On Thursday August 14, 1913, PG Wodehouse woke at his parents’ house at 3, Wolseley Terrace, Cheltenham. He was looking forward to the day.

The writer was neither close to his parents nor fond of Cheltenham. But he loved cricket and no cricket lover could resist the charms of Cheltenham and its College Ground at festival time.

Gloucestershire were about to start the third match of the town’s annual cricket festival. Warwickshire were their opponents and something, or rather someone, that Wodehouse was to see that day would leave an indelible mark on English literature and English life.

Three years later, Wodehouse devised two new characters – a foppish toff and his immaculate manservant. Considering a name for the latter, he thought back to Cheltenham and one of Warwickshire’s players - Percy Jeeves.

“Jeeves’s bowling must have impressed me,” Wodehouse later confirmed in a letter which remains on display in Edgbaston museum, “for I remembered him when I was in New York starting the Jeeves and Bertie saga. It was just the name I wanted...I remember admiring his action very much.”

Jeeves and Wooster were destined for the pantheon of English literature, so the name of that Warwickshire all-rounder was perpetuated. But the story – in turn idyllic, glorious, heroic and uiltimately tragic – of the real Jeeves is itself mightily powerful.

Percy Jeeves would, without question, have been a great cricketer for county and country. Instead, engulfed by the First World War, he died for his country.

During two full seasons with Warwickshire, Jeeves, a fast-medium bowler and hard-hitting batsman, adorned the cricket fields of England with his brilliance. The modest Yorkshiremen had been plucked by sheer chance out of country-house cricket in Hawes when Bears secretary RV Ryder, on holiday in Wensleydale, happened to see him play. Ryder signed him up and, after a qualification period, during which he shone for Moseley in the Birmingham League, Jeeves faced the greats of the Golden Age – and defeated them. He bowled Jack Hobbs, hit Wilfred Rhodes for six and outclassed England captain Plum Warner.

In September 1914, Jeeves bowled Warwickshire to victory over champions Surrey. It was his 50th first-class match – and his last. War was underway. He joined straight up and P.Jeeves of the Bears became Private 611 Jeeves of the 2nd Birmingham Pals (15th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment). And after training at Sutton Park, Bolton Hall (Yorkshire) and Codford Camp (Wiltshire), in November 1915, Jeeves sailed with his comrades to France – into the teeth of a freezing winter and the maelstrom of trench warfare.

Wodehouse had been charmed by Jeeves’s appearance and on-field conduct. What the writer could not know was that the cricketer was also hugely popular. Interviewed for ‘Cricket – A Weekly Record’ in November 1913, after his wonderful first championship season, Jeeves was hugely modest. Here was not just a top cricketer, but a lovely man.

PG Wodehouse
PG Wodehouse
 

During the summers of 1913 and 1914, Percy Jeeves graced the genteel cricket grounds of England. After November 1915, he was buffeted around the hideous landscape of the Western Front. The Arras and Bray fronts and then the Somme – and finally an area which, even by the horrific standards of the Somme, evoked particular dread. High Wood.

High Wood was exactly what it sounded. Attacking soldiers approached the enemy up gently-sloping, open fields, advancing without cover towards well-concealed gunners. Yet in July 1916, orders were issued for a British offensive there.

It began at dusk on July 21. And it was, inevitably, catastrophic. That horrific night at High Wood, the 14th Royal Warwickshires and 1st Royal West Kents, who led the attack, sustained 905 casualties. Sent up in support, and also decimated, were the 2nd King’s Own Scottish Borderers and two companies of the 15th Warwicks – including C Company, of which Percy Jeeves was a member. And for what? “A few Royal West Kents managed to fight their way into the lane and to its fiercely-defended trench,” wrote Terry Norman in his definitive book ‘The Hell They Called High Wood.’ “It is even said that some Borderers joined them – but no-one remained there unless they were dead.

“Not one of the Royal Warwicks could claim that small consolation, since most of them were strung out in still rows on ground made practically impassable by volume of fire.”

Percy Jeeves vanished that night, either blown to bits or buried alive. Instead of featuring on England scorecards, his name was to be engraved upon the Thiepval Memorial for soldiers with no known graves.

I first became aware of Percy Jeeves soon after joining the Birmingham Post & Mail in 2000. As I learned more about him, two things became clear – he was a cricketer of the highest quality and his death, aged 28, was a desperate tragedy.

PG Wodehouse naming his character after this man added to the fascination and when it emerged that Percy was in that rarest category of human being, those about whom nobody has a bad word to say. I thought his story should be fully told.

Next month, it will be. “The Real Jeeves” (Pitch Publishing, £16.99) will be launched on July 15 when Dennis Amiss, who has kindly written a foreword, will sign copies of the book in the shop at Edgbaston during lunch on the opening day of the Nottinghamshire match.

As Dennis writes in his foreword, “Now the real Jeeves, who should have played for his country but instead died for his country, has the recognition that he richly deserves.”

It is a moving story of a remarkable man. I hope I have done him justice.