They fell with their faces to the foe: honouring the game's heroes of the Great War

Roland Boys Bradford VC became the youngest general in the British Army 10 days before his death at Cambrai

The slaughter inflicted upon a young generation of Britons during the First World War can rarely have been more clearly illustrated than in the fate of the 1914 cricket team at Oakham School. A new book, Wisden on the Great War*, relates how five of the 11 boys perished in the conflict.

Their names read like a roll call of death: Douglas Hall, aged 21, killed in 1916; William Hill (22), died of wounds as a prisoner of war five days before the Armistice; James Atter (19), killed 1916; Herbert Wait (19), killed 1917.

That is only the back row. The dates and ages act as a cruel reminder of a game obsessed by statistics. One of the survivors, Percy Chapman, would go on to captain England at The Oval in 1926 when they regained the Ashes for the first time since the advent of war.

This is one of many fascinating discoveries made by Andrew Renshaw. Taking the 1,788 obituaries listed in the Wisden Cricketers' Almanack during the war years, he has verified the entries with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and added copious material – including the discovery that three of the casualties listed did not die after all.

Alongside Colin Blythe, one of the greatest bowlers of his era, who was hit by a shell near Passchendaele in 1917, there is Rupert Brooke, who "had gained considerable reputation as a poet" and whose main claim to fame in Wisden was to have topped the bowling averages at Rugby School in 1906; George Llewellyn Davies, one of five brothers "adopted" by JM Barrie who were to form the inspiration for Peter Pan; and Percy Jeeves, the Warwickshire all-rounder who so impressed PG Wodehouse in a county match that he named Bertie Wooster's valet after him.

In The Wisden Book of Cricketers' Lives, editor Benny Green complained that most of the Great War obituaries "hardly belong in a record book whose avowed intent is to record the feats and fates of first-class cricketers". And yet it is with these lesser mortals, lads barely out of school who never got to live their lives, that the real interest lies after Renshaw's estimable research.

Take, for example, Roland Boys Bradford, who became the youngest general in the British Army 10 days before his death at Cambrai, aged 25. He had been awarded the Victoria Cross at the Somme, and we also learn that his brother George won a VC too, in a naval engagement at Zeebrugge. They are the only siblings to both receive the accolade in the First World War; a third brother, James, won the Military Cross, and a fourth, Tommie, received the Distinguished Service Order – he was the only one to survive the war.

Tommie was the real cricketer among them, and in 1911 he hit a double century in an hour and a half with 17 sixes, a record score in the Durham Senior League. He died aged 80 without receiving an obituary in Wisden. Thanks to Renshaw's scholarship we will remember him and his three ill-fated brothers in arms.

Then there is Harold Forster, whose death was missed by Wisden but Renshaw has unearthed him – one of 89 new obituaries among the 289 first-class cricketers who died – as the player with the most awards for gallantry (DSO and Bar, MC and Bar). Wisden's omission of his feats even extended to his performance on the field: on his debut for Hampshire against MCC at Lord's, he took nine wickets in the match but was not mentioned in their report.

The wartime Wisdens sold surprisingly well given the lack of actual cricket they contained – county cricket was abandoned just before the end of the 1914 season – and they have since become rare and very valuable.

One of the final entries concerns Reginald Edwards, who died in 1925 of complications from a severe gas attack. During an expedition to Russia he lost all his baggage apart from his collection of Wisdens, "which accompanied him on all his travels". Clearly whoever relieved him of his burdens had no idea how much his little brown books were worth.

* Published in hardback by John Wisden & Co, £40

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent