Thursday, 11 November 2010

They shall not grow old

Fantasy Bob is not a militaristic type; in fact he is vaguely pacifist.  But this does not stop him having the greatest respect for those who have served and are serving, and those who have made the supreme sacrifice to assure his liberty to write all this nonsense

He is eternally grateful that his own generation never had to face the short stuff on the Western Front or in the Desert or on the Normandy beaches.  Remembrance Day therefore always causes Fantasy Bob to pause and reflect.

In World War I, although first class cricket had been suspended, some other cricket did continue.  While everyone knows the story of the football match played on Christmas Day between opposing forces, in Gallipoli in 1915 Anzac soldiers played improvised games cricket under shellfire on Shell Green. The Australians played a game in view of the Turks to give the impression of normality and confidence while the entire force was being secretly evacuated from the beach area.    Whether the Turks recognised this as normality is another issue, but what sang froid.
Thirty-four first class cricketers were killed in this war.  All of them have deserving and moving stories but Fantasy Bob would like  to mention just one.  In an Ashes year it is fitting to tell of an Aussie,  Albert Tibby Cotter of the Australian 12th Light Horse was killed in action in October 1917 by Turkish fire. Before his last action, he tossed up a cricket ball of mud and said to a friend "That's my last bowl, blue. Something's going to happen."  He had been one of the great fast bowlers of early Test cricket, playing 21 games and taking 89 wickets, renowned for bowling an intimidating length at high pace. He hit an aging W.G. Grace with a beamer the first time he faced him and refused to stop bowling at Grace's body, despite the great man's request, causing W.G. to walk off in disgust.  Great - he could make FB's team any time.
In World War 2 many pitches were dug up to grow vegetables and again the first class game was suspended.  Many first class cricketers enlisted and again a swathe of casualties followed.  Hedley Verity was perhaps the most famous. He had been a match winning slow left arm bowler for Yorkshire and England throughout the 1930s, the only man to take 10 wickets for 10 runs in first class cricket. He had bowled the very last ball in County Cricket in 1939, taking 7 for 9 in the innings. In his last ever game of cricket, Verity took 8 for 55 in a match in September 1941. On the plain of Catania, surrounded by Germans as he led his men at night through a corn field, Captain Verity was illuminated by flares and burning vegetation and hit severely in the chest. He was captured and ferried to Reggio. His condition worsened in Naples and, as he lay in his hospital bed after an unsuccessful operation, he told his batman that 'I may have played my last innings for Yorkshire. He died on the last day of July 1943 and was buried in Caserta.  He was 38. His last words to his men were 'Keep going'.  

FB is disappointed to report that his researches have not established any identified  significant Scottish cricketers or Carlton players who might have fallen in either contest.  However in his history of Carlton, Dr N L Stevenson writes:
"From the dark days of the 1914-18 war Carlton arose triumphantly to add new and brighter pages to its history. The record of war service rendered by Carlton members is one of which the Club will always be proud, and the memory of those who made the supreme sacrifice will remain for ever cherished by those of us who were spared to carry on."
The implication is clear.

We are making a new world - Paul Nash
But perversely the horror of war can give rise to great beauty.  The human spirit triumphs.   The collection in the Imperial War Museum originated in the First World War and has works by some fo Britain's greatest painters of the 20th century.  The First World War also brought the war poets some of whose words were later set in Benjamin Brittens War Requiem. Shostakovichs Leningrad sympnhony is written directly out of his experience in the beseiged city and speaks straight to the heart.  More recently, Apocalypse Now is the war film to end all war films.

But sometimes simpler works are equally powerful. So FB would like to commend to you 2 songs by the Scottish/Australian Eric Bogle And the band Played Waltzing Matilda and No Mans land the Green Fields of France

They speak direct simple truths.  If you can listen without a lump in your throat, you are made of stern stuff.  We must remember.  They shall not grow old.

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