Until today I had not known that Adolf Hitler played cricket. Once. Apparently. This is, actually, reassuring since it seems that cricket found him out and, as it is wont to do, smoked out the essential elements of Hitler’s character. Ben Macintyre has the story:
Adolf Hitler played cricket. He raised his own cricket team to play some British prisoners of war during the First World War, then declared the sport “unmanly” and tried to rewrite the laws of the game.
The Führer’s First XI sounds like a Spike Milligan joke, but this small nugget of history is true. In all the millions of words written about Hitler, his telling brush with cricket seems to have escaped the attention of historians.
[…]“He had come to them [the British POWs] one day and asked whether he might watch an eleven of cricket at play so as to become initiated into the mysteries of our national game,” writes Locker- Lampson. “They welcomed him, of course, and wrote out the rules for him in the best British sport-loving spirit.”
According to Locker-Lampson, Hitler returned a few days later, having assembled his own team, and challenged the British to a “friendly match”. As Simpson points out, Locker-Lampson infuriatingly failed to inform his readers who won, but we can assume that the British POWs thrashed Hitler’s XI, because he immediately declared the game insufficiently violent for German Fascists.
Hitler, it seems, had an ulterior motive for wanting to play the game: “He desired to study it as a possible medium for the training of troops off duty and in times of peace.” He also wanted the game to be Nazified.
“He had conned over [sic] the laws of cricket, which he considered good enough no doubt for pleasure-loving English people. But he proposed entirely altering them for the serious- minded Teuton.” Specifically, he “advocated the withdrawal of the use of pads. These artificial ‘bolsters’ he dismissed as unmanly and un-German . . . in the end he also recommended a bigger and harder ball.”
Of course, one could argue that this shows that Hitler was, as ever, harking back to an imagined golden age in which the game was played on the South Downs in rustic fashion by shepherds armed with crooks and were accompanied by Valkyries singing Wagner and all the rest of it. But I think there’s no need to be quite so charitable and it remains the case, I believe, that, Lord Harris and DR Jardine* notwithstanding, there is something about the game that dictators cannot properly appreciate.
*A hero, incidentally, if a slightly chilling one.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.