Feb 042018
 

Today is the birthday (1906) of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church. His writings on Christianity’s role in the secular world have become widely influential, and his book The Cost of Discipleship has become a modern classic. Both the book and Bonhoeffer’s exemplary life were deeply inspiring to me as I prepared myself for ordination. Apart from his theological writings, Bonhoeffer was known for his staunch resistance to Nazi dictatorship, including vocal opposition to Hitler’s euthanasia program and genocidal persecution of the Jews. He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Tegel prison for one and a half years. Later he was transferred to a Nazi concentration camp. After being accused of being associated with the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, he was quickly tried, along with other accused plotters, including former members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office), and then executed by hanging on 9 April 1945 as the Nazi regime was collapsing, and weeks before his prison camp was liberated by the Allies. I make no apologies for the length of this post: Bonhoeffer is of fundamental importance to me.

Bonhoeffer was born in Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland), into a large family. In addition to his other siblings, Dietrich had a twin sister, Sabine Bonhoeffer Leibholz. He and Sabine were the 6th and 7th children out of 8. His father was psychiatrist and neurologist Karl Bonhoeffer, and his mother Paula Bonhoeffer, née von Hase, was a teacher and the granddaughter of Protestant theologian Karl von Hase and painter Stanislaus Kalckreuth. His oldest brother Karl Friedrich Bonhoeffer became a chemist, and, along with Paul Harteck, discovered the spin isomers of hydrogen in 1929. Walter Bonhoeffer, the second born of the Bonhoeffer family, was killed in action during World War I, when the twins were 12. The third Bonhoeffer child, Klaus, was involved in the 20 July plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, along with Dietrich. He, too, was executed by the Nazis. Both of Bonhoeffer’s older sisters, Ursula Bonhoeffer Schleicher and Christel Bonhoeffer von Dohnanyi, married men who were eventually executed by the Nazis. Christel was imprisoned by the Nazis but survived. Sabine and their youngest sister Susanne Bonhoeffer Dress each married men who survived Nazism. His cousin Karl-Günther von Hase was the German Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1970 to 1977. Bonhoeffer completed his Staatsexamen, the equivalent of both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, at the Protestant Faculty of Theology of the University. He went on to complete his Doctor of Theology degree at Berlin University in 1927.

At 24 years old Bonhoeffer was too young to be ordained. Bonhoeffer went to the United States in 1930 for postgraduate study and a teaching fellowship at New York City’s Union Theological Seminary. Although Bonhoeffer found the US seminary not up to his exacting standards (“There is no theology here” – he remarked), he had life-changing experiences and friendships. He studied under Reinhold Niebuhr and met Frank Fisher, an African-American seminarian who introduced him to Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, where Bonhoeffer taught Sunday school and formed a lifelong love for African-American spirituals, a collection of which he took back to Germany. He heard Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., preach the Gospel of Social Justice, and became sensitive not only to social injustices experienced by minorities, but also the ineptitude of the church to bring about integration. Bonhoeffer began to see things “from below”—from the perspective of those who suffer oppression. He observed, “Here one can truly speak and hear about sin and grace and the love of God…the Black Christ is preached with rapturous passion and vision.” Later Bonhoeffer referred to his impressions abroad as the point at which he “turned from phraseology to reality.” He also learned to drive a car, although he failed the driving test three times. He traveled by car through the United States to Mexico, where he had been invited to speak on the subject of peace. His early visits to Italy, Libya, Spain, the United States, Mexico, and Cuba opened Bonhoeffer to ecumenism.

After returning to Germany in 1931, Bonhoeffer became a lecturer in systematic theology at the University of Berlin. Deeply interested in ecumenism, he was appointed by the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches (a forerunner of the World Council of Churches) as one of its three European youth secretaries. At this time he seems to have undergone something of a personal conversion from being a theologian primarily attracted to the intellectual side of Christianity to being a dedicated man of faith, resolved to carry out the teaching of Christ as he found it revealed in the Gospels. On 15 November 1931—at the age of 25—he was ordained at the Old-Prussian United St. Matthew’s Church (St. Matthäuskirche) in Berlin.

Bonhoeffer’s promising academic and ecclesiastical career was dramatically altered with the Nazi ascension to power on 30 January 1933. He was a determined opponent of the regime from its first days. Two days after Hitler was installed as Chancellor, Bonhoeffer delivered a radio address in which he attacked Hitler and warned Germany against slipping into an idolatrous cult of the Führer (leader), who could very well turn out to be Verführer (mis-leader, or seducer). He was cut off the air in the middle of a sentence, though it is unclear whether the newly elected Nazi regime was responsible. In April 1933, Bonhoeffer raised the first voice for church resistance to Hitler’s persecution of Jews, declaring that the church must not simply “bandage the victims under the wheel, but jam the spoke in the wheel itself.”

In November 1932, two months before the Nazi takeover, there had been an election for presbyters and synodals (church officials) of the German Landeskirche (Protestant established churches). This election was marked by a struggle within the Old-Prussian Union Evangelical Church between the nationalistic German Christian (Deutsche Christen) movement and Young Reformers—a struggle which threatened to explode into schism. In July 1933, Hitler unconstitutionally imposed new church elections. Bonhoeffer put all his efforts into the election, campaigning for the selection of independent, non-Nazi officials.

Despite Bonhoeffer’s efforts, in the rigged July election an overwhelming number of key church positions went to Nazi-supported Deutsche Christen people. The Deutsche Christen won a majority in the general synod of the Old-Prussian Union Evangelical Church and all its provincial synods except Westphalia, and in synods of all other Protestant church bodies, except for the Lutheran churches of Bavaria, Hanover, and Württemberg. The non-Nazi opposition regarded these bodies as uncorrupted “intact churches,” as opposed to the other so-called “destroyed churches.”

In opposition to Nazification, Bonhoeffer urged an interdict upon all pastoral services (baptisms, weddings, funerals, etc.), but Karl Barth and others advised against such a radical proposal. In August 1933, Bonhoeffer and Hermann Sasse were deputized by opposition church leaders to draft the Bethel Confession, a new statement of faith in opposition to the Deutsche Christen movement. Notable for affirming God’s faithfulness to Jews as His chosen people, the Bethel Confession was so watered down to make it more palatable that Bonhoeffer ultimately refused to sign it.

In September 1933, the national church synod at Wittenberg voluntarily passed a resolution to apply the Aryan paragraph within the church, meaning that pastors and church officials of Jewish descent were to be removed from their posts. Regarding this as an affront to the principle of baptism, Martin Niemöller founded the Pfarrernotbund (Pastors’ Emergency League). In November, a rally of 20,000 Deutsche Christens demanded the removal of the Old Testament from the Bible, which was seen by many as heresy, further swelling the ranks of the Emergency League.

Within weeks of its founding, more than a third of German pastors had joined the Emergency League. It was the forerunner of the Bekennende Kirche (Confessing Church), which aimed to preserve traditional Christian beliefs and practices. The Barmen Declaration, drafted by Barth in May 1934 and adopted by the Confessing Church, insisted that Christ, not the Führer, was the head of the church. The adoption of the declaration has often been viewed as a triumph, although by Wilhelm Niemöller’s estimate, only 20% of German pastors were supporting the Confessing Church.

When Bonhoeffer was offered a parish post in eastern Berlin in the autumn of 1933, he refused it in protest at the nationalist policy, and accepted a two-year appointment as a pastor of two German-speaking Protestant churches in London: the German Lutheran Church in Dacres Road, Sydenham. and the German Reformed Church of St Paul’s, Goulston Street, Whitechapel. He explained to Barth that he had found little support for his views—even among friends—and that “it was about time to go for a while into the desert.” Barth regarded this as running away from real battle. He sharply rebuked Bonhoeffer, saying, “I can only reply to all the reasons and excuses which you put forward: ‘And what of the German Church?'” Barth accused Bonhoeffer of abandoning his post and wasting his “splendid theological armory” while “the house of your church is on fire,” and chided him to return to Berlin “by the next ship.”

Bonhoeffer, however, did not go to England simply to avoid trouble at home; he hoped to put the ecumenical movement to work in the interest of the Confessing Church. He continued his involvement with the Confessing Church, running up a high telephone bill to maintain his contact with Martin Niemöller. In international gatherings, Bonhoeffer rallied people to oppose the Deutsche Christen movement and its attempt to amalgamate Nazi nationalism with the Christian gospel. When Bishop Theodor Heckel—the official in charge of German Lutheran Church foreign affairs—traveled to London to warn Bonhoeffer to abstain from any ecumenical activity not directly authorized by Berlin, Bonhoeffer refused to abstain.

In 1935, Bonhoeffer was presented with a much-sought-after opportunity to study non-violent resistance under Gandhi in his ashram, but, perhaps remembering Barth’s rebuke, decided to return to Germany in order to head an underground seminary in Finkenwalde for training Confessing Church pastors. As the Nazi suppression of the Confessing Church intensified, Barth was driven back to Switzerland in 1935; Niemöller was arrested in July 1937; and in August 1936, Bonhoeffer’s authorization to teach at the University of Berlin was revoked after he was denounced as a “pacifist and enemy of the state” by Theodor Heckel.

Maria von Wedemeyer

Bonhoeffer’s efforts for the underground seminaries included securing necessary funds. He found a great benefactor in Ruth von Kleist-Retzow. In times of trouble, Bonhoeffer’s former students and their wives would take refuge in von Kleist-Retzow’s Pomeranian estate, and Bonhoeffer was a frequent guest. Later he fell in love with Kleist-Retzow’s granddaughter, Maria von Wedemeyer, to whom he became engaged three months before his arrest. By August 1937, Himmler decreed the education and examination of Confessing Church ministry candidates illegal. In September 1937, the Gestapo closed the seminary at Finkenwalde, and by November arrested 27 pastors and former students. It was around this time that Bonhoeffer published his best-known book, The Cost of Discipleship, a study on the Sermon on the Mount, in which he not only attacked “cheap grace” as a cover for ethical laxity, but also preached “costly grace.”

Bonhoeffer spent the next two years secretly traveling from one eastern German village to another to conduct “seminary on the run” supervision of his students, most of whom were working illegally in small parishes within the old-Prussian Ecclesiastical Province of Pomerania. The von Blumenthal family hosted the seminary on its estate of Groß Schlönwitz. The pastors of Groß Schlönwitz and neighbouring villages supported the education by employing and housing the students (among whom was Eberhard Bethge, who later edited Bonhoeffer’s “Letters and Papers from Prison”), as vicars in their congregations.

In 1938, the Gestapo banned Bonhoeffer from Berlin. In summer 1939, the seminary was able to move to Sigurdshof, an outlying estate (Vorwerk) of the von Kleist family in Wendish Tychow. In March 1940, the Gestapo shut down the seminary there following the outbreak of World War II. Bonhoeffer’s monastic communal life and teaching at Finkenwalde seminary formed the basis of his books, The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together.

Bonhoeffer’s sister Sabine, along with her Jewish-classified husband Gerhard Leibholz and their two daughters, escaped to England by way of Switzerland in September 1940.

In February 1938, Bonhoeffer made an initial contact with members of the German Resistance when his brother-in-law Hans von Dohnányi introduced him to a group seeking Hitler’s overthrow at Abwehr, the German military intelligence service. Bonhoeffer also learned from Dohnányi that war was imminent and was particularly troubled by the prospect of being conscripted. As a committed pacifist opposed to the Nazi regime, he could never swear an oath to Hitler and fight in his army, though not to do so was potentially a capital offense. He worried also about consequences his refusing military service could have for the Confessing Church, as it was a move that would be frowned upon by most Christians and their churches at the time.

It was at this juncture that Bonhoeffer left for the United States in June 1939 at the invitation of Union Theological Seminary in New York. Amid much inner turmoil, he soon regretted his decision despite strong pressures from his friends to stay in the United States. He wrote to Reinhold Niebuhr:

I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people… Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security.

He returned to Germany on the last scheduled steamer to cross the Atlantic.

Back in Germany, Bonhoeffer was further harassed by the Nazi authorities as he was forbidden to speak in public and was required to regularly report his activities to the police. In 1941, he was forbidden to print or to publish. In the meantime, Bonhoeffer joined the Abwehr (a German military intelligence organization). Dohnányi, already part of the Abwehr, brought him into the organization on the claim his wide ecumenical contacts would be of use to Germany, thus protecting him from conscription to active service. Bonhoeffer presumably knew about various 1943 plots against Hitler through Dohnányi, who was actively involved in the planning. In the face of Nazi atrocities, the full scale of which Bonhoeffer learned through the Abwehr, he concluded that “the ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live.” He did not justify his action but accepted that he was taking guilt upon himself as he wrote, “When a man takes guilt upon himself in responsibility, he imputes his guilt to himself and no one else. He answers for it… Before other men he is justified by dire necessity; before himself he is acquitted by his conscience, but before God he hopes only for grace.” In a 1932 sermon, Bonhoeffer said, “The blood of martyrs might once again be demanded, but this blood, if we really have the courage and loyalty to shed it, will not be innocent, shining like that of the first witnesses for the faith. On our blood lies heavy guilt, the guilt of the unprofitable servant who is cast into outer darkness.”

Under cover of the Abwehr, Bonhoeffer served as a courier for the German resistance movement to reveal its existence and intentions to the Western Allies in hope of garnering their support, and, through his ecumenical contacts abroad, to secure possible peace terms with the Allies for a post-Hitler government. His visits to Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland were camouflaged as legitimate intelligence activities for the Abwehr. In May 1942, he met Anglican Bishop George Bell of Chichester, a member of the House of Lords and an ally of the Confessing Church, contacted by Bonhoeffer’s exiled brother-in-law Leibholz; through him feelers were sent to British foreign minister Anthony Eden. However, the British government ignored these, as it had all other approaches from the German resistance. Dohnányi and Bonhoeffer were also involved in Abwehr operations to help German Jews escape to Switzerland. During this time Bonhoeffer worked on Ethics and wrote letters to keep up the spirits of his former students. He intended Ethics as his magnum opus, but it remained unfinished when he was arrested. On 5 April 1943, Bonhoeffer and Dohnányi were arrested and imprisoned.

On 13 January 1943, Bonhoeffer had become engaged to Maria von Wedemeyer. Bonhoeffer remained a reluctant suitor in part because there was a significant age gap between him and Maria: he was 36, she was 18. The two also spent almost no time alone together prior to the engagement and did not see each other between becoming engaged and Bonhoeffer’s 5 April arrest. Once he was in prison, however, Maria’s status as fiancée became invaluable, as it meant she could visit Bonhoeffer and correspond with him. While their relationship was troubled, she was a source of food and smuggled messages. Bonhoeffer made Eberhard Bethge his heir, but Maria, in allowing her correspondence with Bonhoeffer to be published after her death, provided an invaluable addition to the scholarship.

For a year and a half, Bonhoeffer was imprisoned at Tegel military prison awaiting trial. There he continued his work in religious outreach among his fellow prisoners and guards. Sympathetic guards helped smuggle his letters out of prison to Eberhard Bethge and others, and these uncensored letters were posthumously published in Letters and Papers from Prison. One of those guards, a corporal named Knobloch, even offered to help him escape from the prison and “disappear” with him, and plans were made for that end. But Bonhoeffer declined it, fearing Nazi retribution against his family, especially his brother Klaus and brother-in-law Hans von Dohnányi, who were also imprisoned.

After the failure of the 20 July Plot on Hitler’s life in 1944 and the discovery in September 1944 of secret Abwehr documents relating to the conspiracy, Bonhoeffer was accused of association with the conspirators. He was transferred from the military prison Tegel in Berlin, where he had been held for 18 months, to the detention cellar of the house prison of the Reich Security Head Office, the Gestapo’s high-security prison. In February 1945, he was secretly moved to Buchenwald concentration camp, and finally to Flossenbürg concentration camp.

On 4 April 1945, the diaries of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr, were discovered, and in a rage upon reading them, Hitler ordered that the Abwehr conspirators be destroyed. Bonhoeffer was led away just as he concluded his final Sunday service and asked an English prisoner, Payne Best, to remember him to Bishop George Bell of Chichester if he should ever reach his home: “This is the end—for me the beginning of life.”

Bonhoeffer was condemned to death on 8 April 1945 by SS judge Otto Thorbeck at a drumhead court-martial without witnesses, records of proceedings or a defense in Flossenbürg concentration camp. He was executed there by hanging at dawn on 9 April 1945, just two weeks before soldiers from the United States 90th and 97th Infantry Divisions liberated the camp, three weeks before the Soviet capture of Berlin and a month before the surrender of Nazi Germany.

Here a few salient quotes:

Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.

In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.

Do not try to make the Bible relevant. Its relevance is axiomatic. Do not defend God’s word, but testify to it. Trust to the Word. It is a ship loaded to the very limits of its capacity.

The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.

When all is said and done, the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the spirit with every available weapon against the flesh.

The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists of listening to them. Just as love of God begins with listening to his word, so the beginning of love for our brothers and sisters is learning to listen to them.

A God who let us prove his existence would be an idol.

There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means giving oneself completely to God’s commandment, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won when the way leads to the cross.

God does not love some ideal person, but rather human beings just as we are, not some ideal world, but rather the real world.

Bonhoeffer was very fond of the Advent season for the same reasons that I am (that is, if you “unpack” Christmas as I do, rather than treat it as a giant buying spree overlaid with a jumble of sacred and secular images). Advent is a season of hope and expectation. It is also filled with wonderful foods. For one Advent in prison his family smuggled in for him some German smoked goose. I give you two methods for preparing goose breast, the first more traditional German than the second. Usually Germans buy smoked goose rather than prepare it themselves. For me the joy is in the preparation. First method, you can prepare the breast for smoking by using a dry rub. This mix uses Instacure No. 1, also known as pink curing salt. It is about 94% sodium chloride (table salt) and 6% sodium nitrite. It is used to speed up the curing process in preparation for smoking. Second method, prepare the breast for smoking using a marinade.

German Smoked Goose Breast

Ingredients

2 lb boned goose breast, skin on

Dry Rub

45 gm kosher salt
3 gm of Instacure No. 1
25 gm sugar, about 2 tablespoons
4 gm crushed juniper berries
10 gm freshly ground black pepper

Marinade

½ cup orange juice
⅓  cup olive oil
⅓ cup Dijon mustard
⅓ cup brown sugar
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup honey
1 tbsp dried minced onion
1 tsp garlic powder

Instructions

For the dry rub: mix all the ingredients together thoroughly. Place the goose breasts on a platter and dredge them liberally with the rub on both sides, pressing the rub into the meat making sure that the rub covers the entire surface of the meat. Wrap the meat tightly in cling wrap. Refrigerate for 3 to 4 days, periodically turning the meat and adding more rub as needed.

For the marinade: whisk together the orange juice, olive oil, mustard, sugar, soy sauce, honey, onion, and garlic powder in a bowl. Either use the ziplok bag method (see HINTS) or place the goose breasts in the marinade in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

For smoking: Here you are on your own. If you have a smoker, follow the instructions. I used to have an outdoor wood smoker with a fire chamber which generated the smoke which then flowed into the smoking chamber where I place the meat on racks. Breast meat should take around 45 minutes. The internal temperature should be 165˚F/74˚C.

Jul 182016
 

wg2

Today is the birthday (1848) of William Gilbert “W. G.” Grace, MRCS, LRCP, an English amateur cricketer who was important in the development of the sport and is widely considered one of its greatest-ever players. Back when I played cricket in the 1960s we all knew about W.G. but I think we generally dismissed him as some old duffer from the 19th century who typified the sport 100 years previously – gentlemanly, leisured, and dull. How wrong we were. I’ll set the record straight here. Fair warning: if you don’t know anything about cricket, I’m not going to help you.

Grace (commonly called W.G.) played first-class cricket for a record-equaling 44 seasons, from 1865 to 1908, during which he captained England, Gloucestershire, the Gentlemen, Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), the United South of England Eleven (USEE) and several other teams. He came from a cricketing family: the appearance in 1880 of W. G. with E. M. Grace, one of his elder brothers, and Fred Grace, his younger brother, was the first time three brothers played together in Test cricket.

wg1

Grace dominated the sport during his career, both as a batsman and a bowler (although he is best known as a batsman). His technical innovations and enormous influence left a lasting legacy. He is held to have invented modern batsmanship and to have championed the constant need for practice and careful analysis of technique. He generally captained the teams he played for at all levels because of his skill and tactical acumen (which was noted because, unlike other players of his day, he played to win at all costs so that his actions were not always considered “sporting” although always within the rules).

Grace took part in other sports as well: he was a champion 440-yard hurdler as a young man and played football for the Wanderers. In later life, he developed enthusiasm for golf, lawn bowls and curling.

wg9

Grace was born in Downend, near Bristol, on 18 July 1848 at his parents’ home, Downend House, and was baptized at the local church on 8 August. He was called Gilbert in the family circle, except by his mother who called him Willie, but otherwise he was universally known by his initials W. G. Downend is near Mangotsfield and, although it is now a suburb of Bristol, it was then “a distinct village surrounded by countryside” and about four miles from Bristol.

Grace began his Cricketing Reminiscences (1899) by answering a question he had frequently been asked:  was he “born a cricketer”? His answer was in the negative because he believed that “cricketers are made by coaching and practice”, though he adds that if he was not born a cricketer, he was born “in the atmosphere of cricket.” His father and mother were “full of enthusiasm for the game” and it was “a common theme of conversation at home.” In 1850, when W. G. was two the family moved to a nearby house called “The Chesnuts” which had a sizeable orchard and Henry Grace organized clearance of this to establish a practice pitch. All nine children in the Grace family, including the four daughters, were encouraged to play cricket although the girls, along with the dogs, were required for fielding only. Grace claimed that he first handled a cricket bat at the age of two. Apart from his cricket and his schooling, Grace lived the life of a country boy and roamed freely with the other village boys. One of his regular activities was stone throwing at birds in the fields and he later claimed that this was the source of his eventual skill as an outfielder.

Grace never went to university as his father was intent upon him pursuing a medical career. He said he would have gone to either Oxford or Cambridge if his father had allowed it. Instead, he enrolled at Bristol Medical School in October 1868, when he was 20.

Grace recorded in his Reminiscences that he saw his first great cricket match in 1854 when he was barely six years old. He says he himself played for the West Gloucestershire club as early as 1857, when he was nine years old, and had 11 innings in 1859. The first time he made a substantial score was in July 1860 when he scored 51 for West Gloucestershire against Clifton; he wrote that none of his great innings gave him more pleasure.

wg4

The details of Grace’s first-class career are disputed, but CricketArchive recognizes 1865 to 1908 as its span and lists 29 teams, the England national team and 28 domestic teams, represented by Grace in first-class matches. Cricket in the 1860s underwent a revolution with the legalization of overarm bowling in June 1864 and Grace himself said it was “no exaggeration to say that, between 1860 and 1870, English cricket passed through its most critical period” with the game in transition and “it was quite a revolutionary period so far as its rules were concerned.” For the uninitiated, cricket was originally played with the bowler delivering the ball underarm, that is, with the hand lower than the waist. Modern softball notwithstanding, such a delivery means that the ball travels slowly to the batsman. Roundarm bowling (hand between shoulder and waist height), developed in the 1830s and sped up the pace considerably. Then in 1864 delivering the ball from any height, including over the shoulder (overarm) was allowed. This change dramatically altered cricket, giving the bowler a wide variety of options in terms of speed and action. In turn, batters had to adjust, and Grace was a critical player in this regard.

Grace was still 15 when the 1864 season began and had turned 20 when the 1868 season ended and he began his medical career by enrolling at Bristol Medical School on 7 October 1868. In the interim he became widely recognized as the finest cricketer in England. Just after his 18th birthday in July 1866, Grace confirmed his potential with an innings of 224 not out for All-England against Surrey at The Oval.

Grace had another outstanding season in 1870, during which Gloucestershire acquired first-class status, and Derek Birley records that, “scorning the puny modern fashion of moustaches,” he grew the enormous black beard that made him so recognizable. In addition, his “ample girth” had developed; he weighed 15 stone (95 kg) in his early 20s. Grace was a non-smoker but he enjoyed good food and wine; many years later, when discussing the overheads incurred during Lord Sheffield’s profitless tour of Australia in 1891–92, Arthur Shrewsbury commented: “I told you what wine would be drunk by the amateurs; Grace himself would drink enough to swim a ship.”

Grace became the first batsman to score a century before lunch in a first-class match when he made 134 for Gentlemen of the South versus Players of the South at The Oval in 1873. In the same season, he became the first player ever to complete the “double” of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in a season. He went on to do the double eight times in all.

wg3

There was speculation that Grace intended to retire before the 1878 season to concentrate on his medical career, but he decided to continue playing cricket and may have been influenced by the arrival of the first Australian team to tour England in May. At Lord’s on 27 May, the Australians defeated a strong MCC team, including Grace, by nine wickets in a single day’s play. According to Chris Harte, news of the match “spread like wildfire and created a sensation in London and throughout England.”

Grace made three overseas tours during his career. The first was to the United States and Canada in August and September 1872. At the time baseball in the U.S. was still in its infancy, and cricket was popular (it did not wane until the early 20th century). Matches were played in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, London (Ontario), New York, Philadelphia and Boston.

Grace visited Australia in 1873–74 as captain of “W. G. Grace’s XI”. On the morning of the team’s departure from Southampton, Grace responded to well-wishers by saying that his team “had a duty to perform to maintain the honour of English cricket, and to uphold the high character of English cricketers.” But both his and the team’s performance fell well short of this goal. Most of the problems lay with Grace himself and his “overbearing personality” which quickly exhausted all personal goodwill towards him. There was also bad feeling within the team itself because Grace, who normally got on well with professional players, enforced the class divide throughout the tour.

wg5

Grace’s most significant test match was England v Australia in 1882 at The Oval. Thanks to Australian bowler Spofforth, who took 14 wickets in the match, Australia won by 7 runs and the Legend of The Ashes was born immediately afterwards (The Ashes trophy is awarded to the winner of England v Australia test matches – origin stories are tedious). Grace scored only 4 and 32 but he has been held responsible for “firing up” Spofforth by using a particularly unsporting, but legal, act to get one of the Australian players out.

Having ended his international career in 1899, Grace then began the last phase of his overall first-class career when he joined the new London County Cricket Club, based at Crystal Palace Park, which played first-class matches between 1900 and 1904. Despite his age and bulk, Grace continued to play minor cricket for several years after his retirement from first-class play. His penultimate match, and the last in which he batted, was for Eltham Cricket Club at Grove Park on 25 July 1914, a week after his 66th birthday. He contributed an undefeated 69 to a total of 155–6 declared, having begun his innings when they were 31–4. Grove Park made 99–8 in reply. The last match of any kind that Grace played in, though he neither batted nor bowled, was for Eltham v Northbrook on 8 August, a few days after the outbreak of the First World War.

wg6

Grace died at Mottingham on 23 October 1915, aged 67, after suffering a heart attack. He is buried in the family grave at Beckenham Crematorium and Cemetery, Kent.

wg8

People who do not understand cricket are astounded to learn that test cricket matches take up to 5 days to play. Until the 1980s the matches started on a Thursday and concluded on a Tuesday with Sunday off as a rest day. A standard day of test cricket consists of 3 sessions of 2 hours each, the breaks between sessions being 40 minutes for lunch, and 20 minutes for tea. I know this sounds frightfully English, but breaks for lunch and tea are not only important for the maintenance of the players’ stamina, but can be vital components in strategy. For the 2013/14 Ashes tour of Australia by England, the English were ridiculed by the Australians when they produced their dietary requirements. Under the headline “England’s cricket team demands silver service” the Sydney Morning Herald printed extracts from an 82-page document containing 194 recipes that should be used in following the “Test catering requirements” demanded of host venues by Chris Rosimus, the performance nutritionist of the England & Wales Cricket Board:

After the first day of every Test match, the following must be available in the England dressing room 20 minutes before the end of play:

Moroccan spiced griddled chicken fillets with lime and coriander mayo

Lamb and pea kofta kebabs with mint yoghurt

Roasted vegetable and halloumi kebabs with red pepper dip

Ginger and garlic king prawn kebabs with garlic mayo

Selection of wholewheat French bread pizzas (parma ham and tomato/feta and red onion)

Selection of sandwiches (grilled aubergine, red pepper, red onion and basil puree; Cajun salmon, yoghurt and cucumber; Thai citrus chicken and rocket; avocado, raw slaw and butterbean; turkey breast, basil and pine nut)

Almond and cinnamon flapjacks

Banana and peanut bars (protein-based Maximuscle)

Chocolate and coconut truffles.

Take your pick.

wg7

The sandwiches are both intriguing and appealing. I’m most especially drawn to the yoghurt and cucumber. Cucumber sandwiches have been a mainstay of tea time in England since Victorian times. They were routinely served at my college at Oxford at tea time in Trinity term. They are simplicity itself, and very refreshing on a hot summer’s day. You use white bread, cut off the crusts, butter both slices, and fill each sandwich with thinly sliced cucumber (with salt to taste). Delicious. I haven’t had one in decades. Of course, you can dress them up with yoghurt, mayonnaise, or cream cheese (or whatever), but a plain cucumber sandwich and a cup of tea is hard to beat in the late afternoon.