B: Bomber Bates

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Bomber Bates

Also known as The Ghoul

John Bates was never a name on the tip of a wrestling fan’s tongue. Those with memories stretching back to the 1940s may have vaguely recalled the name Bomber Bates on the posters.

On returning home following service in the Second World War Manchester heavyweight John Bates trained at the YMCA and entered the world of professional wrestling.  

By the end of 1946 Big Bomber Bates was a familiar figure throughout the northern England and the midlands, often opposing Jack Pye, Jim Hussey, Alf Rawlings,  Jim Foy, and Izzy van Dutz amongst others. 

Most fans who saw Bates wrestle in the 1950s were unaware that they were watching the ex air force man because he had adopoted a more sinister guise as one of the country's top mat men, The Ghoul.

We have found Bomber Bates, with his RAF credentials and weighing 22 stones, wrestling  Anaconda at Hanley in July, 1945. A Mancunian he trained at the Manchester YMCA. The name Bomber Bates can be found frequently on posters from 1945 to 1949. Matches are mostly in the north of England and Midlands for Wryton Promotions. Opponents included other big heavyweights like Bill Benny, Chick Knight, Sam Burmister  and Bert Assirati. 

In 1948 a new masked man appeared on the scene, though the name had been used pre war. Bates was the man behind the mask. The Ghoul travelled more extensively than Bates without the mask, working for Norman Morrell and Relwyskow Green in the north and Scotland. 

The Ghoul and Count Bartelli were to become the dominant masked men in British wrestling. The Australian Ring Digest of August 1950 reported, "In England are the Ghoul, another masked man who has won over three hundred contests without dropping a decision. Also in that part of the world is Count Bartelli who is thought to be a local wrestler but has defied the efforts of all his opponents so far and his identity will remain a secret until he is defeated."

The Ghoul was to remain a name on the posters for many years but John Bates relinquished the role around 1958. The exact date is unknown as another wrestler took over the role almost immediately. We do know that in March 1958 a letter from promoter Norman Morrell was published in the Halifax Courier. He questioned the identity of The Ghoul on a rival bill , citing a serious operation recently undergone by John Bates. It seems certain that John Bates suffered serious health problems in the late 1950s which led to his premature death.

Wrestler Al Tarzo remembered Bomber Bates: "I remember a story he told about a stunt he pulled to get free travel on the train. He would look around the station exit for an old ticket If he was lucky and found one he would go into the Gents toilet and hold it under the tap until it was soggy, then he would approach the ticket inspector at the platform entrance holding it very gingerly in his fingers, apologizing that he had accidentally dropped in the urinal, to be told 'go through' without the ticket inspector handling the ticket."

For a man who played such a significant role in post war British wrestling history very little is known of John Bates. If you can help fill the gaps please get in touch.

John Bates died 17th August, 1961.

Related article: The Ghoul

Page added 15/3/2021

Reviewed 12/03/2022