Gerald Birt (centre) flanked by Phil Wardlaw (left) and Tony Sutton in a 1963 South Devon team group


A FORMER South Devon and Torquay cricketer who criss-crossed the world after his playing days ended has died aged 88.

Gerald Birt was a consistent run scorer and wicket-taker for South Devon between 1957-1963. His maiden half-century for the 1stXI was an unbeaten 51 made against Torquay in 1959

He joined Torquay for the 1964 season and remained with the Recreation Ground side until 1969, when he went to live and work in Zambia.

David Post, who played with and against Birt in the late 50s for South Devon and Torquay in the early 60s, said he was a player you wanted in your team.

“Gerald was a good club cricketer who bowled his medium pace on the spot, was a useful middle-order batsman and a fine close catcher,” said Post.

“He is what I describe as a very keen cricketer who was always enthusiastic whatever he was doing on the cricket pitch.

“We were pleased that he chose to come to Torquay and he quickly became a regular in the first team.”Gerald Birt

South Devon probably had an inkling Birt was on his way out of the club before it became official as he appeared in the Torquay CC match reports as a regular guest during the 1963 season.

Birt had captained South Devon’s first team on a temporary basis during the 1963 season when Murray Watts was not avaialble, but was not asked to continue, which might have persuaded him it was time to move on.

Birt clearly had a point to make against his former club as the following season he blocked out over after over to make a slow 23 not out that denied South Devon a win. 

Barney Bettesworth, who also played with and against Birt, said denying his old club victory was typical of the way he played.

“The opposition where there to be beaten and if you could not do that you did not let them win,” said Bettesworth.

Birt played for Torquay in the 1967 Devon Cup final, which Torquay lost. In later years opportunities for cricket became fewer and fewer, although he retained links with the Incogniti CC, a wandering side that toured all over the country and were regular visitors to Devon, into the early 2000s.

Gerald Swindles Birt was born in Glossop, Derbyshire in February 1933 and was the son of a police inspector.

His youthful interest in cricket was encouraged by coaching from the former Derbyshire and England all-rounder George Pope.

As a young man Gerald moved to Jersey and found work in a shipyard as a carpenter. He returned to the mainland permanently in 1960 and remained in the UK for the next nine years.

When the opportunity to work in Zambia on construction projects for Tate & Lyle arose in 1969, Birt got on the plane to Lusaka. It was while working in Zambia that widower Birt met his future wife Irene, who was a widow already working in the country.

The couple were married in 1970 and celebrated 50 years together in 2020.

The Birts returned to the UK in 1973 and set- up home together with their respective children in Corsham, Wiltshire.

When another overseas posting came along in 1978 with the Overseas Development Agency in Papua New Guinea, the Birts were off on their travels again.

The couple spent six and a half years in Papua New Guinea before coming back to the UK again. Their next venture was a nursing home in Dorchester, which they ran for more than 20 years.

The Birts’ last overseas soiree was to France, where they set-up their retirement home in 2007.

The couple were on a family visit to relatives in Gloucestershire last month when Gerald fell and sustained two broken bones in his neck and a brain bleed.

“Gerald went into hospital in mid-October and did not recover,” said Bettesworth.

Gerald Birt, whose first wife died in 1964, is survived by Irene and two stepchildren. Tim, his own son, was killed in a road traffic accident in Somerset in 2019.

Gerald Birt is on the far right of this picture, taken in 1960 when South Devon played the Australian Old Collegians