Chapter 5 - Fighting for survival
I’m a sports nut and have met scores of stars of most sports over the years. Most have impressed me by their achievements rather than anything else but only one really left a permanent mark on me.
He was Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis, one of the greatest British boxers of all time. The son of a cabinet maker, Lewis turned pro in 1909 at age fourteen and over the next four years he built up a record of 116 wins, against only nine losses and eight draws.
He was British and European featherweight champion at 18 and then headed for America where he became the first Englishman and the first Jew to win a world title when he beat Jack ‘Boxing Marvel’ Britton. The rivalry between them because so intense that they fought each 21 times, including 5 fights for the world title. Lewis won two and Britain three.
Lewis retired in 1929 with an astonishing record of 224 wins against 38 losses and 20 drawn fights.
During the Second World War he joined the Royal Air Force and stayed around the British boxing scene until his death in October 1970.
While his boxing achievements were legendary, we talked more about life in those times for a Jew, born Gershon Mendeloff in 1894 in London’s East End, just six years after the first Jack the Ripper murder.
"If you didn’t fight you didn’t survive” Lewis told me when I interviewed him for Boxing News when he was in his 80s. We spoke about the time when he retired from the ring. He had gambled or given away most of his winnings and in 1931 he became a bodyguard for the notorious politician Sir Oswald Mosley.
At the time Mosley headed what was then the “New Party” and many felt he was destined to become British Prime Minister. But when the ‘New Party” was disbanded to be replaced by the “National Union of Fascists” with strong anti-Semitic policies, Lewis left his £60 a week job. But not before he visited the party’s headquarters for the last time in 1931 and knocked out Mosley and three other guards.
Of all his fights, that was his most satisfying and he left the building grinning from ear to ear.