The Boxers on the Titanic

Dai Bowen and Leslie Williams couldn’t believe their luck. The young Welsh boxers had been chosen out of hundreds of contenders to travel to the United States to compete in a series of boxing contests. An American sports promoter, Frank Torreyson, had paid for their passage across the Atlantic on the Lusitania and would act as their manager. But Leslie, 24, couldn’t go until his new clothes arrived from the tailor. After all, clothing would be more expensive in America, and he would be gone a year. So, with new clothing and all the good wishes of their families and boxing enthusiasts across Wales, the pair were rebooked on another ship sailing a few days later, the Titanic.



Dai Bowen

leslie williams

leslie williams

Leslie Williams

David John “Dai” Bowen, 20, wrote to his mother on April 11, 1912, one day after Titanic left Southampton. He mailed the letter when the ship docked in Cherbourg, France.

“This is a lovely boat… she is like a floating palace, against you walk from one end of her to the other you are tired. We are landing in France the time I am writing you this, you don’t know whether she is moving or not for she goes very steady. Dear Mother, I hope that you won’t worry yourself about me, I can tell you that I am a lot better than I thought I would be, for we gets plenty of fun on board.”

He went on to tell his mother how good the food was, “but not as good as back home.”

The men traveled on one ticket as Third Class passengers, and planned to use the ship’s gymnasium to stay in shape for their American debuts. But the gym was reserved for First Class passengers only. Perhaps an exception was made for the two promising boxers.

When the Titanic struck an iceberg on the night of April 14 and sank, neither man survived. Dai Bowen’s body was not recovered. He was unmarried.

Leslie Williams’ body was recovered by the ship Mackay-Bennett and was buried at sea. He left behind a pregnant wife and young son. She eventually remarried and had several more children.

news after boxers die o n titanic

news after boxers die o n titanic

Newspaper article detailing benefit to take place to help the boxers' families after the sinking.

Photo credits:,

Titanic's Tennis Pros

Richard “Dick” Norris Williams II was born in Geneva, Switzerland to American parents. He began playing tennis at age 12 and won the Swiss Championship in 1911 at the age of 20. About to enter Harvard with a tennis scholarship, twenty-one-year-old Dick and his father, Charles, boarded the Titanic for New York. Dick planned to play in the US Championships at Newport, Rhode Island prior to beginning his college career. tennis titanic

Karl Behr and Richard "Dick" Williams

Karl Behr was born in New York City and graduated from Yale. In 1907, he played on the US Davis Cup tennis team, and competed in the Wimbledon Championships in the men’s doubles category. At 26, he boarded the Titanic in the company of his sweetheart, Helen Newsom, along with her parents.

On the night of April 14, 1912, Charles Williams never dreamed the ship would actually sink. Instead of donning their lifebelts, Charles and Dick used the gymnasium while the lifeboats were being loaded. When Titanic's bow began to dip below the surface and one of the funnels crashed into the ocean, Charles was killed instantly and Dick was washed overboard. Wearing a heavy fur coat, he removed the coat and his shoes and swam with all his might toward one of the collapsible lifeboats. He managed to reach it and hold on for a time before climbing in. He then spent several hours in the boat knee-deep in ice cold water before being transferred to Lifeboat 14. Of the original 30 passengers aboard Collapsible A, only 11 survived.

Karl, Helen, her parents, and another couple had gathered near Lifeboat 5 sometime after the Titanic hit the iceberg. One of the women asked J. Bruce Ismay, Chairman of White Star Line, if they all could board the lifeboat. He told them they could. Boat 5 was the second lifeboat to leave the ship. Karl later reported the boat could have easily held 15 or 20 more passengers.

Following rescue by the Carpathia, Dick Williams finally sought out a doctor to look at his reddish-purple legs. They were so frostbitten that the doctor advised amputation to prevent gangrene. Dick refused. He told the doctor, “I’m going to need these legs.” Despite the pain, he forced himself to walk every two hours around the clock. Before the Carpathia reached New York, he met Karl Behr, who befriended and encouraged him is his recovery.

williams and behr

Dick Williams and Karl Behr

Just months later, Dick and Karl entered a tennis tournament and faced each other in a tight match. Karl won, but Dick was just getting started. He entered Harvard, and reached the quarter finals in the next US Open, winning the championship in 1914 and 1916. In 1920, he won the Wimbledon title. And in 1924, he won an Olympic gold medal in the mixed doubles category.

Karl Behr married Helen Newsom the year following the disaster. He was instrumental in helping a group of third class survivors in their suit of the White Star Line. He also assisted Molly Brown in formally recognizing Captain Rostron and the Carpathia crew for their valiant efforts in the rescue operations.

Karl Behr and Dick Williams were later inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. An exhibit in their honor is on display at the Hall of Fame headquarters in Newport, RI.