Something rather different from my usual poetry postings. This poem was written in memory of celebrated cricketer Hedley Verity, who was wounded in action in Caserta, Sicily and taken prisoner; he later died of his wounds in a Prisoner-of-War camp at the age of 38. It was a tragic end to a life that had given so much to the world of cricket.
The following is a brief account of his playing career taken from the website where I found the poem. You can find a longer biography here.
Verity was born in 1905 within sight of Headingley Cricket Ground. It seems strange to think that Verity was originally turned down by Yorkshire at trials in 1926, but he was eventually given a chance by the county in 1930 and, of course, became a fixture until the start of the war. He was the natural successor to that other great Yorkshire left-arm spinner, Wilfred Rhodes, whose career drew to a close in 1930 after an amazing 883 games for the county. Verity was never going to get close – Hitler saw to that – but he did turn out for Yorkshire 278 times and in that time he produced some remarkable bowling analyses.
In 1931 he took ten for 36 off 18.4 overs against Warwickshire at Leeds, but incredibly he bettered these figures the following season by taking ten for ten in 19.4 overs against Nottinghamshire, also at Headingley. They remain the county’s best bowling figures for an innings while Verity’s 17 for 91 against Essex at Leyton in 1933 remain Yorkshire’s best bowling in a match. Verity claimed nine wickets in an innings seven times for Yorkshire. He took 100 wickets in a season nine times and took 200 wickets in three consecutive seasons between 1935-37. He ended with 1,956 first-class wickets at an average of 14.9, took five wickets in an innings 164 times and ten wickets in a match 54 times. On 1 September, 1939, in the last first-class match before war was declared, he took seven for nine at Hove against Sussex.
The year after he first appeared for Yorkshire, Verity made his England debut against New Zealand at The Oval, finishing the game with four wickets. After that summer he was ignored until 1932/33, the Bodyline Series, in which he took 11 wickets, including Bradman twice. By the time his career was over, Verity had dismissed Bradman ten times, a figure matched only by Grimmett. As with his domestic career, Verity’s international performances threw up some astonishing bowling figures. He took eight for 43 and finished with match figures of 15 for 104 against Australia at Lord’s in 1934. His stamina was demonstrated during the 1938-39 tour of South Africa when he bowled 95.6 eight-ball overs in an innings at Durban, taking four for 184. By the time war arrived, Verity had taken 144 wickets at an average of 24.37.
During the war he was a captain in the Green Howards. He sustained his wounds in the battle of Catania in Sicily and died on 31 July, 1943. His grave is at Caserta Military Cemetery, some 16 miles from Naples.
Ironically, the poet, Drummond Allison, was also killed in action during World War 2.
The ruth and truth you taught have come full-circle
On that fell island all whose history lies,
Far now from Bramhall Lane and far from Scarborough
You recollect how foolish are the wise.
On this great ground more marvellous than Lord’s
– Time takes more spin than nineteen thirty four –
You face at last that vast that Bradman-shaming
Batsman whose cuts obey no natural law.
Run up again, as gravely smile as ever,
Veer without fear your left unlucky arm
In His so dark direction, but no length
However lovely can disturb the harm
That is His style, defer the winning drive
Or shake the crowd from their uproarious calm.
by Drummond Allison (1921-1943).