Front Foot to Front LineMartin Chandler |
Author: Hignell, Andrew
Publisher: St David's Press
Rating: 3.5 stars
There has been no shortage of books in recent years on the combined subjects of cricket and the Great War, and it was slightly surprising therefore to learn last year of the appearance of another one, this time from St David’s Press, the specialist Welsh publisher.
I have read Andrew Hignell’s work before and, I must confess, have also at times confused him with his namesake and fellow writer, former Gloucestershire batsman and England Rugby Union international Alistair. That of course is my own fault, although I maintain that Andrew did not assist by, amongst all his many publications on the subject of Welsh cricket and cricketers, also writing one about Gloucestershire cricketers, another about famous Gloucestershire matches and then assisting former Gloucestershire wicketkeeper and First Class umpire Barrie Meyer with his autobiography.
I have reviewed a couple of Andrew’s books before, biographies of Jim Pleass and Jack Mercer, so am well aware he knows how to write up a cricketer’s life. I have also read his lives of Wilf Wooller and Maurice Turnbull, as well as spent time leafing through other titles in an impressive oeuvre. I did not therefore expect to be disappointed by the quality of the writing in Front Foot to Front Line.
What I was a little less sure of was whether the same subject matter I had read about on a number of occasions recently could support another book. The short answer to that one is yes it can, and indeed despite the obvious common theme it takes a different approach to the other books we have seen. For a start Front Foot to Front Line looks to Welsh cricket generally for the men it features, rather than just the First Class game, and it also does so within a framework of the developing conflict which certainly helped me put the various stages of the Great War in context, something I have never found entirely straightforward.
The story of the conflict and the men involved is bookended by some purely cricketing history. In 1921, so in time for the third post war summer, Glamorgan became the seventeenth First Class county and the closing pages of the book covers that elevation. A simple reality I had never really thought about before was that whilst the county weren’t in the Championship in the years immediately prior to the conflict, the aspiration to join and the preparation for that had begun, and the book begins with that part of the story.
The book is inevitably a sad one, covering as it does the stories of 55 men who became casualties in the conflict. Most lost their lives, but not all and indeed Mercer, whose entry is a lengthy one, came home to enjoy a long and successful professional career. The shellshock he suffered after lying wounded in a bomb crater during the Battle of the Somme is a particularly thought provoking part of his story. I have just one grumble that being that I became slightly non-plussed when reading about Alexander David, one of the survivors. Earlier I had read about his brother Tom, who was not so fortunate. Tom’s story referred to Alexander’s, but Alexander’s does not refer to Tom – the fact that is the closest I can find to a criticism speaks volumes.
So Front Foot to Front Line is certainly recommended reading. It is a nicely produced and well illustrated paperback that gets off to the best possible start with an excellent introduction from the former Glamorgan and England opening batsman Hugh Morris. In it Morris reminds the reader that it was he, when Managing Director of the England and Wales Cricket Board, who arranged for England’s 2009 squad to visit Flanders in advance of that summer’s Ashes series. I often wonder how much of a book those who contribute a foreword actually read – on this occasion I have no doubt it was every word.
In closing I would make one final comment. As any military historian will tell you not all those who serve get the credit they merit, and nowhere in Front Foot to Front Line does whoever designed the cover get a mention – they certainly made a good job of it.