Wednesday, 28 October 2020


My article in today’s Cornish Guardian is about the world heavyweight champion Joe Louis, who visited Cornwall in 1944 in advance of D-Day. In particular, I understand that he came to Fraddon, where there were exhibition bouts of boxing to entertain the troops. The article is as follows:

October is Black History Month and a new group called Black Voices Cornwall has been working to provide curriculum packages of short lessons on black history that can be used in Cornish schools and other educational institutions. It is my view that this initiative should be widely welcomed, as it is important that children and others can learn more about the diversity of human experience.

People may recall that I am doing some research into the impact of WW2 on my home area, and I have a story to share about the world heavyweight champion Joe Louis who was in Cornwall in 1944.

Joe grew up in poverty in Alabama and he took up boxing in Detroit. He went professional in 1934 and defeated a number of prominent boxers, including former champions. In 1937, he knocked out Jim Braddock to become world champion and he also fought two famous fights with the German boxer Max Schmelling in 1936 and 1938. He was successful in the second, a title bout, at a time of increasing global tension because of what was happening in Nazi Germany.

Joe later enlisted in the US Army, though he was destined not to see combat. A much-loved American hero and an iconic black figure, he appeared on posters for war bonds and became a symbol of opposition to Nazism. But at that time, in a truly awful contradiction, much of American society was still segregated and black people were being systematically denied their basic civil rights.

In 1944, Joe was in the UK visiting American GIs and British servicemen, who were preparing for D-Day. He was with other boxers, who staged exhibition matches to entertain troops and boost military morale.

It is well documented that Joe visited Bodmin (see photo), but I have been told by a farmer that he also came to Fraddon and exhibition bouts were held at the western end of the village. A large number of GIs were based locally (in camps divided by race), though I understand Joe refused to perform in front of segregated audiences.

I would certainly be delighted to hear from anyone who has any information about Joe’s visit to Fraddon or US forces in Mid Cornwall in 1944.

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