Topic: William George Muir (1913-1985)

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'Tales of an Old-Fashioned Warrior: The George Muir Story' by Barry Leabourn was his entry in the 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition.

Archived version here.

A more complete account can be downloaded from it's archived location at

Many a history in New Zealand lies uncovered for decades until someone unearths the tale to polish up and tell what was previously hidden. This story tells the tale of a New Zealand Army sapper, who fashioned a record in the boxing ring in England during WW2 that was completely unknown in New Zealand – and on his return home fought a brutal trilogy of fights that ranks amongst the best seen in the country.

The tale starts in a hotel bar in Hong Kong, where a chance meeting between two Kiwi travellers returning home after separate European adventures, resulted in me unearthing the following.

As the conversation turned to boxing Mark Muir told me his father had won the New Zealand Amateur Light Heavyweight title in 1934. So began a look into the past that told the story of one of the toughest heavyweight boxers to be born in New Zealand.

After further discussion, Mark said that he would send me his father’s scrapbook, which had sat gathering dust for decades. On arriving home a look into the national records confirmed that Mark’s father had indeed won the National Light Heavyweight crown in 1934. Further research revealed that George Muir also won the Australasian Light Heavy title in the same year.

True to his word Mark parcelled up his fathers scrapbook and posted it to me. What the press clippings revealed was a New Zealand boxer who mixed it with the best heavyweights in Britain during World War II - and was surely one of the toughest New Zealand heavyweights to fight on the other side of the world.

For pure courage and raw ability, George Muir is entitled to be ranked up there with Tom Heeney, David Tua and Shane Cameron and the other well-credentialed heavyweight pugilists who entered the ring in New Zealand and overseas.

What you saw was what you got with George Muir – there was no fancy footwork or working his way into the fight with him. He was an out-and-out brawler with an all-action style that constantly kept fight fans on their feet at his bouts.

George Muir was born on 25 April 1913 [reg. 1913/19083] and learnt his boxing craft at Tuatapere at the bottom of the South Island. In the early decades of the 20th century the Southland sawmilling town produced an amazing number of boxing champions for a small country town.

After his amateur exploits George turned professional in 1937, in what was an inauspicious debut. Facing Dennis Lindesay at the Auckland Town Hall on 9 August 1937, George was knocked out in the third round. The tough Southland sawmiller appeared to drop out of the sport until he resurfaced as Sapper George Muir in England in 1942.

It was always a tradition in the New Zealand Armed Services during hostilities that the pride of each unit would be tested in the boxing ring. Inter-army and inter-service tournaments would take place wherever New Zealand Service personnel were stationed during World War Two.

Sapper George Muir took to the ring again like a duck to water and engaged in sparring and exhibition bouts. Recognition of George’s real ability came when he faced British future World Light Heavyweight Champion Freddy Mills in a loosely-termed exhibition bout.

Fredrick “Freddie” Mills, who earned a cult-like following in Britain after World War II, won and held the World Light Heavyweight title from 1948 to 1950. Like George Muir he didn’t have a sophisticated boxing style, but relied on two-fisted aggression and the ability to take plenty of punishment to win bouts.

So impressed were the New Zealand Army with the joust with Mills, that they launched George Muir on a professional boxing journey that won him accolades and respect throughout the British Isles. His wins included one over big Jim Wilde who defeated Maurice Strickland (NZ Heavyweight Champion) and went eight rounds with Tommy Farr (British and Empire Champion.) One win was over Arnold Hayes who afterwards won the British Army Championship.

The start of George’s pro career during World War 2 was on 23 March 1942 at the Alexandra Theatre, London. Tested against Cpl Al Marston (14-2-0), a man who had proved his toughness with first class fighters, he smashed Marston so heavily that the referee called a halt in the second round of a contest scheduled for eight rounds.

The realisation that the Kiwi pugilist was the genuine article came in his second bout against George Davis (31-19-3). In an eight round contest, Muir fought Davis (19st 8lb) and defeated him on points, flooring him three times for a count of nine. Davis had fought Carnera (World Heavyweight Champion) and stood up to him for six rounds before being defeated.

So followed an unbeaten run that stretched to eight victories, with six coming by way of the short route of knockout. On the 2 December 1942 George tasted defeat for the first time when beaten by Al Robinson at the Queensbury Club in Soho, London, where Muir had become a main attraction.

In his last fight in England, Sapper Muir was beaten on points by George Marwick, a contestant he had stopped in a previous contest. Ever the warrior, Sapper Muir was substituting for another man at a day’s notice. In just seventeen months George engaged in 17 contests, winning 11, against all comers with every bout an all-action crowd-pleaser.

Back on New Zealand shores in 1944, George engaged in trio of memorable contests with Doug Rollinson. The first bout took place at George’s then hometown of Greymouth on 24 August 1944. While Muir won the first contest his opponent gained revenge in a real battle in the second in a decision over twelve rounds.

 “It was the fastest heavyweight contest for years and had the large audience on its toes round after round. There was a lot of in-fighting, which is different from the frequent clinching which it is sometime mistaken for.

“The Aucklander showed up better in round four, splattering the attacking Muir with snappy left jabs to the face and ripping his left to the body. More in-fighting and Muir was making his extra weight tell, leaning on the smaller man.”

The result was a point decision to Rollinson making the score line one bout apiece.

The decider between the pair was fought outdoors at Pukekohe.

“The appearance of both men provided striking contrast as Muir, of the lean type, had the reach and nearly a stone in weight over Rollinson. Muir built up quite an impressive number of wins, quite a number by KO route while in England, but his much battered appearance has taken a lot of punishment during those fights.

“Rollinson strips well, with his weight where it is most useful to a fighter; very clean cut and hardly looks the part, except for a slight thickening of the nose.”

Round eight summed up the courage of George Muir.

“The eighth round was the best and most exciting of the match. Rollinson went in hard with a right hook, and then a right cross to the jaw that had Muir out on his feet. Rollinson went to finish his man but Muir covered up and moved about presenting a difficult target to Rollinson who was showing signs of a strenuous time himself.”

“The last round saw both men come out in fair shape. Muir must have realised his only chance lay in a knockout as he forced the pace, throwing his punches freely from all angles, although somewhat wildly. Rollinson, whose footwork all the way had been good, kept out of danger and scored with a good right uppercut, with his left getting home regularly to the face.”

So ended one of the best pugilist trios fought out in New Zealand.

George Muir’s final appearance in the ring came in a New Zealand Heavyweight title fight with Don Mullett at Palmerston North on the Boxing Day 1945. Though the referee intervened to stop the contest in the twelfth round, George’s trademark of taking few backward steps continued until the final count.

George Muir’s professional record finished at 25 fights, with 15 won (KO 10), nine lost and one drawn. So ended the boxing career of one of the gamest New Zealander boxers to step into the ring.




While the usual form is to acknowledge all press reports used, in this case it has been impossible. Nearly seventy years have elapsed since the stories went to print and George’s scrapbook makes no reference to the where the individual articles came from.

William George Muir died in 1985 (reg. 1985/47723).


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William George Muir (1913-1985)

Year:1913, 1937, 1942, and 1945
First Names:William George
Last Name:Muir
Date of Birth:25 April 1913
Date of death:1985
Fathers name:John Muir
Mothers name:Jessie Ferguson Muir
Military Service:World War II (1939-1945)
Activities involved in:Boxing

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