It was in primary school that we were introduced to Charles Wolfe’s ‘The Burial of Sir John Moore’.
Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note/As his corpse to the rampart we hurried./Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot/O’er the grave where our hero we buried.
Those lines came racing back on July 11 with the news that Gervase Hannays had passed. Like Lennard Kirton’s, Gervase’s passing came at a time when the restrictions and the protocols attendant on the Covid-19 pandemic prevented any of us who owe them so much from paying homage in person.
Covid-19 has not been particularly kind to sport or to sportsmen. But it was not, the report said, Covid that had claimed him. Without specifying what had.
I wondered. Was it the dastardly disregard that the current what’s-in-it-for-me generation shows for men who gave their whole lives to the cause of education through sport, almost literally in the shadow of the unique, stately Maraval Road clock tower?
In the Age of the Mercenary, what sympathy is there for volunteerism, without which Queen’s Royal College would for certain have been a much, much poorer institution?
Hannays was one such volunteer, the last name on a Royalian shortlist featuring Randolph Bally, Rex Dewhurst, Lawrence McDowell, Kirton and Hannays—the former ‘spot coach’, according to the designation provided by former QRC cricket captain, Vernon ‘Sam’ Sadaphal.
The degree of disregard really came home to me a few years ago. When the Secondary Schools Football League was about to celebrate its 50th anniversary, an official phoned with an enquiry about football at QRC in the Sixties.
That was the decade dominated by Dom Basil Matthews’ over-age St Benedict’s stars. But the mark buss and they were divested of their trophies, QRC inheriting a couple.
For much of the decade in question, Kirton headed the QRC football set-up, doubling as cricket coach.
The booklet produced for the special occasion, however, makes no mention of a Kirton; what we find is the name ‘Lennard Curtain’.
Unsurprisingly, Gervase is never mentioned.
As I remember it, he did not ever—like Kirton or Dewhurst or Bally—accept responsibility for an entire cricket or football team or programme at the College. Or, like McDowell, an entire sport. But make no mistake, his engagement with improving the life of the College’s students was as complete as they come.
Well do I remember a conversation I had with him shortly after Hurricane Curtly had devastated England for 46 at the Oval in 1994.
A photograph of England’s Robin Smith, frozen in a seemingly perfect forward defensive shot, (dis)graced the front page of my then paper the next day.
Ambrose, you see, had cleaned up his middle stump.
Gervase insisted that the College’s coach should be given dozens of copies of that photograph to stick up all over the pavilion. What better way, he asked rhetorically, to teach young players that ‘technique is also about timing’.
He stood by that: consistent insistence on mastery of technique, even if it meant hours of drills. And talk.
Whichever the season, he would observe from afar. And then he would summon a single player and engage him for hours on end, regaling him with advice on how to correct the problem he thought he had spotted.
Two examples, one from cricket, one from football, must suffice.
Ellis ‘Chool’ Sadaphal would habitually cut in off the right flank on to his left foot—à la Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez but we’re talking mid-1960s. But he would almost always strive, perhaps even contrive, to get back onto his stronger right foot before shooting.
Gervase saw no sense in that. Once you get the defender on the outside of you, he sermonised, your best bet is to take the shot with the ‘wrong’ foot.
Eventually persuaded, Ellis did. The 1966 Fatima goalkeeper should be able to tell you all about it—except he hardly saw the ball that landed in the back of his net.
Tony Lewis had a ‘cartwheel’ backlift so that the bat often came down with a slightly open or closed face. There are no logs available, as far as I know. But I feel confident that if we could somehow tot up the hours, in that single season, ‘Surety’ spent no less than a month all told in a sort of solitary confinement, just straightening out his bat face.
Gervase, mind you, was never in sweats. No, sirree. He generally came directly from the office so these one-on-one sessions were conducted in full office attire—his shirt still buttoned all the way up and his tie not undone.
If the reports that he played cricket for Queen’s Park were true, he must have done so on precious little practice; he seemed to be always present at ours. He had no contract, no formal commitment, he received no tangible reward. As a student, this scion of renowned jurist Sir Courtenay Hannays had received an education of which he was justifiably proud; it was his duty, he felt, to give back.
So he came, he saw, he contributed. Unstintingly. Unselfishly.
He had already been a presence on the QRC playing field before I got there; throughout the three full decades I spent at the College, he continued to be, albeit shadowy.
Never central. Always on the periphery. But always there.
But there is no disputing that Gervase’s real contribution to the College, largely intangible, was massive. Yet he went forever unpaid and unsung, unrecognised and unrewarded.
And, cruelly, coming when it did, his passing runs the risk of going unmarked. Worse, unremarked.
But I speak up for Jesse and Larry and Sheldon and now ‘Christian’ and ‘Sam’ and ‘Chool’ and ‘Surety’ and Holly and ‘Colt’ and ‘Jeff’ and ‘Rabs’ and Garnet and Tino and Waaz and Zafar and ‘Shelly’ and Ronnie and Keno and ‘Pythagoras’ and the scores of others too numerous to list here and say this:
Let the record show that he is neither unvalued.