Britain’s decision to declare war against Germany in August 1914 would have an impact on every aspect of life in Gloucestershire, including its iconic sports.
In 1914 W G Grace was 64 years old and in July he played his last game of cricket, scoring 69 not out for Eltham. A month later he sent a letter to the Sportsman suggesting that the county cricket season should be closed: “it is not fitting at a time like this that able-bodied men should be playing day after day, and pleasure-seekers look on…I should like to see all first-class cricketers of suitable age set a good example, and come to the aid of their country in its hour of need.” The letter was published on 27 August, and had its desired effect.
The 1914 County Championship season finished early, with Gloucestershire’s last match being played against Surrey at the Oval on 31 August. Already Gloucestershire could only field a team of 10 men. They lost by an innings and 32 runs in two days, and first class cricket was not played again until the spring of 1919.
Events moved equally quickly for Gloucester Rugby Football Club. The already published 1914-15 fixture list was soon abandoned, and play did not resume until the 1918-19 season, which started on 21 December. Most of Gloucester’s players volunteered for active service almost immediately. One of the first matches of the 2014-15 season was to have been against Stroud on 12 September, and initially it was proposed that this match should be played with proceeds being donated to the Prince of Wales National Relief Fund. However there were already not enough players still available to make the match viable, so it was cancelled on 2 September. Tickets continued to be sold in support of the Fund however. Many of the players joined the 5th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment and contributed to its strong rugby team.
Cheltenham Racecourse’s new Race Club stand had only been open for 5 months when a voluntary aid detachment (VAD) hospital opened on 28 October 1914, caring at first for 13 Belgian and 2 British patients. By the time the hospital closed on 28 February 1919, 3169 patients had spent time there.
Despite the grandstand being off limits, the 1915 racing festival did take place without refreshments being available. At that time the festival’s feature race was the 4 mile National Hunt Chase for amateur riders. It was won by Major J H Purvis, riding his own horse ‘Martial IV’. Major Purvis was then aide-de-camp to General Hutton, Commander of the 21st Division of Kitchener’s army. He became Commanding Officer of the 12th Highland Light Infantry, which he led into action at the battle of Loos in September, before returning home shell shocked in October 1915. This was to be the last festival meeting until 1920.
Gloucestershire Archives’ Development Archivist, on behalf of ‘Gloucestershire Remembers WW1’
To find out more about the Project, and access resources and guidance to help your school, community or group commemorate WW1 in your area, please visit www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/archives/WW1.