My Great Aunt Norah's wartime diaries, 1938-1948
As England defend the Ashes at Trent Bridge and we all delight in the debut of nineteen year-old Ashton Agar, I am reminded of Norah’s cricket summer during the Australian Tour of 1938.
16th April 1938: Steve Bloomer died 64. Played cricket with boys in morning and afternoon. Helen went to Long Eaton with Joe. Bought a white jumper. Nice. Lovely, sunny.
17th April: Mr Corbett died in church. Played cricket with the boys and made lemon curd. Rich drew picture of me and I drew picture of him in the afternoon. Brushed Frank’s hair. Sunny cold.
18th April: Motor Cycle Race`at the Park. Helen, Joe and Rich went to Bill’s 21st birthday party. Ken saw a nice-looking girl there. Sunny cold.
19th April: Rich saw Fish Boy and didn’t think much to him. Went down street to Evans. Saw Fish Boy leaning against Phillips doorpost. Fried the dinner. Ma went down street.
20th April: Rich went back to work. Plane crashed. Dennis had some teeth taken out. Washday. Lecturers D & K. Played in spinney. Sunny. Australian cricketers arrived.
Cricket, chores and crushes make up thirteen year-old Norah’s days. Sometimes, she plays at school, but usually, she joins brothers and neighbours as they take their stumps and bats into Webb’s orchard.
Donington Town Cricket Club, early 1940s. Norah’s brothers, Richard, back row, far right with the wild hair, and Frank, middle of the seated row.
The big attraction in 1938 was Don Bradman. I can’t claim to be anything of an expert here, but I have a man at my side brandishing a book from our bookshelf that I’ve never seen before: Frith’s England Versus Australia: A Pictorial History of the Test Matches Since 1877 (1981). He should be working but he is telling me in an animated fashion how Bradman wasn’t just any old Aussie cricketer, but ‘the most brilliant batsman to ever live.’
Known fondly and reverentially as ‘The Don’, Bradman (1908-2001) had made a meteoric rise from bush cricket to the New South Wales team and then to Test Cricket in the 1920s. He played against England in 1928-29 and although it took him a while to warm up, in the Third Test Bradman became youngest player to make a Test century.
His first Test appearance in England was on the 1930 Tour, on which he became the highest scoring Australian, making over 300 runs in one day. Most significantly, Bradman’s success led England to devise a new way of bowling to curb his batting prowess. The controversial Bodyline tactic was a form of delivery where the ball was bowled, fast and short, towards the body of the batsman. Many people, especially Australians, considered this both dangerous and unfair. Cricket was a gentlemanly game, was it not?
Don Bradman, 1938. Source: www.lankastandard.com
By 1938, Bradman had returned to Test Cricket from many dramas, including fury and expectation during the 1932-33 Bodyline series in Australia, paparazzi-style pursuit by the press, resentment by some of his team mates, the loss of a child, near death in London from appendicitis, a rumoured nervous breakdown.
But he was back. At the end of April, Norah listened to his ‘after-luncheon speech ‘ at the Savoy, broadcast on the wireless. It was ‘a model speech’, according to the English press, in which Bradman paid respect to ANZAC heroes, joked about the tightness of Yorkshiremen, celebrated the speed of the bowlers and promised ‘bright, attractive cricket’.(2)
And he delivered. As Norah notes, he had reached his thousand by the end of May.
20th May: Lovely at Art. Played cricket with Frank and Jimmie. Lovely but Jimmie can’t play. Warm sunny.
21st: Got up late. Rich & Frank played cricket. Both lost 2 & duck. Sunny warm.
22nd: Sunbathed in orchard and went a walk with Ma & Pa. Cricketted with J. John told me about Jimmie & me. Lovely, warm.
23rd: Didn’t play rounders and didn’t practice for sports because it rained. Had English Test. Steve broke lamp in FC(?). Rainy. Cold.
24th: Practised for Julius Caesar. Got return for English. Played pit-pat. Cold.
25th: Had running heats for sport in gym. 4th. Peggy fell down. Enid 1st. Warm.
26th: Went to Margery’s for haircut. Nice & went over houses. Peggy & Enid stayed for egg & spoon. Cold. Bradman made his thousand.
By the end of the series, Bradman had made 1300 runs and scored an average of 115 per Test. In the Third Test at Headingly on 22nd, 23rd and 25th July, his dazzling performance saw Australia retain the Ashes: ‘The second day was Don Bradman’s. In the gloom and on a moist pitch he manoeuvred the strike and dealt with varied bowling to put his side in the lead. In one of his finest innings, he stayed three hours, striking nine boundaries.’ (1)
I can’t help but end on a mischievous note. For all his brilliance Bradman, who was thirty in 1938 and a reluctant celebrity, was not likely to catch Norah’s eye. But if Ashton Agar had been playing back then, what’s the betting he would have joined fellow sporting heroes Prince Birabongse and Frankie Soo on her list of schoolgirl crushes? (3)
(1) David Frith, England Versus Australia: A Pictorial History of the Test Matches Since 1877 (1981), p. 201
(2) Don Bradman Scrapbooks, vol. 33, 1938, p. 109. http://www.slsa.sa.gov.au/bradman/scrapbooks/33/bsb33109.htm
(3) See previous posts Norah and the Prince, Norah’s crushes.
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