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William Thomas Welss

The Name Rings A Bell

Thanks to Michael Blackett for sharing this piece about "Bombardier" Billy Wells aka The 'Gong Man' 

 
The Gong ManThe "Gong Man” is Symbolic of that classic era of Movies produced by the Rank Organisation, it was used as a trademark in the opening credits in their films for over 50 years and although the gong was actually made of Papier Mache and the noise of the gong was actually that from a Chinese instrument called a Tam Tam, the most famous of the men behind the Gong was a British boxer named Billy Wells, who was chosen for his great physique and popularity at the time.
 
William Thomas Wells, was born on the 31st of August 1887 (or in 1889 depending on the various references) in Mile End, which later became part of the district of Stepney in 1925, in the East End of London. Coming from a large family of 9 siblings, Billy was the eldest of 5 brothers, fortunately his parents both worked, his father, was a musician and his mother a Laundress, times were hard during the onset of the 20th century, especially in the East End. Many workhouses existed for the impoverished and Mile End was at the epicentre of buildings erected to look after the poorest of people.
 
Billy’s interest and the beginning of his fighting career in Amateur boxing began around the age of 12; he had left school at this age, which was common then, and his first paid job was as a messenger boy. It’s assumed that after the death of his father, William Thomas Wells Senior, in 1905, Billy decided to join the Royal Artillery as a gunner, he was aged 18 at this time and was soon posted to Rawalpindi.
 
Since the British invasion and occupation in 1851 it had become the biggest British Army garrison in British India, with a full infrustructure in place, including a railway system
 
 
Mess Hall

The Mess Hall in Rawalpindi

 
Boxing was still a big part in Billy’s life and as well as being promoted to the rank of Bombardier, he entered and won many boxing bouts while in active service, including him winning the All India Amateur Championships in 1909, by beating Private Clohessey.  
 
His promotion of Bombardier gave him many advantages as far as his fighting career was concerned and by this time he was being coached in boxing by a civilian trainer and his future in the Pro ranks beckoned.
 
After buying himself out of the Army in 1910 after only 4 years, Billy took the long trip back to London and in the same year he had fought and won his first 6 fights, winning 5 by KO. Weighing in at around 182-192 lbs and 6ft 3, Billy was a technically gifted fighter; he used his jab to keep his opponents at bay, and moved around the ring well using his height and reach advantage to great effect. He also had a decent hard right hand and considering he had only just turned Pro in 1910 he captured the public’s attention as a future contender for the Heavyweight crown, and in only his 9th fight he fought William Hague, the Yorkshire-man, for the British Heavyweight Title in which he won by a 6th round KO on the 24th April 1911. He had also fought for the British Empire Title against Dan Flynn the month previous and won over 20 rounds.
 
As well as being the British Empire and British Champion, the fight with the “Iron Man”, Hague, became historic, as it was the first time the heavyweight Lonsdale belt was up for grabs. The fantastic belt, which was the brainchild of Lord Samuel Wallace Lonsdale was given to boxers who won the British title, and if they defended it 3 times it was theirs to keep. The original belts, first introduced in 1909 was first won by the Lightweight Boxer Freddie welsh, they were made of porcelain and twenty-two carat gold, supported by red, white and blue fabric, whereas in late years the cost of making them was reduced by making them in nine carat gold.
 
Lonsdale belt 
 
During the early and middle of the 20th century, many fights were not given approval and were frowned upon due to the colour bar. In 1911, Billy was due to meet the world Champion Jack Johnson, it was arranged for the contest to take place in London on the 2nd of October, but after objections by the then Home secretary Winston Churchill and church leaders the fight was cancelled. Billy did however defend his British Empire Title in London on the 18th of December against Fred Storbeck in which Billy won by a KO in the 11th round. Before the year was out Billy showed another talent way from the ring, by publishing his first book, titled, Modern Boxing: a Practical Guide to Present Day Methods .In boxing terms 1912 was a quieter year for Billy, he travelled to America and was beaten by a KO in the 3rd round by the hard hitter Al Palzer in New York, but in his second fight in the states he knocked out New Yorker Tm Kennedy in 8 rounds in Kennedy’s hometown, before returning back to London. He defended his British Empire Title once more in December, winning by a KO in the 2nd round, but not before getting married in September to Ellen Kilroy, with whom he would have 5 children by.
 
Modern BoxingWhereas 1912 was relatively quiet for Billy, 1913 was hectic to say the least, he fought 6 times in this year, but more importantly, he was involved in 5 title fights. To start off the year he travelled back to the states and took on Ed “Gunboat” Smith in New York and was once again found to be lacking when caught on the chin by this hard hitter, the fight was over when Billy was stopped by a KO in the 2nd round.
 
Europe beckoned that year for the Bombardier and the EBU title with it but unfortunately he was twice unsuccessful in winning the crown by being knocked out by George Carpentier, once in Belgium and the next time in London. He did however defend his British Heavyweight Title 3 times in that year.
 
When the war started Billy continued to box and he joined up in 1915 and was made sergeant, due to his previous military experience, his fitness and fighting ability led him to being sent to France in 1917 to train the troops.
 
He just never made it into the big league, as his power to take a punch let him down when facing more elite fighters. It’s said he lacked a killer instinct and bad ass attitude, but he continued boxing right up until 1925 and in total his record was 41-11-0 with 34 wins by KO, he also defended his British title a total of 13 times before losing it and the Empire Title to Joe Beckett in 1919.
 
In 1923 "Bombardier" Billy Wells, wrote "Physical Energy."
 
Inside, Wells, 8 time British Champion, describes his method of Physical Culture using Boxing. In it, he builds his case for why it is superior to previous methods of Physical Culture, explaining that the primary ingredient of health is "nervous energy," describing how lack of "nervous energy" due to ineffective, or outdated Physical Culture methods allow illnesses ranging from anaemia, to "Incipient Tuberculosis." All of which, and more, may be cured by his method. Further, use of his method will promote intelligence, due to the fact that "nerve energy" is a primary component of intellect and creativity.
 
The original book is intended for an upscale audience with heavy weight, high rag, paper and artist attributed photos of the Wells himself posing in the manner of a Greek God, in the buff, complete with a fig leaf. This book offers an absolutely fascinating and priceless look at theories of health and fitness in the early 1920's
 
In the same year, 1923, this Silent Pathe News video shows Billy in Ireland, playing golf and skipping.
 
Bombadier Billy Wells
http://www.britishpathe.com/video/bombardier-billy-wells-2

BOMBARDIER BILLY WELLS

 
In the 1930’s Billy became the Landlord of the Red Lion Pub in Handcross, the pub dates back to the 1500’s and it played host to many travelling boxing booths during the early 20th century.
 
Bombardier Billy Wells as the original Hammer Productions Ltd anvil man in the 30’sTo cement the Hammer image in the eyes of the public a special logo was filmed, featuring a muscular man banging a hammer on an anvil in a rhythm which in Morse code spelt out ‘Hammer’. The ‘Hammer man’ was British and European heavyweight boxing champion Bombardier Billy Wells. Just two years later Wells would become associated with another (longer lasting) iconic image – that of the first Rank ‘Gong Man’.
 
BBC London managed to track down Billy’s historic original Lonsdale belt and they found out that it is kept at The Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, South East London. The belt however is not on display to the general public
 
“Bombardier” Billy Wells sadly passed away on the 12th June 1967 aged 77 returning to his beloved East-end, where he had grew up as a child, his ashes were laid to rest in the crypt of St. Mary's parish church in Hanwell, West London.
 
 
Women Boxing
1922: A crowd of onlookers, including English boxer Bombardier Billy Wells (between the two contestants), watching two women boxing at a garden fete in Hampstead, north London.
 
Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images.
 
LETS ALL RAISE OUR GLASSES TO THE “GONG MAN" Himself
 
Bomberdier Beer 

Charlie and Leon
 
 
 
 
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