|Issue No 26||13 August 1999|
January 1933 – the Emperor Strikes Back!
By Pete Warrington
JANUARY 1933 WAS A THIRD OF THE WAY through the last century of the 2nd Millennium. A fitful 14 years had elapsed since the Great War ground to its muddy conclusion.
January 1933 was a time when the oppressed, the downtrodden, and the losers stood up. Fought back. Took what historically had been theirs. They developed new tactics, which were not acceptable to everyone. They found a shrewd, unprincipled, leader. He pulled together a team of ruthless henchmen, and they set out to right past wrongs, to reclaim the glory of their once great empire.
Meanwhile, in Germany, nobody knew anything about Bodyline, or "leg theory" as the polite denizens of the press termed it. They had their own problems. A certain spinner named Hitler was clamouring for selection, but he wanted to captain the team, open the batting and the bowling, and pick the team as well. Chief selector Von Hindenburg wrung his hands and stalled for time.
Yes, it was the worst of times, it was the worst of times, we were getting a flogging in the cricket and the tennis, the Depression was just bottoming out, the Fascists were on the march in Europe, Churchill moaned about the Naval Estimates whilst America inspected its navel. And Phar Lap was dead.
But the Herald's editor still managed to put on a brave face on New Years Day, exhorting readers to look to dare to hope in 1933. Notions of Empire dominated: "The New Year opens on a note of confidence, in Britain, Australia and South Africa, at least..."
Over in the Soviet Union, at one minute past midnight, Stalin's second 5-Year Plan kicked into action. Mrs Stachanov would have already have had the kettle on the boil, rousing her vigilant husband from his brief nap. Maybe he, like many in the Outback, dreamed of the Bourke-Darwin railway, slated to open up vast tracts of country for cotton and other crops. Proving that Australia has had more than one fine cotton fiasco.
Vishinsky would have us believe that this was the period Trotsky spent in Norway, plotting the assassinations of Lenin, Kirov, Stalin, Kennedy, Mrs Gandhi, Lord Lucan, Lennon and god knows who else. Somehow he found the time to publish his seminal History of the Russian Revolution on January 9.
But these weighty issues were not uppermost in the minds of the Herald readers of the time. It was time for David Jones' Clearance Sale. No manipulative price jigging here, DJ's was open enough to admit the stock was "the mistakes of 1932".
The first cricket Test had been played in Sydney in December, with McCabe's Kim Hughes-like 187 not out unable to stop Jardine's merry men taking a 1-0 lead. Strangely, in the lead-up to the 2nd Test in Melbourne, there was little talk of Bodyline and lots of the so-called player-writer sanction. The Australian Board of Control invoked this law to stop players from writing or broadcasting on the game. Bradman seriously considered standing down from the team. He played, and we latter-day readers lament the decline of this noble statute.
Racing was booming, there being no shortage of punters. Or meetings. Sydney was a city of racetracks... Randwick on the Saturday, Rosebery on Tuesdays, Kensington on Wednesdays and Moorefields the next Saturday. The latter three are now housing estates and a school, but don't expect the anti-golf lobby to care.
Tennis was huge as well. Australia and the USA WERE the Davis Cup, they WERE tennis, so the Yanks sent a team out here to play a series of tests. Our boys included the legends Harry Hopman, Adrian Quist and Jack Crawford. They flogged us.
Back to the cricket. The Australian team was a beauty - the courageous Bill Woodfull to open and captain; Gentleman Jack Fingleton; lefty Leo O'Brien; a chap named Bradman; that man McCabe; Victor Richardson; Bertie Oldfield; genius spinner Clarrie Grimmett; Teddie 10-for Wall; the one and only Tiger Bill O'Reilly; and the 50 year old Dainty Ironmonger. The Poms weren't hopeless either - the barnacle Sutcliffe opened with Wyatt, Pataudi and Leyland followed, the incomparable Wally Hammond came next, Jardine, the keeper Ames, and that feared bowling line-up of Allen, Larwood, Voce and Bowes bristled with venom. And much skill.
Australia batted first and made a measly 228, Fingleton contributing a vital 83. England replied with a meagre 161, O'Reilly and Wall wrecking the innings with 4 wickets each. This was what the English readers wanted to know about, not that storm in a teacup that was Bodyline; why, the Herald bemoaned, one local newspaper had even thought it necessary to interview Bowes' mother. That's Pat Welsh out of a job for one.
Let's leave the cricket for a minute and check on the English soccer scores. Results of matches played overnight in Division 1... Arsenal 3, Birmingham 0; Aston Villa 3, Middlesboro 1; Blackburn 1, Chelsea 3; Blackpool 3, Sheffield Wednesday 4; Derby 5, Leeds 1; Everton 1, West Bromwich Albion 2. Enough. Everton, with the great Dixie Dean leading the way, could not follow up their championship win of the previous year, but they won the Cup in May 1933. Suffice it to say that Sunderland, Sheffield United and Wolves were in Division 1, and Southampton, West Ham, Spurs and Manchester U-Shited were all in Division 2. Great days for soccer.
Back to the cricket. Australia made 191 in their second dig, Bradman doing a Slater and slashing his way to 103 not out. England never looked likely and folded for 139, O'Reilly opening the bowling and taking 5.
This obscured some troublesome developments - Japanese fighting in Manchuria, the dissolution of the Dail in the Irish Free State, and Marlene Dietrich being sued by Paramount for breach of contract. Alas, there was no Alec Baldwin to ride in on his white charger with the 40,000 pounds.
The forces of darkness had not silenced Sydney's trams. Not yet. 200 new trams were ordered, some to run over the fantastic bridge that had been opened the year before. This was farsighted government indeed, even the abolition of the NSW Upper House was on the agenda. The birthrate was the lowest on record. Papers discussed the British Issue - what relationship Australia should have with the mother of all countries.
And proving once and for that things haven't changed, the Royal Alfred Hotel in Missenden Road Newtown was robbed at 2am, the loot including whiskey, gin and 20 pounds. I wonder if they are still waiting for the police?
A bunch of young men couldn't have cared. The Metropolitan Colts beat Combined Country, and a certain A. McGilvray proved the game is indeed not the same by opening both the batting and the bowling for the Colts. Walter Lindrum filled the halls in Britain and the sculling world waited to see if Booby Pearce would turn pro.
The purges began in Moscow. They started with the big fry. Two former tradesmen, Odrinsky and Ragozin, were sentenced to death for "posing as Antarctic explorers, in addition to playing many practical jokes at the expense of official vanity and credibility".
Calvin Coolidge was so shocked he died. No one could tell. Anarchists rioted in Catalonia. In Melbourne, the Tigers were still celebrating their win over Carlton in October's Grand Final. Heady days.
The French were worried. They could feel the throb of the re-arming Germans. Naval Minister M. Leygues commissioned the battlecruiser Dunquerque in response.
Then Australian hero aviator Bert Hinkler went missing somewhere between London and Sydney. They narrowed it down a bit in the afternoon edition - he was somewhere in northern Italy.
The World Economic Conference on Disarmament in Geneva focused on the future of the gold standard. Liquid gold caught the attention back home, too, as Tooths, Tooheys and Reschs united to take on the wowsers with the classic "drink beer regularly - it's good for you" campaign.
There were reports of funny happenings on the Southern Highlands. Scientists pondered Lake George's disappearing water. The next day, Gordon Bryant, possibly the future Cabinet Minister but then aged 12, of Windellame (near Goulburn), reported that he had killed an 8-foot brown snake, which had a head like an iguana and, four inches below its head, a protruding leg like a lizard. Nobody in Moscow was fooled, they knew the work of Odrinsky and Ragozin when they saw it.
The 3rd Test in Adelaide was THE Bodyline Test. 800 extra police attended, the crowd was awash with rumours that the Australian-born Gubby Allen had mutinied and refused to bowl Bodyline. Jardine responded by opening the batting and facing down the baying crowd. They made an honest 341, Wall taking another bag of 5. Then came one of the most memorable innings of all time. Jardine set an orthodox field and Fingleton was bowled for 1. Woodfull stood up to the thunderbolts from Larwood but was struck a brutal blow above the heart. Jardine then had the presence of mind to order a Bodyline field for the very next ball, leaving a distressed Woodfull facing 6 short-legs, two square legs and a mid-wicket. The crowd went wild and threatened to rip Jardine in half.
Woodfull struggled on for 22, Bradman got 8, and at stumps Australia was in deep shit at 4-109. Woodfull was in the dressing room having his bruises attended to when MCC manager Plum Warner came to offer his sympathy. Woodfull issued the mother of all backhanders:
"I don't want to see you, Mr Warner. There are two teams out there. One is trying to play the game and the other is not. The game is too good to be spoilt. It is time some people got out of it."
Woodfull was ropable when his comments were widely reported the next day. It was hanging day, the sky was overcast and black. Cricket lay covered up, killed by a penknife in the back. Australia were vanquished for 222. The recalled Ponsford and his ample backside made a sterling 85. Oldfield, all 38 years of him, retired hurt for 41, his skull fractured by Larwood. In Larwood's defence, Oldfield slipped, the ball was too short to pull, and an orthodox field was set. But the damage was done. Australia went on to lose by 338 runs, the amazing Woodfull carrying his bat for 73 in the second dig, taking many deliveries on the chest rather than risk getting caught.
At the same time, the Nazis were complaining of a lack of funds. They had debts of 500,000 pounds, and bankers wouldn't touch them until Herr Hitler promised there would not be more elections. Chancellor Von Schleicher planned to include Nazis in his Ministry. Meanwhile, he re-introduced conscription. We kissed goodnight to the Treaty of Versailles. The French responded with a call for Austria to be designated permanently neutral.
None of this was given much attention back home. All news was of the battle of the cables...
"Bodyline bowling has assumed such proportions as to menace the best interests of the game, making protection of the body by the batsman the main consideration. This is causing intensely bitter feeling between the players, as well as injury. In our opinion it is unsportsmanlike. Unless stopped at once it likely to upset the friendly relations existing between Australia and England."
Thus spoke the Australian Board of Control to the men of the MCC. Many pressmen thought the wording tactless, and that the touring English hierarchy should have been given the chance to view a draft first. The MCC replied in spades five days later:
"We... deplore your cable. We deprecate your opinion that there has been unsportsmanlike play. We have fullest confidence in captain, team and managers... We have no evidence that our confidence has been misplaced... If the Australian Board of Control wishes to propose a new law or rule, it shall receive our careful consideration in due course..."
A more cutting rejoinder was offered by the "inventor" of Bodyline, Fred Root, who advised the Australians to learn how to play this new form of bowling, or stick to playing with tennis balls. In other words, "get Rooted!"
Proving that politics and sport have always been a potent cocktail, the Board agreed to withdraw the word "unsportsmanlike", allegedly because the Australian Government was concerned that Britain would not renew loans necessary to kickstart the economy.
On January 19 the Herald ran a story on the proposed Bondi Park Amusement Scheme, which was subject to a government inquiry. The Scheme included a cataract gorge, waterfalls, a magic cave and an aquarium. No beach volleyball stadium, no underground railway, but enough for the good people of Bondi to whinge about.
Other news that day included the escalation of the Sino-Japanese conflagration; the search for Hinkler; Gandhi's continued incarceration as thousands rioted in Calcutta; the Conference on World Economic Disarmament; and Maurice Chevalier's divorce.
But the Bodyline story continued to dominate the pages. Eddie Gilbert, the fastest bowler in Australia, and, coincidentally, an Aborigine and, allegedly, a chucker, warned the Poms that he too would bowl Bodyline when Queensland played them in early February. Given that Bradman rated Gilbert the fastest bowler he ever faced, this was no idle threat.
The 21st dawned to the news that a new expedition had set out for Mount Everest. The British Navy had its own Everest to climb. The Report of the Estimates found that the Powers' relative sea strengths had altered greatly to the disadvantage of Britain. Everton showed that the balance of power had tipped their way, by disposing of Sunderland 6-2. And as the pre-conditions for the next war moved inexorably into place, diplomats were pre-occupied with finding an equitable solution to the debts from the last one.
It won't surprise readers to know that Sydney had a water crisis. Sir Thomas Henley criticised the Water Board's "wild-cat engineering", suggesting Warragamba was little more than a huge septic tank, into which drained all the sewage and stormwater from the Blue Mountains. As Marx said, the first time is tragedy, the second time farce.
Whilst readers digested that scary thought, they also read predictions of dictatorship in Germany. President Von Hindenburg postponed the assembly of the Reichstag and dispensed with planned elections. Franz Von Papen was behind the scenes, trying to convince the President to accept Hitler as the only viable option as Chancellor. 10,000 Nazis clashed with Communists in a sign of things to come.
Meanwhile, jockey J W Tucker was disqualified for 5 years after a battery was found in his riding boot. And then NSW was pounded by massive hailstorms, with Narrabri and Medlow Bath the worst hit. Whether this was God's judgement on the illicit weekenders at the Hydro Majestic was unclear. The puritans did have a win, however, with the banning of Huxley's Brave New World.
That day, De Valera easily won the elections in the Irish Free State, and the search for Hinkler was abandoned. Bill O'Reilly went back to Moss Vale for a local function, and claimed that the effects of Bodlyine had been exaggerated. Whether it was hindsight, the passage of time or whether the Herald got it wrong in 1933, O'Reilly had certainly changed his mind by the time he wrote his memoirs in 1985. He denounced Bodyline, and modern intimidatory bowling, as a scourge on the game.
That week, the International Labour Organisation adopted the 40-hour week as its standard. Meanwhile, in Berlin on January 26, Hitler was reported to have abandoned his "all or nothing" position, under which he had demanded the Chancellorship as the price for Nazi cooperation in the Cabinet. The wire reported that a Cabinet of the Right under Von Papen was expected. Two days later Von Schleicher hinted that Germany should return to the Disarmament Conference. He was clearly desperate. It was no surprise that the next day he resigned, the papers again predicting the ascension of Hitler to the Chancellorship.
In Paris, M. Boncour stood down as Prime Minister. He had been in the job for a month. Jack Lang resisted the drift to the Right. He announced the NSW ALP's policy for the next election, including the socialisation of credit and the abolition of the States.
The only sporting news that fateful day was that champion sprinter-miler Chatham would contest the Newmarket at Flemington that autumn.
On January 30 came the announcement that readers expected, but dreaded...
"Our latest cable announces that Herr Hitler has been appointed Chancellor, and the whole kaleidoscope seems to have received a turn which may give unexpected colours and combinations."
10,000 stormtroopers marched down the lovely Willhemstrasse to proclaim Hitler, singing "Adolf in the sky with diamonds." The controller of Prussian Police, a certain Captain Goering, waved them on. Hitler moved to dissolve the Reichstag and call new elections.
Back in Sydney, Professor Roberts from Sydney University's Modern History Faculty proclaimed that Hitler had the Chancellor's office, but not the power. Nice call, Professor. The general view of the papers was that the German situation was so bad Hitler should be given a go.
And there ends our account of that turbulent month. For the record, England won the test series 4-1. We remember the last two tests of the Bodyline series for Eddie Paynter's heroic 83, made after he rushed from his hospital bed to save England's first innings. And Larwood's 98 in the last test, caught by the fielding illiterate Ironmonger. To their credit, the crowd cheered Larwood off. Jardine was clearly Public Enemy No. 1. Until he was resurrected by some goons from Bexley, who christened their park team the Douglas Jardine Memorial XI. We thought they were cool and post-modernist, until they started bowling beamers at a myopic friend of ours who batted number 11. Fucking arseholes.
Larwood never played another test. England did not find a match-winning fast bowler until Alec Bedser. Bradman, Woodfull, Ponsford, McCabe, Oldfield, O'Reilly and Grimmett all played major parts in Australia's 2-1 win in 1934 in England.
The fortunes of Herr Hitler and Europe are well known. Roosevelt replaced Hoover as US President in early 1933 and instituted the New Deal. Sydney still has a dodgy water supply. Jack Lang never regained the Premiership. Neither have South Melbourne, who were to flog Richmond in the Grand Final later that year. Australia stumbled through the rest of the 30s trying to shake off the Depression, patriarch Joe Lyons giving Tasmanians a bad name. Stalin was soon to put all of the Old Bolsheviks to the sword.
But of all the images from that troubled month, the one that lingers longest in the memory is of those two intrepid Russians, Odrinsky and Ragozin, braving the chill waters of Loch Ness in that silly saurian costume. Like many of their contemporaries, they were clowns to the bitter end.
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