The latest in our series on sporting heroes comes from Terry O’Brien, a regular reporter from Sidmouth RFC and a long-term stalwart of rugby at the Blackmore. 

My father, Jimmy O’Brien, born in 1920, was a talented young sportsman. At the age of 17, he was elected as Sidmouth Rugby Club 2nd team captain and played occasionally for the 1st team.  

He also played in the Sidmouth cricket 2nd team, which won the Devon Junior Cup. However, his first love was boxing. 

He was a member of the Sidmouth Boxing Club, which his parents helped to run, with a successful amateur record. On reaching his 18th birthday, he turned professional and gave up his other sports. 

At a time when there were many more professional boxers than now, he won 17 of his first 20 fights, all in Devon, making him the counties most successful welterweight and winner of the Plummer Belt. 

At the outbreak of war, he joined the Royal Engineers. After two years stationed in Norway and Iceland, he returned to the UK and resumed his boxing career, fighting around the country wherever he was stationed, mainly in Wales and the North East. 

With his Irish name and aggressive, all-action style, he became a particular favourite of the crowds at the Liverpool Pavilion, where he appeared 16 times. Such was his standing that he also fought at the famous Queensberry Club in Soho, where one of his opponents was British title contender Arthur Danahar four weeks before D-Day. 

Jimmy was also a very good coach. As a professional, he was not able to fight for his unit but coached them to much success, both as a team and individuals. 

In 1946, he travelled to Amsterdam to fight the Dutch Champion Jan Nicolass. Unfortunately, he sustained a broken jaw. This proved to be the peak of his career. 

After the war, he restarted the Sidmouth Club and enjoyed further success as a coach. His first success just after the war was with Kurt Ernest, who lost controversially in the final of the ABA Championships. Others to reach national finals were Peter Sellick, Michael O’Connor, Maurice Carnell and Roger Baldwin, who won the National Army Cadet Championship.