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curiouser and curiouser MANY A  CROSSWORD

Southampton FC 1912. Leonard Dawe (above) is seated centre wearing his best spectacles.

This story first appeared in Deftly Hallowed on Sunday 21st December 2013, prompted by the news in the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph that it was the centenary of the crossword puzzle, the first of which was published in the New York Globe on 21st December 1913. That piece was an amended version of an article published in the Saints’ programme of 24th October 2009 (a 3-1 defeat of Milton Keynes Dons).

Material from another programme feature (v Reading April 13th, 2012) has also been plundered because the sinking of the Titanic was an integral part of the subject’s story and, no longer being limited to 700 words, there was no reason not to refer to it.

Tuesday 4th October 2016

The Saints have fielded some extraordinary individuals down the years, but few as extraordinary as L.S. Dawe, whose slight fame as a footballer was eclipsed by his posthumous reputation as a crossword compiler the headmaster of a school that would be mired in controversy following the death of some pupils, before posthumously gaining notoriety as a suspected spy.

His association with Southampton FC was a glancing one, but it concurred with what was a dramatic time in the history of the town of Southampton and its premier football club.  

Back in 1925, seeking something to distract its readers from the wearisome news that crammed its pages, the Daily Telegraph turned to L.S. Dawe, who was then the senior science master of St Paul’s School in London. The Telegraph credits him with inventing the cryptic crossword puzzle.

On talking up this achievement back in December 2013 the Telegraph noted that Dawe had been at Cambridge University but ignored his sporting accomplishments. These included being a football “blue”, a reserve for the Great Britain football side at the 1912 Olympics and being capped for the England amateur international XI. They also failed to mention he was a former Saint.


Where to start? Gary Chalk is responsible for collating most of the biographical data for such publications as In That Number: a post-war chronicle of Southampton FC (Hagiology 2003); All The Saints: a Complete Players’ Who’s Who of Southampton FC (Hagiology 2013); other titles that can referenced on the credits’ page; a good deal of what appears in the official Saints’ programme/matchday magazine; the Club’s website and, for that matter, Deftly Hallowed. He delves into parish records, census returns, innumerable archives and stretches the resources of the internet. One evening he googled “Leonard Sydney Dawe”, the footballer, and learned that a schoolteacher sharing the same name was also a celebrated crossword compiler, without any reputation as a sportsman of any ilk. However, it did not take Gary too long to discover that they were one and the same Leonard Sydney Dawe.


Dawe’s activities as a crossword setter aroused the curiosity of MI5 during May and June 1944 when words, including “Utah”; “Omaha”; “Mulberry”; and “Neptune”, featured in Telegraph crosswords, all of them – too coincidentally – top secret code words related to the upcoming and ever so hush-hush Normandy landings. Was the headmaster of Tulse Hill’s Strand School a Nazi spy?

Dawe’s grilling revealed nothing. Decades later it emerged that Dawe distributed partially-filled grids and challenged pupils to complete them, while he continued to provide the clues. Some lads employed words overheard while hanging around American and Canadian troops billeted near the school preceding D-Day.


“We know little of Dawe’s early life,” confesses Val Gilbert, author of A Display of Lights (9): The Lives and Puzzles of the Telegraph’s Six Greatest Cryptic Crossword Setters (Macmillan, 2008), “but he was born around 1890 and therefore it seems likely that he served during the first war and then took up a teaching career on his return to Civvy Street.”

Meanwhile, Gary, unaware of Dawe’s connection with the Telegraph, had observed in Alphabet of the Saints that he was born in Brentford in 1889, was educated at Portsmouth Grammar School and Emanuel College Cambridge. He came to Saints’ notice while playing for Gosport United and signed as an amateur for Saints in March 1912; noted for his speed and ‘splendid shot.’  In All the Saints Gary adds that Dawe had served with the Hampshire Regiment in Mesopotamia during the war, reaching the rank of Lieutenant.   

Saints, having dominated the Southern League for over a decade – from its inception 1894 they won six titles and never finished lower than third until 1907 – had fallen on hard times. Prior to the 1911/12 season they had hired a new secretary, George Swift, who brought in some luckless signings. Gates slumped; creditors got nervous; players were transferred to reduce the wage bill and, in February, the remaining players agreed to their wages being halved.

Dawe made his debut on the 30th March 1912, laying on the only goal of the game for fellow amateur Percy Prince, which secured an unexpected home win over title-chasing Plymouth Argyle. The Echo reported: “Dawe was decidedly plucky to ‘get into it,’ as he did, seeing that we wore spectacles. I am told he had one of the glasses smashed.”

Dawe’s next match was a 2-1 win at The Dell over Watford on Saturday April 13th.


And as the smart ship grew

In stature, grace and hue,

In shadowy silent distance grew

The iceberg too.

Thomas Hardy’s poem on the demise of the Titanic does not touch on the Monday morning when rumours swept the town and hundreds of people descended on the White Star Line offices on Canute Road in hope of discovering what had happened to their loved ones.

The disaster touched on every parish in Southampton. At Northam School, two-hundred yards from the site now occupied by St Mary’s Stadium, 125 pupils lost relatives; mostly fathers. In all, 673 crew were lost. Nearly all of them were Southampton residents.

It hardly needs saying that the local population’s waning interest in football was further dulled. Following on the tragedy Saints lost consecutive away matches to fellow relegation contenders New Brompton and Northampton Town. Survival depended on defeating Exeter City at The Dell on the last day of the season, Saturday 27th April.  

The attendance was under 5,000. Saints took to the field wearing white shirts and black “armlets”. The “Exonians” wore their usual red and white stripes. It was a fairly even contest until Joe Blake opened the scoring after 15 minutes. The terse Hampshire Independent report informed readers that “A solo run by Percy Prince set Dawe up for number two”, and Archie Small converted the third just before half-time.

The Eastleigh Works Band played through the interval. Their selection included “Nearer My God to Thee” and Chopin’s “Funeral March”. A collection for the Titanic Fund raised £21 4s 9d.

The 3-0 win kept Saints in Southern League’s first division.  

Leonard Dawe featured eight times the following season, and failed to score. He joined the amateur club Ilford the following March, having become a master at Forest School in Walthamstow.  


In 1936 – by which time he had become headmaster of Strand School – another public calamity overshadowed Dawe’s life. A party of 27 of his pupils on an Easter trekking tour of the Black Forest were caught in a blizzard. Five of the party died. It was big news in the United Kingdom and Germany and, as Kate Connolly eruditely relates in a recent Guardian article, Germany’s Nazi government were quick to perceive “that political capitol could be made from the … tragedy”. An unwholesome series of events unfolded in both countries.   

Perhaps this German association increased MI5’s suspicion of Dawe when he came to their attention in 1944? Whatever, you can’t help thinking if he had spent more time working on his charges’ football skills, rather than their English and German vocabularies he would have had a less stressful life.  

Believe it or Not

Since the original L.S. Dawe article was published in the Saints’ matchday magazine I have attempted to draw the results of Gary Chalk’s researches to Val Gilbert, author of Display of lights (9): The Lives and Puzzles of the Telegraph’s Six Greatest Cryptic Crossword Setters through her publishers and BBC Television’s The One Show, which ran a feature on Dawe’s brush with the security services, and neither has responded. However, Wikipidia have caught up with the full story.  

The Titanic has inspired masses of literature, much of it exemplary (I have been led to believe) and some of it (according to sober reviewers) unhinged but, for the local perspective, Titanic Voices (Chancellor Press 1997), researched and written by City Council historians Donald Hyslop, Alastair Forsyth and Sheila Jemima, takes a lot of beating, is a good read and an excellent introduction to the subject.  

And available at all the best libraries.