Legends: J.H. Cameron (1932-47)

The following article is an extract from SOMERSET CRICKETERS 1919-1939 by STEPHEN HILL & BARRY PHILLIPS (Published by Halsgrove 2017)

John Cameron was born on 8 April 1914 in Kingston, Jamaica, the son of John Joseph Cameron, who had studied Medicine in England and had played for Jamaica and the West Indies on their 1906 tour. John Jnr’s brother, Francis James, would also represent Jamaica and the West Indies.

Educated at Taunton School, John Jnr showed precocious talent as a schoolboy leg-spinner, playing for the First XI from the age of thirteen and also representing the school at rugby (though association football was his preferred code). Having turned in some outstanding performances, he was invited to play for The Rest v Lord’s Public Schools at Lord’s in 1932 and bamboozled his opponents with his leg-spin, taking 10 for 49 in the first innings. The only man who had held out was Jake Seamer. John Cameron then went on to represent the Public Schools side against The Army and enjoyed further success.

He was offered a place at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, where he played for the University XI from 1934 and won blues in three seasons between 1935 and 1937. After leaving school, he had found that his bowling skills – largely uncoached – had deserted him and his father, aware of John’s outstanding talent, had funded coaching sessions in London with the likes of Tich Freeman and Wilfred Rhodes. John put his loss of control down to the fact that he had used his fingers and not his wrists and that as he matured and his fingers thickened, he lost the knack, no longer hearing the click of his finger joints as the ball left his hand. Reinvented as an off-break bowler, he met with some success, but never as much as he had enjoyed as a schoolboy prodigy.

His bowling figures for Somerset, for whom he would play on fifty-nine occasions, make less impressive reading than his performances for other teams. He took 45 wickets at 43.66 apiece. His batting, described as sound rather than spectacular, improved over time and he was capable enough to complete three centuries while averaging 18.55. His career with the county would in fact come in two separate spells: first as an undergraduate and later, after the Second World War, when he had returned to England.

After graduating in 1937, he was married to Kathleen Cecilia Jones in London, before the couple left for Jamaica to begin his career as a teacher. Within two years he was back, asked to tour with the West Indies in 1939 as their Vice-Captain. Although not considered one of their stand-out performers, he was a sound choice: articulate and very familiar with the English game. A description of him in the Official Souvenir of the tour reads:

Although short of stature he delivers the ball well up with unusual spin and deception, has plenty of stamina and patience. He is also a good reliable batsman and a very alert field.

After appearing in the first two Tests and performing reasonably well – taking the wicket of Harold Gimblett with his very first over in international cricket – he subsequently split his hand badly whilst fielding, ironically, against Somerset and was obliged to miss the third and final Test.

He would return to Somerset in 1946 when offered a job as a teacher at Millfield by the school’s maverick headmaster R. J. O. Meyer. By this time, he and Kathleen had a son, Geoffrey, who would predecease them in 1994. While back in the county, John played for Somerset on three occasions in August 1947. After leaving Millfield he went on to teach in Chigwell, Essex.

He had a sunny disposition and was popular among amateurs and pros alike. A victim of his times he was on the receiving end of the racism inherent in most walks of life, reflected in his monikers of ‘Monkey’ and ‘Snowball’. There were rumours that his colour was an issue when the Somerset committee were struggling to find an amateur captain and – still teaching at the time at Millfield – he offered his services, only to be declined. Although he bore it all with good humour he was, according to David Foot, who conversed with him about his career, worn down at times and susceptible to depression. A quiet man, in later life he was happy to be surrounded by his collection of cricket books, listening to Classical or Big Band music.

John Cameron died at the age of eighty-five on 13 February 2000 in Chichester, Sussex. His wife Kathleen died two years later at the age of ninety.