The English have long been a bunch of thugs. Quick to take offence. Eager to take up arms. Pugnacious. Aggressive. The faux virtues of gentility and chivalry are but elaborate dances to mask their raw urge to fight. Games and gambling are bound up in this deception. The most codified of games, the coolest of wagers disguise the expression of pure aggression.
This violence is never between two isolated, freestanding, self-contained individuals. There are always supporters, ready and eager to join in at any moment that the code permits.
Their chief mythmaker, William Shagbag of Warwickshire, gave word to it:
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother
Their greatest national hero also took up the refrain as, around HMS Victory’s mahogany board when deep in liquor, Nelson and his Band of Brothers planned their violent rapid assaults to the single guiding call: “Engage the Enemy more Closely”.
On taking command of the good ship Happy Hants in the year ’58, Colin Ingleby-Makenzie gathered his team in the cramped dressing room that resembled an elevated white painted beach hut from Mudeford reached by rickety steps.
That Band of Brothers sat on their lockers, filled with the new blades from their bat-making sponsors, relishing the warmth that thirteen or fourteen bodies gave out against the April cold, their feet up on the masseur’s table that dominated the centre of the room.
They knew this young man, their natural leader; he was a toff, but a toff had always led them. The Hampshire way would continue with him, and they were prepared to give their new Commander a chance. He had led them well on occasions when he had stepped in for old Eager. If he brought them prize money they’d follow him anywhere.
Their coach, Arthur Holt, would be there to make a joke and defuse any tension. He sat there now with the bow legs of a footballer and wrapped in five sweaters, laughing with his shoulders. The prim Marshall his specs glinting from the corner. Young ‘Sains’ eager and busy like Mole in the Wind in the Willows. Dapper Jimmy Gray with a cravat to keep the chill from his chest. Old Henry ‘H’ Horton as bent here with his feet up as he would later be at the crease, another footballer folded by years of training and ignorant as they all were in those days of the need to stretch or warm down. “Warm Down? Blast Ye. What am I a bloody fireplace?” The immense ‘Butch’ White sitting across two lockers. Lithe Shackleton his long fingers instinctively picking the seam of an old ball, removing the mud, lifting each stitch in turn before circling the globe with a practiced flourishing score.
“Right, chaps, I can’t put it simpler than this; we must entertain or perish.” In true Nelsonian tradition, Midshipman Ingleby-Mackenzie addressed his boat crew as with muffled oars they prepared to infiltrate the harbour and rout the French – by which each old salt knew he meant La Marine Nationale, Surrey.
“To entertain it is necessary to attack from the start.” He told them and might have added as Horatio instructed, ‘When in doubt about my intentions, engage the enemy more closely and you will not go wrong.’
He helmed that team dangerously close to their first ever Championship victory that year but they had to wait a further three years for the opportunity to come again. In 1961 the French would be less a problem than the Spanish, by which they all knew was meant the Armada Espanola, ‘The Tykes’.
The crucial match of that wonderful season was played appropriately at Portsmouth against Gloucester on the 10th, 12, and 13th of June. Sunday the 11th was a ‘rest day’ and we shall learn why TM places those two words between quotation marks.
Gloucester was skippered by that old sea dog Arthur Milton who won the toss and without hesitation chose to bat on the flatest wicket in the land. But Shackleton and White soon had them in trouble at 86 for 7. Mortimore, Smith and A’Court put up some resistance before the first citadel was breached. Gloucester all out 176 but the day had been wet and play had been frequently interrupted. As the Happy Hants openers walked through the members of the Admiralty Board huddled outside the pebbledashed pavilion there was time left for just three overs. Time enough, though for Marshall and Gray to reach 28 without loss, Marshall finding the boundary seven times.
After a drink or two with Captain Milton and a few others in the bar, Mackenzie jumped into the trusty cutter, The Zepher, moored at Groundsman Gawler’s gunwharf and charted a course for Lewis and a quadrill ‘Deb Dance’.
Arriving late for dinner with his hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Cosmo Crawley, our hero enjoyed the company of Susan Verney, daughter of Lord and Lady Willoughby De Broke, who kept him amused that evening.
Next morning, shaking a leg after hardly any ‘shut eye’ he made sail for Highclere, near Newbury, the home of Lord Caernarvon where he was to play for the Ramblers against Lord Porchester’s XI.
This game ended with another great party at Highclere and by the time The Zepher had beaten back to Pompey on Monday morning, Midshipman MacKenzie was somewhat relieved to find the day’s play washed out by scrawls coming in off Spithead. Of course he was vexed that he would not get at the enemy more closely than a drinking contest in the afternoon.
Tuesday morning dawned bright and fair. The Commander of Happy Hants, perhaps overcome by the Nelson Spirit, decided that in the circumstances he would declare short of a first innings lead. He therefore summoned his crew to share his plan of campaign.
‘Let me see if I understand you correctly, Skipper’ began the ship’s purser, that meticulous accountant but swashbuckling cricketer, Roy Marshall, “You intend to drop anchor short of their first innings total, giving them 2 points and sacrificing the near certainty of 4 points for us in the slender hope of winning a match which still has three innings to go in one day of six hours play?’
‘Exactly so.’ And with this Mackenzie set off to find Capt. Milton to see whether he’d be willing to accept the challenge and so set up a fine scrap for the day. In his stern wake he left a muttering, cussing, mutinous crew.
‘Better one of us ‘southerners’ wins this match than let those blasted Tykes take our wind, what do you say, Arthur?’
‘Game on, Mac,” came the reply from the gallant Captain of the Merry Gloucester.
Gray and Marshall put on 96 in 70 minutes and our hero the diminutive Midshipman made his way to the small balcony outside the home dressing room. He ran up a signal at the mainmast, but play went on for several minutes. Were Gray and Marshall deliberately ‘seeing no signal’ – another Nelsonian trick? No. Eventually the signal was acknowledged and the players trooped off through a sea of grumbling dumfounded Admirals and old salts.
‘What is the boy thinking of?’ ‘Taken leave of his senses, what?’
Hants took the field and Gloucester struggled to 188 for 8 before Milton holding to his word declared giving Hampshire 137 minutes to score 199 runs – a rough sea indeed.
Marshall again got them off to a good start but was out for 38 and three wickets fell for 54 before our hero joined Petty Officer Horton on the fighting deck. A considerable number of blows landed and the two, each making 51, ran the score up to 133 before badly holed, shipping water and down at the gunnels they were becalmed at 162 for eight, 37 runs shy with the Gloucester crew seemingly rampant and about to repel the remaining borders.
At this moment Shack joined White. “Jolly tars are our men,” struck up from the balcony of the Officers Club.
At this point, so the ship’s log records, Ableseaman White, ‘with not a thought to his personal safety let go the boarding rope, took a cutlass from his teeth, hacked a rapid 33 in 18 minutes and in the opinion of the Captain saved his ship’, (not to mention his Commander’s skin) ‘altering the course of the campaign with a famous win with just three minutes of play remaining’.
Hampshire went on to win their first Championship at Bournemouth eleven weeks later at Bournemouth. “God Bless Them.”
The photograph atop the mainmast is the third version of the Slog Sweep – this time straighter but again aimed towards the crow’s nest.