Sport Remembers Albert Tingey and the Niblick Brigade

Albert Tingey and the fighting golf pros of the Niblick Brigade

Albert Tingey was already in France when war was declared, professional at a golf school near Paris. He sensibly decided not to take on the enemy alone – so returned to England and raised a pals’ battalion of golfers, The Niblick Brigade.

It all began in an Italian restaurant.

Tingey, born the son of a Cambridge plasterer in 1869 and one of the founding members of the Professional Golfers Association, abandoned his golf school venture at Fontainebleau and organised a lunch. Backed by George Duncan, who would win the Open in 1920, and Charles Mayo, Belgium Open Champion of 1911, he was determined that golfers should do their bit.

Their effort may have been influenced by double Open winner Harold Hinton, who had urged clubs: “No caddie between the ages of 19 & 35 should be given a single job or the slightest encouragement to be about the links, my advice is to assist these young fellows to get to the nearest recruiting station.”

English professional golfer Albert Tingey

English professional golfer Albert Tingey Senior practices his follow-through, circa 1900. Popperfoto/
GettyImages

Tingey gathered his men at Gatti’s restaurant near Old Street, London, in September 1914. It was stipulated that recruits should be single with no children and suggested that they be called The Niblick Brigade. After lunch, the golfers walked to Trafalgar Square, posed for photographers by Nelson’s Column and marched on the nearest recruiting office. That afternoon, 26 professionals and assistants were passed fit for service and travelled to Winchester to join the 13th Battalion of The Rifle Brigade.

They included James Bradbeer, one of four brothers who played in 1928 Open, and Harry Fulford, inventor of the Sammy Iron, used for chipping around the green. The 13th Rifles’ ranks were also boosted by a group of semi­pro footballers from Stockton and Captain Arnold Jackson, who in 1912 had won an Olympic gold 1500m medal in the “greatest race of all time”.

"Early on in France, the most serious incident was when B Company’s rum ration fell down a deep, dark hole."

During training in High Wycombe the Niblicks were invited to “refreshments” at Cliveden by Lady Astor. Happy at the prospect of alcohol, the men became “quietly ungrateful” when teetotaller Lady Astor offered them lemonade and Woodbines. Private Tingey kept the nation updated on their exploits with a regular feature in Golf Monthly. They were not alone; by December 1915 the PGA reported that more than 120 golf pros and assistants were serving in the war.

By August 1915, the Niblicks were in the trenches near Armentiéres. They saw some action but escaped unscathed. The most serious incident, reported by Tingey, was the loss of the B Company rum ration, which had to be retrieved with fishing rods after falling down a deep, dark hole.

At Christmas they spent their £50 kitty on a banquet of turkey, pheasant, ham, wine, whisky and champagne, which they had sent from Fortnum & Mason. While away from the front line the Niblicks held putting and long-driving contests, with officers and men lining up to get tips from the pros.

Three golf courses were built during the war – one at Ypres Salient by professional player and course designer Ramsey Ross from the Honourable Artillery Company, one in Flanders with the help of Scots pro Tom Femie of the Highland Light Infantry and one, designed by sports journalist Allan Gardiner of The Royal Irish Rifles, for the use of officers of the General Staff.

The Niblick Brigade, September 1914 before joining up in Trafalgar Square
The Niblick Brigade before joining up, Trafalgar Square, September 1914 (source: www.antiquegolfscotland.com)

400 casualties at Contalmaison

Golf balls were scarce – their price had trebled since the beginning of the war – and Golfing magazine appealed to its readers to send them to the front. The Niblicks’ first casualty came early in 1916, when Rifleman Herbert Line was hit in the face by a bullet but survived. It was to get much more serious at the Somme.

On July 10, attached to the 34th Division, the Niblicks joined an attack at Contalmaison. The men battled across no man’s land and captured enemy trenches only to be ordered to withdraw. By the time they got back, the 13th Rifles had suffered 400 casualties. The Niblicks did not lose a man, although Sergeant Jimmy Scarth and Sergeant Fred Jolly, pros at Doncaster and Beckenham, were wounded.

After further fighting at Mametz Wood and Bazentin, Surrey pro William Eastland was killed in The Battle of the Ancre, the last offensive of the Somme. He is buried in Contay Military Cemetery. By the end of the offensive Harry Towlson of Thorpe Hall GC, Essex, Alfred Seward from Beckenham and Claude Matey from Littlehampton GC, West Sussex, had been wounded too. The Niblicks fought to the end of the war, regularly reinforced by pros, greenkeepers, caddies and clubmakers. Albert Tingey survived and worked at Frinton­on-Sea, Essex. He died in 1953 aged 83.

Nick Faldo Remembers Albert Tingey

Remembering the Somme

This year marks the 100­-year anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The Royal British Legion is calling on communities across the UK to take the time out from their daily lives to honour those who fell. We have created a Somme 100 toolkit which contains everything you need to organise a Remembrance event in your community.

Make your own commemoration to one of the casualties of the First World War by simply placing a virtual poppy in their memory on our Every Man Remembered website.

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