Fred Dyer’s Great War: Welsh boxers in World War I

As part of a series looking at the history of the most prominent Welsh boxers during World War I, we consider the experiences of Fred Dyer.

Fred Dyer

Fred Dyer in military uniform

A serious knee injury suffered early in his career prevented Fred Dyer from realising his full boxing potential – but it may also have saved his life by keeping him out of the front line during the war.

The multi-talented Cardiff man – who was also a talented swimmer and singer – was not deemed fit enough to serve as cartilage damage meant that his right knee suffered regular dislocations.

But, with an adapted boxing style, he was fit enough to continue his ring career throughout the war years, when he found significant success in Australia and the USA.

Dyer was in Australia when war broke out and, having been refused entry into the British army, his popularity in the ring and on stage saw him stay down under until the end of 1915, where he also worked on charity events for injured soldiers.

The most notable event of this period of his career was an October 1915 clash with Les Darcy that was marketed in Australia as being for the world middleweight title.

Darcy was arguably Australia’s greatest ever pugilist, and on Boxing Day 1914 Dyer had taken him the full 20 rounds before dropping a points decision.

The home favourite proved too strong in their Sydney Stadium rematch, though, stopping Dyer in the sixth.

Sydney Stadium, Australia, in 1913

Sydney Stadium, Australia, in 1913

Soon after the loss the Welshman headed to the USA where he fought in January 1916. He would not return to war-torn Europe until 1920.

After a slow start to his US ring career Dyer’s form improved, the highlight being a convincing 1917 victory over Panama Joe Gans.

Having previously been turned down by the British army, Dyer tried to sign up for the US forces following their entry into the war in April 1917.

Again his knee injury ruled him out, but he continued his charity work for injured soldiers, and in early 1918 was eventually accepted into the US army as a boxing instructor.

He served at Camp Grant in Illinois, putting his professional career on hold for the remainder of the war as he boxed at the camp and in army tournaments, facing the likes of Teddy Baldock and Packey McFarland.

He also kept up his charity work, boxing and singing for the public as well as the armed forces.

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