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

Worcestershire CCC during the Second World War

by John Broom

In the years leading up to the Second World War, Worcestershire CCC had struggled to make much impact on the County Championship table, with consecutive finishing positions of 12th, 12th, 15th and 11th between 1935 and 1938. However a leap to 7th in 1939 pointed to the possibility of better times ahead.

Such hopes were to be quickly dashed by the onset of war, and the cancellation of all first-class cricket in Britain until the summer of 1945.

The county’s sole fixture in 1940 was a fundraising match against Warwickshire in aid of the Worcester Fighter Fund in front of a crowd of 2,000 at New Road. A sum of £45 15s was raised. Roly Jenkins took seven for 40, his third seven-wicket haul in three days, following performances for West Bromwich and Sir Julien Cahn’s XI.

Pre-war Worcestershire regulars Hon. Charles Lyttleton, Eddie Cooper, Roly Jenkins, Phil King, Dick Howorth, Peter Jackson and Hugo Yarnold joined the forces. The club’s committee had called in their groundsman, Fred Hunt, to request that he carry on his work. Hunt had wished to relinquish his role, facing difficulties in obtaining sufficient petrol to power the mower to roll and mow the New Road Ground. He was persuaded to continue for the sum of £150 p.a.; 64-year-old Hunt said he did not want to let the club down.


Lieutenant Colonel Denys ‘Hooky’ Hill, who had played a few dozen matches for Worcestershire in 1927–29, was one of the unfortunate thousands captured by the Japanese at the Fall of Singapore. Later he would entertain fellow captives with a talk about county cricket from the captain’s point of view.

Elsewhere Lieutenant C.G. ‘Tim’ Toppin, formerly of Worcestershire, was taken prisoner at Tobruk along with Yorkshire and England’s Bill Bowes. He was able to play some cricket in the prison camps over the next few years.

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.

A Holidays at Home month was organised by Worcester Council, which included twenty-eight cricket matches. A fourteen-overs per side knockout tournament was held at various grounds, with the final at the New Road county headquarters.

The players and officials of Kempsey CC in Worcestershire sacrificed their club to the war effort. In February, its rented cricket field was ploughed over by orders of the War Agricultural Committee. The sale of the pavilion, shed, and sundry equipment raised £133, which the club forwarded to the Prime Ministers’ office. Winston Churchill’s secretary replied, expressing the PM’s thanks. Cricket gear was stored, in order to start a new cricket club in Kempsey after the war.

Roger Human

Worcestershire batsman Roger Human, a softly spoken history master at Bromsgrove School, had been a surprise selection for MCC’s abandoned 1939/40 tour of India. During the war he had played for British Empire XI v London Counties XI at Reading on 21 June 1941. A solidly unspectacular performer but amiable team man, Human did eventually reach India, serving as adjutant in the 6th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. Sadly, Captain Human died of a brain haemorrhage on active service on 21 November 1942.


The previous year’s four-week Holidays at Home extravaganza was extended to six weeks. The New Road Ground, overlooked by the city’s magnificent cathedral, was in heavy demand. One curiosity was a baseball match between two teams from the US Army, styled Yanks v Rebels. The latter won 3-2, with the commentator Lieutenant Hoskins declaring, ‘This has been a very good game and this is a beautiful place for it.’

A fourteen-over competition took place for the Eltex Cup, with the combination of workplace and service teams, including Archdales, National Fire Service, Civil Defence, Heenan & Froudes, Sentinel, Sheet Metal, Great Western Railways & London Midland Scottish, 1st Battalion Home Guard, Metal Castings, Seamless Tubings, Gas Company and Electricity Works.

The ground was also put to more pious use on 3 September as that devout member of the Plymouth Brethren, General Sir William Dobbie, Governor of Malta during the siege, stood on the pavilion balcony to address a crowd gathered to observe a National Day of Prayer.

In Rhodesia, the big match of the season featured RAF Rhodesia against the Rest of Rhodesia, with Flight Lieutenant A.P. ‘Sandy’ Singleton scoring a flawless 120 and taking seven wickets with his googlies for the flyers. Singleton, a Repton schoolmaster, who would captain Worcestershire in 1946, was the outstanding player in Rhodesian cricket, also demonstrating his unbounded enthusiasm for the game by his unselfish imparting of his knowledge  to others, and the time he spent coaching in local schools.


One cricketer with Worcestershire connections, Captain Cedric Humphries, perished in 1944, killed in action at Pannenschopp, aged 30. His two brothers, Gerald and Norman, had also played for the county

Worcestershire managed to host a plethora of matches at the County Ground, including a fixture between an All-England RAF XI and a Worcestershire XI on 5 August. The match was memorable for a brilliant 117 by Wally Hammond, the RAF skipper. He hit one six high into the trees at New Road and was said to be at his pre-war best.

One PoW escapee of whom no news had been heard since 1943 was Flight Lieutenant John Jewell, nephew of renowned Worcestershire player Maurice Jewell. He had escaped from a prison camp in Italy in 1943 and on 1 June 1944 his uncle was told by the Air Ministry that his relative was safe. The younger Jewell had played two first-class fixtures for the county, as well as appearing in various service matches at Lord’s.


Worcestershire took on an RAF XI at New Road on 4 August. The flyers, led by Bill Edrich, lost to the hosts by two wickets. The lack of sightscreens somewhat hampered the batsmen but allowed a very large crowd to squeeze into every seat as burning sunshine bathed the picturesque ground. The silver band of the RAF played during the intervals and Arthur Gilligan gave a wireless commentary on the match. The county’s committee invited young cricketers to trial matches on the County Ground during the holiday season. The New Road venue was put to good use during the victory summer, with fifty-five matches taking place, from the county fixture through to works and colts matches


A government edict that workers returning from military duties had the right to resume their previous jobs meant that county elevens in 1946 had a distinct pre-war flavour. This further ensured the popularity of the immediate postwar game, as comfortable familiarity with the past was rooted in the souls of the British public. Worcestershire started 1946 with £1,723 cash in hand and a playing area still in good shape. However, the buildings required considerable repair. The side too was renewed as five colts players including Don Kenyon were offered contracts. The committee had to cast around for the obligatory amateur captain. Sandy Singleton would fill the role for a year before emigrating to Rhodesia to concentrate on farming.

Like every other first-class county, Worcestershire gave of their best during the war to provide what entertainment they could to war-weary civilians, and ensured the club was in fit shape for those who returned from war to resume their pre-war enjoyment at New Road.

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