They're the Midland cricket team who took on the might of the Third Reich – and won.
It was a long forgotten cricket tour of Nazi Germany, then in the midst of preparing its bid for world domination.
But the “Gentlemen of Worcestershire” team was given a warm welcome in 1937, driving everywhere in official Nazi party cars, with swastika flags flying from the wings.
The press carried a great many stories featuring reports of the games, and sports publication Das Fußball Megaphon printed a special feature on the trip headlined Wilkommen Worcestershire!
Now a new book by author Dan Waddell reveals how the group of 12 players came to be invited by keen German cricket fan Felix Menzel to take part in three matches in Berlin. Led by former Worcestershire County Cricket club captain Maurice Jewell, the team was ordered by the MCC “not to lose.”
And the Gentlemen didn’t disappoint, convincingly winning all three matches during the 10-day tour, including the last one at Hitler’s famous Olympic Stadium.
It is a sobering note that their task was made easier by the best German player of the age – Albert Schmidt – only being allowed to umpire because he was Jewish. Sadly he was later gassed at Auschwitz.
Mr Waddell said the team, made up of “men of leisure”, found it somewhat strange to play in the country which was in the grip of the Nazis.
He said: “They are given a really good welcome and effectively given a free pass into a highly bureaucratic and closed country at that time.
“They were assigned Nazi cars with swastikas on the front and could go where they wanted.”
In spite of the general enthusiasm for the trip, the team saw some disturbing sights.
Mr Waddell, 42, said: “They enjoyed the hospitality, but it’s fair to say they found Germany in 1937 a very strange place.
“One night they witnessed a torch-lit procession in Unter Den Linden, one of the main thoroughfares in Berlin. Thousands of troops holding torches marching very slowly. One of the cricketers described it as really eerie.
“They also said that many of their cricket matches were played out with the sound of gunfire in the background. It shows how Germany was at that time. They never actually saw any guns being fired but it was somewhat disconcerting.”
However, in spite of the general atmosphere, they also enjoyed many a raucous night out, including enjoying drinking sessions for three evenings in a row in the notorious Haus Vaterland bar.
The party also included men such as Captain Robin Weatherly who during the war served as an undercover agent, and Peter Huntington-Whiteley who became a Commando, taking part in the disastrous Dieppe raid in 1942, and who was the father of model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.
One of the tour party was 16-year-old Peter Robinson, who was only supposed to be a helper but ended up playing in the matches after one of the team came down with double pneumonia.
Letters by him, which were only discovered during Mr Waddell’s research, revealed that the team gave the infamous “Hitler salute” before every game.
Mr Waddell said: “In the letter Peter Robinson said that the Germans said ‘Welcome to the Gentlemen of Worcestershire Seig Heil’, and that they then responded ‘Berlin Cricket Club Seig Heil’ in response.”
Mr Waddell was inspired to start his research when he happened to read an article by 1984 author George Orwell.
In his essay Raffles and Miss Blandish Orwell wrote: “Cricket is not in reality a very popular game in England – it is nowhere so popular as football, for instance – but it gives expression to a well-marked trait in the English character, the tendency to value ‘form’ or ‘style’ more highly than success. For the whole nation it is bound up with such concepts as ‘good form’, ‘playing the game’, etc. The Nazis, for instance, were at pains to discourage cricket, which had gained a certain footing in Germany before and after the last war.”
Just before the Nazis came to power cricket was on the rise in Germany, with 12 teams in Berlin, but by the time of the tour, this had shrunk to four.
This tantalising image of the noble sport under threat from the jackbooted fascists set Mr Waddell’s mind racing and after reading the Orwell piece Mr Waddell came across a short work entitled German Cricket: A Brief History, which contained details of the Gentlemen of Worcestershire’s adventure.
He said: “Cricket was actually very popular in Germany until the Nazis came to power – but they hated it.
“Hitler supposedly played cricket during the First World War and really didn’t like it. He thought it was effeminate – you put on pads to play, which the Nazis thought was unmanly. They believed in chopping off your face with a sabre.”
Mr Waddell added: “I think that Orwell thought that the Nazis did not like cricket. But the suggestion would be that if they had done then a brutal world war may not of happened because of the civilising effect of cricket.”
* Field of Shadows, The Remarkable True Story of the English Cricket Tour of Nazi Germany 1937, by Dan Waddell, is published by Bantam Press for £16.99.