This is the Impact That World War I Had on Cricket

  • Apr 30, 2020

It was not only artists who signed up to fight in World War I and World War II. You might be surprised to hear that hundreds and hundreds of cricket players and officials signed up to serve their countries. Hundreds of these were killed in action. Below we are going to take a closer looker at the impact that war had on cricket.


First-Class Cricket Was Abandoned

With the threat of war already on the horizon in August, those cricketers that had military commitments such as Yorkshire’s Archibald White, went to do their duty. When war was eventually declared, the likes of Arthur Carr (Nottinghamshire) and Pelham Warner (Middlesex) did the same. The County Championship was still to go ahead with the MCC declaring that there is nothing good that can come from cancelling matches. However, attendance started to drop drastically, and it was clear that the players’ minds were elsewhere. Therefore, it was decided at the beginning of September that all matches would be cancelled.

Other Cricket Continued Though

Although first-class cricket had been cancelled all over the world, there was still some cricket being played. For instance, in England there were cricket matches being played between different service sides. Club cricket also continued, especially in the northern part of England. Cricket grounds such as Old Trafford in Manchester was transformed into a hospital and they treated 1,800 patients there over the course of four years.

Robert Graves, a British poet, once recounted a game of cricket that took part between sergeants and officers at Vermelles (France) in 1915. The wicket, rather gruesomely, was a bird cage that had a dead parrot inside. The game was never finished though because bullets from German fire started to land too close to the pitch.

There were some fundraising matches going on as well. For example, in December 1915, an English XII played against an Indian XI at the Bombay Gymkhana Stadium. The game was watched by 40,000 fans. In this match, Frank Tarrant picked up 9 wickets for just 35 runs, while J.G. Greig scored an impressive 216. Cricketers helped to raise money in other ways as well. For instance, cricket memorabilia, including W. G. Grace’s bat were auctioned off to raise money for St. Dunstan’s Hospital, which was there to serve blind servicemen.

Doing Their Bit for Their Country

210 first-class cricket players signed up for the armed services, while many others signed up to support the war effort. For example, let us take a look at those who decided to “do their bit” from the Surrey team. Bill Hitch, Ernie Hayes, and Andy Sandham signed up to the Royal Fusiliers’ Sportsman’s Battalion, while Neville Knox was a private for the Public Schools Battalion. Herbert Strudwick and Razor Smith worked in an ammunition plant, while other Surrey cricketers helped with recruitment.

Jack Wilson played for Yorkshire, but he also had a pilot’s license. When war broke out, he joined the Royal Air Service and carried out a number of missions over the course of the war. For instance, in 1915, he saw two submarines and he dropped four bombs on them to eliminate the danger. Then, on the 7th June, he was part of an attack that dropped bombs on an airship shed and destroyed a zeppelin. Wilson was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for the part that he played in that mission as he and his comrades came under heavy enemy fire. Wilson went on to survive the war and he passed away on the 3rd October in 1959.

Bowling Techniques to Throw Grenades

When throwing a Mills bomb, British soldiers were taught a similar technique that is taught to those who are learning how to bowl a cricket ball. Geoffrey Stobie, a British artist, created a cartoon that satirized this in 1918. The drawing has two panes: on the pane on the left, a bowler is about to bowl, with his left arm out in front and his right down by his side holding the ball. On the right pane, there is a soldier in the same position as the cricketer, but he is holding a grenade instead of a cricket ball.

Test Cricketers Who Died During the War

There were plenty of brave cricketers that lost their lives during World War I. Below we are going to take a look at some test cricketers who died fighting for their country.

Colin Blythe: When war broke out in 1914, he joined the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry despite the fact that he suffered from epilepsy. He was killed by a shell on the 8th November, 1917, at 38 years of age. The slow left arm bowler took 2,500 wickets for his club and picked up 100 wickets for England from just 19 tests. In 1904, he was declared the Wisden Cricketer of the Year. He was buried in Belgium and his wallet which has pieces of shrapnel in it can be found St. Lawrence Ground in Kent.


Gordon White and Reggie Schwarz: These were two highly talented South African cricketers. White got wounded while fighting in Palestine in 1916, and he would soon go on to die from those wounds at 36 years of age. He played 17 tests for South Africa and scored 2 centuries, with a best score of 147. Schwarz had been wounded in action on two occasions, but he recovered from those wounds. However, in 1918, 7 days after a truce had been called, he caught the flu and succumbed to it.

Major Booth: The Major part of his name was not a military rank but was actually his real Christian name. He was killed in July 1916 during the 1st day of the Somme Offensive. On this same day, Britain lost thousands and thousands of soldiers. He was an extremely talented all-rounder for Yorkshire, but it was fair to say that his bowling was his strongest suit. In 162 first-class matches, he picked up 603 wickets at an average of 19.82. He earned himself two test call ups for England, where his best bowling figures were 4 wickets for 49 runs. He was just 29 when he was killed.

Kenneth Hutchings: was killed by a shell in September of 1916. The talented batsman had scored 21 first-class hundreds and had earned 7 England caps. In 1907, he won the Wisden Cricketer of the year award. He helped Kent win the Championship 3 times and scored a century in Melbourne during the 1090708 Ashes series.