By Andy Tong
A SPECIAL ceremony was held at Kent County Cricket Club’s headquarters to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of one of this country’s greatest cricketers in World War I.
Colin Blythe, who lived in Tonbridge, was a masterful left-arm bowler who died on November 8 2017 while serving with the Royal Engineers near Passchendaele.
Members of his family and relatives of other fallen team mates gathered with servicemen and club dignitaries at the St Lawrence Ground in Canterbury last Thursday (November 9) to see the memorial to Blythe rededicated – it has been restored, relocated to the Nackington Road gate and also corrected, because the date of his death was wrong.
The club intends to mark the anniversary every year to remember the wartime sacrifices of Blythe and other Kent players, members and supporters.
‘It is a symbol of the bond between the living members of this club and the dead’
Kent’s Chief Executive Jamie Clifford said: “It was a particular honour for the club to welcome members of Colin Blythe’s family and representatives from the Armed Forces.
“The Blythe Memorial will not be a shrine to militarism, but rather a symbol of the bond between the living members of this club and the dead.
“Remembrance is not a celebration of warfare, but a collective expression of appreciation to those who served and to those who fell.
“Through the link of men, like Colin Blythe – who played in our colours and made the ultimate sacrifice, we will remember in a way that is not ritual, habit or duty, but rather a genuine expression of gratitude and understanding.”
Blythe played for England 19 times from 1901-10, taking 100 wickets at a miserly average of 18.63.
In his career, which was winding down when he enlisted at the age of 35 at the start of the war, he took a remarkable 2,503 wickets and played 381 matches for Kent.
He was one of the greatest of all spinners, delivering left-arm orthodox off-breaks which were quite unplayable on a ‘sticky’ wet wicket.
As the Ashes begin next week, it is a reminder that Blythe made his debut for England in Sydney in the first match of the 1901-02 series – and took seven wickets in a resounding victory.
Yet he is perhaps best known as one of the game’s fallen heroes. He suffered from epilepsy, but still joined up at the outbreak of World War I, enlisting in the Kent Fortress Royal Engineers as a member of the No 1 Reserve Company in Tonbridge.
After the Battle of the Somme the Royal Engineers were moved into combat units in 1917 and he joined the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.
Sergeant Blythe’s battalion laid and maintained the railway lines which supplied the Western Front at Ypres in Belgium. During the Battle of Passchendaele, he was working on a track between Pimmern and Forest Hall when he was killed by shrapnel from a shell burst in his chest.
Blythe, the eldest of 13 children, was born in Deptford but came to live in Tonbridge at the age of 18 to take up a place at the Angel Ground, which was the Kent club’s academy until 1927.
He met Janet Gertrude Brown, who was from Tunbridge Wells and 10 years younger than him, in 1906. They were married the next year and lived near the Angel. The couple had no children.
He worked as an engineer at the Arsenal in Woolwich or the Maxim Gun Company in Crayford.
Blythe was a talented violinist who played in London’s music hall and later with the Tonbridge Symphony Orchestra.
He is buried in the Oxford Road cemetery, near Ypres. Like his Kent colleague Frank Woolley, Blythe is commemorated in Tonbridge Parish Church and has a road in the town e named after him.
In 2009, the England team visited the Flanders war graves and laid a stone cricket ball at Blythe’s grave. The captain Andrew Strauss said: “It was a deeply moving and humbling experience.”