From left: Air Commodore Sir Egbert ‘Bertie’ Cadbury (Courtesy: Flickr account of Picture Norfolk); a cricket match at the Cadbury property of Bournville © Getty Images; a 1 kg-pack of Dairy Milk, Cadbury’s most famous product © Getty Images
From left: Air Commodore Sir Egbert ‘Bertie’ Cadbury (Courtesy: Flickr account of Picture Norfolk); a cricket match at the Cadbury property of Bournville © Getty Images; a 1-kg pack of Dairy Milk, Cadbury’s most famous product, complete with the signature logo and purple colour on the pack © Getty Images

Air Commodore Sir Egbert ‘Bertie’ Cadbury, born April 20, 1893, is usually remembered as a First World War pilot. However, he was also Managing Director of multinational confectionary giant Cadbury’s, and finds a mention in these pages for his cricket career, however undistinguished. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at a man not usually associated with cricket.

It all started with John Cadbury and his humble chocolate shop at 93 Bull Street, Birmingham. Legend goes that Cadbury built the shop himself, and the shop got underway in 1824. At this stage the shop sold tea, coffee, and drinking chocolate.

There is something curious that deserves a mention here. Just like Henry Rowntree (founder of Rowntree’s confectioners, of Kit Kat fame), and Joseph Fry (of JS Fry & Son’s chocolates), Cadbury, too, was a Quaker.

It is curious how three famous Quakers of the era took up the same business roughly at the same time. Probably they wanted to provide an addiction to alcohol, tobacco, and drugs, all of which were abhorred by Quakers. However, the focus was mostly on drinking chocolate, for it was not until 1847 that JS Fry & Son’s created the first chocolate bar.

Note: Fry’s creation was a chocolate-only bar. It was not until 1875 that Daniel Peter (in collaboration with Henri Nestlé) launched a chocolate bar with added milk, thus inventing milk chocolate.

The Crooked Lane factory went up in 1831. In another eleven years (as per the Cadbury’s website) John Cadbury’s factory was selling 16 varieties of drinking chocolate and 11 cocoas. By 1847 they needed a larger factory, this time at Bridge Street (do note the year; Fry had launched their chocolate bar this year).

The legacy passed on to John’s sons Richard Barrow and George in 1861. As Cadburys grew as an organisation (and ran out of space again) the brothers decided on something: they acquired a 14.5-acre land four miles south of Birmingham.

The Cadbury’s website describes the site in details: “Workers lived in far better conditions than they’d experienced in the crowded slums of the city. The new site had canal, train and road links and a good water supply. There was lots of room to expand, which was lucky, because George’s plans for the future were ambitious. He wanted to build a place full of green spaces, where industrial workers could thrive away from city pollution.”

They also had a picturesque cricket ground there. They named the place Bournville. Chocolate-lovers across the world may find the name familiar.

Cadbury Brothers Milk Chocolate was launched in 1897, four years after Egbert ‘Bertie’, the hero of our story, was born to George and his second wife Elizabeth Mary (née Taylor). George’s first wife Mary (née Taylor, daughter of John Taylor, probably unrelated to Elizabeth) had passed away in 1887.

Mary was the mother of Edward (the philanthropist), George Jr, Henry Tylor, Mary Isabel, and Eleanor; Elizabeth gave birth to Laurence John (we will return to him shortly), George Norman, Elsie Dorothea, Egbert, Marion Janet, and Elizabeth Ursula.

Let us turn our attention to Elizabeth for a while. She played a significant role in the growth of Bournville; she was the mind behind Woodland Hospital (later Royal Orthopaedic Hospital) and Beeches, the renowned free holiday spot for slum children; she was Chairperson of Birmingham School Medical Service and for seven years, President of United Hospital, Birmingham; founded Birmingham Union of Girls’ Clubs; was an active member in YWCA and National Council for Women; and led the UK delegation to the 1936 (she was 78) World Congress of International Council of Women in Calcutta.

She was named Dame of British Empire in 1934.

Cricket at Leighton High

In 1890, three years before Egbert’s birth, George and Elizabeth founded a public school for boys in Reading, Berkshire. ‘Bertie’ went to this school, Leighton High before moving on to pursue economics at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Egbert’s recorded cricket career is all-too-brief, and is restricted to his Leighton High days, all in the summer of 1912. The first two matches were both against Abingdon School, in May; Egbert Cadbury did not bowl, and scored 2 and 0, though he was probably a specialist batsman: he batted at Nos. 6 and 7 in the two matches, and Leighton High lost both.

Two months later he was selected for Leighton High again, this time against Magdalen College School, Oxford. Once again he scored a duck (from No. 7), and that was it. Thankfully, Leighton High won this time, thanks to HL Edmonds’ 93 (it was an emphatic contribution, given that Magdalen were bowled out for 91).

Brothers at War

This is when we go back to Laurence, as promised above. Laurence, four years older to Bertie, had been to Leighton High before pursuing economics at Trinity. However, when both were required to join the forces in World War I, Bertie went to the front while Laurence stayed back, spending the years with Friends’ Ambulance Unit (FAU).

Not everyone was happy with the decision. As James Meikle wrote in The Guardian, “The FAU was controversial among Quakers and pacifists. While supporters believed they were helping people without breaking a commitment to peace, others felt the unit’s existence allowed the military to divert men and resources into fighting that would have otherwise been needed for ambulance work.”

This also came as a surprise, for socialist and pacifist Symon Hill called Laurence Cadbury the least pacifist among the siblings.

Bertie joined the Royal Navy, sailing on HMS Zarefah and HMS Sagitta. He joined Royal Naval Air Service shortly afterwards as Flight Sub Lieutenant (and later Flight Lieutenant), and was trained at Great Yarmouth Air Service in Norfolk. His family was in constant touch, sending parcels filled with Cadbury products, much to the delight of the Bertie (barely past his teens) and his colleagues.

Trivia: Roughly around this time Bertie’s paths crossed with Henry Allingham, co-founder of RAF with a more than distinguished military career. A quizmaster’s favourite, Allingham lived up to 113 years and remains Britain’s oldest-lived person.

Laurence and Bertie corresponded regularly. Sometime in 1915 (“over two months ago”, as written on August 2) Bertie even sought Laurence’s advice about “taking a commission”. The language was slightly more colourful, on the lines of “You are a bloody sh*t, you have not answered my letter, even though I have written several times…”

Bertie’s first flight was in a Sopwith, on August 9 and 10, 1915, against Naval Zeppelins L9, L10, L12, and L13. He had never flown a Sopwith before, and it gave him “cold feet”. Bertie also mentioned “submarine scares”. At this point he was “writing to a girl called Joyce”.

However, things changed by September. Bertie seemed to have been affected by “the murder of war,” for almost everyone close to him in the unit had been “done in”. At this stage Bertie even expressed regret about not staying back in the Navy and joining the RAF because he never liked the company of the officers.

Note: The language, as before, was slightly more colourful, on the lines of “long-caned nimble c**k-suckers”…

Bertie was desperate at this stage. He wanted to dissociate himself, longing for a family with J [Joyce, presumably]. You have to feel for the boy. Warfare is already depressing for anyone: and you have someone coming from a family that manufactures chocolates.

In a later correspondence, in May 1916, Bertie was possibly on the verge of going over the brink. He wrote clearly that he was “sick of the war”, adding that he people in the Government “are not being able to use their brains.” As before, the letter carried grief, expressing how sick he was of the futility of it all.

There was another curious comment that would be of some relevance later. Bertie was certain that an aeroplane had no chance against a Zeppelin “unless it catches it unawares”. Bertie probably based his assumption on an incident, when an aeroplane chased a Zeppelin to Holland but came back unsuccessfully.

On September 24, 1916, Cadbury crashed a Sopwith in the sea “while adjusting his goggles”.

The Zeppelin adventures

Note: The main source of this section is talk by Paul Handford at the Birmingham Medal Society meeting on July 3, 2014.

November 27, 1916. A troop of ten Zeppelins had left in two groups, for Industrial Midlands and North of England. One of them, the L21, dropped a bomb at Kidsgrove, and three more at each of Goldenhill and Tunstall. They also bombarded Chesterton, Fenton, and Trentham, but thankfully there was no recorded casualty.

It was late night. Bertie Cadbury (on machine no. 8625) and Flight Sub Lieutenants Gerard Fane and Edward Pulling left at the crack of dawn.

Bertie later recollected the incident: “It was flying about 5,000 feet when I first saw it and it immediately climbed to 8,000 feet. I went after it. I approached from the stern about 3,000 feet below and fired four drums of explosive ammunition in to its stern, which immediately started to light … Having seen the Zeppelin circle down to the sea in a blazing mass — a most horrible sight — I went back to Yarmouth. I could not say I felt very elated or pleased at this; somehow I was overawed at the spectacle of this Zeppelin and all the people aboard going down into the sea.”

Indeed, Bertie had won the battle, but the joy of bloodbath had left him long ago.

On June 29, 1917, Bertie and Fane were both awarded the Distinguished Service (DS) Cross, and Pulling, the DS Order. According to BBC, Bertie was only the second fighter pilot to have taken down a Zeppelin.

Bertie (or no one else) had informed Laurence, who wrote in a letter to his parents that he was surprised to see his brother’s picture on The Daily Sketch with a mention of his being awarded the DS Cross.

Perhaps Bertie had felt sick about it all. One will never find out.

There were other stories of his heroics. On May 23 and 24, 1917 Bertie flew three patrols, which was probably the first use of a Sopwith Pup for Home Defence. On June 17 his aircraft was hit, resulting in a leaked petrol pipe: our hero landed the aircraft safely, sealing the hole temporarily with a finger.

On August 5, 1918 there was another Zeppelin raids, one of the last in The Great War. This time the platoon consisted of the L53, L56, L63, L65, and the grandest and latest of them all, the L70. The target was Great Yarmouth.

Little did they know that their course had been tracked. Bertie Cadbury, by now a Major, ascended a Havilland D4 along with Captain Bob Leckie.

With The War approaching an end, Bertie’s frustration had probably receded a bit: “I roared down to the station in my ever-ready Ford, seized a scarf, goggles and helmet, tore off my streamline coat, and, semi-clothed, with a disreputable jacket under my arm, sprinted as hard as ever nature would let me, and took a running jump into the pilot’s seat. I beat my most strenuous competitor by one-fifth of a second.”

Leckie fired tracer bullets at the L70. Bertie recollected: “It was a most fascinating sight — awe-inspiring — to see this enormous Zeppelin blotting the whole sky above one. The tracers ignited the escaping gas, the flames spreading rapidly and turning the airship into a fireball in less than a minute. The L70 dived headlong into the clouds. It was one of the most terrifying sights I have ever seen to see this huge machine hurtling down with all those crew on board.”

Was there a change in tone? Perhaps.

He wrote to his father the next day: “You will have heard probably before this reaches you that my lucky star has again been in the ascendant, and that another Zeppelin has gone to destruction, sent there by a perfectly peaceful live-and-let-live citizen, who has no lust for blood or fearful war spirit in his veins.”

Sarcasm? Exasperation? Perhaps.

Though Cadbury was nominated for the Victoria Cross, both he and Leckie were eventually awarded the DS Cross. It was also the last L70 attack.

Egbert Cadbury survived The War, earning reputation as a “Zepp Killer”.

Laurence was also awarded with a Military OBE.

Chocolate hero

George Cadbury passed away in 1922. Before his death he witnessed two major changes in his organisation that stand till date: in 1920 they changed their colour to the iconic purple we all know; and in 1921 they adopted the famous ‘script’ logo based on the handwriting of Richard’s son William Adlington Barrow Cadbury.

Before that, Cadbury Brothers had taken over JS Fry & Son’s in 1918 (1919, according to some sources). Bertie, Managing Director at Cadbury Brothers, now took over Fry’s part at Bristol along with Cecil Fry.

The acquisition was a matter of time. Bertie wrote after taking over: “They [Fry’s] never had much regard for quality, but during the war they abandoned any pretence of maintaining it … they came out with the terrible reputation as the manufacturers of gritty and almost unpleasant chocolate … If that wasn’t bad enough, on closer inspection Fry was a ramshackle organisation with a somewhat laissez-faire approach to the business of delighting customers.”

Things were bad. John Bradley wrote in Cadbury’s Purple Reign that Bertie “must have yearned for the simpler world of aerial combat when he saw what confronted him in Bristol.”

Bertie took swift actions. He set up a 222-acre factory at Somerdale, Keynsham, in 1923. Bertie was responsible for setting up the operations at Somerdale Garden City. The investment, a mammoth £160,000, was worth it: the factory grew at a rapid rate, and eventually operated with strength of 5,000 employees under Bertie.

In 1944 he was appointed a Director of Lloyds Bank. He was knighted in 1957 and retired from Cadbury in 1963. He married Mary (née Forbes), and the couple had two sons — Peter, first Chairman of Westward Television in England, and Robin, an engineer.

What was Bertie like? In a 2014 interview with BBC, Bertie’s grandson Justin told that his grandfather was “a loving grandpa, but indeed, bit of a rebel”, but at the same time was “extraordinarily shy”.

Air Commodore Egbert Cadbury passed away at Weston-super-Mare in 1967.  He was 73.

His residence at Kimberly Terrace was later sold to Carlton Hotel, but in October 2013 a plaque was put up there.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)