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.
Hickmott played 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. As a bowler he averaged 27.27, 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 possessed grace and talent on the field and he was selected to play for Canterbury while still at school. Progress to the highest honours appeared assured and so it proved. 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 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 the 4th of March 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 magisterial book “Somme” (London; Michael Joseph, 1993). In the book, an ex-pupil of Christchurch Boys High School remembers marching up to the front line on the Somme with the Canterbury Regiment, where 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; b. March 19th 1894, Christchurch, New Zealand, d. August 16th 1916, the Somme, France.