As the season closes I wanted to finish with a story that had an Indian connection. One I’ve slowly tracked down over a year or so. I first come across it many years ago with passing mentions in autobiographies. When I set out to track down the details, it proved something of a challenge. Several sources offered a few morsels and a couple attempted to unmask the hidden past but there does not seem to be a comprehensive record. I have gathered together the detail I have discovered. It’s the story of professional players touring India whilst part of the British Armed Services during the Second World War. Whilst only three Tottenham players were involved I hope your find it and this part of the development of the game in this country interesting.
During the war thousands of servicemen were stationed in the country. Being a long way from both home and the conflict the services encouraged sporting events to keep men active and maintain morale. Local service teams formed their own leagues and these would include ‘local’ teams. The professional players stationed in India were ‘rounded up’ and sent out on goodwill tours of the country ‘performing’ for both military and the local populations. We know at least five tours (possibly more) took place. These tours were planned to avoid the worse of the monsoon weather.
The first tour I could trace was in September - October 1944. With a second one in February - April 1945. Then in September - October 1945 at least two teams toured at the same time. These would some times meet up and play each other. These two teams became known by their captains names. Dennis Compton’s XI and Tommy Walker’s XI. The final tour was in February - April 1946.
Games were scheduled for the evening to avoid the highest temperatures. The games were reduced to 30-35 minutes each way. Pitches throughout tended to be rock hard. The games were played in venues from the bigger sports grounds such as Calcutta FC to sites at little more than clearings big enough for the pitch to be encircled by spectators. One game undertaken By Compton’s team was in Kutupalong on a field said to be 80 yards square. A Tottenham man writing home described the event as being played “On a field where rice was grown and being worse than Tottenham Marshes.”
Some of these games were between the touring players themselves, sometimes against a local unit or one of the local sides. To encourage the troops stationed in the various areas games would often become England V Scotland. That first tour led by Compton started in New Delhi and some games was watched by a crowd as large as 10 - 15,000. That Tottenham letter writer recalled one game at Imphal “Believe me, the boys enjoyed that game more than watching all the ENSA concerts.”
ENSA, was the organization that sent out “concert parties” to entertain the troops. It stood for Entertainments National Service Association and not Every Night Something Awful, as the troops on the receiving end called it.
The tours experienced problems with injuries or players going down with a fever. At one point Compton’s goalie was recalled to the UK and his team did not have a recognized keeper. Another player, (Ashworth of Blackpool) in attempting to catch up with the team flew 1500 miles in five days and upon arrival fell ill. That first tour ended with two games in Calcutta. One V Mohun Bagan and the other V Indian FA XI.
This success led to the other tours and spread to Ceylon. The second tour included Tottenham’s Ted Ditchburn. (2) One player (Lancelotte of Charlton) later wrote “ we flew 30,000 in five weeks. We would drop into the jungle and play a local battalion or we would play England V Scotland where we kicked one another to death.” Compton’s second tour went into the North West . One game in Waziristan in a ‘lawless tribal area’ involved a 130 mile journey by horse drawn carriage. The game was watched by two battalions of men who were all armed ‘in case the locals decided to intervene.’
Other tours were arranged for a hockey team and by boxer Freddie Mills. The Australians sent two cricket teams on similar circuits. Then at the end of 1945 a team of Indian players also toured the country. The Tommy Walker tour of late 1945 included Tottenham’s Bill Whatley. Whatley a full back played for Spurs from 1932 - 1947. Scoring twice in his 254 games for the club and won two
Les Bennett (1) was involved in one of the teams that involved Compton. Although exact details have not been discovered to this date just passing mentions in various books of the time.
The tours certainly achieved their target as Compton wrote 40 years after the war that he still regularly received letters who watched the games.
Dennis Compton was an England test cricketer who also played football and played for England 12 times. Tommy Walker was a Scottish international. I appreciate some of the places may have changed their names since those days I have simply used the place names as they appear in the various sources and as they would have been at the time.
Keith Harrison. HT53
t- Keith 16024542
f- peter shearman (old non de plume reserved for THFC matters)
Top picture – Ted Ditchburn at White Hart Lane.
Notes -1 - Hotspur Towers - 100 Club.
2 - Talking Tottenham 2
Thanks to Imperial War Museum, RAF FA, Army FA, The FA, The Tottenham Weekly Herald.
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