John Phillips in the Instow pavilion with Chris Rogers, a former North Devon CC professional who went on to play 25 times for Australia


NORTH Devon CC’s long-serving president John Phillips, who celebrated his 100th birthday in September last year, has died.

Phillips moved from his Instow home into residential care following the death of his wife Sally in January this year.

David Lea, a friend of Phillips’, said: “John did not have Covid or anything else, but just faded away.”

John Poynder Phillips, the son of an Australian father and English mother, was born on September 16, 1920 in Sydney. His father – a mine and estate manager in Malaya – arranged for wife Ruth to have her baby in Australia where medical facilities were better.

When John Phillips was seven he was sent to a preparatory school in Sussex. Later he was educated at Stowe School in Buckinghamshire.

During his final three years at Stowe he was a regular member of the 1st XI, for whom he often opened the batting and the bowling. Nearly 50 years later son Andrew followed his father into the Stowe 1st XI.

A career in law appealed to the teenaged Phillips and he studied the subject at Cambridge for a year before war intervened.

John Phillips and wife Sally enjoying the cricket at Instow | Photo: Keith Palmer“When war broke out in 1939 John and several of his friends decided to enlist,” said Lea.

“John joined the Indian Army and, after basic training in Bangalore was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 6th Gurkha Rifles.

“He served with the Gurkhas throughout the entire war in the Far East and rose to the rank of major.

“Towards the end of his time with the Gurkhas they were involved in the battle for Mandalay.”

Phillips’ father died in a Japanese captivity during the war, but his mother survived and returned to her North Devon roots. Ruth Poynder, who had been born in Ilfracombe, found a job with Barnstaple law firm Chanter, Burrington and Foster.

Rather than return to Cambridge to resume his studies in law, Phillips was articled to Chanter, Burrington and Foster and became a solicitor via that route.

Phillips practised law for more than 50 years with the same firm that, after numerous changes of name, became Chanter Ferguson. It merged with Wollens in 2014.

Phillips first appears in North Devon CC scorebooks in 1949 and was soon a regular member of the 1st XI. He was also a playing member of the Devon Dumplings and the MCC.

“John had played cricket at school but until he joined North Devon CC in 1949 I think he had concentrated on golf,” said Lea.

As a member of the MCC Phillips is one of very few people in cricketing world to have watched English Test match victories over Australia at Lords in 1934 and 2009.John Phillips peering through the pavilion window at Instow during a rain break

Phillips cricket career tailed off during the 1970s, but he revived it during the 1980s when son Andrew started playing.

“I think John liked the idea of playing some matches with his son and carried on for three or four years,” said Lea.

Phillips was made president of North Devon CC in 1986 in succession to Len Avery (1984-85) and was an active one until the last few years.

Mark Ansell, the North Devon chairman, said Phillips’ dedication to the club was remarkable.

“John was a true gentleman and a great asset to the club for decades – as player, chairman, and then president. 

“Our wonderful president had a long and very distinguished innings and will be sorely missed.”

Cricket wasn’t Phillips’ only sporting enthusiasm. He enjoyed skiing and was a keen golfer who was good enough to win the Devon amateur title in 1948.

Phillips played golf for Devon for 15 years and captained the county golf team in 1955 and 1960. Devon won the South West Championship under Phillips’ captaincy. He was president of the South West Counties Golf Association in 1974.

Phillips was a member of numerous golf clubs, among them the Royal & Ancient, which was one of the governing bodies of the sport. 

Phillips belonged to the Royal North Devon Golf Club for more than 70 years. He was a committeeman, later chairman and president and the organiser of the club’s centenary celebrations in 1964.

Mark Evans, the general manager at the RND, said Phillips was made an honorary member of the club more than 30 years ago in recognition of his work there.

Evans added: “John was an accomplished golfer whose name appears on many honours boards. He was a character not to be forgotten.”

John Phillips met wife Sally at work where she was a secretary. The couple married in 1966 and had two children: Ruth and Andrew.