Gunner Moir – The fascinating story of a battle from a forgotten period

Gunner Moir was the heavyweight champion of his nation when he grew to become the primary Briton to problem for the world crown below fashionable guidelines towards Tommy Burns in 1907. Simon Euan-Smith tells the fascinating story of a battle from a forgotten period and an opportunity assembly with Gunner’s son, Lon Moir

I STARTED following boxing severely in 1966, and since then I’ve come throughout references to it in some unlikely locations – however none extra stunning, absolutely, than my native residents’ e-newsletter, the Selsdon Gazette! However there it was, among the many recipes and the Council notes – an article on Gunner James Moir, British heavyweight champion between 1906 and 1909.

I used to be intrigued. I had no thought Moir was linked with Selsdon (a part of South Croydon). Born in Lambeth, he had later moved as far south as Brixton, however that was all. Croydon is usually known as “South London,” a lot to the annoyance of those that reside there – it’s truly nonetheless in Surrey, and Selsdon, together with neighbouring borough Sanderstead, is getting on for the Kent border. So why was the Gazette that includes a narrative on him? The reply rapidly grew to become clear – Moir’s son Lionel (Lon), the youngest (after which sole survivor) of his 13 kids (born February 1924) – had been dwelling within the space because the Sixties.

I learn on. Once I noticed the handle I practically howled – at one time we had been dwelling just some doorways aside, and in nearly 10 years I’d had no inkling of it. I felt I simply needed to make contact. A letter, I reckoned, could be preferable to a phone-call – he was entitled to his privateness, and if he selected to not reply then clearly he wouldn’t have taken kindly to being phoned both.

I posted the letter at tea-time. About 10.30 the following morning, the cellphone rang. “Mr Euan-Smith? My identify’s Moir.” We had a protracted chat, and Lon stuffed me in with numerous info on his father’s life and profession, together with a number of factors the article had barely touched on. Then got here the phrases I’d been hoping to listen to, however hadn’t preferred even to trace at. The story had talked about that Lon possessed a video of his father’s battle – in its entirety – with Tommy Burns for the world heavyweight title on the Nationwide Sporting Membership in 1907. Would I like to return over one night and watch it? Would I!

Over espresso, Lon informed me the story behind the video. “Again in March 1999, within the run-up to Lennox Lewis’ first battle with Evander Holyfield, Channel 4 ran a programme on British world heavyweight title challengers. I watched it out of curiosity, to see in the event that they talked about my father, and was amazed once they truly confirmed a clip of the battle. I didn’t know the movie existed.

“So I wrote to them, explaining who I used to be, and requested if it was potential to acquire a duplicate – it could be a beautiful factor to have within the household – and I bought a captivating letter again, enclosing the video!”

One fixed supply of annoyance for Lon was the way in which the household surname is commonly mispronounced. “It’s not ‘Mwar,’ it’s MOYER,” he mentioned emphatically. “I needed to put [BBC TV commentator] Harry Carpenter proper on that.”

James Moir was born on April 17 1879, and first began boxing whereas serving in India with the Royal Marines. When he was discharged he didn’t instantly take to the professional sport, however focused on wrestling as a substitute, partnering the world-famous Georges Hackenschmidt. That partnership finally folded in 1903, and Moir was supplied a job by the promoter at Wonderland in East London. The Gunner wanted to earn some cash, and accepted – and gained his debut in fashion, beating Fred Barrett inside a spherical.

It was a beautiful begin, however sadly Moir couldn’t maintain it, and misplaced his subsequent three – the final two inside the gap. It regarded as if a change of career is perhaps so as – however Peggy Bettinson, matchmaker for the Nationwide Sporting Membership, was persuaded to present the Gunner an opportunity, and Moir stopped the rot with an eighth-round knockout of Sergeant Harris. It was the beginning of a protracted and pleased affiliation with the NSC (at the moment located in Covent Backyard) – and of a run of 11 straight wins.

Included in these was a satisfying factors win over Charles “Slouch” Dixon, to avenge a kind of early losses, and an eighth-round stoppage of Jim Casey. Each of those passed off on the NSC, with the latter being a remaining eliminator for Jack Palmer’s British title. On October 29 1906 Moir bought his likelihood towards Palmer, and made essentially the most of it. Below heavy strain within the ninth spherical, Palmer sank in two blatantly low punches and was promptly disqualified.

At 27, Gunner Moir was heavyweight champion of Britain. (The competition can also be listed in some books because the first-ever European heavyweight title bout, however doesn’t seem to have been universally recognised as such.) In February 1907 he made a profitable first defence, knocking out James “Tiger” Smith within the first spherical.

Now the NSC Committee believed their “home fighter” had an actual likelihood of beating world champion Tommy Burns, of Canada. The match wasn’t straightforward to make – Burns insisted on a handbag of £3,000, which quantity was to be handed, in money, to the referee as soon as the fighters had truly entered the ring. The NSC weren’t pleased with these phrases, however agreed to them.

Gunner Moir

And so Burns and Moir squared off on December 2 1907, for the first-ever world heavyweight championship bout staged in Britain below fashionable guidelines.

I had been intrigued beforehand by the doubtless high quality of the movie. Between 1967 and 1968, BBC tv had run a sequence entitled “The Richest Prize in Sport,” detailing the historical past of the world heavyweight title over a number of weeks. That they had began with Jack Dempsey’s title win over Jess Willard in 1919, and one of many causes given was that movies of contests previous to then have been of such poor high quality, with the fighters dashing round “like Keystone cops.” A number of months later, I had seen the movie of Jack Johnson’s well-known world heavyweight title defence towards Stanley Ketchel in 1909, and agreed that was a good description.

However Lon had assured me that the movie of his father’s battle was of remarkably good high quality, given its age – and he was proper. There was no sound, and only one, fastened digicam – which meant that at the least one vital second was missed. However the image was clear, and for essentially the most half straightforward to comply with.

The primary shock was when Burns entered the ring in night costume, and proceeded to alter in his nook – sitting astride the ropes to take away his trousers (he had his trunks on beneath!) It was fascinating to look at the preliminaries and see such legendary figures within the ring as Peggy Bettinson (simply recognisable from pictures) and high referee Eugene Corri, who dealt with the bout (initially from outdoors the ring, as was the customized).

Burns seems within the Guinness E-book of Information because the shortest-ever world heavyweight champion – 5’ 7”. The Ring Report E-book lists his weight as 12st 7lb – the light-heavyweight restrict. Moir stood 5’ 9¼” and scaled round 13st 8lb, making him a cruiser by in the present day’s requirements. However he regarded huge in contrast with the champion.

Due to the dimensions disparity, Burns needed to take the battle to his challenger, and Moir had some success within the first spherical, making an attempt to maintain issues at lengthy vary and rating with the jab. However Burns managed to get shut within the remaining phases, and the champion was grinning broadly as he went again to the nook.

Moir was nonetheless wanting sturdy within the second, and out of the blue Burns was on the ground. It regarded a professional knockdown, however referee Corri rapidly jumped into the ring to admonish Moir (it wasn’t clear why). That, because it turned out, was the challenger’s final success – Burns was getting by with head-punches within the third, and within the dying seconds Moir was put down by the ropes. The bell rang as quickly as he bought up.

The challenger tried to make use of the ring perimeter within the fourth, however took some stick within the subsequent session – and within the sixth his face began to mark up. By the tip of the session his left eye was badly lower. He managed to keep away from additional bother in a comparatively uneventful seventh, however by now the champion was nicely on high.

In the beginning of the eighth, referee Corri entered the ring, and dealt with the bout from contained in the ropes till the end. Earlier than coming in, he eliminated his jacket, and the movie reveals him placing it down someplace off-camera (truly excessive rope). Solely when the bout was over did he do not forget that Burns’ purse – £3,000 in money – was stuffed within the pockets!

Moir steamed ahead bravely within the eighth, however now the appropriate aspect of his face was bloody. The ninth noticed the challenger nonetheless taking the battle to his tormentor, however Burns regarded a lot brisker, and was scoring freely with each fingers.

The tip got here within the subsequent session. A left-right to the top put the challenger down – when he bought up he backed off, then tried to rally, however was floored once more. Lastly, a head-shot dropped him by the ropes, and he was counted out.

“These days it could have been stopped sooner,” Lon mentioned, and I agree with him.

It was a gallant strive by Moir towards an underrated world champion. Two months later, Burns defended towards Moir’s previous rival, Jack Palmer, in London, and gained by fourth-round knockout – and 5 weeks after that he was in Dublin to flatten Jem Roche in 88 seconds, which stood because the shortest-ever world heavyweight title bout till Michael Dokes’ controversial 63-second stoppage of WBA champion Mike Weaver in 1982.
For his half, Moir was again within the ring precisely one week later – boxing a three-round exhibition with “Huge” Ben Taylor in Camberwell. The truth is, they might field exhibitions on six consecutive nights – December 9–14 inclusive. After one night time off, Moir returned to the NSC for an exhibition with Frank Parkes.

It’s fascinating to learn Moir’s personal views on the Burns battle. In his (presumably ghost-written) boxing textbook, The Full Boxer, Moir writes in Chapter 6 (“Ring-Craft”):

“We had clinched, and Burns had trapped my arm in such a means as to present the referee the concept, from the place he was sitting, that it was I who was holding. He consequently warned me on a number of events, and I permitted myself, foolishly, to change into sufficiently exasperated to attract Mr Corri’s consideration to the precise state of affairs, with the end result that I had my face lower open in two locations. This occurred very early on, and was a severe handicap, as Tommy made some extent of conserving these wounds open.

“I’ve not associated this expertise with any thought of explaining my defeat, however quite for example of very sharp however completely authorized techniques, of which I used to be, sadly, the sufferer. I’d add that the trick was by no means repeated after Mr Corri had entered the ring, and was subsequently ready to see all the things that went on.

“By the way in which, I’d quote one other little transfer of Tommy’s that got here off very efficiently on that event. As you’re presumably conscious, I rely quite extensively on my physique hitting, notably on the decrease ribs. Burns had naturally studied this level, and took very explicit precautions towards it. He clinched deal, or we each did, whichever you like, however each time we did so, Tommy got here in nicely coated up, fingers up in entrance of his face, head nicely down, below my chin, which, by the way in which, he butted a couple of times (by chance, I consider), and elbows nicely out to the entrance. And practically each time I went for these ribs he pushed my arms down along with his elbows, developing well for my face instantly afterwards with the fist belonging to the arm which he had simply put to such helpful goal.”

Combating for a world title has all the time been each boxer’s dream. It was rather more so within the days the place there was just one world champion at every weight. Failure takes totally different fighters alternative ways. Some come again decided to land one other shot, and get it proper – others by no means get again to the place they have been earlier than. That appears to have been the case with Moir.

The truth is, there’s some confusion over Moir’s file because the Burns battle. I’ve seen two totally different variations. My previous pal Harold Alderman is recognised as one of many high boxing historians in Britain – fairly presumably the easiest – and he has 10 additional bouts for him, with simply two wins, one No Resolution and 7 defeats. That’s to not say he was idle – throughout his profession Moir engaged in a staggering 232 exhibitions!

He took half in an exceptional variety of these following the Burns defeat, and his subsequent precise bout wasn’t till April 19 1909 – greater than 16 months afterwards. Two days after his thirtieth birthday, Moir defended his British title towards William “Iron” Hague on the NSC – and was knocked out in simply 2min 47secs.

It did look as if his profession was over, at the least so far as the big-time was involved, however there could be extra alternatives. Hague was knocked out in 15 rounds by Petty Officer Matthew Curran, although because the bout wasn’t staged on the NSC it wasn’t recognised as a title bout. However when Moir was supplied a battle with Curran, he eagerly accepted – a win would clearly have put him again within the title combine. Sadly, he was disqualified for carrying on punching after the bell to finish the second session. Sarcastically, his earlier bout had led to a disqualification win – he had obtained a suggestion to go to Australia to fulfill up-and-coming Arthur Cripps, and triggered an upset by profitable on a foul in seven rounds.

In January 1911 he was matched with one other prospect, considerably nearer dwelling – Bombardier Billy Wells, at Earl’s Court docket. Wells’ backers reckoned Moir was prepared for the taking, and could be identify on their man’s CV. It regarded like that for 2 rounds, with Moir unable to deal with Wells’ higher boxing – however issues modified dramatically within the third, when the Gunner began to focus on the Bombardier’s physique. Wells was dramatically counted out, and Moir was again within the body.

However that was the Gunner’s final shout. He was disqualified towards Porky Flynn, and stopped within the first by previous foe Curran – and at last, in September 1913, he was supplied a return with Billy Wells, who wished to avenge his earlier KO defeat. By this time Wells had change into British champion, however the Moir return wasn’t recognised as for the title because it wasn’t staged on the NSC. Not that it made any distinction to the Gunner – he was knocked out in 5 rounds, and by no means boxed once more. His file stood at 17 wins, 11 losses and one No Resolution.

Some boxers discover themselves at a free finish once they retire, and discover it onerous to receives a commission work. That wasn’t the case with Moir. He had performed numerous music-hall work throughout his profession, and carried on with that – and he additionally grew to become supervisor of the Canterbury Music Corridor, in Kennington, and later the Trocadero, Elephant and Citadel. He additionally appeared in numerous movies (“often taking part in, tough, tough-looking males!” Lon mentioned). Moir appeared in The Thriller of the Marie Celeste (1935) and in addition the 1936 Will Hay comedy, Windbag the Sailor, (taking part in a crew member of the “Rob Roy”).

“I don’t bear in mind my father that nicely – I by no means actually bought to know him,” Lon mentioned. “He was practically 45 after I was born, and he was away from dwelling so much, along with his touring and his movie work.

“I do bear in mind him sitting on a dining-room chair, displaying me learn how to make a fist and telling me to maintain my guard up. He all the time wished at the least certainly one of his sons to take up boxing, however issues didn’t work out.

“My eldest brother, Jim, rebelled towards the coaching, and it resulted in a complete rift – Jim modified his identify by deed ballot, and by no means had something extra to do with my father. I later went and labored with Jim, however he was by no means reconciled with Dad.

“My subsequent brother, Stan, took the other view – if Dad may do it, he may! He educated onerous, and actually labored at it – however when it got here to precise fight, he took just a few beatings and determined it wasn’t for him. I did a little bit of boxing within the military, however that was all.”

There was one different boxing connection, although. “My aunt, Ada Moir, married Tom Snow, a professional from Kennington,” Lon mentioned. “However she made him give it up! She mentioned: ‘There’s already one skilled boxer within the household, and that’s one too many!’ She was a formidable woman, my Aunt Ada – she mentioned, give it up, and he gave it up!”

The “Gunner” died at Sutton Hospital on June 12, 1939, aged 60, after a losing sickness that lasted round two years. “It was very unhappy,” Lon mentioned. “He was discovered wandering across the streets sooner or later, and that was that. That’s one reminiscence I’ve – biking over to Sutton to go to him in hospital.”

Assembly Lon was a captivating expertise. There’s all the time a thrill in watching black-and-white movie of well-known fights of the previous – that includes fighters we’ve examine, and heard about, and who at the moment are lengthy lifeless. There’s an actual feeling of stepping again in time. However to be watching such a battle on the dwelling of, and because the visitor of, the son of one of many fighters gave it a complete new dimension – one thing I can’t actually put into phrases. Let’s simply say that I felt very moved as I drove dwelling on the finish of the night.

  • Many because of Harold Alderman, MBE, for offering Moir’s file and extra info on his profession.
  • Lon Moir has died since this text was first written.


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