After the pre-season optimism of the preceding year, a more realistic fixture list was planned for the second wartime season.

At the Club’s Annual General Meeting on 4 April it was announced that seven matches had been planned, and the Nottingham Evening Post reported that “Most of their players were in the Army, and it depended on the demands of the military services whether they would be available.  While they might lose some, however, they would possibly have the services of Yorkshire cricketers AB Sellers and M Leyland and F Smailes, and AJ Holmes (Sussex).”

Problems of cricketers’ availabilities were also affecting the local leagues and on the previous day the Nottingham Journal reported that 14 Clubs had resigned from the Notts Cricket Association “owing to the loss of members.”

The County Club’s Secretary HA Brown had continued to seek further fixtures and on 29 April it was announced that ten matches were to be played between May and September.  Eight of these matches would be played at Trent Bridge, including fixtures against two wartime wandering teams – the London Counties XI and the British Empire XI.

The first match on 31 May was against a strong London Counties team that included former England players Arthur Fagg (Kent), Jack O’Connor (Essex), Arthur Wellard (Somerset) and Alf Gover (Surrey), and Joe Hulme who played 225 First-Class matches for Middlesex and in four FA Cup Finals for Arsenal.  Arriving at Trent Bridge two hours late after their coach broke down en route, the visitors were bowled out for 125; O’Connor top scored with 57 before he became one of four victims for Charlie Harris, while Harold Butler claimed five wickets for 28 runs.  The Cricketer reported that “The pitch was good, but all through the bowlers held command” – Notts were all out for 92, their highest score being 42 by Joe Hardstaff.

The visitors remained in Nottingham to play Sir Julien Cahn’s XI at nearby West Park the following day; in this drawn match, Sir Julien’s team included the Notts players Harris, Heane, Hardstaff and Simpson.

Derbyshire visited Trent Bridge on Bank Holiday Monday 2 June, having “.. spread their net rather widely in getting together a team” as the Nottingham Journal reported. “The side includes Capt J Macdonald, a batsman and slow bowler who captained Ireland on occasion; Wright the Kent and England spin bowler now serving in the Forces; WEG Payton, son of the old Notts player; Prentice of Leicestershire; and F Soult, the Derby Police fast bowler.”  Notts also fielded one guest player – Frank Smailes of Yorkshire, whose innings of seven runs was just one of numerous disappointing batting performances.   Reg Simpson struck 46 and John Hall contributed 31 runs to an unimpressive Notts total of 139 all out, and at 92 for 2 the visitors looked on course for an easy victory; however Frank Woodhead’s five wickets for just 15 runs led to an unexpected Notts win by ten runs.

Before the next match Nottingham experienced its heaviest bombing raid of the war, when more than 100 bombers caused considerable damage and in excess of 150 casualties on the night of 8-9 May.  As the Nottingham Journal reported, “Bombs, including numerous incendiaries, fell on the Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club’s famous Trent Bridge ground, and damage was also caused to adjoining buildings.”

In September 1945 The Cricketer magazine looking back on the effects of the raid:  “Trent Bridge certainly shows few scars from the bombing of 1941 when 223 incendiaries were dropped on the playing area.  Fires burnt out some of the buildings behind the pavilion and HA Brown, the county secretary, estimates that the repairs will cost some £5,000.”

The annual Masonic match between the City and County Lodges was held at Trent Bridge on 11 June, raising over £200 for local hospitals, before the County side faced an Army XI on 14 June.  Notts declared on 310 for 6, and despite the visitors including four England players – Errol Holmes (Surrey), Maurice Leyland and Frank Smailes (Yorkshire) and Doug Wright (Kent) – they were bowled out for just 96.  Harold Butler claimed five wickets for 43 runs and Charlie Harris took four wickets for 14 in a surprisingly easy victory.

The British Empire XI were the next visitors to Trent Bridge on 21 June and – led by 94 from Warwickshire and England’s RES Wyatt – declared on 256 for 4.  Notts subsided to 138 all out and, following eight wickets for New Zealand Test player Bill Merritt, The Cricketer was prompted to comment that “It was yet another proof of the inability of the Nottinghamshire batsmen to deal effectively with spin bowling.”  Simpson, Heane, Hardstaff (89 runs in 70 minutes) and Harris all bettered their scores on the following day, when Sir Julien Cahn’s team drew with the Empire XI.

An under-strength RAF XI were beaten by ten wickets on 5 July, John Hodgkins taking 7 for 70 runs including a hat trick, before the youthful opening pair of Reg Simpson and debutant Cyril Poole each scored centuries as Notts batted on after passing the victory target.

On 12 July, nine Notts cricketers played on their home ground in a match between an Army XI and Northern Counties; the servicemen – including Harris, Hardstaff and Butler – were beaten by eight wickets, Simpson, GV Gunn, Hodgkins, Heane and Giles being on the winning side.

Notts’ first away fixture of the war was scheduled for 19 July, but Leicestershire were unable to find a ground at which the match could be played.  Meanwhile on the same day Trent Bridge hosted a match between the Army and the RAF, when 74 runs for Sgt CB Harris and 98no for Sgt J Hardstaff led the soldiers to a five wicket victory.  Another match on the same day earned a mention in The Cricketer, which reported that “An interesting reappearance occurred when Notts Amateurs met Hucknall, W Voce, the Notts and England bowler, making his first appearance on the cricket field since the outbreak of war in 1939, and taking two of the Amateurs’ wickets in addition to scoring 40 valuable runs for Hucknall.” Voce had in fact last played for Notts in May 1940, but little had be seen of him on a cricket pitch since that match.

Saturday 26 July was to have seen Trent Bridge host a match between George Gunn’s XI – captained by Lord Tennyson (Hampshire and England) and including Gunn and his son, Larwood and Voce – against an Army team including Hardstaff, Harris, Heane and Hall; however the match was abandoned without a ball being bowled.  The following day saw better weather and a number of Notts players featured in a fixed-time fundraising match at Ripley; Hardstaff, Harris, Butler, Gunn and Hall appeared for the Services XI, while Keeton and Simpson guested for Derbyshire.

An RAF XI that was considerably stronger than on their previous visit to Trent Bridge – this time including Sgt Joe Hardstaff and Leading Aircraftsman Frank Woodhead – proved stiffer opposition in a drawn match on 2 August; Notts declared on 289 for 9, while the servicemen – led by Hardstaff’s 119 – closed on 190 for 8.  Many of the same players were involved the following day, when Sir Julien Cahn’s XI – led by George Heane, whose 73no included the first six to clear the West Park pavilion for more than three years – beat an Army XI featuring Harris, Poole, GV Gunn, Butler and “Nineteen-year-old CJ Poole (Mansfield Colliery), in deep long-off, [who] proved an infallible potential boundary stopper”.  In the opinion of the Nottingham Journal, “His fielding throughout was most brilliant”.

Notts did play an away match on 4 August when they drew with Derbyshire at Ilkeston.  The home team declared on 216 for 6 before Notts ended on 57 for the loss of one wicket, and the Derby Evening Telegraph commented that “the Ilkeston crowd enjoyed four and a half hours of lively play in which batsmen took the honours ...The spectators had the opportunity of seeing a Notts ‘star’ in the making, CJ Poole, the 18 year-old Mansfield left-hander, who played like a veteran for an unbeaten 38.”

Possibly of greater interest to Notts supporters was a contest taking place in Nottingham on the same day, when a match between ‘Officers’ and ‘Other Ranks’ featured the final Trent Bridge appearance of one of Notts’ greatest bowlers.  Harold Larwood had left his home county at the end of the 1938 season, but on this day he was reunited with Bill Voce for one last time.  Having scored five runs in the Other Ranks’ 288 for 7 declared, Larwood opened the bowling against the Officers. “Midst a roar of cheers and a fanfare of motor-horns Larwood clean bowled Major Webber with the fourth ball of his first over” reported the Nottingham Journal.  “In his second over Flying-officer Lowcock had his off-stump knocked back with a ball that fairly ripped off the wicket.”

With Bill Voce also claiming two early wickets in two balls, captain Maurice Leyland decided to change the bowling and avoid a very early finish for the sizeable Bank Holiday crowd; Larwood had bowled three overs, taking two wickets and conceding 13 runs, while also earning ten shillings for charity from an anonymous sponsor.

On 16 August the Notts team that entertained Leicestershire were without their Captain, who was selected for Sir Pelham Warner’s XI in a match against the RAF at Lord’s.  Eddie Marshall replaced Heane and after Notts declared on 299 for 4 – thanks largely to 110 from Hardstaff and 111 from Simpson – the visitors reached 55 for 2 in eleven overs before stumps were drawn.

The return fixture was scheduled for 23 August and would have seen Leicestershire play a match at Grace Road for the first time in 41 years; Frederick Stocks was also to make his Notts debut, but the match was also abandoned without a ball being bowled.  Various Notts players were involved in a fundraising match the next day, when the Chief Constable’s XI – including Simpson – was narrowly defeated by the Lord Mayor’s XI that featured Patsy Hendren (Middlesex and England) alongside Giles, GV Gunn, Hall, Marshall, Hodgkins and Lilley.

The season concluded with another match against an RAF XI, on 6 September; like the previous RAF fixture, this match ended in a draw, Notts declaring on 208 for 7 before the RAF managed 167 for 6.

Of the potential guest players mentioned back in March, Frank Smailes played one match while Sellers and Holmes would never be seen in Notts colours.  The season had seen the emergence of Reg Simpson and Cyril Poole, while Joe Hardstaff had underlined his status as one of the country’s leading batsmen.

Nottinghamshire’s efforts and achievements were recognised nationally: The Cricketer commented that “Hardstaff’s form during the season has been uniformly good, and there is no doubt that had cricket been untroubled by Hitleristic ambitions to become Alexander, the Notts batsman would have been one of the most attractive stars.” And writing in the 1941-42 Annual of The Cricketer, Sir Home Gordon – admitting that his calculations were based on an ‘eclectic’ selection of matches – placed Hardstaff at the top of the batting averages, while Frank Woodhead headed the table of bowling averages with 11 wickets at 20.63.

Glowing praise was also received from Wisden’s Almanack in their review of the 1941 season: “To Nottinghamshire must be given the credit of being the only county to provide a really attractive fixture list for their members and the public.  Thanks to their enterprising secretary, W. H. A. Brown, teams containing first-class players were seen at Trent Bridge practically every weekend…The value of keeping the game alive and full justification of Nottinghamshire’s policy came in the discovery of two most promising young batsmen – R. T. Simpson and C. J. Poole.”


Photo: Joe Hardstaff jnr

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

September 2020