Dr John Alexander James, OBE, CBE, MB, ChM, FRCS, FRACS.


747 players have appeared for SUCC since Sydney Grade cricket began in 1893-94.

Many played just a few matches and then disappeared from the Club’s records and even from their teammates’ memories.

When survivors of those who had played for the Club before 1920 were interviewed almost 40 years ago, none of them – not even those with lucid memories and acute observations – even mentioned John Alexander James. But James played on and off for the Club over six seasons while studying Medicine. He played in a 1st Grade Premiership season (1909-10) and in the 2nd Grade Premiers of 1911-12. He was awarded Blues for both cricket and Rugby. Then he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in World War 1 in the Medical Corps and was mentioned in despatches for conspicuous gallantry. His devotion to duty in supervising the evacuation of the wounded at some of the momentous battles of 1918 (Mourlancourt, Villers Bretonneaux, Perrone) was outstanding as he repeatedly put himself in the line of heavy shell fire. After the war, he pursued further medical studies in England before being appointed Medical Superintendent of Canberra Hospital. He practised medicine until he was 75. He was awarded the OBE in 1951 and the CBE in 1959. There’s even a hospital in the suburb of Deakin in the ACT named after him (now called Calvary John James Hospital) and a charitable health care organisation (John James Memorial Foundation) named in his memory.

So what else did he have to do to be remembered?

How has he escaped the Club’s notice?

Perhaps an accumulation of circumstances.

He played only three 1st Grade games (see below), scoring 29 runs in 4 innings. He spent most of his life away from Sydney, growing up in Queensland (Brisbane Grammar), the son of a Presbyterian minister, Rev Charles James. He served overseas from 1915 until 1919 (Gallipoli, the Western Front), studied in England (1921-23) and then practised medicine for almost 40 years in Canberra. And as with so many Great War veterans, he returned to civilian life and simply got on with his profession, playing little more cricket.

So what did he do in 1st Grade?

It took him three years to break into the University 1st Grade side as the 109th 1st Grader. In the Club’s narrow loss to Cumberland in October 1909, batting at number 9, James made only a single after, curiously, bowling a few overs, the only time he was called to the bowling crease in 1st Grade. Selection in the 1st Grade side was quite an honour in those days, even when the Club was restricted to undergraduates. Of those who took the field in 1st Grade in 1909-10, Roy Minnett would become a Test cricketer and seven others played 1st class cricket (Eric McElhone, NG Ducker, Paddy Lane, Walter Stack, Clade Tozer, Clive Single and Eric Barbour).

Sent back to 2nd Grade, James answered the selectors in emphatic fashion when he scored 101 against Redfern in December but it was not until February that he was once again summoned to 1st Grade. By that stage, 1st Grade was in fourth place so this was a vital match at Waverley Oval. James contributed only 8 in University’s 161 but on the second day, Walter Stack’s 7 for 55 was decisive in bowling Waverley out for 104. Then, Paddy Lane sent James in first with the explosive Hugh Massie. Why? It’s only speculation but James must have had a reputation as a quick scorer. He hit 20 of the opening stand with Massie (45) and then watched Minnett (86no) and Single (24no) set up the declaration which, however, did not produce an outright. The next game, against second placed Petersham at the SCG was crucial. Petersham made a challenging 223 but Owen Williams, Eric Fisher and McElhone all fell before stumps and University was in trouble at 3 for 33. On the next Saturday, the slump continued. When James was out for 2, the scoreboard read 7 for 79. But, in less than two hours of fireworks, Massie (168no) and the future Polar explorer Andy Watson (40) put on 179, still the record 8th wicket partnership in University’s 1stGrade. This was John James’ last 1st Grade game. He went back to 2nd Grade who were runners up to North Sydney while 1st Grade won a nerve-jangling final with the last pair at the crease. Lisle Terrey ‘miss hit a ball that flew away to deep slip for four’ to give University the Premiership. Terrey and Watson had put on 29 for the last wicket! James continued to turn out for the Club until 1911-12 when he played in the 2nd Grade Premiership side with his younger brother, Edward Stewart James. Edward was himself a talented sportsman, a wicket keeper in 15 1st Grade games (1st Grader no 118), a 1st Grade Rugby half back, one of the first eight to graduate in Veterinary Science from Sydney University in 1914, a Major in the Veterinary Corps in France, mentioned in despatches, awarded the OBE in 1919. When he died in 1977, he was the last survivor of the Club’s 1911-12 2nd Grade Premiership side.

The James brothers: forgotten, not remembered…until now!