Miner who found world fame as a handball star killed in action

Horden Colliery - once the work place of handball player and war hero Micky Mordue. Other photos courtesy of www.weltonia.co.uk.
Horden Colliery - once the work place of handball player and war hero Micky Mordue. Other photos courtesy of www.weltonia.co.uk.

A miner who found fame as a handball and football player was one of the first men from East Durham to lose his life in World War One.

Horden hewer Michael “Micky” Mordue survived an amphibious landing at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, on August 6, 1915 - but was killed in action just two weeks later.

Horden AFC pictured in 1912-13 . Micky Mordue in centre row, fourth from left.

Horden AFC pictured in 1912-13 . Micky Mordue in centre row, fourth from left.

“Miners made prized soldiers as they were tough, used to danger and team players,” said Maureen Taylor-Gooby, author of a new book on East Durham pit villages.

“By April 1915 over 30,000 men from the Durham coalfields had volunteered to fight. Although coal was essential, miners appear to have been actively recruited.”

Micky, the son of miner Thomas Mordue and his wife Elizabeth, was born in Edmondsley in 1884 but later moved to Horden - where he became a deputy at the pit.

In his spare time the father-of-seven played football for Horden AFC, helping his team win the Wearside League in 1913, and he also excelled at handball.

Indeed, he and brother Jacky - who won the Football League championship with Sunderland AFC in 1912-13 - became a world famous, and world beating, partnership.

“Micky joined the 6th Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment, when war was declared,” said Maureen, whose book - The Birth of Billy Elliot Land - features Micky’s story.

“He was one of those who made the amphibious landing at Suvla Bay a year later - the first action fought by the two companies of the 6th Battalion.

“They drove the Turks off a small hill that overlooked the beach, at a great cost. One third of the men became casualties as the Turks “rained bullets” at them.”

Micky documented the harrowing experience in a letter to his wife, Margaret, which arrived at the family home of 17 Eden Street, Horden, a few days later.

The pitman told his wife he was “the luckiest man alive” after surviving the brutal action. Tragically, several of his local pals died - including Billy Belcher.

“I’m sure that Micky’s wife would have been sad, but relieved, when she read the letter,” said Maureen, who has published the note in full in her book.

“But not long afterwards a telegram arrived, informing Margaret that her husband was missing. Later it was confirmed he had been killed in action on August 22.”

It is believed Micky lost his life in an attack on Scimitar Hill - an action which left thousands dead. Other local casualties included Arthur Deakin and Joshua Graham.

“Micky never lived to see his son, Thomas, play for Sunderland. In total 165 men from Horden Colliery were killed in the war,” said Maureen.