Alan Burgess is happy to take on board the fact he is the world’s oldest surviving first class cricketer but he’s certainly not shouting the fact from the rooftops.
Instead, within his third-storey room at Charles Upham Retirement Village, Alan is more of the mind to think back to special moments from his 100 years plus of living. In other words, he is very happy to chat.
Alan has already just received visitors to the Rangiora village. During this visit Alan is keenly watching rugby on television and comments that he is keeping an eye on Ethan Blackadder, the son of his great nephew Todd Blackadder.
His energy levels are high when it comes to making sure those he served with in World War II or played with on the cricket field are remembered well.
Alan, a resident at Charles Upham since April 2017, has the ‘oldest surviving’ honour following the recent death of Indian player Vasant Raiji who was also 100.
He played for Canterbury and New Zealand Services cricket teams. He remembers playing at Lords (known as the home of cricket) three times, against such players as Len Hutton, an English opening batsman of distinction.
Alan was a right-handed batsman and left-arm bowler and played for Canterbury from 1940 to 1952 though the war did intervene on him representing the province. He joined the army when he turned 21 in 1941 and served in Egypt (as did Charles Upham VC, whom the village is named after) and Italy as a Sherman tank driver in the Tank Brigade of the 20th Canterbury-Otago Battalion.
These days he still likes to keep his visitors with quick jokes and asides. At the time of his birthday on the 1st of May he even kept some of the current Black Caps who gave him celebratory phone calls ‘on the run’ in terms of his repartee.
He also remembers some of the well-known sports reporters including Dick Brittenden (of The Press and New Zealand’s most prominent cricket writer in the day) and Larry Saunders (the Christchurch Star).
During the war, Alan drove a tank as part of the Italian campaign and watched the huge damage done during the Battle of Monte Cassino, with the monastery suffering from heavy Allied forces bombing. American planes dropped 1400 tonnes of bombs on the historic abbey which was later rebuilt. He returned to Monte Cassino to commemorate a 70th reunion of some of those who served in 2004.
He also remembers visiting Venice in the later stages of war. Restaurants were still open, and there were a few beers drunk, he says. “That’s where we finished (the war).” There are sad memories of course especially of those who “walked through that door” and didn’t come back from the war.
In 1945 he was sent to England and played alongside Verdun Scott and Roger Blunt as part of a New Zealand Services team that played that year from July to September. He was a big fan of fellow cricketer Martin ‘Squib’ Donnelly. Previously he’d driven Donnelly's tank.
“He was my tank commander. There’s five in a crew, and I was the driver.”
“He was a brilliant (cricket) allrounder, one of the best we’ve ever had."
Later when Alan represented Canterbury, he played with Tom Burtt, Ray Emery and Roger Blunt.
Before moving into Charles Upham village, Alan and his wife were residents of Monck’s Spur, near Sumner, where there is a Burgess Street – named after Alan’s uncle Charles Gordon Burgess.
These days his mobility is somewhat limited, given that his knees give him trouble.