On 7th of August, 1814 the first units of the British expeditionary force (BEF) landed in France to try to halt the German military action. The following day at Eltham in south east London Dr. W.G. Grace, then aged 66 played the last game of cricket in an illustrious sporting career whose highlights included being the first cricketer to score a hundred first-class centuries and still being opening batsman for England at the age of 50. With 2 sons already serving in the armed forces Grace was deeply disturbed by the reports of large numbers of casualties amongst the BEF later that month. He wrote to ‘The Sportsman’ on the 27th August:
“Sir, There are already many cricketers who are doing their duty but there are many others who do not seem to realise that in all probability they will have to serve either at home or abroad before the war is brought to a conclusion. The fighting on the continent is very severe and will probably be prolonged. I think the time has come for the county cricket season to be closed for it is not fitting at a time like the present for able-bodied men to play day after day and pleasure-seekers look on. There are so many who are young and able and who are hanging back. I should like to see all first class cricketers of suitable age etc. set a good example and come to the help of their country without delay in its hour of need “.
In fact many talented cricketers had already volunteered to serve in the armed forces and only one further round of county matches took place before the season was ended prematurely. Lieutenant Arthur Collins of the Royal Engineers was one of the first to lose his life in the fighting at Polygon wood near Ypres on November 11th 1914. At the age of just 13, Collins had scored what is still the highest score ever recorded in a game of cricket – 628 not out – in a junior house match at Clifton College, Bristol.
Frank Miller Bingham, Lancaster GP and formerly Caton cricket team’s star player was another talented sportsman who needed no prompting from Dr Grace. There is a beautiful bronze plaque in the main corridor of Medical Unit 1 at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary to honour the memory of Frank Miller Bingham. This article highlights his life and career and we pay tribute to all the sportsmen who, like Dr Bingham, paid the ultimate price during world war one.
Born in September 1874 in Alfreton, Derbyshire, Frank was the second of 3 sons born to Dr. and Mrs. Joseph Bingham. He attended St. Peter’s school in York and it was here that he developed a passion for cricket and rugby. Between 1888 and 1890 he featured regularly in the St. Peter’s cricket team which sometimes also included his brother Sydney. By 1890 he was both opening batsman and regular bowler. In 1892, tragedy struck the Bingham family when Frank’s younger brother Thomas died at the age of 15 trying to prevent a 6 year old girl from drowning.
In 1893 he followed his father into the medical profession studying at St. Thomas’s medical school, London. During this period he continued to play cricket and rugby. In rugby he played for both the St. Thomas’s first team and the famous club at Blackheath. In cricket his talents led to him becoming a regular feature in the St. Thomas’s cricket team subsequently becoming their captain in 1897.
In late May 1896 he played his one and only first class cricket match for Derbyshire at Lords against the MCC. It isn’t known how he came to play in this match but it must surely have been an exciting moment for this 3rd year medical student. Sadly he didn’t get to test out his bowling skills against the formidable Dr. Grace who frequently played for MCC but was scoring 243 not out for Gloucestershire instead that week. However Derbyshire faced largely the same MCC team that humbled the touring Australians 2 weeks later bowling them out for just 18 in their first innings and featuring regular England test bowlers. In a tight match MCC won the toss and batted first scoring 165. Batting at number 9 Bingham scored just 6 runs in Derbyshire’s first innings total of 105. MCC followed with 165 in their second innings leaving Derbyshire to score 218 in their second innings to achieve an unlikely victory. As Frank Bingham strode out to bat the match was still in the balance with Derbyshire having lost 7 wickets. He scored a vital 11 runs as Derbyshire scraped to a victory with no wickets remaining.
After, qualifying MRCS, LRCP in 1897 Dr. Bingham joined his father’s practice in Alfreton which included being the company doctor for Blackwell collieries. In his 4 years there he frequently played for the Blackwell cricket team.
In the early 1900’s and newly married, Bingham moved to Brookhouse, Caton and went into partnership with Dr. Stott at Hornby. Bingham chose to play cricket for his local team in Caton whilst Dr. Stott was one of the main bowlers in the Hornby cricket team. This meant the GP partners would sometimes meet in opposition on the cricket pitch and a particularly tight match occurred in 1909 at Hornby. Hornby batted first and Doctor Stott opened the innings but was bowled for just 1 run. Hornby laboured to a total of 87 with Bingham bowling Nelson for 7. Needing 88 for victory Doctor Bingham opened the batting for Caton but was bowled by Dr. Stott for just 11. Clearly fired up, Dr. Stott bowled out 4 more of the Caton team but it wasn’t enough, Caton running out the victors.
However, 1907 was clearly the peak of Bingham’s local sporting achievements. Captaining the team that year they went unbeaten the whole season featuring 10 victories over teams from Bailrigg, Heysham, Halton, Storey’s, Morecambe and the King’s Own regiment. Probably the most notable match was the one at Caton on June 29th against Morecambe 2nd team. Dr. Bingham opened the batting for Caton and was clearly in fine form but was rapidly running out of partners. Bingham was run out on 94 tantalisingly close to his century. Caton’s total was 142 and Morecambe could only manage 24 in reply. Dr Bingham was the only batsman to score more than 8 runs on either side.
In 1910 he joined the Territorial Army as Lieutenant in the Lancaster based King’s own regiment. In 1911, after the death of Dr. Hall he entered into partnership with 2 prominent Lancaster GP’s Drs. G.R. Parker and C.W. Dean in Queen’s square. With his wife and 2 young children, he moved house from Brookhouse to central Lancaster. We can find no record of him in local cricket records after 1909.
In May 1914 shortly before the Great War began he was promoted to Captain and placed in joint command of ‘A’ company in the 5th battalion of the King’s Own. At the outbreak of war there was a huge demand for experienced doctors in the Royal Army Medical Corps but Dr. Bingham would not choose this option. He chose to stay with his regiment and take his place on the battlefield.
Captain Bingham’s battalion had arrived in Flanders in February 1815 and was involved in the fierce fighting near Ypres during the first 2 weeks of May. On the 18th of May he returned to Lancaster for a 3 day break with his family and friends before returning to Flanders arriving on the morning of Friday May 21st. The same evening he took a small party of men from ‘A’ company to assess some new trenches that his battalion were to enter the following day. As they were returning a shell landed nearby and one of his men was buried under the earth. Dr. Bingham insisted that they stay to dig him out. Having done so, they began to return again but had been spotted by a sniper and Dr. Bingham was shot in the chest. He died soon afterwards. He was buried near Sanctuary wood and his grave marked with a small wooden cross. Subsequent fighting meant that the site of the grave was lost and his death is now recorded on the Menin gate memorial at Ypres.
WG Grace died of a stroke in 1915 and so did not live to see how the war devastated his beloved sport. Wisden, the cricketer’s almanac, was dominated by obituaries in the war years and almost 1800 obituaries were included by the end of the war. The recent book ‘Wisden on the Great War’ lists all 289 men who had played first-class cricket and lost their lives in the war including 5 other Derbyshire players alongside Dr. Bingham. The vast numbers of casualties returning from the battlefields to the UK meant that over 3000 new auxiliary hospitals were needed to care for them. Early in the war the pavilion at Lancashire County Cricket club in Old Trafford was converted into an auxiliary Hospital and took a lot of the Belgian casualties that arrived in 1914. In 1917 the pavilion at Derbyshire’s ground was lent to the Royal Garrison Artillery as a temporary hospital. Although the county championship did not take place during the war Lancashire league matches did continue and Lords hosted a small number of matches as fundraisers for the armed forces.
After the war, Lancashire proposed that county matches in 1919 should only be 2 day matches and this is what happened. Some counties were unable to compete in the 1919 season and Test matches didn’t resume until England played Australia in 1920. Had he survived the war we are sure that Dr Grace would have been proud of the way that his fellow sportsmen had served their country in its hour of need.