East London - A former captain of Border, Harold Whitfield, one of a handful of surviving first-class cricketers who played before World War II, died on Wednesday.
Whitfield, aged 94, passed away at a retirement centre in Beacon Bay, in East London.
Educated at Dale College, King William’s Town, he was selected for a Currie Cup match against Eastern Province in March 1937, while still at school.
Later that year, after finishing school, he went on a three-match tour with the provincial team. Against Western Province, two months before his 19th birthday, he scored his maiden first-class century.
His impressive 123 against a strong WP team, helped his side to their first ever victory against their illustrious opponents.
Whitfield later captained Border and continued to play until 1953/54 but he had a modest career. He scored 726 runs in 24 matches (average 18.61) while capturing 31 wickets (35.54) with a best of 4-17. He scored two half-centuries to add to his pre-war century.
During the war, Whitfield saw action as a signalman in the Navy and he served on various classes of warship in the Middle East and the Mediterranean and twice escaped death.
He was supposed to have boarded a ship in Liverpool but was held up by rail disruptions and his ship sailed without him. A few days later, it was torpedoed by German submarines with the loss of all hands.
At Gibraltar an enemy bomb blew up the motor launch he had vacated minutes before.
Among many distinctions in a full and varied life, he once opened the batting with His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, who served on the same ship as him. He dined with film star Vivien Leigh, star of the classic movie “Gone with the Wind” and he also represented Border at hockey and golf.
Whitfield became a successful businessman after the war, and was the president of the first Rotary Club set up in South Africa. In sporting circles, he started the Vagrants Cricket Club with international Osie Dawson as well as the Cambridge hockey club.
After retiring from cricket, he joined the East London Golf Club and took up the game seriously. His handicap dropped from 18 to one and he went on to represent Border in five interprovincial tournaments.
In more than 40 years of dedicated service to the sport, Whitfield held every important position in Border and South African golf, including the presidency of the South African Golf Union.
He managed SA amateur golf teams overseas and on one occasion he took a team to the exact town in Scotland where he was based during the war some 25 years before.
He is survived by a daughter, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.