On a sunny Saturday afternoon, 6th June 1914, the North Belfast Working Men’s Club (NBWMC) officially unveiled their new bowling green before ‘a large number of bowlers and their lady friends’. It was due to be opened by Robert Thompson, M.P. for North Belfast, but ‘owing to illness his place was taken by his son, Samuel Hall-Thompson’ who was presented with a silver jack (bowling ball). The green was laid by ‘famous expert’ Daniel Leslie of Glasgow – who also designed bowling greens at Larne and Coleraine – at a cost of £500. The Danube Street players lost their first game to the Cavehill team by a wafer-thin margin of 71-70.
Within a few weeks Europe plunged into war and many North Belfast men, including some of those photographed, enlisted in the British Armed Forces. Samuel Hall-Thompson, who opened the bowling green, ‘served with the Royal Irish Rifles in Egypt and France from 1915 to 1919’. Recruits from across Ireland, from both Nationalist and Unionist traditions, fought in the First World War. The Battle of the Somme (1st July 1916) had a particularly devastating local impact. ‘The Ulster Division’, wrote Major General Oliver Nugent, Commander of the 36th (Ulster) Division, ‘has been too superb for words’. The offensive action, Nugent informed his wife, Kitty, came at ‘a fearful cost … we have lost about 150 officers and 6,000 men’. The sacrifices made during this battle are commemorated annually on Remembrance Sunday across Northern Ireland and in Thiepval, France, at the Ulster Tower.
The NBWMC Bowling Team is still going strong and celebrated its centenary in 2014. This remarkable and never-before-published photograph of the bowling green opening ceremony has recently emerged. It was donated to the NBWMC by an Australian visitor with Northern Irish connections around 2012-13. The club is trying to trace the donor and, if possible, identify some of the figures in the photograph.
Can you help?
 Belfast News-Letter, 8 June 1914.
 Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. Papers of Major General Oliver Nugent [D3835/E/2/10].