PEOPLE have often asked me why I am so fascinated by the exploits of long-forgotten boxers who were mostly active before I was even born. The truth is that I have always been a social historian very much interested in Britain between the wars. This may have something to do with my grandfather telling me stories of his youth when I was quite young. I grew up watching the return of Muhammad Ali and well remember his three contests with Jerry Quarry, Oscar Bonavena and Joe Frazier.
A love of boxing quickly became allied to my love of history and it wasn’t long before I was visiting Newcastle Library to look at the newspaper reports of the second Jack Dempsey-Gene Tunney bout in 1927. I quickly noticed that there was a lot of boxing taking place in and around the Newcastle area at that time. I started to write the results down and compile records for these fighters. That took me to Gateshead Ex-Boxers Association, where I became President at the age of 19. The old-timers couldn’t believe how much I knew about their careers. Most of these fighters that I got to know boxed in the 1920s and 1930s, but one of them was older.
He lived about half-a-mile from me and we used to get the bus together to go to meetings. Despite being born nearly 60 years apart we got on well and he told me many stories of his boxing career. His name was Bombardier Duncan McLeod, although everyone just called him “The Bombardier”. He had Scottish heritage, was born in Wiltshire, and settled in Newcastle after the first World War, in which he served with the Royal Field Artillery, hence his ring moniker.