Sidmouth tennis - a look back in time at the 1913 Sidmouth tennis scene

Sidmouth tennis in 1913. Picture CONTRIBUTED

Sidmouth tennis in 1913. Picture CONTRIBUTED - Credit: Archant

Sidmouth Tennis Club chairman Martin Dawes recently came across a tennis programme from 1913, shortly before the start of the First World War.

Given that we are approaching the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War, the article, he has discovered, makes for a very interesting read.

The Architect, the Nurse and the Future Spy – a programme for a tennis tournament in 1913 – gives a snapshot of Sidmouth society before the tragedy of the First World War.

Open tennis tournaments in Sidmouth were huge back then. The programme discovered this summer and sent to the club, lays out an event that attracted players from other parts of the country, as well as members of the Sidmouth Cricket, Tennis and Croquet Club. It cost 3d, which was the price of a pint, and lists competitors in the preliminary rounds before Finals Day on September 5.

Included are matches for ladies and mixed doubles. In this regard, Sidmouth may have been at the forefront of thinking within the relatively new sport of lawn tennis. It was only in 1913 that those two competitions were included at Wimbledon.

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Among the Tournament Committee, and featured in the gentlemen’s doubles (handicap), was the 47-year-old architect, R W Sampson. Another name that still figures in the town is that of H G Michelmore, who got through to the final of the ‘gentlemen’s singles’.

This is thought to be Henry Michelmore of Newton Abbott, part of the Michelmore family of lawyers, with offices still bearing that name within sight of the Sidmouth courts. Henry did well. On the route to the final he beat one Cyril Tabbush, who was later commissioned in the Middlesex regiment, survived the war, and competed in the opening rounds of the 1919 Wimbledon competition.

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Inevitably, though, when looking at such a document, it is the engulfing horror hurtling toward that generation of players and families which dominates.

Those playing through the dull and overcast summer of 1913 were enjoying their last full year of peace before a war that would change them all.

In the ladies’ singles (handicap) and the ladies’ doubles (handicap) was Miss Mary Tindall. She is the only woman on the Sidmouth War Memorial having died at the age of 37 in 1917, while working as a nurse (Voluntary Aid Detachment) in one of the Exeter Military Hospitals. Also on the memorial is her younger brother, Noel, who commanded a navy shore base in Malta.

He died at the hospital there in 1919, possibly from the ‘Spanish’ ’flu.

Quickly out of the earlier rounds of the 1913 men’s singles (Handicap) was Ralph Hine-Haycock, son of a military family living at Core Hill. He became a captain in the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and saw service in various theatres, including Ireland after the Easter Rising.

He was killed in 1917 during the Battle of Arras while leading his company during an attack on the Hindenburg Line. Unavailable for the 1913 tournament was Captain Leslie Hastings of the Indian Army. He was born in Sidmouth and died at the age of 28 in 1916 during the failed attempt to relieve the Anglo-Indian garrison at Kut in present day Iraq. In the ladies’ events of the tournament were Miss M and Miss L Hastings. Presumably these were sisters who would come to nurse their grief at the family home in the Bickwell Valley.

But what may seem surprising, at first, is how few surnames there are matching the programme and the war memorial. It is easy to see why. And it’s a class issue. The gunners, sappers, stokers and riflemen who feature predominately in the Sidmouth war story were almost certainly not of the leisured classes with the time, money and social connections to be able to join the club, let alone learn the game. There are some things that have improved since!

But there remains two curiosities. Among the players not getting too far in the competitions was Mr S Lindermann. His family came over from Prussia to escape conscription and lived at Sidholme in the town’s Elysian Fields. The fact that the Lindemanns played at the club is interesting because tennis played a significant part in the rise of his elder brother, Frederick. He was by all accounts, a fanatical player, who apparently delighted in drop shots while being a crashing intellectual snob with dodgy racial views. While Professor of Physics at Oxford in the 1920s he developed a friendship with Winston Churchill after partnering the future leader’s wife, Clementine, in a charity tennis match. Those skills, which were undoubted practised at the Fortfield at one time or another, were obviously useful!

During the Second World War he became Churchill’s Chief Scientific Adviser, where he was involved in some of the biggest decisions of the war, including the area bombing of German cities. Shortly before his death in 1957 he was made Viscount Cherwell.

Of Septimus Lindemann, who appears on the 1913 programme, not much is known except for an intriguing reference in a biography of his elder brother. This states that the young tennis player was a playboy on the French Riviera in the thirties, before becoming a British Secret Agent during the Second World War!

This, unsurprisingly, has proved difficult to verify. But the tennis courts of Sidmouth have certainly seen some interesting talent.

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