Wednesday, July 3, 2013

FW Harvey, Cricket, and Nostalgia

picture a. FW Harvey,
circa 1915
Cricket in the United Kingdom, and in much of the Commonwealth for that matter, is a sport that is often linked with nostalgia for childhood and days gone by. The poet FW Harvey [picture a.] was an avid cricketer, playing in his youth at King's School, Rossal School, and later in life for Gloucester and Yorkley. He even played cricket during World War One while his battalion was on rest from the front lines. For Harvey too, cricket was inextricably linked with nostalgia and a seeking to relive the magic of days gone by. For him, one particular cricket match played while he was a Lance Corporal in 1/5th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment managed to represent two very different versions of an idealised past. 

b. 'Cricket: The Catch', as published in
A Gloucestershire Lad
In early June 1915 the battalion held front-line trenches near Messines in Belgium, before being relieved by a battalion of the Ox and Bucks on the 16th. Moved to a rest area in France, the men entertained themselves as best they could. Harvey worked on material for the 5th Gloucester Gazette, the battalion's now famous trench newspaper, but he also found time to participate in cricket matches, representing the other ranks versus the officers in June (Helm 18). Harvey memorialised this match twice with poetry, with his poem 'Cricket: The Catch' [picture b.] first published in 1915, and years after the war in an unpublished poem recently uncovered in his personal papers titled 'A Cricket Match' [picture c.]. 'A Cricket Match' states in text that it is about the officers versus men match of June 1915 which is chronicled in the Gazette, and also references Harvey having 'made a lovely catch', which implies that 'Cricket: The Catch' was also set during this same match (D12912/3/1/12/13).

The poems tell us that this cricket match represented an idealised past for Harvey in two different ways. In 'Cricket: The Catch', the act of catching the ball takes Harvey mentally from wartime France to 'Childhood that is fled: / Rossall on the shore', which he describes as 'Happy days long dead' (Harvey, 13). Though physically in wartime France, in his mind cricket has taken him back to his days of innocence as a boarder at Rossall School in Lancashire, from the crashing of the guns to the crashing of the waves at the seaside. 

picture c. 'A Cricket Match', GA, FWH, D12912/3/1/12/13
In 'A Cricket Match', Harvey reminisces about the same match, and more so about the adventures he and 'K' had trying to find a carpet to use as a matting to protect the pitch. 'K' is certainly RE Knight, as the poem states he was 'this long while dead'; Knight was killed in action in July 1916. Now in years after the war, the memories of this match and moments prior to it remind him of when 'live enough were you [Knight] that day of June'. The final lines of the poem make Harvey's feelings quite clear:
O God, how vividly it all comes back!
The laughing days of danger and of glee,
Those dear dear friends of mine then free to roam
Laughing at funny things they chanced to see
Who now in dark earth lie and wait for me.
These two poems combine to show us how much of a sentimentalist Harvey was, and that for him cricket was a channel to the past. Later in life he wishes himself back at a cricket match in France; however, during that very match he was wishing himself back to his youth at Rossall School. To some degree this shows that Harvey was never quite content with where he was; while the second poem also shows that later in life Harvey still placed much value on the comradery of wartime, and greatly missed it.

Photos of poems used with permission of the FW Harvey Estate.

1. George Francis Helm (ed.), The 5th Gloucester Gazette, June 1915,  Post-war bound reprint, (Gloucester: John Jennings, [1920])
2. FW Harvey, 'A Cricket Match', [1925], Gloucestershire Archives (GA), FW Harvey Collection (FWH), D12912/3/1/12/13
3. FW Harvey, A Gloucestershire Lad at Home and Abroad, (London: Sidgewick and Jackson Ltd, 1916)
originally published in: George Francis Helm (ed.), The 5th Gloucester Gazette, August 1915, GA, FWH, D12912/8/1/1

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