The Story of Major Booth

by Katie Smith
West Yorkshire Archive Service
Major Booth's Birth Certificate
General Register Office
1891 Census record of the Booth Family
National Archives
Photograph of Chartist meeting on Kennington Common- taken by William Edward Kilburn
A modern photograph of 22 Lowtown, Pudsey
Leeds Photographic Archive
Map of the World showing the extent of the British Empire 1886
Public Domain
Photograph of an early grocery store
Pudsey St Lawrence C.C.
LEODIS Leeds Photographic Archive
Yorkshire CCC
Lord's cricket ground in 1921
Westminster Archives
All newspapers British Newspaper Library
The Leeds Pals next to their recruitment tram
LEODIS Leeds Photographic Archive
Sports was used to encourage men to sign up
National Library of Australia
Yorkshire Evening Post - British Newspaper Library
Yorkshire Evening Post - British Newspaper Library
Booth's grave is identical to those that fought beside him
Beverley Forrest Leeds Trinity University

Early Life and Childhood

Major Booth was born on 10th December 1886 in Lowtown, Pudsey, West Yorkshire. His father ran a successful grocery store which stocked goods imported from across the British Empire. These included Tea from India, Sugar from the West Indies and wheat from Canada. The setting up of the grocery store had marked a better time for the Booth Family, who had suffered poverty and hardship at the end of the Industrial Revolution. His Grandfather, Thomas Booth, had been a handloom weaver and was involved in the Chartist Movement (a group who protested against the inequality of both the class and political system at the time). Booth’s mother Louisa was admitted to Lawn Asylum in May and October 1900 after attempting suicide. She died a year later in August 1901 due to an “Organic disease of the brain”. As a result, his sister Annie took over the mother role in the family. Whilst this was happening, financial disaster hit the family after a giant thunderstorm caused lightning to hit the grocery warehouse, causing damage worth “hundreds of pounds”.

Due to the success of the family Grocery Business, Major’s father was able to send his son to Fulneck School; a private school that believed sport helped to develop the characters of its pupils. A former pupil, Herbert Asquith, had gone on to be Prime Minister. In today’s money, a year at Fulneck would cost around £12,000. After leaving the school, Booth became a qualified engineer; he briefly worked in this job before deciding to become a professional first class cricketer.

Booth the Cricketer

Booth’s education at Fulneck private school was largely responsible for creating the foundation of his career as a cricketer.  From here on, he played Cricket in the Yorkshire League on the Pudsey St Lawrence team and Wath Athletic Club. Then, from 1907 onwards he began to progress into professional cricket as a successful all-rounder. He began to play for Yorkshire County Cricket Club, being selected for the Yorkshire 2nd XI in 1907 and then the 1st XI in 1908.

His success continued, and by 1913 he had accumulated 181 first class runs, which was more than any county bowler that season had achieved. It was also in 1913 that Booth participated in a Gentlemen v Players match at Lord’s Cricket Ground as a ‘Player’. There was an evident class divide between those that played cricket for a career and the elite that played it as a hobby. This was a pivotal point in his life and He again returned to Lord’s representing Yorkshire in the season’s Cricket County Championship and his fame rose further. Meanwhile, the Suffragette movement was becoming increasingly active, having recently burnt down the Pavilion at Tunbridge Wells and at this match a protest took place to remind the public of those who campaigned for Suffrage peacefully.
Following on from this, Booth was selected for England’s National team and played in two out of five Tests of the 1913-14 Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) tour, of South Africa, which they won. It was during this tour that Booth was involved in a serious car accident which caused injury to his back, preventing him from playing in the successive matches, except the last, against South Africa. Otherwise notably, Booth would have witnessed the campaign from Ghandi for Indian independence from Britain.

Booth was made Wisden Cricketer of Year in 1914 thanks to his aptitude for the game and played in the MCC Lord’s Centenary match. He was a popular figure within Cricket and he continued to excel in the sport until 31st August 1914, where he played in his final match; the imminent outbreak of war cutting off his career at its peak.

Booth the Soldier

Great Britain declared war on Germany on the 14th August 1914. Lord Kitchener, The Secretary of State for War, called for 100,000 new recruits by December of the same year and it soon became known that the Leeds Pals were a part of his new army, officially members of the 15th Battalion. It restricted the recruits to the ‘business class’ within the Leeds area. As a part of the 15th Battalion, the Leeds Pals man the tram used for recruitments in the ‘business area’. As an ideal recruit, due to the fact that his father was a well-respected grocer and he was also well known inside and outside of Leeds, Booth became somewhat of a poster boy in the recruitment of men. A showpiece cricket match at Yorkshire’s Headingley ground showed of the middle class pride and passion with Major Booth, to encourage people to “play the game”.

Major Booth spent the first part of the war in Egypt so as to protect Suez Canal from the Turkish attack before he and the Leeds Pals were sent to France in March of 1916. This was his first time within the trenches and was joined by the only Bengali in the British Army, Jogendra Sen. Despite being the most intelligent man in the battalion, his race prevented him from becoming an officer of the Pals.

On the eve of the first day of the attack at the Somme, Booth disregarded the conventions that stated that he was not allowed to socialise with people of lower ranks and met with his former C.C.C team mates Dolphin and Roy Kilner one final time at the Leeds Pals party. Just before the battle, Kilner received a ‘blighty wound’, an injury bad enough to be sent home but not enough to seriously injure him. Feeling guilt over the fact that he would have to leave his best friend to face the attack on his own, Kilner left.

At 7:30am on the 1st July, 1916, the Leeds Pals advanced ‘over the top’ and the Battle of the Somme commenced. However, the Allie artillery failed to destroy the German defenders which allowed them to ready their machine guns in order to repel the attack. During this attack, Booth was in command of the Number 10 machine gun team. Shortly after encouraging a Pal who had been hit by shrapnel to continue, Major Booth was fatally wounded and was found sheltered in a shell hole. He was found by Private Abe Waddington whom happened to be a fellow Yorkshire cricketer and had also been wounded whilst advancing with the second wave. He found shelter in the same hole and held his hero in his arms as he died. As this traumatic experience would haunt Private Waddington for the rest of his life, he would go on to join Dolphin and Kilner in helping Yorkshire win the county championship in 1919, taking Booth’s place in the England team.

Booth’s body was identified nine months later from and MCC cigarette case – nothing else was identifiable. His sister, Annie, refused to accept this and so left a candle burning in a window of their home in Pudsey, hoping that he would one day return.

With his grave located at Serre Road Cemetery No 1, Roy Kilner names his first son Major so as to keep his best friend alive. Major Kilner became a decorated hero of D-Day in 1944 and rose to the rank that matched his first name, Major.

The British Army suffered 600,000 casualties, 20,000 of which had died on the 1st July, 1916. This was the largest ever single loss in British military history. Of those who survived this slaughter, they were committed to creating a fairer society after the war and this is demonstrated in the graves that now cover the Somme. The desire for equality is apparent in their uniformed nature. Despite his status as an officer, Major Booth’s grave is identical to both of the private soldiers’ graves that lay beside him.

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This page was added on 27/06/2016.