In times when the antics and behaviour of some of our leading sportsmen are dubious to say the least The Wisdener is grateful to Edward Walker who recalled a tale from a by-gone era
While working as a newspaper reporter in Sussex during the 1970’s I was lucky to meet up with a local councillor who shared my passion for cricket, he also loved cricket books and was an avid Wisden collector. In fact it was he who started me off by giving me some spare soft backs from the 1960s. He had become an MCC member in 1924 and after buying his yearly almanack direct from Wisden was surprised to learn that from 1949 his membership of the MCC qualified him for a free hardback edition.++
Apparently he had watched the Lords and the Oval Test Matches against Australia in the glorious summer of 1948 and been present when the tourists hit 721 in a day against Essex at Southend. Like most cricket lovers around the world he was besotted with Bradman and expressed genuine sorrow that he had failed in his last test innings, thereby not achieving the test career average of 100
As a momento of the Australian score against Essex this chap had put together a scrapbook, with newspaper reports and the leaflet scorecard that he had picked up at the game and filled in by taking the information from the newspaper a day or so later. A number of England signatures were gathered during the season and after the Australians left for home his father suggested that he write to Lord’s to find out if they had the contact details of anyone in Australia who might be able to put him in touch with any of the Australian players or officials.
Within a couple of weeks he received a reply from a Colonel Kerr from the MCC who gave him the contact details of the secretary of the Australian Cricket Board and he duly wrote a letter, six months later a sturdy envelope arrived and within was one of the most amazing notes.
His original letter to Australia had found its way to Don Bradman who had personally written to his team-mates in the Oval Test of 48 and asked them to put their signature on the back of a photograph he had of the Oval XI.
On the back of the photograph my friend counted ten signatures and the accompanying note on headed notepaper read
“Sorry I could not get all eleven, but Johnston now lives as far from me as Moscow is to London and it proved difficult” and signed Don Bradman
To correlate, post and organise a photograph to be signed by a group of players is noteworthy enough, to do it across Australia and at the bequest of a young man from England speaks more than anything I can bring to mind of the generous nature of probably the greatest batsmen to have lived
There was a smaller envelope within that contained my friends’ original letter to the MCC, with a note at the foot
“I believe you will hear from the above gentleman in due course, any assistance you can offer would be appreciated, RK” The chap at the MCC had also tried to help further by forwarding the original letter
++ – It is understood that MCC members of 25 year standing used to receive a “complementary” almanack from Wisden for each subsequent year of their membership. It is not known whether part of the MCC annual subscription paid for this, but this seems likely as in 1914 the MCC subscription rose by 9%, which caused some uproar. These copies were not included in any print run information and it is believed that the first complementary copies were sent out in 1914, primarily to ex-Public school cricketers (officers) serving in the Great War. It was deemed a patriotic gesture.
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