October 9, 1917 – Footballers in drag raising funds for compatriots fighting at the Front

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A huge crowd gathered to watch a group of local men dressed as ladies and women dressed as men, according to the October 9, 1917, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.

Almost an entire column is given over to the ‘match report’ of the Comic Ladies v Gents Football Match in aid of the Market Harborough Territorial Xmas Fund, which sends Christmas parcels to every one of the 1,750 men from the town serving in uniform.

The report says: “The Gents were attired in female costume, and as if their handicap of flowing skirts was not sufficient they had their right arm tied up so as to render it useless.”

The ladies, ‘who wore the full colours of the Harborough Town Team’ were bolstered by ‘Mrs’ Dick Kelly, who in ‘a voluminous pleated skirt performed prodigies of valour for his side’.

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It is clearly all taken in good fun and society of 100 years ago would not have found it patronising to see the report say ‘the ladies played remarkably well considering their short experience of the game’.

The match, at the Town Cricket Ground, was followed by a fancy dress dance at the Messrs R W H Symington and Co’s Girls Club Room.

“The majority of those present were in fancy dress costume and when dancing was in full swing in the artistically decorated Club Room the scene was very animated and pretty one, the many hued dresses of the dancers making the scene a veritable riot of colour.”

The report gives a 21st century reader an insight into how those on the home front were coping with the war – always remembering their menfolk by raising money for Christmas gifts – but refusing to wallow in the terrible human tragedies that were occurring daily.

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Perhaps that is why there is such a discrepancy in the number of lines the fancy dress football match and dance receives in comparison to the story in the same edition headlined ‘Harborough soldier reported dead, but alive and well’.

Only 19 lines are given over to the news that Private P Goddard of the Labour Corps, Market Harborough, is not dead – despite his family being told otherwise by the Army.

Imagine how his poor mother must have felt when she received ‘an official telegram’ explaining her son had died of wounds received in battle.

Then imagine how she must have felt when she received another telegram that there was a mistake: her son is alive and well.

The mixture of emotions – grief, denial, relief, delight, anger and bitterness – must have swirled around the family and this is perhaps why there are very few details about the family and why the report is so brief.

The story concludes with a quote from the commanding officer apologising over the error and explaining that another Private Goddard from Buxton was in fact the young man who had died. “Apparently there has been a mistake made. I do not know who was responsible for it and I sympathise with you in the unnecessary alarm it caused you.”

  • This column is published every Monday by John Dilley on the Newspapers and the Great War website and will continue until the 100th anniversary of the final armistice in November 2018.
  • My fellow researcher and De Montfort University lecturer David Penman is conducting a similar real-time project with the Ashbourne Telegraph. Check out his Great War Reports.
  • Check out this week’s Harborough Mail for current news from the Market Harborough area.

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