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RSR Looks Back at Boxer Henry Carpenter (1925-2001)

By Donald “Braveheart” Stewart

The 1936 Olympic Games is held up by many as the epitome of a time when sport was being used to promote political ideology as Hitler’s Germany shamelessly used it to platform National Socialism. Whilst there were clear embarrassments to the Aryan Race thanks to black athletes being able to undermine their efforts, it was an embarrassing spectacle for the rest of the world to witness. In fairness it was not the only time during the 1930s that an international headline event was used by fascism, though the ’36 Olympics has easier to recover images, the preceding FIFA World Cup for soccer, was even more of a fascist platform. Held in Italy with Mussolini’s country the one to triumph and be crowned for the first of two victories in a row as the world champions, there was a clear winning of fascistic creed as the single narrative peddled by the host country.

The choice for the 1940 Olympic Games? Tokyo.

Within a very short time, Italy, Germany, and Japan, three world powers suffering from regimes at the time which were as unpalatable now as they were then, would be waging war against the democracies of the world, in short time. But even before then the Olympics had trouble in their organizing of the 1940 Olympics as Japan declared war on China in 1938, stopped preparing for their games and the Olympics declared Helsinki the next venue to host. But then the Soviet Union invaded the country in 1939, so countries would have been nervous as being named in case a neighbor declared war against them – after all things generally happened in threes.

And so, the next to be nominated for the Olympics – in a feat of nervous optimism, having abandoned the 1940 Games, the 1944 games, in June 1939, were awarded to London. By September of ’39, the things happening in threes had occurred and London was not going to be at all ready for 1944.

And so, in the shadow of a war fought across continents, and with the type of spirit that had epitomized the fight against the world order being imposed, Great Britain stood up in the 1948 Games and held them.

It was a Games that had a £650,000 budget; an Olympic village not made out of former Prisoner Of War camps, as originally planned but military barracks, schools and colleges; government buildings converted for the media; and a host county advising and appealing to participating countries to bring their own food or help out with poorer nations as the UK had barely enough food to feed itself, never mind feed others. Germany and Japan were banned whilst the Soviet Union declined to take part.

It was a Games that happened because of the spirit of those that made it. Britain’s boxers were fed on custard and Jello to make them fighting fit. Britain was not successful on the medal’s table as they only won three gold medals in total, but the triumph was hosting the thing at all.

For many it served as a reminder of why we went to war: to preserve a way of living that would not be dimmed. It was seized as an opportunity to celebrate an amateur code challenged by theories at odds with Olympic ideals.

In the ’48 Games, representing Britain at flyweight was Henry Carpenter 34-11-4, 19 KOs. The Amateur Boxing Association (ABA) flyweight champion of 1948, Carpenter had been beaten in the 1947 final by Scotland’s very own Jim Clinton, but the Bradfield Amateur Boxing Club (ABC) fighter came back the following year to clean up.

Carpenter had already represented his country, having been chosen for his GB debut in a boxing match against Switzerland and was much fancied to be a medal hope for the British team. A Londoner, born in Peckham, who was making his living as a hairbrush manufacturer, Carpenter went into the Games much fancied but not in the best of form.

Whilst the Games were the epitome of all that was good about the world, the judging – surprise, surprise – was not. In an echo of today where people are debating the use of Saudi money as they did not over the sportswashing of regimes in the 1930s, Olympic boxing judging was a scandal then as it has been now. Many officials at the ’48 Games were dismissed from the competition but not before Carpenter had boxed. Against Belgian, Alex Bollaert, he clearly won but was eliminated. Carpenter, ever the man of manners did not complain but asserted that he thought he had triumphed – and to a man, woman and child in the arena all thought so too.

But he was now out of his home Games.

Carpenter then turned his stylish fists to the professional code and on the 8th of November 1949, became a professional boxer, making his debut in Manor Place Baths, Walworth by beating Billy Finch on points over six rounds. Throughout his 49-fight professional career, Carpenter never fought for a title. And it is testimony of the times that many of his fights were held in bath houses – notably – Pitfield Street Baths, Hoxton Grange Road Baths, Bermondsey Leyton Baths, Leyton Prince of Wales Baths, Kentish Town and where he made his debut, Manor Place Baths, Walworth. He did manage to make it outside and to hallways that are more recognizable as he fought at Selhurst Park Football Ground, soccer club Crystal Palace’s home, Earls Court Empress Hall, Kensington, Royal Albert Hall, Kensington, Wandsworth Greyhound Stadium, Wandsworth Farrer Street Stadium, and at the Middlesbrough Free Trade Hall. As the years went by, the venues that held his fighting and the cards of many other post war boxers filled up more and there was a move from what I can see, to get better venues and the stadia tour went beyond England. Twice Carpenter ventured north and fought in two soccer grounds in Scotland. In 1949 he took on Joe Murphy at Dens Park, home of Dundee Football Club and lost – retired with a badly cut left eye after the first round – whilst in 1953 he travelled to Firhill Park, home of Partick Thistle to draw with Joe Cairney over eight rounds.

His final fight came later in that year, on the 13th of October when he was beaten on points by future British and European flyweight champion, Dai Dower at the Earls Court Arena.

Henry Carpenter passed in 2001, aged 75 years old. A distinguished post war record without belts, but one of the Olympians who fought with honor in the shadow of the war. And for those reasons should never be forgotten.

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