Pictured above is a colourised photograph of Kent star Colin Blythe (R) and Northamptonshire’s Claud Woolley (L), brother of Kent legend Frank, in Tonbridge. This photograph was taken on the day they both enlisted for the Kent Fortress Engineers (KFE) on the outbreak of the First World War in July 1914.
As we once again reflect on Kent Cricket’s tragic loss of life during the First World War, this years’ tribute to the fallen in “the Great War” features Kent Cricket’s association with a particular unit, the now inactive Kent Fortress Royal Engineers.
The two cricketers pictured, alongside Blythe’s Kent teammates at the time, Henry “Harry” Preston and David Jennings, all signed up to join the KFE – a volunteer Territorial Army unit.
Blythe, Preston and Jennings all missed Kent’s final game of the 1914 season against Hampshire at Dean Park in Bournemouth after enlisting. They were later joined in the KFE by their teammate, Bill Fairservice.
All four aforementioned had been part of Kent’s County Championship winning sides of 1909, 1910 and 1913.
In October 1914, they were posted to the Woodlands depot in Gillingham. According to the Tunbridge Wells Advertiser, who sent a reporter to see them off, Blythe was the “life and soul of the party”.
Promoted to Corporal at the end that year, and Sergeant in 1915, Blythe remained at Gillingham for two years with 2/7 Reserve Company working on coastal defence and construction tasks.
While at Gillingham, Blythe was involved with Woolley and Fairservice in the formation of the Kent Fortress Engineers cricket team, which, with seldom fewer than four county cricketers, proved too strong for much local opposition.
In their first game, when a Royal Engineers side was beaten by an innings, he took 3/33 & 4/3, followed by 7/36 against a South African Eleven at Gravesend. Blythe also had match figures of 14 for 85 v Chatham Garrison.
Following the introduction of conscription in 1916, all Territorials were obliged to sign Imperial Service Forms and became liable for service overseas.
Early in 1917, Blythe and Woolley were among a party posted to Marlow for further training prior to posting.
While there, Blythe, Woolley, Jennings and others played for the Royal Engineers (East Anglia) cricket team. Unsurprisingly, Blythe was too much for the opposition – 9/33 v RNAS (Transport), 7/26 v RE (Regent’s Park), 7/13 v Royal Naval Division.
He played his last matches at Lord’s for the Army & Navy v Australian & South African Forces for Lady Lansdowne’s Officers’ Families Fund in the summer of 1917.
Against the Australians, Blythe took 1/16 in six overs, whilst former Kent teammate David Jennings scored 26 runs batting at seven. Versus a combined Australian & South African Forces side, Jennings scored 11 runs opening the batting alongside another former Kent teammate in Wally Hardinge, Kent’s 64th capped player. Blythe took 1/54 in 14 overs.
That September, a party of Kent Fortress Engineers from Marlow, including Sergeant Blythe and Corporal Woolley, were among 277 soldiers who sailed to France as reinforcements for the 12th (Pioneer) Battalion of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (31 Division).
Arriving in early October, the new draft was posted to Watou for a course in light railway construction and maintenance, an activity in which the 12th Battalion specialised.
On rejoining the Battalion, B Company began work on the Wieltje (Forest Hall) and Bedlington lines near Passchendaele.
On the night of November 8 a shell from a long-range gun burst above a working party killing three, wounding six with one missing. Sergeant Blythe was killed instantly by shell splinters, Corporal Woolley was among the wounded. Blythe left an estate valued for probate at £2,828.13s 8d.
David Jennings was regarded as a fine right-handed batsman. Whilst on active duty on the Western Front towards the end of the war, Jennings’ unit was attacked with mustard gas, which gravely injured him and also brought on shell shock from the ordeal. He was invalided back to England and died of his injuries at Tunbridge Wells in August 1918, aged only 29.
Both Blythe and Jennings are commemorated on the Colin Blythe Memorial at The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence in Canterbury.
The list below contains some graphic details on the deaths of Kent Cricket’s fallen in the First World War
Kent cricketers who died in service for the Kent Fortress Royal Engineers in the First World War
Colin Blythe born Deptford, Kent, May 30, 1879; died near Passchendaele, Belgium, November 8, 1917.
Sergeant, Kent Fortress Engineers, attached King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. Killed instantly after shrapnel from a shell burst pierced his chest, aged 38.
For Kent: 384 matches 1899-1914; 3987 runs at 9.99, best score 82*. 2228 wickets at 16.64; best figures of 10 for 30. 184 catches.
19 Tests for England: 183 runs at 9.63; 100 wickets at 18.63; best figures of 8 for 59; six catches.
Kent’s 53rd capped player.
David William Jennings born Kentish Town, London, June 4, 1889; died Tunbridge Wells, August 6, 1918.
Corporal, Kent Fortress Engineers. Death stemmed from effects of shell-shock and gassing, aged 29.
For Kent: 35 matches 1909-1914; 1064 runs at 24.18; best score 106. 1 wicket at 80; best figures 1 for 13. 28 catches.
Kent’s 71st capped player.
Other Kent First XI cricketers who fell in the First World War
Arthur Houssemayne Du Boulay born New Brompton, Chatham, Kent, June 18, 1880; died Fillieres, France, October 25, 1918.
Lieutenant-Colonel Royal Engineers. DSO, Mentioned in Despatches 6 times. Victim of influenza, aged 38.
For Kent: 5 matches in 1899; 250 runs at 41.66, best score 58. 2 wickets at 68.50. Two catches.
Kent’s 50th capped player.
Charles Eric Hatfeild born Hartsdown, Margate, Kent, March 11, 1887; died Cambrai, France, September 21, 1918.
Captain, East Kent Regiment. Posthumous Military Cross “for conspicuous gallantry in leading his company… in spite of the fire of hostile machine guns, he got his men forward, exposing himself [to fire] selflessly”. Died in action aged 31.
For Kent: 45 matches 1910-14; 999 runs at 16.64; best score 74. 5 wickets at 56.06. 27 catches.
Kenneth Lotherington Hutchings born Southborough, Kent, December 7, 1882; died Ginchy, France, September 3, 1916.
Lieutenant, King’s Liverpool Regiment, attached to Welsh Regiment. Killed instantly when hit by an artillery shell, aged 33.
For Kent: 165 matches 1902-12; 8003 runs at 34.94; best score 176. 15 wickets at 32.86, best figures 4/73. 145 catches.
Kent’s 60th capped player.
Lawrence Julius Le Fleming born Tonbridge, Kent, June 3, 1879; died Maissemy, France, March 21, 1918.
Lieutenant-Colonel, East Surrey Regiment. Died instantly when shot in the head after going ahead of his men to reconnoitre higher ground, aged 38.
For Kent: 12 matches 1897-99; 240 runs at 13.33; best score. 40. 0 wickets for 20. Three catches.
Ernest Herbert Simpson born Clapton, London, December 17, 1875; died St Omer, France, October 2, 1917.
Second Lieutenant, Anzacs. Died five days after sustaining injuries by a bomb dropped from an attacking aircraft, aged 41.
For Kent: 7 matches in 1896; 219 runs at 15.64; best score 94. One catch.
George William Edendale Whitehead born Bromley, Kent, August 27, 1895; died Lanwe, near Menin, France, October 17, 1918.
Lieutenant, Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Shot by a sniper, aged 23.
For Kent: 2 matches 1914; 12 runs at 3.00.
Kent Second XI cricketers who died in the First World War
Arthur Corbett Edwards born Portsmouth, September 10, 1871; presumed dead 26 September, 1915.
Captain, 8th Battalion, Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent) Regiment. Missing, presumed dead near Hulluch, Pas de Calais, France, aged 45.
For Kent Second XI: 2 matches 1902-1904; 24 runs at 6.00, best score 13. Two wickets at 31.00, best figures 2/59. One catch.
Kent General Committee member 1913-1915.
George Henry Heslop died Beaumont Hamel, Somme, France, 1 July 1915.
Captain, 16th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment. Killed in action on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, aged 21.
For Kent Second XI: 3 matches in 1914; 86 runs at 14.33, best score 34. Three catches.
Fred Stanley Lowe born Tyler Hill nr. Canterbury, Kent, 20 July 1887; died near Radinghem, Pas de Calais, France, 18 October 1914.
Lance Sergeant, 1st Battalion, “The Buffs” East Kent Regiment. Killed in action, aged 26.
For Kent Second XI: 4 matches in 1914; 102 runs at 17.00, best score 35. Six wickets at 22.83, best figures 2/7. One catch.
Leonard Maurice Powell born 1895; died Ypres, Belgium, 17 June 1915.
2nd Lieutenant, 3rd Battalion (attached 1st Battalion), Gordon Highlanders. Killed in action, aged 20.
For Kent Second XI: 4 matches in 1914; 76 runs at 9.50, best score 16. Four catches.
Ernest Samuel Roberts born Tonbridge, Kent, 1889; died near Armentieres, Nord, France, 19 August 1916.
Private, 2nd/1st Kent Cyclist Battalion, attached 7th Battalion, “The Buffs” East Kent Regiment. Killed in action, aged 27.
For Kent Second XI: 11 matches 1910-1911; 311 runs at 23.92, best score 43. Four catches.
Frank Noel Tuff born Rochester, Kent, 26 November 1889; died Imtarfa Military Hospital, Malta, 5 November 1915.
2nd Lieutenant, Royal East Kent Mounted Rifles. Died of wounds received in the Dardenelles Campaign, aged 25.
For Kent Second XI: 6 matches 1911-1914; 89 runs at 9.88, best score 42. 10 wickets at 34.60, best figures 2/20. Seven catches.
James Hugh Edendale Whitehead born Bromley, Kent, 8 July 1890; died Westminster, London, 13 March 1919.
2nd Lieutenant, 9th Battalion, Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment). Died of illness contracted on war service, aged 28.
For Kent Second XI: 5 matches 1912-914; 219 runs at 27.37, best score 81. Three catches.
Brother of G.W.E. Whitehead.
Charles Thomas Wycherley died 11 January 1918, River Tigris, modern-day Iraq.
Private, 2nd Battalion, Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent) Regiment. Accidentally drowned, aged 27.
For Kent Second XI: 8 matches 1913-1914; 115 runs at 10.45, best score 22. One wicket at 139.00, best figures 1/38. Three catches.