Batting legend who pleaded for help with his homework

Cricket on the school playing field, Hilsea, in the early 20th century (Portsmouth Grammar School archive)
Cricket on the school playing field, Hilsea, in the early 20th century (Portsmouth Grammar School archive)
The Royal Pier Hotel, now Rees Hall.

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In a week when big-hitting in the England/South Africa Test made the front pages instead of the back, it’s worth looking back at one of the biggest hitters the game has ever seen.

Portsmouth Grammar School is proud of its current and former pupils’ achievements in all sports, but this month sees the hundredth anniversary of a boy starting at the school who was to become a cricketing legend – Wally Hammond.

Wally Hammond  on the school playing field at Hilsea,1918 (Portsmouth Grammar School Archive)

Wally Hammond on the school playing field at Hilsea,1918 (Portsmouth Grammar School Archive)

Walter was born in 1903 in Dover where his father, William, was a corporal in the castle garrison. His military duties took the family overseas, to Hong Kong and Malta.

During the First World War, William – now promoted to major – served in France and the family took up residence in King’s Street, Southsea.

Walter was admitted to the school in January, 1916.

In the 1960s, a school friend, Eric Wilson, remembered Walter ‘with dark curly hair, a sun-tanned, freckled face, and unusually powerful chest and shoulders, due to much diving and swimming in Malta.’

Wally Hammond - a schoolboy hero depicted on a cigarette card, about 1935 (Portsmouth Grammar School archive)

Wally Hammond - a schoolboy hero depicted on a cigarette card, about 1935 (Portsmouth Grammar School archive)

He added: ‘Many opponents fielding at mid-off or cover-point have wrung their fingers as a searing drive from his bat came their way.

‘During his last cricket season at school, he played regularly for the 2nd XI.

‘Although a natural hitter, he could keep up his end in a crisis, showing that remarkable discipline and restraint which stood England in such good stead in Test matches.

‘He was also a wonderful dribbler on the football field (playing for the school 1st XI and later for Bristol Rovers), while in the fives court he would astonish us with spectacular overhead kicking.

Portsmouth Grammar School's current national cricket champions

Portsmouth Grammar School's current national cricket champions

‘He disliked school work as heartily as he loved games, and it was this that started our friendship. I happened to be near the top of the class, and he pleaded with me to help him with his homework.

‘He gave me some cricket coaching on Southsea Common during the long evenings of the summer term.’

The school magazines of the period mention Walter’s prolific goal scoring and his success on sports day at Hilsea in the ‘throwing the cricket ball’ competition.

Walter’s days at the school came to an abrupt end in 1918 when his father was killed in action. Mrs Hammond felt it was better for him to attend a boarding school in Cirencester where his uncle lived.

Wally Hammond went on to be described by Wisden as ‘one of the four best batsmen in the history of cricket’.

His achievements are highlighted in the school’s pavilion at its playing fields at Hilsea, providing inspiration for today’s pupils.

Last September, the school’s under-17 team achieved national success, winning the School Sports Magazine National Cricket Cup.