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GD Martineau

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As far as I know nobody has put together an anthology of Gerard Martineau’s poetry in almost a century, which is a great shame because his cricket poems are really quite good. Poetry is not an area of creative writing that, generally, I have great fondness for although the emotions captured by the likes of Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke and Siegfried Sassoon were to inform much of what I learned as a youngster about the Great War. I won’t claim that Martineau’s cricket poems had the same effect on me, but they certainly made me realise that cricketing poetry could be enjoyed.

I do not propose to quote at length from Martineau’s work, but a few snippets will demonstrate my point. His first published work was The Old Bat, a six verse poem that appeared in The Cricketer in 1924, the last verse of which reads

You’ll bear no ignominious slur

Of firewood – dead and rotten,

But, still my old Excalibur,

You’ll slumber, not forgotten

There is a touch of pathos about much of Martineau’s work, another example being the closing stanza of The Beaten Side,

There is no true defeat today,

Though no one stayed to stop the rot,

If your true cricket heart can say

That you were tried and faltered not.

A different type of effort was Good Luck, a message in verse to the side that Arthur Gilligan took to Australia for the 1924/25 Ashes,

Good luck to you, then, may the Gods be kind,

And may the best side win.

You are leaving the winter mists behind,

With the drudge’s round and the office grind,

And dark days closing in

There’s a hopeful note in our loud “Godspeed”

You are the pick, the best.

Your veterans blend with the younger breed, With the years to stiffen and youth to breed

Fit for the toughest “test”

Old cricket’s a riddle; the finest side

Can make the smallest score.

May your luck, which hangs on the fitful tide,

Bring a taste of the fortune long denied,

The “Ashes” home once more!

Sadly of course Gilligan’s men lost 4-1, but did at least win a Test against Australia for the first time since 1912.

Martineau was born in Lahore, half a century before partition in 1897. His middle name is Durani. Martineau’s father was a High Court Judge who had married a granddaughter of a King of Kabul. He shared that name with the Indian Test cricketer Salim Durani who, until recently, had been the only Test cricketer born in Afghanistan.

In common with most Anglo-Indian children Martineau was, at age seven, packed off to England for his education. He went to Charterhouse and, at 17, progressed to the Royal Military College in Sandhurst. From there he secured a commission in the Royal Sussex Regiment. He served on the Somme, in Germany and in Ireland before he left the Army in 1923. He then went into teaching, a profession in which he was to remain until 1939.

His previous military experience brought Martineau an emergency commission on the outbreak of World War Two although two years later, not as a result of any wounds in action, he was invalided out of the Army. He went back into teaching until 1949 when, despite being only 52, ill health seems to have brought about his retirement.

His passion for cricket began at school and, in his younger days, Martineau was a useful right handed batsman. A tall man he seems not to have aspired to play above a decent club level but, having spent the summer holiday of 1927 coaching at the well know Aubrey Faulkner school, he must have had a thorough grasp and understanding of the game’s techniques.

Although I have only cited examples of Martineau’s cricketing output his poetry touched other subjects as well and the no doubt modest income derived from it would have been a useful addition to his meagre teaching salary. In addition to The Cricketer Martineau’s poems appeared in such well known periodicals as Punch, The Spectator, Country Life and The Boy’s Own Paper.

In 1926 Martineau started to contribute an occasional article to The Cricketer and by the late 1930s  he was contributing historical articles on a regular basis. That continued during the Second World War and in 1946 a total of 26 short essays, a number of which had already appeared in The Cricketer were gathered together and Martineau’s first cricket book was published. The Field is Full of Shades, a line from Francis Thompson’s famous poem, was the title of a book that was produced by Sporting Handbooks Limited, publishers of Wisden, and the famous Ravilious woodcut was used on the dust jacket.

It is likely that, following Martineau’s death in 1976, his Wisden obituarist had The Field is Full of Shades in mind when he made the observation that Martineau’s books were not works of much original research. The original articles were not lengthy, and build largely on what had been uncovered by others about the game’s earliest days, and increasingly more diligent and wide-ranging writers have added much to some of Martineau’s findings and indeed cast doubt on the veracity of a number of them.

The next Martineau book, Bat, Ball, Wicket and All was a very different book. In a few discrete areas it built on its predecessor but was effectively a self-contained project. Martineau himself commented in his preface that; the present volume ……… has entailed more exhaustive research than I have previously undertaken. I became involved in apparently interminable inquiries and correspondence.

The sub-title of the book reveals its subject matter more closely, an account of the origin and development of the implements, dress and appurtenances of the national game. Ironically that rather long winded summary would suggest a lengthy book, whereas in fact it is a concise one of little more than 30,000 words. John Arlott described it as a graceful, balanced, informative and often evocative  picture of an aspect of cricket history ….. no one before has brought together so extensive, so varied or so relevant a collection of historic facts and references on cricket gear and it is difficult to believe that anyone could have arranged it more divertingly, or drawn sounder conclusions from it.

Through the 1950s, his teaching days behind him, Martineau confined himself to a bit of lecturing on cricket history. He researched the life of Lord Frederick Beauclerk, but could not find a publisher. In the end he left his unpublished manuscript with the Beauclerk family, where more than half a century later it assisted Mike Thompson in the research for Lord of Lord’s, his biography of Beauclerk that appeared 2017. Martineau had more luck with two other projects however, They Made Cricket, which appeared in 1956 and, a year later, The Valiant Stumper.

Post war paper restrictions now gone They Made Cricket was, in many ways, a more detailed and longer version of The Field is Full of Shades which, once again, had as its theme those who had contributed to the development of the game. The book was well received and much enhanced Martineau’s reputation. In Wisden Arlott observed that; Mr Martineau’s writing has the unhurried air of work done with delight, side by side with the solidity of study in which no research has been neglected.

The Valiant Stumper was the first history of wicketkeeping to be written. Martineau’s personal favourite was Les Ames, but the book was a full history of its subject. There are some interesting photographs in the book amongst a number of familiar ones. I have in mind firstly a reproduction of an x-ray of the hands of Harry Butt, a Sussex man whose career began in 1890 and who, on three occasions, kept for England in South Africa.

On the same page as Butt’s gnarled fingers there is also a snapshot of an eleven year old Paul Gibb. As an amateur with Yorkshire (he later played professionally for Essex) Gibb kept wicket for England either side of World War Two, but the image is there because Gibb was the most successful cricketer of Martineau’s charges at the first school at which he taught. Interestingly, for its time, The Valiant Stumper does not disregard the women’s game, Martineau devoting one of his chapters to England ‘keeper Betty Snowball.

There were to be no more books from Martineau after The Valiant Stumper, although he certainly read plenty. For readers of The Cricketer his reviews were a regular part of their magazine and they were always fair, thorough and perhaps even kindly. Martineau did however have some strong views, and I suspect would not have much enjoyed the cricket literature of today. He clearly wanted to read only about the game. In 1967 RS ‘Dick’ Whittington published an account of Australia’s tour of South Africa. One of the selling points of Simpson’s Safari was its coverage of some controversial off field episodes. Martineau concluded his review with the admonishment:-

Mr. Whitington’s style of writing is too well known to readers to require comment; they either like it or dislike it, and will not welcome an elderly reviewer’s direction on this point. It only remains to reassert that controversy and literature worthy of cricket are not synonymous, and to emphasise the opinion that the facts given in the first half of the above review deserve more attention than the remainder.

I do not know the details of the illness from which Martineau suffered, but by the end of the 1960s he was no longer able to use a typewriter or indeed wield a pen for any period of time so, although he continued to read his writing and reviewing ceased. He died in 1976 at the age of 79. His friend and sometime colleague Irving Rosenwater described him as essentially a simple and modest man who made few demands on others.

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