Frank Dove – Olympian, Veteran, Barrister, Old Cranleighan

Frank Dove (1 North 1915) was one of Cranleigh’s most celebrated old boys, winning a medal for bravery in World War One,…

Frank Dove (1 North 1915) was one of Cranleigh’s most celebrated old boys, winning a medal for bravery in World War One, boxing in the Olympics and going on to be a successful and respected barrister. He was also one of Cranleigh’s first black pupils, joining in 1910.


Frank Dove was born in London in September 1897. His father, Frans, came from Sierra Leone, although he went to university and was then called to the bar in England. While here he met Frank’s mother, Augusta Winchester, who he married in 1896.


Frank was one of the first black pupils at the School and the only one during his five years here. He was a successful sportsman and was in the 1st XI for football and cricket and was Hon Secretary of both sports.  He was also one of the two gymnasts who represented Cranleigh at the Public Schools Gymnastic Competition at Aldershot – at the time a prestigious event which Cranleigh had won five times, most recently in 1913 – where the school finished third overall. The school magazine said he was “a versatile member of the community both academically and athletically”.


On leaving he had won a place at Merton College, Oxford to read law but was conscripted in November 1916. After training with the Army Service Corp joined the Royal Tank Corps where initially he served as a dispatch rider before becoming a tank driver, arriving on the Western Front in July 1917.


On the fourth day of the Battle of Cambrai (November 23rd 1917) his tank received a direct hit Frank was the only one unharmed. He remained with the vehicle for two hours assisting the wounded, until another machine arrived to take the casualties to a dressing station. He then returned to his own tank, insisting he could move it. Two hours later, under orders, he climbed on board another tank which was almost immediately hit by a shell wounding him. He was awarded the Military Medal for his actions.  


The African Telegraph wrote that Dove was “so modest that we have been unable to obtain from him any particulars of his heroic deed”. This modesty is also apparent from the poem Dove wrote in the last months of the War. In July 1918 he transferred to the Cadet Unit of the RAF and shortly before the Armistice he received a commission. 


After being demobbed in 1919 he returned to Oxford and the same year he married Amelie Rawlinson. He boxed for the university, winning his Blue in 1920 and captaining them in 1921, his final year. In 1920 he competed for Great Britain at the Antwerp Olympics as a heavyweight, losing in the quarter-finals to Søren Petersen of Denmark, the eventual silver medallist. He is believed to be only the third black man to have represented GB at an Olympics, and the first to have been born in England.


On leaving Oxford, Frank returned to the south coast and worked as a barrister, continuing to box as an amateur and regularly featuring in specialist boxing publications. In 1927 he became the Amateur Boxing Association (ABA) south-west light-heavyweight champion, and when he returned to London in 1930 he fought for the Battersea club as well as becoming an official for the ABA, remaining active until the start of WWII.  During the war he served as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Pioneer Corp.


In 1946 he revived his Battersea club, acting as secretary, and returned to the ring as well, winning one of his final bouts in the south-west divisional championships when he was almost 50.


In 1949 Frank’s father died in London and Frank moved to Ghana to look after his estates, retaining his interest in boxing and helping draft the constitution of the Gold Coast Amateur Boxing Association.  


In December 1956 he returned to England. On February 8th 1957 he was seriously injured in a car accident and died two days later. He had been on his way to Rhyl for a reunion with comrades the Army Service Corp  who had been based in North Wales during WWI.


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