North Devon CC’s long-serving president John Phillips has chalked up yet another century – this one well away from the cricket pitch.
Phillips reached three figures numerous times during his playing days, but this ‘ton’ is different. It is his one-hundredth birthday.
Although Phillips does not get out of his Instow home too often these days, a family gathering with wife Sally and children Andrew and Ruth is planned.
Dave Lea, a former team-mate of Phillips during their playing days, said: “John is mentally pretty much alert, but is now unfortunately housebound.
“He was installed as president of North Devon CC in 1986 and remains so to this day. Until recently he was active and very much hands on.”
John Poynder Phillips, the son of an Australian father and English mother, was born on September 16, 1920 in Sydney.
Phillips’ parents lived in Malaya, where Maurice, his father owned and managed estates and tin mines. Mother and father felt medical facilities at the time were better equipped in Australia so mum-to-be Ruth traveled to Sydney for the birth of her child.
When John Phillips was aged seven he was sent to a preparatory school in Sussex as a stepping stone to his secondary education at Stowe School in Buckinghamshire.
During his final three years at Stowe he was a regular member of the 1st XI, for whom he often opened the batting and the bowling. Nearly 50 years later son Andrew followed his father into the Stowe 1st XI.
A place at Cambridge followed, but a year into his studies war broke out. Along with several undergraduate friends, Phillips volunteered for the Indian Army and was subsequently commissioned in the 1st Battalion, 6th Gurkha Rifles.
Phillips served for six years and rose to the rank of Major and company commander while serving in Burma.
When the war ended John and his mother moved to the North Devon area. Father, who had been interned by the Japanese when Malaya was invaded in 1941, was never seen again.
“My grandfather was on the last boat out of Singapore after the Japanese invaded when it was torpedoed and sunk,” said John’s daughter Ruth.
“He spent around four hours in the water before being rescued by the Japanese and taken ashore, then on to a camp.
“My grandfather very nearly survived the war, but died three weeks before V J Day.
“After the war ended my father went out to Singapore to find out what happened and discovered his father had died in Sumatra at a camp called Belalau.”
John Phillips’ mother, born Ruth Poynder, was brought up in Ilfracombe and returned to North Devon once the war ended.
While mother working as a secretary in Barnstaple, son John was articled to solicitors Chanter, Burrington and Foster. He qualified, later became a partner in the firm and practised law for more than 50 years.
John Phillips first appears in North Devon CC scorebooks in 1949 and was soon a regular member of the 1st XI. He was also a playing member of the Devon Dumplings and the MCC.
As a member of the MCC Phillips is one of very few people in cricketing world to have watched English Test match victories over Australia at Lords in 1934 and 2009.
Son Andrew inherited his father’s passion for cricket and in 1982 persuaded John to come out of retirement and start playing again.
“I think John liked the idea of playing some matches with his son and carried on for three or four years,” said Lea.
Cricket wasn’t Phillips’ only sporting enthusiasm. He enjoyed skiing and was a keen golfer who was good enough to win the Devon amateur title in 1948.
“John played golf for Devon for 15 years and was captain of the county in 1955 and again in 1960, when they were South West champions,” said Lea.
During Phillips’ 72-year association with North Devon CC, the nature of the club has changed dramatically.
When Phillips first played for the North Devon CC their games were two-day affairs against old opponents such as Strollers, Dorset Rangers, Shrewsbury Saracens and others. There was not a league point in sight!
A typical team line-up in the 1940s and 1950s might contain a Lt Colonel or two, the honourable son of a peer here and there, a Sir or a baronet and the occasional prebendary, vicar or parson.
North Devon CC now runs three Saturday sides in the Devon Senior League, youth cricket at numerous age groups, which the president took great interest in, and a thriving ladies section.
Tarka Ladies enhanced their reputation recently by winning the Devon Super 8s competition.
Army officers, the sons of Lords and members of the clergy have been replaced on the team sheet by primary school teachers, telephone engineers, students and an impressive collection of South Africans, Australians and locals such as the Overton twins and the Shepherd brothers, who have gone on to carve out careers either short or long in the professional game.
As club president John Phillips has known and encouraged them all right from future Test umpire David Shepherd in the early 1960s through to aspiring Test players Chris Rogers (Australia) and Kyle Verreynne (South Africa).
Jan Witheridge, who has coached and managed Tarka Ladies, spoke for many when she said: “All of us in the North Devon cricketing community send John our very warmest congratulations on a century not-out.”
Mark Ansell, the North Devon chairman, added: “I have known John for 15 years and in my experience, he is the epitome of an English gentleman and a wonderful supporter of the club.”