During the 20th century, Britain was immersed in two total wars and thoughts among the populace were concentrated on the war effort. In many respects tried, where possible, to carry on their normal lives and indeed, organisations such as cricket clubs provided a welcome outlet from the conflict. So what happened to our cricket club during the exigencies of the two World Wars?
There was disruption caused by men and women being called up into the armed forces, into munitions factories and working down the local mines. The shattering effects of aerial bombing; petrol, food and clothing rationing; death and disruptions to families. During World War Two there was also the serious threat of invasion until 1943 when the tide of the war turned in favour of the Allies.
There was no cricket played on the Heath throughout the First World War (1914 -1918). At the AGM 15th March 1915, it was decided that with so many men away on active service it was not practical to arrange cricket matches for the coming season. This decision remained in force until the end of hostilities. However, it was noted that if there were enough players at any given time, then matches could be arranged at short notice. The club did not wish to close down completely, so the election of Club President, Vice Presidents, Hon Secretary and Hon Treasurer went ahead as usual. The question of Management Committee was held in abeyance. As an aside, the residents of Ascot stayed up late one night in October 1916 to see a blazing German Zeppelin drift through the dark sky before crashing a few miles away. The Air Force occupied the Heath for the four years of the war and therefore the ground suffered from neglect. However, this was soon put right; damage to the pavilion was made good by the RAF and the pitch relaid after the war.
The club managed to keep cricket going on the Heath for the duration of World War Two (1939 -1945). However, reading the Minutes of meetings relating those years reveals the difficulties faced the Management Committee.
In March 1940, the committee agreed to run only one team owing to the fact that so many young men had been called up into the Forces, matches were arranged with nearby clubs.
The following month at the AGM it was agreed that those members serving in the Armed Forces should be made Honorary Members for the duration of the war. The Royal Artillery stationed in Ascot were allowed to play their own matches on our ground at 10 shillings per match. Many soldiers serving in Ascot also played for RACC on numerous occasions during the season. In all 28 matches were played by RACC in 1940.
At the start of the 1941 season there was concern as to whether the club could continue to play cricket at all owing the shortage of players. But the committee endeavoured to carry on, but not plan too far ahead. The 90th Pioneer Company applied to play matches and practice on the ground, but they were told they must play in shoes and not army boots! The Minutes note that RACC were pleased to give service units stationed in Ascot a chance to play cricket on our ground. RACC played many matches against army teams during the war.
By 1943 the committee decided to approach Cranbourne CC with a view to fielding a combined side. This came into effect with cricket being played on lines of equality. There would be equal number of matches between the grounds and the Home side would field six players, also teas and other materials were to be supplied by the Home side. But it was understood that the clubs would remain entirely separate. This arrangement continued successfully until the war’s end.
By the spring of 1944, the club was finally able to see that the end of the long war was in sight. But they were fully aware that “considerable expense” would be incurred after the war put the club on a “peacetime footing”. What implicitly comes across in the brief Minutes from the AGMs and the once or two Committee Meetings held each year, was that the the committee felt responsible for keeping the club’s finances on a sound footing against very difficult circumstances. Also for making sure the club was still operating as a going concern for those men who returned from fighting in the war. The soldiers stationed in the Ascot district were also given much needed relaxation away from the discipline of army life.
Lesley Abrams (With thanks to Ron Cocks for World War 1 information)