This week, with little to reflect on from last weekend – all games washed out on Saturday and half a game played on Sunday – I thought another look at our 1st Grade Premiership side of 100 years ago – 1913-14.
One of the giants (literally – he was 6 feet 4 inches) of that side was Jack Massie. In just four seasons in 1st Grade, he took 166 wickets at 13.8; in 16 1st class games, he took 99 wickets at 18; in the 13-14 Premiership side, his 69 wickets still stand as the Club’s 1st Grade record.
The following is taken from ‘Summertime Blues’ written by Max Bonnell and me and which will be revised and renewed for the 150 celebrations later this year:
“No writer of fiction would ever have dared to invent the character of Jack Massie: non-one would have believed it. A young giant, powerful enough to excel at boxing, rowing and rugby, lithe enough to be a champion hurdler, precise enough to be an expert rifle shot and with the fine co-ordination of an outstanding cricketer – that would be hard enough to credit. But who would suspend disbelief so far as to accept that such an athlete could also be a brilliant scholar, a successful businessman and an unflinchingly courageous, highly-decorated war hero? No, Massie’s story is completely unbelievable, except that every word of it is true.
It was in cricket that Massie’s blend of strength, athleticism, stamina and skill found its fullest expression. He was a fast left-arm bowler, who generated uncomfortable pace and bounce but also possessed a range of bewildering variations. His exceptional fitness enabled him to maintain his pace over lengthy spells and, unusually for so fast a bowler, in most matches in which he played he bowled more overs than any of his team-mates. The South Australian batsman, Johnnie Moyes, insisted that Massie left behind him a reputation for exceptional skill. Those who played with him know just what a magnificent bowler he was, probably the greatest who never played for Australia and far more accomplished than many who did… Massie took a long run –with such long legs he needed it – and as he reached the stumps his ample chest would spread, his left arm would come over, completing an arc of menacing hostility. He would swing with arm, fast and accurately, and had the nasty habit of dipping the ball right into the pads, so that it went into the stumps if the footwork was at all hesitant. He could swing against his arm, which is infinitely more difficult…Massie could drop his pace and spin. Give him a softish or worn wicket, and he was a terror.
When war was declared after the 13-14 Premiership, he enlisted immediately. In September 1914 he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 4th Battalion of the AIF and he was appointed Assistant Adjutant to Iven Mackay, a former University cricketer who had coached Massie while he was at school. In October, the 4th Battalion sailed to Egypt and, in April 1915, it formed part of the force that landed at Gallipoli.
Throughout that wretched campaign, Massie performed with reckless heroism. On only his second day at Gallipoli, Massie’s unit made a suicidal advance towards the Turkish lines after an order was misunderstood. When the Colonel leading the attack was shot down, it was Massie who tried to retrieve his body under withering Turkish gunfire.
But Massie occupied the front line so fearlessly that it was only a matter of time before he sustained a more serious injury. It happened at Lone Pine, in August 1915. Iven Mackay sent Massie to investigate the position of an outpost that was under heavy fire. Precisely what happened next is unclear – Mackay recalled that a “Turk held a riffle over the parapet with one arm and firing it at random he hit Captain Jack Massie in the shoulder blade’. The damage was severe; shrapnel wound in the back of the left shoulder, a splintered shoulderblade, broken ribs and a punctured lung. Massie, listed by the Army as “Dangerously ill”, was evacuated to Alexandria and then to England, where he spent three month in hospital in London. At the end of 1915, he was classified as temporarily unfit for active service and he returned to Australia for several months.
His bravery at Gallipoli was not forgotten. In January 1916, he was mentioned in despatches and in February the French government awarded him the Croix de Guerre. No one could have blamed him if he had rested on these laurels, but Massie was determined to return to action. By late 1916 he was back at the front, this time in France with the 33rd Battalion. He had already been wounded four times, but nothing tempered his complete disregard for his own safety and in April 1917 he was again mentioned in despatches, this time by Sir Douglas Haig.
He was injured, not at the front – where his outlandish bravery earned him a further mention in dispatches in 1918 – but behind the lines at a training camp, of which Massie was appointed Commandant. A German aeroplane flying over the camp dropped a single bomb, and shrapnel from this random explosion ripped through Massie’s foot.
His shoulders had recovered from the wounds at Gallipoli, but the injury to his foot reduced his mobility permanently. Yet not even this injury prevented him returning to France – after six months of treatment and convalescence – for further service before the end of the War. By the time of the armistice, Massie had reached the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.
Although his days as a competitive cricketer ended in 1918, Massie did not abandon the game. On Saturday afternoons, he turned out for the University Veterans, bowling well enough from an apologetic run-up of a few steps to scythe through the batsmen of the City and Suburban competition. In 1921-22 he claimed 85 wickets in the competition, a record for the University Veterans that still stands. One of the fieldsmen who held his catches was Iven Mackay, his commanding office at Gallipoli.”
Read about him and many of the other extraordinary players in this extraordinary University side when the book comes out in October.