It sometimes seems like the England cricket team is full of South Africans. It is worth remembering that this was not always the case and indeed it was an Englishman – a Londoner – who helped put South African cricket on the map: Reggie Schwarz. As Major R.O. Schwarz MC, he also served with great skill in the Great War.
Reginald Oscar Schwarz born was born in Lee in 1875 and educated at St Paul’s, where he played for the first eleven at cricket for four years. At Cambridge he continued to play cricket, but never got his ‘blue’ – although he did get one in rugby. In the years after he left university he played cricket for Oxfordshire, and then first-class for Middlesex, as well as gaining three international rugby caps for England as a half-back. At the turn of the century he moved to South Africa, where he worked on the Johannesburg railway and became a member of the stock exchange there. He also became an increasingly effective cricketer.
Reggie returned to England as a member of the touring South African team; he also returned as a leading exponent of the ‘googly’, which he had learned from its inventor (Bernard Bosanquet) and passed on to his team-mates. On another tour of England in 1907, he took 137 wickets (in Tests and against counties and other teams) for an impressive average of 11.7 runs conceded per wicket taken. In 1908 he was Wisden’s cricketer of the year.
He retired from cricket before the war and returned to the London Stock Exchange.
At the start of the war, he was appointed as a staff officer in the South African army and served in German South-West Africa before arriving on the Western Front in March 1916 as Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General (DAQMG) for the 47th(London) Division. He served with the division for a year and was awarded the Military Cross for his good work.
He then served in a number of posts commanding labour companies and, suffering from poor health, was transferred to the salvage corps in early 1918. Just days after the Armistice was signed, he died on 18 November 1918 at Etaples in France.
By all accounts, Reggie Schwarz was a cheerful and popular man, an impressive cricketer (for his bowling at least) and an efficient officer.
One of his Commanding Officers wrote (quoted on the Roll of Honour page for the MCC): “Combined with far more than his share of good looks, and the lithe figure of the trained athlete, he possessed the most supreme modesty and self-effacement. Tremendously cheerful, bubbling over with fun and good spirits, and possessing a real sense of humour, it was small wonder that he owned such a host of friends. If one were asked to sum him up in a sentence, one would say that it is inconceivable that he could ever have had an enemy.”
The 47thDivision’s official history also noted that “In the year during which he served on the Divisional Staff — from March, 1916, to March, 1917 — ” Reggie ” Schwarz made many friends in the Division, and his unfailing cheerfulness and winning personality was a considerable asset to the hard- worked ” Q” staff.”
His importance as a cricketer is summed up in the opening lines of his obituary in Wisden: “Major Schwarz, as every one knows, was famous as a slow bowler. Few men did so much to establish the reputation of South African cricket.”
Cricinfo profile – including Wisden obituary