Eighty years ago one of the most controversial cricket tours of all time took place when England went to Australia on a tour organised by the MCC. it became known as the 'Bodyline tour' after a bowling technique used by the England players. This method of bowling meant the ball bounced high and fast often hitting the batters who at the time wore no face protection.
It was considered dangerous and against the sprit of the game, 'it was just not cricket'. However, the England team captain Douglas Jardine was determined to beat the Aussies, especially the legendary Don Bradman, and considered it a necessary tactic to unsettle the Australians on home turf. Some of the team were not so sure but went along with the game plan.
The ball did hit players causing injury and the packed crowds were furious and the Australian newspapers were outraged.
First test (Sydney) - England won by ten wickets
Second test (Melbourne) - Australia won by 111 runs
Third test (Adelaide) - England won by 338 runs
Pathe news report of the 3rd test - online video HERE
Fourth test (Brisbane) - England won by six wickets
Fiftth test (Sydney) - England won by 8 wickets
The third test was the worst for bodyline bowling. Woodfull, an Australian batter was hit directly in the chest, and another, Oldfield, was left with a fractured skull.
Some historians now portray the English team as ruthless Poms looking down their noses at their colonial cousins who they wanted to assert their superiority over. But as the Australians were what was often known as 'kith and kin' with British backgrounds, this seems highly unlikely, more likely just intense rivalry with one team determined to beat another for the glory and stooped to a legal, but not too sporting a strategy.
Little would the teams have realised at the time that the ferocious battle on the cricket pitch was nothing compared to what they would face at the end of the decade.
My great uncle, on the cover of the book, served alongside one of the members of that team during World War Two. The cricketer was a bowler called Hedley Verity. He was a Captain in the Green Howards. My great uncle, a warrant officer was in the same company.
England cricketer & WWII officer Hedley Verity.
In August 1943 during the invasion of Sicily, Hedley led his men in a night attack. Coming under ferocious attack, he was shot in the chest, and shouted to his men to 'keep going'. He was taken prisoner and whilst in hospital he told a fellow prisoner "I think I have played my last innings for Yorkshire" He died a fortnight later of his wounds. He is buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetry in Caserta. Pic of his gravestone here. My great uncle did keep going, until he was killed by a booby trap hanging from a lemon tree a few days later and the rest continued all the way up through Italy then into the heart of Germany and were still fighting on the final days of the war, over running machine gun nests. (Full details can be read in the introduction of The Unknown Warriors).
Sir Donald Bradman wrote this as part of Hedley Verity's obituary "During our association together I cannot recall having heard Verity utter a word of complaint or criticism. If reports of his final sacrifice be correct, and I believe they are, he maintained this example right to the end. His life, his skill, his service all merited the highest honour and with great sorrow I unhesitatingly pay humble tribute to his memory.''
Bodyline captain Douglas Jardine was injured at the evacuation of Dunkirk, Wally Hammond who took 9 wickets in the tour served as a Squadron Leader in Cairo, Herbert Sutcliffe was a major in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, Bob Wyatt deputy captain also served in the RAF. Richard Palairet had been a captain in the Devonshires during the First World War.
All rounder Freddie Brown was a commissioned officer in the RASC and was captured in Tobruk in 1942 and was a POW for the rest of the war. Before his capture in the desert he had taken part in the 'mini Dunkirk' evacuation of Crete and for this he was awarded an MBE. Whilst in the camps he organised a series of cricket and football games to keep spirits up. Also captured with him was Bill Bowes, a bowler who had bowled out Bradman on his first throw on the tour. He lost 4 stone in weight in the POW camps. Both spent time at PG21, an officers camp in Chieti, Italy. They were liberated from Oflag 79 at Waggum, Germany by men of the 9th US Army on the 12th April 1945
Bill Voce also served in the Forces. After the war he returned to Australia on a cricket tour, and put on 2 stone in weight after having lived on war rations for 6 years.