Maurice_Turnbull – Wikipedia
The 5th of August will see the 75th anniversary of the death of Major Maurice Turnbull of the Welsh Guards in Normandy. He was 38 years old and in the words of the eminent Cricket historian, author and friend of our society Andrew Hignell “remains the most complete all round sportsman Wales has ever produced”. The evidence is compelling.
He is the only sportsman to play Test cricket for England and rugby union for Wales. He represented Wales at hockey and squash and was Welsh Champion in the later. He played cricket for Glamorgan between 1924-39 and was the Captain and Secretary in a tumultuous decade for the club. He was a Test Selector and captained Cambridge University.
He played hockey and rugby for Cambridge University. His club rugby was primarily with Cardiff but he also appeared for St Peters and London Welsh. He represented Glamorgan and Somerset at the oval ball game.
Home of Maurice Turnbull at 110 Penylan Road, Cardiff
Maurice was born in March 1906 in East Grove, Tredegarville the third son of Bernard and Marie. His family moved to Penylan Road before his 1st birthday. His was a large family with six of the boys eventually playing rugby for Cardiff. The Turnbulls were a prominent Cardiff family, leaders in the city’s business, civic, religious and sporting life.
Maurice’s grandfather Philip and great uncle Lewis moved from Whitby in 1877 to expand their family’s shipping business into the growing port of Cardiff. They formed “Turnbull Brothers, Steamships and Chartering Agents”. The company prospered and the Turnbulls assumed leading roles in the city’s commercial and maritime life. They were members of the Cardiff Chamber of Commerce, The Cardiff Railway Company and Seafarer’s charities. Philip became chairman of the Cardiff and District Committee of the Shipping Federation in 1895. Although the company ceased trading in 1930 the wider Turnbull family maintained shipping interests in Cardiff until 1943. Maurice’s father moved from this sector to Currans Brothers, the iron founders, with Uncle Harold rising to become Managing director.
The Turnbull family provided two Lord Mayor’s of Cardiff. Uncle Harold was in 1921 the city’s youngest Lord Mayor and was granted the Freedom of the City in 1940. Maurice’s younger brother Gerard held the office in the 1970s.
The family were devout Catholics and the brothers involved themselves in the religious life of the city. They were regular churchgoers at St Peters with grandfather Philip assisted in the establishment of the school. Uncle Harold was honoured by the Pope in the 1920s for organising a Catholic conference in Cardiff and for upholding the Catholic faith in South Wales.
Maurice shared this allegiance. On his first overseas tour to Australasia he bemoaned the long train journeys stopping him attending mass and wrote home praising a couple of “good Catholic girls” who had caught his eye. At the peak of his cricketing responsibilities in 1932 he left the field at close of play at the Arms Park on Saturday to lead the Archdiocese of Cardiff’s delegation to a Papal Mass in Dublin. This involved a return ferry from Fishguard to Rosslare. He was back in Cardiff suitable refreshed to take up the reins as Glamorgan skipper on Monday morning. He was a regular contributor to the “ Welsh Catholic Times” in which he celebrated the achievements of Catholics in sport, none more so than his friend Jack Petersen the British heavyweight boxing champion. He utilised a few spare days in the Spring of 1932 to visit the Vatican where he had a brief audience with the Pope. Indeed the final entry in his wartime diary recorded he had taken Mass and Communion. Clearly his faith was the guiding light in his life.
Maurice’s father and Uncle Bertie were talented sportsmen. Uncle Bertie played Minor County cricket for Glamorgan and first class for Gloucestershire. He was also a Glamorgan committee member for much of Maurice’s career. Bertie played hockey alongside Maurice’s father Bernard for Wales. The brother’s won an Olympic Bronze medal at the 1908 London games for Wales. Yes Wales not Great Britain. The organisers allowed the four Home Nations to enter teams with random club players from France and Germany making up the numbers. Despite Wales losing to Ireland in their only game they picked up a medal. No doubt Maurice was reminded by his elders of their achievement however bizarrely won!
Maurice led a comfortable childhood life in Penylan Road. The household employed five domestic servants. A typical weekend would comprise of Friday tea and billiards with the priest from St Peters, Saturday afternoons cheering the ‘Blue and Blacks’ with his father and brothers at the Arms Park. Sunday promenading around the Lake after church. The family would then gather around the piano for a sing along. It is easy to contrast this idyllic childhood with many of his fellow worshipers down the hill at St Peters. However I do not think it unfair to suggest that Maurice’s later ability to socialise as comfortably in a humble fund raising function as a “black tie” event resulted from these formative years.
Maurice Turnbull, Downside School, Bath – school website
Maurice’s education began briefly at Heathfield House in Richmond Road which had recently accepted boys as day scholars. It was inevitable that he enrolled at Downside a Catholic public school in Bath in the spring of 1917 as the previous generation of Turnbull males had. Although accompanied by his elder brothers it must have been a daunting prospect for a boy of just eleven.
Maurice Turnbull playing hockey at Downend School
Daunting or not he reveled in school life. Despite his small stature his leadership skills were quickly recognised. He captained the colts teams and was a junior prefect. As he physically matured he made first team debuts in his three sports in 1922.
He starred as centre forward in hockey. He impressed so much as a ‘nippy’ scrum half that brother Lou was forced out the centre. It was a profitable move as it set him on a path to a Cambridge Blue, Cardiff captaincy and 6 Welsh caps. He opened the batting and finished second in the averages. Observers enthused over his straight drives to the boundary, his ability to punish poor deliveries and his fearlessness to short pitch bowling from more mature opponents. In the holidays he played for a invitation club formed by Glamorgan to assess the talents of young Welsh amateurs.
The 1923 season started a against a full strength Somerset team when he made a fluent 60. He made his maiden century for the school. Word travelled back over the Severn of a rare talent from Cardiff. Uncle Bertie who was on the Glamorgan committee no doubt championed his nephews cause.
1924 was his breakthrough season. The season was termed “ Turnbull’s” year in the Wisden Cricket Annual as he averaged 85. More importantly he made his Glamorgan debut.
Lancashire arrived at Swansea unbeaten in August 1924. The wicket was spiteful and Maurice entered the fray at 21-4. He dealt with an all star attack with confidence and top scored in the match with 40. Glamorgan recorded a rare victory and a Lancastrian commented that “this lad will play for England”.
Maurice returned to Downend where he passed exams to study history at Trinity College Cambridge in October 1925. He was head boy, chairman of the debating society and president of the literary society in his final year. He captained the rugby and hockey team as well passing a thousand runs. He also managed to win a school tennis championship and box for the school. He earned sporting recognition in the adult world when Somerset rugby selected him.
Maurice would return to Downside for the Easter retreat for the rest of his peacetime life. He was the “Muscular Christian” beloved of public schools.
Maurice quickly immersed himself in university life especially the Welsh and Catholic societies. He was a disciplined scholar but his ambitions were focused upon winning Blues in his chosen sports. He was to suffer as much heartache as glory in this pursuit.
His path to a Rugby Blue was blocked by the established Wilf Sobey, a future England and British Lions scrum half. He was unable to join brother Lou in the successful Cambridge team of 1925. Ironically in his third year Sobey withdrew on the eve of the Twickenham fixture but Maurice was indisposed recovering from knee surgery. Maurice decided to prolong his university career for a further year to study the poetry of the Great War. Although his Uncle Illtyd falling at Gallipoli would have been influential in this decision it afforded him the final chance to win a Blue especially as Sobey had left university. Again fate intervened with neck and shoulder problems ruling him out.
His hockey was also doomed to disappointment. He was competing for selection against players focusing solely on hockey. His rugby commitments and injuries meant he was unable to sustain a challenge for the big game.
The strength of Cambridge sports is indicated by the honours won by Maurice whilst at Cambridge despite his Varsity “Blues”. He continued to play rugby for Somerset and his adopted rugby county achieved a rare victory at Kingsholm, Gloucester. He also won three Welsh hockey caps in 1929.
He scored the winning goal on debut against Scotland. He appeared on losing teams against Ireland and England.
In contrast to his winter vexations his university cricket was fulfilled. His first appearance against Middlesex ended in an inauspicious abandonment courtesy of the General Strike. Nonetheless he sealed his Blues selection with a half century against the MCC at Lords and made 78 for the Light Blues in a victory in the big match. He missed the 1927 season due to his knee problems. He was back the following season but failed with the bat and Oxford escaped with a unlikely draw.
Maurice Turnbull (centre) in the Cambridge University Cricket team.
The 1929 season was Maurice’s last as a student and he made it a memorable one. He was elected captain and made over a 1000 runs averaging 50. His 167 not out against Yorkshire was “ quite brilliant”. He leadership in the Cambridge victory in the Lords showpiece showed his “inner steel”. He had endured severe criticism for his selection of JT Morgan as his wicketkeeper/batsman despite his poor form. Trevil was from Cyncoed, a family member of the town department store and a long standing pal of Maurice. They spent many hours together at the racetrack and restaurants. There were dark mutterings of Maurice’s lack of objectivity but the Cyncoed boy’s 149 in another Cambridge triumph ended these.
With his student days behind him Maurice intended to finish the cricket season with Glamorgan and take a job in the City. However two opportunities arose which shaped the rest of his peacetime life. Uncle Bertie feared that he would be lost to the county and alerted the committee. Glamorgan had fielded 6 different captains in 1929 and needed stability. Maurice’s leadership at Cambridge made him the obvious candidate. They needed little persuasion in offering nor he in accepting the job. Secondly he was invited to tour Australasia with the MCC, i.e. England, in the northern winter of 1929/30 and to be the first Glamorgan player to win a Test cap.
Maurice left Tilbury on SS Orford on the 28 September 1929. The Australian leg of the tour consisted of five matches against the state sides. Maurice struggled initially with the pace and bounce of the wickets but in the last game against New South Wales in Sydney he made the round hundred. He was honoured to be caught and bowled by Don Bradman.
Maurice feelings toward Australia were mixed. He enjoyed the wine and the racetracks and moved in elevated company. He did not appreciate the attitudes of some locals towards ‘Pommies’. He thought money came too easy to them. No doubt others would think differently as Australia suffered record unemployment in the worldwide depression.
New Zealand was more to his liking. He described the beautiful scenery, friendliness and hospitality of the people. He attended Mass at the Catholic cathedral in Christchurch stating it was the first time he had missed the Christmas service at St Peters.
Maurice made his debut in the first Test in Christchurch. It was a low key England win in which he sacrificed his wicket going for quick runs at no 8. Lumbago kept him out of the second test and he could not get his place back. He complained about poor umpiring affecting his chances. Certainly there is anecdotal evidence to support this. Some umpires were more interested in lighting their cigars than watching the game and one umpire asked a visiting batsman how many balls in an over! Nonetheless it was a reluctant Maurice who left the country on the Rangitane to return home via the Pacific, Panama Canal and the Atlantic. They docked in Southampton on the 3rd April after six months away.
The joint rugby/cricket pavilion at Cardiff Arms Park would have been a familiar sight to Turnbull till it was demolished in around 1934.
Maurice form with Glamorgan earned him selection for the MCC tour to South Africa in 1930/31. En route he heard the sad news that his father had died suddenly. He was unable to return back to Cardiff in time for the funeral and took comfort from the support of team members. He showed his mettle by appearing in all five tests of the series.
He achieved his highest test score of 61 in the First test. England were set 240 to win. He shared a stand of 101 with Walter Hammond which was winning the game. He was punishing the spinners in particular when he was bowled down the legside. He ‘walked’ despite a suspicion the wicket keeper rather than ball had done the damage. England lost the Test and the series in this game. He failed to make much of an impact in later tests and that was his touring days with England over.
He made four home appearances for England against the West Indies in 1933 and India in 1936. He finished his international career unbeaten on 37 at Lords. He had come close to captaining in England in 1934. He had led the Rest in the Test Trial and when the appointed Wyatt withdrew on the eve of the match, Cyril Walters was asked to lead in England not Maurice. Cyril ironically being a former Glamorgan youngster from Neath.
Nonetheless despite his Test honours his cricketing legacy resides with Glamorgan as a player and as a leader both on and off the field.
The bare statistics of his batting contribution are over 14000 runs with 22 centuries in 504 innings. JC Clay his great friend argued that Maurice made runs when they mattered and the game was in the balance. Easy runs were too mundane for him. He always looked to attack with a full range of strokes. He would delight spectators with a combination of ‘impudence and unorthodoxy’.
The evidence confirms the argument that he made ‘hard runs’. His highest score of 233 against Worcester at Swansea in June 1937 occurred when the openers had departed with the score in single figures. He hooked and cut in masterfully to set up the victory. At the same venue in 1932 Glamorgan had collapsed to 36-3 on a turning wicket chasing 310 against Gloucester. He attacked the legendary spin duo of Goddard and Parker and departed on 119 with a victory few team mates believed possible assured. Nonetheless his signature innings was his 205 against Nottinghamshire at the Arms Park in August 1932. He made an eloquent statement with his bat to the most controversial issue in cricket in the 1930s – Bodyline.
Visiting bowlers Larwood and Voce had been selected for the winter’s Ashes tour. The pair spoke of their intention to employ the tactic devised by the tour captain Douglas Jardine in the remaining fixtures of the season. Turnbull shared a partnership with county stalwart Dai Davies of 220. Maurice was the dominant partner and defiantly withstood body blows to fiercely hook and pull the ball to the legside boundary. A youthful John Arlott was a spectator and later wrote “He punished those two bowlers as I believe no other batsman ever did”. Maurice received a standing ovation at the close of play, undefeated on 160. It was then the real fun began!
Maurice entertained the visiting captain to dinner at The Grand Hotel in Westgate Street. Meanwhile the chastened Nottingham bowlers accompanied by the press drowned their sorrows in the town pubs. They resolved to liven up the wicket as the beer flowed. After closing time they climbed over the wall to the ground and watered the wicket in a inimitable manner. The groundsman challenged them and was rough handled. He managed to get a message to Maurice in the Grand as he was settling the bill. Maurice sensing an embarrassing story strolled over to the Western Mail and stopped the story as the next day’s paper was about to run. His renowned charm achieved the same outcome with Fleet Street in the morning. Fortunately no ‘selfies’ were taken! With the crisis averted Maurice was eventually dismissed for a double century. As the game meandered to a draw he pointedly instructed his quick bowlers to give some Bodyline back. “Hoist by their own petard” as he put it.
Maurice was no fan of Bodyline. He considered it dangerous, and unnecessary. The next season he spoke out when Clay’s ribs were broken by Yorkshire’s Bowes another of Jardine’s disciples. He stated that while Jardine had brought back the Ashes it rankled him he had introduced Bodyline. These words won him favour in influential circles at Lords. Nonetheless Maurice’s quick action in diffusing a potential controversy indicated his ‘people skills’ which he would deploy to Glamorgan’s huge benefit as Captain and Secretary.
Glamorgan’s playing record during the 1920s from the inaugural championship season of 1921 was abysmal. They had won just 26 out of 216 games losing 125. Under Maurice’s captaincy in the 1930s indicated steady progress. In 264 games they won 45 and perhaps as importantly lost just 86.
Maurice Turnbull, sitting fourth from left, wearing his MCC sweater as he captains Glamorgan.
There is a catalogue of examples to illustrate the chaos surrounding the county in the 1920s. Shortage of cash underpinned most of these. Amateurs sometimes of inferior ability were called up. The food was often provided by their wives and mothers. They were so short of players for the final game of 1922 that they drafted in 4 players for their debuts. These included Rhys Gabe-Jones who at 15 years 9 months was the county’s youngest player in his only game. A decade later he was a Cardiff outside partner for Maurice. Critics described Glamorgan as a ragbag of a team.
Maurice inherited this when he returned from touring with the MCC in the spring of 1930. The Western Mail’s ‘Nomad’ argued it was vital the new captain won the respect of the professionals. This would be much harder than leading his Cambridge side of broadly similar age and social background. The comments of two contrasting professionals verifies that he earned this respect.
Jack Mercer led the bowling attack from the mid-1920s until 1939. He was a deep thinker on and off the field and a talented linguist who spent time at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. He praised his new captain’s willingness to seek his and his fellow professionals ideas. Frank Ryan was a talented left arm spinner with a drink habit. He would blow his cash especially on away games. Maurice would hold back part of his wages and give him the money as the train pulled into Cardiff often with a bonus from his captain’s pocket. Ryan rewarded him with127 wickets in 1930, double his return the previous season. Ryan wrote a touching letter to the Western Mail in 1944 praising Maurice’s “tolerance and restraint, intuition……and a honour and a pleasure to play under him”. Clay considered that the professionals “thought the world of him” especially his bravery in fielding at short leg. Not usual for the amateur captain.
Maurice also understood that to ensure a ‘sustainable’ future Glamorgan needed to produce its own first class players that supporters could identity with thereby maximising its Welsh identity. To this end he negotiated with local Carmarthenshire dignitaries to award a Championship fixture to Llanelli in 1933 and assisted with the merging of Monmouthshire then a minor county with Glamorgan in 1935. This paid dividends in widening the playing pool and support.
The captain quietly encouraged these new young players. He never shouted and assured them they were doing well even if the scoreboard suggested otherwise. He got the most out of what was then a team of modest ability. It is pertinent that of the squad that won the 1948 championship, seven were Welshmen who had played under Turnbull, five of whom had made their debuts.
Maurice did have his critics. He was described as a “martinent“ towards his professionals ordering them to wait at the amateurs changing rooms before the start of play. Phil Clift, a future coach, spoke of his interview as an aspiring professional that now appears more akin to a headmaster talking to a pupil than to a young man. Undeniable the responsibility of office had eroded his earlier carefree spirit. Maurice’s ire was not borne solely by the paid employees. Earnie Harris a young amateur from St Fagans was admonished for playing cards in 2nd class with the professionals rather than sitting in 1st class with his social equals. However the world is a different place ninety years later. Socal distinctions were more sharply defined. Cricket did not have a professional captain at either county or England level until the 1950s. The division between amateurs and paid remained until 1962. Maurice was a man of his time reflecting its values.
Glamorgan steady progress was confirmed in the 1937 season. They finished seventh, their best position in the Championship and completed the double over the New Zealanders. This advance was despite financial uncertainty that threatened the county’s existence.
Glamorgan joined the Championship carrying a financial deficit. This increased during the 1920s. The county were caught in a vicious spiral where they could not afford to field sufficient professionals and filled the side with club cricketers. The side suffered poor results so the gate receipts dwindled.
Uncle Bertie, the club chairman, made a public statement in July 1932 that the season would be the last as a first class county. The only way to avoid this drastic measure was a £1500 cash injection during the winter. A ‘Save Glamorgan Cricket Campaign’ was launched and his nephew and Johnny Clay played leading roles. The media and the great and the good of South Wales such as the Cory’s and the Homfray’s made pledges. Football and rugby matches were played and grand dinners organised. Equally as important raffles and dances were held across the towns and villages in which Maurice was to the fore. A wag suggested he danced as many yards during the winter as runs in his career. The sum was reached and Glamorgan’s immediate future secured. The generous response showed much Glamorgan meant to the people and the wisdom of Maurice in championing its Welsh identity
The crisis produced a further benefit to the club and Maurice. The incumbent secretary resigned. There were objections from Swansea that the appointment of Maurice as secretary would confirm a Cardiff “mafia” but his offer to play a game further game west allayed these. The job offer also eased Maurice’s money fears as the family shipping interests were suffering in the bleak financial climate.
Glamorgan’s finances remained concerning throughout the 1930s. The 2nd eleven withdrew from the Minor Counties championship and the professionals pay was cut. Nonetheless the county under Maurice ceased their ‘cinderella’ tag and became respectable providing three players for the Test team during the decade. Maurice’s was integral to this rise and was rewarded with his nomination as a Test selector in 1938.
By this time Maurice’s rugby career was over. After his university days it had been put on hold due to his MCC tours in the winter. For once he profited from the misfortune of others when the first choice Cardiff scrum half was injured and he made his debut against Gloucester in October 1931. He impressed despite not playing a serious game for three years. He was in familiar company with fellow Cambridge man Harry Bowcott and brother Lou captaining the side outside him. He retained his position in the brave defeat 13-5 to the Springboks. The Welsh selectors noted his sharp accurate ‘dive pass’ to his outside half and he featured in a Welsh trial before his season ended early with a broken wrist. He had put down his marker.
Turnbull showing off his prowess at scrum-half
The 1932/33 would be Maurice’s finest rugby season in which he achieved the distinction of a Welsh rugby cap to go alongside his England cricket sweater. He was in the words of Danny Davies Cardiff rugby historian “a crafty and resourceful scrum half”. The selectors had decided to select a new exciting backline for the opener game of the championship against England which included Wilf Wooller and Viv Jenkins future Glamorgan cricketers under Maurice. They considered Turnbull and Bowcott the best options to unleash them. The Welsh fans travelled in hope rather than anticipation considering that Wales had not won at Twickenham since the ground had opened in 1909.
Wales recorded a famous victory 7-3 with the backline excelling. Maurice sustained injuries to the jaw and neck from a robust English pack as was unable to eat solids at the post match dinner. Nonetheless as he slurped his soup he no doubt reflected that despite the pain he was glad to be playing rugby rather than cricket this winter. Across the world Jardine was winning the Ashes for England but threatening the stability of the Empire in The Bodyline series.
Turnbull (bottom right) in the first Wales team to defeat England at Twickenham
Maurice’s injuries prevented him playing in the home defeat to Scotland. He was recalled for the Irish game in Belfast. It did not go well. The Irish pack dominated making Maurice and his backs redundant. Wales lost 10-5. That was the end of Maurice’s international career.
The 1933/34 season was Maurice’s last. He suffered continual wrist injuries and lost form. The medical advice was blunt. He would not be able to hold a bat if he suffered any further damage. Maurice retired from the game. Although saddened with the abrupt ending it may have come as a relief. His newspaper column suggested he had become disillusioned with the tribal nature of the game. He wrote of being the victim of foul play in Llanelli and of being barracked by spectators in Swansea. He previewed a Cardiff-Newport clash by stating he “would rather go nut gathering”. Maurice played 62 games for Cardiff and the Turnbull brothers played over 480 for the ‘Blue and Blacks’ between 1923 and 1937.
He flirted with a return to hockey, playing for a Cambridge former student team against Glamorgan at the Harlequins Ground – now of course St Peters rugby headquarters. He was selected for a Welsh trial but he declined acknowledging that his cricketing responsibilities were now too onerous.
His secondary sporting interest from the mid-1930s was squash rackets. He was a keen player at school and university. He had become frustrated with the shortage of courts in Cardiff. He led a consortium of businessmen and sportsmen that built the Cardiff Squash Rackets club in Pontcanna. Maurice proved his ability representing Wales and winning a Welsh title in 1938.
Maurice Turnbull cutting the turf at Cardiff Squash Club in 1936
The club became an integral part of the Cardiff scene where local and visiting sportsmen and women mingled. One of the later was Elizabeth Brooke of Lincolnshire who was visiting to meet a friend. Maurice was immediately smitten. Elizabeth not so. She considered him “the most conceited man she had ever met”. Ouch! Maurice persisted and she must have softened her attitude as the couple were engaged on the eve of the 1939 season.
Maurice’s bachelor days had not been carefree. As the senior single man of the family he bore the responsibility for his younger brothers’ education. He was fortunate that his Glamorgan income was augmented by shrewd investments in the stock market, the sale of his interests in the family shipping business and an insurance business.
1939 was of course not only a momentous year for Maurice. In August Glamorgan returned home by steamer from Weston after victories against Gloucester and Somerset. There was no celebrations on board as the newspapers were scanned anxiously for the latest news on the ‘gathering storm’. War was declared as the side travelled to Leicester for their final game of the season. Maurice in his last game for the county top scored, as he had in his first appearance 15 years previously, with 156. Rain ruined any chance of a win and his serious Glamorgan days ended in the anticlimax of 0 not out in his last knock.
Elizabeth and Maurice were married in Scunthorpe in September 1939. He joined the Welsh Guards as a 2nd lieutenant in November. The Welsh Guards were part of the British Expeditionary Force in France. Maurice was moved to a transit camp near Dover ready to cross the Channel. However the Germans pushed the BEF back to the ports and evacuation. Maurice was then stationed at Colchester for sea defence and for clearing the damage caused by stray bombs.
He returned occasionally to Cardiff to help organise Glamorgan friendly games. He was the Army representative on the MCC committee and was a member of a working group to improve the post-war game. He was destined for a role in cricket’s future administration. He made a ‘duck’ captaining the Army in his final Lords appearance at Lords in June 1942.
Sadly he had to return to Cardiff for Uncle Harold and Bertie’s funeral’s. He helped organise his mother’s at St Peter’s in April 1942. On a happier note Maurice used his leave to visit his wartime ‘home’ in Yorkshire where he doted on his children Sara and Simon. Poignantly his third child Georgina was born a couple of before her father’s death and the priorities of war meant they were destined to never meet.
He attended promotion courses one of which allowed him to visit Downside for a last time. From early 1944 the battalion started specific training for their role in Operation Overlord and they moved to Eastbourne in readiness for the invasion. Maurice watched the D-Day flotilla assemble from his hotel room.
He crossed the Channel to Normandy on 18 June. The battalion moved inland towards Caen passing scenes of devastation. Maurice’s company were directed to provide support to the Americans in the Bocage, an area of small fields and narrow lanes.
On the evening of 5 August tanks and foot soldiers of the SS tank division were spotted advancing south of the village of Montchamp. Unfortunately the anti-tank equipment and the bulk of British troops were situated north of the village and Maurice was isolated and had lost radio communication with HQ. Maurice believed the best chance of repelling the counter attack was take out the leading tank, stalling the advance in the confined lanes. He led his men alongside the hedge and was about to order the attack when the Germans troops opened fire and the tank’s gun pushed through the hedge to join them. Maurice was killed instantly. Other of the company were either killed or injured and a hasty retreat ordered.
A few days before the tragic events, JH Morgan the Western Mail’s cricket reporter who was a war correspondent, had bumped into Maurice. He wrote later that he had charted Maurice from a shy handsome boy of 17 making his debut till that final meeting with Maurice. He was the same alert upright figure dressed in Military uniform as he had in flannels. He finished by stating he had died as he had played courageous, gallant and a great leader.
Wartime photo of Major Maurice Turnbull (photographer unknown)
The grim telegram was conveyed back to Elizabeth. She gathered her children around her and sobbed. Glamorgan were playing a fundraising friendly when the notice was posted and the crowd rose as one for a minute’s silence. Maurice’s body was laid to rest at the military cemetery in Bayeux.
Telegram bringing news of the death of Maurice Turnbull
JC Clay wrote in his obituary that Maurice would have welcomed Glamorgan carrying on playing but in 1948 they did more than just that. They reached the summit and won the championship. Wisden, in marking this achievement, stated that it was tragic that he did not see their ultimate triumph as he had given Glamorgan a new meaning. It was apt the final wicket of the championship was taken by his closest pal Johnny Clay. The side was captained by Wilf Wooller, who had made his debut under Maurice and had shared the Twickenham victory together in 1933. The standing umpire was Dai Davies his partner in his epic innings against Nottingham at the Arms Park in 1932.
Grave of Major Maurice Turnbull in Bayeux War Cemetery, France (photo:Wikipedia – Antitheistic )
Whilst his unique distinction of playing cricket for England and rugby for Wales is the stuff of pub quizzes, his greatest sporting legacy was his contribution to Glamorgan. Without his energy and wisdom it is doubtful that the county would have survived its early years. There would have been no Sophia Gardens Stadium or Ashes Tests without his intervention.
Maurice Turnbull is also remembered on the grave of his parents in Cathays Cemetery, Cardiff, plot C1853 (photo: Ted Richards)
It is right that as the Roath Local History Society we acknowledge the story of this remarkable character from up the hill in Penylan Road.
My apologies for any errors or omissions. I strongly recommend Andrew Hignell’s “Turnbull: A Welsh Sporting Hero” as further reading and I acknowledge the book as the main secondary source for this article.
Graeme Brown – July 2019