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One Shot More..Part 11
Sunday 26th April 2020
Pictured: Freddie Mills and DGR McKibbin open the innings
Chapter 5: Between the Wars – What Depression!
“Tra la la, Tra la lee
The best team in Ireland is North Down CC
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen gathered tonight
We welcome you all with the greatest delight;
You’ve come here to honour the men of North Down,
Who once more have brought the cup to the town”
Mr. A Hunter, to the tune of ‘Six Miles from Bangor to Donaghadee’.
He sang all eighteen verses at the club Dinner held in the Andrews Memorial Hall October 1926
Comber in the aftermath of War
The human cost of the Great War was counted by many Comber families but life had to go on after 1918. Sadly the lessons of self-destruction had not been learned in an Ireland that returned to the old Home Rule argument, with violence on the streets, anti-British campaigns and a future of great uncertainty. Economically, the traditional industries were struggling and, in a changed world, unemployment gathered pace to create even more hardship for most families.
Comber escaped virtually all the civil disturbances of the 1920s and forged ahead in those depressing times with a new Albion stitching factory, and a new Nut & Bolt factory and Gas Company. Miss Patterson’s Post Office was established in Mill Street and the Upper Distillery was rebuilt in 1920. Comber was, in the words of Jack Drain, one of our most loyal supporters, ‘the best in Ireland!’
The Andrews family continued to have a huge presence in the community and, according to the Belfast and Ulster Directory farmed over 1,000 acres and employed 535 workers in their Comber Spinning Mill at the time. The mill offered employment and security in tough times and was to be the major economic heartbeat of Comber for many years to follow. The Andrews connection with the cricket club opened economic doors to its members and over the next few decades a number of them found employment through the good offices of Mr. Willie.
The physical face of Comber didn’t change much although a War Memorial was unveiled in the Square in 1923 and a captured German field gun was placed on the other side of Gillespie’s statue.
The formation, in 1925 of LOL 100, Comber Ulster Defenders, the ex-serviceman’s Orange Lodge, saw the images of three North Down men, Bruce, De Wind and McRoberts, unfurled on the new banner. Silent movies were shown in the Andrews Memorial Hall before a cinema was opened in 1934 with the showing of “King Kong”. The five schools were amalgamated in 1938 when Lord Chief Justice Sir James Andrews, our former 1st XI captain and esteemed member, officially opened Comber Elementary School on Darragh Road.
Cricket in the NCU
It was difficult for any sport to prosper against a background of civil disturbance, but cricket got its act together much quicker than its contemporaries. The NCU made a few changes but it had good men at the helm like Stanley Jackson, Bob Erskine, Sam Clarke and Jimmy Picken. Willie Andrews was on the committee and his brother James was a vice-president. The interprovincial matches were re-started in 1920 and Oscar Andrews captained the team against Leinster with North Down wicketkeeper Jack Dearden also in the side. It is noted in the NCU minutes that Dearden’s request for ‘lost wages’ was declined, as it would have made him a professional!
International matches were also re-started in 1920 after a six-year absence and the northerners finally agreed to the formation of an Irish Cricket Union, ironically in the wake of the partition of Ireland and the establishment of the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland. History was made in 1924 when Ireland played Wales at Ormeau.
Seven Ulster players were selected for the game and, almost at one fell swoop, the selectorial injustices of the past were remedied!
North Down had a strong presence at the NCU in the towering presence of Mr. Willie, and with brother James he was largely responsible for re-writing the rules of the union in the mid 1920s. He also moved into Irish cricket circles and was a principal negotiator in discussions with the North West, Munster and Leinster Cricket Unions on the future of Irish cricket. At the invitation of the NCU, he captained and selected the Ulster teams to go to Munster in 1925, and in 1928 played his only game for the Gentlemen of Ireland at the ripe old age of 42.
James Andrews was elected president of the NCU in 1926, although his duties as Lord Justice hindered his attendance at meetings, but Mr. Willie was omnipresent and kept him well informed. North Down’s representation in the NCU was also strong on the field and, as they dominated club cricket, many of the leading players were selected for Ulster and, later, Ireland.
Cricket at The Green
Between the wars North Down enjoyed their second ‘Golden Era’ following the emergence of some very special players who would eventually dominate the NCU scene and go on to distinguish themselves at the highest level. A few of the pre-war stalwarts remained in 1919, and they helped the club re-build and recover from the devastations of the Great War.
In his ‘History of Senior Cricket in Ulster’ Clarence Hiles describes how the clubs reformed and rebuilt in this period and highlighted North Down’s plight:
“How appropriate this was in the case of North Down, a club that had suffered more than most during the Great War, but had bounced back with resilience and character to dominate the Twenties and Thirties”
The North Down general committee of 16 members was ably led by chairman William Andrews, undoubtedly the driving force behind everything that happened, and Samuel Davidson, ‘one of the finest batsmen the province ever possessed’, taking on the vital role as secretary which continued until 1925. A Hunter captured him in song:
“The County Down Railway kicked up a great fuss,
The time Sammy Davidson started the bus,
And Sam says he’ll soon kill the railway outright,
If you don’t believe me ask Robert James White.” *
Tra la la. Tra la lee,
The best team in Ireland is North Down CC”
John Murray, who fought to hold the senior playing subscriptions at one pound ten shillings in 1920, continued as treasurer until 1930 when WJ Taylor, Willie Morrow and James Macdonald performed this important role until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. John Murray JP died in 1934. Never a player, he had been treasurer from 1909 until 1930, during which time his work was characterised by outstanding ability, energy and tact, strengths he also brought to his role as team secretary to the 1st and 2nd XIs in 1906 and 1907.
“In our friend Mr Murray you’ve a treasurer rare’
When subscriptions are due he is sure to be there,
But I’m sorry to hear about poor Davy Wherry, #
Since the motors came on he has no bags to carry”
Tra la la. Tra la lee,
The best team in Ireland is North Down CC”
With the senior league and cup double achieved in 1919 there was a great optimism at the club, based not only on the 1st XI playing strength but also the fact that more new members than usual had joined the ranks, some with good reputations. The hope was that the bowling, indicated as the weaker part of the side, would be considerably strengthened.
The prospect that the 1st XI would play about 30 matches was encouraging, but there was still a great disappointment felt that no teams from Dublin, England or Scotland would travel here to play, the reason being the political turmoil and violence in other parts of the country at that time.
The fixture lists were becoming demanding and in addition to the league and cup games, friendlies had been arranged with the Railway & Steam Packet Union CC at home and in Dublin, North of Ireland, Cliftonville, Ulster, Queen’s University, Woodvale, St Mary’s and several of the regiments. Add to this the Lancashire Tour of four games and the demands on the players’ commitment were obvious.
Player turnover was no different than the present day with the usual winter rumour mill in full swing and Fred Willis, who had been a Senior Challenge Cup winner in 1920, departed in 1922, compensated somewhat with the arrival of RJE Cadogan. He played in the 1924 senior cup winning side and also had time from his military duties to play golf in the meadow adjoining the ground, and donate a halfpenny a ball to the retrieving youngsters!
* Robert James White, aka, ‘Mickey’ had a confectioners shop in Mill Street and was the Club caterer.
# Davy Wherry was a porter at Comber Railway station
It was also significant at this time that the English players based here during the war years had returned home and this deprived the club of players such as CAA Hiatt, Capt RE Dewar, Walter Lea, CPR Johnston and Colonel WN White.
George James and Tom
The Macdonald family created a record in 1926 by winning all four of the handsome silver rose bowls. James won the 1st XI batting and bowling, George the batting on the 2nd XI and ‘TJ’ for his bowling on the 2nd XI. One might have thought that this feat would not be repeated but, no, they did it again the following year!
In addition to the annual English tour, where they won all four games against good opposition, 1927 was to see a mini tour to the North West where matches against Strabane and Sion Mills were played and won.
It had been eight years since the last ‘double’ at The Green, but it was won in style in 1927 for the fourth time in the club’s history and by a side that won 23 games of the 34 played that season.
Statistics are a present day fixation, so it is worth noting that this 1st XI side scored 5,843 runs for the loss of 212 wickets at 158 runs per match more than their opponents. Such was the pursuit of excellence that the North Down season ‘Review’ commented:
“All that is required to make the team a great club side is another fast bowler, a ‘free’ bat capable of going in early in the batting order, and a good second slip fielder.”
Jack Dearden’s wicket keeping was singled out for special mention, having surpassed his previous season’s 46 dismissals with an incredible tally of 54, which at that time was a record for a wicket keeper in Irish senior cricket.
As the club entered the Thirties the prospects looked good, even with the loss of top administrator John Murray. Thomas Johnston, captain of the 2nd XI, had gone to Scotland but the main post remained intact with Willie Andrews as chairman.
The only resignation came from Willie Cannavan, but this was offset by a number of new members including the promising local schoolboys, George Moore and Andrew Hogg. The Lurgan Mail printed 170 annual fixture cards so we can assume there was a healthy membership at the time.
The great military cricket tradition continued with games against the Belfast Garrison, the 1st Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders and the 1st Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles and others; a tradition that was to help greatly with the sustaining of the game in Comber during and immediately after both World Wars.« Back