John Chamberlain was born in 1881 and was the son of Arthur Chamberlain, of Moor Green Hall, Moor Green Lane, Moseley. Arthur was the brother of Joseph Chamberlain the famous politician, mayor of Birmingham and father of Neville Chamberlain.
In 1895-99 John attended Rugby School where he played for the school 1st XV. He then went up to Birmingham University, where his uncle Joseph was chancellor, in the year of its foundation (1900), to read engineering and electrical engineering. While a student John represented the university at rugby and also won the 220 yards handicap race at the 1902 university sports. Not surprisingly, as the family home was a stone’s throw from The Reddings, John joined Moseley Football Club and played for the club as a halfback.
In 1902 John left university without taking a degree and in the following year took over the management of one of the family firms, Chamberlain & Hookham, manufacturers of electrical meters.
John represented the Midland Counties Football Union against Middlesex in 1904/05 and despite his team being soundly beaten by two goals and six tries to a try The Times commented on his good kicking. Later in the same season he scored a try for the Midland Counties in their defeat at the hands of Surrey. In December 1904 John was selected for the Barbarians and played in the side that defeated Newport and he appeared again for the touring side when they were beaten by Penarth in the following April.
Unlike many members of the Chamberlain family John did not enter politics and declined an invitation to stand for election to Birmingham city council. He did, however, from 1909, serve the community as a justice of the peace and was particularly interested in the children’s court.
At the outbreak of the Great War, in 1914, John enlisted as a private in the 6th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment before, in October 1914, being commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion South Wales Borderers. Initially John, due to his management experience, was employed in army administration, however, he was not happy with this and asked to be posted to the front where he was attached to the 1st Battalion Welsh Regiment. During the Second Battle of Ypres, in April 1915, he was wounded in the stomach and spent some time in hospital in England and while in hospital he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant.
John returned to the front in October 1915, was promoted to captain and during the Battle of the Somme, in 1916, he served as acting staff captain of the 15th Battalion Welsh Regiment. Three times during the war John was offered government posts but each time refused preferring instead to take the Senior Officers’ Command School Course at Aldershot in early 1917. Following this course he once more returned to the front line, this time as second in command of the 14th Battalion Welsh Regiment. On 14th May 1917, while in temporary command of the battalion, John was killed by a stray shell in the Ypres salient and was posthumously awarded the Military Cross.
John’s cousin, Austen Chamberlain, the local member of Parliament, took an interest in the affairs of Moseley Football Club and may have been a member of the club. Austen served as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1903. He later became leader of the Conservative Party and, in 1926, when foreign secretary, negotiated the Locarno Pact with representatives of France and Germany. By this pact the three nations agreed to settle any differences by arbitration rather than war. For this work Austen Chamberlain was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Can any other rugby club claim a Nobel Peace Prize winner?
(For further information on John Chamberlain see the University of Birmingham Virtual War Memorial www.historical2.bham.ac.uk/memorial, which has, been used in the writing of this article).
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