Life So Full of Promise

Published: 2023
Pages: 626
Author: McMullin, Ross
Publisher: Scribe
Rating: 4.5 stars

This is a remarkable book, and reviewing it is a task I approach with some trepidation. Over the years I have got used to writing reviews of cricket books but, to the extent it is a book about cricket, this one is like no other I have attempted to describe. There is the sheer size of it for a start, comfortably more than 600 pages, and then there is the simple reality that before I started to read it I knew very little about its subject matter.

This is a cricket site, which at least prompts a good starting point, which is to mention the cricket content, but before doing that I have to go back a little further. The book consists of three main biographies, of Brian Pockley, Norman Callaway and Murdoch Mackay. The three men were born in 1890, 1896 and 1890 respectively, and died in 1914, 1917 and 1916 thus at ages 24, 21 and 26.  Those latter dates and the men’s ages give away the book’s main theme.

Pockley was a fine sportsman, although not primarily a cricketer. His story does however touch upon the lives of two gifted cricketers, Claude Tozer and Jack Massie, the careers of each of whom were cut short for very different reasons. Callaway’s name is a noteworthy one as far as cricket is concerned. His only First Class innings brought him 207 runs, and that therefore stands as his career average. As for Mackay like Pockley he was not a First Class cricketer, but was a very good one and his father, whose story is also told in full was. The bare numbers of George Mackay’s six First Class appearances are unimpressive, but he was a fine cricketer who at 19 was asked to tour England in 1880, an invitation he had to decline.

As to the trio’s back stories those differed markedly. Pockley came from a well known family, and his father was an eminent ophthalmologist and Brian followed him into medicine. Calloway’s background was rather more prosaic, and Mackay’s rather more in keeping with Pockley’s. Mackay’s grandfather was a journalist who founded a successful newspaper in Bendigo which his sons continued. Murdoch himself qualified as a barrister and, as the Great War began, a successful legal career beckoned.

All three men fought the good fight and died heroically. Captain Pockley was killed in action in New Guinea at the beginning of the conflict whilst treating an injured comrade. At the other end of war to end all wars, in March 1918, his younger brother was also killed in action, in his case in France. Private Calloway was also killed in France, one of the many who were tragically sent out ‘over the top’ and into oblivion. Major Mackay was at Gallipoli, which he survived, before moving on to Egypt and thence to France where he displayed exceptional courage before his life was ended at Pozieres during the Battle of the Somme.

In my opening paragraph I used the word remarkable, and did so for two main reasons. The first is the amount of research that must have gone into putting the book together. The narrative not only gives detailed accounts of the lives and deaths of its three main subjects, but also other forebears, some of their contemporaries as well as their descendants. That depth of research alone would produce something worth reading, but Ross McMullin also has a flair for storytelling, and his narrative is of the highest standard.

So having established that Life So Full of Promise is an excellent book who should read it? Firstly anyone with an interest in the Golden Age of cricket, certainly in relation to Australia. There is much on the way the game was played and organised in that era at all levels. Those with an interest in military history will enjoy the book as well, although perhaps not if their primary area of interest is battlefield tactics, weapons or the politics of war. Those interested in social history will find the book an interesting read, as well as those with an interest in Australian history up to and including the Great War. For anyone with more a passing interest in all of those subjects it is an essential purchase.

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