One major difference between the last County Championship season before World War Two (1939) and the last County Championship season before Word War One (1914) was that in 1939 the winds of War were already swirling across Europe and the Channel, while in 1914 the majority of people did not see war coming until as late as July of that year. There was no talk of war in the pubs or in the streets or in the House of Commons – war instead fell like a hammer from the sky.
As the season started, surely the majority of the players, and the fans, expected the County Championship to play out through September where a winner would be crowned – just as it had for the previous 24 seasons in its current incarnation, and for 20 seasons before that in different incarnations.
And even after the final two matches of the 1914 season had been cancelled, the players and their brothers in arms who marched off to war expected to be home by Christmas – and be ready for the 1915 season.
How wrong they were.
Surrey won the war shortened Championship that year. And as nearly as I can tell, their entire squad survived the war.
But they were the lucky ones.
Colin Blythe, of Kent, who took the most wickets that season, 159, who joined the army in 1914 despite his Epilepsy, was killed by random shell fire in Belgium in November of 1917. He is interned at the Oxford Road Cemetery in Belgium.
In 2009, the English cricket team visited the cemetery and laid a stone cricket ball at the foot of Blythe’s grave – the visit is summed up in this BBC article:
‘”It was a deeply moving and humbling experience,” said Andrew Strauss.
The skipper added: “It’s important to take a step back from cricket at times.
“We learned a great deal about the sacrifices made by a previous generation of England cricketers, and I would like to thank the people of Ieper for making us so welcome.”‘
I will quote the Wiki article on Booth’s death:
“On 1 July 1916 he went “over the top” near La Cigny on the Somme while serving with the 15th (Service) Battalion, The West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own), also known as “The Leeds Pals”. He was followed a short while later by another wave of soldiers among whom was Abe Waddington (later also Yorkshire and England). Waddington was hit and found himself in a shell hole with Booth and held him until he died. Booth’s body then remained there until the spring, when he was buried at Serre Road No 1 Cemetery.”
From his brilliance on the cricket field in 1914, to leaving his trench and attacking out across an open foreign field in 1916, to dying in a friend’s arms – his body left moldering in the mud and the blood until spring.
Only 30 years old.
The things we do to our young men.