The MCC Museum houses a number of wartime artefacts that carry poignant, long-forgotten stories. Hidden in the shadow of E. W. Swanton’s much- rebound Wisden is the wizened remnant of an antique George Bussey cricket stump. Split from spike to groove, and splintered and smashed at the centre, it sports a small plaque. Curved and pinned to the shaft, it reads: “Leonard Bertie Walter Woodman, ‘stumped’, MCC v West Indies, Lord’s, 3rd September 1939.”
Resplendent in schoolboy ﬂannels, Woodman captained Eton in 1911 against Harrow. He made a disdainful 627. Late August 1914 saw him back at Lord’s as skipper of Oxford University against a Middlesex side missing Plum Warner. But the dark clouds of war intervened, and Woodman was among several players instructed to join their regiments. His red-inker solemnly declares: “L. B. W. Woodman, 20*, war stopped play.”
Ever the captain, and now in the heavy woollen khaki of the 8th Riﬂe Brigade, Woodman left for France in November, and had command of a 22- man infantry platoon. He kept a pocket scorebook as a diary, which survives in the National Archives. Though faded, and ﬂecked with ﬁlth and blood, it’s possible to make out the neatly pencilled script. Woodman had listed the names of his men over two rain-affected pages. The “how out” column recorded the grim fall of wickets. Blythe, Booth, Hutchings, Moon – caught. Lee, Chester, Massie, Rippon – retired hurt.
Going over the top at Coin de Vache in 1915, Woodman lost his left leg in a storm of spinning shrapnel during a deadly spell of German shelling. The entry against his name simply says “lbw”.
Throughout the interwar years, Woodman deﬁed his disability and played league cricket with distinction. In an eccentric homage to the game, he fashioned a leg brace that allowed him to ﬁt an old stump as a madly conceived match-day prosthetic.
“Going over the top at Coin de Vache in 1915, Woodman lost his left leg in a storm of spinning shrapnel during a deadly spell of German shelling. The entry against his name simply says ‘lbw’.”
When West Indies’ tour of England in 1939 ended prematurely after the Third Test, MCC organised a fund-raiser at Lord’s, ﬁelding a side largely made up of junior groundstaff and Great War veterans. Woodman opened alongside a surprisingly sprightly Jack Hobbs in what became known as the unofﬁcial Fourth Test. Neville Cardus’s piece in The Manchester Guardian was headlined: “Hobble and Hobbs Open for MCC.”
C. Robertson-Glasgow’s match report, lost deep in the rare 1940 edition of Wisden, reads: “Woodman’s approach to the crease was much like the rolling progress of a caliper pivoting across a nautical chart. Single-padded and denied a runner, he would depend on boundaries for a score, which I fancy suited Hobbs just as well.”
The thickset Jamaican seamer, Leslie Hylton, bowled short of sentiment and full of ball, sending down a leg-side ripper that smashed Woodman’s peg, propelling it past Ivan Barrow, the bemused keeper, in a macabre dance of skips and jumps. Umpire Bill Reeves raised a rascally ﬁnger, and called “stumped”with an uncharitable chuckle.The ever-gracious Woodman collected his broken Bussey from ﬁne leg, and hopped to the Pavilion, into undeserved obscurity.
This was the winning article in the Wisden 2015 writing competition. For the first time, the winning entry is a piece of fiction.