It has been noted that the increase in popularity of association football in Britain was a male working–class phenomenon, which arose due to certain relaxations within the industrial working day, and although correct, there are exceptions. For example, the Royal Engineers Association Football Club played in the first Football Association (FA) Cup match, played on 16 March 1972 at the Oval. All the players were junior commissioned officers. Despite this, they lost to the Wanderers 1–0.1 

The Great War witnessed numerous changes in British economic and social life. One of which was the role of women employed in the engineering and munitions production industries and, particularly in the north-west of England, there were numerous women's football teams that played matches for charity. Most were recorded as being formed in late 1916 and 1917. This article forwards the argument that the first women's football team existed earlier than this, and the team was recruited from civilian women clerks (temporary civil servants) who were employed at the Army Pay Office (APO), Preston. 

Another surprise relates to the notion that the Army Pay Corps (APC) (the men's team generally) had an equally impressive record at association football, both at unit and army level, before 1914, yet its fortunes were reported in both national and local press which recorded several pre–1914 professional association football players had enlisted into the APC and were playing with some success, particularly in 1915. A popular national newspaper reported a match played at Crystal Palace’s ground between the Royal Naval Division (RND) and the APC. The RND won the match 7–1. The only APC goal was scored ‘by Cameron, the old Scottish international’.2 This was John Bell Cameron (1879– 1950), whose professional playing career included stints at St Mirren, Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea and Port Vale. 

Above. The most successful women’s team of that era – Dick Kerr’s Ladies from Preston 

In recent years women's football, and indeed women's rugby, including at a professional level, has developed significantly. The English Women's Football team, known as the Lionesses, reached their zenith in August 2022 when they defeated Germany in the European Championship Cup Final. Surprisingly, it took over 100 years for women's football to 'breach the wall of resistance' that included many years of stiff opposition from the Professional Football Association which prohibited women from the professional game. Women's football, as with women's rugby, is now well respected within professional sporting circles. But who were the first Lionesses, and who influenced them to play football at a time when women's football was deemed to be rather vulgar?

At the National Army Museum, London there’s a photograph of the APO Preston lady clerks football team. Standing with them is their regimental paymaster, Colonel WGC Feilden CMG, Army Pay Department (APD). The women's football team is flanked in the photograph above by two junior non– commissioned soldiers of the Army Pay Corps.3 Associated with this photograph is a written memoir by Mrs Ada Emma Bucklee (née McLean) who was, from 1915 to 1919, a civilian clerk at the Preston APO. Her father played for Preston North End. Ada's memoir, written when she was in old age, suggests that more recent histories of women's football during the Great War may need to be revised. 

Preston was unique in that it was the epicentre for a women's team, picked from those employed in engineering and munitions. However, APO Preston also raised a women's team from temporary civil service clerks either in late 1915 or early in 1916. The APO Preston Ladies Football Team may have been the first recognised 'Lionesses' football team in Britain. Unlike the local press in the southern counties, the success of football teams from APO Preston, including the women's team, didn’t get the recognition it deserved in the Lancashire press.4

The origins of civilian women clerical workers within the Army Pay Offices and Army Pay Office Preston

East Lancs & Liverpool 1915–16 Preston NE Ground (Author)

The formation of APO Preston was instigated under reforms established in 1913 and was located at Fulwood Barracks. This was also the depot and headquarters of both the Royal North Lancashire Regiment and the East Lancashire Regiment, as well as the Infantry Record Office. The role of APO Preston, as with other contemporary army pay offices, was to administer the personal accounts of infantry soldiers of the Regular Army, the Regular Reserve, the Territorial Force and the Special Reserve, who were serving with regiments recruited from the north–west of England. All army pay offices, including APO Preston, also administered family accounts for the small number of peacetime Regular soldiers on the regimental married establishment, and who may have been entitled to separation allowances.5 

With the declaration of war in August 1914, the size of the army increased significantly as regular reserves were recalled and the Territorial Force, the Special Reserve and the National Reserve were mobilised. In addition, the massive volunteer recruitment of ‘Kitchener's Army’ was on the rise. By November 1914, the size of the British Army had increased to half a million. But the size of the Army Pay Services did not increase correspondingly and soon there was a major delay in bureaucratic services. In fact, the APD and APC numbers in home establishments decreased as many Army Pay Services military personnel were either drafted overseas to join the BEF or transferred to units and regiments of the fighting army.6 

The scope of separation and other allowances changed, and many more soldiers were now entitled to claim allowances, and processing these became the major objective of army pay offices now depleted of staff. All army pay offices were responsible for preparing active service pay books (AB 64) for all reservists and the Territorial Force called up for active service. The regimental paymaster at APO Woolwich resolved this problem days after war was declared by unofficially accepting voluntary clerical support from the women of the garrison, mainly soldiers’ wives and daughters, who began working on routine clerical functions within the pay office.7 This led to the official recruitment of female clerical staff in all army pay offices from January 1915. 

Lieutenant Colonel WGC Feilden had been appointed to the Station Staff Office at Lichfield Garrison in 1911. From January 1913 this became APO Lichfield, and in the autumn of 1915, he was promoted to colonel and Senior Staff Paymaster and posted to APO Preston as regimental paymaster. He became influential in the recruitment of the women's football team. 

Army Pay Corps International English Team 1919 (Author)

An overview of women's football teams during the Great War Sport has had a long tradition in the British Army, and includes football, rugby, hockey, athletics, cricket and boxing. These sports have always been seen as an extension of military battle fitness training and team–building exercises. First published in 1916 was the APC News, a quarterly newspaper reporting on the sporting life of all army pay service units both at home and overseas. The APC News made a big play of reporting on the various APC football teams in Britain and with the BEF in France. Each APO had a football correspondent. For example, Lance Corporal DV Polley APC was football correspondent for APO Blackheath (officially No 1 APO Woolwich). His report for the 1915–16 season praised the support given by the female staff, who were always there as spectators cheering on the team in all weathers, ‘We also had the Lady Clerk supporters. Bless 'em, no matter the weather, they regularly turn up to cheer the boys on. Who knows but what fine records of the Club is, largely due to their inspiring influence and presence’.8 This illustrated the interactions of a mixed–gender unit of both civilians and military into one cohesive whole. Although an exact date is unclear, evidence suggests that the APO Preston Ladies Football Team was in existence from 1916, earlier than other Ladies teams in the contemporary Preston area. A Ladies team from the Infantry Record Office may have been formed at the same time, and it’s not recorded whether both men and women made up the numbers for training or playing a match. Neither of these two teams are mentioned in Jean Williams' A History of Women's Football in Britain. However, in the opinion of Gail Newsham, the APO Ladies Football Team was more of a 'one off', and she suggests that: 

During the First World War, the charity aspect of ladies playing football was taking place all over the country and lots of one off games were being organised to raise funds for many worthy causes. A team made up of lady pay clerks from Fulwood Barracks played at Deepdale circa 1915, but the match is thought to have been against male opposition.9 

In a communication between the author and Gail Newsham regarding any record of the APO Ladies playing in mixed matches, she commented, ‘I have only one fixture against Preston Military Clerks which took place in December 1918, but I don't know the result’.10 In addition, Williams does not mention mixed–gender football matches during the First World War, although she does delve into the topic as it was manifest during the late 20th and early 21st centuries.11 

The photograph of the APO Preston Ladies Football Team and its accompanying memoir suggests the photograph was taken in 1918. However, I disagree with this, and circumstantial evidence suggests the image was taken before that date. The photograph was taken prior to the division of APO Preston into two separate APOs in March 1917, each with its own commanding regimental paymaster. If so, then the photograph was likely taken in early 1916 or late 1915. The senior in the image is Colonel Feilden, Colonel Feilden's colleague at No 2 APO Preston was AAL Collard, whose contemporary rank was lieutenant colonel. 

Much of the history regarding Ladies football in the north–west of England has focused on the Dick and Kerr's Ladies Football Team, colloquially known as ‘Dick, Kerr's Ladies formed at Dick and Kerr Ltd of Preston. Newsham's book is wholly devoted to Dick, Kerr's Ladies, and in particular Williams' volume on women's football during the First World War leans more towards the female munitions teams of this period. Dick, Kerr's Ladies was closely associated with Blackburn Rovers Football Club, although it also played matches at Preston North End’s ground. Neither Williams nor Newsham delve into why subsequent teams were formed at Preston during the First World War, but they both suggest that Dick, Kerr's Ladies was formed in 1917. If true, they could have been the first Lionesses in England! 

The 'shakers and movers' behind the APO Preston Ladies Football Team commissioned paymasters as men were sent overseas. In November 1914, the War Office began recruiting acting civilian paymasters from men qualified and experienced in accountancy, banking, commerce and business management. They were contracted at a salary of £250 per annum. From December 1915, women were recruited to overseas offices, mainly clerical staff recruited after January 1915. The female supervisors/managers were known as lady superintendents and had similar administrative authority to a commissioned assistant paymaster (of lieutenant/captain rank) and civilian acting paymaster. Below were the major 'actors' in forming the Ladies team at APO Preston. 

The professional footfall secretary/manager

A civilian acting paymaster at APO Preston was Charles Parker (1882–1957). He was a native of Preston and had been appointed as secretary/manager of Preston North End Football Club in 1906.12 Prior to this, he had been correspondence clerk for the Preston Co–operative Society, a position he held for several years prior to 1906. With the temporary suspension of league football from August 1914, Charles volunteered as a civilian acting paymaster where he remained until 1919. In his obituary, the local press commented that ‘Mr Parker looked after the administrative side of North End's affairs from about 1906 to 1915. During the Great War he served in the army as an accountant’.13 The only military establishment in Preston where a civilian with extensive accounting knowledge could be employed was at APO Preston. 

It's probable Charles Parker was a major influence in establishing a football culture at APO Preston, promoting and forming the APC football teams. He may also have inspired interest within other Army Pay Department establishments in the north–west of England, as there was a Command Pay Office at Chester. Parker may not have been the only influence, but in his previous position as a professional football secretary and manager he could be identified as the 'Mr Fix It' of his day. Parker not only had the managerial and secretarial knowledge of running a professional football team, but he also had wider networking links with professional football. It seems surprising that Gail Newsham, despite writing the history of Dick, Kerr's Ladies, had apparently never heard of Charles Parker.14 

The daughter of a professional footballer: Ada Emma McLean

As mentioned previously, the War Office Finance Branch began recruiting civilian female clerks as temporary civil servants from 1 January 1915. One young woman from Preston was Ada Emma McLean (1896–1973), the daughter of a professional footballer, James McLean, known as Jimmy, who played for Preston North End. Ada was born in Stoke–on–Trent where her father, Jimmy, played for the local club. In 1910 Jimmy McLean transferred to Preston North End, and his family relocated to Preston. In the 1911 Census, Ada was described as a 'tailoress', a term used in contemporary society, probably interchangeable with 'seamstress'. Apparently, during her childhood and teenage years, Ada was keen on football and, at a time when there were no women's football teams, she was often seen kicking a ball around or playing scratch matches with her school friends. In a memoir written later in life and now lodged with the National Army Museum:

The Army Pay Office and Record Office (Infantry) formed a Ladies football team and we played each other on the Preston North End football ground. A match was then arranged for Dick, Kerr's Ladies team to play the Pay and Records teams on the Blackburn Rovers ground. I think we were the first to beat Dick, Kerr's team. The match was a treat for the convalescent soldiers stationed at Whalley Hospital who filled the stands. I was proud to be captain. The directors of Blackburn Rovers invited us to dinner after the match. The Chairman had known my father who had played at Blackburn many times. The Chairman said that if we were only men, he would have signed us for Blackburn. I had been brought up on football as long as I could remember, my father being known as Jimmy McLean who played for Preston and many other teams. The Chairman remarked on the likeness of my play with my father's.15 

In her memoir Ada confirms there were two football teams from military establishments in Preston, the APO Ladies team and the one drawn from the Infantry Record Office, also located at Fulwood Barracks. The Chairman of Blackburn Rovers was Lawrence Cotton, a wealthy textile owner and a native of Blackburn. Cotton had been appointed director of Blackburn Rovers in 1891, becoming chairman in 1905. His comment, that ‘only if the APC women footballers were men then he would have no hesitation in signing them up, would be considered misogynist in the 21st century. However, in the early 20th century women's football was not recognised by the Football Association or Football League, rather, while war raged, women's football was considered a temporary phenomenon which would disappear after the war, along with women's munition works, APO clerks and any notion that women would be enfranchised on the same level as men! This was compounded by the absence of sponsorship or personal patronage in women's football after 1918. Williams assumed the development of women's football, when it did occur, was a mixture of ad hoc and social activities for charity and morale–boosting in times of war, and that most Ladies teams were ad hoc. This notion may have come from the Football Association fact sheet ‘Women's Football History’, which could have introduced a myth suggesting that: ‘During the First World War women's role began to alter. Women's football teams began to spring up, using games to raise money for charity’.16 

Williams appears to accept the term ‘spring up’, which suggests an uncoordinated activity, when in fact there was more coordination than previously thought, particularly in the Preston area.17 It’s not disputed that many women's football teams during the war played matches for charity, normally associated with comforts for injured and sick service personnel convalescing in local hospitals. But evidence suggests that many women's football teams had been well planned and organised, including the APO Preston Ladies Football Team and Dick, Kerr Ladies, rather than being just 'ad hoc'. 

The coordination, planning and networking was possibly due to characters such as Charles Parker, Lawrence Cotton and other professional footballers, and officials associated with both Preston North End and Blackburn Rovers, residing in the area and possibly being associated with local firms connected with the engineering and munitions industry. However, there is a possible error regarding the memoir alongside the photograph of Preston APO Ladies Football Team in the National Army Museum. According to the museum's archives it was written by a ‘Miss McLean of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps’.18 The suggestion here, that Ada McLean was an enrolled member of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC, later the Queen Mary's Auxiliary Army Corps, QMAAC), is incorrect. She was a civilian temporary woman civil service clerk, the same status as thousands of other female clerks employed with the home–based Army Pay Department. Uniformed members of the WAAC/QMAAC were never employed in UK– based army pay offices and this can be verified through numerous sources. 

The first method of verification was through an examination of all the regimental photographs of army pay offices in Britain taken during the course of the First World War, and which are now part of the archive collection of the Adjutant General's Corps Museum at Winchester, Hants, as well as photographs in the author's collection. The author scrutinised these photographs along with the then curator of the museum in 2016 and 2017 as part of ongoing research into the Army Pay Services during the Great War. 

The second point of evidence is that Ada McLean also served during the Second World War and enlisted under her married name of Bucklee. She became a section leader (sergeant), having enlisted for local service with the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) in 1939. Ada's record of service from 1939 to 1947 provides evidence that she had served as a civilian clerk at APO Preston from 21 February 1916 to December 1920, and not as a member of the WAAC/QMAAC. Her Great War service as a temporary civil service clerk at APO Preston began in 1916, over a year before the formation of the WAAC/QMAAC in July 1917. A search of the WAAC/QMAAC personal files held by the National Archives has not produced a file in the name of Ada McLean. Most records of service for WAAC/QMAAC ae held at the National Archives and are complete.19 

Dick & Kerr Company, and Dick, Kerr's Ladies Football Team

The origins of WB Dick and Company go back to 1854 when it was founded in Glasgow. The company was initially an oil refinery and manufacturer of paint used in shipbuilding. The company also had depots and workshops in Liverpool, Newcastle, Barrow–in– Furness, Cardiff and Hamburg. From 1890 Dick & Kerr became one of the largest manufacturers of electrical tramcars and locomotives and acquired premises at Preston in 1893. By 1902, the bulk of the capital of the English Electric Manufacturing Company was acquired, thus enhancing their holdings at Preston. During the Great War the company's facilities were converted to munitions production. The Preston site continued to produce electric locomotives for narrow gauge rail tracks for the War Office and the Admiralty. It then began to employ women in its production process, replacing their male colleagues who had joined the armed forces. 

Numerous ‘munitionettes' football teams began to play during their lunch breaks. According to Spartacus Educational, the first organised match between two ladies football teams was played on Christmas Day 1916 between Ulverston Munitions Girls and another women's team, whose name was not mentioned; the Ulverston Munitions won 11–5. Shortly afterwards another match was played between Swansea and Newport.20 Neither Newsham nor Williams mention the existence of these two teams. 

However, Spartacus Educational suggests that the Dick, Kerr Ladies Football Team originated because Alfred Frankland, a senior manager at Dick & Kerr's Preston factory, used to watch from his office window as the female workers kicked a ball around during their meal breaks. A first–hand account quoted in Spartacus Educational by Alice Norris, who worked at the Preston factory, recalled these ad hoc games where:

We used to play at shooting at the cloakroom windows. They were little square windows and if the boys beat us at putting a window through, we had to buy them a packet of Woodbines, but if we beat them, they had to buy us a bar of Five Boys chocolate.21 

Frankland arranged for Dick, Kerr Ladies Football Team to play a match on Christmas Day 1917, the opposition was Coulthard's.22 Frankland persuaded Preston North End Football Club to allow the women to play on their ground at Deepdale. Apparently, over 10,000 spectators turned up to watch the match. The gate receipts amounted to £600, and after settling the costs of the match Frankland was able to donate £200 to the local Moor Park Hospital, which at the time nursed wounded soldiers convalescing after surgery. Indeed, many of the convalescing soldiers were themselves spectators at the match, which no doubt enhanced their morale and well–being. 

The professional football league was suspended in 1915 due to the war. Only military or military–sponsored teams and the various Ladies football teams used the Preston North End ground for matches admitting the fee–paying public. This was perhaps the only gate receipts they received during this period of professional football suspension. Alfred Frankland became the voluntary secretary/manager of Dick, Kerr Ladies Football Team, responsible for recruiting new players, arranging transfers and planning future matches. He remained in this voluntary role until forced to retire due to ill health in 1955, and subsequently died in 1957. 

Although Spartacus Educational suggests this was the first match to be played on the North End ground since 1914, this may not be correct. The APC men's football team from APO Preston had played there since 1915. The APO ladies and other Ladies football teams, including from the neighbouring Infantry Record Office, had also been playing on the North End ground throughout 1916 and 1917 and had possibly played there in the closing months of 1915. According to Ada McLean's memoir, the APC Ladies team was the first to beat Dick, Kerr's Ladies.23 Again, neither Newsham nor Williams mentions this in their respective works. 

Dick, Kerr’s Ladies probably received more attention in media coverage and advertising than did the APO Preston and Infantry Record Office Ladies teams. Dick, Kerr's Ladies survived beyond the Armistice, whereas the APC Ladies team was disbanded on the downsizing of the APOs back to peacetime strength from 1919 onwards, and once again they became all–male establishments. Most of the munitionettes football teams were disbanded after the Armistice. But not Dick, Kerr’s Ladies, who played until 1965, although their name changed during the 1920s to Preston Ladies. During its long lifetime, Dick, Kerr’s Ladies and its successors raised perhaps more than £10 million for charity. Their survival, and indeed success, was more remarkable since, on 5 December 1921, the Football Association banned women from playing on league grounds... for almost fifty years. The general attitude of the Football Association was that ‘women's football brings the game into disrepute’. It was perhaps through the enthusiastic support over many years of Alfred Frankland that Dick, Kerr’s Ladies survived beyond the mid–20th century.24 How much support he received from Charles Parker, Lawrence Cotton and the directors of Preston North End and Blackburn Rovers, or even from former players of the APO Ladies is not known, although it is not beyond the bounds of possibility. 

There is no evidence to suggest that Ada McLean played for another team after 1919, nor that she was involved in Ladies football in general either during the Great War or after the Armistice, although it is possible. She certainly had the contacts. Ada's name does not appear in Newsome's history of Dick, Kerr’s Ladies during the post–1918 era, despite the extended life of the team beyond 1918. Neither does her name appear in Williams’ research There is also no evidence to suggest that a Ladies team was formed at APO Preston during the Second World War, despite Ada McLean stationed there as a member of the ATS. 

Having assessed what evidence there is, the fulcrum of the Ladies football team appears to be Charles Parker. He had the links and networking of professional league football in northern England. The secretaries/managers and directors of other football league clubs would have been known to Charles Parker and, despite his near–invisibility in the history of men's and women's football at APC Preston, he was the possible 'fixer'. In this he was supported by Colonel Feilden, the Regimental Paymaster. 


There is little doubt that professional football, as manifest through associates of Preston North End Football Club, was a major influence on the footballing culture at APO Preston. This was due to several individuals, some of whom have been identified, including Charles Parker, the former secretary/manager of the Club until 1915, and players such as James McLean and his daughter Ada, and also Colonel Feilden, who had no inhibitions about a women's football team recruited from the civilian staff of his command. The question is, which was the first Ladies team, or the first Lionesses? The evidence suggests APO Preston had the edge over Dick, Kerr's Ladies. This was due to the influence of Charles Parker and Ada McLean, together with the enthusiasm and support of Colonel Feilden. Football appeared to be a passion with APC soldiers and a number had been professional or semi–professional footballers before 1914. Two photographs in the author's collection are included in this article. One was taken on the Preston North End ground, as the background is similar to that behind the APO Preston Ladies, which is also shown, and in my estimation, it was taken in late 1915 or early 1916.

The first APC football team recruited from staff at the Base Pay Office, located at le Havre, France was known as APC France, and played matches with French professional teams on a regular basis, often losing to Rouen FC.25 Perhaps APC France should have fielded a Ladies team and then they would have enjoyed more success! After all, WAAC/QMAAC clerks served with Base Pay Office France from the end of 1917 to 1919. But that is another story. 

Article by John Black 

[This article first appeared in Stand To! No. 133 April 2023]


  1. Keith Warsop, (2004). The Early FA Cup Finals and Southern Amateurs. Nottingham: Soccer Data Publications. 
  2. The People, 17 October 1915. 
  3. The National Army Museum (NAM), Accession Number 1994-0702049-1.
  4. A comparison to this is the frequent reporting in the Dover Express in 1915 on the successes and failures of the Regimental Pay Office Dover, its football, club house, and the erstwhile efforts and support of Staff Sergeant J Walsh APC. 
  5. National Archives, TNA WO/9316 History of Separation Allowances: J Black 'Behind the Scenes with the Pen and Ink Corps! The Role of the Army Pay Services during the Great War in maintaining the loyalty of the fighting soldier and preserving the social fabric of the United Kingdom'. War & Society, vol.35, no.3, August 2016, 180–203. For a history of women and the army see Myna Trustram, (1984) Women of the Regiment: Marriage and the Victorian Army Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  6. IBID
  7. Imperial War Museum, K87/465. The Souvenir, particularly a two–page article entitled 'The Boy–Girls of 1914' by KMF, pp5–6.
  8. APC News, No.5, May 1916, p.2. Archives, Adjutant General'S Corps Museum, Winchester, Hants. No evidence has been found to suggest that the APO Blackheath had a women's football team. Unfortunately, only the May 1916 edition of the APC Times appears to have survived. 
  9. Newsham, p21.
  10. Electronic Communication. Black / Newsham. 8 September 2022.
  11. Williams. A Game for Rough Girls, p128.
  12. Dundee Evening Telegraph, 12 June 1906.
  13. Lancashire Evening Post, 7 November 1957.
  14. Newsham, In a League of their Own; correspondence between the author and G Newsham 8 September 2022: Also, the name Charles Parker is not mentioned in Dr Williams's book on the history of women's football. 
  15. National Army Museum (NAM), Accession Number 1994– 07–249–1. This is the only time that the Infantry Record Office Ladies football team has been mentioned. Also, the victory of the APO Preston Ladies football team over Dick, Kerr's is not mentioned at all in Newsham's book. 
  16. Jean Williams, op cit, p32.
  17. Ibid, p32.
  18. Image Number NAM 5921942.
  19. Nevertheless, uniformed personnel of the WAAC / QMAAC did serve with the Base Pay Office BEF at Wimereux, France. One woman, a civilian clerk at the APOI, Woolwich, enrolled with the WAAC / QMAAC in the autumn of 1917 and was posted to the Base Pay Office BEF. Her name was Worker Elsie Parnell of Plumstead, London. Along with another colleague from the QMAAC, Worker Annie Spittle WAAC, she died from influenza in France in 1919. However, there is evidence that QMAAC clerical personnel served in home– based Army Record Offices. For example, interred at York Cemetery there is a member of the QMAAC, Worker Nellie Whitworth of York. She too succumbed to influenza on 28 October 1918 aged 26 years. The CWGC information noted that her unit was No.2 Infantry Record Office York.
  20. Spartacus–educational/Fdickkerrs.htm.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Newsham, op cit, p36.
  23. NAM Accession No.1994–07–249–1.
  24. spartacus–
  25. The Army Pay Corps News, May 1916; Archives of the Adjutant General Corps Museum.