Cricket's ultimate sacrifice
A total of 21 Test players died in service, including several from the Commonwealth such as Albert 'Tibby' Cotter, the Australia fast bowler, and Reginald Schwarz, one of the quartet of South Africa googly bowlers in the Edwardian era. The War Graves Commission has set up an on-going exhibition in the Lord's museum and has organised a charity match at Arundel on Sunday, August 12, featuring an Old England XI against a team of Anzac-South African club cricketers.
Dozens of first-class players were lost, though the Commission - prompted no doubt by the current England-India series - could find only one Indian in the list. The Rawalpindi-born Vivian Chiodetti, a regular British Army soldier, played a match for Hyderabad before he was killed in Burma in 1942. The museum at Lord's tells the Chiodetti story and features England players such as Hedley Verity, Colin Blythe and Ken Farnes.
Cricket, with crude equipment, was played in unlikely places by battle-ready troops. The Australians played a game in view of the Turks at Gallipoli in 1915, trying to give the impression of normality and confidence while the entire force was being secretly evacuated from the beach area.
Robert Graves recounts a game between officers and sergeants at Vermelles in France in 1915, when a bird cage with dead parrot in inside was used as the wicket. The game was abandoned when German machine gun fire at an aeroplane sprayed falling bullets dangerously close to the pitch. Jim Laker played in a match at El Alamein.
Cotter was hit in the head by a sniper's bullet in Palestine as he peered over a trench parapet and he died the same month in 1917 as his brother John, killed in France. Schwarz, twice surviving wounds, was admitted to hospital on the day of Armistice in 1918 and died of pneumonia seven days later.
Blythe, the Kent left-arm spinner, is the only Test player with a gravestone inscription alluding to his cricketing eminence. He lies at rest in Belgium, killed by a shell blast at the age of 38 while working as an engineer in 1917.
During the second World War, Lord's was requisitioned by the War Office for the RAF and Te Oval was prepared as a prisoner of war camp that was never used, complete with wire cages on the playing surface.
The Commission cares for graves and memorials for the 1.7 million dead at almost 23,000 locations in 150 countries.
This article first appeared on http://www.charlierandallcricket.com/.