A former Bear and First World War casualty whose name was immortalized as one of the best known characters in literature is to be honoured on the centenary of his death at the Battle of the Somme in July 1916.
On 14 July 2016 the P G Wodehouse Society will plant a tree in memory of Percy Jeeves, a young cricketer whose skill impressed the author P G Wodehouse, and whose name he later chose for a new short story character. That character became Wodehouse’s most famous creation, Jeeves, the all-knowing gentleman’s personal gentleman, a central character along with Bertie Wooster in some of the most popular books in the English language.
The tree will be planted during the Cheltenham Cricket Festival, on the lovely Cheltenham College Ground where Wodehouse once watched Percy Jeeves play for Warwickshire. The poplar tree will be planted jointly by members of Jeeves’s and Wodehouse’s families: Mr Keith Mellard, Percy Jeeves’s great-nephew, and Sir Edward Cazalet, Wodehouse’s grandson. Members of younger generations of both families will also be present. A memorial stone in the shape of a book will sit alongside the tree.
The cricketer Percy Jeeves volunteered for Army service and was one of thousands killed in the assault on High Wood on 22 July 1916. His body was never found, lost in the mud and the horror of the Somme. His name is one of 72,000 inscribed on the Thiepval Monument, Jeeves’s only memorial until this centenary event.
Jeeves’s name has become famous worldwide, by chance, simply because a young author on holiday happened to see him play, liked his bowling action, and remembered him when he needed the right name for a character. Jeeves never knew. He was one of 34 professional cricketers* whose ‘final over’ came in the First World War – of course, one of millions killed or injured whose service is being remembered this month in the centenary commemorations of the Battle of the Somme.
P G Wodehouse watched Percy Jeeves play at Cheltenham in August 1913; the 33-year-old Wodehouse had been living and working in America at that time, but was visiting his parents in Cheltenham. Later, back in New York, he remembered having seen Jeeves bowl: “I remember admiring his action very much,” he wrote, and “It was just the name I wanted.”
The fictional Jeeves made his debut in a short story published in 1915 and his character featured in 35 short stories and 11 full-length novels by P G Wodehouse.
The P G Wodehouse Society will present Cheltenham College with a set of the books that have ‘Jeeves’ in the title for the school library. “We are so grateful to the College for allowing us to place Percy’s memorial in their grounds,” said
Society Chairman, Hilary Bruce. “We are keen to encourage young readers to enjoy P G Wodehouse’s glorious writing so we are especially glad to present these books as a memento of the day.
“Ours is a thriving society of Wodehouse enthusiasts with around 1,000 members and we encourage everyone who appreciates Wodehouse’s work to join.”
Those also present for the ceremony will include Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire Dame Janet Trotter; High Sheriff of Gloucestershire the Rt Hon the Countess Bathurst; and representatives of Percy Jeeves’s old regiment, nowthe Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, Warwickshire County Cricket Club. Senior representatives of Gloucestershire County Cricket Club, organisers of the Cheltenham Cricket Festival, and Cheltenham College, on whose ground the tournament takes place, will also be present, and the P G Wodehouse Society gratefully acknowledges the enthusiastic encouragement and support of both organisations. Proceedings will be overseen by the P G Wodehouse Society Chairman, Ms Hilary Bruce.
A Jeeves Chronology
- 1888 (5 March) Percy Jeeves is born at Earlsheaton in the West Riding of Yorkshire.
- 1905 Jeeves makes his cricketing debut aged 17.
- 1910 Jeeves begins his first season as a professional cricketer at Hawes Cricket Club.
- 1910 Warwickshire CCC engages Jeeves.
- 1913 (14 August) P G Wodehouse sees Jeeves play at Cheltenham.
- 1914 (9 July) Jeeves is selected for the Gentlemen vs Players game at The Oval.
- (4 August) Britain declares war on Germany.
- (10 October) Jeeves volunteers for the Army.
- 1915 (18 September) The Saturday Evening Post publishes a short story, ‘Extricating Young Gussie’, in which Jeeves makes his debut.
- 1916 (22 July) Percy Jeeves dies. His body was never recovered.