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L.A. Beat

Southern Albertan veterans played an important role in history

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My dad fought in the Second World War as a gunner  in a Lancaster bomber but doesn’t talk much about his experiences in the war though once when helping clean out his bunk house, I found some aerial surveillance photos from the war, so I can appreciate the challenge local author Garry Allison had when writing his book “ The Prairie Boys: Southern Alberta’s Wartime experience,” which was released in 2006.Garry Allison holds up a copy of his dad’s Second World War Diary. Photo by Richard Amery

“It was a challenge. You really had to pry it out of them. All my dad would say was ‘we went to Europe and I was in the  39th Artillery,”he said, holding up his dad’s diary from those days, which consisted of a single sheet of paper with the date and simple one line descriptions of the day like “marching,” or ’day off,’ or ‘truce for 24 hours.’

“ I found the best way was to go to the Legion and get a couple of them sitting around a table. I’d sit with them for about an hour and then one of them would tell a story, which would get the others to remember stories,” said Allison, who spent 50 years as feature writer for the Lethbridge Herald right after the war, and talked with a lot of the veterans for Remembrance Day/Armistace Day stories.

 He shared several of these stories from his book with an enraptured room full of people at the Galt Museum, Nov. 3, which was part of their Wednesday afternoon speaker’s series, “Wednesday’s At The Galt.”
This week’s presentation, whihc begins at 2 p.m. this afternoon, features a panel of local Korean War Veterans who will be speaking about their experiences.

Allison’s own father was  pretty tight lipped about his experience.
“He wouldn’t say anything. So I had to sit him down and say ‘Hey, you’re not talking  to your son now, you’re talking to a reporter,” related Allison, who had a few items on hand for his “show and tell” presentation including German pamphlets, a medical guide for soldiers and the beret his own grandfather wore during the First World War, fighting with the Scots.

“I remember him telling how the Scots scared a lot of people with their kilts and their bagpipes, but you’d never make fun of either of them to grandpa’s face,” he said, holding up the beret.
He also had an empty rations book, which Allison remembers vividly, though he was only a boy when the war broke out.
“I remember not being allowed to have sugar for my cereal then,” he recalled.
“I don’t  pretend to be an expert on the army, but I’ve talked to a lot of people and have nothing but respect for veterans,” he told the attentive audience, before launching into an incredible saga of Southern Albertan heros.
“I was impressed by the fact that so many Southern Albertans played such a big part in history. They were members of the Devil’s Brigade. I mean you have Hollywood, but I’ve met and talked with real life heroes rather than the Hollywood heroes,” he continued.

“There’s people like Father Keon from the Assumption Church. He was a nice, quiet little priest, but he was over there,” he  noted, relating a few stories of the popular Catholic Central High School pastor which amazed several graduates in the audience  who never knew that side of him before.

Southern Alberta also had its share of flying aces, like Milk River flying ace Richard Audet.
“He was a flying  ace. You were called a flying ace if you shot down five enemy planes. He shot down five planes in one mission. He flew in a Spitfire, and Spitfire pilots were the elite of the day. They made them (the planes) out of flypaper or something. They turned out so many of them,” Allison said.
“He was shot down on his eleventh flight. They were on a mission and they still had some rounds left, so they went behind enemy lines and saw a German train and flew in. But they didn’t see the big  anti-aircraft gun behind it which opened fire. But they only hit one plane that day — Richard Audet’s,” Allison related, adding Southern Alberta natives, especially from the Blood Reserve, played an integral role in the war.


“Steve Mistaken Chief said when they sent you over, they didn’t care if you were black, red or yellow. ‘But when  I came back, I found out I was an Indian again,’” Allison related.

You’ve heard the song and all the jokes about getting stuck in,disappearing in or getting lost Timbuktu, but Fort Macleod pilot Al McFadden actually got stuck there.

“He was flying planes from England to North Africa when he got shot down over Timbuktu. He and a few others were put in a POW  camp in Tobruck, but they managed to escape to Europe proper. I would have hid out in a basement until the war was over, but he went back to the base,” he said adding McFadden was soon sent on another mission and actually came face to face with German General “The Desert Fox” Rommel when his Spitfire attacked Rommel’s convoy.

“He looked Rommel right in the eye and attacked. His car veered right of the road and hit a tree. He ended up suffering a concussion  and  was out of the war for six months. And Rommel was one of the few people who could actually talk to Hitler because he had some common sense,” he continued, adding everyone played a role in the war effort from coal miners to farmers, who were needed on the home front.

“A lot of the people farming were vital to the war effort. A lot of boys from the farms wanted to enlist, but they wouldn’t let them because they were more useful at home,” he recalled, adding not all of the soldiers carried guns.
“Stan Carmichael was a stretcher bearer and he said he’d rather have carried a gun. ‘But we just did our best for the men, to get them to medical attention as soon as possible,’” he said adding there were even Southern Albertans at Pearl Harbour when the Japanese bombed it, Dec. 7, 1941 and brought the United States into the war.
“Dennis Lafferty was there. He’d shipped out to Hawaii, to Pearl Harbour on Dec. 7.

He was on the watch pole and saw the Japanese fly in. He said he played fireman and slid down theat pole as fast as he could.”
Allison even worked alongside with a First World War veteran during his early years at the Herald, but never got into depth about his war time experiences.

“Ernie Constable and I would be working side by side and BSing  and sometimes it would come up,” he said.

The official Lethbridge Remembrance Day Service will begin at 9:30 a.m. Thursday at Exhibition Park. Doors open at 9 a.m.
The Cenotaph Service in front of the Yates Memorial Centre will begin about noon Thursday.

— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor
A version of this story appears in the Nov. 10 edition of the Lethbridge Sun Times
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