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The Mighty Hood and the Melbourne Cricket Club
Written by Alf Batchelder
Updated 07-May-2014

From November 1923 to September 1924, Hood circumnavigated the globe as part of the 'Cruise of the Special Service Squadron'. Among the many places she visited were Australia. Her sports teams participated in many events, to include Cricket.

Special thanks to Alf Batchelder of Melbourne, Australia for this article. Alf is a retired college history teacher who now works as a writer and volunteer researcher in the Library of the Melbourne Cricket Club. As one might expect, he has a deep passion for Cricket, but he has also had a lifelong passion for the Mighty Hood! He is currently working on a full history of the Melbourne Cricket Club and its Ground.

The Denmark Strait, off the east coast of Greenland, aboard the survey vessel Northern Explorer, 20 July 2001: David Mearns, director of Blue Water Recoveries, was staring at a sonar display screen:

I turned to see the first few pixels of a yellow and green sonar target emerge from the top of the screen. Another eight seconds passed, producing two more scan lines, and the target was just as strong, with a sharply defined shadow behind it ... I was certain I was looking at the remains of H.M.S. Hood.

Over sixty years after she had blown up in battle with the German ships Bismarckand Prinz Eugen, the Hood had been found for the first time. [1]

~ ~ ~

Launched in August 1918, H.M.S. Hood was 860 feet (260m) long and weighed 46700 tons fully loaded. Armed with eight 15-inch (38cm) and twelve 5½-inch (14cm) calibre guns, the battlecruiser was regarded for over two decades as the mightiest ship in the Royal Navy. She was the fastest and heaviest capital ship of her era, the impressive symbol of the maritime supremacy upon which the continued survival of the British Empire depended. Hood fitted that role superbly:

She was ... by far the best-looking capital ship of her time. She could wow the crowds, both at home and overseas. She had an elegance that American and Japanese ships of the time lacked. There was just nothing like H.M.S. Hood. She dominated every harbour she visited. [2]

Today, H.M.S. Hood is remembered only by naval historians and a dwindling number of the elderly. Fewer still are aware of the ship's connection with the Melbourne Cricket Club and its Grounds. In November 1923, with the battlecruiser Repulse and five cruisers, Hood left England on a world cruise intended to display Britain's power and strengthen the ties of Empire. Wherever the Special Service Squadron sailed, it was always the Hood that was the centre of attention. Nowhere did she receive a more enthusiastic welcome than in Melbourne in 1924:

It was early March and glorious weather ... Every road and pathway was thick and many families were making a day of it, taking out all the children and hampers and bottles of beer. The bay was dotted with sailing boats. Everyone who had anything that would float ... was out there on the water ... I believe the papers said there were 500 000 people waiting to see the ships ... It was a wonderful sight ... The mist out at sea and then a few minutes later the Hood herself, with the white cloud seeming to peel away from her as she came on into the bright sunlight of Port Phillip ... [3]

Over two hundred thousand managed to get on board the Hood during the week she was at Prince's Pier, Port Melbourne. Probably just as many were turned away. Sailors from the seven ships were invited to visit Geelong, Ballarat, Belgrave, Warburton and Healesville, and every opportunity was taken to foster goodwill.

Several sporting events were scheduled. A team of officers and midshipmen played rugby union against Victoria at the Amateur Sports Ground. A hockey match was held at Melbourne University. At Moonee Valley, Beryllia won the Hood Handicap, while Imputation took the Repulse Handicap. An aquatic carnival was held at St.Kilda and the City Baths hosted swimming sports. Athletic and other events were held on the oval at the Exhibition. Local hero Hubert Opperman competed in the cycling, but an injury restricted his chances. At the Naval Drill Hall in Port Melbourne, a thousand spectators watched bouts between boxers from the Squadron and the RAN. A record mid-week crowd of 8000 flocked to the Melbourne Stadium to see fights, in eight divisions, between sailors and the leading local lads. Seaman Smith from the Repulse typified the spirit of the British Navy:

He was battered from pillar to post by George Hyland ... yet he would not acknowledge defeat. Smith's mouth and nose were bleeding. His right eye was closed. His body was marked with the terrific punches of his opponent. And still he fought back. [4]

Not unexpectedly, the sporting festival meant that the facilities of the Melbourne Cricket Club were in steady demand. On Wednesday March 19, the Squadron's formidable soccer team took on Victoria at the MCC's Albert Ground. According to The Sporting Globe, 'Soccer is the most popular game with the fleet. There can be no doubt about that. All the officers and men keenly debate the game, notwithstanding that it is solely the ratings that play.' [5]

Led by Able Seaman Benson, the Squadron team had won most of the twelve matches it had played since leaving England. Leading Seaman Roberts had scored 19 goals in those games, and was expected to provide the Victorian defenders with 'a good deal of trouble'. [6] The Argus reported that

An interesting match ended in a draw, each side scoring two goals. The visitors' play was distinguished by the remarkable work of two of the forwards, Roberts and Benson, two men from the Repulse, who, for speed and science, astonished many followers of the game. In the concluding stages of the game, the visitors were pressing very fiercely around the home goal and the brilliant work of the Victorian goal-keeper, Robinson, saved many a difficult situation ... Shortly after the commencement of the second half, the navy team began to wear down the Victorians, and, but for Robinson's goal-keeping, would probably have proved the victors. The score was evened by a magnificent shot by Mills, also of the Repulse, and thenceforward the navy had the better of the game. [7]

On the following day, the Albert Ground was the venue for a cricket match between the Squadron Second Eleven and a team representing the Australian army, navy and air force. According to Lieutenant Branson of the Repulse, cricket was 'sadly in need of stimulation as far as the British Navy is concerned.' The game was not a favourite with the fleet 'for the simple reason that deck cricket is little practised and the opportunity to gain proficiency is limited.' [8] The match bore out the Lieutenant's views only too well.

In an hour and a half, the United Services made 6/211, with half of the batsmen retiring after they had got a start. In an unusual display of generosity, the Australians gave the Englishmen two hours to bat. Unfortunately, the sailors were never in the hunt. Once their best batsman, Younghusband, was bowled for 48, 'the match was over, because the tail was soon disposed of ...' The Squadron could only muster 113. The Argus remarked that 'It was apparent by their lack of judgment in the field that the visitors were very short of practice, but nevertheless they played keenly to the end.' [9]

As the Second XI was plunging to comprehensive defeat, the Squadron's First XI was putting up a solid fight against the Melbourne Cricket Club at the MCG. This surprised some observers, for The Sporting Globe had announced that, apart from Major Hickson of the Royal Marines and Instructor-Lieutenant Benstead, 'there are few really good players' in the team. On a 'fast and good' wicket, the naval men batted first:

... although handicapped by lack of practice, they went for the bowling from the commencement and runs came rapidly. Only three members of the team failed to reach double figures.

Top-scorer was Lieutenant-Commander G. W. Hill from the cruiser Danae. In 'a particularly fine innings' of 68, with nine boundaries, he played shots 'all round the wicket'. The men from the Hood were well among the runs. Midshipman Kennedy contributed to his team's brisk start with 33, while Lieutenant-Commander A. J. L. Phillips got 41 and Lieutenant C. F. B. Bowlby made 28. Their ship-mate Major Hickson did not live up to his advance publicity, falling for only 6. Nevertheless, the Squadron posted an impressive score of 291.

The Melbourne Cricket Club innings was opened by returned soldiers Keith Tolhurst and Horace Sandford. Tolhurst was a fine sportsman who 'in every game he has tackled has developed skill that has put him up in the class of the accomplished.' The future MCC Committeeman was one of the most brilliant squash players in Australia, an outstanding golfer, royal tennis player and big-game fisherman. [10] In cricket, he was regarded as 'one of the most stylish and correct makers of shots all round the wicket' and compiled 40 before he was bowled by the Hood's Midshipman H. A. L. Marsham.

Before leaving for war service, Horace Sandford had been hailed as 'a 'bonzer' young soldier in health and condition' when he steered Melbourne to victory with a century in the 1914-15 final against Prahran, the Club's first premiership in the VCA District competition. He made a blazing 72 for Victoria against the 1920-21 Englishmen, but it was not enough to earn selection in Warwick Armstrong's powerful 1921 Australian team. Former Test player Jack Worrall had described Sandford's omission as 'a grave injustice', claiming that 'there is no doubt that if Sandford lived in Sydney he would be a member of the present Australian Eleven.' Though highly talented, Sandford never managed the string of big scores necessary to press strongly for Test selection. Shrapnel had left him with a bent left arm. Perhaps other less visible wounds prevented him from performing consistently. On this occasion, though, he gave the navy men something to remember. Sandford batted 'with all his usual freedom' to set Melbourne on the road to victory with 126, including nineteen fours. His efforts were well complemented by former Test batsman Vernon Ransford. The elegant left-hander made 87 and the MCC won comfortably with 5/303. [11]

Next day, Friday March 21, the Squadron First XI returned to the Melbourne Cricket Ground for a match against the civil staff of the Defence Department. Major Hickson struck form with 32, but found little support as his team was bundled out for 134. Since many of the Defence men belonged to District and Sub-District teams, they had little trouble in passing this modest total. The Age reported that 'their most outstanding batsman' was S. Temby who hit fourteen fours in his 81, while Malvern batsman C. Perrett made a forceful 69. The sailors lost by 138 runs and five wickets. [12] (Unsuccessful though they were in Melbourne, the Squadron's cricketers had their lowest moment during their stay at Pearl Harbour, where they were defeated by an American team. One source even claims that this indignity came at the hands of an eleven of basketball players, though it is far more likely that they were baseballers.) [13]

On Sunday March 23, a massed bands concert was held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to raise money for the Lord Mayor's Fund for Metropolitan Hospitals and Charities. Since a very large crowd was expected to attend, special arrangements were made by the railway and tramway authorities to handle the demand for transport to the Ground.The Age announced that

The turnstiles will be opened at 2 o'clock, and for the convenience particularly of ladies arrangements have been made for afternoon tea or cordials and aerated waters to be obtainable at the refreshment booths.

To assist the fundraising, the MCC gatemen and the 'employees of the City Council in the motor-parking area' donated their services for the day.

The entertainment began at 2.15 with a recital by the Malvern Tramways Band, renowned as 'the champion brass band of the Commonwealth'. The Age suggested that their recital would give the public 'the opportunity of comparing and contrasting the all-brass band with the military band'. Originally, it had been intended for the Malvern men to provide a musical escort as the massed bands from the Hood, Repulse and Delhi proceeded to the Ground. However, it was not 'found practicable to arrange' for this, so the idea was dropped. It was a fortunate move. The afternoon was 'a day of sunshine, coloured parasols and summer dresses' that drew a massive crowd of eager visitors to the Hood and the other ships at Port Melbourne. The bandsmen were unable 'to get through the dense mass of people' at the pier:

As a last resource, mounted police had to clear the way. When this was done, the bandsmen made with all speed for the MCG. Thus, for once, the navy was late. In the meantime, the musical flag was kept flying by the Malvern Tramways Band.

Once they arrived 'by motor', the sailors provided 'a fine program ... and every item of the bands won applause' from the crowd of 24000. At the end of the day, with gate receipts totalling £820, the Lord Mayor (and Melbourne Cricket Club member), Councillor William Brunton, expressed his appreciation to the bandmasters. No doubt he had been glad to enjoy a relaxing afternoon at the Ground. Only a few months before, Brunton had recruited special constables to combat the rioting and looting that occurred during the November police strike. His handling of the crisis had drawn strong criticism from some Melbourne City Councillors. [14]

Two days later, it was time for the Squadron to leave. At 6 a.m., on a dull autumn morning, officers and men aboard the Hood clutched masses of coloured paper streamers that linked them to the large crowd on the pier, a 'frail link with the friends they were leaving behind'. [15] One by one, the streamers snapped as the tugs pulled the huge ship away. With thick smoke pouring from her twin funnels, the battlecruiser moved towards Mornington for a day of speed tests on Port Phillip Bay. The spectacle provided one last reminder of the power of Britain's proudest warship. In their wildest dreams, none of those watching could have imagined that the mighty Hood would die with such terrible violence that only three crewmen would survive. On May 24, 1941, in less than eight minutes, 1415 men died with her. [16]

May they rest in peace. Lest we forget.

Alf Batchelder
Melbourne Cricket Club Library Volunteer.


1. Mearns, David and White, Rob: Hood and Bismarck, London, 2001, p.192.
2. ibid., p.13.
3. Bradford, Ernle: The Mighty Hood, London, 1959, p.75.
4. The Sporting Globe, The Referee, Melbourne daily papers, March 17-26, 1924.
5. The Sporting Globe, March 19, 1924, p.1.
6. The Age, March 20, 1924, p.10; The Herald, March 18, 1924.
7. The Argus, March 20, 1924, p.10.
8. The Sporting Globe, March 19, 1924, p.1.
9. The Argus, March 21, 1924, p.10.
10. The Sporting Globe, January 3, 1931.
11. The Australasian, February 12, 1921, p.273; October 22, 1921, p.787; November 5, 1921, p.885; The Argus, Friday March 21, 1924.
12. The Age, March 22, 1924.
13. http://www.hmshood.com/crew/sports.htm; Mearns David and White, Rob: op.cit., p.19;
14. The Age, March 22, 1924, p.10; The Argus, March 21, 1924, p.10; The Sun News-Pictorial, March 22, 1924, p.3; March 24, 1924, p.3. Dunstan, David, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, 7, Melbourne, 1979, p.466.
15. Bradford, Ernle: op.cit., p.78.
16. Mearns, David and White, Rob: op.cit., p.221