The welcome return of The Mercian Regiment to New Road on Sunday during the game with Durham was the latest in a long line of military connections reaching back from Worcestershire CCC’s earliest seasons to recent Pears cricketer, Graeme Cessford (RAF).
Before obtaining first class status, WCCC played matches against the Officers of the Worcester Militia and The Worcestershire Regiment from 1871-91 at Boughton.
Newspaper reports of the day list various military bands (e.g. The Royal Engineers, Royal Artillery, Grenadier Guards, and Royal Horse Guards, and several local territorial bands), engaged to play during the club’s early big matches and cricket weeks in Victorian times.
The military link with WCCC was reinforced by the building of Norton Barracks in the 1870s. WCCC soon asked the MCC if posted cricketers in the military could be immediately registered to play for that county.
Lord’s refused, but even so, many Army ranks feature in early Worcestershire scorecards.
On New Road in August 1913, at Fred Pearson’s benefit match v Surrey, the Band of the 2nd Worcestershire Regiment played during intervals and beat “The Retreat” to end the last home game of the county season.
The local press commented, “The whole environment was like that of less anxious days of years ago.”
Within a year, The Great War had begun, and 10 WCCC cricketers were killed in action by 1918.
Following The Great War, the WCCC Committee acknowledged the debt the county cricket club owed The Royal Engineers for their hard work during the war on New Road under Fred Hunt’s supervision, and repairing gale and flood damage.
The R.E. had also organised Regimental Sports Days, Fetes, Gala Days, and Athletics events to packed crowds at New Road during the war to help public morale and raise funds for charity. Again, various military bands would play to entertain the thousands of spectators.
During the Second World War, there were a host of such events, cricket and non-cricket, (there was even motor-bike racing on the New Road outfield). The majority had military connections.
Three more WCCC cricketers were killed during WW2.
For many decades, The Worcestershire Regiment had an annual Cricket Week at New Road, with one of its regular opponents being The Gentlemen of Worcestershire XI. This match featured many county cricketers and club officials.
In 1958, one of the last of these Cricket Week’s on New Road included the latest match between The Worcestershire Regiment and the Lincolnshire Regiment, for a military version of The Ashes, they had made for competition between “Our Cousins”, as the two regiments had been known since serving together in India in the 1840s.
In April 1950, The Worcestershire Regiment was presented with the Freedom of the City of Worcester, at a ceremony on the outfield at New Road, where four silver side drums were presented (See photo in 'Pears 150' by Andrew Thomas) before unveiling a plaque commemorating the Regiment’s war dead, in Worcester Cathedral.
When HM The Queen, and The Duke of Edinburgh, toured New Road in April 1957, they reviewed The Queen’s Own Worcestershire Hussars and a company of Old Comrades, accompanied by the band of the Royal Artillery.
There have been many instances of sky divers, parachutists delivering match balls, helicopters, RAF fly pasts, and even a DUKW amphibious military vehicle, on or over New Road since World War Two.
In February 1974, after a flood crossed the cricket ground, The Army drove a £18k amphibious lorry, a Stalwart load carrier, in floodwater around New Road and Pitchcroft racecourse.
WCCC continued its occasional military matches (e.g. The RAF, and Combined Services), but first class cricket was becoming more competitive, National Service was abolished in the early 1960s, and one-day cricket soon occupied free days in the county’s fixture list and on the much used square at New Road.
There are many more details about these and other military connections with WCCC and New Road in, Pears 150, on sale on match days at the Supporters' Association Shop at the back of the Basil D’Oliveira Stand.