Bill Kirby, one of Arthur Chadwick’s many Lancastrian signings, joined Exeter City from Preston North End in 1913. Appearing just five times, he didn’t play beyond the October of his only season with the club. Moving to Merthyr Tydfil he carried on playing as football continued during the first year of the war. Enlisting after fixtures were suspended in 1915 he died at Passchendaele in 1917.
Growing up in Preston, he joined Preston North End as a teenager in 1900 only to become involved in a contractual dispute whereby the club kept his Football League registration forcing him to play for clubs in other competitions. Starting with Oswaldtwistle Rovers he subsequently appeared for a number of clubs in the Southern League including Swindon Town (two spells), West Ham United and Portsmouth.
Enjoying considerable success, especially at Portsmouth between 1905 and 1911, he rather bizarrely finally appeared for Preston during the 1911/12 when the club was relegated from Division One. After playing in fewer than half the games during the following season, as the club immediately won promotion back to the top flight, he moved south again to join Exeter City in 1913.
Now aged thirty-one, and a significant signing for the club, he was duly appointed skipper by manager Arthur Chadwick and made his debut against Southampton 6 September 1913. But the move was never a success and, after just five appearances, he played his final game for the club at Gillingham on 18 October 1913. Leaving soon afterwards to join Merthyr Tydfil, he later appeared in war time football for Croydon Town and Brentford.
Serving initially in the Royal Engineers, he was invalided out of the conflict before re-enlisting with the East Yorkshire Regiment only to be killed at Polygon Wood during the battle of Passchendaele in October 1917.
For more information about William Kirby’s war service and death see his entry in the Killed in Action section of the Archive