On 28 February the Nottingham Journal set the scene for the first wartime season: “A skeleton staff was being maintained to preserve the playing piece during the war and it was hoped that although county cricket may not be possible during the coming season, it may be possible for some regional cricket to be played.  But in any case the pavilion would not be available”, the building having been requisitioned for the war effort.

Meanwhile the Nottingham Evening Post reported that “The committee appeals to all [members] in the strongest possible terms and with the greatest confidence to continue their subscriptions in order that the old Nottinghamshire Club, with its glorious history and great traditions, shall not be jeopardised.”  It was also confirmed that “The following members of the team are serving in the Army: J Hardstaff, C Harris, H Butler and J Knowles.  Younger members of the staff are awaiting their calling-up notices.  Mr EA Marshall, captain of the Second Eleven, holds a Commission.  Major J de C Barber and Capt HR Munt, members of the Committee and R Poulton of the office staff are also serving.”

At the Annual General Meeting on 14 March it was announced that “county competitions, even of a regional character, are not possible at the present time” but it was hoped that matches against Derbyshire and Leicestershire could be arranged in addition to 'soldier cricket' and fixtures involving the amateur clubs that were tenants at Trent Bridge.

In mid-April 1940 an ambitious programme of 11 two-day matches was announced, including home and away fixtures against Surrey; however only the first of these matches – against Derbyshire on the Whitsun weekend – was played as intended.

George Heane remained as Captain and a strong team – albeit without the injured Joe Hardstaff – was selected to face the local rivals.  As the Evening Post reported, “This holiday ‘friendly’ should produce cricket of the care-free order, and prove a welcome antidote to the topic of war.” Played on the Saturday and Monday of the Bank Holiday weekend, Notts closed the first day on 154 for 3 after bowling out Derbyshire for 239.  With a draw appearing to be the inevitable result – and having struck a century in under two hours – Heane declared on 334 for 9; Derbyshire also declared – on 201 for 6, once Albert Alderman had reached his century – but the victory target of 107 in the 55 remaining minutes was out of reach, Notts closing on 65 for 1.

The realities of organising cricket during wartime soon became more apparent, with the next three games becoming one-day fixtures against armed service opposition.  On 15 June a Notts team, including New Zealand test player Roger Blunt and the South African international Denijs Morkel, drew with a Royal Air Force XI featuring Lancashire and England’s Cyril Washbrook and the Notts duo Sergeant Hardstaff (who scored 103) and Bombardier Butler.

In the next match – also against an RAF XI on 13 July – this trio were supplemented by Charlie Harris, who top-scored with 59no as the servicemen were all out for 212 in 45 overs.  Despite fine performances by wicketkeeper Eric Meads, debutant Reg Simpson and veteran bowler AO Ashley, Notts lost by 98 runs.  Meads claimed two catches and four stumpings, the 20-year old Simpson hit a fine 65 (before being caught by Butler off the bowling of Harris) and the 53-year old Ashley – who had last played for the Notts 2nd XI in 1925 – took five wickets at the cost of 43 runs with his left-arm spin.

Saturday 27 July 1940 marked the centenary of the first county match at Trent Bridge, a milestone that passed without any commemoration – although as the Nottingham Journal remarked, “... the only ‘celebration’, if such it can be termed, will be a match between the local rivals Nottingham Forest and Forest Amateurs.  Although conditions have made a county match out of the question, perhaps a few of the old enthusiasts will watch the match between the local rivals instead, and in between times conjure up memories of past glories they have witnessed on this world famous ground.”

An RAF XI replaced the original opponents Derbyshire in an August Bank Holiday fixture, when the Notts team included two England internationals – Ewart Astill from Leicestershire (who had been a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1933) and Gubby Allen from Middlesex.  Also appearing for the county – 18 years after playing two County Championship matches for Notts – was Geoffrey Huskinson who had reportedly made a good recovery from wounds received at Dunkirk.  From the RAF’s total of 257 runs, 183 of these were scored by Joe Hardstaff in under three hours, with his third 50 taking only 20 minutes; meanwhile three of the servicemen’s wickets were surprisingly claimed by Walter Keeton.  Led by 134no from Reg Simpson and 108 by George Heane, Notts won by seven wickets with 15 minutes remaining.  As the Nottingham Journal reported “An average of 100 runs an hour all through the day (and) three capital centuries ... provided a real Bank Holiday attraction for 2,500 spectators ... A grand day’s cricket, full of interest from the first ball to the last.”

On 17 August a strong Notts side overwhelmed a Notts & Derbys Border League XI, bowling the visitors out for 97 and passing their total without loss before batting on and declaring on 234 for 3.  After tea the teams played one of the earliest limited-overs matches seen at Trent Bridge, consisting of 15 six-ball overs per side.  Notts batted first and scored 157 for 4, led by Joe Hardstaff’s 111no.  Despite Ron Giles taking six wickets for three runs in three overs – and twice being on a hat trick – the visitors closed on 59 for 9 so the match was deemed a draw.

The final match of the season – all of which had been played at Trent Bridge – saw the visit of Leicestershire on 1 September, although travel difficulties meant that play did not start until noon.  A strong Notts side included Arthur Wheat jnr as a triallist wicketkeeper and declared on 263 for 5, Walter Keeton top-scoring with 108.  In reply the visitors reached 198 for six before time was called on what the Nottingham Journal described as “an extraordinary season.”

The 7 September issue of ‘The Cricketer’ magazine provided one of the reasons why Notts had needed to call on 27 different players to fulfil the season’s six fixtures: “.... fortunately for the county, it has been possible for some of the leading players to take off odd days from the Services and work of national importance.  GFH Heane, the captain, is busy farming in the north of the county, Keeton is in the Police War Reserve at Mansfield, while Hardstaff, Harris and Butler are all sergeants at an Anti-Aircraft unit stationed within reasonable distance of Trent Bridge.  Giles, Voce, Gunn, Woodhead and Meads are in reserved occupations; Knowles and Jepson are in the army.”

Looking back on the season, a complimentary (and optimistic) Evening Post writer expressed the view that “When, in due course, the Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club review their first, and let us hope, last war-time season of 1940, it is certain that the verdict will be that the decision to play as many games as could be arranged had been more than justified.  In this connection praise is due to the secretary, Mr HA Brown, for the enterprise he has shown in securing the several one-day fixtures .... In not one instance were Notts the cancelling agent, and the secretary, in order to field full teams, had to surmount tremendous difficulties and expend a considerable amount of time and patience upon a formidable task.  However, every one of the games provided cricket of a most enjoyable order and the members have cause for gratification that their loyalty to the club has been rewarded with numerous stirring displays.”

Photo shows: Ewart Astill, guest player from Leicestershire, who represented Notts in a number of matches during WWII. (Courtesy of Richard Holdridge)

For all scorecards and other information about this season, go to Cricket Archive here

September 2020