Tributes to ex-boxer

PUBLISHED: 01:01 31 January 2008 | UPDATED: 08:48 10 June 2010

FORMER world-class amateur boxer, army campaigner and tank commander in the North African theatre Michael Cavanagh has died following a short illness. Michael, 87, of Brook Road, was the youngest of four boxing brothers from Birkenhead - but almost never

FORMER world-class amateur boxer, army campaigner and tank commander in the North African theatre Michael Cavanagh has died following a short illness.Michael, 87, of Brook Road, was the youngest of four boxing brothers from Birkenhead - but almost never got the chance to show his talents."They thought I was the cleverest, and wanted me to go to grammar school."But I wanted to box," he told the Journal last year.And when he enlisted in the army in 1936, box he did - over 18 years he racked up more than two-hundred bouts with only a handful of losses.His record reads like a whose-who of post war heavyweights: Dick Richardson, future European champion; British and Empire king Joe Bygraves; British champion Joe Erskine - and he was only ever stopped once, by Sir Henry Cooper, the man who knocked down Muhammad Ali.He was fearless; at a moment's notice boxing men up to six stone heavier than him just to help out promoters. What was so remarkable is that he weighed less than 11 stone, standing just five-foot seven.He so badly wanted to serve his country he lied on his application - he was just 16 - a fact that he concealed even when he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Sudanese DefenceForce. But he not only rose through the ranks once but twice and, after being demobbed in 1946, he rejoined in 1948, reaching the rank of major and was involved in the Suez crises.Even after his army days he cared passionately for his comrades who he felt where treated abysmally by the MOD.On a visit to Nepal he was outraged to find that retired Ghurkhas were dying from starvation - because the MOD refused to grant them a pension. So, in 1971, Michael, his wife Eileen and an old colleague Col Webber set up the Ghurkha Welfare Trust, and they received more than £50,000 through fundraising.As part of the Armed Forces Pensions Group, he battled the MOD for 26 years to ensure a military pension for ex-servicemen. Until 1975 anyone leaving the forces without serving 22 years was ineligible for a pension. But the rules changed, allowing anyone over 26 an entitlement, but it left 3,000 veterans without an income. The case came to parliament last year.He was immensely proud of his family: "He was very proud that (grandson) Michael is at Liverpool University," said Eileen."Thank you to the nurses at Exmouth hospital for the excellent care they gave Michael towards the end."They were absolutely magnificent."Michael's son Tom said: "Those who knew him need no telling." Boxers round the world, including Olympic Champion Chris Finnegan and Henry and George Cooper, are among those who have sent their condolences.He leaves a wife, Eileen, two sons, Tom and John, and four grandchildren.

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