Cricket in the Great War
The onset of the Great War in 1914 brought an end to the
Edwardian"Golden Age" of English cricket. Surrey called off their last two matches without forfeiting their position at the top of the County Championship, which they thus won for the first time since 1899. The County Championship was then suspended from 1915 to 1918, resuming in 1919. W.G. Gracewas reputed to shake his fist at the Zeppelinsfloating over his South London home. When chided by a friend who pointed out that the fast bowling of Ernie Joneshadn't discomforted him half so much, Grace replied testily 'But I could SEE him!' Grace died of a stroke on 23 October 1915.
"Doing their bit"
first-class cricketers enlisted in the armed services, and others undertook war related work in support of the war effort. Taking Surrey as an example, Ernie Hayes, Bill Hitchand Andy Sandhamjoined the Sportsmans Battalionof the Royal Fusilierswhile fast bowler Neville Knoxbecame a private in the Public Schools Battalion. Herbert Strudwick, the Surrey wicket-keeper, worked in a South London munitions plant alongside team mate Razor Smith. Other cricketers helped in the recruitment drive, with Gilbert Jessop, promoted to the rank of Captain in the 14th Service Battalion, Manchester Regiment, making speeches encouraging men to join up.
John Philip Wilson
Jack Wilson (Yorkshire cricketer)played 9 matches for Yorkshire County Cricket Club, and a couple for HDG Leveson-Gower's XI, in 1912 and 1913 and then turned his hand to flying, gaining his pilot's license on a Vickers biplane at Brooklandsin June 1914. He was commissioned into the Royal Naval Air Servicewhen war broke out and flew missions throughout the war. In April 1915 he and another officer 'observed two submarines lying alongside the Mole at Zeebrugge' and 'attacked them, dropping four bombs, it was believed with successful results.' On June 7 the same year the Admiraltyreported that 'this morning at 2.30 am, an attack was made on the airship shed at Evere, north of Brussels, by Flight-Lieutenants J. P. Wilson RN and J. S. Mills RN. Bombs were dropped and the shed was observed to be in flames. It is not known whether a zeppelinwas inside, but the flames reached a great height, coming out from both three sides of the shed. Both pilots returned safely.'
A few days later, on June 21, the Admiralty announced that HM King had been graciously pleased to award the Distinguished Service Cross to both Wilson and Mills 'for their services on June 7, 1915, when after a long flight in darkness over hostile territory, they threw bombs on the zeppelin shed at Evere near
Brussels, and destroyed a zeppelin which was inside. The two officers were exposed to heavy anti-aircraft fire during the attack' (London Gazette June 21, 1915).
At the Yorkshire AGM in 1916,
Lord Hawkesaid of Wilson, 'May he continue his splendid work, and be with us when we again resume hostilities on the cricket field:' In the county yearbook for that year there is a photograph of him dressed in naval uniform. He was also awarded the Belgian Order of the Crown (LG Aug 29, 1917), and in the New Year's Honours for 1919 he was awarded the AFC, 'in recognition of distinguished' service' (LG Jan 1, 1919).
In a conflict when the average survival time for R.F.C. pilots could be counted in hours, Wilson was promoted to Major, survived the war and died on 3rd October 1959 in Tickton,
Beverley, Yorkshire. His other claims to fame include winning the Grand Nationalon 'Double Chance' in 1925.
Cricket in war art
Cricket was used as a theme in
cartoons highlighting the " Hun's unsportsmanlike attitude to war". J.H. Dowd's "The Kaiser's Cricket" depicted a spike-helmeted German soldier playing cricket in a most underhand way. He is shown catching a ball in the field with a net, hitting an umpire with a bat, batting with a net in front of his stumps, pushing a batsman out of his crease before stumping him and bowling a ball from the middle of the pitch. C.M. Padday's painting of Royal Navysailors playing cricket on deck "somewhere in the tropics" shows a ball made of twine attached to wickets made of buckets for easy retrieval when it was hit over the side.
A "Punch" cartoon depicted the Germans in more lighthearted manner in a cartoon which showed a German plane flying over a cricket match. The game continues, even as the plane drops its bombs, with the fielders chasing a ball to the boundary. The caption, playing on the German misunderstanding of cricket, shows the German airman's report as saying "We dropped bombs on a British formation, causing the troops to disperse and run about in a panic stricken manner".
The fear of
poison gasattacks spreading to England saw the British Government warn citizens to take their gas masks everywhere in 1916, just in case. Essex cricketer and journalist Edward Sewellwas photographed in full cricket gear wearing his mask.
Cricket references in warfare
One type of cylindrical
grenadewas referred to as the " cricket ball". It was ignited by striking the grenade like a match before throwing it at the enemy. British and Empire soldiers were told to lob the 1.25 lb Mills bomb fragmentation grenadeusing a throwing action similar to bowling in cricket. Classes were taught instructing soldiers how best to do this. Around 75 million Mills bombs were thrown at the enemy in this way during World War 1.
Anzac soldiers played improvised games cricket under shellfire on
Shell Greenin Gallipoliin 1915. The Australians played a game in view of the Turks to give the impression of normality and confidence while the entire force was being secretly evacuated from the beach area. Robert Gravesrecounts a game between officers and sergeants at Vermellesin Francein 1915, when a bird cage with a dead parrot inside was used as the wicket. The game was abandoned when German machine gun fire at an aeroplane caused falling bullets to land dangerously close to the pitch.
Cricket was played overseas, often in fund raising matches. A game involving an English XII against an Indian team held at the
Bombay Gymkhanain December 1915 for war relief was watched by 40,000 people. J.G. Griegscored 216 and Frank Tarranttook 9 for 35.
The only first-class cricketer to be awarded the
Victoria Crosswas Brigadier Sir John SmythVC, for conspicuous gallantry with the 15th Ludhiana Sikhsin Indiain 1915. He also received the Military Crossand was decorated by the Russians. He played his 2 matches for the Europeans at Lahore, making 3 and 19 in the first and taking a wicket while posting 51 and 27 in the second. He was invalided out the army in the Second World Warand became a conservative MP, being created a Baronetin 1955 and a Privy Councilorin 1962.
Cricket in England
Geese were kept on the grass at
Lord'swhile the pavilion at Old Trafford was transformed into a Red Cross hospital. In four years, 1,800 patients were treated there, with beds occupying every possible space, including corridors and stairway landings.
Cricket raised funds in other ways.
George Robey, the "Prime Minister of Mirth", auctioned cricket memorabilia, including bats used by W.G. Grace, to raise funds for St. Dunstan's Hostel for Blind Servicemen.
Some cricket was still played in England, with the Australian Imperial Forces, featuring
Charlie Macartney, playing an English Army XI at Lord's in July 1917. Lord's was also the scene for a baseballmatch between American and Canadian teams watched by 10,000 with the proceeds going to the Canadian Widows and Orphans Fund. Club cricket continued to the extent that it could, with large crowds attending the matches. Lord Harris, captain of England in the first English Test natch in 1880, took part in a match at Lord's in 1918 between Plum Warner's XI and the Public Schools. His Lordship, aged 67, scored 11 before being run out.
With the war drawing to a close King George V watched England play the
Dominions at Lord's in 1918. The Dominions opened their batting with South African Herbie Taylorand Australian Charlie Macartney.
"That's my last bowl, blue"
The First World War took its toll of cricketers, as it did young men in every station in life. 34 first class cricketers died for their nation in the hostilities.
*Second Lieutenant William Burns of the
Worcestershire Regimentwas killed in action at Contalmaisonin France in July 1916 aged 32. He had been a fine batsman in 217 matches for Worcestershire, scoring 196 in a stand of 393 with Arnold at Edgbastonin 1909, and a ferocious fast bowler who took 214 wickets with a rather dubious action.
Kenneth Hutchingsof the King's Liverpool Regiment, attached to the Welsh Regiment, was killed in action by an exploding shell in September 1916. The Kent and England batsman had scored 21 first-class centuries, won 7 caps for his country, and been a Wisden Cricketer of the Yearin 1907. Remembered as one of the most graceful batsmen of the Edwardian age, he helped Kent win the County Championship 3 times and scored 126 at Melbourneon England's 1907/08 Ashes tour.
Percy Jeevesof the Royal Warwickshire Regimentwas killed in action in July 1916. A Yorkshire man who bowled for Warwickshire and was tipped by Plum Warnerfor England honours, his name was taken by P.G. Wodehouse, a noted cricket fan, for his famous fictional manservant as a memorial to his loss. Wodehouse had seen the whippy medium pacer bowl just once, in a match against Gloucestershire at Cheltenhamon 22 July 1913.
Leonard Moondied his wounds on 23 November 1916, near Karasouli in Salonica, Greece while fighting with the Devon Regiment. He scored 7 first-class hundreds while playing for Cambridge Universityfrom 1897 to 1900 and Middlesex from 1899 to 1909. He played four Tests for England against South Africa in 1905-06.
Major Boothof the West Yorkshire Regimentwas killed in action in July 1916 on the first day of the Somme Offensive, aged 29, when Britain lost 50,000 soldiers killed or wounded. Booth (his Christian name was Major) had been one of Yorkshire's leading all-rounders and had bowled unchanged with Alonzo Drakein consecutive matches in August 1914 as cricket drew to a close. He had taken 181 wickets in all first-class cricket in 1913 and 141 for Yorkshire in 1914. Booth was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Yearin 1914, the last season before hostilities. After joining up, he had been commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and first served in Egyptin 1915 before being assigned to the Western Front. He was killed near La Cignyon the Sommeon 1 July 1916, while serving with the 15th (S) Battalion, The West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales's Own), also known as 'The Leeds Pals'. He was buried at Serre Road Cemetery.
Reginald Handsdied on the Western Front on April 20, 1918in France. He had played his only Test for South Africa in 1914 against England at Port Elizabeth. He won a rugby Blueat Oxford University, as did his brothers.
Harold Garnettof the South Wales Borderswas killed in action in December 1917, aged 38. He had been a brilliant left handed batsman for Lancashire CCC, hitting 1,758 runs in 1901. He had toured Australia in 1901/2, left cricket to pursue business in Argentina, then returned to the game as a wicket-keeper. He played 152 first class games for Lancashire CCCand Argentina was among the first cricketers to volunteer in 1914.
William Odell, MC, of the Sherwood Foresters, was killed in action in October 1917 aged 31 at Passchendaele in Belgium . He had been a fine medium-pace bowler for Leicestershireand London County Cricket Clubwho twice took 8 wickets in an innings in his 193 first-class matches.
Tibby Cotterof the Australian 12th Light Horsewas killed in action in October 1917 by Turkish fire. Before his last action, he tossed up a cricket ball of mud and said to a friend "That's my last bowl, blue. Something's going to happen." he had been one of the great early fast bowlers of Test cricket, playing 21 games and taking 89 wickets, renowned for bowling an intimidating length at high pace. He hit an aging W.G. Grace with a beamer the first time he faced him and refused to stop bowling at Grace's body, despite the great man's request, causing W.G. to walk off in disgust. To quote the account of the National Army Museum: "In April 1915 Cotter enlisted with the Australian Imperial Force. He joined the 1st Australian Light Horse Regiment, taking part in the Gallipoli campaign in 1915. Cotter later transferred to the 12th Australian Light Horse and was commended for his 'fine work under heavy fire' during the Second Battle of Gaza in 1917. On 31 October 1917 the 4th Light Horse Brigade, of which the 12th were part, captured Beersheba in a brilliant cavalry charge. Trooper Cotter, serving as a stretcher-bearer, was shot dead by a sniper as the troops dismounted to engage the enemy." He was buried in the Negev desert, 2 miles south of Beersheba.
Bill Lundiewas killed on September 12, 1917on the killing fields of Passchendaelein Belgium. He, like Moon, was a South African cricketer who had played in one Test in 1914 against England, at Port Elizabeth, when he bowled 46 overs into a strong wind, taking 4 for 106.
Cecil Abercrombiewas killed on 31st May 1916 at the Battle of Jutlandwhile serving on HMS Defence. A right handed batsman and right arm medium pacer, he had played for Hampshire County Cricket Clubin 1913. He averaged over 40 and scored 4 first class centuries in just 16 matches with a highest score of 165 against Essex. He also played for the Army and Navy in 1910 and the Royal Navy in 1912 and 1913. He was awarded his county cap and died at 30 years old.
epilepsy, Sergeant Colin Blythejoined the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantryat the outbreak of war in 1914. He was fighting with the 12th (S) Battalion when he was killed by random shell-fire on the railway between Pimmern and Forest Hallnear Passchendaeleon 8 November 1917, at the age of 38. The peerless slow left armer had taken two and a half thousand wickets for his county and a hundred wickets in 19 Tests for England. He was a Wisden Cricketer of the Yearin 1904. He is buried at Oxford Road Cemeteryin Belgiumand his shrapnel punctured wallet rests in the museum at Kent's St Lawrence Groundin Canterbury.
Alfred Hartley R.G.A.was killed in near Maissemy, Franceaged 39 in October 1918. He had been a useful batsman for Lancashire, scoring 234 against Somerset in 1910, his best season. He is one of the few county cricketers to have been born in the USA, in New Orleans.
Rupert Hickmott, an opening batsman who played 17 matches for Canterbury and died aged 22 on the Somme in 1916 while fellow countryman George Wilson, a leg spinner who played just 6 matches for Canterbury and yet twice took 10 wickets in a match, died in Flanders on December 14, 1917at the age of 28.
George Marsden-Smedley, of the 3rd Battalion Rifle Brigade, who had captained Harrow School's first XI in 1915, was killed in action on August 18 1916. A memorial seat was placed overlooking the Harrow School Cricket ground, its inscription reading 'To love the game beyond the prize'.
G.W.E. Whiteheadtypifies the many young men who fell whose cricketing talent was lost before it could blossom. Captain of the Clifton CollegeXI in 1913 and 1914 he had made 259 not out against Liverpool and was killed a month before the end of the war, serving with the Royal Flying Corps.
*Two of the famed South African 'googly quartet' fell in the fighting.
Gordon Whitedied of his wounds in Palestinein October 1936 at the age of 36. He had played 17 Tests for his country, scoring 2 centuries with a best of 147. Major Reggie Schwarzdied in Etaples, France on November 18, seven days after the Armistice. He had fought in German South West Africa(now Namibia) been wounded twice in action and fell victim, at 43, to the influence epidemic which swept through a war ravaged world. He was a major in the King's Royal Rifle Corpsand had won the Military Cross.
*Other cricketers were seriously wounded in the fighting. Harry Lee, the Middlesex batsman was reported killed in action in 1915, soon after enlisting, and a memorial service was held in his honour. He had been shot in the leg in battle at
Neuve Chapelleand lay for three days between the lines before being taken into German custody and repatriated as a hopeless case. His leg, although shortened and withered, recovered enough for him to make a century at Lancing in 1917. Unable to serve again in the forces he took a position in 1917 as cricket and football coach to the Maharajah of Cooch Beharand was booked to sail to India on the S.S. "Nyanza". At the last moment his passage was switched to the "Nagoya": the "Nyanza" was torpedoed just out of Plymouth. He went on to play 437 first-class games and a Test match for England, against South Africa at Johannesburgin February 1931.
Frank Chester, who later became a famous and highly respected umpire, was not so fortunate, having his playing career shattered when he lost his right arm below the elbow in fighting around Salonikain Greecein the summer of 1917 at the age of 21. He had been the youngest professional in the first class game when he joined Worcestershire in 1912 at the age of 16, scored 703 runs including 3 centuries and took 44 wickets with his off breaks in 1913 and scored 924 runs in 1914 with a best of 178 against Essex, hitting 4 sixes of England captain Johnny Douglas. As an umpire, he always counted the balls with six small pebbles picked up from his mother's garden at Busheybefore he stood in his first match.
Jack Massie, son of H.H. Massie, had been a promising left arm fast bowler tipped for Test honours before the war, with Johnny Moyesconsidering him the finest of the type he had ever seen. He took 99 wickets in 16 first-class matches for New South Walesfrom 1910/11 to 1913/14 but was seriously injured in action. He was decorated for 'conspicuous ability, initiative, resourcefulness and devotion to duty.
*One of the most poignant losses of the Great War was that of
A.E.J. Collinsat the age of 29 at the First Battle of Ypreson 11 November 1914. He is still famous for recording cricket's highest ever individual score, smashing 628 not out as a thirteen year old in a house match in June 1899 over the course of four afternoons. He joined the British Army in 1902 and studied at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwichbefore becoming an officer in the 5th Field Company of the Royal Engineers. He had been Mentioned in Dispatchesfor action before his loss. His body was never found but his name is recorded at the Menin Gate Memorialin Belgium. His younger brother Herbert, a Lieutenant in the 24th Battalion of the Manchester Regimentand a fellow old Cliftonian. was also killed in action, on 11 February 1917, aged 27. Collins's wife, Ethel, lived as a widow for over fifty years.
In addition to those cricketers who died while on active service, some other notable players and former players died from ill health during the war years. They included
W.G. Graceand Victor Trumper, who both died in 1915.
A changed game
The County Championship resumed in England in 1919, with the counties agreeing to a brief and unsuccessful experiment with two-day county matches. It was not only the playing ranks which had been thinned by four years of slaughter. Worcestershire County Cricket Club mounted a roll of honour, in the form of a wooden plaque, in the pavilion at New Road to list and remember the 17 members of the club who died in the Great War. It remains there to this day.
1915 to 1918 English cricket seasons
Cricket in World War Two
* [http://www.cricinfo.com Cricinfo]
* [http://www.cricketarchive.com Cricket Archive]
* [http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWsport.htm Spartacus School Net]
* [http://www.national-army-museum.ac.uk/exhibitions/cricket/page3.shtml National Army Museum]
*The Pageant of Cricket by David Frith, Macmillan, 1987. ISBN 0 333 45177 5.
* [http://www.roll-of-honour.com/Worcestershire/WorcesterCricketClub.html Worcestershire Roll of Honour]
* [http://www.lords.org/history/mcc-history/first-world-war-roll-of-honour,831,AR.html Lord's - MCC HIstory - First World War - Roll of Honour]
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