Bulldog Bill Garnon
The word solid could have been invented for Fishguard's Bulldog Bill Garnon.
He made a name for himself as one of the Britain's top heavyweights in the 1930s, but his successful career continued many years post war.
Legend states that he was encouraged to learn to wrestle after a promoter witnessed him lifting train wheels whilst at work. He wrestled many world class performers of his day, including Jack Sherry, Karl Pojello, and Dick Shikat. Garnon has the distinction of being one of the first two wrestlers to appear in the UK wrestling under rules introduced by Atholl Oakeley, when he opened the first programme at Lane's Club in London.
Readers of The Years of Wrestling will already know that it was Bill Garnon, an amateur at the Ashdown Club, who introduced Atholl Oakeley to Benny Sherman and Henry Irslinger one Sunday afternoon in 1930. It was on that day Garnon decided to turn professional, with his friend Oakeley agreeing that if Bill did so that he would follow suit.
Bill Garnon was twenty-two years old at the time and a very good amateur. It was a status that he would have to forfeit, with the inevitable decision being made on 15th February, 1931; the amateur status of W Garnon, E.A. Oakeley, H. Angus and A. Munro being suspended for infraction of the laws of amateurism.
Bill was born in the small Welsh coastal town of Fishguard on 28th February, 1908, the eldest son of Thomas Henry and Phoebe Garnon. Father Thomas was a labourer for Great Western Railways, a company that Bill later joined as a Greaser.
Following the meeting with Sherman and Irslinger it was only a matter of months before preparations were underway to bring the wrestling revival to Britain. According to Oakeley in Blue Blood On the Mat, Sherman trained Bill Garnon, Bert Assirati and himself, and all three learned a great deal in preparation for the new venture.
Bill and his good friend Atholl Oakeley demonstrated the new style of wrestling to a large crowd at the London Sports Club on 15th November, 1930. P.J.Moss in the Daily Mirror reported, "A delightful exhibition of wrestling ... I enjoyed every second of the forty minutes wrestling"
A few weeks later, on 30th December, 1930, Bill Garnon faced a much more experienced opponent, Billy Riley, on the first All-In show at Belle Vue, Manchester, watched by more than 6,000 people according to the local press. Riley won the contest after fifteen minutes of wrestling.
In the early months of 1931 as the new style of wrestling was introduced to other parts the country Bulldog Bill Garnon was at the forefront alongside Oakeley, Riley, Jack Pye and Norman the Butcher. Not for long, as in the Spring of 1931 Atholl Oakeley set sail for the United States. He was quickly followed by his friend Bill Garnon, who left Southampton on 12th May, 1931, heading for New York on board the Mauretania. Within a month of arriving in the States Garnon wrote to sports reporter P.J.Morris of the Daily Mirror reporting the success of Oakeley and that American fans were very Anti-English. Bill's American stay was far longer than his friend, finally arriving back in Southampton on board the American Farmer on 2nd October, 1933.
Oakeley wrote,"Bulldog Bill Garnon, after three years in America, had now returned to England. As far as British heavyweights were concerned he was now in a class by himself."
When Bill returned to Britain his friend Atholl Oakeley was beginning to feel the physical effects of four years of being thrown around the ring and was in the process of establishing himself as one of the country's top promoters. On September 12th, 1934, Oakeley defended the British title he had claimed since 1931 against his friend and it took Bill fifty minutes to win the title.
The more suspicious amongst us might suspect this was a careful bit of succession planning by Oakeley, as two months later, on 2nd November, Bill faced another British heavyweight hampion, Douglas Clark, in a British championship unification match. Garnon was billed as champion whilst Clark had to settle for challenger status. The match began quietly with the crowd voicing their disapproval at the end of three rounds due to the lack of action. Things heated up in the fifth round with both men out of the ring, Garnon clambering back at the count of nine. Clark gained the first fall in the fifth round, after 49 minutes, and a second in the following round, winning by two falls to nil.
Whether or not this was a pre-determined sequence we will never know, but this is professional wrestling and even if it was should not be allowed to diminish Bill's status. For the remainder of the 1930s Bill continued to perform at the highest level, wrestling all the top British and overseas stars around the country. It was a career that was to last into the post war years, finally being brought to an end after being hit by a bus. At the time Bill was living in Bolton, to where he had moved in the early 1950s.
In later life Bill returned to Fishguard where he maintained an interest in wrestling until his death in 1979 (not 1980 as often reported on the internet. Until not many years before his death Bill regularly made the journey to watch the wrestling at the Sophia Gardens in Cardiff.
To this day he is remembered in his home town, Fishguard. In 2008, following a campaign by a former work mate, Graham Evans, a slate plaque was unveiled in his memory at the town hall.