Cyril Pelham Foley

Cricketer, sportsman, adventurer, soldier and writer

The Raider

Cyril Pelham Foley was a cricketer, writer, journalist, gambler and soldier. He was a journalist and has given us an often witty account of the Parker expedition.

Given that he went on an expedition to find the Ark of the Covenant it is fitting that his nickname was The Raider, which he gained when he was a member of the disastrous Jameson Raid which helped spark the Boer War. The raid’s goal was to spark an uprising in the Dutch-speaking Boer republic of Transvaal and bring its gold and diamonds under British control. The operation turned out to be a disaster and Foley and the other raiders were captured by the Boers.

During his cricketing career he played for Middlesex, Marylebone Cricket Club, Lord Brackley’s XI, AJ Webbe’s XI, Cambridge University scoring over 3,000 runs during his career. Reports describe him as a patient batsman, a slow left-arm bowler and an almost comically awful fielder! He played against many of the great cricketers of the day including WG Grace and in his autobiography he recounts what is possibly the earliest recorded account of a reverse sweep. It happened in a game between Gloucestershire and Middlesex at least seventy years before that stroke’s supposed invention, William Woof was the bowler and Sir Timothy O’Brien was the batsman:

‘The latter treated him as he afterwards treated W.W. Read at Lords, except that he back-handed him through the slips, and did not, ofcourse turn round to do so. E.M. Grace who was fielding close in at slip, narrowly escaped injury, the ball passing with great velocity through his whiskers twice. W.G., whose fraternal affection was aroused, said to O’Brien: “You mustn’t do that Tim, you’ll kill my brother.” O’Brien, who disliked E.M. replied: “And a good thing too” and promptly did it again. W.G. then warned O’Brien that if the stroke was repeated, he would take his men off the field. Needless to say O’Brien repeated it, and W.G. marched off the field.’

WG Grace

Cyril Foley came from a privileged background and was educated at Eton and Cambridge. He was the second son of a general and the grandson of a baron. The Foley family had a long military tradition encompassing both glorious success and disastrous failure. One relative was a member of Nelson’s band of brothers and rose to the rank of admiral. During his illustrious career he led the manoeuvre at the Battle of the Nile that destroyed Napoleon’s fleet. Cyril’s father was a general in the British Army. During the Crimean War he watched his wife’s uncle, Lord Cardigan, lead the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade. Foley himself served in the Boer War, the First World War and the Irish War of Independence, surviving all three. In the latter conflict he served in British Military Intelligence  in Dublin Foley narrowly escaped one of the most notorious and bloody days of the war, the original Bloody Sunday. He returned to London at the end of October 1920 and shortly afterwards relinquished his commission. On the 21st November 1920, the Irish Republic Army or I.R.A. killed fourteen members of British Military Intelligence in Dublin in a single day.

Foley always looked for adventure and in 1909 he went to Jerusalem in search of the Ark of the Covenant. The Parker expedition consisted mainly of upper-class young Eton-educated Englishmen who believed that a Finnish scholar had found secret cyphers hidden in the Bible which told where the Ark was hidden. It sounds improbable; Downton Abbey meets Indiana Jones meets Dan Brown, but it is absolutely true. They tried to keep secret what they were looking for but could not help drawing attention to themselves Foley wrote that one day while they were playing cricket he hit a six into the Pool of Siloam, where the Bible records Jesus healed a blind man. Foley wrote that his six was ‘a thing which I believe, has never been done before, not even by the Hittites.’

Sunday Express Headline from 1926