Ashes to Ashes: A Wartime Hero

To remember everyone who made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure the freedom of future generations, The Sports Netting Company will be observing the 2-minute silence. Lest we forget.

Professional cricketer Hedley Verity was a World War II hero who lost his life at the age of 38, while leading his troops against the German army in Sicily. The legendary bowler played for England and Yorkshire between 1930 and 1939, when he enlisted as a gunnery officer with the Royal Engineers.

Highly regarded as one of the best slow left-arm bowlers in history, he took 1,956 wickets in first-class cricket and 144 wickets in 40 Tests, at an average of 14.90 and 24.37 respectively. He was named the Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1932.

 Hedley Verity

© Public Domain

The same year, in a championship match against Nottinghamshire, he set a world record of 10 for 10 - a record that has never been broken to this day. He was also an Ashes legend, playing in four series, including the famous tour of Australia in 1932/33, which England won 4-1.

During the 1934 series, the second Test was later dubbed "Verity's match", as he took 15 wickets for 104. He took 14 wickets in one day - including the legendary Don Bradman in each innings. Bradman was widely regarded as the greatest batsman of all time. Verity took his wicket more times than any other Test bowler in history - an amazing eight times in 17 Test matches.

 

War hero

Verity had been planning to enlist in the armed forces since 1937, when he first feared war may break out. He tried to join the infantry, but an old knee injury rendered him unfit, so he joined the Royal Engineers as a sapper instead.

He later became a gunnery officer and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1940 in the Green Howards. He was then promoted to captain of the 1st Battalion and after training recruits at the regimental depot in Richmond, he was posted overseas in 1941.

After recovering from dysentery in India, he was posted to Sicily in July 1943 for the assault on Catania. Weakened by ill health, his superior officers wanted to send him home, but he refused to go.

 

Severe injuries

The Allied invasion of Sicily was going well, until they reached the plains on the approach to Catania. German forces put up a stronger resistance than anticipated, so the Green Howards attacked under cover of darkness on 19th July.

The German defensive was very strong and the Allied troops came under heavy fire. Verity was hit in the chest by shrapnel during the battle. Despite his own injury, he attempted to rally his battalion. The last order he issued was, "Keep going," before he collapsed on the battlefield.

Several of his battalion were taken prisoner by the German troops and Verity's deputy, Laurie Hesmondhalgh, was killed. The following day, Private Tom Rennoldson, Verity's batman, went back to the battlefield to look for his captain. He found him severely injured and carried him to the field hospital.

 

Emergency surgery

Verity required emergency surgery to save his life that afternoon. After the operation, he was taken by rail across the Messina straits to Reggio in Italy. He arrived at a military hospital in Caserta on 26th July, where he was recognised by a fellow injured Yorkshireman - Corporal Henty, a medical orderly, from Verity's home town of Leeds.

When Verity was lying injured on the stretcher, he gave his name, to which Henty replied, "Are you the Yorkshire cricketer?" Verity replied, "Yes, that's me," and Henty did everything he could to make his countryman comfortable. Verity showed Henty a photograph of his wife Kathleen and two sons, Wilfred and Douglas. Henty described the moment as "touching" and said how proud Verity was of his family.

 

Military honours

Verity underwent an operation three days later to remove part of his rib, as it was pressing on his lung. Sadly, too badly injured to be saved, he died on 31st July 1943. He was given a funeral in Caserta with full military honours. The local officers acted as pallbearers and his coffin was draped in the Union flag.

Tragically, there had been plans to send Verity home after the Sicily campaign had ended. Lieutenant General Miles Dempsey said Verity would have been safe "in a matter of a week or so" and would have been back home "playing cricket for Yorkshire again" after the war.

In 1948, Verity's former teammates played in a memorial match for their fallen colleague at Roundhay Park in Leeds. Verity was described as a "master on all wickets" by his former England captain, Douglas Jardine.

Special services will be taking place on Remembrance Sunday, 10th November, at churches and cenotaphs all over the world, when people will pay tribute to the men and women who lost their lives in World War II and other conflicts.