ONE sunny day in May I940 the telephone bell rang in the cricket department of the Press Association in which I was still working – waiting for my call-up!
The caller introduced himself as an eighteen-year- old Public Schoolboy who, in his enthusiasm for cricket, had persuaded Barclays Bank to arrange a mid-week match as long as he could guarantee to provide worthy opposition. The game was due to be played the next day and he was still two short. Could we help him to find an opening bowler and a batsman?
Struck by the youngster’s terrific keenness and happy at the thought of mixing with fellow-cricketers again, I rang Leslie Compton at home and persuaded him – not that he needed much persuasion – to turn out. I said also that I would offer my services as a bowler. The lad rang off in a much easier frame of mind than when he put in the call.
Next day I met the boy and was so impressed by his enthusiasm that I suggested he might be able to arrange some more matches. Furthermore, I put the point that if he could persuade well-known cricketers to turn out, he should make them charity games for the Red Cross.
That was the humble beginning of the British Empire XI which in six years of war-time cricket raised more than £20,000 for the British Red Cross and smaller sums for other charities. The boy whose zest for cricket made this remarkable organization possible is now a Member of Parliament – Desmond Donnelly, M.P.
Military conditions limited the number of first-class players available, so that the side was not always fully representative, but seldom did it lack several prominent cricketers. Although results were far from a primary consideration, as opposed to the efforts to give entertainment, the Empire XI won no fewer than 150 of the 238 matches undertaken and lost only 36.
One of the most exciting of these defeats occurred on the first of their four visits to Stanmore. That was on the 1st September 1940. I can recall the match vividly for more than one reason. In the first place the game was notable for the exhilarating cricket played by both sides. Those who played in this match or were present as spectators may recall that the Empire XI scored 270 in just under three hours.
Stanmore were left two hours and three-quarters to get the runs. They began comparatively steadily with an opening stand of 84 in an hour by Jack Rafter and Eddie Ham. Then their batsmen really went to town. Although Patsy Hendren and Leslie Compton did little, Eddie Ham found splendid partners in Bill Yates, the Bucks wicket-keeper, and L. Southern. In successive stands of only twenty minutes each 62 and 59 were added to the score, and Stanmore raced to victory with some ten minutes to spare. Altogether 561 runs were scored in less than six hours.
Eddie Ham’s superb innings of 129 contained as many as eighteen 4’s and, as one of the Empire fields- men, I remember well the number of bruised fingers and hands in our dressing-room afterwards.
They were a fitting testimony to the power of Eddie’s hitting.
That was Stanmore’s only victory over the Empire team. Although Rundle took seven, including the hat-trick, for 38 and Ken Chapman three for 40 against them in the next match, in 1943 the medium-paced bowling of F. T. Badcock, the New Zealand Test player, brought about Stanmore’s defeat. Badcock, probably the most accurate bowler who has ever come from New Zealand, took eight wickets for 13.
In 1944, C. B. (" Bertie ") Clarke, the West Indies leg-break and googly bowler, turned the scales in favour of the Empire team, and in the following year he again was the man responsible for a Stanmore defeat.
Many were the friendships formed in those war-time games and many are the friendships that have lasted through the intervening years.
If I may be excused a personal note I should like to tell of a very happy experience which came to me during the winter. After living all my life in the City of London, I decided to move out to the Stanmore area. I did, in fact, move to Bushey Heath, and one of my first acts there was to write a formal letter to the Stanmore Club Secretary asking whether there would be any vacancies for a new member.
Within a matter of hours I received a reply from Mr. Dearsly which said: "I remember you well from the British Empire game here in 1940 when you made some runs. We should be delighted to see you again, and to have you as a member."
That, after an interval of twelve years, struck me as a great compliment.