D Day and cricket - there is a connection

5 June 2004

A recent edition of Toronto's Globe and Mail had references to cricket in an article about D Day. The cricket referred to was that taught to Canadian troops while they were in England being trained for the liberation of Europe in 1944. This training and waiting lasted up to two years and therefore recreation of an athletic type was encouraged.

The story reminded me of an old club mate from our days together on the rustic home made ground of the Ajax Cricket Club. Dick Richards had been part of the D Day invasion. The following story was related at his funeral a couple of years ago by his long time friend.

Stuff and Duty - Remembrances of conversations with Dick Richards (Rev. Graham Thorpe)

I first met Dick Richards in the summer of 1951. We were recently demobilised after World War 2 and were beginning family life and buying homes in the same street.

When we talked of our experiences in the services, Dick mentioned that he was in the Royal Navy and when I asked him what he did, his reply was "Oh! Convoys and stuff".  "What stuff?" was my next question; to which Dick replied jokingly something about being stationed in Italy for a time and taking Italian signoritas for cruises in the Atlantic.

Many years later as we remained life-long friends in Canada, the subject of D-Day came up. It appeared that he was there and actually skippered a landing craft on to the beach in the first assault. "Were you carrying troops or vehicles like tanks or Bren carriers?" I asked. "Oh! No!" said Dick, "It was cans of gasoline to refuel vehicles." And I thought to myself that this was perhaps one of the most dangerous jobs that day. Gasoline cans! Under enemy fire!

Only the Royal Navy would entrust such a task to an eighteen year old midshipman. In fact, the British Naval traditions are full of stories of teenage officers acting courageously in action, because it was their duty.

The most famous Admiral of all time, himself a former teenage midshipman, is remembered even today for his message to the fleet at Trafalgar.

"England expects that every man, this day, will do his duty." And so did Dick Richards.  

My own memories of Dick Richards also involved cans of gasoline. They were necessary for the gang of domestic mowers to cut the grass every week, so that we could entertain visiting teams. Dick would lead and the rest of us would follow in ever increasing circles until we had cut six acres and raked the cuttings off the field. Four or five hours on a Friday evening was good physical training as well as part of creating a team spirit. In retrospect I can understand why Dick was always running when we cut grass. He must have been remembering the stench of fumes given off by his vessel, and all of the others and the vehicles he was refuelling. His exuberance cutting grass with a belching mower was probably visceral, for it showed him that he was alive. Dick lived at a fast pace and he motivated grass cutting to be done quickly so that we could celebrate when it was done. We did, and Dick celebrated for the rest of his life. I cannot celebrate D Day, but I will quietly walk around a cricket field, and I shall try to make it the one in Ajax, which regretably is no longer rustic. (Jon Harris).