A story of sporting excellence and courage...TODAY is Remembrance Sunday. As a nation we pay tribute to the many men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
The remarkable story of one of the fallen, Warwickshire cricketer, Percy Jeeves, has just been told in a new book by long-time Saddlers’ reporter, Brian Halford.
1912 was not a classic year for The Saddlers. Striving to rejoin The Football League from which they had dropped in 1901, they finished fourth in the Birmingham League. The FA Cup brought a thumping first-round exit - 6-0 to Villa at Villa Park.
While The Saddlers were subdued, however, Walsall’s cricketers were flying. They too were in the Birmingham League, one of the country’s strongest cricket set-ups - and they won it.
Unbeaten throughout the season they swept away all before them. Or almost all. Walsall’s triumph saw them feature in the end-of-season Champions v Rest of League fixture. And there they came up against Percy Jeeves.
A Yorkshire-born all-rounder on Warwickshire’s books, Jeeves had spent the season playing for Moseley - brilliantly. The 23 year-old’s Moseley debut was against Walsall at Gorway and he took six for 45. In September he faced them again with Rest of League. And against a hitherto invincible side he took seven for 19 and smashed an unbeaten 74 as the champs were thrashed.
Jeeves’s victims with the ball included opener Len Taylor who, when ‘The Gorway Story’ was written in 1958, was still rated as ‘probably the most brilliant batsman Walsall ever produced’.
When Taylor faced Jeeves that day in 1912, two fit, highly-talented young sportsmen with towering futures locked horns. Nobody in the big crowd at Gorway had the faintest inkling that, within four years, both would be dead. Killed in action in World War I.
While Taylor excelled for Walsall, Jeeves’s ability shone at a higher level. In 1913, his first Championship season with Warwickshire, he took 106 wickets and scored 765 runs.
In 1914, amid the greats of cricket’s Golden Age, his talents towered again. England captain ‘Plum’ Warner predicted Jeeves would play for his country. Instead came war. P. Jeeves from cricket scorecards became Private 611 Jeeves of the 15th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment. And on July 22, 1916, he died for his country.
Percy Jeeves vanished without trace in the Battle of the Somme but his surname was to be immortalised by writer PG Wodehouse. On seeing the all-rounder play for Warwickshire at Cheltenham in 1913, Wodehouse was so impressed by the player’s immaculate conduct and attire that, three years later, when he created a character with those attributes, he used the name. Hence the ‘Jeeves’ in Jeeves & Wooster.
But that is fiction. Now the true story of the cricketer/soldier Percy Jeeves has been told in a new book – ‘The Real Jeeves’ by Brian Halford.
A well-respected member of the regular Walsall media corps for ten years, Halford has reported for the Birmingham Mail on Warwickshire cricket in the summer and The Saddlers in the winter.
It’s a job which he knows he is lucky to have - though, like any, it has its negatives.
"I’ve been very lucky in that most of that time the vast majority of people at both clubs have been a pleasure to deal with," Halford said. "Though there have been exceptions. It was a bit of a double-whammy when simultaneously Richard Money was Saddlers’ boss and Mark Greatbatch was at the Bears.
“If Being Grumpy was an Olympic event, those two would be Gold Medal contenders.
"But then there’s the other side of the coin and we had Ashley Giles and Dean Smith, both an absolute pleasure to deal with, in charge.
“There are a lot of good people in both sports. One of them, definitely, was Percy Jeeves. I was determined to do him justice in the book because, never mind being a fantastic cricketer and brave solider, he was just a smashing bloke. Nobody had a bad word to say about him. He was a special sportsman (Villa wanted to sign him) but also, from all accounts, a special man.
"What those guys went through in the trenches beggars belief. I was allowed access to the 15th Warwicks battalion diaries for the book and it makes quite harrowing reading. But it should be known just what those men through."
Now Percy - ‘The Real Jeeves’ - has the recognition he deserves. The widely-praised book – ‘Memorable’ (Daily Telegraph); ‘A wonderful book’ (Yorkshire Post); ‘Fascinating and very well-researched’ (The Cricket Society) - is on sale from The Saddlers’ Programme Shop, priced £15.