You will remember from last time, that I spoke of an evening in 1946 when I defeated Slugger McGee to win the middleweight boxing championship of the British Army. Today, I’ll speak of an afternoon in 1928 when I boxed no less than Mr Ernest Hemingway.
I was visiting Paris in the course of one of those extended Home Leaves I was entitled to as an army officer overseas. A friend who knew important men, introduced me to Mr Hemingway who was then still living in Paris. Upon learning I was a good amateur boxer, Mr Hemingway invited me to spar with him at the American Soldiers and Sailors Club, which had a gymnasium with a boxing ring.
Flattered that the famous Mr Hemingway wished to box me, I was nonetheless apprehensive, for I had heard the stories that he boxed as well as he wrote. And the six-foot 200 pound Mr Hemingway was in boxing terms a heavyweight, whereas I was a mere middleweight.
I thought also of the fact that my boxing skills had atrophied considerably over the previous decade, the years when I should have been in my physical prime. Unfortunately, when in the trenches during The Great War, I had received wounds which sent me to the hospital for many months, and which still took me several more years after, to recover completely from.
After the Armistice – throughout the ‘twenties and ‘thirties – I was continually posted from one torpid, fly-buzzing out-of-the-way garrison to another throughout the Empire, where training facilities by means of which to hone one’s boxing skills to the sharpest, just weren’t there. Then the war, which you know as the Second World War, came, in which for a further five years I was totally otherwise engaged, and so couldn’t box at all.
So, now you know why it was only as late as 1946, when I was 51, that I could at last have the chance to win the middleweight championship of the British Army; and now you know also why I’d been so apprehensive when I’d climbed into the ring – nearly twenty years earlier – for my three-round sparring session with Mr Hemingway, who, by the way, awed his hangers-on so much, that they called him “Papa”. I would normally have thought this odd, for Mr Hemingway was not then thirty. But, in his mien, he seemed much older, notwithstanding that he still looked physically imposing. I wasn’t therefore comforted.
I needn’t have worried. The stories that “Papa” boxed as well as he wrote turned out to be……….well……..stories. Although strong, he was slow. The more his would-be knock-out blows missed, the wilder they became. I easily got inside his round-house swings, and dug counter-punches deep into “Papa’s” ribs and stomach. He gasped, I assumed from pain, each time my punches dug.
I knew I could easily have taken him out. I thought it best not to, though, for I had sensed his excessive masculine posturing was merely a facade, behind which a feminine vulnerability hid. To be knocked out by a much smaller man like me, in front of his servile retinue, may have been more than he could bear.
At the end of the third and final round “Papa” raised his arms. I assumed he thought he’d won. I felt chagrined, and regretted not knocking him out. But I grinned (sic) as a gentleman should grin after a world-famous man has accorded him the privilege to box him.