Saturday, 12 July 2014

Women Golfers in WW1 - Margaret (Madge) Neill-Fraser

As the exciting and prestigious 2014 Ricoh Women’s British Open Golf Tournament draws to a close, I felt it fitting to mention the role of lady golfers during the First World War.   This year’s tournament is at Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport from 10th – 13th July. 

I am indebted to Gillian Kirkwood for her speedy reply to my request for help in identifying women golfers and their contribution to the war effort during WW1.   Gillian’s excellent article is the inspiration for the following.

The Women Golfers’ Museum in Scotland, of which Gillian Kirkwood is the Chairman, holds copies of “The Golfing Gentlewoman,” which were published as supplements to the magazine “The Gentlewoman”. The magazine had been founded in 1890 and was published in London.   For 36 years the exact title was “The Gentlewoman:  An Illustrated Weekly Journal for Gentlewomen”.

The Women Golfers’ Museum was founded in 1938 and originally situated in The Lady Golfers’ Club in London.   The collection of memorabilia is shared between the British Golf Museum at St. Andrews and the Special Collections Unit of the Library at the University of St. Andrews.

When war broke out in 1914, Issette Pearson (1861 – 1941) who helped set up The Ladies’ Golf Union (LGU) in 1893 to “stimulate the growth of ladies’ golf”, issued an official statement to all members, endorsed by the President, Her Highness Princess Helena Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein, requesting them to donate money to the Queen’s “Work for Women” Fund.  “The Golfing Gentlewoman” commissioned a medal to send free of charge to any club willing to run a competition to raise money for the Fund. Official LGU competitions had been postponed and were cancelled as the years went by with no sign of the end of hostilities.

As the number of casualties grew so did the demand for hospitals and village halls and golf clubs throughout Britain were turned into Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospitals.   The lady members of the Clubs became nurses, dressers, cleaners, cooks and so on. Photographs were taken and accounts written up to send to The Golfing Gentlewoman to tell the stories of the women golfers and how they contributed to the war effort.

Many lady golfers became Red Cross or St. John’s Ambulance nurses and volunteered to serve in the various theatres of the war.

One of those volunteers was Madge Neill-Fraser, who was a Scottish International from 1905 until 1914, runner up in the Scottish Championship in 1912 and semi finalist in the British Championship in 1910.   Madge, daughter of Mrs M. Neill Fraser of Edinburgh, served in Serbia with the Scottish Women’s Hospital as a nurse, dresser and driver.   She caught Typhus and died in Serbia.  She is buried in the Chela Kula Military Cemetery, NIS, Serbia.  The LGU sent out a notice regarding a fitting memorial to the memory of Madge and that was a fund to supply additional beds for the Scottish Women’s Hospital in Serbia. Sufficient funds were donated to provide around 200 beds.  Women golfers the world over contributed to the fund.


“Playing the Game Sport and the Physical Emancipation of English Women 1870 - 1914” by Kathleen E. McCrone (The University  Press of Kentucky, 1988

“On the Ladies Links with Gillian Kirkwood”, published in in December 2005

For more details about the Ricoh Women’s British Open, please see the

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