8th May 2020
LCCC between 1940 and 1945
Main Image | Leicestershire Team waiting for the rain to stop in 1941 at Grace Road
Leicestershire cricket between 1940 and 1945
In each season during World War Two, Leicestershire played only a handful of games, generally limited to one. The Aylestone Road ground was unavailable, and from 1940, matches in Leicester were often played at the Old County Ground, being used as a school playing field, which we now call ‘Grace Road’.
There was much excitement about the first match there since 1900 which was to be held in 1941 - a local derby against Nottinghamshire. A good side was available for once, and Notts had several established county players. John King who played in 1900 was due to umpire. Sadly, cricket’s oldest enemy rain was the winner and not a ball was bowled.
Teams were pretty ad hoc, as you would expect. As the war progressed, ‘Holidays at Home’ was presented as a positive way to make the best of things, and Leicestershire played a game at the ‘Abbey Oval’ as part of this programme.
Most years, Nottinghamshire and Northamptonshire were the opponents, home and away together with a variety of Services teams. The Leicestershire team was always a mixture of old stagers such as Aubrey Sharp (who was often captain), schoolboys such a JM Josephs and local players who happened to be available. These included Horace Cox, the great grandfather of current player Sam Evans. Horace also played on one occasion for Nottinghamshire, as they needed an extra player.
Generally the county matches were low scoring affairs, and there were only four fifties scored by county batsman between 1940 and 1945. The top partnership was 115 between Frank Prentice and Freddie Gibson against Notts in 1945. Perhaps the best cricket was the partnership of 85 in 40 minutes between two genuinely great test cricketers, CS Dempster of New Zealand and Learie Constantine of the West Indies, appearing for Leicestershire Services against Notts Services. The worst? Probably being bowled out twice in a day by Derbyshire and losing by an innings in the last game of 1945. Plenty of rebuilding clearly required!
In the county, league cricket did continue. The South Leicestershire League ran a much reduced programme of matches, originally organised by area.
Cricket in 1945
Though an allied victory in 1945 was anticipated, the timing was of course uncertain and an instant resumption of competitive cricket was out of the question. For a start, for three months after VE day, many were still engaged in the war in the Far East, or in Prisoner of War camps.
However, there were many servicemen based in the UK from Australia, New Zealand and the West Indies, a ‘Victory’ series of 3 day matches between England and Australia, started in May. So successful was the opening VE Celebration match played at Lord’s over the Whit Bank Holiday weekend, that four more matches were added to the series, with the shilling admission charged going to the Red Cross and ‘Australian charities’.
Eventually three games were played at Lord’s, and one each at Sheffield (Bramall Lane, was a cricket ground then as well as being the home of Sheffield United) and one at Old Trafford.
The grounds out of London were being prepared, in part using labour from Prisoner of War camps, paid at ‘3 farthings an hour’ (rather less than £0.005).
The first thing that EW Swanton (doyen commentator and journalist) heard on his release from a Japanese Prisoner of war camp, was an Australian scoring a century at Old Trafford. This brought home to him that the war was truly over, and things were getting back to normal.
Though no Leicestershire player participated in the Australia series, county wicket keeper George Dawkes played in the England v West Indies match at Lord’s, as did Jim Sperry. Jim was employed in the mines, so he played in 28 of the 29 matches played by the county during the war years.
Image | Aerial shot of Grace Road in 1947