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Chapter 14 Return to Brancepeth

I returned to the South Shields club, but the war soon made me redundant and my career as a professional golfer was put on hold. I became a Constable on the police war reserve and then joined the Civil Service as an administrator attached to the RASC on a wage of South Shields Golf Course£3/week. Then, by the quirk of fate I mentioned earlier, in 1940 I was posted to Brancepeth to help with equipping of the military training camp built on the edge of the course. After my reluctant departure fifteen years earlier I was back and I was soon installed as the club’s honorary part-time professional. Many clubs were requisitioned for the war effort and my old club of West Cheshire had fires lit on the course to draw German bombers away from the strategic dockland nearby. A lot of courses were turned over to agricultural production and some, like Turnberry, became airfields. Prince’s, where I had made my Open debut, was used as a firing range, “akin to throwing darts at a Rembrandt”, said Lord Brabazon. Henry Longhurst believed that it had vanished forever, but thankfully it survived and is now being restored to its former glory. Golf continued at Brancepeth Castle and I was able to carry out repairs for the members and army personnel, using the equipment and materials left by Charles, together with my own.

[By April 1940 the Times was announcing that the News of the World, postponed from the previous September, would go ahead at the end of the month, followed by the Daily Mail £500 tournament in June. The E. G. U. also decided to hold a national foursomes for amateurs: the Red Cross was to be the beneficiary from these events. Bert played in the News of the World, beating Sid Scott, then at Hartlepool, by 6&5 in the first round, but went out to A. G. Matthews of Roehampton. Henry Cotton was the winner, beating Alf Padgham at the 37th hole. Both of them were now involved in the series of Red Cross matches, also involving Alliss, Compston, Burton, Adams, Perry, Rees, Easterbrook and others including the old brigade of Duncan, Taylor, Braid and Herd. Some of the pros participating were now wartime policemen or worked in agriculture. The Daily Mail, won by Alf Padgham, was to be the last professional tournament during the war. Local Alliances carried on a limited programme for a while and some amateur events took place, until the full might of the Luftwaffe descended on Britain; From July to October the Battle of Britain raged over Southern England and the Blitz began in September. Thanks to ‘The Few’ Britain was saved from invasion [- and Bridgnorth from a most unwelcome resident!]
In early August Henry Cotton joined the RAF as an Acting Pilot Officer in Administration and Special Duties, but continued to play exhibitions for the rest of 1940 and in November he and Dick Burton played the Bentley brothers at Hesketh, raising over £600 for the Red Cross, which had now received well over £20,000. ‘Cigarettes for the forces’ was another cause to benefit from professional matches. ‘Any old irons?’ asked the Times, publicising the appeal for metal for the war effort; iron heads, steel shafted clubs and aluminium putters were handed in. Pros, including George Gadd, gave clubs for auction at the exhibition matches and Harry Vardon’s family donated the ball from his 6th Open win.]

I was at Brancepeth when the war ended and celebrated VE Day in the Sergeant’s Mess at the camp. Rationing of scarce fuel and foodstuffs continued for many years and we had to be satisfied with powdered egg, spam and stringy joints. Gradually golf got going again but equipment was not available for a year or two. Balls were in very short supply and Henry Longhurst, in the 1943 foreword to his book Golf, saw an opportunity to make a fresh start from scratch and hoped that the R&A would act to limit the effect of advances in ball technology. “Golf”, he had written, “was the only game whose whole character was at the mercy of manufacturers”. He recalled “the farcical state we had reached in golf, when we solemnly altered two thousand courses to fit the ball instead of altering the ball to fit two thousand courses”. St Andrews did not heed his advice and the race between manufacturers was to be resumed; they were still producing the 1.62" ball of course, which flew further than the American 1.68" size. I wrote in my newspaper column in 1951 that all the pros I had spoken to on the subject were still “most firmly in favour of the British standard ball”. I was more open-minded about it and wrote, “The