Born 16 January 1906
Died 3 November 1991
Robert George William Melsome:
Gloucestershire 1925 to 1934.
For Gloucestershire First-Class Career
16 Matches 28 Matches
26 Innings 42 Innnings
361 runs Average 15.26 500 runs Average 13.15
Highest Score 47 Highest Score 60
10 wickets Average 36.60 45 wickets Average 24.40
Best Bowling 2-34 Best Bowling 8-103
The Melsomes were a well-to-do Wiltshire farming family. In 1881 Robert’s grandfather George farmed 1639 acres of land at Bulford, employing 42 men and boys and thirty years later his father, also Robert is described as a sheep and dairy farmer living in Christchurch in Hampshire.
Schooled at Lancing College, young Melsome was a member of the cricket eleven from 1922 to 1924, captaining the team in his final year. Wisden, in its annual review of Public School cricket described him variously as “much the steadiest bowler” in the team in 1922 when his 184 overs of off-spin brought him 34 wickets at an average of 11.70. The 1923 review saw reference to his improvement as a batsman – “while Melsome, who was nothing of a batsman a year ago, became a really excellent man to open the innings, sound and steady, but no sluggard.” He was also “the steadiest bowler… and could be relied upon to keep an end going for a long time.” In his final year, as “captain and a good one too” he was “the all-rounder of the team; he batted very steadily and bowled his slow off-breaks with great success”.
From Lancing, he entered the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, passing out from there and being commissioned into the Northamptonshire Regiment as a second lieutenant in February 1926.
Whilst at Sandhurst his cricket came to the attention of one of the instructors, Captain Michael Green, a Clifton born man who had played for Gloucestershire since before the war. It was on Green’s recommendation he was given “a trial” with the County which, in the relaxed way of Army life comprised two months of County Championship cricket in July and August 1925 at Bristol, Gloucester and Cheltenham. In eight games he scored 173 runs at an average of 15.72 and his off- spin accounted for three wickets at a cost of 141 runs. In five of the games, he was joined in the team by Captain Green.
As a newly commissioned officer in the Northamptonshire Regiment, he was still able to find time to appear in games for the Army against Oxford and Cambridge Universities and the annual game against the Royal Navy at Lord’s, all at the time first-class fixtures. In the game against the Army his off breaks brought him a return of 8-103 in the second innings which would turn out to be a career best. Two further undistinguished games for the county in 1926 brought a temporary halt to his career, as Army duties occupied him more. Cricket, however, still found a place in his activities, with time spent, both in 1927 and 1931 playing in Egypt for Free Foresters and H.M. Martineau’s XI as well as games for the Army and the Combined Services. During this time he had been promoted to Lieutenant in 1929.
The start of the 1933 season saw him back in the Gloucestershire eleven for their game against Oxford University. The Western Daily Press reminded its readers that Melsome had assisted Gloucestershire in 1925 and 1926 and had recently returned to England from abroad. A second game, against Surrey at the Oval then saw him out of the team until early June, by which time he had married Miss Hilary Crawford, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. D.W.S. Crawford of Shanghai, at Hartfield in Kent on the 27 th of May. Had he been in Shanghai with the Northamptonshire Regiment in 1928 when he had appeared for the Shanghai Cricket Club against Hong Kong? Is that how and where they met?
After the wedding they left for what was clearly a short motoring honeymoon; on thefollowing Saturday he was back in the Gloucestershire eleven suffering a heavyinnings and 110 runs defeat at the hands of Somerset in Taunton. Two furthergames in July against Warwickshire and Hampshire brought an end to his Gloucestershire season. One final game in early 1934 against Sussex at Hove in which he was not required to bowl, despite a Sussex score of 406-8 declared, saw an end to his Gloucestershire career. His Army career continued and January 1936 saw him return to Sandhurst on secondment as the Commander of a Cadet Company, where in July 1937 he was promoted to Captain. His Army cricket career continued up until August 1939, a month before war was declared.
At the outbreak of war, the 2nd Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment was assigned to the 17th Infantry Brigade, alongside the 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers and 2nd Seaforth Highlanders, part of the 5th Infantry Division and, as part of the British Expeditionary Force were involved in the battles of Belgium and France. Melsome was Officer-in-Charge of B Company where he was described as “a very well-known officer amongst the younger senior officers, popular, very social; he was a magnificent cricketer, an army hockey player, an excellent tennis player and a great personality.”
The Battle of Arras took place on the night of 21 st May 1940. When the German artillery fire opened, the effect in the woods above the town was that the shells burst in the tops of the trees where B Company were situated. This completely unnerved Melsome and he left his men, only to be picked up two miles back and be returned to his Company who were by now in disarray and fleeing back towards Dunkirk 1 . Seven days later, he was captured by the Germans at St. Elois on the Ypres-Comines canal and spent the remainder of the war as a Prisoner-of-War initially in Oflag VI-B in
Wartburg, North Rhine-Westphalia. In September 1942, he was transferred, along with a number of other British officers to Oflag VII-B in the south of the country near Eichstatt, Bavaria after a mass escape from VI-B which came to be known as the “Wartburg Wire Job” The escape, described by Douglas Bader as “the most brilliant escape conception of this war” involved 26 officers escaping over the perimeter fence using wooden scaling contraptions which they had built in the camp music room disguised as bookshelves. His time in VII-B was not wasted. He served on the Escape and other Committees and in February 1943, whilst still imprisoned was promoted to the rank of Major. After the war, on 14 November 1946 he was awarded the MBE for his actions as a POW. The recommendation for the award describes how when he was held at Oflag VII-B, he was able between October 1942 and February 1945 to establish contact with the War Office and transmit various pieces of very valuable information by secret means.
His work was also highly commended by Major General Sir Victor Fortune, himself a Prisoner-of-War between 1940 and his release in 1945 and the highest ranking British Officer to have been detained.
After the war, cricket once again resumes a place in his life. Within a month of being back in England he is appearing at Lord’s for Sir Pelham Warmer’s XI against the Second Army.
In January 1948 he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and over the next four or five years undertook tours to West Africa – whilst in Nigeria in April 1949 he played in an “international” game for the Nigerian Europeans against the Gold Coast Europeans where one of his team mates was Chipping Sodbury’s Jarvis Savory. Savory, a biologist, who had played one game for Gloucestershire in 1937 had been in Nigeria since before the war studying the flora and fauna of the country and would go on to write a number of school scientific text books.
Promoted to Colonel with the acting rank of Brigadier in 1952, time was also spent in Sierra Leone as Commander of the Sierra Leone & Gambia District, before returning to England in 1954 as Commander of 150 Infantry Brigade.
Although no longer actively serving with the Northamptonshires, he occasionally turned out for the Regimental cricket team, playing in 1951 and 1954 in their annual game against the Stragglers of Asia, a team for whom he, himself, had played back in the early 1930s. He was clearly still enjoying the game; in 1951 his contribution in a total of 272 for 6 wickets was 165 not out.
Outside of active service possibly his proudest moment came in 1956 when on the 6th June he accompanied the Queen, shown here on her left, on her visit to Stockton-on-Tees.
In February of 1959, Hilary his wife for twenty five years passed away and he finally retired from the Army in March 1961. Returning to live in Hampshire he met, and in 1967 married Barbara Hayes.
He died on 3rd November 1991 at South Harting in Sussex.
1 Jerry Murland – Frankforce and the defence of Arras 1940: Battleground II. 2017