Many members of Worcestershire Cricket Club, Worcestershire Supporters' Association and Worcestershire Cricket Society will fondly remember Reverend Prebendary Chignell – “Chig” – as a former President of the County (1997-80), President of the Supporters’ Association for a number of years, long-time Hon. Statistician to the Club and, for many years, Editor and driving force behind the County Year Book.
Next month (April) a book about 'Chig' and his life is to be published by Helion and Company, well-known history and military publishers. The book has been written by former Worcestershire Secretary-CEO Mike Vockins, another Prebendary and current Cricket Society President who was, for almost a quarter-century, a great friend of Chig’s until his death in 1994.
The book: “Chig: Sky Piot to the Glider Pilots of Arnhem” may be a real eye-opener for those who knew Chig simply as a dedicated country parson and the keenest of Worcestershire supporters, for the story uncovers remarkable war-time letters sent by Chig to his father, letters revealing a side of Chig very few would know.
The publishers make the point that hitherto unseen, first-hand accounts of the battle of Arnhem, the heroic Allied military operation known as ‘Market Garden’, become rarer as time passes.
“Chig: Sky Pilot to the Glider Pilots of Arnhem” is the story of a choir boy, who became a country parson, who took part in Operation ‘Market Garden’ as Chaplain to the men of the Glider Pilot Regiment.
When he left home “Chig” wrote often to his father. Improbably his father kept many of those letters written between August 1940 and September 1944, before, post-war, returning them to his son.
Following Chig’s death Mike Vockins was asked by the family to help clear Chig’s effects in case there was anything there of cricketing importance.
There wasn’t – but what there was a small bundle of papers, containing 84 dog-eared letters, the letters Chig had written to his father.
With them were eight densely-typed foolscap pages. This extraordinary and unique document, Chig’s diary of his time in Arnhem with the Glider Pilot Regiment, recounted first-hand conditions which got increasingly hairier before ultimately, under heavy fire, came the withdrawal across the Rhine.
The early letters provide almost a social history of war-time rural life in two small country parishes, recounted by their newly-married, newly-appointed parson. ‘Dig for Victory’, the establishment of a pig club, and keeping of hens, are on the agenda.
The difficulty of obtaining petrol and car tyres is noted, and yet Chig’s cricket club has petrol for the mowers which maintain pitch and outfield to allow matches to be played against the various Service units stationed nearby – good for morale.
When a Searchlight Battery arrived Chig became its unofficial chaplain, and this prompted him to volunteer himself as a Chaplain to the Forces.
Attached initially to the Parachute Regiment’s Training Unit – when the use of para-troops in war was still very novel – Chig later was asked to transfer to the Glider Pilot Regiment.
The tenor of the letters change, yet always painting a full and varied picture about his own role (in so far as war-time security allowed) but also about cricket, about bird-life and the scenery, and about music too – a great love shared with his musical father.
Padre Chignell’s letters tell a story that demanded to be told. Mike Vockins, who knew Chig well yet was wholly unaware of his war-time service, was able to add introductory chapters and conclude with a post-Arnhem chapter describing Chig’s life on either side of these war-time epistles.
The opening chapters include an account of Chig’s first visit to the County Ground in 1919, and his founding of Worcester Nomads CC, and also an account of his short Bradford League career when he once played against the legendary Syd Barnes.
The later chapter has plenty of cricket, too, as Chig’s increasing involvement with the County is recounted, including his presidency of the Club and the Supporters’ Association.
“Chig: Sky Pilot to the Glider Pilots of Arnhem” reveals Chig’s remarkable letters and recounts much that was previously hidden and unknown about a delightful and truly remarkable man.