Cricket in World War II

Cricket in World War II

Cricket in England in World War II was all but non-existent due to the absence of many players and the austerity measures introduced. The 1939 cricket season in England, during which the 8-ball over was introduced and the wicket widened from 8 inches to 9 in an attempt to even the contest between bat and ball, was the last until 1945.

A David Low cartoon in the Evening Standard had depicted Neville Chamberlain as a quivering batsman facing up to Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini about to bowl a grenade, with a huge Rock of Gibraltar behind him as the wicket, and although Winston Churchill was made of sterner stuff, cricket once again had to shut down for war. The British Lion was depicted by Tom Webster in full cricket gear, batting for freedom in a huge billboard erected on the frontage of the Gaiety Theatre in London to help the drive for war savings.


Lord's in wartime

There was discussion during the 'phony war' winter of 1939/40 of staging a limited County Championship in 1940, but such plans came to nothing as most players, although still in Britain, were on active service. Pelham Warner maintained a lively schedule of matches at Lord's throughout the conflict with many services, schools and invitation matches being staged. Lord's did not escape the Blitz unscathed. The Nursery ground was hit by an oil bomb in 1940 and a high-explosive bomb narrowly missed the Nursery End stands in December of that year. Incendiary bombs ignited both the Grandstand roof and the pavilion in one raid, but Lord's' in-house firefighters quickly doused the flames.

As another Australian Prime Minister, John Curtin, said "Australians will always fight for those 22 yards. Lord's and its traditions belong to Australia just as much as England." When V1s began to bombard London in 1944 flats near Lord's and the synagogue opposite the Grace Gates were hit by flying bombs. A doodlebug's engine cut out over Lord's on July 29 and the players in the Army v RAF game, including batsmen Jack Robertson of Middlesex, wicket keeper Andy Wilson of Gloucestershire and Bill Edrich of Middlesex, threw themselves to the ground and lay prone as the VI dived to the ground. Bill Wyatt, the bowler, lay clutching the ball in his hand halfway through his run up. The moment was immortalised in a famous photograph and 3,100 spectators held their breath but luckily, for the players at least, the crude cruise missile fell 200 yards short of the ground in Albert Road, north of Regent's Park. Robertson celebrated their survival by hitting the next ball for six. Wally Hammond, billeted in nearby Regent's Park after his medical discharge from the Army, was playing in the game and hit a century in a one day (not limited overs) game against Australia a few days later in front of a 16,000 crowd. Another V1 fell close to Lord's a fortnight later, during a match between a Lord's XI and a Public School's XI, littering the outfield with shrapnel and debris. Fortunately nobody was hurt and play resumed after a short delay.

Aerial attack came from an unexpected direction when a nearby barrage balloon broke free in high winds and snagged its steel cable around Father Time, Lord's famous weather vane. The old man was ripped from his moorings and fell into the grandstand, but was quickly restored to his rightful position.

Other grounds

Many cricket grounds were dug up for food production, or had their buildings damaged by bombs. The pavilion at Wallasey, near Liverpool in Cheshire, was destroyed by a parachute mine for example. It was not all bad news however. Eton's headmaster invited 800 members of London's Boys Brigade to camp at Agar's Plough to escape the Blitz in 1942 and the youngsters found themselves playing cricket on Eton's hallowed cricket ground.

The Oval Pavilion was used as a furniture store while the ground itself was converted into a prisoner of war camp. The cages of barbed wire were never used to house prisoners but the outfield had been badly damaged and much reconversion and development had to be undertaken as a result when hostilities ended. Later in the war, Australia's Prime Minister, the cricket loving Robert Menzies, staunchly autographed an unexploded incendiary bomb which had fallen on Old Trafford Cricket Ground on his visit to Manchester.

Cricketers in World War II

Cricketers joined up, as they had in the Great War. Captain Hedley Verity, Sgt-Major Frank Smailes, Capt. Herbert Sutcliffe, Sgt Maurice Leyland and Sgt. Instructor Len Hutton signed up from Yorkshire for example. Hutton sustained a serious arm injury when he fell in a gymnasium in York and an operation and bone grafts left his left arm shorter and weaker than his right. Smailes, Sutcliffe and Leyland were to survive the war unscathed, Hedley Verity was not.

Denis Compton, Fred Price, Leslie Compton and most of the Middlesex team became special constables at the police station near Lords. Denis Compton joined the Army, was posted to India and found himself scoring 249* for Holkar v Bombay in the final of the Ranji Trophy in 1944/45. Future England batsman Reg Simpson made his first class debut for Sind in the same competition. Keith Miller became a fighter pilot and said much of his carefree attitude to Test cricket after the war came from his realisation that "Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse, playing cricket is not."

Cricket continued in the Antipodes too, with 18 year old Arthur Morris scoring 148 and 111 in his debut match for New South Wales against Queensland after Christmas in 1940. Frank Worrell was another young man to make an early impression, scoring 308* at the age of 19 for Barbados v Trinidad in 1943/44. Rusi Modi scored seven centuries in seven matches in the 1944/45 Ranji Trophy, scoring 1008 runs at 201.6. Dudley Nourse hit nine successive balls for six, and 11 out of 12, in a match in Cairo in 1942 between a South African XI and the Military Police.

English first class cricketers made frequent appearances for Royal Air Force (RAF), Army and other services sides during the conflict. Bill Edrich, who played for the RAF won the Distinguished Flying Cross for his part in a low level bombing raid over Cologne. Not every match was so happy however. Andrew Ducat, the Surrey and England batsman and England footballer collapsed and died at the wicket in a match at Lord's on July 23, 1942 while batting for Surrey Home Guard against Sussex Home Guard. The match was abandoned and his score recorded as 'not out 29'.

Bill Bowes, the bespectacled Yorkshire and England fast bowler, became a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery and was captured by the Italians at Tobruk in June 1942 in the western desert campaign. He organised sport for 1,700 fellow prisoners during his captivity in Italy and Germany until freed by the Americans in April 1945. Future Northamptonshire and England Captain Freddie Brown was a fellow prisoner of war at the same camp with Bowes. Field Marshal Montgomery, architect of the Desert Rats victory and the Normandy campaign, had once faced the bowling of W.G. Grace as a schoolboy, acquitting himself well.

The fallen

Claude Ashton, one of the famous Cambridge University brotherhood who had played 127 games for Cambridge and Essex CCC, was killed over Caernarvon when his plane collided with another piloted by Roger Winlaw, who had played 52 games for Cambridge and Surrey CCC.

Flight Lt. Geoff Legge, Fleet Air Arm, died flying over Brampford Speke in Devon in November 1940, aged 37. He played 147 first class matches, for Oxford University and Kent and had captained the County side from 1928 to 1930. He played five Test matches for England, scoring 299 runs at the excellent average of 49.83 with a best of 196 against New Zealand.

Capt. A.W. Doolie Briscoe, MC, was killed in Abyssinia in April 1941, aged 30. He had been a prolific batsman for Transvaal and played two test matches for South Africa, against Australia and England. In just 35 first class matches he scored 2,189 runs at 45.6 with a highest score of 191. He had been awarded the Military Cross for gallantry at Huberta and Ionte and fell when fighting alongside fellow South African cricketers Bruce Mitchell and R. E. Grieveson.

RAF Pilot Officer George Macauley died of illness in the Shetland Islands on December 13, 1940 while on active service. He had taken 1837 first class wickets at an average under 18 and played 8 Test matches for England.

Flight Lieut Donald Walker, of the RAFVR, was killed over Holland, 2 km north of Best, in June 1941 aged 28. He had enjoyed three successful seasons with Hampshire CCC from 1937 to 1939, scoring 4 first class hundreds.

Rawalpindi born Vivian Chiodetti, a regular British Army soldier, played a first class match for Hyderabad before he was killed in Burma in 1942.

David Walker, who had played 37 matches for Oxford University and scored 2 first class centuries, was lost on February 7, 1942, on a flight over Norway, and buried at Trondheim aged 28 years.

Pilot Officer Ken Farnes was killed, at the age of 30, in a plane crash in October 1941 while flying with the R.A.F. over Northamptonshire. He had been a fearsome amateur fast bowler for Cambridge University and Essex CCC throughout the 1930s and took 10 wickets on his Test debut at Trent Bridge in 1934. He had toured the West Indies, Australia and South Africa and taken 60 wickets at hunder 30 in his 15 games. His 8 for 43 for the Gentlemen against the Players in 1938 brought only their second victory since the Great War.

Sgt Observer Ross Gregory RAAF, was killed while flying over Ghafargon in Assam in India at the age of 26. A brilliant young cricketer, he had made his debut for Victoria while still at school and he played his first test, against England in 1936/37 at the age of 20. He made 80 in the Ashes deciding test at Melbourne and was a useful leg spinner as well.

Flight Lieut. Arthur Langton was killed in November 1942 while flying near Maiduguri in Nigeria. He was 30 years old. 'Chud' had played 52 first class matches for Transvaal over a decade and 15 tests for South Africa, taking 40 wickets and scoring 298 runs.

New Zealand Test player Lieut. Denis Moloney died of his wounds while a prisoner of war in July 1942 after his capture at El Alamein aged 31. He played for Otago, Wellington and Canterbury in New Zealand and had made his Test debut against England at Lords in 1937, making 64. 'Sonny' scored 1,463 runs and took 57 wickets on the tour overall.

Flight Lieut Frederick Chalk DFC went missing over the English Channel in February 1943 and was listed presumed killed. He was 32. He had scored 108 as Oxford Captain in the 1934 Varsity match and captained Kent CCC in 1938 and 1939, when he made his highest score of 198 against Sussex at Tonbridge. As a rear gunner he had won the DFC for fighting off a Me-110 and later transferred to a Spitfire squadron.

Private Jack Lee was killed in Normandy in July 1944 while serving with the Pioneers at the age of 42. He had played 243 games with Somerset CCC as an opening batsman and leg spinner and played soccer for Arsenal. He scored six centuries with a best of 193*.

Captain George Kemp Welch, of the Grenadier Guards, was killed when the Guards Chapel was bombed in June 1944. He was 36. A son-in-law of former Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, he had captained Cambridge and played for Warwickshire as a batsman and medium paced bowler. He had scored centuries during Tennyson's tour of Jamaica in 1932.

New Zealander Bill Carson died of his wounds at the age of 28 on board a hospital ship between Bari, Italy and Egypt in 1944. He had played rugby union for New Zealand and first class cricket for his country and, with P.E. Whitelaw, had achieved a then world record stand of 445 for Auckland's third wicket against Otago at Dunedin on December 31, 1936. After marrying in 1940 he had sailed from New Zealand for war and was mentioned in despatches in 1914 during the Battle of Crete. He was awarded the Military Cross in 1943 but was badly wounded in fighting in Italy in 1944. He died during his evacuation back to New Zealand.

Major Maurice Turnbull of the Welsh Guards was killed by a sniper in Normandy two months after D-Day in 1944. He had not only played cricket for England but also rugby and hockey for Wales. A superb batsman, he had captained Glamorgan CCC throughout the 1930s and was also the club's secretary. He had become a test selector and had authored two books. He was 38.

Sidney Clarke Adamsied on 24 March 1945 near Hamminkelu in Germany just a couple of weeks before the end of the war. A leg break bowler and right-handed batsman, he played for Northamptonshire County Cricket Club from 1926 to 1932. His best batting and bowling both came against Dublin University, scoring 87 and taking 6 for 32.

Hedley Verity

Along with Ken Farnes, Hedley Verity was perhaps the most famous cricketing casualty of the war. He had been a match winning slow left arm bowler for Yorkshire and England throughout the 1930s, the only man to take 10 wickets for 10 runs in first class cricket. He had bowled the very last ball in County Cricket in 1939, taking 7 for 9 in the innings. In his last ever game of cricket, Verity took 8 for 55 in a match in Omagh in Ulster in September 1941. Verity served with the Green Howards, as did Norman Yardley, in India, where he suffered terribly from dysentery, then in the Middle East and finally in Italy. On the plain of Catania, surrounded by Germans as he led his men at night through a corn field, Captain Verity was illuminated by flares and burning vegetation and hit severely in the chest. He was captured, with his Lancastrian batman, and ferried to Reggio. His condition worsened in Naples and, as he lay in his hospital bed after an unsuccessful operation, he told his batman that 'I may have played my last innings for Yorkshire.' He died on the last day of July 1943 and was buried in Caserta. He was 38. His last words to his men were 'Keep going.'

The aftermath

Five 'Victory Tests' were staged between the Australian Services side and England in 1945, the series ending in a 2 all draw. County Cricket resumed, with huge attendances, as the battered and sports starved population rebuilt their lives after six long years of conflict. Surrey had to postpone their centenary celebrations due to the war, but in 1946, a year late, an Old England XI played against Surrey in a one-day match at the Oval, watched by King George VI. The team included Andy Sandham, Herbert Sutcliffe, Tich Freeman, Frank Woolley, Percy Fender and Douglas Jardine,[1] but it was a new array of stars led by Denis Compton and Bill Edrich, who were to lead England's cricketing resurgence after the rigours of war.

See also


  1. ^

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