Ernest (Ernie) Forrest was born in Sunderland on 19th February 1919. A wing-half, he represented Durham Schoolboys when he was 13 years old. After he left school he undertook an apprenticeship as a cabinet maker. He played for Usworth Colliery and Charles Foweraker, the manager of Bolton Wanderers, signed him in 1938.
Nat Lofthouse played with Forrest and later recalled: "You couldn't think of any other player before or since like Ernie. He was remarkably, unbelievably fit. The crowd used to love him, and encourage him. He used to do all these antics, such as backflips when he put a good cross in, and the crowd used to clap. The players used to clap. He was the life and soul of the team. I've never seen a happier guy."
On 15th March, 1939, Adolf Hitler ordered the German Army to invade Czechoslovakia. It seemed that war was inevitable. On 8th April, Bolton Wanderers played a home game against Sunderland. Before the game started, Harry Goslin, the team captain, spoke to the crowd: "We are facing a national emergency. But this danger can be met, if everybody keeps a cool head, and knows what to do. This is something you can't leave to the other fellow, everybody has a share to do."
Of the 35 players on the staff of Bolton Wanderers, 32 joined the armed services and the other three went into the coal mines and munitions. This included Harry Hubbick, who resumed his career down the pits and Jack Atkinson and George Hunt served in the local police force. A total of 17 players, including Ernie Forrest, Harry Goslin, Danny Winter, Billy Ithell, Albert Geldard, Tommy Sinclair, Don Howe, Ray Westwood, Jackie Roberts, Jack Hurst and Stan Hanson, joined the 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment.
On 12th May, 1940, Adolf Hitler ordered the invasion of France. The 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment was sent to help the French but came under attack from the advancing Panzer divisions. Ernie Forrest, Harry Goslin, Don Howe, Ray Westwood, Jack Hurst and Stan Hanson, were lucky to make it back to the French port of Dunkirk where they were rescued by British ships.
The 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment spent the rest of 1940 and the whole of 1941 at various army camps around Britain. According to the authors of Wartime Wanderers: They spent their time "building coastal defence constructions, manning anti-aircraft batteries and patrolling potential enemy landing sites all along the East Anglia coastline, variously stationed at Beccles, Nancton and Holt." This enabled them to play the occasional game for Bolton Wanderers in the North-East League. The team that year included Ernie Forrest, Harry Hubbick, Jack Atkinson, George Hunt, Danny Winter, Billy Ithell, Walter Sidebottom, Albert Geldard, Tommy Sinclair, Don Howe, Ray Westwood, Jackie Roberts, Jack Hurst and Stan Hanson.
On 15th July 1942, the 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment was told to mobilise for overseas service. The following month they arrived in Egypt and immediately became involved in defending Alam el Halfa. Forrest also took part in Operation Lightfoot on 22nd October 1942. This was the largest artillery bombardment since the First World War. The Germans defended their positions well and after two days the Eighth Army had made little progress and Bernard Montgomery ordered an end to the attack. When Erwin Rommel returned he launched a counterattack at Kidney Depression (27th October). Montgomery now returned to the offensive and the 9th Australian Division created a salient in the enemy positions.
Winston Churchill was disappointed by the Eighth Army's lack of success and accused Montgomery of fighting a "half-hearted" battle. Montgomery ignored these criticisms and instead made plans for a new offensive, Operation Supercharge.
On 1st November 1942, Montgomery launched an attack on the Deutsches Afrika Korps at Kidney Ridge. After initially resisting the attack, Rommel decided he no longer had the resources to hold his line and on the 3rd November he ordered his troops to withdraw. Lieutenant Harry Goslin and the 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment joined the pursuit. The Eighth Army broke through the German lines and Erwin Rommel, in danger of being surrounded, was forced to retreat.
The British Army recaptured Tobruk on 12th November, 1942. During the El Alamein campaign half of Rommel's 100,000 man army was killed, wounded or taken prisoner. He also lost over 450 tanks and 1,000 guns. The British and Commonwealth forces suffered 13,500 casualties and 500 of their tanks were damaged. However, of these, 350 were repaired and were able to take part in future battles.
After spending time in Baghdad, the 53rd (Bolton) Field Regimentmoved to Kirkurk on 8th January 1943. They were eventually relocated to Kifri which was to become their main base for the next five months. While there Ernie Forrest, Harry Goslin, Stan Hanson and Don Howe played for the British Army against the Polish Army in Baghdad. Howe scored one of the goals in the 4-2 victory.
The 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment joined General Bernard Montgomery and the 8th Army in the invasion of Italy. On 24th September, 1943, Lieutenant Harry Goslin and his men landed at Taranto. Three days later the men had reached Foggia without too much opposition. However, when the men were ordered to cross the River Sangro the regiment took part in some of the most difficult fighting of the Second World War.
At the end of November Don Howe was wounded and evacuated to a dressing station. After another enemy air attack Ray Westwood and Stan Hanson came close to being killed. The shelling continued and on 14th December, 1943, Harry Goslin was hit in the back by shrapnel. He died from his wounds a few days later. The Bolton Evening News reported: "Harry Goslin was one of the finest types professional football breeds. Not only in the personal sense, but for the club's sake, and the game's sake. I regret his life has had to be sacrificed in the cause of war."
What was left of the 53rd (Bolton) Field Regimentmoved to Monte Cairo, five miles north-west of Monte Cassino, on the main road from Naples to Rome. The Allied Commander-in-Chief, General Harold Alexander, told his men: "Throughout the past winter you have fought hard and valiantly... tomorrow we can see victory ahead. We are going to destroy the German armies inItaly." On 11th May 1944 the great British artillery programme bagan. Ernie Forrest and Jack Hurst, like many of the men serving in the artillery, began to suffer hearing loss because of the noise of this bombardment.
Jackie Roberts was caught in the blast of an enemy shell and had taken heavy shrapnel in the face, detaching the retina, and was immediately invalidated out of Italy and returned to Bolton. However, most of the Bolton players in the 53rd Field Regimentcontinued in the advance on Rome. Later that year Forrest was sent north to Turin.
After the war Forrest continued to play for Bolton. After appearing in 69 games for the club he joined Grimsby Town in 1948. The following season he was transferred to Millwall. After scoring four goals in 37 games Forrest moved to Darwen.
Ernie Forrest died in 1987.