Willie Gemmill played for Glamorgan during their inaugural summer of Championship cricket with the right-handed batsman having one of the most exotic birthplaces of any of the Welsh county’s players having been born in 1900 at Thio on the island of New Caledonia in the Pacific Ocean. It resulted from his father, Arthur William Gemmill, being based on the French-owned island as part of his work for the Anglo-French Nickel Company.
In the year of Willie’s birth, the Company acquired the nickel and cobalt smelting works at Hafod which had been created in 1870 by Henry Hussey Vivian, the Swansea-based industrialist and philanthropist. Shortly afterwards, Arthur Gemmill was appointed the deputy manager of the Hafod works on the eastern outskirts of Swansea. He later rose to the position of works manager, and duly became a major figure in the sporting and public life of the town. The Scotsman became a leading member of the Swansea Bay Golf Club, besides taking part in the motor cycle races held on Pendine Sands, and acting as the Chairman of the Swansea and District Boy Scouts Association.
Willie inherited his father’s love of recreational activities and whilst at King’s Taunton, he developed his skills as a cricketer and hockey player. They stood him in good stead as he went on to win 8 hockey caps for Wales, besides playing over 50 times for Glamorgan until 1926.
Indeed, in 1920 he appeared in the Colts trial match which the county’s selectors had arranged to assess the young talent who might be called upon when the Club were elevated into the County Championship. In fact, Willie did not have to wait too long for his call-up because having played a fluent innings in the trial match, besides impressing with his swift fielding, Willie fittingly appeared in four of Glamorgan’s matches during 1920 – three were on his home turf at St. Helen’s, including his debut against Cheshire in late June.
The first three of Willie’s Championship appearances also came at Swansea, with his first-class debut taking place at the ground during late May 1921 as he was chosen to play against Leicestershire. He subsequently struck four half-centuries in Championship cricket, twice posting fifties against Surrey, as well as making 54 against Derbyshire. His finest innings though came during 1922 in the away match at Hove where Willie made an assertive 77 against a full-strength Sussex attack which included England’s Maurice Tate. Indeed, newspaper reports noted the “bold and carefree strokeplay of the Swansea amateur.”
However, his career-best first-class score came whilst playing for Wales during their match at Perth against Scotland in July 1923. Given his father’s links with the Lanark area, it was fitting that Willie’s most productive innings should come on Scottish soil, with the tall and hard-hitting batsman opening the batting with Norman Riches and top-scoring with 74.
August 1926 saw Willie play his final game for Glamorgan, against Gloucestershire at Swansea, before moving to work in London. He subsequently stayed in the south-east of England, and died in September 1987 at the Kenfield Hall Nursing Home at Petham, near Canterbury. His grandson Tristan, is an actor who has appeared on TV in roles in episodes of Casualty and Coronation Street.
GEMMILL, William Neilson
Born – Thio, New Caledonia, 14 June, 1900.
Died – Canterbury, 18 September, 1987.
Best performances for Glamorgan:
In Minor County cricket – 15 v Devon at Neath 1920; 2/18 v Carmarthenshire at Swansea, 1920.
In First-class cricket – 77 v Sussex at Hove, 1922.