What did you do in the war?

North East Marine Works. Dot's grandmother Nanny Alice Nelson was the North East Marine Works goalkeeper and was a munitions worker during the war. She's the tall one at the centre of the back row.
North East Marine Works. Dot's grandmother Nanny Alice Nelson was the North East Marine Works goalkeeper and was a munitions worker during the war. She's the tall one at the centre of the back row.

It can’t have escaped the notice of many that the football season has started.

When war was declared in August 1914, professional football, a sport played by males and enjoyed by hundreds of thousands up and down the country, was mothballed until the end of the war.

The footballers went off to join the slaughter on the battlefields from football teams great and small. Of course, many of the spectators, who followed their idols week after week, joined up in their droves, leaving behind not only their loved ones, but their jobs in the coalmines, shipyards and factories.

Only the women could possibly fill the breach, working 12-hour shifts in the pit, in the dry docks, among the lathes and cutting tools of the engineering works in jobs, skilled and unskilled, suddenly vacated by their menfolk.

Combining the need for healthy exercise in the fresh air away from the oily stench of the workplace and a means of collecting funds for the war effort, recreational leisure pursuits like football were encouraged and began to flourish.

Women’s football in the period mid-1916 and the early 1920s was huge, with attendances of 30,000 spectators not uncommon.

One of the first recorded women’s matches in Tyneside was in February 1917 between two ‘industrial’ teams from Wallsend; the North East Marine Works and their opponents from the Wallsend Slipway shipbuilding company.

The photograph accompanying this text was provided by Dot, who is involved with the Northumbria World War One Project researching the casualties from North Tyneside who died in the war.

It is from a football programme produced for an exhibition match between the two Wallsend teams held in May 1917 in the grounds of The Ridings country house in Hexham. The game was organised to raise funds for the Serbian Red Cross. The match ended in a 1-1 draw. Dot’s grandmother Alice Nelson was the North East Marine Works goalkeeper and a munitions worker. She’s the tall one at the centre of the back row.

Referee for the match was the great Newcastle United and Ireland full-back Bill McCracken. Alice went on to play at St James’ Park in front of a very large crowd – an event she was to tell her family about years later.

Dot was quite young at the time and the significance of what her grandmother was relating was lost on her. Dot was more fascinated by Alice having her tonsils removed without anaesthetic.

The match, however, was not a happy occasion for Alice, whose team lost 7-1.

If you have any information on any casualties from North Tyneside, visit www.northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk or call into B9 in the Linskill Centre, Linskill Terrace, North Shields.