Cricketers set an example

With the onset of another Ashes cricket series in Australia, I thought it worthwhile to reflect on the game in the context of the First World War.

Within a number of weeks of war being declared on August 5, 1914, it was felt inappropriate to allow first class sporting events to take place.

The most popular sport of course was football and the professional leagues were fairly quickly suspended. Other sports followed suit.

Cricket was no exception. That doyen of cricket’s history, WG Grace, had a letter published in The Sportsman on August 27, just as the battles for Mons and Le Cateau were taking place, declaring “I think the time has arrived when the county cricket season should be closed, for it is not fitting at a time like this that able-bodied men should be playing cricket by day and pleasure-seekers look on. I should like to see all first-class cricketers of suitable age set a good example and come to the help of their country without delay in its hour of need.”

In England, of the 210 professional players 34 lost their lives. From all forms of cricket, hundreds upon hundreds of players and officials would pay the ultimate price.

Nevertheless, skills learned on the cricket field were used to effect on the battlefield. For example, the technique of throwing the Mills bomb, a fragmentation grenade, was borrowed straight from bowling a cricket ball, an action lampooned in a cartoon during the war.

The playing of a football match in No Man’s Land during the Christmas Truce in 1914 has been well documented. Less well known is the story of the Aussie soldiers playing an improvised game of cricket amid the falling shells at Gallipoli late 1915.

The Gallipoli campaign had been a disaster. Indeed the most successful part was the withdrawal. To encourage the enemy Turkish forces that all was normal, among the ruses, a game of cricket was played in full view while behind the scenes the army slipped away. Very few became casualties during the withdrawal.

The project, has uncovered a number of cricketers from the area who died in war service. The highest profile perhaps was Northumberland County cricketer, all round sportsman and derring-do of a man Lt Edmund Mortimer, who had strong family connections with Whitley Bay.

On the free and accessible database are 10 other men with cricketing ties, mostly with Tynemouth Cricket Club whose memorial plaque details the names of those who played for the club and succumbed in the war. Men like Capt James Errington, Lieutenant Victor Limerick, 2nd Lieutenant Robert Hogg, Rifleman John Robert Jackson and Private David Tulloch.

For more details about the project, visit www.northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk