South Australian Cricket Reminiscences (2016)


I have just republished Clarence Moody’s 1898 book in a limited edition of 80 copies. The book is a little gem drawing on the memories of old-timers as well as the author’s own observations from the end of the century. It deals with the foundations of club cricket, the formation of the SA Cricket Association, the establishment of Adelaide Oval as well as early intercolonial and international contests.

Their Brilliant Careers

RYAN O’NEILL Their Brilliant Careers: The fantastic lives of sixteen extraordinary Australian writers. Reviewed by Bernard Whimpress


I’m tempted to describe this book as a parody of Australian literary history — so I will.

Taking the piss is very Australian. It’s also very British and the practice is diffused to various corners of the British Empire and Commonwealth. In taking up any book for review I read the jacket notes, and here I discover that Ryan O’Neill ‘has written a hilarious novel in the guise of sixteen biographies of (invented) Australian writers’. Mmmm. I’m invited to meet three – Rachel Deverall, Rand Washington and Addison Tiller, ‘The Chekhov of Coolabah’. Mmmm. I’m told that Their Brilliant Careers is a playful set of linked stories, ‘a wonderful comic tapestry of the writing life’ which takes ‘Australian writing in a whole new direction’. Be prepared, as Lord Baden-Powell might have put it.

But I stay on the back cover, for there is a small head shot of the author looking like a stand-up comic (or a CSIRO scientist) with biographical details attached. According to this bio Ryan O’Neill’s ‘internationally acclaimed fiction and nonfiction have been shortlisted for numerous literary awards, and translated into several languages. His work is studied in universities around Australia, and has been adapted for radio and the stage’. He apparently lives in Sydney with his fiancée, Anne.

I’m about to turn the book over when I note in tiny print that the author’s photograph has been taken by Rachel Deverall. Is this the same Rachel Deverall ‘who unearthed the secret source of the great literature of our time – and paid a terrible price for her discovery’, the same Rachel Deverall who is one of the (invented) Australian writers? Could be.

Warning bells ahead.

Open the book. Half-title page, pass. Books by the same author, check. Google as everyone does. Fiction – The Weight of a Human Heart: Stories was published by Black Inc in 2012 and it won literary awards; pass. Non-fiction – three books listed which don’t exist. Forthcoming – a book with a very long title co-written with Anne Zoellner. Google again. Find a Mary Ann Zoellner, four-time Emmy award-winning TV producer at NBC news in the United States. She could be a worthwhile co-author to promote the new book internationally. Keep turning pages. Dedication – ‘For my late wife, Rachel’. Sad. Coincidence? Contents – Foreword by Anne Zoellner (here she is again), the biographies, acknowledgments and index. Index? Ever read a novel with an index before? I mainly read history and even substantial works of scholarship don’t have indexes these days, nor footnotes, nor are they edited, and so one can blather on and on and on. But a novel with an index promises to be a novel novel.


I find myself drawn to the index to begin with and being a contrary kinda bloke the last entry will come first and the first last.

Zoellner, Anne:

affair with Ryan O’Neill 129

betrayal of her best friend Rachel Deverall and providing Ryan O’Neill with an alibi 136-7

Have you ever started reading a novel at page 129? Is there mention of Anne Zoellner’s affair with Ryan O’Neill on that page? No. Are either of them mentioned on that page? No. Is there mention of Anne Zoellner betraying her best friend and providing Ryan O’Neill with an alibi on pages 136-7? No. Did I say this book was a piss-take? Something along those lines.

When I get around to finally reading the 16 biographies there are actually 15. Although listed under Contents for pages 261 to 262 the chapter on Sydney Steele is entirely blank. Why? Probably for the same reason his index entry reads: ‘Steel, Sydney, Blank’.

So what is this book about? A lot of make-believe characters with connections, plays, substitutions, witty epigraphs, much ado about plagiarism, jokes galore: Quarter for Quadrant, Northerly for Southerly (or Westerly), Overground for Overland, ‘La Belle Dame Sans Souci’, ‘Whingeing Matilda’ and those books which flow so readily from Frederick Stratford – Odysseus, The Sun Comes Up Too, The Prodigious Gatsby, Ooroo to All That and Long Time No See, described as a ‘picaresque satire on Parisian life’ told without using the letter C on any of its 734 pages. Stratford also launches lawsuits against James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald and Robert Graves, among others, for breach of copyright.

Of the curiously named experimental writer Arthur ruhtuA it is said, ‘Poor Arthur: The only constraint he couldn’t overcome was his lack of talent.’ Of editor Robert Bush we learn that Bush’s favourite copy-editing symbol was ‘Delete’. And the spirit of Addison Tiller’s prose is encapsulated in the line,”‘Wot a larf, eh Pa?’ howled Pete. ‘Wot a larf!’

There are other laughs (and minor amusements). Addison Tiller (Henry George Watkins) might stand for Steele Rudd, Edward Gale for Keith Windschuttle and Donald Chapman for Ern Malley. Like Rudd (Arthur Hoey Davis), Tiller is an ‘authentic voice of the Bush’. And as Davis chose Steele as a first name because of his admiration for the English essayist (The Oxford Companion to English Literature, 1985, p 603) so too did Watkins choose Addison, Steele’s friend and fellow essayist. Pa and Pete, of course, can readily be recognised as Dad and Dave

Do we know what Their Brilliant Careers is about? Sort of. But how was it written and is this a proper question to ask? Did the author take up the Australian Dictionary of Biography and sieve through it for literary entries on which to make variations? Did he examine the aforementioned Oxford Companion to Australian Literature, extract a bit here and tweak a bit there? Has he made a close study of the subject as a whole or merely a close study of Geoffrey Dutton’s The Australian Collection: Australia’s greatest books?

Should the reader be offended that these biographies are of people who aren’t real? It is a novel: it is fiction. Offence is most often taken when fictional characters are real. The publisher (if not the author) has been straightforward, on the back cover at least.

As for the author, finally, will the real Ryan O’Neill reveal himself? I had begun to think he might be a former Goldilocks Hollywood actor who had lost the plot and forgotten how to spell his own name, so I googled again. I find that the photograph taken by the non-existent Rachel Deverall is repeated on the Black Inc website and purports to be of a man who was born in Glasgow, is married with two daughters, and teaches at the University of Newcastle.


Quiet man of cricket: a tribute to Johnny Gleeson

 Another good man leaves us.

Remember the days when Australian Test cricketers carried an air of mystique. When they weren’t thrust upon us. When they went about their business with quiet dignity. When bowlers obviously had plans to dismiss top-line batsmen on the other side and didn’t blather on about ‘targeting’ them. When there was a little more grace in the game.

Around a dozen years ago when working as South Australian Cricket Association historian I proposed Johnny Gleeson as one of a number of guests for our annual Test match dinner, a black tie affair which regularly attracted 1000 diners. Often it was the quiet men – another was Ian Redpath – who’d been out of the public eye for a long time who made the most impact. On this occasion it was Gleeson’s laconic outback humour which was most memorable. Asked by MC Mike Coward about Warney’s range of a dozen deliveries (and working on new ones) he chuckled and replied, ‘That’s bullshit. A spinner has three deliveries: one breaks from the leg, one breaks from the off, one goes straight on.’


Gleeson made a late start in first-class cricket at the age of 28 as a mystery spinner after having been a batsman/wicket-keeper in country cricket until his mid-twenties. Fascinated by a photograph of Jack Iverson’s grip he perfected a technique of bowling leg-breaks with what appeared to be an off-break action. The leg-break remained Gleeson’s stock delivery whereas for Iverson it had been the off-break. Gleeson’s nine seasons in first-class career yielded 430 wickets at 24.95 from 116 matches. In 29 Test matches between 1967 and 1972 his strike rate wasn’t quite so good but was still eminently respectable with 93 wickets at 36.20.

It has to be admitted that he ran into some good batsmen at the top level. In England in 1968 Boycott, Edrich, Cowdrey, Graveney, Dexter, Barrington, Milburn and D’Oliviera all played at some time in the series; in Australia against the West Indies in 1968-69 he met Fredericks, Sobers, Kanhai, Nurse, Butcher and Lloyd; in South Africa in 1969-70 he was confronted by Graeme Pollock and Barry Richards. Gleeson took 26 wickets against the West Indies but I was at Adelaide Oval in 1969 when he was savaged in the second innings when they made 616 and he finished with 1 for 176. At Durban the following year when Pollock made 274, Richards 140 and South Africa 9-622 declared Gleeson suffered to the tune of 3 wickets for 160. A couple of beltings like that muck up anyone’s averages.

I had a special affection for Johnny Gleeson because he inspired me to have another crack at cricket. I had put the game aside to concentrate on golf at the age of twenty but seven years later after experimenting with Gleeson-Iverson’s flick-finger spin I thought I’d give it a trial. Presenting myself at the Adelaide District Cricket Club I turned out at the Adelaide Oval No.2 nets under the watchful eye of club coach Rex Sellers.

At one point I tossed up a flighted leg-break which landed on leg stump, lured the batsman forward,  and he got a faint edge which would have been swallowed by first slip. ‘Beautiful ball, Bernard’, said Rex. How good is that? A Test cricketer saying, ‘Beautiful ball, Bernard.’ Of course, the next six balls came out as hopeless half-trackers, no flight, little spin, which the batsman mongrelled to the mid-wicket boundary and that was about the end for me.

Not quite.

Occasionally Gleeson’s memory and method would cause me to dust off the creams. A half-season for Old Scotch in my mid-thirties and a game for Old Iggies (St Ignatius) in my forties – no, I didn’t attend either school – brought the odd analysis of 3/0/25/1 but nothing significant enough to tempt me away from the golf course or lawn tennis court.

My last game of cricket was played in twilight on a delightful college ground in Blackheath, London the night before the Lord’s Test of 2009. Again I folded the fingers and flicked the ball. Two overs 0 for 14 is a pretty good average in my one and only game of T20 but would’ve been far better if a butter-fingered wicket-keeper had not mucked up a simple stumping chance, and a stiff-jointed mid-on not dropped a sitter. 2 for 14 would’ve been eminently respectable.

There is also a post script.

My one brilliant delivery at the Adelaide Oval nets partly inspired a poem which I entered in a national sports poetry competition in 2012.

dream ball

a flick of the wrist
a snap of the fingers
the ball described a perfect arc
well directed too
pitching on leg stump
luring the batsman forward
spinning hard
catching the edge
carrying to first slip’s pouch
pocketed with ease

no need for appeal
the batsman nods          awe-struck
‘too good son’              takes his leave
‘great ball lad’ says the old ump
white-washing hat tugged hard
over his ears
lizard skin blistered
from so many years
baking under a brutal sun
firm jaw creasing now
into a weary grin

‘you’ve made my day, tiger’
‘you’ve made my day’

It didn’t win but I’d like to think Johnny Gleeson would’ve given a nod of approval.


© Bernard Whimpress

Posted on on 14 October 2016

Finding Sanity

GREG DE MOORE AND ANN WESTMORE Finding Sanity: John Cade, lithium and the taming of bipolar disorder. Reviewed by Bernard Whimpress


This is an outstanding biography of Australian lithium pioneer John Cade, whose life merits major recognition.

Let’s start with a statistic. The year 1948 marked a peak for deaths in Melbourne asylums, 183 at the Royal Park Mental Hospital alone, and John Cade kept a tally – three and a half a week, two out of every 15 admissions. A high proportion of those patients would have suffered from bipolar disorder, then known as manic depression. The figures were astonishing.

John Frederick Joseph Cade was the son of a doctor, and doctors and chemists represented an unbroken line among his ancestors for nearly a century and a half. His father was a medical officer and then superintendent of mental asylums at Beechworth, Mont Park and Sunbury after the First World War, so the son was exposed to life in these institutions as a child and a young man. After graduating in medicine in 1934 he served briefly at the St Vincent’s and Royal Children’s hospitals before joining the mental hygiene department of the Chief Secretary and returning to his old stamping grounds as medical officer at Beechworth and Mont Park while undertaking an MD degree in psychiatry in 1938. During the Second World War he served with the 2nd/9th Field Ambulance and following the fall of Singapore in February 1942 spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner in Changi camp.

He was dubbed the ‘Mad Major’ during his POW days, but the term was most likely a form of endearment because Cade was above all a physician first, a psychiatrist second, and very much a practical man, as is evident in the following passage from his unpublished memoir. Survival meant eating and gaining nutrition, no matter the source:

I was asked by the cook to condemn a batch of rotten fish. I said ‘You stupid bastards. We won’t get any replacement. It’s rich in protein and maggots. Thrash it within an inch of its long departed life, sieve out the bones and maggots and serve it as fish soup. It won’t kill you but it will nourish you.’

Another source was a local grass – lalang – which was bundled in armfuls and churned into a foul-tasting liquid known as ‘Tiger’s piss’, which many soldiers refused to drink but was rich in riboflavin.

On his demobilisation in 1946 Cade returned to the mental hygiene department as medical superintendent and psychiatrist at the Repatriation Mental Hospital, Bundoora, and began a lone research project injecting urine into guinea pigs. Although his first hypothesis that urine from a manic patient was more toxic than regular urine proved false, he found that adding lithium to uric acid to make lithium urate had a calming effect on the animals.

Now comes a moment of high drama, as co-authors Sydney psychiatrist Greg de Moore and Melbourne medical historian Ann Westmore report:

John Cade in 1948 was a blend of the military and the medical: it was never likely that he would inflict an untried potion on an innocent man until he had weathered its effects himself. For a man who had survived three and half years’ incarceration as a POW, the act of self-experimentation and a preparedness to take chances had become a way of life …

All John knew was that lithium had led his guinea pigs to lie vacant-eyed and dreamily insensitive to the prodding of human fingers.

 As John prepared to take lithium, the spirit of the alchemist stirred within, knowing he was doing what many would regard as against the natural order. He emptied the lithium powder into a test tube, stirred a solution and raised the transparent fluid to his lips. Whatever the nature of the force that guided his hand, it was deep-rooted and arcane.

He held the elixir to his lips: his nostrils sensed no odour, and, with the courage and recklessness anything truly original must embrace, he opened his mouth.

Eyes closed, he drank.

Having experienced lithium with no ill effects, he decided it was now time to test it on Bundoora patient Bill Brand, who had been in a state of mania for five years. Brand had been misdiagnosed and shamefully treated by the army and various medical practitioners over a period of 25 years. Two years before, Cade had given him nine treatments of electroconvulsive therapy – then a violent and gruesome process – but while each treatment had calmed him for several months, the mania had always returned: ‘The remnant of a near-demolished human being, Bill was a wreck by the time John Cade resorted to giving him lithium.’

Within days the potion began to work and after a few weeks Cade began to use it more widely. In September 1949 when causes of mental illness – psychological, biochemical, social – were being debated, he published a historic paper in the Medical Journal of Australia on his treatment of 10 manic patients. De Moore and Westmore enthuse:

The paper is a masterpiece, his magnum opus. It is everything a scientific paper should be, and so different from just about every modern scientific paper you will ever read. It is a four-page wonder, a manifesto on the treatment of mania; its scope – of life and death – is operatic. It was published without fanfare – just another article in the midst of hundreds – but it would, in due course, be celebrated as the journal’s most cited paper, and for changing the way we think about mental illness.

A year later at least 100 patients around the country were receiving lithium.

Lithium treatment of mania, however, now struck a few reverses. It could cure but it could also kill. Bill Brand died of lithium toxicity in 1950; two manic female patients treated by the same doctor at the Ballarat and Ararat mental hospitals also succumbed over the next two years, and another male patient died in Perth. Lithium was also banned in the United States. Three people had died from the use of lithium chloride in place of table salt and as a result an effective treatment of mania was delayed for a generation. In 1952, after Cade was appointed superintendent of the Royal Park Mental Hospital, the most important psychiatric institution in Melbourne, he had less time for medical research and his belief in lithium seemed to waver. Fortunately it was kept alive by others – Edward Trautner and Sam Gershon in Australia in the 1950s, and then by Mogens Schou in Denmark in the early 1960s. It was not until 1970 that Cade gained full international recognition for his work.

Beneath the main narrative of the doctor and medical researcher is the very human story of how the boy became the man:

In 1920, a typical eight-year-old boy played cricket with his mates on the streets of suburban Melbourne; John played games with disturbed men in a lunatic asylum who thought they were Jesus. There can be little doubt that in these germinal years John’s affection for the mentally ill stirred and took root.

The narrative is also extended by Cade’s choice of secondary education at Scotch College. He had been raised a Catholic, following the religion of his mother, and his father’s old school was Melbourne Grammar (Anglican), yet he opted for the Presbyterian school his grandfather Joseph had attended. That made him an outsider, and he remained something of an outsider in the psychiatric profession, initially by turning his back on private practice, then as a medical researcher, and particularly through his criticism of Freudian psychoanalysis.

A decent man who lived an ordered life, Cade is humanised by his routines, even if they seem exaggerated: grace before meals; mass every Sunday; bedside prayers with his sons; ‘seven cigarettes daily, but they were strategic’; ten cups of tea daily at five set intervals – breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, night; a double glass of sherry in a favourite oak chair. He could be reserved and his emotions were described as ‘clipped hard’ in dealing with the death of an infant daughter, as they had been in Changi.

At other times he could enjoy life, as he did with his elder sons shooting rabbits at Bundoora at the end of a working day, and body-surfing at Kennett Beach on holidays with his family on the Victorian south-west coast. With patients he was warm and thought of many as members of an extended family, while medical students who attended his Royal Park lectures regarded them as legendary:

His teaching was traditional, perhaps even old-fashioned. You rolled a patient out in front of your assembled students and took a history and tapped tendons, or in the case of psychiatry, asked more questions to reveal the mire of depression or exuberance of mania. And so the patients would enter, one at a time, and John would demonstrate masterfully. He cast his eye over each component of the patient before him, totting up evidence for and against each possible diagnosis … They relished his Sherlockian deductions in deciphering the meaning of self-cutting on different parts of the body, and poured in through the doors on Saturday mornings to hear lectures they would remember for the rest of their professional lives.

I received an inscribed copy of Finding Sanity from one of the authors, who is a friend, with a supplementary remark – ‘A Great Australian Story’.

Indeed, it is.

Greg de Moore and Ann Westmore Finding Sanity: John Cade, lithium and the taming of bipolar disorder Allen and Unwin 2016 PB 336pp $32.99

Bernard Whimpress is a historian who usually writes on sport but once took a psychology major in his undergraduate degree. He most recently edited a cricket anthology, Baggy Green: A selection 1998-2010.

Twenty Years On (2016)


This is the story of the South Australian chapter of the Australian Society for Sports History which began life in 1996. It is a record of hundreds of voices at 119 meetings in 20 locations (mainly pubs); of raising scores of issues about a wide range of sports; of enjoying fun and fellowship along the way.

The Game of their Lives

NICK RICHARDSON The Game of Their Lives. Reviewed by Bernard Whimpress

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The Game of Their Lives is a compelling account of Australian Rules football and the men who played it in a time of war


Central to this story is the exhibition match played between teams from the Australian Imperial Force’s 3rd Division and the training units at Queen’s Club, West Kensington, London, on 28 October 1916.

None of the players (many of whom had represented major league clubs in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania) in what was regarded as ‘a showpiece for the Australian game’ had yet been to the front.

Before opening this book I tried to imagine it, and TS Eliot’s lines in ‘The Hollow Men’ about the Shadow that falls between the intention and the act came to mind.

I imagined Nick Richardson having a great idea about constructing a book around the reality of a single footy match and providing details of the players’ lives before and after the event. The strength or weakness of the Shadow would be determined by the ability of the narrator.

A number of lower-case shadows were certainly cast over the game. The advent of the First World War spoiled the Australasian Football Council Carnival held in Sydney in August 1914 and the evangelising efforts of Australian football officials to make inroads into rugby territory. But even worse were the attacks on football in its own stronghold. While athletes, and footballers especially, were lauded as ideal soldiering material, and many took up the call to arms, many were not enough.

In Richardson’s account football’s fight is on two fronts. The soldiers experience various degrees of boredom, dread and exhilaration. Football is among the activities used to maintain morale as well as fitness in the training camps and temporary relief behind the lines. At war’s end shipping shortages mean delays of up to a year before the troops return home. Sport again gives the men something to do. Football carnivals are organised in Charleroi (France) along with Inter-Allied athletics games in Paris and the AIF cricket tour of England during the summer of 1919.

War politicises people and this book reminds us how, in the euphoric rush of Empire loyalty on the eve of the conflict, Australia’s political leaders outbid each other in the election campaign of 1914. At Horsham, Liberal Prime Minister Joseph Cook declares, ‘Remember that when the Empire is at war, so is Australia at war’, only to have Labor Leader of the Opposition Andrew Fisher up the ante at Colac on the same day with, ‘Australians will stand beside the mother country to defend her to the last man and the last shilling’.

Many men rush to join up for the ‘greatest adventure of their lives’ in the optimistic belief that the war will be won by Christmas. However such belief is soon dashed as the war expands on many fronts. Footballers are among the early recruits and of those who die in the first day’s carnage at Gallipoli are Collingwood’s Alan Cordner, Melbourne’s Joe Pearce, South Melbourne’s Charlie Fincher, University’s Rupert Balfe, Fen McDonald (Carlton, Melbourne), Claud Crowl (Carlton, St Kilda) and Norwood’s Phil Robin. As Richardson writes:

It was a sombre reminder that, despite all the mock-heroic sentiments, sportsmen were not invincible creatures who could outrun bullets and shrapnel.

When casualties mount few families are left untouched and attitudes harden.

Footballers and those who watch the game come to be unfairly stigmatised. Prime Minister Billy Hughes (who replaced Fisher in October 1915) and Defence Minister George Pearce display a maniacal intensity in their efforts to raise additional troops for overseas service.

The Victorian Football League comes under attack when it votes to continue its competition. Divisions operate largely on class lines with figures like lawyer, pastoralist, politician and Victorian Cricket Association president Donald Mackinnon and Wesley College headmaster Dickie Adamson (a prime proponent of muscular Christianity) unable to understand those who don’t enlist. They are abetted by the Argus journalist RWE Wilmot, who contrasts the men who stormed the foothills at Gallipoli with others who continue to play and watch football on Saturday afternoons. Melbourne’s other morning newspaper, the Age, supports this position.

The truth lies elsewhere.

Richardson shows that while football, boxing, racing and cricket were all targeted by community pressure groups, football bore the brunt of the criticism. The Collingwood, Carlton, Richmond and Fitzroy clubs, which continued playing, may have mainly represented the working class but at the end of 1915 football had a better record than cricket in supplying recruits.

The great irony of the main football match of the title is that it is played on the same day that the first conscription referendum is held in Australia:

The legitimacy of the shared qualities between Australian football and soldiering was an esoteric argument few of the soldier-footballers had any great inclination to acknowledge. For them, the Exhibition match was like their football life on rewind, spooling back to the time when they could play the game without the fear of conflict and mayhem that beckoned them.

There’s nothing hollow about the mainly men in this history, whether on football fields or at the battlefront, and figures such as Bruce Sloss, the Reverend Charles ‘Redwing’ Perry, Hughie James, Dan Minogue, Carl Willis, Stanley Martin, Percy Trotter, Leslie ‘Leggo’ Lee, Thomas Hewitt and George Barry are among the players and umpires, the details of whose lives and (in some cases) deaths are skilfully interwoven throughout the text.

It might be said that it takes all sorts to make an army but among these footballers the contrasts are sharp. Former South Melbourne captain Sloss, a fitter and turner, had faced family hardship during childhood following the loss of a farm at Naringalingalook and a house in Balaclava burning down; Norwood’s Perry had been a mobile ruckman at Prince Alfred College and sees sport as a testing ground before beginning his league career and continuing to play as a Wesleyan clergyman; James, a bricklayer from Ascot Vale, had represented Essendon in the Victorian Football Association before rucking for Richmond; Trotter is a Fitzroy star who moves to East Fremantle and works on the Fremantle docks as a stevedore after facing his own share of family tragedies; Willis is a Wesley College footballer/cricketer who qualifies as a dentist while representing the University and St Kilda clubs; and Martin, also from Wesley and from a professional family, plays for University for five years while mucking around failing all his subjects in both medicine and dentistry.

One of the pleasures of reading this book is to note how the author fleshes out the lives of a vast array of characters, providing drama and context to their various worlds. As he draws on an enormous range of sources, perhaps that which is employed most impressively is the Sloss family archive. Bruce Sloss is the 3rd Division captain in the exhibition match and his elder brother (James) and younger brother (Roy) are also in uniform. James is a Turkish POW so the information on him is scant, but Bruce is a lieutenant in the 10th Machine Guns when he is killed by a shell:

It was the news Christina Sloss had dreaded … Bruce had been the one connection between her boys overseas. And Bruce had discovered something liberating about military life: the sense of order, the joy of command, the adrenalin of danger. He had told them at home he had never been happier. But he had a life planned for when the war was over: he and Glad [his fiancée, Gladys Hamilton] would be married and then move into the house at Nyora Street, Malvern. Glad was bereft at the loss of the man she loved. They had been together eight years. What would become of her now? What would become of the house her father had built? After all the hardships of the Slosses’ family life, this was another hammer blow.

This is simple, direct prose, perfect for its purpose in conveying one family’s tragedy. Importantly, Richardson doesn’t miss a beat but immediately takes up the story of Bruce’s sister Tullie, who has been living in New Jersey and narrowly escapes death on the SS Laconia when it is torpedoed off the Irish coast as she is on her way to service with the Women’s Legion in Britain. Subsequently we learn of correspondence between Tullie and Glad, who joins the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps at home in the hope of getting to France to serve. By this time (March 1918) we also discover Glad’s politicisation, her disgust for ‘degenerate males’ – eligible men who fail to enlist – and loathing of Archbishop Mannix for his opposition to conscription.

Richardson’s book highlights the exhibition game and the men who took part in it but is also the catalyst for a much more ambitious project. At the end the argument runs that the players from the Queen’s Club encounter should be seen as ‘footballers first and soldiers second’ – a puzzling conclusion. The Game of their Lives is a panoramic history of sport and war, so the book’s great strength, its breadth of vision, almost inevitably means that the exhibition game is somewhat lost, left half in shadow, half in light. It’s probably where it deserves to be.

Posted on on 25 August 2016