He boasted of his prowess as a boxer.

"I am ready to fight any man of my weight," John Hannan bragged in the military canteen. "Does anyone dare to take me on?"

Fellow private Joseph Travers felt goaded to do so and Hannan declared: "Then we will have three rounds for fun."

But fun it was not to be. Within moments he was dead.

Who struck the first blow was uncertain but in the flurry, he was punched on the back of the head and stomach. Both men tumbled to the ground. Travers got up quickly and Hannan tried to get to his feet.

But he couldn't.

Instead he sank back and with a loud groan, died.

Lieutenant E F L'Estrange, of the Royal Army Medical Corps, conducted the post-mortem examination, concluding death was caused by a shock to the system through "a violent impression" on a nerve centre.

Travers, who like Hannan served with the 2nd Lancashire regiment at Aldershot, attended the inquest which took place at the Cambridge Hospital.

Jurors returned a verdict of manslaughter and accordingly he appeared at the local mgistrates court on July 20, 1903, a week after the fight but claimed he had only given the dead man one blow on the cheek and had not struck his stomach.

Nonetheless he was committed for trial at Hampshire Assizes.

The hearing on November 21 did not last long.

Mr Temple Cooke, representing the prosecution, withdrew the charge, telling Mr Justice Willis it would be "useless" to ask the jury to find him guilty on the evidence.

"It is clearly a case when the deceased was the aggressor and he challenged and forced himself on the defendant in such a way he was forced to defend himself. It was in the course of that he met his death.

"If Your Lordship takes the same view, I shall offer no evidence."

The judge consented.

"You are justified in taking the course you are taking," he remarked. "I do not criticise what the magistrates and the coroner have done in not taking upon themselves the responsibilities of withdrawing the case."

Travers was then discharged.