Neil Waller - A Spy with Sauce

Neil Waller is one of the fathers of Ashwood Cricket Club. He was a founding member and with Dave Hillbrick alternated the presidency for almost two decades. He was the first president and early life member. Long-time players recall Waller, well after he had retired as a player in the early '60's at age 44, still taking an interest by wandering around Essex Heights Reserve, often with wife Pat, son Robert or daughter Anne. As late as the 1997/98 season he was still giving to the club: his generous donation covered the cost of a thick cricket book for the end-of-season raffle. The first gentleman of Ashwood died in September '98, severing the link between the club's origins and its present.
The story of Neil Waller is intertwined with that of the first love of his life, wife Pat. Their story is one of wartime romance and, especially in his case, intrigue. Before World War II, he lived and bowled his off-spinners at a college in Oxford, 80 km north-west of London, England. He was good enough to represent the college on tours all over Europe and the sub-continent. So good, in fact, that with his olive skin from many hours in the field the university principal mistook him for a Pakistani student and started congratulating him for his on-field deeds in broken English. In those days good spinners only came from the sub-continent.
When Hitler's armies threatened to dominate the world Waller joined Air Force Intelligence and rose to the rank of sergeant in MI6 - real life Dangerman or a forerunner to Bodie and Doyle, from the early '80s TV show The Professionals. But despite his heavy involvement, his father kept his war secrets to himself, Robert says. "Dad didn't like to talk about the war, but in his last two years when he was sick he opened up to me," Robert says. "He was sent around the world to dissect strategies for the generals. He told me he was sent to Pearl Harbour the day after the Japanese bombing and he was amazed things were still burning.
"I can understand why he didn't want to talk too much because he had some pretty dark stories. He told me about a code the Germans had form the Spanish civil war that no one had been able to crack, so they used it again early in World War II. A British Navy man killed a German spy operating as a fisherman and stole a typewriter-like machine that could decipher the code. The spy's ship was sunk and the Germans did not know the British had the machine. (Hollywood made a film about this incident, U-571, in which the US takes credit for this victory)
"With the code broken, the British then were able to know many things in advance, like the bombing of Coventry, when 20,000 people were killed. Dad's intelligence outfit knew a week before but they couldn't do anything because that would have revealed to the Germans that they had the decoding machine. This story couldn't come out until after Churchill died because people would have thought that he'd sacrificed 20,000 people, which I suppose he did, for the greater war effort."
During the war Waller came to Australia and in Brisbane met Pat, whose parents had moved to Australia from England when she was a baby. When Waller was recalled to England, he and Pat kept in touch. "We wrote each other every day for 18 months until Neil came back to Australia," Pat says. "He had to be discharged at Admiralty House, but that never happended officially, so he could have been called back to duty at any time.' They were engaged in October '48 and married in November.
In 1950 the Wallers moved to Edmonds Ave and Neil started working for Norm McArthur at his newsagency around the corner on Warrigal Rd, Ashburton East (Ashwood). These two cricket fans me in Reg Carter's McMenamin's garage with Joe Thomas, Dave Hillbrick, Norm White and Jack Gorman to form Ashwood Cricket Club. Waller was elected President and Joe Thomas was first Secretary. Just before McArthur moved to Shepparton, where he played Country Week cricket, Waller became wholesales manager in school stationery for Progress Press, in High St, Ashburton.
Waller and Hillbrick rotated presidency over the next 18 years; when he was not in the top job Waller would often take on the demanding role of Secretary and was chairman of selectors. He oversaw the club's humble beginnings at Glen Iris Park, Burton St and the turf of Essex Heights Reserve.
He stayed on as President even though he had retired as a player until the end of the 1968/69 season, when the committee of management was formed. "I would like to thank Ashwood Cricket Club for the pleasure it has given me during 20 years as a player and administrator," he wrote in his last Annual Report. "I will follow it's progress with interest, at least on an occasional Saturday afternoon." As with men of such integrity, he kept his word for another three decades.