On Remembrance Sunday, Sean Anderson looks back on the role some of our British boxers played in the ‘Great War’ of 1914-1918.

Millions of soldiers across the world were involved in the conflict now more commonly referred to as World War 1. Nine million soldiers’ lives were claimed with almost 900,000 Brits dying for what was then, King and country.

There is no more notable British boxer to have been involved in the ‘Great War’ than Freddie Welsh. The former lightweight world champion who is inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, helped disabled veterans at Walter Reed hospital towards the tail-end of his distinguished boxing career.

The other International Hall of Famer to have served was Jim Driscoll. A Welshman like Welsh, he in fact lost to his compatriot during 1910 for a European lightweight title. They allegedly faced-off in a professional bout in 1907, although its legitimacy for being this level of fight has been questioned. Many claim it to have been a display fight at a fairground. 

Driscoll went on to win the European featherweight title in 1913. His career then stopped due to the war, a point at which he was undoubtedly at his peak. He served as a physical training advisor. He did return to the ring after the war ended, eventually losing his title in 1919.

Bombardier Billy Wells served his country. He was the British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion from 1911 until 1919 and became the first heavyweight to win the Lonsdale belt. He fought during the war and in 1917 was sent to France to help with physical training. 

Ronald Rawson, while never turning professional, is another pugilist who defended his country in this torrid time. He served as a Royal Engineer and achieved the rare feat of being awarded two bars to the military cross. Before the war broke-out he had shown a flair for the noble art and immediately took up the sport after it ended. He won two ABA titles, Olympic heavyweight gold at the Antwerp Olympics of 1920 and retired with an unbeaten amateur record in 1921.

Private Jack Marks is a notable boxer to have served. The London bantamweight faced the great Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis four times and compiled an official record of 50-28-9, his only fights after the war being two losses. However, he still played a notable role in boxing in retirement. On hanging up the gloves he became a dentist and is attributed to have invented the first gumshield alongside his old foe, Lewis.

Harry Reeve served for the Military Police during WW1. The pugilist from Essex became British light heavyweight champion in 1916, although the light heavyweight division of that era is classified as cruiserweight today. 

Buck Shine was a flyweight who compiled an official record of 124-108-37. Only one of these bouts was after the war as he was injured at the Battle of the Somme in 1918. 

Nine amateur boxers were awarded the highest honour for their heroics during WW1. Harry Daniels represented England at the 1920 Olympics following being awarded both the Victoria Cross and Military Cross for his efforts. Jack Travers Cornwell, William Charles Fuller, Frederick William Holmes, Michael O’Leary, Anketell Moutray Read, Henry Peele Ritchie, Issy Smith and Thomas Orde Wilkenson all received the Victoria Cross, awarded for valour in the presence of the enemy. Each of these boxers had previously appeared in the Army versus Navy Boxing Championships.

Sadly, some boxers never returned to their families.

Guppy Thomas was one of these. He entered the war after a fleeting and brief professional career. He was wounded in Belgium and succumbed to consumption in 1916 aged just twenty-three

Dick Burge was a former British lightweight champion from 1891-1897. He went on to become a boxing promotor in South London. While serving for the First Surrey Rifles he died of pneumonia in 1918.

Peter Robson (born Peter Holland) made the ultimate sacrifice. Robson was killed in action in Gallipoli in 1915 after a brief career in his hometown of Newcastle. 

London flyweight Bill Ladbury compiled a record of 31-17-5 before being killed in France. His final bout was in France in 1917.

Dai Roberts also lossed his life defending King and Country. The popular Welshman was a former sparring partner of Welsh. He was killed in action in July 1917 after compiling a record of 37-11-5.

Tom McCormick fought for the Armed Forces after a successful boxing career. The Irishman made home in Plymouth and won the British welterweight title down in Sydney in 1914. Just fourteen days later he won the world version in Melbourne. Under a month later he added the Commonwealth strap. His final bout was in 1915 before he sadly lost his life fighting in France in 1916.

Boxing Social remembers all our fallen heroes today.