The great Wally Hammond was an English first-class cricketer who represented Gloucestershire between 1920 and 1951. The county was coming to Coleford to play against a Forest of Dean eleven, and although I was only a schoolboy, I was chosen to play, and my hero, the great Walter Hammond, would be playing too. From my young eyes, I viewed the “Great Man”—shoulders like a barn door, the grace of a ballet dancer. My cup was full. I had heard that he was a cold man, but to me, he was warm and kind.
After the match in which I batted at number nine and scored seven runs out in the first inning and seventeen not out in the second, Wally Hammond and Tom Goddard both came to me and, with Wally Hammond’s arm around my shoulder, said I must go to Bristol. Regrettably, this was easier said than done. My father was a collier on a meager wage, and my mother had bought my cricket kit for sixpence a week. Another youngster that day was also noted: demon fast bowler Bill Hudson, who, I believe, was invited to go to Somerset.
I recall Wally Hammond challenging Goddard (after a match in which Tom Goddard had bowled out Sussex for 23 runs) to bowl at him on the same wicket for three overs, and that he would play each ball back to the bowler with the edge of the bat, which he did! Many years later (about 20 or so years ago), I was invited to a dinner at the Speech House, at which Wally Hammond was present.
I asked him which bowler, during his playing days, was the best in the world. Without a moment’s hesitation, he said, “Bill O’Reilly” (the Australian leg break bowler). It is with pride that I recall this great cricketer’s interest in me, and I still feel a pang when dredging up my memories of him.