With GPS cricket starting Saturday, we present a two-part series of recollections from Australia’s oldest living Test player - Churchie’s Ken Archer.
With GPS cricket starting Saturday, we present a two-part series of recollections from Australia’s oldest living Test player - Churchie’s Ken Archer.

GPS cricket legend and oldest living Test player reflects

Before COVID-19 there was an even greater threat to mankind - World War II.

Australia's oldest Test cricketer, Anglican Church Grammar School old boy Ken Archer, knew it was serious stuff when he and his classmates would dig slit trenches in anticipation of a Japanese air raid.

Archer, aged 93, recalls digging the trenches in a zigzag formation so if a Japanese fighter attacked, its machine gun fire could not run along a straight trench and kill everyone.

At least a zigzag formation would raise survival chances.

"At the end of 1941, with the Japanese moving very rapidly into the South Pacific, the Queensland Government did not let schools reopen because there was not sufficient air raid protection,'' Archer said.

"So we dug a lot of slit trenches in that time.

They were to protect you from machine guns.''

Archer did not have to look far beyond Churchie's school boundary to see military activity either.

There was an anti-aircraft battery in Heath Park, adjoining Churchie, and another just over Norman Creek near the bowls club.

He also remembers them training when a plane would fly past with a windsock trailing behind it on a rope, and troops would let loose with anti-aircraft fire  aiming at the windsock.

The war came no closer to Brisbane than the night air raids sirens were activated and the city was swiftly placed into a full blackout.

Former Australian Cricketer Ken Archer batting.Picture: Steve Morenos
Former Australian Cricketer Ken Archer batting.Picture: Steve Morenos

One or two or three aircraft flew over Brisbane, almost certainly Japanese reconnaissance planes mapping Brisbane for a possible air raid or invasion.

This was deadly serious stuff for a schoolboy like Archer and playing cricket was a great relief to him and his mates.

"We (Churchie) did not have all the gear we might have wished for because that was in short supply,'' Archer recalled.

"We had a good side and quite a few went on to play first grade cricket in Brisbane.

"Back then they picked a representative GPS XI and we played against University.''

What you had to prise out of Archer was that he played, remarkably, three and a half seasons in the First XI during the GPS competition.

"I fluked my way in when I was still in the under 15s,'' Archer said.

"We played a game against the army company who had an anti aircraft emplacement Heath Park next door and I managed to get some runs,'' he added, a match which propelled him into the Firsts as a No.3.

 

Richie Benaud (left) with Ken Archer’s young brother, Ron.
Richie Benaud (left) with Ken Archer’s young brother, Ron.

 

"I was never an opener until a bit later in life,'' he said."In my first year out of school I played against England, the touring MCC side the week before the first Test.

"I played against Len Hutton, Dennis Compton, Alec Bedser and Bill Voce who was part of Bodyline.''

Asked was he intimated, Archer replied: "I probably was. But Bill O'Reilly (Test great and journalist) gave me a nice little wrap which was nice of him.

"The next game Queensland played was a Shield match against Victoria in Melbourne and it happened to be Sam Loxton's debut match for Victoria.

"He made 230. I can't forget that - and Sam made sure I never forgot.''

 

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By the late 1940s, Archer had progressed under the captaincy of Bill Brown in the Queensland team to be named in the Australian touring team bound for South Africa.

"It was a six month tour of South Africa - five Test matches over five months and I was the 12th man,'' Archer said.

 

Ken Archer - headshot sport cricket
Ken Archer - headshot sport cricket

"It was most enjoyable - it was one of the great teams I joined."It was the first team after the return of the Invincibles (Sir Donald's Bradman's 1948 Ashes touring side)''.

"I went into that team along with Neil (Harvey). Neil and I were the babies of the team.''

By 1950 he was making his debut - against England at the MCG.

"It was an exciting, low scoring match in which no side made 200,'' Archer said.

"I managed to get a few in each innings (26 and an innings high 46 in the second dig) so I felt I made some contribution to our narrow win down there.

"Australia was the dominating cricket force and the Sheffield Shield was the highest standard of cricket in the world.

"All the Test players played in the Sheffield Shield which is what made the standard so strong.

"Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller Bill Johnston - when you played against them, you were not scared what the rest of the world would offer.''

 

Ray Lindwall (left) and Keith Miller. “When you played against them, you were not scared what the rest of the world would offer,’’ Ken Archer said.
Ray Lindwall (left) and Keith Miller. “When you played against them, you were not scared what the rest of the world would offer,’’ Ken Archer said.

Ken played five Test matches between 1950 and 1951 but the best Archer was yet to play Test cricket - little brother Ron.

Ken lost Ron in 2007 aged 73, but the memory of his greatness lives on.

"My mum and dad were proud. I kind of knew how good he was and I knew how good Peter Burge (another Churchie old boy) was.

"It just took Peter a little longer to get his act together.

"Ron was very competitive along with his talent - a bit like Pat Cummins is a great competitor.

"I was back teaching science by the time he arrived at Churchie. "He was a really gifted player - a more talented player than I was.''

 

Former Churchie great Peter Burge in 1997.
Former Churchie great Peter Burge in 1997.

Injury cut short Ron Archer's Test cricket after just 19 matches (bowling average 27, batting average 24) but he is one of Queensland's greatest players.

How Australia could do with Ken Archer today, a match winner with bat or ball.

"I try and watch the Test matches today,'' said Ken, who is grateful to the University of Queensland cricket club for "keeping me in the loop''.

"I have been impressed for the last three or four years by the remarkable list of talent India has.

"We have a few good players, but don't have the depth.''

 

TOMORROW: Why Bradman was so good, Archer's greatest player selections.

 

Originally published as GPS cricket legend, oldest living Test player reflects


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