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1944

Lord's under attack

Martin Williamson looks back at how Lord's survived the Second World War

Martin Williamson

May 6, 2006

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Ducking the doodlebugs: Jack Robertson takes cover from a flying bomb during a match at Lord's in 1944 © The Cricketer
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In the Great War (1914-18) little cricket was played, certainly until the latter stages of the conflict, as it was considered unpatriotic to be taking part in games while troops were being slaughtered so close to home. Gradually that attitude changed, and by 1917 matches were being held at major grounds, usually for charity.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, there was no similar move to put everything on hold. Indeed, over the winter of 1939-40 several counties considered the possibility of staging a limited County Championship during the following summer. The absence of most players on active service scuppered that, but games continued with servicemen on leave and based at home - and it should be remembered that Britain did not return to mainland Europe until 1944, so the number of UK-based players was high.

Large crowds attended matches, nowhere more so than at Lord's, where Pelham Warner, the acting secretary, maintained an attractive and busy schedule throughout. What was remarkable was that there were only two serious interruptions to games, even though the Luftwaffe staged bombing raids throughout the war.

The first interruption came in July 1942 when Andy Ducat, who had played both cricket and football for England, collapsed and died at the wicket. It was a tragic but somehow fitting way to go.

The second provided probably the most enduring cricket-related photograph of the conflict. By 1944 , the Germans had unleashed the V1 flying bomb - the doodlebug - and in July and August of that year over 8000 were launched, with 2600 reaching their targets, with nine in ten hitting London. The death toll was thought to be around 2000 in that period. Flats near Lord's and the synagogue opposite the Grace Gates were hit by flying bombs.

On Saturday, July 29 the Army played the RAF at Lord's in front of 3100 spectators, many attracted by the return from abroad of England's pre-war captain Wally Hammond, who had conveniently been billeted in nearby Regent's Park following his medical discharge from the army.



A barrage balloon protecting the Nursery End © Getty Images
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Overnight rain delayed the start from 11.30am to 2pm. The Army won the toss and were about an hour into their innings - Jack Robertson, the Middlesex and England opener, was facing Bob Wyatt (Warwickshire and England) - when the motor of a doodlebug cut out, the signal that it was about to drop. In this case, it was apparent that it was going to come down very close to, if not on, Lord's.

Wyatt had thrown himself to the ground, midway through his run-up and still clutching the ball, as had all the other players. The spectators took what cover they could where they were - "the spectators were to be seen in curious postures in the pavilion and round the ground," wrote Warner in his history of Lord's.

Fortunately, the flying bomb fell about 200 yards short of the ground and landed in Albert Road, north of Regent's Park.

The players calmly rose and the spectators resumed their places. Without returning to the start of his mark, Wyatt continued his run-up and bowled to Robertson who hammered the ball into the grandstand for six, to the delight of the crowd.

Less than a fortnight later, Lord's was again in the firing line as another V1 fell close to the ground during a match between a Lord's XI and a Public School's XI, showering the outfield with shrapnel and debris. Forttunately, none of the players or the small crowd were hurt, and play resumed after a short delay. In between these two matches, Hammond had hit 105 for England against Australia in a one-day (as opposed to limited-overs) match in front of 16,000 spectators.



The pavilion at Lord's battened down for the duration © Getty Images
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That is not to say that Lord's did not suffer damage. In 1940 the Nursery ground was hit by an oil bomb, and a high-explosive bomb narrowly missed the stands at the Nursery End in December. Further damage was done by incendiary bombs to the Grandstand roof and the pavilion, but Lord's' in-house firefighters acted swiftly to limit the damage.

Perhaps the most high-profile damage to Lord's came not from the Luftwaffe but from a barrage balloon - a blimp suspended a few hundred feet from the ground aimed at prevented low-level fighter attacks. The steel cable holding one of these broke loose in a wind and wrapped itself round Father Time, depositing it among the seating at the front of the Grandstand.

At least Lord's remained a cricket ground. London's other major venue, The Oval, was designated as a holding area for prisoners of war and the grass ripped up and barbed-wire compounds erected. No POWs were ever held there, but when it was handed back to Surrey CCC in 1945, the authorities there faced a massive job in getting it fit to host cricket again.

Is there an incident from the past you would like to know more about? E-mail us with your comments and suggestions.

Bibliography
The Cricketer Various
Lord's 1787-1945 Sir Pelham Warner (Methuen 1945)
The Lost Seasons Eric Midwinter (Methuen 1987) Various

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Martin Williamson Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.
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