Women's Football Roars Into The Twenties - Part Seven
To conclude our series of articles about the Dick, Kerr Ladies, Footballers of Preston, Peter Bloor now looks at their role in remembrance and recovery immediately after the First World War.
Part Seven: Alice Kell and the Dick, Kerr Ladies remember
Many of the Dick, Kerr Ladies’ matches played in the years following the Great War were in aid of discharged, unemployed and disabled ex-servicemen, but they also played to raise funds for memorials to those who had not returned. In May 1919, seven months after the end of the Great War, they were due to play a match in aid of the Euxton War Memorial against the Rest of the County Ladies – except that on the day their supposed opponents were somewhere in the rest of the county rather than at Euxton Park, where two teams of Dick, Kerr employees played out a 5-2 win for the “Magpies” over the “Greens” instead.
Liverpool Ladies did play, as advertised and arranged, for the Euxton memorial funds, in February 1920 and most unusually beat Dick, Kerr Ladies 2-0, for whom Alice Kell and Jessie Walmsley were the pick of a side that was short on training. Perhaps better prepared the following year, in January 1921 they beat the Rest of Lancashire 17-0 at Clitheroe – in a match for that town’s memorial – scoring 11 second half goals while playing uphill, and in April Lancaster Ladies 5-0 at Standish in another Euxton benefit match.
The Blackburn and Wrexham War Memorials also benefited from fund-raisers played by the Dick, Kerr Ladies, as did Mézières, a town in northern France “adopted” by Manchester, where a crowd of 10,000 watched them play on Manchester City’s ground in November 1921. Their opponents were the Lyons (London) Ladies, a team made up mostly of waitresses from Lyons Teashops that had been unbeaten for two years but which “was astounded and bewildered by the skill of the Prestonians” and ‘mortally afraid of the power of their marksmanship’ as they lost 13-0 in a match that raised £539 - £25,440 in today’s money – for the Lord Mayor of Manchester’s Relief Fund.
Just as Manchester “adopted” Mézières Preston “adopted” La Bassée, another northern French town in ‘an area which will always be associated with the glorious history of the 4th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment during the war.’ Thomas Kell, brother of the Dick, Kerr Ladies’ captain Alice, was serving with this Battalion, the 1st/4th, when it attacked a German position west of Rue D’Ouvert, some 2 or 3 miles from La Bassée. At 6 p.m. on June 15th 1915 the attack went in “under a withering fire” and after initial success, with the attackers getting into the German trench system, it was halted by “a mass of uncut barbed wire.” Unable to advance, the Battalion was ordered to dig in, in a ditch that was a quagmire in places, thigh deep in water in others and unsupported on both flanks, an exposed position that the Germans counter-attacked at midnight. In the face of this attack “To remain isolated as we were would have meant the wiping out of the entire line” and so the 1st/4th was ordered to withdraw, the roll being called at 7 a.m. that morning; just 243 Other Ranks answered it, 19 of their comrades having been killed and 255 wounded, with 145 missing, of whom 2659 Private Thomas William Kell was one; his body was never found, and he is now remembered on the Le Touret Memorial within Le Touret Military Cemetery.
During their tour of France in November 1920, the Dick, Kerr Ladies had planned to visit the graves of Blackburn Rovers’ Eddie Latheron and of a brother of Percy Smith, the Blackburn, Preston North End and Fleetwood player, but circumstances having prevented this they covered the grave of a lad from Preston with their flowers instead. They also planned to lay a wreath in Paris on their way to Le Havre, team captain Alice Kell having previously laid one 12 feet across at the foot of the cenotaph in Roubaix in remembrance of the dead of all the Allies - one of whom was, of course, her own brother.
Alice enjoyed a life in football even after she retired in 1925, for example accompanying the Dick, Kerr Ladies to Stockport for a match against the French women’s team in 1931, a match she watched with her old team-mate Florrie Haslam. By the time she welcomed another French team to Preston in 1933 Alice was married with a son, who “she takes to League matches, then takes him home again and shows him how they should have done it” - and the England international Bob Crompton would have thought her well qualified to do so, having described her as “a splendid full back with rare judgment.” By contrast, her brother Thomas’s chance to lead the life he would have chosen had been taken from him at the age of 25, in a futile attack that had left only what the 1st/4th’s War Diary refers to as “The remnants of the Battalion.”
Remembering also C/975 Rifleman Thomas Haslam, brother of Dick, Kerr Ladies’ Florrie Haslam, who died on July 17th 1916 of wounds sustained in the attack of the 16th Kings Royal Rifle Corps on High Wood two days earlier. Thomas now lies in Daours Communal Cemetery Extension, close to the 34th Casualty Clearing Station where he died.
The quotes and other information in this article are taken from the Lancashire Daily Post, the Weekly Despatch and other local newspapers 1919-1935.
The information re. Thomas Kell and Thomas Haslam is taken from the War Diary of the 1st/4th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, The National Archives reference WO-95-2887-4, from the War Diary of the 16th K.R.R.C., The National Archives reference WO-95-2430-3_2 and from the website of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Gallica Bnf.Fr - Image of Dick, Kerr Ladies at Pershing Stadium - gallica.bnf.fr
Imperial War Museum - Images of La Bassee - IWM Q 11795, IWM Q 37132, IWM Q 37131 - iwm.org.uk
Cigarette Cards - The King's Pilgrimage and at The Cenotaph, both Wills, 1935