottish football as he could have been if he had been coming to the end of an illustrious career. Having scored on his Hearts debut aged 17, Walker had been selected for Scotland in 1934 aged only 19. He quickly established himself as a star performer and in 1935, when Walker was only 20 years old, Hearts turned down an offer of £12,000 from Arsenal, a sum which would have represented a world record transfer for any player at the time. Just a year before the War, in 1938, Walker was honoured with a benefit match against Derby County aged just 23.

When war broke out in Europe for the second time, like a generation of Hearts players and fans during the previous conflict, Walker was quick to join the Army, as a Sergeant in the Signals Regiment, rising eventually to the rank of Captain. Initially, he was based in Scotland and continued to play for Hearts, for instance making 16 appearances for Hearts’ Southern League side in season 42/3.

Yet by 1945, Walker was leading a side of footballing missionaries in a team named in his honour in India. How did Tommy Walker, Scotland’s most famous footballer end up playing for a spell in India?

Prior to independence in 1947. India was, of course, part of that massive British Empire upon which the sun famously never set. India’s history was such that there had always been a British military presence in India and the same was true throughout the War. The Japanese coveted India as a territory of huge natural resources and sought to invade in 1942 when, as a precursor to the ill-advised wider invasion which was attempted in 1944, they took the Indian territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Allied forces also retreated from Malaysia and Singapore; Burma was also eventually taken by the Japanese. In 1943, the Fourteenth Army, the largest Army in the world at that time was created from Commonwealth forces in India and many thousands of British troops poured into the region to fight back against the Japanese, defending India against invasion in 1944 and eventually removing them from Burma by May 1945.

Whilst many of the British troops stationed in the sub-continent fought in Burma, many others were stationed many thousands of miles from the fighting in India. Needing entertainment when not training, the instincts of the men to play their national sport took over and it wasn’t long before local football leagues were created, made up of teams from different divisions stationed in a particular area. Indeed, so popular was the game amongst the troops that in the Calcutta district alone, there were 33 Services teams divided into three leagues as well as a further 53 local teams in three further leagues. Football was huge with internal competitions on bases, between services and within regions of India. Football festivals lasting three or four days were organised with teams representing “Europeans”, “Hindus” and “Indian Christians” as well as the more traditional Scotland v England clashes, a popular event at any level of participation. There was even football on the front line with a league being established between RAF units in Burma in August 1944.

The popularity of football on the sub-continent led to the organisation of a succession of tours of the region by teams of professional footballers under the auspices of the Indian Service Sports and Entertainment Control Committee (ISSECC) who would pit their skills against various services teams and, often, teams of locals. As well as providing excellent entertainment for the troops, the matches raised funds for services charities with Army Welfare particularly benefitting. According to Ian Nannestad’s excellent article on the tours in the Spring 2007 issue of Soccer History magazine, local Indian press reported that there were six separate tours of the sub-continent by British Forces sides.

The first British Forces tour took place in September and October 1944. The tour was awash with players registered with Scottish clubs including players from Rangers, Celtic, Partick Thistle, Queen of the South, Alloa, Dundee, Hamilton and even St. Bernards. Only one player registered with Hearts took part, a forward called David Johnston. Ian Nannestad’s researches suggest that he had not been one of the original party but had been one of a number of professional players added to the squad as the tour progressed.

Tommy Walker was one of three Hearts included in the second tour party which toured India between February and April 1945 with the War in Europe heading towards the German surrender in May of that year. Walker scored twelve goals of which we are aware on that tour and in all probability scored many more. Once again, other Scots joined the tour including the wonderfully-named Cornelius Ferguson of Alloa.

But it was for the fifth tour, between September and December 1945, that the ‘Tommy Walker’s XI’ was created.

The War in Europe was over by September 1945 and the Allies had taken control in the Far East. An exciting programme of sporting entertainment was created for the troops stationed in India. An Australian Services cricket team, a combined British and Indian hockey team and the heavyweight boxer Freddie Mills all toured the subcontinent at the same time as two separate services football teams which, to aid identification, were named after their captains and most famous players. One was led by Arsenal’s England footballer and cricketer and was called Denis Compton’s XI and the other, led by the Hearts and Scotland inside forward took his name. The match programme for Tommy Walker’s XI’s game against Denis Compton’s XI on 17 November 1945, says that the fifth tour was to last from 10th October to 9th December 1945. But it is also apparent from other sources that games were played in the North West of India and in Ceylon prior to that first date and my own researches suggest that a team playing under the name ‘Tommy Walker’s XI’ was also playing in India in around February and March 1946. The sixth tour, which didn’t feature Walker, appears to have taken place around April 1946 and included players from Falkirk, Albion Rovers and Shettleston.

Each of the two squads started with about 18 players and, as before, picked up other professionals as they toured in order to cover injuries and illnesses. Walker’s XI included players from all over the United Kingdom including players registered to Swansea Town, Tottenham Hotspur, Celtic, Arsenal, Newcastle United, Cardiff City and Falkirk. A full list of the Walker’s XI squad is shown below. One of the men who was added to the squad was ex-Hearts’ player Johnny Harvey of Kilmarnock who would go on to become Walker’s right hand man at Tynecastle during the glory years to follow.

The squad was all about entertaining the troops, however, and their schedule was similar to that of a troupe of performing actors, not professional athletes. Apparently travelling approximately 10,000 miles during the tour, the squad played 42 games in 108 days, akin to playing a full league season between September and December. Naturally, historical sources for this information are at a premium, and at this length of time, there are anomalies. In his account of the tours which can be found online, Ivor Powell who died in 2012 at the age of 96 years and who was with Queens Park Rangers during the War, recalls the Tommy Walker tour as involving 46 games in 90 days and travel of over 12,000 miles, an even more daunting itinerary. Powell recalls that the team played seven times in eight days at the end of the tour and still found time to attend a church service. Often, the touring party would arrive in a city and play three or four games on consecutive days. On the sixth tour, the ISSECC side played six matches in seven days in Singapore followed by seven in as many days in Malaya, finishing in Burma. Unbelievably, Tommy Walker’s side lost only twice in that list of 42 (or 46) games, once to a Combined Services XI in Ceylon, the sixth game the team had played in seven days and once to Denis Compton’s XI in Madras against almost certainly the best side they had faced.

Walker’s team started in September 1945 in New Delhi and from there moved to the inhospitable North West of the country. Soccer History records that Walker’s team had one particularly arduous journey, travelling 130 miles by gharry (a horse drawn carriage) to play a Services team at Razmak in Waziristan. To give you some idea of how remote that is, Waziristan is now in the heavily contested area on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Powell remembers that “two battalions of Indian troops had to be posted in the hills surrounding the pitch to prevent the local tribesmen getting within shooting distance of the spectators whilst we ourselves were trying to get within shooting distance of the goal posts”. From the North West, the party headed to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and then on to Bombay, Poona, Bangalore and Madras.

So, what do we know about the matches themselves? Well, not that much if the truth be told because the British press were, understandably, decidedly uninterested in matches which were primarily intended as entertainment for locally based troops and there are therefore almost no press reports in the British papers. We have to turn to the local Indian press and online archive resources are invaluable. In particular, the Indian Express has been a valuable resource for a number of match reports. Furthermore, old habits die hard when it comes to football and even in wartime India, match programmes were produced for a number of Tommy Walker’s XI matches which are a source of information, revealing, for instance, that the team’s colours were white shirts with blue shorts and black and white socks.

I have managed to track down 18 fixtures and have results for 12 of them. I’m indebted to Ian Nannestad of Soccer History magazine for sharing another seven from his researches in other Indian papers. So, overall, we know about 25 of the fixtures and have 18 of the results. (All of the known fixtures and results appear in the table on the following pages.)

But there are some interesting snippets of information in the Indian Express about the team, their opposition and the way they played. So the match in Bombay on 20th October 1945 against the European Services XI was won 4-1 with “delightful football, their accurate short passing and combined movements being as spectacular as they were effective and the perfect collaboration between the forwards and the halves was the feature of their display” (Indian Express 21st October 1945). The following day, the team played an Indian XI and won 6-0 in “a magnificent performance of superb positional play and combination which had the bare-footed Indians completely outplayed” (Indian Express 23rd October 1945). Yes, you did read that correctly, the Indian players played in bare feet though the professionals played in boots. Powell remarks that “Many of our games were played against the Indians who played in their bare feet, and I can assure you that to the Indians this was no disadvantage as they could kick just as far and hard as any of us. The Indians are very fast on their feet, especially on a dry ground, and their ball control at times was amazing. In front of goal though, they were hopeless, and although they were used to the heat, their stamina was never equal to ours”. On 10th November 1945, against a South Indian XI, Walker’s XI won only 1-0 and the hosts had goalkeeper Basha to thank for keeping the score down as the Indian Express reported, “… the glorious work of Basha at goal. The Bangalorian revealed uncanny anticipation and a cool head. He darted in to save the barrage of shots taken at goal time and again and richly deserved the ‘chairing’ he had at the conclusion of the match”.

What of Tommy Walker himself? On 11th November 1945, the touring XI played against Fourth Sub-Base Area in Madras and won 5-0 through pouring rain almost all through the second half. The Indian Express of the 13th November reported that “The appearance of Tommy Walker himself improved the visiting team’s attack considerably; their team work was magnificent. Walker gave a dazzling exhibition at right in revealing remarkable control and skill in directing passes. He was all over the field directing play alike in defence and attack”. Lowe appeared as a substitute for McEwen in this game but lacking a further jersey, played “bare-bodied”. In one of the games which Walker’s side lost, against their fellow professionals in Denis Compton’s XI, the Arsenal man’s team stopped Tommy Walker and consequently stopped his team. The Express report said that “Tommy Walker playing at left in was not able to do much as he was very well marked. Yet occasions there were many when he broke out and sent across grand passes”. Interestingly, Compton himself didn’t play in the match because he was playing cricket against the touring Australian Services XI. Army Welfare who produced the programme for the game which they dubbed “The Match of the Century” thanked various parties for their support including “the players and patrons of cricket on the MUC ground [where the match was played] for sportingly foregoing a further series of matches in the interests of local football” and the Station Director of All India Radio for allowing the broadcast of a commentary of the whole game

But it wasn’t always wonderful. On 9th November, the Express reported on the game against the Combined British and Indian XI in Bangalore on 7th November. Walker’s team won 3-0 but the paper reported that the game was “for the most part drab and uninteresting”.

Having ended that tour in December 1945, Walker’s XI started out again in February 1946. The Sunday Mail of 17th February 1946 updated Scottish readers on Walker’s progress and noted that the 1946 tour was of the Northern Command but that Walker was due in Delhi on 6th March 1946 for an exhibition match during “Victory Week” celebrations and that he was due to be de-mobbed in May. Indeed, he arrived back in Edinburgh on 4th May 1946, arriving back at Waverley Station at 2pm and leading Hearts out against Hibs at 3pm on the same afternoon!

We don’t know what Tommy Walker made of the tours. They were undoubtedly gruelling but it would be surprising if spending that length of time in the company of a relatively small touring squad didn’t result in a wonderful experience for those involved. One piece of memorabilia from the tour reveals that whatever the schedule, Tommy Walker remained the perfect gentleman and the final word will be Tommy’s. Kitted out in the colours of the side, he is photographed in a paddock amongst chairs and tables. At the foot of the photograph which now resides in the excellent Hearts museum at Tynecastle, Walker has dedicated the photo to his hosts in Delhi, writing “Thanking you most sincerely for making my brief stay
in your midst so very enjoyable and comforting. The pleasure to have known you is all mine. Wishing you all that is good. Yours, Tommy Walker, Hearts FC, Delhi 29.8.45”

With grateful thanks to Ian Nannestad of Soccer History magazine for his assistance. Copies of his excellent magazine can be ordered from www.soccer-history.co.uk.

This article first appeared in Issue 7 which was published in March 2018.

Issue 21
Buy
it here

Subscribe here Buy a gift Back copies