Fly-past to remind cricket of Lord's WWII role

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> In June, before their Ashes series victory, the England team paid a two-day visit to Flanders Fields in Belgium, scene of WWI's most bloody battles.

Updated: September 06, 2009 10:04 IST
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In June, before their Ashes series victory, the England cricket team paid a two-day visit to Flanders Fields in Belgium, scene of World War One's most bloody battles.

That visit followed similar trips made by the Australian team to WWI battlefield sites at Gallipoli in 2001 and the Somme in 2005.

"It's important to take a step back from cricket at times and this visit was a deeply moving and humbling experience for all of the players and management," England captain Andrew Strauss said after visiting war graves in Belgium.

But the England team, and Strauss in particular, didn't have to stray very far from home to pay their respects to fallen servicemen.

At the back of the pavilion at Lord's, where Strauss has spent his entire career with Middlesex, is a small, unobtrusive plaque.

The chances are that a whole host of cricketers, and even members of Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), which owns Lord's, have walked past it countless times without even giving it a second glance.

And yet, in its own way, it could be said to be as moving as better known war memorials such as the Menin Gate or the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at London's Westminster Abbey.

The plaque's inscription reads: "Many entering the RAF (Royal Air Force) through Gate No 1 Air Crew Reception Area at Lord's during the Second World War gave their lives. Our enjoyment of cricket reflects their sacrifices."

For three years during WWII, Lord's was transformed from being the headquarters of world cricket into a recruitment centre for volunteers wanting to join the RAF.

Sunday's One-Day International between England and Australia here at Lord's is set to witness a fly-past by a WWII RAF Lancaster Bomber to mark the 65th anniversary of the closure of the Air Crew Receiving Centre.

As part of the event, 20 veterans from the RAF's Bomber Command are to visit Lord's for the match and to chat to spectators about their wartime memories.

And the MCC Museum at Lord's will also be staging a special exhibition to commemorate the exploits of Bomber Command, including the flying log book of Wing Commander Guy Gibson, who during World War II led the 'Dam Busters' raid which caused mass flooding of the Ruhr valley in Germany.

Squadron Leader (Retd) Tony Iveson, chairman of the Bomber Command Association said: "The return of several veterans of Bomber Command to Lord's will surely recall memories of reporting to the most famous cricket ground in the world as very young aircrew volunteers...Three out of every five would become casualties, most of them being killed." Several famous cricketers saw active service as pilots during WWII, including Middlesex and England batsman Bill Edrich, awarded Britain's DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) medal.

Australia all-rounder Keith Miller, an Ashes opponent of Edrich in the years after WWII and a fans' favourite wherever he played because of his attacking style, was a fighter pilot.

Those wartime experiences of Miller, whose first and second names came from two pioneer Australian pilots, Keith and Ross Smith, perhaps explained his exuberant approach to life on and off the cricket field.

In an age where struggling cricketers are routinely said to be "under pressure" by fans and reporters alike, it is worth recalling the words of Miller, who flew Mosquitos, which protected the larger Lancasters, on a series of highly dangerous night-time raids.

"Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse, playing cricket is not."

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