As we prepare to celebrate Remembrance Day on 11th November, it is fitting to look back at 100 years at Worcestershire County Cricket Club and those players and people connected with the club who lose their lives when in action for their country.
On 7th November 1914, Captain Arnold Stearns Nesbitt became the first of 10 players who had played first class cricket for Worcestershire to be killed in The Great War.
However, that was by no means the first tragedy to strike families closely associated with WCCC during the first three months of the war.
Barely three weeks after the war started, Archer Windsor-Clive, 23, a son of WCCC vice-pesident, the Earl of Plymouth (Lord Windsor) was killed “in an act of treachery” while defending a bridge in France.
German soldiers had dressed in French uniforms then opened fire without warning.
Another few weeks later, Herbert JG Gilmour, 31, the eldest son of Mrs Price-Hughes (who was on the WCCC committee and a keen fund raiser), was killed in the Battle of Aisne.
The following day, AW Hudson ,31, a son of Lt Col. AH Hudson (WCCC 1869-91 and former captain, from Wick, Pershore), also serving with the Worcestershire Regiment, was killed during the same battle.
The following month, a day before the decisive Battle of Gheluvelt on 31st October, in which 192 men of the Worcestershire Regiment were killed, Gerald EF Ward,36, younger brother of WCCC President, Earl Dudley, was killed at Zandvoorde.
But for prolonged rain in early June 1905, Gerald would have been the first WCCC player to die in action. He had been selected for WCCC v MCC at Lord’s, but the match never started.
On 7th November, Arnold Stearns Nesbitt, 36, was killed at Ploegsteert Wood, Belgium.
The following extract from Pears 150, the life and times of WCCC 1865-2014, (a 500 page book, price £25, details when on sale will be posted on the WCCC website), gives notes about Captain Nesbitt, and the circumstances in which he died, so far from the cricket field, 100 years ago.
"Arnold Stearns Nesbitt b. 16 October 1878 Chertsey, Surrey. Eldest son of the late William Henry Nesbitt amds Nesbitt, Oatlands Drive, Weybridge, Surrey.
"Educated at Bradfield College, Berkshire, from September 1889 to December 1895. He was in the football and cricket XIs of 1895,“Above average as a wicket keeper although has not improved during the season as much as we had hoped. He takes the ball cleanly, but is slow at stumping.” Bradfield Chronicle 1895.
"1901 census (aged 22-23) 21st 31 Worcester Regiment. 3rd Battalion RI Regt (Militia) 1900, Worcestershire Regiment 1900, Lieutenant 1900, promoted to Captain 1904. Employed by the Egyptian Army from May 1907-February 1908.
"Adjutant at Norton Depot, organiser of the military tournament at the skating rink. “It was due largely to his energies, initiative, foresight, tact and courtesy that it was such a great success.” A fellow officer said he was one of the best officers the regiment ever had.
"A man of fine physique, Arnold Nesbitt was well known in the hunting field, besides playing regularly for Gentlemen of Worcester, and one match for WCCC v Middlesex 1914. (EW Bale was injured).
"27 May1914 WCCC v Middlx, Lords (rhbat at10; 3, 2*) WK only 5 months before he was killed. 1914. 1m, 2 inns, 1 no, 5 runs (Hst 3) 5.0 ave. 1ct. d. 7 November 1914 (aged 36) at Ploegsteert Wood, Belgium.
"Captain in Worcestershire Regiment, 3rd Battalion. Killed in action. -What lay behind those few words? The following edited extracts are from the Worcestershire Regiment’s Official History.
"The 3rd battalion had been experiencing some bitter fighting in Belgium during the early weeks of the war; to the extent that losses meant two Divisions had to be reorganised.
"On 1st November they were detached to support the 4th Division which had captured Armentieres and the area around Ploegsteert Wood, but was having difficulty holding the line of a pronounced salient which was drawing increasing enemy pressure.
"The 3rd Worcestershire was moved by motor buses from Merris to billets at Neuve Eglise early on the 1st, then at dusk moved forward through Le Romarin to bivouac in reserve just west of Ploegsteert village. They could hear firing continuously from every direction.
"At dusk on the 2nd, the 3rd Battalion moved forward past Essex Farm to the firing line (relieving the 1st Hampshire) in trenches on the east edge of Ploegsteert Wood. Then followed four days of great discomfort. The trenches were shallow and already waterlogged.
"They were overlooked from the Messines Ridge on the left (north). Firing was constant and communication along the line difficult between Hulls Burnt Farm, 700 yards south to Pelerin and Le Gheer. There were several casualties (nine killed, 22 wounded).
"On 6th November, the low lying Lys valley was blanketed by thick fog. It was impossible to see more than 50 yards.
"Great shells came hurtling through the thick air, while the men in the waterlogged trenches stared ahead, firing at intervals into the mist and straining their eyes and ears to catch warning of attack from an enemy trying to break through the line of weary men who barred the way to the Channel Ports.
"As the day drew on, the enemy’s fire increased. By 5pm night added to the fog’s obscurity, while the troops were dazed by the blaze of bursting shells.
"British artillery could not do much to support the front line troops as the position of the enemy’s guns could not be located in the fog nor could they prevent any concentration of attacking troops.
"Colonel Stuart realised the danger and reported the position untenable without more artillery support; but he was told that more support was not possible.
"In the darkness between 3 and 4am next morning, 7th November, very heavy shell fire was opened on the British line. For an hour shells crashed down on A, B, C, and D companies of the Worcestershire Regiment’s 3rd Battalion.
"Then at 5am, masses of German infantry came plunging through the fog. Surviving front line defenders manned their parapets and fired into the advancing hordes. On the left the battalion’s line held, but the centre and right had been obliterated by the bombardment.
"A few survivors fought their way back to the wood to warn reserve companies and battalion HQ. A counter attack was organised to retake the lost trenches which met the enemy inside the edge of the wood and a confused desperate struggle ensued. A captured German platoon said they were Saxons of the German 19th Corps.
"Reinforcements were brought up, (companies from three other regiments), but the fog prevented any proper co-ordination or effective artillery support and the lost trenches could not be regained.
"Eventually a new front line was established in the wood linking with the left side which was still holding. Through the night of the 7th and all the next day, the remnants of the 3rd Battalion hung on to their position until relieved in the evening of 8th November.
"The losses had been very heavy; more than 200 in all, including six officers. One of them was Captain AS Nesbitt. Memorial Panel 34, Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Belgium."