St John-Cottingham is still out of action, but 60 Squadron moves to Filescamp and he starts on his appointed task of fielding a squadron cricket team for the Easter brigade tournament.

On 17 January 1917, orders came to leave Savy and move to the large field at le Hameaul, at the end named after the large farming estate of Filescamp. The farm itself was sprawling, with a small chateau and a number of ancient outbuildings and high grey walls. The proprietors were Monsieur and Madame Tetus, and the squadron immediately adopted their small children.

The Royal Engineers had been hard at work. Our accommodations were rows of wooden-flanked Nissen huts built close by the farms orchard, with another row of hangers, sheds, and small buildings perpendicular to the accommodations huts. The billet was a step down from the cozy bedroom I shared with Bill Sowrey, but at least we were in hard standings and not freezing in tents. The mess was a particularly fine place, with a brick fireplace and plenty of room for our growing collection of lewd prints and Hunnish trophies.

The first night was miserable, as our kit and bedding did not arrive until the early hours and we huddled on a bare floor around the iron stove in the middle of the hut. But by morning we were able to take advantage of the continuing poor weather to start to put the place in order. I was heavily bound up due to the broken ribs, so I was thankfully spared some of the heavier work, which suited me fine.

In my role of Equipment Officer (temporary, acting, unpaid), I made proper acquaintance of Sgt-Maj Smyrk, the technical sergeant-major and a wizard with all things motorific. We discussed my mandate to work up an ORs cricket team, and he called the air mechanics, clerical, and general duty personnel together in A Flight hangar that evening. Sgt-Maj Aspinall presided. As the men gathered, the Great Man whispered some advice. He said not to sound either demanding or pleading, simply confident that we would produce the finest ORs eleven in the brigade and that it was important to speak up if you had cricketing experience. Oh, and your idea of interviewing candidates in a village pub is a good one, although you should expect a few to show up just for the drink.

All right, you lot, the Great Man began. Gather about. You may smoke if you have them. If you dont have them, beg from a friend. And if you dont have a friend, pay someone. Right. This, as you may know, is Mr. St John-Cottingham. The CO has appointed him player and coach of the squadron mens eleven for a brigade cricket tournament to be held at Easter. There will also be an officers eleven, but Mr. St John-Cottingham will play for your team. Up to three NCOs may play on the team as well. He will brief you. SAH! He stepped back, turned about, and snapped off a pukka Guardsmans salute, the smartness of which Id never before experienced. I tried to return it, nearly putting out an eye in the process.

Now Im sure we have some fine cricketer is the ranks, I said. I was met with stony silenced and hollow stares. And Im sure well be the best ORs team in the tournament. I shall be setting up interviews in the village starting tomorrow after dinner. Sergeant-Major Aspinall will post a sign-up sheet for all those interested, and I shall post a roster for interview times and locations. We have a spare hangar for a winter practice site, and practices will begin next week. Are there any questions?
Sir? said an Irish voice.

The Great Man whispered in my ear, Corporal OConnor, a Sinn Feiner and the squadron Boshevik. Be careful, sir.

I looked about and the voice called out again. Yes, that man. Corporal OConnor, isnt it?

If thats what the sergeant-major told you, sir, hes roight.

Mind yourself, corporal, interjected the Great Man.

Roight. And now sir, will the mens team be playing the officers then?

This one had me. As far as Id understood, the officers would play the officers and the ORs would play the ORs, as it should be. I frowned, and said I wasnt certain.

Well, sir, if the men arent good enough to play the officers then why should they play at all?

Why for the honour of the squadron, of course, I said.

Cpl OConnor came back directly. Why sure, if we would honour the squadron by beating the men of the other squadrons in the brigade, then certainly it would be an even greater honour to beat their officers? There were murmurs of agreement, and I said Id take it up with the commanding officer.

Are there any immediate volunteers? I asked.

Me sir, came an enthusiastic voice. I looked about. A grinning dark face bobbed up behind the first ranks. My heart sank.


Private Harjit Singh Samra, sir! The fellow was damned keen, but likely better as a batman than a batsman, I thought.

Very good, Samra. Anyone else?

Silence reigned until a broad Scots voice thundered out. Creekits a daft game. Fu o numpties and bloody Sassanachs sippin tea an wolfin doon crumpets. Can we no play fitba, surr?

Not at this time, Donat, said the Sergeant-Major from over my shoulder. And keep your insights on the world of sport to yourself.

Och, but its no a mans game.


Aye, surr.

It would be a bigger challenge than Id thought.