As we approach Armistice Day, it provides an appropriate opportunity to remember the 13 Worcestershire players who lost their lives in both World Wars.
Their names are commemorated on the memorials in the Graeme Hick Pavilion.
Two of the players were Arnold Nesbitt and Gerald Seeley, both gifted sportsmen who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Worcestershire Heritage Group Co-Ordinator Tim Jones has provided a history of the duo.
Nesbitt was educated at Bradfield College in Berkshire between September 1889 and December 1895. He shone at cricket and football, representing the first XIs in both disciplines in his final year.
Described in the Bradfield Chronicle newspaper as ‘a man of fine physique’, Nesbitt also played cricket regularly for The Gentlemen of Worcestershire and Incogniti, the world’s third-oldest wandering cricket club, known by their famous purple, black and gold colours.
Commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment in 1900, he was promoted to lieutenant in 1901 and by November 1904 had reached the rank of captain. During this time, he was a member of the regimental cricket team that won the Aldershot Army Corps Competition.
There was some controversy surrounding the final of the competition, reported in the regimental history in 1948:
It reads, “prior to the final, concern was raised about the action of the Worcester’s pace bowler, Colour Sergeant Carroll, so the authorities engaged two first-class umpires from the MCC at Lord’s to ensure fair play.
“They later remarked that they were ‘looked after’ and entertained liberally in the bar at the officer’s club by some of the Worcester’s supporters, but whether this had any bearing on the fact that Colour Sergeant Carroll bowled through most of two innings without being no-balled is open to conjecture.”
Until April 1914, Nesbitt had been serving with the 1st Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment in Cairo, and in May, he was to play his one game of Championship cricket for Worcestershire against Middlesex at Lord’s. In an innings and 56-run defeat, he contributed just five runs across both innings.
A few weeks later, Captain Nesbitt found himself in the thick of the action as war was declared. The Worcesters were attached to the 7th Brigade of the 3rd Division and were one of the first British formations to go to France. They were mobilised on 4 August and disembarked at Le Havre on 15 August as part of the British Expeditionary Force.
Nesbitt fought at the Battle of Mons and then saw action in the battles of La Bassee and Armentieres, all within the space of three months. In August and September, the retreat from Mons took place until the BEF found itself south of the river Marne, where Nesbitt and his colleagues dug in before being moved to Neuve Eglise in Flanders in an attempt to outflank the Germans.
On 2 November, the Worcesters went into the line just west of Bois de Ploegsteert, where they endured heavy shelling and constant sniping for four days.
It was on 7 November 1914 that Colonel Nesbitt was killed during heavy fighting. He was just 36 years of age.
Seeley went to prep school at Hillstone, Como Road in Malvern, before joining Marlborough College as a foundation scholar. He attended between September 1916 and July 1921 and was described in the Marlburian (Marlborough College’s school magazine) as ‘one of the finest athletes the school has ever had’, excelling at athletics, hockey, racquets and cricket.
The 1921 cricket season was a particularly successful one for Seeley. He began June in spectacular form, scoring 200 for Marlborough as they rattled up 419-5 against Colonel Gillson’s Wiltshire XI. Gillson’s XI replied with 392-6, the Wiltshire Times reporting that 811 runs were scored in the match in less than six hours played!
On 27 July, he starred again, scoring 122 and taking 5-59 in the drawn fixture against Rugby School at Lord’s. The Cricketer Winter Annual for 1921, in its review of the fixture, stated, “Seeley himself stood out as his record of 758 runs at an average of 50 speaks for itself. He has a splendid eye and fine wrists. If he can allow these to operate on a really sound basis, he may go far.”
Scores of 106 and 63 in the match against MCC helped to catch the eye of Worcestershire, especially as he was now living in Worcestershire with his parents because his father was working as the Rector of Broome.
Seeley was selected for the County Championship game against Nottinghamshire at New Road in mid-August, which Worcestershire won by eight wickets thanks to 11 wickets in the match from Humphrey ‘Barmy’ Gilbert. Seeley’s contribution was a score of seven in the first innings.
Careers with Lloyds Bank and as a publicity consultant followed, but at the onset of World War Two he enlisted as a pilot officer/air gunner with 21 Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.
Number 21 Squadron was a light bomber squadron equipped with Blenheim IV bombers, and at the end of May 1940, following the German invasion of the Low Countries, the squadron moved to Lossiemouth to join Coastal Command.
Between June 1940 and December 1941 it operated as an anti-shipping unit, alternating between Lossiemouth and Watton and flying off the coast of Norway.
At 2pm on 23 July 1941, Seeley’s Blenheim IV, V6035 took off from RAF Manston and was shot down by a flak ship off Ostend. He died when the aircraft was lost but his body was recovered and laid to rest at Oostende Communal Cemetery.
Gerald Seeley, seated on the left
Arnold Nesbitt and Gerald Seeley are two – of 61 Worcestershire cricketers – to have played just one County Championship match for the county.
They are included in Tim Jones’s upcoming ‘who’s who’ book about all of the players, called ‘61 for 1’. It will be published next year, and if you are interested in receiving details, please e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Worcestershire CCC players who lost their lives in the First World War were:
Arnold Stearns Nesbitt
Frederick Bonham Burr
John Edmund Valentine Isaac
Bernard Philip Neville
Harold Godfrey Bache
William Beaumont Burns
Arthur Whitmore Isaac
Christopher George Arthur Collier
John Francis Sartorius Winnington
Cecil Howard Palmer
The Worcestershire CCC cricketers who lost their lives during World War Two were:
Gerald Henry Seeley
Roger Henry Charles Human
Cedric Alfred Humphries