Obituary: Myrtle Maclagan

Rachael Heyhoe Flint
Wednesday 17 March 1993 00:02

Myrtle Ethel Maclagan, cricketer and soldier, born India 2 April 1911, MBE 1966, died Farnham 11 March 1993.

MYRTLE MACLAGAN was one of the legends of English women's cricket. She was a member of the first England touring team to Australia in 1934-35, when she wrote her name firmly in the history books by recording the first century in women's Test cricket.

Myrtle Maclagan was born in India in 1911, the daughter of an officer in the Royal Engineers. Her father on retirement became bursar of Haileybury College, where Myrtle was brought up with her two cricketing brothers and a sister. Her main education was at the Royal School, Bath, where her great prowess at cricket was soon discovered - she was in the cricket first XI for six years from the age of 12. Her introduction to the sport coincided with the formation of the Women's Cricket Association in Britain in 1926.

Myrtle Maclagan was an all- rounder in all senses - an impressive spin or seam bowler and a fine opening bat. She and Betty Snowball were England's openers for many years from 1934 and were known as the Hobbs and Sutcliffe of women's cricket. In 14 Tests from 1934 Myrtle Maclagan scored 1,007 runs at an average of 41.9 and took 51 wickets (average 16.9).

While at the Royal School, Maclagan had some coaching from Tich Freeman, Kent and England's leg-spinner. She wrote in her school diary: 'Freeman came and coached us and taught me to bowl so that the ball curled in the air.' True to her military background, Myrtle Maclagan planned her bowling campaigns with the same determination as her ancestors had planned their military encounters (she was the granddaughter of two generals).

As a batsman she was very firm and calm, with great qualities of endurance and difficult to dislodge. Twenty-nine years after her historic 1934 Test century, she marked her last official cricket appearance playing for the Combined Services against Australia at Aldershot, when, at the age of 52, she scored 81 not out in the presence of the Princess Royal - and her skilful innings portrayed her immense knowledge and experience.

Myrtle Maclagan qualified for Combined Services when she joined the Army in 1951 (having also served in the Second World War as a senior ATS officer in the anti-aircraft regiment in Dover in 1944 during the flying-bomb raids). She was an Inspector PT, WRAC, but rose to the rank of Major and was appointed MBE for Army services in 1966 - which would have greatly pleased her military antecedents.

Maclagan was a most imposing figure on the cricket field and her reputation was worldwide. I remember meeting her for the first time when I was a very nervous 17- year-old cricket debutante playing for a Select XI against the WRAC at Sandhurst and still have a faded Brownie 127 camera picture of the WRAC opening bats 'MacLagan and O'Neill'. I felt I should kneel when she came out to bat, such was her aura of greatness. I noticed that her Army batting partners always added the word 'Ma'am' after any calling decision or command to run or not. Shouted down the wickets were the words 'Yes, Ma'am', 'No, Ma'am' or 'Wait, Ma'am' - there would never be a 'Sorry, Ma'am', for no one would ever dare run out the greatest.

But for all her overwhelming sporting reputation Myrtle Maclagan was a very warm and friendly person once you got to know her. She had a great sense of humour but no one would ever overstep the limit with any leg- pulling because she commanded so much respect.

Myrtle Maclagan retired comfortably in Camberley, near to the scenes of her military upbringing. Her house was called 'Myrtlewood', which was a name chosen for fun, not for pomposity, because by nature she was a very modest person despite all her many achievements.

In retirement her life was simple - her consuming hobbies were gardening, carpentry, sewing, photography and even metalwork. With her passing, cricket (not merely women's cricket) has lost a great figure.

(Photograph omitted)

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