Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Thursday, 26 July 2012

A Breathless Hush

When my father was a schoolboy he learned the following poem written in 1897 by Henry Newbolt (1862-1938), by heart. He can still quote the opening lines at the age of 91. Boys in the 1920s were taught these stirring lines of how a future soldier learns stoicism in cricket matches in the famous Close at Clifton College, Bristol, presumably to strengthen their own moral fibre. The title of the poem is Vitai Lampada “They Pass on The Torch of Life”.  This week we witnessed a torch of a different kind being lit at the opening ceremony of The Olympic Games, having followed its progress around the towns and villages of Great Britain in the preceding weeks. This week’s prompt for Sepia Saturday hints at cricket, so the poem is doubly appropriate. The poem symbolised Newbolt’s view that war should be fought in the same spirit as the schoolboy sport. 

("They Pass On The Torch of Life")
There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night --
Ten to make and the match to win --
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his Captain's hand on his shoulder smote --
'Play up! play up! and play the game!'
The sand of the desert is sodden red, --
Red with the wreck of a square that broke; --
The Gatling's jammed and the Colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:
'Play up! play up! and play the game!'
This is the word that year by year,
While in her place the School is set,
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind --
'Play up! play up! and play the game!'
Sir Henry Newbolt (1862-1938)
There was also breathless hush at the opening of a cricket match on July 4th 1971 at RAF College Cranwell, where I had been taken by my boyfriend at the time, to watch a charity match played by The Lord’s Taverners, on the green. Not only were there many famous ‘celebrities’ attending, but playing for the college team was HRH Prince Charles, who was a student there (as was my young man). I wrote about my first encounter with Prince Charles in an earlier blogpost, Flights of Fancy; some Sepia Saturday stalwarts may remember it featured Charles on the cover of Punch magazine.
My cherished souvenir programme is full of articles, photos, anecdotes and advertisements of the time. People like HRH Prince Philip, Ernie Wise, Ian Carmichael, Martin Boddey, Sir Robert Menzies and Don Bradman are contributors. I couldn’t reproduce it all here but I’ve put the whole thing on Flickr for your enjoyment.
If you’ve still got time after all that you can read my other post on cricket, ‘The Boy With a Bat’, along with fellow Sepia Saturday contributors, who could have been prompted to write about anything, including cricket or baseball, by the photo below.


  1. An interesting post for me, Nell, even though I don't usually like to read about cricket, a game which has always totally baffled me. I'm sure that this bafflingness is part of why it appeals to so many people, of course.

  2. I guess when this poem was written England still 'ruled the world' and their soldiers had to fight everywhere, from Africa and Arabia to India. To fight for your country with a joyful mind, WW1 (Verdun) has ended that concept very well.

  3. I can imagine many a boy reciting that poem with great dramatic flare. I also enjoyed looking at your earlier post about Prince Charles and the Punch magazine. I had not discovered Sepia Saturday back then.

  4. I wondered where you were going with your title. What a wonderful post, and the poem is amazing and how wonderful that your dad can still repeat it! I'm kind of in the same boat as Jenny, since cricket was really only spoken about when my mother was still alive, but it's quite an awesome sport for those in the know! I have to begin working on my Sepia Saturday post, which I have no idea presently what it shall be!

  5. What a fantastic souvenir and memories ... you were hanging out with some well known people. I imagine your Dad saying the poem and remembering back in the old days. This is such an interesting post, Nell.

    Kathy M.

  6. This Sepia Saturday stalwart remembers enjoying your earlier post well. What a shame you didn't have your mobile phone with you at the time of that match, you could have taken a photo - that's what folk would do these days.

  7. I used to know that poem by heart as well. I've played cricket at Cranwell but not in such illustrious company. That programme is to be treasured.

  8. Marilyn I so love your posts. Has made opening of the Olympics so much more exciting just sharing with everyone.

  9. Lovely post. Wonderful stirring poem. Does it feel strange to be out of the country during the games? Do the ex-pats all gather to watch favorite events?

  10. What an insight and so apt right now!

  11. The poem reminded me that at school at Canley Vale, an outer suburb of Sydney, we learnt more British history than Australian and that poem was taught. Of course the fact that WW2 was raging may have influenced the curriculum and every morning at assembly we sang Land of Hope and Glory, There'll Always be an England and of course, God Save the King.
    I love watching cricket, particularly the tests. There is no other game where the grass grows, the rain falls or not, the light comes or goes and after five days there might not be a result! Wonderfully eccentric and English to the core!