Benny Lynch: the world boxing champion who fought in a work camp

lynch

Lynch’s grave, image copyright Lairich Rig and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons

Benny Lynch was arguably the greatest boxer that Scotland has ever produced. Born in the Gorbals in 1913, he became world flyweight champion in 1936 (or 1935, depending on which world championship we are talking about) and was a popular Glasgow hero. The popular actor Norman Wisdom, himself a handy amateur flyweight boxer, was said to be desperate to play him.

Now a campaign for a statue in his honour has received support from the actor Robert Carlyle among others. I happen to think a statue would be highly fitting. But my interest in Lynch was sparked less by his sporting prowess than by the fact that he fought an exhibition match in front of an audience of staff and trainees at a government work camp.

This information comes from Mr Ian MacArthur, who contacted the Dunoon Observer after reading an interview about my book on work camps. Mr MacArthur’s grandfather kept a local temperance hotel, and in 1934 his father became woodwork and metalwork instructor at Ardentinny Instructional Centre. Mr MacArthur remembered his father saying that the camp manager had arranged for Benny Lynch to visit the camp, where he fought an exhibition match with the physical training instructor.

Ardentinny was one of 24 ICs in 1934, run by the Ministry of Labour to ‘harden’ young unemployed men through a combination of hard work, a solid diet, and basic medical care. By 1934, the camps also provided some basic skills training, literacy classes, and entertainment, including films and sports, of which football and boxing were far the most popular (along with rugby in Wales). If you look closely at the postcard below, you can see men swimming in the Clyde.

Ardentinny postcard

These activities were, of course, highly compatible with the camps’ aim of ‘reconditioning’ male bodies. Presumably, they also went some way to alleviate the tedium of camp existence, particularly if a local celebrity like Lynch was involved.

 

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4 thoughts on “Benny Lynch: the world boxing champion who fought in a work camp

  1. They were called Slave Camps. My father was sent to one in Norfolk. I believe it was the Duke of Norfolks land. I have a photo of my dad and a friend from the Calton, Glasgow at the camp.

    • The Ministry of Labour camps in Norfolk included Cranwich Heath, Swanton Novers, Weeting Hall, West Harling and West Tofts. The main form of work was clearing land which was then handed over to the Forestry Commission for planting. I don’t know whether your dad was at one of those?

      East Anglia held a number of work camps – and earlier on, labour colonies. The main reasons for this were (a) availability of land at low prices, and (b) proximity to London.

      Needless to say, I’d love to see the photo!

  2. If you can send an email I will get the mrs to post the photo. It was on a postcard as they did in those days.

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