England Test cricketers who lost their lives in the Great War
by David Frith
Many a possible/probable future Test cricketer was lost in the Great War of 1914-18, Percy Jeeves surely among them. However, four men who had played Test cricket for England failed to survive the conflict:
It usually needs to be explained that “Major” was his first name, not his rank (which was Second Lieutenant, in the West Yorkshire Regiment). Booth played for Yorkshire as a professional between 1908 and 1914, and was at his peak when war was declared. He and several other Yorkshire players joined up early in the Leeds Pals.
He had played 162 first-class matches, scoring 4753 runs at 23.29, with two centuries, one amounting to 210 at Worcester in 1911. As a fastish bowler, tall of stature, he took 603 wickets at 19.82, with a best return of 8 for 47 against Middlesex at Headingley in 1912. (He took eight wickets on four occasions.) In May 1914, in consecutive matches for Yorkshire (against MCC at Lord's and Essex at Leyton) Booth gathered an astounding 25 wickets for 202 runs.
Having been chosen for the prestigious Players v Gentlemen match at Lord's in 1913, Booth went to South African that winter and played in two Test matches, the first and fifth, both of which England won. He scored 46 runs in his two innings and took seven wickets at 18.57.
In the month when the Great War broke out, Booth and Alonzo Drake bowled unchanged for Yorkshire throughout consecutive matches against Gloucestershire at Bristol and Somerset at Weston-super-Mare, a glowing farewell to the game he loved.
Booth was born in Pudsey in December 1886, and it was in that Yorkshire village that one of England's finest batsmen, Len Hutton, had been born eight days before Major Booth's death on July 1, 1916, the first day of the horrific Somme offensive. He was a bachelor, and his sister never accepted the fact that he was dead. She kept a candle burning in the cottage window for the rest of her life.
K.L.Hutchings was regarded as England's potential answer to Australia's sublime stroke-maker Victor Trumper, but he was to play only seven Test matches, averaging 28.41.
Hutchings's sole Test century, however, remains among the most brilliant ever played in an Ashes match. At Melbourne in January 1908, against a strong Australian attack, he posted his hundred in only 128 minutes, having stroked 20 fours in reaching three figures, and it led to a pulsating England victory by one wicket on the sixth day.
In county cricket, especially at Canterbury, he gave onlookers one enchanting innings after another, and as a pointer to his power in the drive, the mighty Yorkshireman George Hirst, who was regarded as almost impassable at mid-off, advisedly moved deeper when Hutchings was at the crease.
Like most amateur batsmen, he batted with a natural freedom of style, while still averaging 33.62 in all first-class cricket.
In 1906 his four centuries helped Kent to their first County Championship. He played back in defence and moved forward to attack decisively, a nightmare to bowl to on a good pitch – and sometimes even on one made lively by rain.
Born in Southborough, Kent in December 1882 and educated at Tonbridge School, Hutchings played for his native county from 1902 to 1912, and had thus ended his county career before he went to war with the King's Liverpool Regiment.
He was obliterated by a German shell during the fighting at Ginchy, France on September 3, 1916. His three brothers also served in the war and were all wounded.
Only a few weeks after Kenneth Hutchings's death, the life of a third England Test cricketer ended while he had been serving his country in the front line. Although the fact was withheld at the time, this was a case of suicide.
Leonard Moon, a Cambridge Blue and Middlesex batsman, shot himself on November 23, 1916, in Karasouli, Salonika.
Born in Kensington on February 9, 1878 and educated at Westminster School, Moon was a talented batsman, and often kept wicket. He scored a century for Cambridge against the 1899 Australians, and shared double-century opening stands for Middlesex with Plum Warner. A natural sportsman, Moon also played football for the esteemed Corinthians.
His club cricket at one stage was with Hampstead, alongside the great A.E.Stoddart and Australia's famous “Demon” bowler F.R.Spofforth. In the club history Moon was described as “genial and carefree”.
His four Test appearances were in South Africa in 1905-06, when he acquitted himself well in a series played on matting pitches and which was dominated by the home side's purveyors of the new “googly” bowling.
Moon top-scored with 30 at the old Wanderers ground, Johannesburg in his first Test innings (a duck in the second); kept wicket and scored 36 and 15 in the second Test (same venue); made a valuable 33 and 28 at Newlands in England's sole victory; then 7 and 33 (top score again) in a humiliating innings defeat, also at Cape Town. Leonard Moon's skill had been obvious to all.
Widely known as “Charlie”, Blythe was one of the very finest left-arm spinners ever seen. Born in Deptford on May 30, 1879, one of 13 children, he could be lethal on wet pitches and dry alike, and his career record is simply staggering. His 2503 wickets came at 16.81 apiece.
His best return was 10 for 30 at Northampton in 1907 (7 for 18 in the second innings). Leicestershire had cause to fear him too: in 1909 he took 16 wickets against them at Aylestone Road, and 15 more two years later. His most productive season was 1909, when he spun out 215 batsmen at only 14.54 apiece.
He had a tip-toe approach, holding the ball behind his back. Cardus, perhaps unaware that Blythe was epileptic, wrote that he was “all nervous sensibility; his guile was a woman's”. He did indeed often finish a match mentally exhausted. He could readily crack a joke, Cockney fashion.
For England, in 19 Tests, which included two tours each of Australia and South Africa, Blythe took 100 wickets at 18.63, his best match figures being 15 for 99 against South Africa at Headingley in 1907. Two years later he spun his way to 11 for 102 against Australia at Edgbaston.
He became a sergeant in the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry soon after war broke out. His brother Sid was killed in 1916 during the Somme battle. On November 8 of the following year, Charlie Blythe also lost his life to a shell-burst near Passchendaele. He had announced his retirement from first-class cricket and was looking forward to taking up a coaching position at Eton College.
Two shrapnel-torn wallets retrieved from his body are displayed in a glass case at the Canterbury ground, where there is also an imposing memorial to Colin “Charlie” Blythe – as popular a cricketer as ever lived.