Home Cricket through the Wars Warwickshire CCC during the Second World War

Warwickshire CCC during the Second World War

by John Broom

In the five seasons leading up to the Second World War, Warwickshire CCC had been low-to-mid table finishers in the county championship, with one 8th position, three 11th positions and one 13th position.

One of their former players, Jack Parsons, recently installed as vicar of Liskeard, preached to his congregation on Sunday, 3 September. Parsons had played both as a professional and an amateur for Warwickshire from 1910 to 1934. Considered by many to be one of the finest batsmen never to receive an England call-up, Parsons had enjoyed a rich and varied career as a labourer, engineer, private soldier, army officer, sportsman and parson. He was keenly aware of what war meant for the world, proclaiming:

Once again … we are plunged into the ghastly horrors of war. To those of us, of the 1914 war generation, the thought of having to go through all that futile business of killing and being killed is … a terrible indictment of our present-day so-called civilisation. And what of those millions of dead in the last war – of what avail has been their sacrifice?

Parsons realised that the current war would be all-encompassing, saying, ‘This war will not only be a question of professional soldiers, sailors and airmen fighting, it unfortunately means everybody. Civilians – men, women and children – will be drawn into this cauldron of destruction.’


During the war, several Warwickshire players would turn out in the strong Birmingham League. In 1940, with former Warwickshire and England skipper Bob Wyatt topping the batting averages with 516 runs for Moseley. Eric Hollies broke the league record aggregate for a season with ninety-nine wickets for Old Hill, whilst New Zealander Bill Merritt achieved a phenomenal double of 878 runs and eighty wickets for Dudley.

Worcestershire’s sole fixture was a fundraising match against Warwickshire in aid of the Worcester Fighter Fund in front of a crowd of 2,000 at New Road, and a sum of £45 15s was raised.

Warwickshire’s sole fixture that first fateful wartime summer was a match against Worcestershire at New Road. 2,000 attended the match, with £45 15s being raised in aid of the Worcester Fighting Fund. The club’s Edgbaston headquarters was damaged by enemy bombing, when the bowling shed was destroyed, as Birmingham’s armaments industry was a high-profile Luftwaffe target. The county managed to run a small surplus, with 680 members contributing £1,106 in 1940 to give a surplus of £21.


Despite the previous year’s damage to the Edgbaston ground, Warwickshire playing a few fixtures there, including an August bank holiday match against Midlands rivals Worcestershire, which formed part of the Holidays at Home drive. A reciprocal match took place at the New Road Ground, which was also used for numerous school and Civil Defence Service matches that summer. The programme aimed to reduce pressure on overcrowded transport services and coastal areas. Local authorities became the local agents for the government, and it fell to the clerks of the councils to liaise with entertainers, the committees and the public in order to create a successful programme of events.

The Birmingham League continued to be strong. West Bromwich Dartmouth won the league largely thanks to the leg spin of Eric Hollies whilst Joe Mayer, the Warwickshire fast-medium bowler, topped the league averages playing for Walsall.


Worcestershire and Warwickshire were in action at the Birmingham Cricket Festival at Edgbaston. The Lord Mayor of Birmingham had commissioned a cricket week as part of the Holidays at Home scheme to provide some relief for the city’s munitions workers who had been hard at work in the workshop of Britain, whilst suffering particularly heavy hammering in the Blitz. An appeal was placed in The Cricketer for first-class players who might be available, promising that travelling expenses would be paid and hospitality arranged.

Midlands cricket followers witnessed a Coventry District League XI beating a Birmingham District League XI. Warwickshire drew with an England Civil Defence XI with Bob Wyatt scoring 171 not out in three and a half hours. Harold Gimblett, Frank Lee, John and James Langridge and Leslie Compton appeared for the Civil Defence team. A Northern Command XI beat a combined Leicestershire and Warwickshire XI whilst a Birmingham League XI drew with a United Services XI.

The festival underpinned a resilience in cricketing interest in the Shakespeare county, with Warwickshire CCC raising £705 through membership subscription, although ending the season with a deficit of £51, and being able to set aside £300 for repairs and maintenance. The festival week had raised £486 for the Lord Mayor of Birmingham’s War Relief Fund. The festival was the brainchild of Lieutenant Colonel Reginald ‘Rust

The festival was the brainchild of Lieutenant Colonel Reginald ‘Rusty’ Scorer, a local councillor and a hard-working charity organiser. Scorer had played firstclass cricket for Warwickshire in the 1930s and would organise successful festivals for four consecutive wartime summers. Wisden noted: ‘his ambition to provide carefree cricket for the munition workers and citizens of Birmingham met with ready co-operation from the leading cricketers in the country, who provided grand entertainment in those four annual festivals for altogether nearly 140,000 people. Charity benefited to the extent of almost £10,000.’ Scorer was an innovator. He employed loudspeakers to play music and broadcast announcements during interval breaks. This was a new way to ensure the crowd was being entertained and kept fully informed of all the action.

In the Birmingham League, West Bromwich Dartmouth won the championship for the second year in succession, largely due to the skill of Eric Hollies, the England and Warwickshire leg-break bowler. Once more, 48-yearold Harold Kirton (Mitchells and Butlers), who had played two matches for Warwickshire in the 1920s, showed fine form as a batsman, heading the league averages with 68.40 for ten innings. Most clubs still engaged professionals, but Aston Unity continued their wartime nomadic existence due to the unavailability of their ground.


In the Birmingham League, George Paine, the Warwickshire professional who had appeared in four Test matches, made 131 for Kidderminster v Moseley in a club record opening stand of 215 in just 105 minutes, R.E. McKinlay being his batting partner. West Bromwich Dartmouth carried off the league championship for the third successive year, largely thanks to the bowling of Eric Hollies.

The second Birmingham Cricket Festival took place on 2–6 August. Prior to the previous year’s gala, the Edgbaston ground had been in a derelict state, with the grass 18 inches high. An army of resolute volunteers turned it into a wicket worthy of top-class cricket. Once again Lieutenant Colonel ‘Rusty’ Scorer had assembled a fine collection of matches, with Warwickshire CCC lending the ground for free. Further interest was generated by A.W. Heath, a local magistrate, offering £1 for every six struck by a player in an innings, provided he hit a minimum of three. Further north, Leeds’s magnificent Roundhay Park continued to attract crowds of 20,000 for its Sunday charity matches, making it the ideal venue for the city’s cricket week, with appearances from county players currently engaged with northern league cricket and teams from Civil Defence and the Army.


1944 saw the advent of V1 Rocket attacks on Britain. On 18 June a mixed military and civilian congregation had gathered at the Guards’ Chapel at St James’s Park for Sabbath worship. The choir had struck up the Sung Eucharist when one of the flying bombs cut out and nosedived onto the chapel, destroying the roof, its supporting walls and concrete pillars. As the clouds of dust subsided, first-aid teams and heavy rescue crews arrived to find a scene of utter devastation. Doctors and nurses were obliged to scramble in between the concrete walls to administer morphine and first aid. Several rescuers and survivors later recalled that the silver altar cross had been untouched by the blast and candles continued to burn. The rescue services and Guardsmen from the barracks immediately began freeing survivors from the wreckage and carrying them out. One of the 121 fatal casualties, in what was to turn out to be the most serious V-1 attack on the capital, was George Kemp-Welch, who had played for Cambridge University, Warwickshire and MCC before the war. Kemp-Welch had married Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin’s daughter in February 1934 and had received a commission in the Grenadier Guards in 1940.

By the end of July, the Birmingham League was distilling into a three-way contest for honours between West Bromwich Dartmouth, Mitchells & Butlers, and Dudley. West Bromwich Dartmouth’s eventual success owed much to Eric Hollies, who took eighty-one wickets at 8.12. George Paine, the Warwickshire player, was in good form for Kidderminster, making scores of 101 not out and 50, alongside bowling figures of four for 68 and six for 54 to beat Aston Unity and Walsall.


Warwickshire appealed for £50,000 for repairs and improvements to Edgbaston, although the long-term plan for the ground’s reconstruction had been estimated at £201,150. Very wisely the committee had decided to lay out a car park on newly acquired land, which would accommodate approximately 700 cars.


A further familiar feature was the continuing practice of amateur-only county captains. The exception was Leicestershire’s Les Berry, who was given the position in the absence of any suitable amateur candidate. Second Lieutenants Jack Robertson and Frank Smailes, Lieutenant Bill Bowes, Captain Peter Smith and Pilot Officer Les Ames may have had the qualities to lead men in life and death situations but being a cricket club’s figurehead was clearly thought to be beyond their station in life. Having assumed command over men in the maelstrom of war, and mixed in officer social circles, the pre-war player had shown he was the equal of any gentleman.

Although the post-war tendency to return to pre-war norms and certainties meant that the division between the amateur and professional cricketer was maintained throughout the 1950s, the democratising effect of war opened the door for the first full-time modern era professional county captain, Warwickshire’s Tom Dollery, in 1948. Finally, in 1952, Len Hutton was appointed as the first permanent professional captain of England.

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