Gloucestershire Cricket Remembers - Casualties of War
11 November 2020
An extract from “For the Fallen” a poem by Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943) published in The Times newspaper on 21 September 1914:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Gloucestershire Cricket remembers:
The main front page headline in the Athletic News of Monday 25 October 1915 reported that two days earlier “The King of Cricket, William Gilbert Grace has passed to the Great Beyond. He has left no successor to that title. Men of his pre-eminence in any walk of life are rare.”
He had suffered a relatively mild stroke some two weeks previously whilst working in his garden. It had slightly affected his speech and he had been put to bed to rest. The following week, the Germans had launched their great Zeppelin raids, one of their targets being the Woolwich Arsenal, just a few miles away from Grace’s home in Mottingham. The sounds of the explosions were heard all over London. Simon Rae in his book W.G. Grace – A Life recounts the story of how Grace’s old cricketing friend H.D. “Shrimp” Leveson-Gower, “trying to josh him out of his depression,” asked him how he could be bothered by Zeppelins, having seen off generations of fast bowlers. Grace’s now famous reply was that he “could see those beggars, I can’t see these.” Ten days later, he suffered a heart attack and passed away. It seems clear that the raids had been a worry to the great man and were probably a contributory cause to the fatal attack and the Great War had, although indirectly, claimed possibly its most famous victim.
At the time of his death, eight cricketers who had played for Gloucestershire and had taken part in the conflict had already lost their lives; a further ten were to suffer the same fate before the war was over. We have previously looked at four, all of whom had made their debuts in 1914. Here we look at the stories of the first four to die who, as if a reminder that the war affected the whole world, died in four different countries
First to lose his life on 12th October 1914 was William Methven Brownlee. Born in Bristol on 18th April 1890, Brownlee was the younger son of W.G. Grace’s biographer and friend William Methven Brownlee. Along with his older brother Leigh, he was educated at Clifton College where they both appeared in the Cricket XI and he followed him into the Gloucestershire team. An all-round cricketer he topped the Clifton batting averages in 1908 and the bowling averages in 1907 and 1909. His 49 wickets in 1908 were the most for the school since the early 1890s when a young Charles Townsend in three seasons took 199 wickets. With such a background it was a natural step into the Gloucestershire XI, but a job in Derby as a schoolmaster meant that his appearances for the County were limited to the school holidays. In the six seasons from 1909 to 1914 he appeared a total of 32 times scoring 764 runs at an average of 16.25 with a highest score of 68 against Northants in 1910. His bowling brought him 40 wickets at an average of 29.30 with a best of 6-84 against Worcestershire in 1910. He also played one match in 1909 at the end of season Hastings Festival when, for the Gentlemen of the South, he took 6-61 against the Players of the South.
Enlisting in August 1914 as a Private Soldier in the 6th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, he was within a matter of weeks awarded a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment with whom he was in training at Wyke Regis. In his book For Club King and Country, Martin Davies says of Brownlee that “His death would typify that of many others who had been plucked from the relative comfort and safety of a home environment and thrust into the harsh and demanding one of the British Army as it prepared its young men for what would be the unimaginable rigours and hardships of the battlefield. Within weeks of his arrival at the camp Wilfred had contracted and died of meningitis. As a casualty of war the whole of the military establishment at Weymouth followed his coffin, draped in the Union Flag and decorated with a full length floral cross, to the railway station where a salute was fired over his body.”
He was buried alongside his father at Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol. The Army had offered full military honours, but the offer was declined by the family who requested a quiet and simple service.
Bristol born William Stanley Yalland was one of the many local club cricketers given an opportunity to try their hand with the County XI. Born on 27th June 1889, Yalland was a good sportsman playing Rugby for the Clifton Club and cricket for the Downend Club as a teenager. On the back of good performances for an eleven put together by G.L. Jessop to play a team captained by Sammy Woods - which included the wonderfully named Indians Prince Kumar Hitendra Singh Narayan and Manek Palon Bajana - in which he “made a wonderfully fine catch and batted with great promise,” Yalland was selected to play against Somerset in the Bank Holiday match at Bristol in August 1913. In a rain affected match he batted once and scored just one run. Of his performance, the Western Daily Press commented that it was “hard to see upon what ground he was given preference in the team to Huggins who was left out at a late hour.” Possibly the fact that with Yalland being an amateur, there would be one less professional to pay might have had a bearing.
Prior to this he had joined the Army and in February 1912 he had gained a commission with the 3rd Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment (“The Tigers”); he was transferred in 1914 to the Gloucestershire Regiment. The ‘Gloucesters’ were one of the early regiments to be sent to France and they were involved in what became known as the First Battle of Ypres. One of the platoons under the command of Yalland was ordered to re-take trenches that had previously been lost to the Germans which they did, but at the cost of a number of lives; one of whom was Yalland who died on 23rd October 1914.
A private soldier in the regiment wrote home that “One of our platoons under the command of Lieutenant Yalland was caught while going across to take up a position by the enemy’s cross-fire from machine-guns. The officer commanding and a large number of the men were killed. Colonel Lovett afterwards told us that this platoon had acted very bravely and was a credit to the regiment.”
A fellow officer later wrote to Thomas Yalland, William’s father, that “He died very gallantly. The platoon at considerable loss drove the Germans back …. It saved the situation as [they] would undoubtedly have broken through the line.”
John Nathaniel (Nat) Williams, born on 24th January 1878 was the second son of Sir Robert Williams, Member of Parliament for West Dorset. His younger brother, Philip, would later play for Gloucestershire between 1919 and 1925, captaining the side in 1922 and 1923.
Although never appearing in the Cricket XI at either Eton or Oxford University where he was educated, Williams went on tour to New Zealand in the winter of 1902/03 with Lord Hawke’s XI where he played as a batsman in a number of the “against odds” friendly matches scoring 80 runs at an average of 11.43 with a highest score of 48. He evidently liked the surroundings and stayed on in the country making his first-class debut for Hawke’s Bay against Wellington in December 1903. By 1905 he was back in England, living in Bristol, running his own engineering company, and playing cricket for Clifton and occasionally for Dorset. He had also joined the 4th Dorset Territorials as a Captain. Throughout the first decade of the twentieth century Gloucestershire struggled for consistency of selection and they were always on the look-out for amateur cricketers who could play a few games. No wonder then, that in 1908, Nat Williams was one of nineteen amateur players, fifteen of whom played less than half a dozen games, who turned out in the Championship. Three matches in June saw him score 31 runs at an average of 6.20.
The lure of New Zealand, however, still called to him and in 1911 he returned there, taking employment with the Waihi Gold Mining Company. On the outbreak of war, he enlisted as a Private Soldier with the 6th (Hauraki) Company Auckland Regiment of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. They left New Zealand in October 1914, repulsing a Turkish attack on the Suez Canal in February of 1915 before heading for Gallipoli in April 1915. During the landings, however, he was killed on 25th April “leading and setting a most excellent example to the men in the forefront of the Battalion” in the words of Major General Sir Alexander Godfrey, the commander of the New Zealand forces “…and had he not fallen he would have been given a commission in this force immediately after the first action.” His body was never recovered.
Edmund Marsden was born in India on 18th April 1881 where his father Edmund was an Inspector of Schools in Persian and Hindi in the Madras Education Department. Young Edmund was sent back to England to be educated at Cheltenham College. From there he went to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and, becoming a career soldier, he was commissioned into the Indian Army as a Second Lieutenant in 1902. At Cheltenham he never made the Cricket XI but whilst at home on leave spent some time in the town and appeared regularly for the East Gloucestershire Club from 1907 to 1909 alongside a number of former Gloucestershire players including his old college master H.V. Page. He also found time in 1907 to maintain his College connections playing for the Old Cheltonians C.C. The year 1909 was another of those where the county was always short of a consistent eleven – ten players, nine of them amateurs, made their debuts of whom the newly promoted Captain Marsden was one. Two games at Gloucester against Notts and Northants saw him score 79 runs at an average of 19.75 with a highest of 38 opening the innings in the second match.
By 1914 he was back in India and on the Indian Army Reserve List of Officers. He was attached at the start of the war to the 64th Pioneers who were sent to Burma in early 1915 to quell a tribal uprising among the Kachin people where he was mentioned in despatches. As Transport Officer he was subsequently involved in the construction of a military road during which time he contracted malaria from which he died on 26th May 1915
These were four of the eighteen first-class cricketers who lost their lives in the Great War. All eighteen are commemorated on a memorial tablet, commissioned by the GCCC Heritage Trust, which is situated within the Museum and Learning Centre at the Bristol County Ground.
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