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Cyril Aubrey Kemp 1915-2010

13 April 2011

Cyril Aubrey Kemp 1915-2010

Cyril Aubrey Kemp 1915-2010

A Memorial by Ian Erskine

I missed the recent death at Christmas time of one of Ireland’s most famous Lawn Tennis and Table Tennis players but became aware of it a few weeks ago. As I have a unique insight into that era through my mother’s photographs and newspaper cuttings, I thought I should put this facility to work and mark Cyril Kemp’s passing.

Cyril Kemp died on Saturday 25th December and at the age of 95 had outlived his wife Patricia; his son Michael (Mike) survives him.

His Tennis and Table Tennis careers ran in parallel from the mid 30’s to mid 40’s and then it seems his Tennis interest took precedence. In tennis he dominated the top rankings for over 10 years and with the end of the War in 1945 his Davis Cup career started in 1947 when he logged over 22 appearances for Ireland. At the Irish Open in Fitzwilliam in 1947 he had a notable win over Tom Brown (USA) who had just been the beaten finalist at Wimbledon. Cyril also competed at Wimbledon but lost his best competitive years to the War when he was restricted to the domestic tournaments, he was 30 in 1945.

Cyril had encouragement from his father Nelson Kemp who went as non-playing captain on International events including the World Championships in 1935 and 1938 held in London. In April 1939 a newspaper commented “There is nothing of the figurehead about the President, Mr N M Kemp, he has accomplished a long cherished plan in establishing the National Association and is determined to make a success of it.”  Nelson Kemp came to Ireland from Yeovil in Somerset as a Printer and worked for Hely’s of Dame Street, coincidentally a good place for Cyril to buy his Sports gear. Cyril was Nelson’s only child and played his sport as a complete amateur getting time off for the big events from his early employer Dublin Port Milling Company.

My mother was then Miss Evelyn Yeates (1908-1992) and she attained International status in 1934 and retired from National events in 1939 to marry and produce 3 sons (she won 13 caps and had been selected for the Irish Team for the World C/ships in 1935 and 1938). After a break she came back in the 1950’s to club table tennis in the Churches League where she played first division against Joy Owens then the Irish No 1, Joy later emigrated to Canada; also against Joy Geary (nee Anderson) and Violet Lambert who were also Irish Internationals.

In March 1939 the first all Ireland National Championships was held in the O’Connell Hall, previously the event would have been held under the control of The Irish Free State Table Tennis Association. The Men’s singles event was won by Cyril Kemp beating Harry Carlile, an Irish international by 3 sets to 1. To quote the papers “Kemp certainly played magnificent table tennis in this match. He hit with tremendous power from both wings, and with accuracy that the week’s hard play had enabled him to develop. His defence was unimpeachable, and he did some magnificent retrieving, which was necessary when Carlile launched some of his attacks. Kemp is a most versatile sportsman, he is an International at both Lawn Tennis and Squash Rackets,” Cyril went on to win the Men’s doubles and Mixed doubles.

The Women’s singles was won by Miss Evelyn Yeates who beat an English international in the quarters, Miss G E Boyle from Belfast and an Irish international in the semis and in the finals her great rival Tessie Whelan, all without dropping a set. Tessie herself had a great semi final win over another English international. Evelyn and Tessie went on to beat 2 English internationals in the Doubles.

Cyril Kemp had a terrific record in the Leinster Open, which commenced in the 1934/5 season and won 6 of the first 8 titles, in the 9th year (1945) he was beaten in the semi-final by Bert Levinge. This was the year in which Harry Thuillier won the Title, Harry, born in September 1925 was also an Olympic Fencer. With the return to travel after the war, the European players on the circuit came to Ireland and took the next 6 titles with the help of one American.

I have been helped by a very old friend (97 in May) in identifying the Irish players in all the photographs that my mother either received from the Association or bought from the newspapers at the time. Derick Leach, the man in question played in the Norwood Club on a team with Cyril Kemp, C J “Spencer” Bonynge and Harry Carlile. While these three were full internationals, Derick got as far being shortlisted for team selection (trials) and selected as a reserve.

Spencer Bonynge was Derick’s best man at his wedding after the war and vice versa, Spencer emigrated to Southern Rhodesia and after Independence had to leave with very little and start again in South Africa, he died there in 2002. By chance I briefly met Spencer Bonynge near Durban in 1998 while on holiday with the extended Leach family.

Harry Carlile eventually went to live in Canada where his daughter had emigrated.

Cyril Kemp was able to combine Sport and Business as in 1950 he entered a long career, as Sports Sales Manager with Dunlop’s the Sports Equipment Company. Initially based in Belfast till 1962 he finished his career in Dublin, retiring in 1975. He will be remembered as a great sportsman and generous man who lit up his period at the top with marvellous stroke play across three sports disciplines.

Ian Erskine

Player and Umpire.

16th March 2011.

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