Born in Auckland, Bert went to Takapuna Grammar on the North Shore and showed huge promise as a young cricketer, captaining the school’s first XI and scoring more than 2,700 runs for the college. In 1945 he was called up for service with the 15th reinforcements, never fired a shot in anger but managed to play a lot of cricket in Egypt, and even in Italy and Japan.
The talented left-handed batsman’s career blossomed after the war and he set a number of national and international batting records, becoming one of the most successful international cricketers New Zealand has produced.
He is perhaps best known for his courageous innings against South Africa in the Boxing Day Test of 1953. This was the Test in which Bert’s team-mate, Bob Blair, received a telegram in the early hours of the second day, advising of the death of his fiancé in the Tangiwai Rail Disaster. As the team left for the ground later that morning, a stricken Blair remained at the hotel mourning his loss.
On a treacherous wicket - and in the days before helmets - Bert was felled by a bouncer from fast bowler Neil Adcock; collapsed at the ground and at the hospital - but insisted on returning to Ellis Park to help his team-mates, who by this stage had lost another of their own to hospital and were in dire straits at six down.
His head swathed in bandages, Bert launched a famous counter-attack, hitting the second ball he received for six and continuing to clear the fence as partners arrived and departed all around him. After the ninth wicket fell, and Bert was walking off thinking the innings was over, out of the tunnel walked Bob Blair – who’d been listening to the game at the hotel and had rushed to the ground to help.
It was then that the Ellis Park crowd, so raucous a moment earlier, fell silent. As Bert remembered, “you could have heard a pin drop”. He went to Bob, placed an arm around his shoulders and said: “C’mon mate – let’s throw the bat at the ball and get the hell out of here.”
Together the pair did just that, adding a quickfire 33 runs for the final wicket. Bert was left unbeaten on 80 after hitting seven sixes, but in a final gesture of respect, stood back to allow his grieving team-mate to enter the tunnel first and receive the acclaim of the crowd.
After retiring from cricket, Bert went on to become a coach and was eventually awarded an MBE for his services to sport. He died in 2001.