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Mossband Swifts

Colourised photo of the Mossband Swifts football team from 1917.

Women’s Football at Gretna

By Collections blog

The Miracle Workers Research Project began in 2021, with research volunteers striving to find out more about the 30,000 people who worked at HM Factory Gretna in World War One. In the months since, many fascinating and previously unknown histories have been uncovered. Today, volunteer Stuart writes about his research into football at Gretna.

Women’s football is not new and was recorded in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries. One reference, talks of a match between Scottish Border towns of Lennel and Coldstream, on the Ash Wedensday of 1786 (February 21st 1786). A literary magazine The Berwick Museum noted that the female teams did battle with ‘uncommon keenness’. On January 25th 1896 Mrs Graham (Helen Matthew) visited the Warwick Road Rugby Ground in Carlisle with her resident opposition, London & District to slug out an uninspired 0-0 draw. In a later fixture against a Gentlemen’s XI in Penrith, Mrs Graham’s side won 4-3 and it was noted that the ladies played better against the men’s side than they did against fellow women.

Helen Matthew appeared at the Warwick Road Rugby Ground with her side Mrs Graham’s XI in 1896

An increased need for munitions during WW1 saw centres for arms production spring up across the country. A large proportion of the work force employed were women and among the sports they played football was particularly prevalent. By the spring of 1917 few areas in the country did not have a women’s football side. HM Gretna was no different from other centres producing at least three sides. Little, however, is known about these teams with few references of their activities in the press. Sports in general received sparse coverage with hockey limited to one small article; even the Gretna and Dornock men’s leagues only received coverage for one round of fixtures on 23 November 1917. In view of this, women’s football did better than most and from the copy that was produced new details can be revealed.

In a report on the recreation department’s activities, Ernest Taylor noted that ‘one or two’ sides played on pitches supplied by the Recreation Department. He also observed that there was ‘some division of opinion as to the wisdom on encouraging them to pursue this branch of sport’. For members of the Gretna Social and Athletic committee such as Kenneth Wolfe-Barry or Mabel Cotterell, football for women would have been anthemia but it wasn’t quite so out of the ordinary for Ernest Taylor. As a newspaper man in the south east during the 1890s he was familiar with the various sides, including Mrs Graham’s XI. From his time on the committee of the London Football Association he would also have been aware of the motion put forward to the full FA Council in 1902 by Kent FA Chairman, J. Albert, to prohibit league clubs from competing against women’s sides. The Athletic Committee didn’t recognise the women’s sides and they initially weren’t part of formal events. By the same token the sides weren’t prohibited either, the core objective of keeping the workers occupied in the plant and away from outside influences remained paramount.

A Gretna side pictured in the winter of 1917 a manager from the Mossband section J.S. Parker can be seen on the far left

The first side from the works appeared during June 1917 for a match against Carlisle Munition Girls at the city’s Brunton Park. The side called the Gretna Girls seem to have been drawn from the ranks of the established hockey teams. One player that has been identified, Jessie Rome Latimer seems to appear in a team picture of the Dornock Hockey side. Born in Annan in 1891 Jessie was active in local music and drama groups taking part in fund rising concerts for war charities. At the Gretna works she performed as part of a variety concert at the Central Hall in Eastriggs on May 17 1917. There are no records of her exploits on the hockey field but there was a substantial write up of the Gretna Girls visit to Carlisle on 9 June 1917.

Possible image of Jessie Latimer from Dornock Hockey side team picture 1917 and a later picture of Jessie taken in the 1920s

During the summer of 1917 a new side formed at the Mossband section. Called the Mossband Swifts the squad was made up largely from the workers of A Shift. Mossband’s captain was A. Riddell and a possible candidate in the records is Annie Riddell, born in Galashiels in 1899.

Possible image of A. Riddell captain of the Mossband Swifts

This is yet to be confirmed but another player Mary Annie Anderson has been identified as having played for the side. Born in Scotland at Kirkpatrick Fleming, a village close to Annan, she was 16 when she started playing for the Swifts. An early match for the side was at Maryport where they took part in football competition as part of the Alexander Day Sports Fete. This was one of the early women’s football tournaments the first taking place in Woverhampton in March 1917 these small competitions led to larger events such as the Workington Cup, the Barrow Shield and most famous of all the, Alfred Wood Munition Girls Cup.

Mossband Swifts side August 1917 Mossband section manager Herbert Hawtin can be seen standing second from the right

It wasn’t a good trip to Maryport for the Swifts, however, losing 1-0 in the first round to the eventual tournament winners Cockermouth. On September 15th the Mossband Swifts visited Carlisle where they met workers of the local Cumberland works at Brunton Park home of Carlisle Utd. The Carlisle side went ahead after Miss Graham scored from a first half penalty. In the second period however Mary Anderson took the ball up field and her cross into the area, found M. McAdo to equalise. McAdo scored again but it was ruled offside and another chance just before time was missed, leaving the match tied at 1-1.

Carlisle Journal Aug 1917 Mossband at the Maryport competition

The Swifts made further trips to Carlisle in December 1917 and in January 1918 met a side consisting of wounded soldiers. Mossband players were also part of the Carlisle Munitions Girls side when they took on Blyth Spartans in the spring of 1918. Blyth were well on their way to winning Alfred Wood Munition Girls Cup and the strengthened Carlisle side were no match. Star player Bella Reay bagged a total of five goals as Blyth won handsomely over the two legs.

Carlisle Munition Girls played at Brunton Park from 1917 to 1918

However, attitudes within the Gretna plant towards the women’s teams seemed to change. Matches were included in the programme for fund raising events during May 1918 with new sides forming at Broomhills, an acid section to the far south of Eastriggs, to take part. On 17 August 1918 a women’s football tournament was organised as part of the Munitions workers carnival held at Eastriggs. The tournament included B Shift and C Shift from Broomhills, but again there are few details of the matches or an indication of the eventual winners.

Broomhills Canteen

The report in the Annandale Observer seemed to be more interested in the crowd::


The Ladies Football matches called for a crowd of enthusiastic and amused spectators, who “played the game” in the full sprit of football patronage, cheering and encouraging their favourite team or player as occasion demanded.


This was the last reference to women’s football at Gretna. After the war, Jessie Latimer married a dentist William Armstrong Fyfe in 1920. They lived in Edinburgh and later in Grimsby where William worked at a dental practice on the Grimsby Road until 1929 when William died. Following her husband’s death Jessie moved back to Scotland and lived for many years in Lockerby where she died in April 1958. Mary Annie Anderson settled in Carlisle and in the spring of 1921 married Joseph Irving Lightfoot a former army veteran. By 1939 Mary was working in unpaid domestic work while Joseph was a Railway goods guard. Joseph Lightfoot died in 1964 and Mary Annie Lightfoot in 1976.

Dumfries Ladies and Dick Kerr players at Warwick Road Rugby Ground in 1923

There is no evidence that either player continued with football after leaving Gretna. Many of the old factory sides disbanded after the war but new sides formed and by the 1920s matches were taking place in the district once again. Dumfries Ladies founded in the autumn of 1921 playing against Dick Kerr Ladies at Queen of the South’s ground and in 1923 they met again in Carlisle at the Warwick Road ground. It is often stated that women’s football fizzed out after the FA’s ‘ban’ in 1921 but this is close to being a sporting myth. Although the actions of the football authorities seriously hurt the women’s game, it did continue and matches played during the 1920s and 30s could still attract between ten and fifteen thousand spectators. When a French Select and the successor side to Dick Kerr, Preston Ladies, visited Warwick Road, Carlisle in 1953, they too attracted a large crowd. A former organiser of the Carlisle Munition Girls, Alfred Punnett, was also there and welcomed the sides in his role as Carlisle’s Mayor. There are still local sides competing today, with Annan Athletic Women entering the Scottish League in 2019 and Carlisle United Women winning the Cumberland County Cup in 2015, 2017 and 2018.

Belle Raey football player.

Bend it Like Bella: Women’s Football During WW1 and the Mossband Swifts

By Collections blog

A breezy, sunny May Saturday in Middlesbrough. The opposition’s defence is weakening. The centre-forward dashes past players, weaving the ball through legs and passing back and forth with teammates. The back of the net is found. A cheer roars through Ayresome Park. Minutes later, the ball soars into the goal for the striker’s second. The crowd’s celebrations echo round the stadium. Finally, the third goal hits home. A fitting end to the Cup final—a crushing victory over their opponents and a hat-trick for their star player.[1]

But this wasn’t David Beckham, or Mo Salah, or even Megan Rapinoe. This was Bella Raey, a munitions worker and the daughter of a coal miner. Bella was born in 1900 and during World War One she worked in munitions at the South Docks in Blyth. Between 1917 and 1919, Bella played for Blyth Spartan’s Ladies F. C., a team formed from munitions workers, and England. She scored an incredible 133 goals in one season. In the match I’ve just described, Bella led her team to victory in the Munitionette’s Cup in front of a crowd on 22,000.

But today, Bella is almost completely unknown. This pioneer of women’s football does have a blue plaque commemorating her achievement, but surely we should remember her—and her fellow munitions players—in the same way we idolise Bobby Moore or George Best? This is the forgotten story of women’s football during the Great War, and how the Football Association curtailed women’s football for decades after hostilities ended.


The Beautiful Game in WW1: How Football became Dominated by Women

Women’s football had been around long before 1914. In fact, Patrick Brennan has written a fascinating exploration of Victorian women’s football on his blog. But it was during World War One that the beautiful game really took off. Football was a staple part of working-class culture, and war meant that many of its usual players were fighting at the front. This wasn’t the only wartime shift—many women were now a crucial part of the wartime workforce, working in factories, plants and docks, often in areas far from their hometown. This was the case with Her Majesty’s Factory Gretna. Thousands of workers flocked to the Scottish border to work at the factory, and many of these were young, single, women away from their family for the very first time.

A large gathering of young unsupervised women gave Factory higher-ups and the Ministry of Munitions a moral quandary. The countrywide upheaval of war led to concerns for about the physical and spiritual welfare of factory workers as well as questions about who was responsible for them. Local reverend J.M. Little was vocal in his disapproval of the Gretna girls: ‘there are certain to be not a few of poor morale, of little sense of shame and less sense of honour.’[2]

Because of concerns like these, H.M. Factory Gretna developed an extensive welfare and recreational programme to ensure that its staff were looked after and entertained, but only in ways acceptable to the State.

Sport and activity for Factory workers fell under this recreation umbrella. It was important to the Factory that their employees remained in tip-top condition, because healthy employees were the most productive, and keeping up the rate of production was key to winning the War.

Munitions workers were therefore encouraged to do certain sports. At Gretna, Chris Brader explains in his excellent book, Timbertown Girls, that ‘sports on offer included athletics, boxing, wrestling, tennis, hockey, carpet bowls, cricket and football.’[3] Despite this seemingly encouragement of football at Gretna, it is important to stress that many felt that the game was too rough and masculine for women.

The Blyth Spartans

But women wartime workers formed their own, not always officially sanctioned teams. Bella’s team, the Blyth Spartans, were joined by the Carlisle Munitionettes, the Dick, Kerr Ladies Football Club and of course, the Mossband Swifts. These teams, made up mainly of young single women, often played to raise money for charities. On June 1st 1918, the Blyth Spartans and the Carlisle Munition Ladies faced off to raise money for the War Widows’ and Orphans Fund.[4]

By framing footie as a charitable endeavour, women were able to rebut some of the criticism that surrounding their playing of the game.


The Mossband Swifts: An Historical Enigma

The Mossband Swifts


 We know even less about the Mossband Swifts and women’s football at Gretna then we do about Bella Raey and her Blyth Spartans. Chris Brader’s research revealed that Ernest Taylor, the Social Manager at H.M. Factory Gretna, ‘mentioned that there were ‘one or two’ women’s teams who played on pitches provided by the Recreation Department’, but that these teams weren’t officially sanctioned as they didn’t affiliate to the Social and Athletic Association.[5] In a statement revealing the tensions between Factory management and women’s football, Taylor wrote that ‘there was some division of opinion as to the wisdom on encouraging them to pursue this branch of sport.’[6] Despite this, the Swifts did continue to play football.

On September 8th 1917, the Mossband Swifts played the Carlisle Munitionettes at Brunton Park in aid of the Friendless Girls Association. The Swifts played in khaki and red and wore shorts, and were captained by Miss A. Riddell. The game ended in a 1-1 draw. The Carlisle Journal stated that ‘there was a large assembly on onlookers despite the rather disagreeable afternoon’ and described the match as ‘perhaps the most entertaining struggle between women that has been witnessed in Carlisle.’[7]

On Boxing Day of the same year, the two teams met again, this time in aid of the Carlisle Nursing Association. This time the Swifts were less fortunate, and they lost 4 -1.[8]

Many questions remain about the Swifts that require further historical research. It would be great if we could identify some of the players and their roles within the Factory. The local papers, the Annandale Observer and the Carlisle Journal are yet to be digitized for this time period—so when archives open, it will be really interesting to see whether the team played any more matches.

The Aftermath of War: What happened to Women’s Football?

In August 1918, World War One came to an end. Soon after, many munitions workers left their factories for the last time and returned home. But this wasn’t quite the end of women’s football teams.

The end actually came in 1921. On December 5th of that year, the English Football Association banned women’s football matches from taking place on Association pitches. Whilst this wasn’t an outright ban of women’s football, it effectively curtailed the sport and made it very difficult for women’s teams to continue. The F.A. gave their reasoning as follows:

‘This august body has decreed that women’s football is undesirable. It is a game “not fitted for females.”…We are not in the least enamoured of women’s football. There have been one or two exhibitions which have not lacked a passing interest as a novelty, but it is to be feared that some, at least among the crowd, went in order to see the women “make exhibitions of themselves.”’[9]

I had to use a Bend it Like Beckham GIF somewhere in this blogpost, and this one fits perfectly!

That wasn’t the end of the sexism though. The F.A. had support. Mr Peter M’William, the manager of Tottenham Hotspur said that ‘the game can only have injurious effects on women.’ Mr A. L. Knighton, manager of Arsenal, argued that if women footballers received injuries ‘their future duties as mothers would be seriously impaired.’ A Mr Eustace Miles stated that ‘the kicking is just too jerky for women.’ Perhaps most surprisingly, the FA even had support from a ‘lady doctor’. Dr Mary Scharllieb, who practised in Harley Street said ‘I consider it a most unsuitable game; too much for a women’s physical frame.’[10] Then this was a push-back on both gender and class terms, by both men and middle-class women.

The F.A’s ban on women’s matches at their grounds didn’t end till 1971. Today women’s football is flourishing, with a record attendance of 77,768 at Wembley during England’s match against Germany in 2019.[11] Now that would make Bella Raey proud.


A massive thank you to Patrick Brennan for sending me some valuable information about the Mossband Swifts.


Sources and Further Reading




[1] See: ‘LOCAL FOOTBALL’ Blyth News, 20 May 1918, p. 3 for a full write up of this match.

[2] Chris Brader, ‘Timbertown Girls: Gretna Female Munitions Workers in World War 1’ (PhD Thesis, the University of Warwick) p. 73. Quoting Cumberland News, July 28 1917.

[3] Chris Brader, Timbertown Girls, (Bookcase, 2014), p. 107.

[4] Blyth News, 30 May 1918, p. 2.

[5] Chris Brader, Timbertown Girls, (Bookcase, 2014), p. 112.

[6] Chris Brader, Timbertown Girls, (Bookcase, 2014), p. 112. Quoting material from: IWM, Women’s Work Collection, Mun 14/10, p. 10.

[7] ‘Women’s Football: Carlisle Munitioners v Mossband Swifts’ Carlisle Journal, 11 September 1917.

[8] ‘Munition Girls’ Match – Carlisle v. Mossband’ Carlisle Journal, 28 December 1917.

[9] ‘Women’s Football, Hull Daily Mail, 6 December 1921, p. 4.


[10] ‘Football for Women Condemned’ Hull Daily Mail, 7 December 1921, p. 2.


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