Rupert Hickmott was one of only two New Zealand cricket representatives to be killed in World War One. Wisden wrote, after his death at the age of 22, that “he was probably the most promising cricketer in the Dominion”, and they were quite possibly right.
Rupert Hickmott played cricket for St Albans, Canterbury, and New Zealand, being a member of the team that toured Australia in 1913-14. During that tour he scored 346 runs, with an average of 26.15. He also played in the first ‘Test’ against the mighty Australian team that toured New Zealand in 1914, scoring 26 and 7 respectively. His first class average as a batsman was 25.09, with a highest score of 109 for Canterbury against Hawkes Bay in 1915 – the only century scored in the last Plunket Shield season before war intervened.
His bowling average of 27.27 proves his worth as an all-rounder, but the figures, as is so often the case, do not reflect the man. He was seen as a batsman of immense promise because of his flair and his elegance at the crease. He seems to have possessed a calm temperament and had the ability to constantly learn from his experiences on the field. They said Hickmott could make time stand still when he was batting and was a gifted fielder and clever bowler. Maybe, just maybe, he was a New Zealand captain in the making.
His leadership qualities were recognised by Christchurch Boys High School when he was awarded the Deans Memorial Scholarship in 1912 – an award given to a student for “general character”. This stature was reinforced by a schoolmate, who described him as “immensely popular”. In 1909, at the age of 15, Hickmott was playing for Christchurch Boys High School against Auckland Grammar in the inaugural Heathcote Williams Shield match. He was out for a duck in his first innings and scored 18* in the second. He played again in 1910 before, in 1911, scoring a century and taking 10 for 135 with his slow/medium pace spin. With that performance, he established himself as a national presence in the game.
Hickmott’s grace and talent on the field saw him selected to play for Canterbury while still at school. Progress to higher honours appeared assured and so it proved when selected for the 1913-14 New Zealand touring side. He played seventeen first class matches in all until WWI came. A member of the cadet force at school and, later, a member of the Territorials, Hickmott had to apply to the Army for permission to leave the country when he toured to Australia in 1913-14. Later he joined the war effort and was posted to the Canterbury Regiment.
Still, Rupert played cricket. In Wellington, he played for the Trentham Soldiers Club while he was training at the army camp there, averaging 40.8 across five innings. On his final leave from Trentham, he played for St Albans against Riccarton in January 1916. He made a top score of 24 and took 7 for 80 in, what was to be, his last appearance on a New Zealand cricket ground.
On March 4 1916, Hickmott embarked for France, via Suez. He doesn’t quite disappear from our sight though. We have a fleeting glimpse of him after this in Lyn MacDonald’s book, Somme (London; Michael Joseph, 1993). In the book, an ex-pupil of Christchurch Boys High School recounts marching to the front line on the Somme with the Canterbury Regiment. Once there, he is met and cheered on by other members of the Regiment who were already in the trenches, including four of his school mates. One of them was Rupert Hickmott, described as “the idol of Christchurch Boys High School”.
Soon after, on the 16th of September 1916, Hickmott was killed in action. His name is on the Caterpillar Memorial in the Caterpillar Valley Cemetery on the Somme.
In their first game of the new season in October 1916, members of the St Albans cricket team wore black armbands in his memory.
Rupert George Hickmott; born March 19 1894, Christchurch; died August 16 1916, the Somme, France