Wrestling Heritage member John Webster is the nephew of one of Britain's great pre-war pioneers, Mitchell Gill.
John embarked on a journey of detection, and invites us to share his discoveries........
Mitchell Gill born 1908 weighing 16lbs 3oz in Bradford, West Yorkshire to Alfred and Grace Gill; his Father a Haulier and Furniture Removal owner married Grace, the daughter of Jeremiah Green, a Silsden Timber merchant who employed over 180 men in his National tree felling business.
Mitchell, the eldest of three children, his sister Dorothy, the, author?s Mother and his brother Leonard who later took over their Father?s business- here part of the Wrestling story begins. Mitchell, he claims always had the meat, his sister and brother- the gravy, he was born a giant of men and his career was his destiny.
Mitchell standing at 6?-0 and 18 stone had the perfect physique which having an equal balance in proportion; gave him a stance few could knock. He was taken on by a Canadian trainer Larry Gains who gave Mitchell the ability to be a heavy weight boxer- in two years he had 22 heavy weight fights, 16 were won by knock out- he lost two. He boxed under the name Pat Delaney
Featured in the ?Boys Companion? book, is the article on the style of Lancashire form of ?Catch-as-catch-can? widely acknowledged as the forerunner to Professional Wrestling here Mitchell is mentioned as- ?a noted wrestler of modern times in the ?Catch-as-catch-can? and all-in styles, the only fighter he never beat was Douglas Clark, who discovered the powers of the young Yorkshire Rugby player and introduced him to Lord Lonsdale, a great patron of wrestling, at the famous Grasmere Games. Mitchell did win the Lonsdale belt but he conceded later to his mentor who retained it.
Douglas Clark, who was also the British All-in Champion and World?s Champion took a further interest in Mitchell and began to coach him in Wrestling. Norman Morrell, ?Wrestling?s Most Influential? like Mitchell, a Bradford born man, Morrell was England?s 1936 Olympic representative a wrestler now promoter introduced Mitchell to Professional Wrestling - Mitchell became European Champion.
Still working for his Father alongside his Brother Leonard, Alfred, their Father told them both- ?whoever knocks me out first, can have the business?; sometime later, an argument ensued between Mitchell and his Father, he knocked Alfred out, and as Alfred picked himself up from the ground he said ?well Son, the business is yours?. I don?t want it he replied, give it to my Brother, all I want is to go wrestling in Australia, you have to let me go; he did.
In Australia he wrestled under the name Mick McGill, his time there took him as a celebrity to many venues; he was employed by the Australian Milk Marketing Board to promote Milk. Time spent in 1937 at the Broken Hill mines Company; gifts given to him by the mine were amongst a large nugget from which, in India he had the gold removed, two signet rings made, one for himself and the other his then to be bride, Kathleen; the rest of the gold was made into the finest delicate pair of cufflinks you could imagine, these are still in existence.
Moving his talents to India, he wrestled many and the final trophy of ?All India Cup and Belt? presented to him by the Maharaja of Jaipur then with war breaking out, his call to duty was to the British Army in India; his first day of enrolment he was a Sergeant Major and was given a ?two meal ration card? Well, how else was he to maintain himself. Mitchell took on bouts in India in aid of the Red Cross; he also refereed many a match.
After the War, he returned to England, married his sweetheart Kathleen and settled in Silsden. His wrestling career re-started in 1946 with bouts up to the last one against The Ghoul at Belle Vue, Manchester in November 1951 which ended in a draw. (The poster is of a 1949 contest against The Ghoul, in which Mitchell was defeated).
I was told by my Uncle, ?after the War? the sport was not as it was and was not something he wished to pursue, he bought a shop in his village, then to be interviewed by a local paper, ?Yorkshire Life? the journalist wrote, ?it was like meeting and shaking hands with a freight train? the journalist went to on to question as part of his story, ?are you as strong as they say you are? Mitchell, now in his 50?s took a butter barrel by the edge between his fingers and palm, put it above his head and then picked the young man up by his trouser belt and lifted him up above his head at the same time.
The author, at 18 years of age had difficulty locating clothes ?off the peg? Mitchell advised that he had always had to have his clothes made, ?a cost of the sport? he remarked. His wife had at some point been asked whilst he was away to locate a new shirt maker - the tailor countered the size of collar given at 22inches, Madame we need his neck size not his waist- that is his neck she replied!
Mitchell, with an awareness of the new trends in society, visited boys clubs, to give talks on the better ways of behaviour and give a better worth to society.
Mitchell remained in Silsden, retired, now in his late seventies and there until he died on 7th March, 1990 at the age of 80, peacefully, after taking his regular afternoon walk.
John R. Gill Webster
All belts, trophies, photographs, posters, boxing training gloves and memorabilia were passed to me for safe keeping, any person wishing to see these which reflect this article or that of other wrestlers and sportsman, please contact Wrestling Heritage via the usual email address, [email protected].