The Sad Tale of a Deaf Footballer

The men and women who died in the service of our country are commemorated with Commonwealth War-Graves and every one has a story behind it. I have recently been researching the war-graves at Ocklynge Cemetery in Eastbourne as part of the Commonwealth War Grave Commissions ‘Living Memory’ project.  The war grave of John Tosswill is rarely visited but marks the grave of a professional footballer.


John Spears Tosswill (known as Jack) was born in Eastbourne. His parents, John and Mary, lived at 32, Langney Road and later at Hillside, 59, Victoria Drive. The 1911 Census shows him living with his parents and three sisters.

He was a talented all-round sportsman. He started playing football for Tunbridge Wells FC before joining Queens Park Rangers as a professional footballer. He only played 3 times but scored 1 goal and came to the notice of Liverpool FC and got a transfer. He played for Liverpool in eleven matches and scored one goal.  Jack played a short time for Southend FC and finally for Coventry City FC.  He played for them 17 times in the 1914-15 season and scored one goal. Jack was deaf which led to some amusing games as he couldn’t hear the referees whistle and on several occasions, continued playing and kicked the ball into the goal when play had been stopped for a foul!

In July 1914, just a few days before the outbreak of war he played cricket for Eastbourne against an Essex side making 122 runs.

Jack joined the Motor Cycle Section of the Royal Engineers and went to Biggleswade for training. His call up was reported in the local Coventry newspapers.

The Liverpool Echo of 28th January 1915 reported You will remember our forward Tosswill who went to Coventry but received a bad injury at the City ground in September. He is now to be found in the Royal Engineers at Bedford where he is in the motor section. Tosswill says he is having the time of his life. “We have not the care in the world in this camp. I should like to be remembered to all my Liverpool friends. I should like to see the team a bit higher in the League but no doubt they will begin to climb shortly. With all good wishes – Have you an old football?

Jack was later posted to the Signal Service Training Centre at Dunstable and in September was transferred to Southampton for embarkation to the Front. He was taken ill whilst waiting at Southampton and returned to Sussex but died the Eastern General Hospital in Brighton on 28th September 1915 as a result of an operation. He was 25 years old. 

An obituary in Coventry Telegraph of 4th October 1915 reported He played as a forward and was rather eccentric in his game but was at times capable of showing flashes of real brilliance and was a useful goal getter. He was a well educated and gentlemanly young man with an agreeable disposition.”


If you visit Ocklynge Cemetery please pay your respects to Jack Tosswill who never had the chance to fulfil his sporting potential.


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