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Atlanta soccer players in WWI: Harry A. Strachan

November 2, 2018

This upcoming Armistice Day (observed as Veteran’s Day in the U.S.) on November 11, 2018, marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. The war’s impact on the international development of soccer was significant as rapid military mobilization drained the various British and North American domestic leagues of players and the sport emerged as a popular pastime among soldiers in the competing armies engaged along the front lines.  For the smaller amatuer leagues that existed on the frontier of soccer’s reach in the United States, the outbreak of the Great War often proved disastrous.  This was certainly the case in metro Atlanta as many of the experienced English and Scottish players enlisted in the British and Canadian armies during the fall and early winter of 1914, bringing an abrupt end to the year-old Georgia State Soccer League.  A handful of native-born and naturalized American players would later join their former teammates after the United States entered the conflict in 1917.  Together, these men were among the scores of amateur and professional footballers from around the world who joined in the fight.  This is the second article in a Soccer Down Here series that explores the stories of pioneering soccer players in the Atlanta area who fought and sacrificed in the “war to end all wars.”  


The Atlanta Soccer Football Club, March 23, 1908. The game versus Lithonia on that date was the first organized soccer game of record in the City of Atlanta. Harry A. Strachan is kneeling, far right (Source: Atlanta Georgian).


Gnr. Harry A. Strachan (1885 - 1956), Royal Canadian Horse Artillery Brigade


Atlanta, like many other cities around the world, owes its soccer origins to the Scots.  Newspaper reports indicate the sport was introduced to the metro area in mid-1880s with the arrival of the first Scottish stonecutters from Aberdeen who worked in the thriving granite quarries at Stone Mountain and Lithonia.  Atlanta’s first soccer team of record was organized in December 1907 by players from among a group of 500 Scottish immigrants who were recruited the previous year by Georgia Governor Joseph M. Terrell and Agricultural Commissioner Thomas Hudson. They were enticed to Georgia as part of a government-financed immigration program that sought to attract white, Protestants from Northern Europe to work in the state’s developing agricultural, manufacturing, and service sectors.  These newcomers included Harry A. Strachan, one of the Atlanta Soccer Football Club’s (ASFC) original players, a charter member of the of the Atlanta Scottish Association (ASA) and a veteran of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in World War I.


Harry Alexander Strachan was born to Robert and Margaret Strachan on February 8, 1885 in the small fishing town of Fraserburgh, on the northeast coast of Scotland, approximately 40 miles north of Aberdeen.  At the time of the 1901 Scotland Census, he was 16, still living with his family in Fraserburgh and working as a grocer’s apprentice. When Strachan emigrated to the United States in 1907, he was recorded as a draper (haberdasher) by trade in the passenger manifest of the S.S. Caledonia, which sailed from Glasgow to New York in March of that year.  Upon his arrival to North America, Strachan continued his travels to Savannah, Georgia before eventually making his way to Atlanta.


While no record has been found of Atlanta’s starting eleven against Lithonia in the first organized soccer game of record in the metro area, it may be assumed that Harry Strachan was in the line-up on Christmas Day in 1907.  He did play in the return game, a  2 - 1 loss, on March 23, 1908 at the Jackson Street Showgrounds in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward.  His name was also listed in the starting 11 for the following match, another  2 - 1 loss to Lithonia at Piedmont Park on April 4th.  The slightly-built, 5’ 8” tall Strachan was slotted in at left half-back in the inaugural game of the first season of organized soccer in metropolitan Atlanta on October 17, 1908 versus Lithonia.  The Piedmont Park match provided some measure of revenge for the home side as Atlanta’s “youth and speed,” along with an assist from Harry Strachan, contributed to a 6 - 2 drubbing of the visitors from DeKalb County.  


                                                   Atlanta Constitution, Oct. 18, 1908


According to the local newspapers, his final game with ASFC came on Thanksgiving Day (November 26) 1908, in a 6 - 0 victory over their local rivals at the Lithonia baseball grounds.  The holiday game marked the unexpected end of the abridged 1908 season as labor troubles and a downturn in the granite industry lead to the dissolution of the Lithonia team. Organized soccer would go dormant in Atlanta over the next three years.  During that time, Harry Strachan married 25-year old Pearl Oliver in 1910 and became the stepfather of her young son from a previous marriage.  He also turned his attention to work as a dry-goods salesman and was a founding and active member of the ASA.  Strachan did not return to the amateur Atlanta team following the revival of the league by brothers John and Thomas Harland in 1911.

Two months after the outbreak of World War I, the ASA held a special war meeting on October 16, 1914, where member and ASFC player, Thomas Scott (more on him in a separate article), announced he had organized a group of “40 young Scotchmen of Atlanta and vicinity” who planned to joined the Canadian military and “be sent directly to the battle front in France.”  Harry Strachan was among the 40 volunteers in Scott’s party that traveled from Atlanta by rail on the evening of October 17th.  The group entered Canada, via Detroit, a few days later.  On October 22, 1914, Harry Strachan enlisted with the 22nd Battery, 6th Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery at the recruitment station in Kingston, Ontario, near Toronto.  


                         Artillery crossing the bridge, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery June 1916 (Source:                                                         Library and Archives Canada)​                                             


The 22nd Battery, 6th Brigade was officially organized under the command of Major W. R. Riordan in November 1914. Harry Strachan sailed with his unit from Halifax, Nova Scotia aboard the the S.S. Megantic in February 1915 and arrived in England on March 6th.  The following month, Strachan was transferred to the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (RCHA) Brigade.  He embarked for France in July 1915 and served the duration of World War I with the RCHA, providing artillery support for the Canadian Cavalry Brigade across the Western Front.  During that time, Strachan would take part in some of the most intense battles of the war, including Somme, Cambria, Le Transloy Ridge, and Ameins.

Almost a month after the signing of the Armistice in November 1918, Harry Strachan was granted 16 days leave in the United Kingdom on December 7th.  He did not return to his unit until mid February 1919 and was charged as absent without leave.   According to his military personnel files, Court of Inquiry proceedings declared Strachan as illegally absent and he was classified as a deserter.  The reason for Strachan’s disappearance was not made known in his files and while a court martial was never brought forth, he was required to forfeit 161 days of service pay. Harry Strachan returned with the RCHA to England in April 1919 and was stationed at the Bromshott Military Camp.  He sailed back to Canada aboard the S.S. Mauretania in late June 1919 and was formally discharged from the military in Toronto on July 6, 1919.


                        Harry A. Strachan, 1941 (Source: National Archives and Records Administration)


After his discharge, Strachan returned to Atlanta settled in the Kirkwood neighborhood with his wife, Pearl, her mother, Ellen, and brother, James.  Over the next few decades he found work as a carpet layer and eventually became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1945.  Harry A. Strachan died on November 7, 1956 at the age of 71 from injuries suffered in an automobile wreck in Sandy Springs.  Pearl Oliver Strachan passed away 15 years later in 1971.  Both Harry and Pearl Strachan are buried in Atlanta’s Westview Cemetery.




1901 Scotland Census

“A Game of Football.” Atlanta Constitution. 27 February 1892.

“Atlanta Soccer Team Defeats Lithonia, Atlanta Constitution. 28 October 1908.

“Atlantans To Fight With “Black Watch.” Atlanta Constitution. 18 October 1914.

“Foreign Immigrants Now Begin To Arrive.” Atlanta Constitution. 30 January 1907.

Georgia, Death Index, 1919 - 1998

Georgia Naturalization Records, 1793 - 1991

“Harry A. Strachan.” Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, 9 November 1956.

Library and Archives of Canada; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; CEF Personnel Files

“Lithonia Downs Atlanta Team At Association Football.” Atlanta Georgian. 6 April 1908.

“Local Association Footballists; Lithonia’s Football Team.” Atlanta Georgian. 24 March 1908

New York Passenger and Crew Lists, 1820 - 1957

Nicholson, G.W.L. Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914 - 1919. McGill - Queen’s University Press: Montreal & Kingston, 2015.

United States Federal Census, 1910-1940

“War Meeting Is Held By Scots Of Atlanta.” Atlanta Constitution. 18 October 1914.

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