As the 9th July 1943 drew to a close and the start of Operation Ladbroke, the WW2 Allied invasion of Sicily, got underway it would turn out to be the last day that one former Hednesford Town player would ever see, writes Scott Smith. Lance-Corporal George Handley was part of the ill-fated airborne side of operations during the Allied invasion of Sicily, which would ultimately cost the former Hednesford footballer his life.
Born in Wednesbury in 1913 inside-forward Handley joined The Pitmen in September 1931, making his debut a month later in a 3-1 victory over Stourbridge. At that time Hednesford were plying their trade in the Birmingham League, which housed the reserve teams of all the major midland clubs.
Following a number of excellent performances the livewire forward soon came to the attention of one of these with West Bromwich Albion signing him in the summer of 1932. George would go onto score two goals on his reserve debut against local rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers before bagging four goals or more three times during the 1933-34 season.
This would earn him a junior international cap, but unfortunately not a place in the Albion first team due to the side earning promotion to the top division and also winning the FA Cup in more recent times and the insistence to stick with a winning formula. As such Handley moved onto Third Division Crystal Palace at the end of the 33-34 campaign, where he played five times before being shipped back to Brierley Hill Alliance in 1935 and later to Darlaston.
The outbreak of WWII brought an end to the onetime Hednesford man’s footballing career and he eventually found himself part of the 2nd Airborne Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment. On the evening of the 9th/10th July 1943 Lance-Corporal Handley took to the skies, with thousands of others, over the Mediterranean in order to try and gain a foothold in Europe and with it bring an end to WW2.
Unfortunately a number of the Airborne Forces involved in the operation failed to reach land or missed their targets in their Airspeed Horsa and Waco Gliders. Only 12 of the 147 British gliders landed on target with some 69 crashing into the sea and many dropping straight into enemy hands. As such this is where George Handley’s story ends as it was reported that he was killed in action (KIA) 70 years ago today on 9th July 1943 aged just 30.
George’s name can now be found on the Cassino Memorial in Italy as he has no known grave, perhaps suggesting that he was one of the unfortunate members of the airborne troops which landed in the sea.
At this time when remembrance is still high on the agenda it is perhaps always important to look at those closer to home who helped play such a pivotal part in giving their all for King and Country during some seven decades ago. Details from the Dave Shaw Archive.