Captain WC OatesCaptain WC Oates

June 12 1895 saw the establishment of what stood for many years as a world record for an wicket in any class of cricket when Captain WC Oates and Private F Fitzgerald put on 623 for the second wicket for the Royal Munster Fusiliers (RMF) against the Army Service Corps (ASC) at The Curragh Camp in Co Kildare, the latter making 287* and Oates setting what remains an Irish record with an undefeated 313.

However, as has often happened with records in minor cricket all was not what it seemed. For many years WISDEN listed the record but included the rider from the IRISH FIELD of 6 January 1900, "From what we have heard it was accomplished under conditions bordering upon the farcical."

There is also evidence to suggest that Oates himself was far from proud of the innings. However as the holder of a long standing Irish record, as well as a man who played in one other historic match in our country, as well as making a contribution to the broader history of the country, he is worthy of study.

He was born in 1862 at his family home at Besthorpe, Nottingham, the son of another Captain William Oates, a wealthy land owner and Honorary Secretary of Nottinghamshire CCC. The family had a strong military tradition and, after education at Harrow, Oates was destined for Sandhurst.

At Harrow he was in and out of the 1st XI in 1879 and 1880, but was unable to win a place in the annual Lord's match against Eton. A team-mate who did was John Dunn, later to establish a more genuine all time Irish record totalling 2968 runs in the 1886 season, having amassed over 2,500 the previous season. Oates was seen as an opening bat who likes to attack, perhaps too impetuous for really important cricket.

However he did better at Sandhurst, being captain of the XI in 1882 when he hit a fine 131 against arch rivals RMA Woolwich. He was clearly very proud of this innings, it and his captaincy appeared for years in his entry in WHO'S WHO and may still be read in the appropriate Who Was Who volume.

The Curragh receives no mention, perhaps suggesting that he wished it had never happened.

After leaving Sandhurst he was commissioned in the RMF and found himself in the third Anglo - Burmese War. He emerged unscathed and decorated after two years and in 1890 married Louise Kynaston. Their first child John, who will concern us later in the article, was born in 1894.

The following year, which also saw the death of his father. found Oates in Ireland, playing cricket for, among other sides, Cork County, for whom, it has been said, both he and Fitzgerald, scored plenty of runs.

He had been a member of MCC since 1881 and had played a number of matches for them and and side called the Gentlemen of Nottinghamshire before his time in Burma, Two hundreds and one score of 77 had resulted thus he was an obvious selection, being on hand, when MCC came to College Park to play Dublin University in May thereby taking part in the first ever first class match played in Ireland and the first played by an Irish team anywhere.

He made a brace of 20s, falling to a combination of the Gwynn brothers in both innings, but was unable to prevent the hosts recording a historic victory. He remained with MCC for a two day match against Ireland at Rathmines but achieved little. He was, therefore, perhaps. in the mood and need for some runs when the match at The Curragh took place.

From an account I heard over 40 years ago, the weather was hot and sunny and the wicket, as was usually the case at The Curragh, was firm and true throughout. Nevertheless the ASC, batting first, were hustled out for 59 before lunch. Oates went in first but soon lost his partner. However the arrival of Fitzgerald was a signal for the carnage to begin. The bowling and fielding became increasingly ragged to put it mildly but neither batsman was fault free. Oates is said to have given"three or four chances" and Fitzgerald "several." However they continued otherwise undisturbed until close of play.

I have no record of any other matches Oates played in Ireland or elsewhere after this game though he was involved in raising an XI to play in a women's match in Ireland in 1898. Then, however, came the Boer War, in which, perhaps fighting like he batted, he was "severely wounded" and in 1902 retired from the Army, still a captain.

Settling in the family home he became a magistrate and a county councillor, besides being chairman of a family company which owned a local newspaper. In 1912 he and Louise divorced, an event perhaps presaged by the entry in the 1911 Census, which shows him living alone apart from one servant.

John was at Harrow where in 1913 he was 1st XI wicket keeper, playing in the Eton match. On the outbreak of war in 1914 Oates to colours and, having served at Loos in 1915 was in the following year a Lieutenant-Colonel in the newly formed 2/8 battalion of the Sherwood Foresters. They were largely raw recruits when on Easter Monday they found themselves ordered to Ireland to oppose the Easter Rising.

Landing at Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) on the Tuesday, they and other battalions of the regiment began the march to Dublin, being warned to expect opposition at the narrow Mount Street Bridge which had to be crossed to enter the city. The fiercest fighting of the Rising ensued with the Sherwoods suffering 224 casualties including 18 deaths. Oates himself was wounded but was undeterred leading the final assault on one rebel position with sword drawn.

Two days later he was in command as an attack was launched against the South Dublin Union, a 50 acre workhouse and hospital complex to the south of the city. Today it is the site of St James Hospital. John Oates, who had arrived with a second wave of troops on the Wednesday, took part in an almost face to face struggle with the legendary Cathal Brugha who some 20 years earlier had, under his original name of Charles Burgess, been a prominent cricketer for Pembroke.

Brugha would certainly have been aware of the Curragh match and may well even have played against John's father. John emerged unscathed from the confrontation though he believed he had been fighting against many men, Brugha was severely wounded but survived to die six years later in the bitter civil war which followed the establishment of the Irish Free State.

Both Oates men survived the First World War, both also receiving the DSO in 1918, at the same investiture, John already having been awarded the MC. His father was also "mentioned in despatches" twice.

William Coape Oates returned to Besthorpe and resumed his life of civic service. He also wrote two books, a history of the 2/8 in the War and the - to my mind at least - somewhat contradictory Ducks: How to rear them and shoot them.

For those who are interested both are readily available fro a certain on line bookseller that also deals with other commodities.

He died on 20 February 1942, being accorded a two line obituary in WISDEN which made no mention of either Sandhurst or The Curragh.

He left £28,000 in his Will, a not inconsiderable sum in those days.