Monday, 16 January 2012

William Robert Fulton

Fulton William

Before World War Two, amateur boxing was thriving in Rhodesia and the man who stood head and shoulders above the rest as 'king of the ring' was Willie Fulton, who, when he retired at the age of thirty, had accumulated five South African senior lightweight titles in succession and two Empire Games Bronze Medals.

A thoroughbred Rhodesian, Fulton is recognised as the most outstanding amateur boxer this country has produced and he demonstrated his claw and durability by winning the South African crown fouryears in succession from 1936-39 and then retaining his title almost six years later when the first post-war South African championships were held at Bulawayo in 1946.

Born at Golden Kopje Mine, Sinoia, on 6 December 1916, William Robert Fulton was educated at Prince Edward School and the Bulawayo Technical School. His ring career was launched as a spindly fourteen-year-old in Bulawayo when, in 1930, he won the Matabeleland junior midgetweight championship and the Rhodesian junior championship on his birthday that year. The next year he took the Matabeleland junior flyweight title and was inter-schools lightweight champion, beating L. Sperring of Plumtree. He retained the Rhodesian junior title in 1931 and 1932.

His first senior success came in 1933 when he became Matabeleland featherweight champion by beating the national champion, T. L. Duff, when the referee stopped the fight in the second round.

In early 1934, Empire Games trials were held at Bulawayo and the blazing young Fulton, now eighteen, won the featherweight division by a TKO to gain selection as the only boxer in the first Rhodesian team to compete at an Empire

These were staged at London in August 1934 and the young Fulton had the arduous task of fighting three times in one night between 6.00 p.m. and 10.30 p.m. In the first round he beat McGregor of Scotland, but lost by a narrow margin to Springbok Charlie Catterall, who went on to win the Gold Medal. In the bout for third and fourth places, Fulton beat Tomlinson of Canada to win the Bronze Medal.

A. M. Nimmo (middleweight) had also been nominated for the London team but had not gained final selection, while J. Tsirindanis and V. Hyde also narrowly missed nominations.

Fulton's first Rhodesian senior title came in 1933 as a featherweight when he demolished J. J. Reid with a knock-out in the first round. He kept his crown in 1935

by beating N. Thai on a first round TKO, C. Edwards on a first round knock-out and D. McNeilage in the final. He also claimed his first South African title in 1936 by beating Hook (Natal), J. Brand (Transvaal) and finally Bushney (Transvaal) to underline his potency in the ring. It was an impressive display which won him the cup for the best boxer of the championships.

A report in the Bulawayo Chronicle said: "Fulton revealed a nicely balanced stance and drew his man or moved back neatly, exploiting a smart left and a criss-cross defence at times."

Fulton was not considered for the 1936 Olympics because he was not fit and did not take part in the Matabeleland championships. He would have been a certain choice, but another who was unlucky was lightweight R. Payne.

A powerful Transvaal team toured Rhodesia in 1937, including lightweight star. J. P. Brand, who had been runner-up to Fulton in the 1936 South African championships when the Rhodesian became only the third man to beat the hardy Transvaler. following C. Catterall and Bradley. The final match of their tour was against the combined Rhodesias which the local team won 3-1, Fulton beating Brand on a TKO in the fourth round. Andy Tsirindanis was another Rhodesian winner, beating H. Lotter on points, and reversing a decision gained earlier in the tour.

One report said: "Fulton fought like a machine against Brand, to take every round. He was wonderfully quick on his feet and showed a useful knowledge of ring-craft when avoiding Brand's attacks."

The national championships in 1937 were staged at the Salisbury Drill Hall in August and the crowd waited most expectantly for the welterweight final between Fulton and Andy Tsirindanis. Fulton had gone up a division and gave 5 lb. to Tsirindanis, who was still at Bulawayo Technical School. In each round of a fine fight the judges' cards showed Fulton only one point ahead to claim the title and win the cup for the 'best exponent of the British style of boxing'.

In September 1937 Rhodesia sent a team of nine to the South African championships at Johannesburg under manager Ted Charsley. The team was: A. Calder (Midlands, lightweight), J. Tsirindanis (Matabeleland, middleweight), W. Fulton (Midlands, lightweight), A. Tsirindanis (Matabeleland, welterweight), D. Linton (Midlands, light-heavyweight), D. Hendrickson (Northern Rhodesia, bantamweight), H. Oberholster (Matabeleland, featherweight), C. Shaw (Matabeleland, flyweight), L C. Finlayson (Mashonaland, bantamweight).

Five reached the semifinals, but only Fulton was a title winner, beating G. B. Moodie and Tommy Hamilton-Brown, the latter having been a Springbok in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games team. A. Tsirindanis was beaten by Transvaal's Jackie Hahn in the semifinals while J. Tsirindanis lost to his old rival Eddie Peltz, who was also at Berlin.

Rhodesia also fought Transvaal at the Pretoria City Hall a few days after the South African championships, the home team winning 5-3. Fulton was a winner again, beating P. Brand.

The Rhodesia Amateur National Boxing Association nominated four boxers for the Sydney Empire Games in February 1938. They were W. Fulton. J. Tsirindanis, A. Tsirindanis and A. S. Calder. Only Fulton and Andy Tsirindanis, the twenty year-old Bulawayo welterweight were ultimately chosen in the overall Rhodesian team of eight including two athletes and four girl swimmers Both boxers had been educated at Prince Edward and both had been trained by R. G. Daly of Bulawayo.

There were six contestants for the Empire Games lightweight title at the Rushcutters Bay Stadium when H. Groves (England) took the Gold Medal and H. Hurst (Canada) the Silver. Fulton took his second Games Bronze Medal.

In the preliminaries Fulton disposed of J. C. Stevens of New Zealand, and then took on the rugged Australian. Ian Ellis, who had been offered a professional contract just before the Games and was considered to be the best amateur prospect from his country for many years.

A Press report from Sydney summed up the fight: "Fulton secured a points victory after an aggressive display. He timed his blows well in the opening round and knocked Ellis down. In the second round Ellis gave a better display but in the final round Fulton swung the verdict with a succession of rights and lefts to the body and jaw."

A few hours later, the physically expended Fulton had to climb through the ropes again to face the British champion Groves, who was fresh after enjoying a bye. It was an unjust advantage and Fulton could not draw on any more strength and lost on points.

The same fate befell Tsirindanis, who had been beaten by South Africa's Hahn at the 1937 South African championships and now faced him in the very first round at Sydney. "I knew I had to go all out," said Tsirindanis. "So I went at him at a killing pace to earn a narrow decision."

The effort left him exhausted and a few hours later he had to meet the New Zealand champion Darcy Heaney — another who had had a bye and was fresh. The Rhodesian could not cope. The unfairness of this system was realised and at future Empire Games any man who had a bye had to have a fight against some opponent so that they were as physically extended as all other contenders.

Both Rhodesians were called to fight for third places three days later, Tsirindanis also winning a Bronze by beating Canadian champion Norm Dawson and Fulton beating Harry Hurst, who later successfully turned professional in

In June 1938 the Royal Air Force toured South Africa and Rhodesia, beating the combined Rhodesias 4-2 at the Bulawayo Drill Hall. The two local victories came from A. Tsirindanis, who beat W. G. Moseby, and Fulton, who beat A. C. Walker both in the welterweight division. The British visitors also beat Mashonaland 4-2, with Fulton beating Moseby (welterweight) and C. Sherwood winning his bantamweight class against R. Butterworth.

A happy tour was to end in tragedy when one of the RAF planes crashed on the way home from Rhodesia. Those who died were middleweight R. Moseby (aged twenty), lightweight R. Pring (who was unbeaten on tour), featherweight R. Boxshall (aged twenty-two), Mr. P. P. Peters (trainer) and two South Africans, Captain A. C. Koch and Sergeant M. P. Le Roux who had been accompanying the team.

Rhodesia toured Natal in June-July 1939, the team being: R. A. Payne (bantam), D. Hendrichsen (feather), W. Fulton (light), A. Tsirindanis (welter), J. Tsirindanis (middle), C. N. Foster (light-heavy), with manager, A. W. Crombie. These formidable Rhodesians engaged in fourteen fights on tour, losing only four.

However, their bid to win back the Wanderers Lamp which Natal had won in Rhodesia in 1938 failed when their match was drawn.

The trophy had been acquired in a curious fashion. While touring the New Wanderer Mine at Selukwe in 1938 the manager of the Natal team, Mr. Syd Gwillam, and a few of his boxers had lagged behind the main party to look at some rock formations. They lost touch with their guide and suddenly found themselves alone. Then one of the party sniffed something burning. "I know that smell," he said. "It's the burning fuse of a dynamite charge." The party were gripped by fear... and suddenly Mr. Gwillam felt his right leg grow warm. He looked down to find his safety lamp was hanging close to his trouser leg and was burning the cloth. To remind them of the trip the Natal team took the lamp away, the Rhodesians vowing they would soon get it back.

The 1939 South African championships were postponed for three months due to the War and were actually held in January 1940. At first they were designated 'war-time championships' without being given official South African status, but later they were given full status because of the high quality and large number of the entries.

J. Tsirindanis lost on points to the Cape's H. Lotter in the semifinals, while C. N. Foster took the heavyweight title, beating J. Botha of Transvaal on points. Willie Fulton again reigned supreme, taking the lightweight title by beating Percy Evans.

After the War, boxing soon regained its popularity and in 1945 a team went to the Rand, and included amongst others Bulawayo's Andrew Vercueil, who was to carve out a distinguished ring career. Fulton was still warding off all-comers thirteen years after taking his first Rhodesian title. The first post war South African championships were held at Bulawayo in September 1946 when Fulton won the lightweight title for the fifth time before retiring from the ring that year.

For his services to sport the Queen awarded Fulton the MBE in 1958. He also captained Rhodesia at soccer and in later years went on to play golf for the country to clinch a remarkable hat-trick of national sporting colours. The Fulton tradition has been continued with daughter Ann gaining national colours for golf, hockey and softball and twin son Arthur being a baseball Springbok.

- Byrom


ORAFs believes that Willy Fulton served on 237 (Rhodesia) Squadron as an Armourer during WW 2

Robb Ellis Writes:-

There will be few Rhodesians who do not remember Fulton & Evans, the sports shop.

The shops were begun by Willie Fulton.

The late Willie Fulton was my wife's uncle. Many people may also remember Bernie's late father, Alec, who lived in Mutare. We sadly lost him in 1996.

Willie was a well-known boxer and he trained and coached many pugilists.

Willie's widow, Grace, sadly passed away a couple of years ago, not long after she wrote and had published, her life story, "A Long Way Home". I purchased a copy of this book as a surprise for my wife, and she had hardly finished reading it when Grace passed away.

From Amazon: "Grace Fulton has written a very interesting story about her life in Rhodesia. Her grandparents arrived from Scotland in 1897 chasing gold and they settled in Bulawayo. Her early life was traumatic with her father committing suicide whilst suffering from black water fever and her mother was left with six children who were put into an orphanage. Fortunately life improved when her mother remarried and they moved to a ranch, horseback riding and spotting leopards. Grace met and married Willie Fulton who had just won a bronze medal in the Empire Games for boxing. Then WW2 saw Willie in Egypt and guarding the oil fields in Iraq, and her brother Alan Douglas , a spitfire pilot, saving Rhodesian Prime Minister, Ian Douglas Smiths' life over Sicily. Grace and Willy then started a successful sporting business, manufacturing and supplying sports goods. They met and hosted many sportspeople from all over the world as well as being involved in charitable sports training and events including at Kutama Mission where Robert Mugabe was educated. Willie was awarded an MBE from Queen Elizabeth for his service to sport. Grace and Willie had 3 children, all of whom had great sporting ability. Grace's story of keeping the family together during Willies' Alzheimer and his death, the loss of their business and home due to political changes in Zimbabwe makes for interesting reading. Grace now lives in Houston, Texas."

The last sentence is no obviously out of date.

Grace and Willie's children all live in America.

Cover, Book: Long Way Home

Grace Fulton's book link is:

ORAFs recommends that you also visit to obtain this book

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At 19 January 2012 at 10:16 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

Someone from the past Writes:-

I read this article through with great interest as I knew Willie Fulton. However, I was somewhat disappointed to find that there was no mention of the fights Willie had with Eric Mitchell. Eric, as you probably remember was a Flt Lt in the Radio Section. He came to us from the RAF after the war, where he had been an RAF boxing champion. As he & Willie were in the same weight division a fight was arranged between the two. Apparently it was a tremendous fight & many thought that Eric had beaten Willie, but Willie got the nod. Pity this wasn't mentioned in this article. I just wish I could remember more of the details.


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