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— 18 February 2016

The year 1916 witnessed the particularly tragic death of a highly-promising all-rounder. Paul Dyson tells his story as well as that of two other Yorkshire players who passed away 100 years ago.

High summer 1916 was not a good time to be a soldier fighting for Britain in the First World War but before the singular effect that that had on Yorkshire CCC it is also appropriate to remember Fred Asquith who died on January 11th of that year. Little is known about this wicket-keeper and he played in only one first-class match; this was in 1903 against Gloucestershire at Bramall Lane, Sheffield when he took two catches and made a duck in his only innings.

Born in Kirkstall on February 5th, 1870, Asquith played for Sheepscar Leather Works Club and later moved to Hull. He kept wicket for Hull Town CC for many years and was also a landlord in the town, dying there at the age of 45.

Another Yorkshire cricketer who also played for the county in only one match also died in 1916. His three days in the county colours came against Kent at Dewsbury in 1870 in a match in which he batted in the tail, made a pair, did not bowl and took one catch. He was, however, a talented sportsman as he gained a blue in athletics at Cambridge in 1872 and played rugby union for Bradford and Yorkshire. William Dawson was born in Bradford in 1850, went to Marlborough School and played for Yorkshire as an amateur. Little else is known about him except that he played cricket for Leeds Clarence and died on March 6th 1916 in Ilkley aged 65.

For a cricketer to be described as being at the top of his profession, for the 1914-18 War to then break out and for him to lose his life in that conflict all make for a story of the utmost tragedy. Major William Booth (Major was his Christian name, not his rank) was an all-rounder who was just approaching maturity when fate took a decisive hand. He had completed the double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets for the first time, in 1913, had made his Test debut in the following winter, was chosen as one of the Wisden Five but then enlisted with the Leeds ‘Pals’ at the end of the 1914 season to do his duty for King and country.

  • A combined team photograph prior to the match celebrating the Centenary of Lord’s cricket ground, played between the MCC South African team and The Rest of England on 22nd June 1914. The Rest of England won the match by an innings and 189 runs. Back row (left-right): F.A.Tarrant, W.Rhodes, E.J.Smith, A.Dolphin, C.P.Mead, J.W.Hearne, W.J.Hitch. Standing: J.Moss (umpire), S.G.Smith, A.P.Day, J.H.Parsons, F.Woolley, G.Geary, J.B.Hobbs, A.E.Relf, G.Gunn, M.W.Booth, W.A.J.West (umpire). Front row: G.Hirst, E.Humphreys, C.B.Fry, J.W.H.T.Douglas, F.T.Mann and Hon.L.H.Tennyson. N.B. J.H.Parsons appears in this photograph as a reserve, but he did not play.

    Booth rose to the rank of Second-Lieutenant but on July 1st, 1916 he fell in action near La Cigny, France during the battle of Lens on the Somme. He was caught in a burst of shell-fire and died in the arms of Abe Waddington, a Yorkshire fast bowler, who stumbled upon the dying comrade almost by accident. Booth had lived with his sister and she found herself completely unable to accept that she would never see him again. His room was left exactly as he had left it and it remained in this state until she, herself, died in 1956. A further tragic twist.

    One of the first Yorkshire cricketers to help establish Pudsey as one of the county’s main sources of quality players, Booth was born there on December 10th, 1886. Although he lived close to the Pudsey Britannia Club it was the more famous Pudsey St Lawrence which claimed his allegiance. He played for the latter mainly as a batsman, having been known at Fulneck School mainly for his bowling.

    Booth made his debut for Yorkshire II in 1907 and for the First Eleven in the following season. Four years later he was so well-established in the side that he played in all 28 Championship matches, made his first century – 210 against Worcestershire – and passed the 1000-run mark. In 1912 Yorkshire won the County Championship and Booth’s 104 wickets contained two eight-wicket innings hauls including a career-best eight for 47 against Middlesex at Lord’s.

  • Yorkshire County Cricket Team, photographed in Leeds, September 1914. Back row (left-right): George Bayes, Benjamin Birdsall Wilson, Percy Holmes, Major William Booth, Tom Birtles, Alonzo Drake, J Hoyland (scorer). Front row: Arthur Dolphin, Schofield Haigh, David Denton, Sir Archibald White, George Hirst, Wilfred Rhodes, Roy Kilner.

    Tall, Booth used his full height in his fast-medium bowling and his natural action enabled him to move the ball late and quickly off the pitch. When batting he was very strong on the offside with effective drives and square cuts and his twin skills brought him 1228 runs and 181 wickets – the most in the country – in 1913. During that season he twice represented the Players against the Gentlemen and was selected to tour South Africa. He was chosen for the first Test in Durban in which he contributed to England’s innings victory with three wickets but was then involved in a car accident and missed a month’s cricket with a bruised side. To compound what had become a difficult tour for him, Booth’s father died in the January but he was recalled for the final Test at Port Elizabeth and his second-innings four for 49 helped his countrymen to another convincing win.

    In 1914 Booth was Yorkshire’s only regular right-arm bowler and in one week on Yorkshire’s traditional ‘southern tour’ he bowled unchanged with fellow-all-rounder Alonzo Drake throughout the whole of two games against Gloucestershire and Somerset to take 17 for 166. By the season’s end, a career of 162 first-class matches had brought him 4753 runs and 603 wickets; two hat-tricks and nine ten-wicket hauls in a match were included in his more stellar performances but when tributes came in two years later they focused on his popularity and how he played the game. Lord Hawke, Booth’s first Yorkshire captain, described him as a ‘most promising and charming’ cricketer and George Hirst stated that he was ‘one of the grandest lads who ever lived…Booth was a very popular figure both on and off the cricket field’

    Fortunately the name of this heroic young man lives on; a side-street in Pudsey is called Booth’s Yard but a memorial tablet in St Lawrence’s Church which was unveiled at a service for him in September 1920 is a more moving tribute. It acts as a reminder to all Yorkshire supporters, as well as to anyone who sees it, of the tragedies of conflict.

    Main sources:

    Mick Pope: Tragic White Roses (1995); Headingley Ghosts (2013)
    Peter Thomas: Yorkshire Cricketers 1839-1939 (1973)
    Tony Woodhouse: A Who’s Who of Yorkshire County Cricket Club (1992)
    The Cricketer (March 1987)