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Even on front line Otley's Boxer Brown kept soldiers’ spirits up
Like many relatives of men who fought in the First World War, Dick Brown rarely heard his father talk about the conflict.
Boxer (Albert) Brown, as he was well-known in Otley and the surrounding area due to his pugilistic prowess, served on the Western Front in Flanders, Belgium.
His son Dick, who was born after the war, was a grown man before he heard his father really open up about his time in the Army - with a story of death-defying tomfoolery that sounded just like his dad.
Dick, 83, said: “My father was so well known in Otley, as Boxer Brown. He was a professional boxer long before the war, even getting a shot at the British title at one stage.
“He never talked much about the war, though I think he was in the Duke of Wellington regiment, and he had a box of medals. But he was a comedian and could light up a pub wherever he went.
“About 62 years ago I was filling up my first car at a petrol station and the man there said I reminded him of an old mate of his, Albert Brown.
“When I told him that was my dad we arranged for the three of us to meet at The Peacock pub, in Yeadon, a few Sundays later.”
At the inn, his father’s friend began recalling how he, Albert and a group of soldiers had jumped into a big shellhole during a battle to escape the bullets and bombs “whizzing around”.
Dick said: “The 12 of them were stuck waiting there until tea-time when my dad, who took up the tale, decided ‘enough of this, I’m going to find some souvenirs’.
“So he climbed out and found a German helmet, gas mask and longcoat. Then he thought ‘I’ll frighten this lot!’ and he crept back through the bushes and jumped out at the group, shouting a warning in German.
“All of them but one fled, but the one who stayed pointed his gun at my dad, who’d to shout ‘give over, it’s me!’ and lived to tell the tale.”
Albert Brown suffered from a gas attack during the war, which meant he was not the boxer he had been on his return.
But he worked hard to provide for his family, spending many years working at Garnett’s paper mill while also carrying out the physiotherapy duties at Otley Rugby Club.