Sunday 13 November 2011

Imperial War Museum project reveals face of forgotten champion

Left to right: Dick Burge, Ernest Barry and Pat O’Keefe.Left to right: Dick Burge, Ernest Barry and Pat O’Keefe.

I noticed on the BBC News website on Friday an interesting piece about a project that is being co-ordinated by the Imperial War Museum to commemorate those who fought in the Great War. It states:

“This Armistice Day, the Imperial War Museum is hoping to keep alive their memories - and those of millions more who fought in World War One - by publishing 100 portraits of people who served in the war. It will continue to publish additional portraits every weekday until August 2014, the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the war. Nigel Steel, historian at the Imperial War Museum says the project - called Faces of the First World War - will help reconnect people with the 1914-18 generation.”

One of the first 100 faces the Imperial War Museum has uncovered is that of Pat O’Keefe, three times British middleweight and light-heavyweight champion. This BBC article has inspired me to write about the boxers who joined up, as part of Kitchener’s Army, right at the beginning of the war.

Saturday 5 November 2011

Don Cockell: The Battersea Blacksmith

Don Cockell (Battersea)A letter marked "Please Forward" and addressed to Don Cockell had been kicking around in Jack Solomons' gymnasium for weeks. Don owned a hairdressing business near my home so I volunteered to deliver it. He and I bumped into each other in the shop doorway and I mean "bumped" – he was going out as I was going in.

This was in 1951 when Don was on a run of impressive wins over men like Freddie Beshore, Nick Barone, Lloyd Marshall and Albert Finch. The contest with Finch replaced a world-title challenge against Joey Maxim. Jack Solomons had Joey signed to a firm contract but the Board of Control stepped in and ordered Don to defend his national crown against the Croydon man.

A few weeks earlier I'd watched Cockell box an exhibition with Jack Gardner. His superb physique had brought murmurs from an admiring crowd. He was a splendid figure oozing fitness and ambition and gliding around the ring with sparkling footwork. The contrast with the man now standing in front of me in the shop doorway was stark. Now he was sallow-skinned, fat, and had a nasty boil on his neck. This was the man tipped to beat Maxim yet he looked less imposing than the dossers lolling around the park along the road. I was so shaken at his appearance that I nearly forgot the reason for my mission.