Many thanks to Jim Wishart for this one ...
Doug Clews 12th. April 2009
Sixty Years of Cricket Memories
Reprinted by kind permission of the Hampshire Chronicle
During a cricket career spanning 60 years, George Pierce found his love for the game, and the natural world, satisfied on the beautiful village grounds of his native Hampshire.
The setting of the game was always important to him and the downland wickets at Owslebury, on which he was brought up, were, and still are, a source of constant pleasure.
They provided him with a rich vein of material on which to draw for an article he wrote in the famous country publication, ‘The Field’ magazine. “Downland wickets are very springy and have a character all of their own. In those days there were no gang mowers. You had some long grass in the outfield so you could not score fours. You had to hit a six to get a boundary,” said Mr. Pierce. ''You could be fielding in the deep and find skylark nests with eggs in them, nests of partridges, or a hare. If Owslebury were playing some rather more important team, the farmer would get the shepherds to bring the sheep up and get the grass down a bit. They left hazards that ruined a few pairs of trousers. I remember playing at Compton, down by the school. I went back for a catch in the outfield and fell over a sow with a litter of pigs. It all added to the interest of the game,” he continued. ''If a ball could not be found, and many were not, the fielders had to shout 'lost ball' and the batsmen would get six runs. If you did not shout 'lost ball' they could keep running. There were some fine goings on when you pretended not to find the ball and then ran someone out”, he recalled.
Now 75, Mr. Pierce only retired from playing three years ago, and recently relinquished his Chairmanship of Old Symondians, a post he had held since the club was formed 32 years ago.
He was born in Owslebury, the eldest son of the village school Headmaster, whose name was also George. His mother, Daisy, taught at the school.
When Mr. Pierce senior was called up at the start of the Great War,
Mrs. Pierce took over the running of the school.
''My father said: ‘You’re in charge now, my son, I will expect your to look after your mother and brothers.’ No sooner had he gone when I set into my two brothers and gave them a hiding and said: ‘Dad’s told me to look after you,’ he fondly remembered.
For his work in education Mr. Pierce senior was rewarded with an MBE and the school won the ‘All England Bird and Tree Shield’.
After Owslebury school, the young Mr. Pierce became a pupil at Peter Symonds' School in Winchester, cycling there and back every day. ''It got pretty miserable if you got wet through on your way to school, because you could not dry yourself. I sometimes smile a bit wryly when you find people cannot now get to school because the bus is not running”, he declared.
Mr. Pierce went everywhere by foot or bike, whether he was playing for Owslebury school or travelling to the County ground in Southampton for coaching. As a teenager he played for the village team as well as for Peter Symonds', where he was destined to become captain of cricket.
''In those days we used to play Tichborne. That was a real estate ground; old Sir Joseph Tichborne was alive. He used to have his marquee and house parties. Young Tony Tichborne used to play as a boy. The butler was the umpire. In one game there was an appeal for a stumping, but he gave not out; an appeal for leg before, not out; an appeal for a catch at the wicket, not out. The butler eventually said 'His Lordship is not at home'. It was very good fun''.
From 1928 to 1930, Mr. Pierce studied at the teacher training college in Winchester and took up his first teaching position at Christchurch.
There he taught the former Hampshire wicket-keeper, Leo Harrison, and turned out for the Bournemouth Sports Club during the summer. In 1933 he returned to his old school in Winchester to teach English, and he was allowed to take natural history as a non-examination subject.
One of the most memorable moments of that period was a match between Winchester College and Peter Symonds' in 1936. Appearing for the College that day was the young William Whitelaw, who went on to become a leading Conservative politician and a Viscount. He made 127 opening the batting before he was dismissed by EW Eveleigh, another young man destined for high office as the Rt. Hon. Edward Walter Eveleigh, Lord Justice of Appeal. In that same match Mr. Pierce was Peter Symonds' top scorer, run out with his total on 54. Three years earlier, he had made his first ever century, 103 including 17 boundaries, for Old Symondians against Old Eggar’s.
During the thirties, Mr. Pierce began a long association with St. Cross Cricket Club, and was made captain after the war. He also played for The Hampshire Eskimos, a team of Hampshire farmers who came together to play the Invalids, a London press XI. ''The Invalids were formed in protest at the encroachment of the football season on the cricket season”, Mr. Pierce recalled. ''They challenged a team of local farmers to a game on a matting wicket at Broadhalfpenny Down on New Year's Day in 1926 or 1927. It was filmed and I remember going to watch it. The hounds met on the pitch. They had a bagged fox. Away went the hounds after the fox and they got on with the game. It was a three sweater day. They said they would repeat it every year, which they never did, but it caused the creation of the Hampshire Eskimos,'' he continued. ''The Eskimos had a white blazer with a red running fox and an Australian style white cap. That was a good class of cricket”, he enthused.
To this day a plaque commemorating the Eskimos' first game was kept at the famous Bat and Ball public house on Broadhalfpenny Down.
During the war Mr. Pierce was stationed at Lincoln, where he was a physical fitness officer in Bomber command. “I met a lot of first class cricketers, and had my best cricket in the Air Force. The most distinguished thing I did was to run out the captain of England, Bob Wyatt. Unfortunately, we were on the same side. I was not too popular I may say,” he joked.
One summer a match was organised between a strong team representing the National Fire Service and RAF Scampton, at the Lincoln County Ground. 'The Fire Service team included the Langridge brothers, John and James, Harold Gimlett and Snowden, the captain of North Hants. It was for their charity. I captained the Air Force. When the day broke it was pouring with rain, but it cleared up. They batted first and got a hell of a lot of runs before declaring at tea. After tea we were 50 without loss. Someone said the pubs were open and we were all out for 66,” said Mr. Pierce.
He reminisced about another game before the war when he played for Bramshaw against Hampshire. “We had 15 runs against 11, and I remember bowling against Philip Mead. He had a bat like a barn door, and I never got a ball past him''.
Another of his adversaries was the legendary England cricket captain CB Fry. He played against him at the Royal Navy training establishment, HMS Mercury, and later met him on a train from London to Winchester.
''Sitting opposite me was CB Fry. He had a monocle. I said: ‘I played against you sir, at the training ship Mercury.' He replied 'Did you? Did you get me out?’ I said ‘No’. He said 'I did not think so, otherwise I would have remembered you.’ With that he started reading ‘The Times' and did not speak again said Mr. Pierce.
In the early 1950’s he suggested the idea of forming an Old Symondians’ Cricket Club to a group of boys who had finished their A levels. “They were very suspicious at the beginning,” he explained “but after mulling it over that is what they did, and I became the Chairman” he explained. Since then he has been on every Old Boy’s tour and between 1960 and 1971 his slow left arm bowling earned him the Cany Cup as the club’s top wicket-taker.
He took his last hat-trick after reaching the grand old age of 70 in a third XI match. “They called it a geri-atric”, he quipped.
Mr. Pierce is a member of the MCC, and one of the highlights of his playing career came when he represented that club in the King Edward VI School in the Southampton Centenary match. ''I thought I was in as a bowler, but I made the top score for the MCC with 31 before I was out leg before.
Mr. Pierce, who was affectionately known to his pupils as ''Tom'', retired from teaching in 1974, and the Old Boys made him a life member of the Hampshire County Cricket Club.
He spent the following winter in Australia with former teaching colleague, Mr. Eric Hammond, watching the England Test series and made another visit four years later.
Much has changed in the sixty years since Mr. Pierce first held a cricket bat, and he feels the gang mower has had the biggest impact. ''The outfield was cut, and that made a tremendous difference to the run scoring,” he explained. ''Everything has improved. The gear has improved. I remember at Owslebury we did not have enough pads to wear. You had one pad, which you were supposed to put on your front leg. One day the local Vicar went out with the pad on the wrong leg, and he said he thought he was going to bat at the other end! There were very few white flannels then. Villagers turned up in their best blue trousers, braces and belts. They were looked on as a bit of a pansy if they started wearing whites,” he continued.
The one thing Mr. Pierce regrets is the demise of cricket in schools. “You need good wickets, outfields, nets and equipment, and that adds up to too much money and time for most of the Council schools. Unless the clubs have youth teams the boys are going to miss out”, he said.