ALAN DAVID MITCHELL (1891-1915)
‘Among the first to heed the clarion call…’
On the evening of 3 December 1914, Aubrey Oxlade, long-serving Honorary Secretary of the Middle Harbour District Cricket Club (later known as Manly) read out a letter of resignation from the General Committee’s youngest member. A.Cooper, a 1st Grade batsman who was to play for the Club until 1920, was elected to fill the vacancy and the Committee proceeded with its business.
Five months later, news of Private Alan David Mitchell’s death reached Australia, reported in the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ of 11 May 1915 and in the ‘Sydney Mail’ of 19 May 1915 and noted in the Middle Harbour DCC’s 1914-15 Annual Report (“…died fighting for his country…he took a very active part in the management of the Club’s affairs.”) He had been wounded on the morning of the first landing at Anzac Cove, and was transferred on 30 April to hospital at Heliopolis where on 5 May he died of wounds suffered when he was shot in the foot by a Turkish sniper. He was one of 75 members of the Middle Harbour DCC to enlist (1 Battalion, number 1323); the first from the Manly district to be killed in World War I; one of 15 Sydney University Cricket Club players to lose his life in World War I; one of 647 old boys of The King’s School to enlist; one of the 101 who never returned. “Among the first to heed the clarion call to patriotism and to count it a worthy thing to do to lay down their life for their country were the men of The Kings School,” writes one of the School’s historians.
So Mitchell was a cricketer with two Clubs; a cricket administrator; Secretary of the King’s Old Boys’ Union; a Law I student at Sydney University; a clerk in his father’s legal practice at Manly; persistent, energetic, active and loyal to his duties.
But his burial site gives a further clue to his identity. He was laid to rest in the Old Cairo Jewish Cemetery. One version of his military enlistment form states that his religion was ‘Hebrew’; another that he was ‘Jew’. Mitchell does not seem to be a Jewish name? Another clue: His mother’s maiden name was Elizabeth Myers (1861-1920). Perhaps his Jewish identity was derived from his mother as Judaism is irrevocably matrilineal? His paternal grandfather, Michael David (known as David) Mitchell (1825-1892) ran a successful wine, spirits and grocery store eventually known as ‘D Mitchell and Co’ in Sydney and he lived in Pyrmont Bridge Rd Glebe in a house named ‘Jarocin’ after his birthplace in Prussia (now part of Poland). Mitchell, however, was not his original name. He was one of many Jews who emigrated in the late 1840s, firstly to Hamburg, then to London, then in 1851 to Australia. His surname had been Minchel and in London he had ‘anglicised’ it to ‘Mitchell’. In Australia, he kept his new surname and he kept his faith, marrying Julia Davis (1835-1906) in the Macquarie St Synagogue. His son, Mark (1861-1922), then married Elizabeth Myers at the Great Synagogue in 1887. David Mitchell was well established in Sydney society, even serving for a time as an alderman on the Glebe Council from 1884 to 1887.
Alan David Mitchell with his brothers, Clive Harry (1895-1985) and Karl Arthur (1897-1951), were three of a small number of Jewish boys at The King’s School from the time when Alan entered in 1903 until 1915 when Karl finished. At King’s, Alan was called ‘Ikey’ a Jewish boy’s name which means ‘laughter’ and which is a version of Isaac. He fitted in well when he arrived from Manly Grammar into Broughton House, student no. 2564. He was a school Monitor, served eight years in the cadets, played in the 1st XI from 1909 to 1911, captained the 2nd XV from half back (he was about average height for the time at 5’ 5” tall). The King’s School Magazine of June 1915, reporting his death, comments: ”Few of our younger old boys were better known or better liked than Mitchell.” He went up to Sydney University to study Arts and he was resident at the Presbyterian St Andrew’s College. The College at the time has been described in gloomy terms. ‘…a neo-Gothic construction complete with spires…stained-glass windows, dark wood panelling.’ (John Murphy, ‘Evatt, A Life’). It was while he was a student there, one of only 1500 students at the University, that he played his only season, 1911-12, without distinction, with Sydney University CC. In four innings in 2nd Grade he totalled 45 runs and his seven 3rd Grade appearances realised only another 99 runs. His return to Middle Harbour DCC for 1912-13 gives another clue to his life.
At St Andrew’s College, he was almost an exact contemporary of H V Evatt, a brilliant student who was later the youngest ever appointed as a Justice of the High Court of Australia, President of the United Nations, leader of the Federal Labor Party and then Chief Justice of the NSW Supreme Court. Mitchell and Evatt had certain characteristics in common. Both were indefatigable organisers, enthusiastic participants, actively involved but moderate sportsmen. As cricketers, both were persistent but their scores lend themselves to little interpretation other than that they were the product of limited ability. They turned up consistently; they were turned out neatly; they practised diligently. They are both minor footnotes in the long history of the SUCC, remembered for what they did away from the cricket fields. In his two 1st Grade innings, Evatt made 19 runs. Mitchell batted four times in 1st Grade for Middle Harbour for 43 runs. In March 1910, the cricket correspondent in the King’s School Magazine had commented with some asperity:
“A mixture of very good off-side strokes and very bad leg glances. Would do very well if he would give up the latter. Fair field but weak catch and poor thrower”.
Mick Bardsley, a participant in Evatt’s only 1st Grade game, was succinct in his memory of Evatt 60 years later: “He was a good organiser.”
The marked difference between Evatt and Mitchell was their academic record at University. Evatt had a series of outstanding results culminating in his University Medal in Arts and then a second Medal when he finished first in his Bachelor of Laws class. On the other hand, in Arts I in 1912, Mitchell passed only Maths I and he appears to have discontinued his studies in 1913, thus losing his eligibility to play for SUCC. That’s why he re-joined the Middle Harbour Club in 1912-13 while working as a clerk in his father’s law firm. Had he put too much time into his other activities? Did he lose interest in his studies? Was he just not cut out for academic life?
His 2nd Grade performances with Middle Harbour in 1912-13 (158 runs from 12 innings) hardly justified a call-up to 1st Grade but in October, he made 9 and an impressive 34 on debut against Waverley, but in November was bowled for 0 against Cumberland at the SCG before returning to the 2nd Grade side that enjoyed only one solitary victory that season.
War clouds were gathering when Mitchell made his third and final appearance in 1st Grade in October 1914. By this stage, ‘cricket had become no more than a frivolous diversion’ since Great Britain’s declaration of war on 4 August. But this game against Glebe at Manly Oval was redolent with incidents that would appear significant only later. In Middle Harbour’s innings on the second day, 31 October, Mitchell was bowled first ball by A B (Tibby) Cotter, the fearsome former Australian fast bowler. Mitchell enlisted in the AIF on 20 November. Cotter enlisted on 4 April the following year. A month after that, Mitchell was dead. Three years to the day that Cotter ended Mitchell’s 1st Grade career, 31 October 1917, Cotter himself was killed at Beersheba, the only Australian Test cricketer killed in World War I.
Alan Mitchell returned to studies at Sydney University, this time in Law I. In 1914, he’s listed among the undergraduates in Law (along with J B Lane, SUCC’s 1st Grade Premiership captain, and E A McTiernan, later the longest-serving Judge on the High Court of Australia as he lasted an extraordinary 46 years). But Mitchell is also listed as ‘unmatriculated’ and without any other academic qualifications. Did he apply for a place on the basis of his clerkship in his father’s firm and his family’s undoubted wealth?
Whatever the answer is, all that was put aside when he enlisted and sailed for Egypt.
Mitchell’s death inspired an almost immediate and practical response from his father. Mark Mitchell was intimately involved in life at Many; a local solicitor, trustee of the Manly Literary Institute, Director of the Manly Golf Club, resident since 1900 at the stately mansion ‘Leitelinna” built in 1898 on the corner of James St and Fairlight St. He was a man of considerable means and in 1916 he donated 1000 pounds for the purpose of erecting an Anzac Memorial in Manly. On 14 October 1916, the Governor-General of Australia, Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson, unveiled the polished granite column, the first Cenotaph in Australia, that still stands on The Corso. It was dedicated to the ‘memory of those gallant men of Manly who so gloriously gave their lives for the sake of Humanity and Justice. This memorial was erected by the family of Alan David Mitchell the first soldier of Manly to fall’.
At The King’s School, his memory has also been preserved. Mark Mitchell donated one of the bells in the school chapel. The Old Boys’ Union founded a prize in his memory which to this day is given to the ‘best all-round boy in the school’.
Alan Mitchell is commemorated on the Great Synagogue’s Roll of Honour. His brother, Clive, is also listed. Clive served as a Sapper in Signals after he was finally accepted, having been twice rejected, possibly because of his height as he stood a tiny 5’2”. Severe bouts of malaria preceded his return to Australia in March 1919. Clive was also a cricketer with Middle Harbour in 1914-15, a solicitor who lived long, dying at 90.
Alan David Mitchell, a footnote in any cricket history,872 runs in 68 innings for his two clubs, but a fine, energetic, generous young man, dead at 23, 102 years ago, unheralded and unlisted by the club that he represented for only one season, 106 years ago…until now.