Bats, balls, bullets and bombs – Congresbury remembers the Fisher Family

Mike Fisher in action for Congresbury

Mike Fisher was named the captain of Congresbury seconds for the 2020 season. - Credit: David Kenneford

Cricket is a sport played by all but there is one family who have been part of one team in a local village in Somerset for over a century as history group member and cricket club vice-president, Clive Burlton looks into the family dynasty.

With the sound of the Last Post quietly fading on the North Somerset breeze following last week’s understandably muted commemorations, Burlton wondered just how the members and families associated with Congresbury Cricket club fared during World War One and its aftermath 100 years ago.

Dipping into Richard Baker’s research, the local archives held by the History Group, the Cricket Club and the Memorial Hall, and the nationally held military collections at Kew, Burlton uncovered how the Fisher family have left an impact on the club, who celebrated their 175th anniversary last year.

Burlton writes: Recreational cricket came to an abrupt halt immediately Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914. Country men left their jobs on farms and in mills and joined units like the North Somerset Yeomanry, the Somerset Light Infantry and the Gloucestershire Regiment.

Several Congresbury cricketers answered the call including Reg (Jolly) Fisher and his team mates - messrs, Allen, Cornish, S Gill, W Gill, Maunsell-Eyre, Rawlins, Sims and the Walter brothers, Stanley and Wally. Thankfully, these players survived but many of their sporting mates and relatives were among the 23 villagers who didn’t return.

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Among those killed were two members of the Fisher family including Reg’s brother Herbert who was living with his wife and two year old son in Abertillary in Wales when he enlisted in 1916. Herbert Fisher died in France while serving with the 5th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment on September 17, 1918, aged 36. The battalion war diary is silent about casualties on the day Herbert died. It’s likely that he died of wounds following earlier exchanges during the month.

When the war started, as well as playing cricket, Reg was employed as a miller in one of the mills in the village. He worked alongside his young nephew, Leslie Fisher, who joined the mill straight from school at 13 and was a miller’s errand boy. Leslie was also a chorister and bell-ringer at St Andrew’s Church in the village.

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Reg swopped his miller’s apron for army khaki when he joined the sixth Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment in Bristol shortly after the start of the war. This was a Territorial unit and the battalion left Bristol for Essex on August 10, 1914 to undergo training and to defend the east coast in the event of a German invasion.

Shortly after Reg had taken the plunge – a matter of weeks in fact judging by their respective service numbers - Leslie Fisher, aged just 16, followed suit too. He also joined one of the Gloucestershire Regiment’s Territorial battalions and would have linked up with his Uncle Reg in training at Little Baddow and Danbury near Chelmsford.

This must have been a real blow for Leslie’s parents George and Louisa Fisher who lived in Station Road in Congresbury. Such was the attraction for many young lads, Leslie signed the enlistment papers when under age by three years. Recruiting Sergeants were under immense pressure to reach recruiting quotas and more often than not, would turn a blind eye to a young recruit’s age.

Reg and Leslie Fisher left their training bases in Essex and went across to France on the same day with their respective Territorial battalions on March 31, 1915 – travelling on a troopship from Folkestone to Boulogne. Whilst in France, Leslie transferred to another Territorial unit, the 2/5th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment. He served with the Battalion for around two years, but was killed in action on June 3, 1917 shortly after the Battle of Arras.

Much work was being done to repair trenches and to secure No Man’s Land following the battle. The battalion’s war diary for that day reported that one ordinary rank was killed during work to wire the support line and to deepen the front line trench. There was heavy German bombing of the British front line in the area at this time and enemy shelling was the likely cause of Leslie’s death.

Leslie is buried at Tilloy British Cemetery, at Tilloy-Les-Mofflaines, three kilometres south-east of Arras. On his headstone, Leslie’s mother Louisa had inscribed the words, “Dearly loved and sadly missed.” The war gratuity paid to Louisa Fisher for Leslie’s death was £12, paid on November 11, 1919, exactly a year after the end of hostilities.

Entry in one of the volumes of Soldiers Effects

The entry in the one of the volumes of Soldiers Effects, indicating to whom Leslies Fisher’s next of kin payments were to be made. - Credit: National Archives

Louisa Fisher's war pension

Louisa Fisher was listed as Leslie’s dependant and received a War Pension. - Credit: National Archives

After the war, attention turned to how the village should commemorate not only those who died, but to acknowledge that a further 144 men and four women from Congresbury served in the forces during the war. In April 1919 the village decided to build a War Memorial Hall and the following month Congresbury played its first cricket match after the war against Weston-Super-Mare.

Reg Fisher played in this match, and we wonder how he felt playing cricket again after experiencing the horrors of war and the loss of his brother and nephew. No doubt thankful that he could play recreational sport again, but equally reflective on the impact these losses had on the Fisher family.

Congresbury Cricket Club First XI 1920

Congresbury First XI from 1920 including six who served in WW1. All names in bold. Back L/R: W Gill, Reg Fisher, N Wear, Stanley Walter, Ernie Standen Front L/R: W Walter, W Edwards, H Humphries, T Day, Hubert Walter, S Cornish and Sid Gill - Credit: Congresbury Cricket Club

The Congresbury War Memorial Hall opened in 1920 and fittingly, two years later, it was Louisa Fisher who was given the honour of unveiling the memorial tablet to those who served and those who died, including her own son Leslie.

The unveiling of the memorial tablet

December 17, 1922 and members of the Congresbury Branch of the British Legion at the unveiling of the memorial tablet. Far right standing L/R: J E Hamlin, Stanley Walter (Branch Treasurer), H J Sparey, and D G Walker. Seated is Frank Farr, Branch Treasurer, Congresbury headmaster and Cricket Club Treasurer. Far left standing is F Burford, Secretary of the local branch, and relatives of some of the villagers killed in the war. Standing: R W Gill and A H Sims, seated P F Wear and Louisa Fisher, seen just after she had unveiled the tablet. - Credit: Congresbury History Group

Louisa’s third son, Edward (Brandy) Fisher; her grandson Andrew Fisher and her great grandson Mike Fisher all became Congresbury cricketing legends in their lifetimes. Mike Fisher still plays and so does his nephew, wife and children.

The Fisher cricketing legacy lives on despite world wars and pandemics.

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