Frank Hosek was a musician born and raised in Canada who served in the Canadian Army during World War II. His musical talents recognized, he was assigned duty with other Canadian entertainers in the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps, the Canadian Army's equivalent to our Special Services, and performed all over Canada and Western Europe in the "Army Show", a musical extravaganza deigned to boost the morale of military and civilian personnel alike. Among those who Mr. Hosek served with was the famous Canadian comedy team of Wayne & Schuster, and of more local interest Louis J. Herman, who emigrated to the United States after the war and served as the cantor of Congregation Beth El in Camden from the 1950s into the 1980s.
Having found the web-page on this site about Cantor Herman, Mr. Hosek e-mailed me early in 2009 asking if I could put him in contact with his old friend, Lou Herman. Sadly, this was not possible, as Cantor Herman had passed away. However, I was very glad Mr. Hosek had e-mailed me, and asked him if he would write a few lines about his time in the Canadian Army show. He was more than generous in that regard, and sent a number of pieces he had written about his life and times growing up in Western Canada, serving in the Canadian Army, and some of his post-war activities. These I have posted below.
I found them quite interesting to read, a story about a far-away time and a ... for one who has lived most of one's life in New Jersey... far-away place. Enjoy!
Please contact me with any comments or questions.
Sent: Thursday, February 26, 2009 8:04 PM
Sir, I date back to the Canadian Army Show days. One with whom I would like to make contact with, is, like me, a veteran by the name of Lou Herman. We served in the original Big Show as staged in the Old Victoria Theatre. We were then sent overseas for a stint of duty in England, Italy, Belgium & Germany. Lou's specialty was his song, "You'll Get Used to It." And of course, we did. Four years of it. If by chance you have his present address and are willing to let me have it, I would so appreciate it.
Perhaps you can pass this e mail on to him. He will remember me under my nick name "Mountain Climber." I was dubbed that name for having come from the mountain region of Alberta - actually from a village at the foot of Crowsnest Mountain - the one which buried the town of Frank when it erupted back in 22.
M-34162 Pvt. HOSEK, Frank
My war started in July of 1942 but to tell my story I must go back to the beginning, to the days while still in school. Like my friends, I too had some definite plans as to what I would do if war were to come but going off to fight in it was not one of them. In the small coal mining town I called home, news about the gathering storm were rather sketchy but that much we all knew, war was on it's way, sooner or later.
Those of us who were to be the future service men talked and planned well into the late evening on many a night when gathered at our hang out, the Texaco service station in Maple Leaf. On Monday nights, having been to a show in Bellevue it was our custom to gather around the pot bellied stove, put on tab an order of Pepsi and a cuban lunch chocolate bar, and talk. First, hash over the movie we had seen and then, after listening to the news which came over the radio from Calgary, talk of what we would do when it came. Outstanding was the theme that not one had any plans of being taken or volunteering for active service in any part of the armed forces. Little did we know how all that would change, what the future held in store for us.
One of those in this group was Jerry Klesken. His, was our meeting place, our hang out, a place to play, a place to talk, a place to let our imagination go wild. We rivaled the authority which would ultimately send us to war, envisioning ourselves free and having taken to the woods and wilds of our country rather than shoot and kill others like ourselves albeit in another part of the world. It may have been due to the life endured in a coal mining community where work was not always available or because of the war in Spain, but the feeling was, we did not owe the country our lives.
About the war in Spain we knew very little. We knew only that people were being killed and that even from our area men had gone to fight in what became a battalion of Canadian soldiers. At home it was our living conditions that gave rise to talk of insubordination. Ours was a coal mining community and as such, afforded it's workers only a meagre level of subsistence during the grim days of the depression. Instead of five days work during the week, it was one or two shifts in a two week period. One half of the miners worked the first two weeks in the month, the other half, the next two. And so it went, at the most two or three days of work a month. Then came the strike, the big one, long and bloody, the first locality where workers battled police while on the picket line.
The strike ended badly for the workers. Half did not have a job to go to when the dust settled, my father one of them. He, and many like him had to go on relief, a handout of flour, sugar, salt, constituents of a weekly ration of groceries. As though coming from the goodness of his heart, some union official doled out the weekly ration which then had to be carted home by whatever means available. Life had lost it's lustre, providing it had any to begin with.
And yet, it was not dull or sad for those of us young in heart and years and without responsibility, but it was a trying time for our parents. We, the sixteen and seventeen year olds would escape the world of war and strife by hiding out for the duration in the hills and mountains of the Livingstone Range or in the deep hidden valleys of the South Fork. All things considered, we were for the most time quite happy.
In a world of brutal reality we were like little children, innocent and naive. While the young of Spain lost and spilled blood on the battle fields, we, their counterparts played at guns, enacting a scene from some recent cowboy movie. In Germany, where young and old alike were being sent off to concentration camps, we bespoke of never taking up arms, whether by force or by consent. War was not for us. The guns of reality spoke and thundered in such far off places as Ethiopia but for us, sanctuary lay just beyond the hills of home. We need only go there and be safe.
And then, how it all changed. When the war came in the fall of 1939 there were those who saw it as an opportunity for adventure and were the first to answer the call. The day after Canada declared war on Germany, members of the Canadian Army drove into Maple Leaf and on a telephone pole in front of the service station where we congregated, nailed a sign calling for volunteers. A trumpet player with whom I played in the West Canadian Collieries Band was the first to go. He, "Matty Woods", saw it as an opportunity to soar with the eagles and not waiting to be called went off to England to enter the ranks of the R.A.F. He was never to come back. Somewhere, in his Mosquito Bomber over the coast of France, he took his last flight. He was the forerunner of things to come, of others who were to go and not to return. It happened, in spite of our plans not to be a part of it.
How, in this small world or ours, of such insignificance, did Matty Woods and others like him learn of the existence of the R.A.F. or of the navy, or the many branches of the army and then voluntarily become members of a fighting force not to be taken lightly. This was Bellevue, a pin prick of a place tucked away in a remote corner in the Province of Alberta. Here, where we lived, played, and went to school, we took only a scant interest in world affairs and yet news of the war and of the need for men to fight it filtered through our isolation and nibbled away bit by bit at our determination to stay aloof from all that was happening in the outer world. It soon became apparent that more and more of the young from this small corner of the world called the Crowsnest Pass and of which Bellevue was but one small town were answering to the call. The lure of adventure, perhaps even patriotism may have bid some to go, but unemployment and the dwindling numbers of those who stayed behind were the deciding factors for us all.
MY VIOLIN and I
When I was very young, my father decided that I was going to be a musician, that I would earn my living through music and not have to work in the mines as he had to. I had absolutely no say in it, chiefly because I was too young and did not know what would be good for me. At age six, how was I to know anything about the complicated business of earning a living. And even if I did, how could I contradict my father and tell him I wanted to be a butcher or candy-stick maker. As far as he was concerned, I was going to be a musician, and that was that. I was definitely not going to work a lifetime beneath the surface of the earth and probably get killed while doing it. So, with that kind of logic, he stuck a violin under my chin on my sixth birthday and from that time on I had to practice, and practice, three hours every day, regardless of what I thought about it.
On school days I practiced from six in the evening until nine at night. Then, too tired for anything else, I went to bed. What matter if I had some school work to do for next day, and how inconsiderate of the teachers to give me all that homework knowing darn well that I could never get it done, and that it would only hold me back from the goal chosen for me. I couldn't even do it in the morning before going to school, because that was practice time too.
On Saturdays the schedule was different. Instead of sleeping in like most kids, I had to do my practicing from nine in the morning until noon. Only then was I free to play cowboys and Indians, or saunter over to Swischuks, the service station where we hung out, to be with my friends. Sundays too was different. First I had to put in an hour on the violin and then make off for band practice. On the way was picked up Jerry Klesken and the Hvizdos brothers, Steve, Gasper, and John. Altogether, plus the instruments one of which was a tuba, the 29 ford was all but bursting at the rivets as we made our way to the Legion Hall, daring to blow our horns instead of attending a place of worship to save our soul . While it seemed as though everyone else in Maple Leaf went to church, we were the exception. Ours was to make heathen music every Sunday morning under the baton of Mr. George Goodwin.
Mondays, I was allowed to change the rules. Because I had to go to the show to see if Buck Jones managed to escape from the outlaws that captured him in the previous episode, or if Tarzan would somehow extricate himself from the clutches of the gorilla he was in mortal combat with, I had to do my practicing immediately after school, all three hours of it. Only then could I go, providing I had the ten cents admission fee.My father was my first teacher. Sitting next to me, he would beat time with a baton made of steel, actually a sawed off fishing rod made to size which he pounded against the music stand with a steady unrelenting beat while I played on and on. When my arm got tired and the violin began to droop from it's proper position, he used that baton to push the violin up to where it belonged, but once he misjudged his strength and put it right through the side of the violin. From that time on I had a violin with a third hole, though not as decorative as the two f holes on top. When he taught me everything he knew about the violin, he decided to send me to another teacher. My father's instrument was the French Horn and later the tuba so the violin was a little out of his element. The teacher to whom I was passed on to was a Mr. Walter Moser, living in Hillcrest on the other side of the Old Man river just below the Hillcrest mine. I had to hoof it there, summer and winter until I left home for further studies in Toronto. In the meantime, trying to learn everything that Mr. Moser could teach me, I also had to inhale a great deal of second hand smoke during every lesson. He was a chain smoker and forever had a cigarette drooping from his lips. The ash tray on top of his piano was always full of ash and cigarette buts. Regretfully, as so often happens, he died from lung cancer while in the prime of life and the music scene for all of Southern Alberta was the poorer for it. The orchestra which he founded has throughout the years struggled on though greatly lacking in up and coming violinists. Walking to Hillcrest was up and down some rugged terrain, such as crossing a river via a swinging bridge and doing some mountain climbing. For this venture I was in time joined by my good friend Jerry Klesken, who too started lessons with Mr. Moser. To get to Hillcrest, we first had to walk down the Bellevue mine steps to the river bottom, then walk along the railroad track to the swinging bridge across the river near Rivas, after which we had a long walk up and down some hills before reaching yet another railroad track, the one going to the Hillcrest collieries. By this time we would be so hungry, we ate half of our lunch even before reaching our destination. Very little was left for our walk home, the same distance, only in reverse.
Besides going for lessons and doing all that practicing, there were also rehearsals of one type or another to go to. First, that Sunday morning band practice. Then, a weekly orchestra rehearsal in Blairmore, followed with a string quartet rehearsal at some point during the week at my teacher's home in Hillcrest. And then there were those dances I played for, sometimes as many as three a week. I gave a great deal to the cause of music, especially when adding up the hours on getting to and from the many rehearsals, dances, and lessons. But all was not without some rewards. Good times were had when on trips to Cranbrook, Nelson, or Lethbridge, for either concerts or music festivals, even if coupled with a certain amount of anxiety. Mr. Moser put me into as many violin competitions as was possible because I was good advertising for him. I always came first. Considering the hours of practice I put in every day and more at festival time, there would have been something wrong had I not beat all my opponents. Still, I must have had some talent to go with it, and not to forget, a good teacher.As though that wasn't enough, I had exams to take - exams on the violin, taken under examiners sent out from the Royal Academy of Music, London, England. When I took the grade eight exam, which was as high as I could go before going in for my letters, I was awarded a gold medal and given the highest marks in all of Canada. I was also given a scholarship to study music at the Academy and from that time on my life had changed.
The year was 1938, a year in which I worked particularly hard on the violin. I had to, because shortly after Christmas I quit school and therefore had no choice but to make good in my music. After a test in math, my grade nine teacher informed me that I had failed and that if I did not improve, might as well quit and spend all my time on the violin. This was no friendly advice. He scared me, so much so, that no one was able to keep me in school for another day, not even the pleadings of my mother. So, the time I should have been in school, I put to use in further developing my technique on the violin, only now with a different motive. Whereas previously I practiced because my father made me do it, now cowardice was the factor propelling me towards excellence on the violin.
When I was informed that I had been awarded a scholarship and that I would have to go to England no later than the following September, September 1939, my future life was sealed. Preparations began immediately to send me on my way. No one thought to ask how I felt about leaving home so soon after my seventeenth birthday. So there I was, a mere kid from a small coal mining town in the west, a place called Maple Leaf, about to embark on the Empress of Britain and sail forth into the unknown, and there to remain for an undetermined period of time.
But what to do in the meantime? September 39 was still some months off and I would have to do something valuable with my time besides play the violin. It turned out that on the urging of Mr. Moser and others who figured they knew what was best for me, I returned to school. To do so meant that I had to face my former teacher who was now the vice principal and ask to be allowed back. Shivering uncontrollably under his piercing eyes, I somehow blurted out that I wanted to go back to school and would he allow me to do it. Sixty years later, I can't remember what it was he said to me at the time. Did he lecture me on how much time I should spend on the violin, to do my homework, and to pay attention when he gave us math, or did he feel sorry for me, a poor miserable creature on the verge of tears? I recall only that he allowed me back.
And so there I was, back with my friend Steve and all the others but not for long. Towards the end of the year when preparations were in full swing to bundle me off to England, such as packing a trunk for me, obtaining a passport and saying my farewells to all my friends and my parent's friends, I could not force myself to stay in school any longer and so for the second time called it quits. Now there would be no further schooling for me until the distant future 1972 when I would enroll as an adult student at Caribou College in Kamloops and subsequently go on to the University of Victoria, culminating with two summers at the University of British Columbia.As the day for my departure drew closer and I had my ticket to sail on the Empress of Britain, and arrangements were made with Mathew Halton (brother-in-law to Mr. Moser and world famous war correspondent) to meet me in London, I was stopped dead in my tracks. War broke out in Europe, the Empress was sunk, and my future was put on hold - but not for long. Quick as lightning my father came up with another plan. Since I was packed and ready to go, I was dispatched off to Toronto, to the Royal Conservatory of Music. Another momentous decision was made on my behalf. So, going through all my good-byes a second time and with tears flowing profusely, I boarded a train bound for the east, all of seventeen years young. In these days, traveling more than half way across the breadth of this country can take as little as three to four hours if going by air, but not so in 1939. It was steam locomotion and soot all the way, three days and three nights of it. On the morning of the fourth day I was in Toronto, there to remain for the next ten months. I could not go home for Christmas, Easter, or for any other reason. Where would the money for the fare have come from? Even if it was only fifty or sixty dollars, it was extra money which we did not have. Besides, what of the time going and coming, a round trip of six whole days during which I could not practice. No, once in Toronto, I was stuck there for the next ten months, from the beginning of September to the end of June, regardless of how miserable I felt. It was as though I had been banished to the farthest corner of the earth for something I had done. No amount of letters from family and friends could ease the pain of loneliness, especially that first Christmas. Gone for me was the happy union of friends and relatives, the annual Christmas party at Korans. When for Christmas I received a card signed by all those at the party, I was not comforted by it. It served only to remind me of what I was missing.
Arriving in Toronto, I had to find a place to live. Not knowing where to look or how long it would take, I took a room in a shabby hotel at the bottom of Yonge Street, not far from the CPR station. Bowled over by the cost, a whole two dollars and fifty cents, I counted on no more than the one night in such extravagant lodgings. Then, after some advice on how to get to the Conservatory, I set out to do what I had come to do - to register, find a place to live, and get down to the business of becoming a professional musician. When I found the Conservatory, I was given a list of probable places to live and after some further information, set out on foot to see what there was.
Hopefully I would find a place nearby, as I would be doing a lot of walking to and from lessons for the next several months. How many places I looked at I can't remember, but I did find a room to my liking before calling it a day. It was a good sized room on the second floor of some duplex on Classic Avenue, complete with it's own wash basin and running water and not too distant from the Conservatory. I had only to cross the oval in front of Convocation Hall, pass by Hart House and the engineers building, make a mad dash across College Avenue, and there I was, on the doorstep of the music building of the University of Toronto. Not bad for my first day in the big city. All that remained was to return to my hotel room, have a good night's rest, and the next day see to getting my trunk delivered to #10 Classic Avenue, and move in.Coming from a small mining town from way out west, I knew very little about the way of the world and was therefore in for some surprises on my first day in the big city. When told my room rent would be three dollars and fifty cents, I had it made, thinking that it included meals. I should have caught on when the landlord's son gave me such a queer look for asking when breakfast would be served, but there was no mistaking about it the next morning. Given breakfast of something or other which I shared with a canary that had the freedom of the kitchen and frequently settled down on the table, including the food, I was jolted into the realization that I had to pay for such meagre fare, all of fifteen cents. That did it, I made no further inquiries about other meals, arriving at the conclusion that they would be no better then the breakfast for which I would have to pay and share with that foot loose canary. I was quick to find another place to eat in one of the many small restaurants located around the campus catering to students like myself. A three course meal was twenty-five cents and if in between meals I wanted a coke and a donut, I had only to dole out one thin dime.
So began life as a student, far from home. Unlike that of the other students with whom I mingled, my schedule consisted of a whole lot of practicing up in my room and attendance to lectures in harmony, counterpoint, and history of music. These were one hour sessions once a week. I also had violin lessons to go to, two a week, the main reason I was sent off to Toronto for. And then there were the weekly one hour lessons on the clarinet and in conducting. So much for lessons and lectures, but there was more - two orchestra rehearsals to attend, symphony concerts at Massey Hall and recitals at the conservatory. When added to my daily quota of eight hours on the violin, one on the clarinet and doing the assignments in the theoretical subjects, I had to conclude that I was engulfed in a strenuous output of mental and physical activity and to wonder how long I could keep it up.
Before going to Toronto, I had to answer to my father if I did not practice. Now that motivating force had to come from within me. If I failed to meet the quota of eight hours on the violin, and one on the clarinet, I felt guilty for wasting my father's hard earned money. But it was a pace I could not keep up for long without some damage to my mental and physical health, probably both. I had to do something other than music to ease the pressure. This diversion came in the form of the movies I went to, quite a few in fact. I did not consider the admission fee of ten cents too great a drain on my finances while at the same time giving me the kind of break I needed.
One day, when talking to a fellow student living on the floor above, I was told that the room next to his was vacant and that it only cost two dollars and fifty cents a week. That was a whole dollar less than I was paying, so I decided to move and save my father some money. Strange, I thought, that the higher one lived in one of these rooming houses, the less one had to pay. Besides, the extra stairs to the loft above struck me as a good idea since it would separate me even further from those on the ground floor who by this time were beginning to grumble about all the noise I was making on my instruments. My music was definitely not for them. A pity though that I did not know from the start that the higher you lived in one of these row houses, the cheaper it got. I would not have settled for a room on the second floor amongst the elite.
After Christmas, I made a move, a bad one. When a certain friend of my fathers from the old country heard that I was living in Toronto, there was no alternative but for me to move in with him and his family. He was all heart and would have it no other way, insisting I become a part of his family and not live by myself. With that kind of persuasion, I packed my trunk and with violin in hand, moved east across Toronto to the far reaches of Bloor Street, almost to Sudbury. Unfortunately, his intentions, kind as they were, did not work out, a fact which became painfully obvious the very first night under his roof.
Whereas I had my own room before moving, I now shared a room with the master of the house the result of which I had absolutely no privacy and in the bargain, was subjected to some of the loudest snoring I had ever heard. When on the way to my violin lesson I discovered it took two hours by street car to reach the conservatory, I had to do some hard thinking. How could I spend all that time traveling to and from my lessons which I had to do on a daily basis and still have time to do all my practicing? And how could I practice at all when I did not have a room to do it in? Obviously this would not do and so in less than a week, I was again on the move, back to 20 Classic Avenue. Fortunately, Mr. Pollock, my former landlord understood and bearing me no grudge for having moved, said my room had not been rented and was mine for the taking. What an enormous relief to be back.Slowly, I began to get used to my new life but I could not dispel the sting of loneliness. It continued to plague me all the days of my exile, even after I made a few friends. Those who offered their friendship were my landlord's son and daughter and at the conservatory a fellow student from British Columbia, a certain Neville Tonks who, like myself, was also ushered off to the far east for the sake of the violin. I could not imagine it then, but destiny had it that Neville and I would once more cross paths, this time as soldiers on the battle fields of Italy. I have not seen or heard of him since. Eugene, my landlord's son, would also be one with whom I would meet - in uniform, somewhere in England.
When in that first year away from home winter gave way to spring and Easter had come and gone, looming on the horizon were my exams. This presented an additional burden to an already exhausting schedule of lessons and rehearsals. I had to rehearse with an accompanist the list of selections required, of which the Bruch concerto and a Beethoven sonata were major works. In addition, several studies and a countless number of scales and arpeggios in a variety of configurations. If successful, I could then append the initials A.T.C.M. (Associate of the Toronto Conservatory of Music) to my name. It was for that I had been bundled off to Toronto, to attain some form of distinction in music which would set me apart from those who merely played the fiddle and which would somehow ensure me a living through music. I had to make good on this exam.Near the end of June when all the practicing was over and the results of the exam announced, I emerged from the ordeal with a scholarship and a gold medal. I had done well, so well, that returning to Toronto for another year was a certainty but that was two months off. Now I had a train to catch, to take me home to my beloved Maple Leaf. How I fared in those two months of liberty I have long since forgotten but of one thing I am certain, they were not wasted. For a fleeting moment in time I was free. I had done that which had been expected of me and could now do as I pleased even if only for a short time. And short it was. With August about to expire, I again set to packing my trunk and by the first of September was back on board a train bound for more of the same. Leaving home this time was not the heart wrenching experience as before. It was in fact taken with a certain amount of equanimity and the only tears shed were those on my mother's cheeks. Unlike before, I was not going off into the unknown and so my departure was easier to bear. Even so, I could not escape a feeling of sadness as the train pulled slowly away from the station. It was a feeling I would experience many times in the years to come.
Travel to the east was long and tiresome. Although there was much to see as the train sped across the land, I had neither the interest or inclination to be absorbed by the passing scenery. I was not in the mood. Perhaps if I had been able to afford a birth, or feast on the delicious meals served in the dining car, I would not have been so melancholy. I had to make the best of what there was within my means, a ham or cheese sandwich bought from the newsy and for comfort during the night, a single pillow on which to rest my head. Attempt at sleep was to catch a few winks while sitting upright with feet outstretched beneath the seat in front.In Winnipeg, the journey which to now had been uneventful and dreary, suddenly came to life. The train was invaded by the army and before long, every available seat was replete with soldiers and their gear. They were members of the Winnipeg Rifles who, having completed their training, were returning to camp after a short leave and who would in the days to come suffer such inhumane treatment as prisoners or war in Japanese labor camps.
When they had taken their place amongst the other passengers and removed everything from their backs, I could not help but notice how young some of them were, not a day older than myself. I assumed they had lied about their age and judging from their good natured banter had no idea of what lay in store for them, or, if they had, were not too concerned. They were not raucous, nor were they filled with a false sense of bravado as new recruits might be but were rather serious, even slightly subdued, thinking perhaps that this could be the last sight of home for a very long time. As we traveled on I became fond of my new travel companions and wondered what it was awaiting them in the months to come while at the same time I could not help but think of my own future. What further changes would the war bring about in my life ?
During my first year in Toronto, I did not take too great a notice of all the activities pertaining to the war but it took on a different perspective after my encounter with the soldiers on the train. Now when I crossed the oval of grass in front of the university buildings on my way to the conservatory, I stopped and looked on as the young officers in training went through their drill - the ground in front of Hart House being their parade square. Farther on, it was the hundreds of volunteers parading up and down the extent of the wide boulevard running the length of University Avenue between College and Queen. They marched and drilled in their ill fitting uniforms, relics from a previous war. But it was the deafening roar and awe inspiring sight of a formation of Harvards flying overhead that had the most profound effect on me. Somehow, going for a violin lesson lost all it's importance and instead, I saw myself with the others up there in the sky, reveling in the thrill and excitement of a newly found adventure. What freedom, I thought, these young pilots were experiencing. And then, awakening from my thoughts it would dawn on me that I had a lesson to go to and continue on my way, more than a few minutes late.
For my second year in Toronto, I found another place to live - east on Ossington Avenue and much further away from the conservatory. I went to my lessons, attended orchestra rehearsals, did my harmony assignments, took in all the symphony concerts, practiced a reasonable length of time on both the violin and clarinet, and was for a time content that I was doing all that I had come to do. By all appearances, I was the modal student. The big city had by this time taken on a different aspect and I began to think of it as a home away from home. No more was it the strange inhospitable place I regarded it as when I first arrived one year ago.At Christmas, my second away from home, I again became restless, more so than before. A need for something more exciting than playing the violin permeated every fiber of my soul and I found myself gravitating more and more towards the air force. I tried to remain at my studies but after my nineteenth birthday, could not restrain myself any longer. Acting on impulse one day, I packed my trunk, my violin and clarinet, and on borrowed money from the trustful and understanding restaurateur in whose establishment I had taken all my meals, bought a train ticket for the west and set off for home. No one, be it at home or at the conservatory had any idea that I had done so.
Since my parents did not know I was coming, they were not at the station to meet me and I had to walk from the Bellevue station in the middle of the night to my home in Maple Leaf, a distance of three to four miles some of it up hill, packing my violin and clarinet all the way. I reached home in the wee hours of the morning. Lacking the courage to burst in on my parents who were deep in slumber land and finding the garage door open with the car inside, I lay myself down to sleep on the back seat. The inevitable encounter came a short time later when I was discovered by my father. It was not as I feared. He was as glad to see me as I was for being home and when my mother held out her arms to me, I knew my home coming was keenly felt by all.
The feeling of elation did not last. All to soon it began to wane, to be replaced with a feeling of guilt for having let my father down, for not practicing as much as I did while in Toronto, for not having stayed in high school for at least a full year, and basically, for not doing much of anything. What I needed now was a job to allay my frustration. Like anyone else, I wanted some spending money and that I had to earn if I was to preserve my self esteem.
Joining the air force, that once felt patriotic zeal had also waned. I was back with my friends and the loneliness I experienced in Toronto was losing it's grip. If they were not joining up, I saw no reason why I should. To hear us talk while hanging out at Jerry's, one would think we were a bunch of rebels without the slightest intention of fighting for our country. We were the most unpatriotic bunch of guys found anywhere. But how that changed. Little did we realize how all that bravado was just a front. First, one decided to go, then another, and another, and before the end of 1942, we had all signed on the dotted line.For my part, remaining a civilian for the present was my mother's wish. She did not want me to join anything, particularly the air force, believing that the odds of coming out alive were ever so slim when compared to the army. She was playing for time, hoping that if I did not go immediately the war would end and I might be spared. No doubt many a mother thought as much but that did not impede the steady flow of volunteers to all three branches of the service. When I took the plunge, it was August 1942. The war had three more years to go and I with time to serve in England, in Italy, and in Western Europe.
With the collapse of my studies and not yet ready for the military, it was clear I had to do something constructive, like finding a job. No more, this life of leisure. But what to do? Digging coal was out of the question, for was not that the reason why my father bundled me off to Toronto? No, I had to find some other kind of work but in a community where mining was the sole industry that was easier said than done. Then one day, out of the clear blue, came my deliverance. A job, as though made for me opened up at Zaks, the Bellevue butcher shop.Henry Zak, a Czech immigrant like myself, had three butcher shops - one in Coleman, another in Blairmore and the third in Bellevue. My work consisted of calling on his customers twice daily for orders in Maple Leaf, Bellevue, the village of Frank, and then making deliveries when they were made up. Since I was able to converse in Czech and so many of his customers Czech immigrants, it was a job made for me. I could communicate with the housewives whose command of the English language was almost non-existent and thereby take orders for their daily needs. Sausages, cold cuts, wieners, and soup bone, were the staples in the miner's world and these I delivered once in the morning and again in the afternoon. Taking orders and delivering them was timed to the different shifts the miners were on and a good delivery system was good business. And good it was, considering the praise received from the many customers. It was passed on to Mr. Zak in words such as, "That Frank is such a good worker, so understanding and quick on his job. We never have to wait for our orders to be delivered." Of course, little did they know of the speeds I flogged out of that 1941 Ford light delivery when making my rounds to the village of Frank on the other side of the Slide. I exalted in what I was doing, and if that was called work, then surely I had the best job in the world.
But like all things, there was a limit to how long this good life could last. To my father's way of thinking, delivering sausages was not advancing me in my musical career and although I did keep up my practicing, as far as he was concerned I was standing still. Not sold on the idea of me becoming a butcher and determined I was not going to dig coal, he decided it was time for me to make a move.Unknown to me, he had a plan. In that summer of forty-one he announced that we were going on a trip, for a holiday. What he did not say was that he had in mind a violin teacher, a certain Mr. Garbovitsky with whom he intended to set me up. Otherwise, why go to Vancouver and not to Banff and Lake Louise like on other holidays? According to his plan, I would go to Vancouver to study as soon as possible. All that remained was to pack my trunk, my violin and clarinet, and set off for what was described to me as a guarantee of a good life sometime in the future.
This time it was with a difference. I had to assist in my finances and that meant finding a job, preferably one compatible with playing the violin. In other words, it had to be something at which I would not suffer injury to my hands or in some other way hinder me from my main purpose which was, to become a professional violinist. That was a tall order but through the sympathy and understanding of a fellow musician and a few good words on my behalf by my violin teacher, such a position was found. I was given work at Pacific Paper Mills. My benefactor and superintendent of the works was like myself a Czech and clarinet player in the symphony in which I too was a member.Living and working in Vancouver while trying to study was anything but satisfactory. I had a job, but to get to it required a one hour ride on the street car. After an eight hour shift that ride had to be done again, another hour on the street car in the opposite direction. Only then could I turn my attention to the real purpose for being in Vancouver, to my violin. Up in my tiny room on Nelson Avenue I somehow had to find the strength and the will to do some practicing on it and if it was a Wednesday, go to orchestra rehearsal. I was not homesick, but the combination of work and trying to become a professional musician was beginning to take it's toll.
Then, suddenly, on the night of December seventh, all this changed. Japan dropped it's bombs on Pearl Harbor, the war entered a new phase, and in a short few weeks I would personally be involved in it. Why not, therefore, go home and in the time remaining live my own life instead of that which had been imposed on me by my father. It did not take long to assert myself. I packed my trunk and with my violin under arm, returned to Maple Leaf. It was Christmas 1941, and I was home at last.
When I look back on that period of my life and assess the absolute power my father had over it, I can't help but have some mixed feelings. On the one hand I think of him as an unrelenting tyrant with a one track mind and no thought for my feelings and personal desires, subjugating me to the power of his iron will. My life was molded to his set of plans, to his design and I had no alternative but to obey. Then on second thought I see his purpose, his dedication to a goal bent on saving me from the bowels of the earth, from digging coal, a way of life he hated with all his soul and from which he himself had no hope of escaping. If music could be the means to a better life for me then he would see to it that nothing came in the way to the fulfillment of his plan. He had come to Canada looking for a better life and found only mining. So he made an oath, that come what may, no son of his would dig coal for a living.
As a young Czech living in a country under the domination of the Hapsburgs with only a meager education in his native tongue, it was only in the mines where he could find work. When war broke out in 1914, it was his lot to serve four years in the Austrian army on the western front. When the fighting was over and he returned to a new democratic Czechoslovakia, a country born of the war, his personal fortune had not changed - it was again the mines, the cruel and hated mines. Believing that a better life could be found across the ocean he emigrated to Canada but as fate would have it, his lot had not changed, again there were only the coal mines. So he made an oath, that come what may, no son of his would set foot in a mine and repeat the pattern of his life. With such firm resolve he chose the form my life would take, a life through music and nothing would deter him from his purpose. Time proved him right, for not only did I earn my living through music, I succeeded in taking him out of the mine, to be a partner in the formation of a school of music and with me to share in that better life of which he could only dream.Returning to Maple Leaf before Christmas, I had six months before putting on the uniform as befitting a private in the Canadian Army. The pressure of work and studying was off and for the first time in my life I began to assert myself. It was a personal declaration of independence. I took on a few students, taught violin and most of the band instruments, formed a small dance group, and for my biggest prize took over as conductor of the West Canadian Collieries Band. I had been a member of this band since my eleventh birthday and now I had become it's leader. Mr. George Goodwin, the band's director since it came into being after the first world war graciously conceded that the band now belonged to me.
On a day in January 42 not long after I put on the conductor's uniform, my band came under attack. The director of the newly formed band at the army advanced training center in Red Deer, Alberta, came to entice players for his band and when he had done his worst, I had lost several of my dependable and valuable players. Most important of these was my one and only tuba player, my father. Not that I blamed him for going, for it was his one big opportunity to do other than work in the mine but the loss was keenly felt. However it did not take me long to remedy the situation. I lowered my standards and instead of putting out with such grueling marches like Colonel Bogey or The Standard of St. George, turned to music less demanding and promptly filled the depleted ranks with my students.
Losing my tuba player was a real concern but coming to my rescue was my uncle who, after trying the sousaphone around his neck to see how it felt, decided right then and there that he would tame this monster. So, keeping my fingers crossed that he not find the learning too much for him and change his mind about being a musician, I put him in the band as soon as he could pump away on a few notes and flounder through even the most basic time signature. What if he did puff out his cheeks and play a few wrong notes in the right place and a few right notes in the wrong place. His erroneous belching was more than covered up by the resounding and explosive bass drum pounded upon by my drummer Henry Kereluk. Important was that I had a tuba player, in body and soul if nothing else and my uncle was having fun.
If my uncle was having fun, it was not quite the same for me. Yes, I was free, on my own and doing as I pleased but time was running out. Compulsory military service was introduced and since on April 29 I had reached my twentieth birthday, it was only a matter of time before having to go. I expected to be called up at any time. The realty was, that when that summons came, I would have no choice where and how to serve. Since I no longer saw myself as the fearless warrior in the skies and preferred something less exposed to danger, the band in Red Deer seemed to be the answer and I made up my mind to go, on my own.
The news of my intended service to King and Country, such as it was to be, was not met with the enthusiasm I thought it would arouse. It was in fact quite the opposite. I could understand my mother's apprehension for seeing me go but the downright objection as expressed and acted upon by a certain individual was blatant interference. A father of three boys in my band became so inflamed at my leaving that he proclaimed it his affair to keep me at home. He wanted me exempt from military duty on the grounds that I had an obligation to my students and to leave them would be an act of desertion.
True, exemptions were being made but not for leading a community band. Coal miners were exempt, even encouraged to remain at their work but I was not one of them, nor did I want to be. Therefore, as planned, I bid my farewells and on the twenty-fourth of July 1942 boarded a train for Red Deer and there joined my father and other musicians from the Pass, the Crowsnest Pass, in the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps Band, Red Deer, Alberta. Three of my friends, musicians also, decided to go with me so we were four on our way to join those who had put on the uniform sometimes previous. By the end of that summer in 1942 the Army Service Corps Band consisted mainly of musicians from the now depleted ranks of the West Canadian Collieries Band of which I had been the conductor.
If at the time I considered my enlistment as an upheaval to my every day life as a private citizen, it was little in comparison to what was yet to come. Only three months after my enlistment I was moved to Montreal, to the ranks of what became known as The Canadian Army Show and from that time on, served wherever required, be it Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, or Continental Europe. Then, having done all that it was required of me to do in the service of my country, I was given my discharge. The date was, March 18, 1946.
That's me, M-34162 Private Hosek Frank - happy in the service. Never made it past Private First Class, but - "I Got Used To It." Now there are more difficult things to get used to. This old age business is Number One. Keep dreaming of those days in Westmount Barracks, the hut next to the railroad tracks, with all that noise and ash from the passing locomotives. And then there were all those French guys who liked to whoop it up. Good thing they were in the hut next to ours. As for me, I opted for the bunk right next to the door. Not much sleep there what with all the guys having to go relieve themselves for having spent too much time in the Wet Canteen. That Molson stuff went right through a person, but, it did taste good. Especially after doing a show and having been returned to barracks. That's when the real show started. Jokes flying back and forth from one end of the hut to the other. A good many of them directed against our boss, Captain Wren. But, that's the way it is in the army.
St. John, New Brunswick Evening Times-Globe - August 19, 1943
Army Show Hailed As A Direct Hit On Opening Night
By F. D. McGUIRE
"The Army Show," Canada's allsoldier musical extravaganza, opened in Saint John last night and exploded a bevy of mirth, melody and beautiful girls like a Mills grenade un the stage of the Capitol Theatre. Attended by a capacity audience of servicemen and women and a few invited civilian guests, the entertainment was lively from start to finish. It is big-time, and in fact has been labeled "better than anything Broadway has to offer this season."
Bright, Snappy, Sparkling
It was bright, snappy, sparkling and naughty-but clean-musical comedy, and was the finest stage show to come this way in many years.
Some thought it better than "Dumbells" of the First Great War, but then the girls helped to do that. It is gay and amusing and certainly accomplishes that for which it was created- entertain the soldier.
Its music, its singing and its dancing choruses left nothing to be desired. It was a well-paced musical revue with never a dull moment. Its scenic and lighting effects were striking.
Its ballet numbers were executed with rhythm and grace. Its choruses were peppy and clicked with the slightest move of the conductor's h baton. R.S. Frank Fusco was excellent as concert master and musical conductor. Its comedians, while good, could stand a little polish and rounding-off in some numbers, That was about the only weakness.
Starting off with "That's an Order From the Army" until its finale, "Let’s Make a Job of It" the whole program was greeted with hearty laughter and spontaneous applause.
Mildred Steals Show
Corporal Doug Romaine and Private Lou Herman, replacing Sergeatn Frank Shuster and Sergeant Johnny Wayne; who played with the show earlier in its itinerary in Canada, carried much of the main "acting" as the comedians, while Sergeant Mildred Morey sang, danced and did imitations with a raucous gusto. In her Gracie Field number she stole the show, and it is doubtful if Miss SI Fields could have done a 'better job herself.
Also remembered: The ballet
of dancing of Corporal Everett Staples and Sergeant
Connie Vernon ... The excellence
of the precision dancing ... the singing of 'The Four Brass Hats" ...
Sergeant Jimmy Shields in his song "Hi'Ya Mom" .…"The
Soldier' Dream" with Sergeant Hal Seymour and Sergeant
Lynda Tuero and the
One of the strong points of the Army Show
is that it is as all-Canadian as it is all-army. What comes out of the
whole thing is something that is peculiarly Canadian in character and
atmosphere. And it is fast, but not too fast, and thus is goes merrily on
This afternoon the show will be repeated for members of the armed forces and tonight it will be presented for the general public:
Life on the road, or, to be more precise, on the track, was good. If this was my part to play, I had no complaints. The food was good, we were never long in one place to be bored, and there were a goodly number of opportunities to really live it up. Those were the times when, after a performance in some camp, we were invited to the officer's mess for a lavish reception. This constituted large quantities of good food and a general out pouring of the only beverage we would drink when so freely dispensed. More than once were various members of the cast taken back to the train in a state of advanced inebriation, myself included.
Halifax Mail - August 31, 1943
SHOW OPENS HERE
Sparkling with bright comedy, compelling music, lovely costumes and fine, talent The Army Show opened last, evening at the Forum to an 'all-service audience that expressed its approval without reservation,
The show, which will be presented to civilians this evening and Wednesday evening, was preceded to Halifax by weeks of lavish publicity, all as last night's performance effectively proved, well deserved.
Easily one of the best entertainments this city has seen in many years, The Army Show has so much to offer that it is difficult for the average spectator to take it all in just one evening,
It starts off with plenty of animation and never lets down for a single instant. Members of the cast are so clever and so well directed and rehearsed that there isn't an awkward moment, a sour note nor an ungraceful movement to mar the smoothness of it. Moreover everyone seems to enjoy the work so thoroughly that the audience immediately is infected with a matching gaiety.
"That's an order from the army" the song with which the entire company opens the program, sets the fast and exciting pace that is maintained through more than two hours of appealing songs, beautiful dancing and hilarious comedy.
The stars of the show Frank Shuster, Johnny Wayne* and Mildred Morey, who made such a tremendous hit elsewhere in Canada, do not appear in the local presentation but their substitutes, Doug Romaine, Lou Herman and Virginia Stansell are good enough to please the most exacting critic.
Among the many highlights are a remarkably accurate imitation of George Bernard Shaw by Captain Bill Harding, a dream sequence danced by the C.W.A.C. Ensemble, a sidesplitting recruiting skit and a South American interlude, elaborately costumed.
Most of the songs and dialogue poke good-natured fun at army routine, and regulations but there is a serious undercurrent that is emphasized in the finale when the troupe sings inspirational songs of the last war and takes a pledge to make a real job of it this time.
The ballet number is one that goes over well with everyone. Effectively staged to Chopin's music it moves along at an artistic pace for just long enough to be enjoyable then ends in a farcical finish that is as amusing as it is unexpected. An army fashion parade, that takes in everything from battle dress to underwear, provides many laughs and a bit of friendly rivalry between Army, Navy and Air Force gives spectators the opportunity to root for their favorite service.
The orchestra alone is well worth the price of admission, for the musicians, under skilled direction, know exactly what they are doing and how to do it most creditably.
Private Frances Dugan, who belongs to Halifax, and consequently is of special interest to local residents, does a solo tap dance and also takes part in the chorus numbers. All the dance routines are excellently performed and are of satisfying variety.
Throughout the show there is such a wealth of ability on display and such a perfect demonstration of good timing and team work that it is hard to believe the majority of the entertainers are amateurs.
The Army Show's visit to Halifax will be remembered for a long time. It's the kind of entertainment for which Broadway theatre-goers standing in line for ours and pay three times as much. M. H.
* Click here for more about the comedy team of Wayne and Shuster
Late 1943 or early 1944
Canadian Army Show stars on a troop train
Sixteen United Nations are represented in this picture of Army Show stars on a troop train prior to embarking overseas. Men in the picture are Lance Corporal T. L. Kadzielawa, Vancouver Polish; Corporal C. A. Sawyer, Toronto, English; Lance Corporal R. Wickburgh, Winnipeg, Swedish; Private H. A. D. Rosati, Toronto, Italian; Private F. F. Monte, Hamilton, American; Lance Corporal J. S. Carruthers, Montreal, Scottish; Private J. Dansereau, Montreal, French·Canadian; Private F. Hosek, Blairmore, Aberta, Czechoslovak; Lance Corporal J.K. Mews, Toronto, Canadian; Privat T. Holub, Toronto, Ukrainian; Cpl. S. Kondaka, Montreal, Greek; Private M. Barten, Winnipeg, Russian; Private U.K. ????, ???; Private Lou Herman, Toronto, Jewish.
On an evening in May 1944, we set sail for Italy, alone, one troopship bearing thousands of reinforcements to the battle-fields centered at the foot of Monte Cassino in the Liri Valley. When awakened the next morning, we, and other troopships like ours, were in the middle of an armada of ships stretching in every direction as far as the eye could see. The sight was beyond imagination, made even more impressive when shortly after dawn all the destroyers and other escort ships let loose a barrage of artillery fire - a practice known as clearing the guns. The din of canon fire was deafening. And to make it appear even more realistic, as though under attack the troopships let out a smoke screen to protect us from view should some enemy submarine be lurking about. Rumor had it we were under attack, but on a troopship rumors abound.
When the excitement of that first day subsided, life aboard became rather sedentary. Nothing to do but play cards, shoot crap, swap jokes, and do a lot of gazing out to sea. And later, when sailing through the Straights of Gibraltar into the waters of the Mediterranean, soak up the warm sun. We also had a view of North Africa where not too long ago the fighting still raged. Now it was quiet. A part of our convoy broke off here. They were the ships bearing provisions for what was probably the rebuilding off all that had been destroyed by the war. Then we turned north, past Sicily, into the harbor of Naples.
See Naples and die. Many had done just that, as envisaged by the destruction to various parts of the city, but for us about to disembark it was the sight of so many dead ships that drew our attention. Lying on their side to make the harbor near useless were the ships of the former Italian navy - scuttled, that it not fall into wrong hands. To make it ashore, we had to tread in single file over the hulls of the once proud navy via a catwalk from one ship to the next before setting foot on Italian soil.
We were not long in Naples for Avellino was our immediate objective, but even in the short time while waiting for our transportation, we saw the degradation that had befallen the people of Italy. No more were they strutting about in black shirts as in the days of Mussolini but were instead with hands outstretched, begging for some sustenance to life. Mothers, frail and gaunt, with children barely alive in their arms looked pleadingly for some recognition of their plight, that the new arrivals would empty their pockets to them. But we had very little to give. A few cigarettes, an odd chocolate, perhaps, but in the main we could only stand and look, and wonder. Then, when restraint gave way and the throng began to swarm about the green troops, out came the lashes and the now desperate people were driven back by hardened veterans who had come to deliver us to our destination. Avellino was our jumping off place. From here we would head north to be, first with the 48th. Highlanders of Canada and then with the Royal 22nd. of Montreal, the Vandoos. But first we had to be outfitted. We affixed the Red Diamond to our shirts, denoting that we were in the First Canadian Corps, stashed several clips of ammunition in our pouches, and took care of our rifles should they become necessary even though still many miles back of the front. To get there, we required transportation. When provided, ours was a small army completely self sustained, all twenty-five of us. We had a cook, a kitchen on wheels, and the trucks to transport both us and the equipment required. We were ready to move. The way north was in convoy, a long convoy, as long as the distance from Naples to Cassino, bumper to bumper. These were vehicles loaded with the requirements of war, ammunition, food, and re-enforcements. Those that were empty, were the ambulances, although quite full when going in the other direction. Heading south was an equally long chain of vehicles, empties, going for more of the same, and of course the loaded ambulances. Dust was knee deep, bridges were none existent, and all along the route the ruins of war - blackened steel of burnt out tanks, and so many small wooden crosses marking temporary graves. The Gustav Line had been broken and the Eighth Army was pouring into the Liri Valley through the wreckage of Cassino under the pock- marked slopes of Monte Cassino. The next objective was the Hitler Line, but first a short respite, to regroup, perhaps write home, and, indulge in a little entertainment.
There, in that valley of death, we had arrived, and would now do that which we were meant to do. In a gully branching off from the Liri we set up our first show and a company of the 48th. Highlanders was our audience. Stringing up a backdrop between two trucks and with two sheets of 4x8 plywood set firmly on several containers of live ammunition to serve as our stage, we began. Now it was our show, this was what we were sent to do, deemed by those in Ottawa as a necessity of war. When after the show I talked to a Highlander younger than myself, I learnt the truth as to the wisdom of our mission. With tears flowing, he told me how important it was, to have brought to him and the others a little of that which they had left behind, a small part of home. I did not ask his name, nor did he ask for mine, we just talked, not of the fighting and the war, but of the way it was before. With the Hitler Line waiting to be breached and other battles to be fought, I don't know if my friend of this brief encounter survived.
With Cassino and the Gustav Line disposed of, the Hitler Line was next but first it had to be softened up. We watched, and we listened, to the continuous reverberation like so much thunder, as canon fire tore the night to shreds. The continuous glow from the flashes of sixteen hundred guns (of the exact number we learnt later) lit up the sky as though it was the setting sun. This creeping barrage, we were told, was greater than the one at Alamein. Pontecorvo, as we saw when moving up, was reduced to heaps of stone, nothing remained standing. All about there was the blackened earth, the broken remains of the tools of war, and smoke from burning oil. The Canadians had done a thorough job, but at an expense, and so it was with a sense of pride we gave our next show, this time for the Royal 22nd., the Vandoos from Montreal.
While in England these shows were given in Niesen huts converted to small concert halls, and where there was electricity enabling us to use our lighting system, but no such luxury here. The shows were out in the open, put on towards dusk in the remaining daylight. Heaven forbid we show a light to the Germans who were so eager to throw shell on such a concentration of combatants. The early show also gave us time to dig our slit trench. We were ordered to do as much when encamped with the Vandoos but the hard ground proved too much for the small entrenching spade designed for such a purpose. As we did when further down the line, we simply tied our mosquito netting to a branch of an olive tree which escaped destruction, hoping the Germans would do the same, and did our best to sleep. Being in the proximity of more than a few corralled German POW's so recently captured and not yet sent back of the lines, sleep was best with one eye open.
After the Vandoos and still in the Liri valley, we played to the Calgary Tanks. Thinking it to be just another performance, I was not prepared for the surprise awaiting me when I saw coming towards me from out of the crowd, my school and skiing buddy, Tommy Price. What a meeting, two people from a small coal mining town in southern Alberta, and now here, in far off Italy. That was it, nothing to do now but to talk, to reminisce. We did so, late into the night, agreeing that on the morrow I would go with him to pick up a tank to replace the one he had lost, put out of action. Riding in that tank the next day I observed a hole in the turret made by an armor piercing shell, and my thoughts went out to the previous crew. Poor guys, there could not have been much left of them after they were hit. And how the Italian dust poured in through that hole. Later in the day, while putting in time just sitting around, we heard over the tank's radio of the landings in Normandy. The long awaited second front had begun. As for us, our small troop of entertainers, we kept right on, for there was yet much to do right here, in Italy.
So, on with the show. The front was long and all across, an appreciative audience. It made us feel good, knowing that it was worthwhile and that in our own unique way we were helping to defeat the enemy. When not with the infantry, it was the artillery, and then the hospitals. Italy had lots of them, Canadian, British, and American. When we could boast that we had played them all, it was after we had crossed the country east to west, north to south. Consequently there was little of Italy we had not seen. From the beaches of Salerno where the landings on Italian soil took place, to Florence in the north, we saw it all.
Then one day, it was thought we deserved a rest. Someone from high up decided that the sands of Anzio would do us well, so off we went. If the Fifth Division could luxuriate on the sand and in the waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea, why not us. The once perilous beach head was now a rest camp and rest we sorely needed. Unfortunately for me, it almost became my permanent resting place. From a raft which was being carried out to deep waters by the strong undercurrent, I jumped into depths over my head in an attempt to swim ashore and to my horror, found that it was too much for me. I was not that great a swimmer. I could neither touch bottom or manage the surf and began to panic. Only a nudge towards shore by my friend saved the day. Once my toe felt sand, I was safe. Private Cook, Cookie as we called him, had saved my life. Unfortunately I could not do as much for him when shortly after, he died of a brain tumor.
And now there was another line to breach, the Gothic. Like the others, the Gustav and the Hitler, this too was done with valor, determination, and the mounting losses of men and material. When it was over, the allies were in Florence. Fortunately it did not meet with the same fate as Cassino. It was spared. Declared an open city, the Germans withdrew and the fighting rolled on, but we did not follow. With bouts of malaria occurring several times to various members of our group, they had become casualties and had to be evacuated, and since there were no replacements for our kind of soldiering, our stint of active duty on the Italian front came to an end. To reconstruct our show, we had to go back to Canada. And so we left, not only Italy, but England too. Our duty in a war zone had come to a temporary end.
July 22nd, 1945
Today, crossed the frontier from Holland into Germany. Left Appledorn this morning at nine and reached Aurich at approximately five thirty this afternoon. What an experience, entering the country we are supposed to hate. What amazed me was that as soon as we crossed that border we all instinctively felt it. The land and sky looked the same, even the people looked no different, but inwardly we felt something that was not there before. Perhaps its the way we had been programmed to feel towards the Germans and the way they feel towards us. Passing through Holland towards the German border the Dutch people waved at us but once in Germany, if there were any people along the road they merely stared or completely ignored us. Looking at them as we moved deeper and deeper into their country I wished I knew what was on their minds, what they were thinking. Did these people look upon us as liberators or conquerors. Maybe some day I will read books on this very topic. For now, after one hundred and eighty miles on the back of a truck, I'm tired and ready for bed. There will be more to write about Germany as we move on.
Ottawa - 1946
4,000 in Ottawa Enjoy Army Show
Nearly 4,000 soldiers and their civilian friends stamped their feet, clapped their hands, whistled, and cheered “B Unit" of the Canadian Army Shows which played at the Coliseum last night.
Overseas for 14 months, this show played the whole Central Mediterranean theatre of war and England. The girls in the show included the first C.W.A.C. to land in Italy. On its way to Toronto to form a new show, the troupe gave their audience a taste of what men in action get to take their minds off the war.
The quality of the performance made this "taste" a very pleasant one. Versatile Lance Corporal Jimmy More, of Montreal, kept the show going at a merry pace with his jokes, imitations and a monologue "With the Hairforce at Camp Borden". "Relax, girls, relax", he called following Private Gwyn Price's vocal renditions of 'Oh, What a Beautiful Morning", and "My Buddy". Private Price is from Calgary.
Private Sunny Wilson, C.W.A.C., of Moncton, sang several, blues numbers, and Private Mary Moynihan, C.W.A.C., of, Regina, offered pleasing soprano vocals. The dance team of Sergeant Eve Staples, of Toronto, and Private Alfreda Phillips of Winnipeg, were a distinct hit. An acrobat with a body she could twist like a corkscrew, and keeping the audience on the edge of their seats, Private Ethel Hendry of Windsor, performed on top of a table! Private Lou Herman, of Toronto, provided laughs in the show, wearing an oversize greatcoat, a tin helmet and floppy shoes.
Special laurels go to the band, led by Sgt. Morris Weinsweig; of Toronto. The members are nearly all from Ontario and they seemed to enjoy playing almost as much as their audience enjoyed listening. At one point, Corporal More called for three volunteers, a. member of the C.W.A.C. and two soldiers; to lead the band.
'The band followed carefully the movements of the amateur leader's baton, but in doing so worked themselves into a slap-happy condition- the cellist playing his cello like a guitar, and the brass section playing off-key and out of tempo.
The show is traveling under the command of Captain Bruce Wood, of Winnipeg.
A PLACE CALLED MAPLE LEAF
A PLACE CALLED MAPLE LEAF
One will not find Maple Leaf on a map, any map, be it in the province of Alberta or any other province in all of Canada. In the realm of map making, Maple Leaf does not exist. And yet, I know it does, or at least it did, because I lived there when I was very young. Maple Leaf was, and still is, that part of Bellevue (which is on the map) situated on the other side of the Maple Leaf School. To the east of the school is Maple Leaf, to the west, Bellevue. Together, the two made up the small coal mining town known as Bellevue.
Both were coal mining towns, with one mine in Maple Leaf and the other in Bellevue. My father worked in the Bellevue mine, the big one, and my uncle Tony in the other, the Maple Leaf Mine, the entry to which was a mere few hundred yards from our house. It did not take my uncle long to get to the wash house, change to mine clothes, jump into a coal car and be wheeled to the coal face deep beneath the mountain hovering over this small place we called home.
Coal drew to this sector of Alberta a divergence of immigrants. A few people may have been born in either Maple Leaf or Bellevue but most came from the countries of Europe, thinking to strike it rich in this, their adopted land. So, when changing clothes in the wash-house before going to the work face, or going to Bellevue for the mail, or drinking beer in the Bellevue Inn on pay day, one heard a mixture of words which could only be equaled by the present United Nations. No one really spoke his or her mother tongue but drew on the vocabulary of the person with whom one had either to work or socialize after a day down in the mine. It was a lingo all it's own.
School, and the memories it evokes. What person my age does not look back on those years as some of the happiest? Perhaps we did not think so at the time, particularly if one had to struggle with a language not of his birth. And struggle I did, taking seven years to go beyond the sixth grade, but I was not alone. Like me, there were many with only a smattering of this new language they came to adopt. And adopt they did. Some with such excellence that they became teachers, scientists, mining engineers, officers in the not too distant war, musicians, and so on. This small community gave more than it's share of notables to the world beyond it's borders.
Now there is another school in Maple Leaf, situated on the property that was the farm of the Bogush family. Built according to today's standards and housing students from grade one to twelve, it is a far cry from the four roomed building I attended, now left to serve the community as some storage depot, shoddy and unkempt. While at least that building is still standing, the high school in Bellevue met with a dissimilar fate. Built of wood two stories high and unsuited to anything but a school, it was deemed unsafe for other usage and was therefore put down by a demolition crew.
As for the business community in Maple Leaf, it consisted of two grocery stores and two service stations. For other than that which could be purchased in these establishments one had to go "uptown", to Bellevue. There you could pick up the mail, buy some meat for the day's lunch bucket in Zak's butcher shop, take in a show on Monday night for the next episode of Tarzan, go to the dance in the union hall on Saturday night and if dying of thirst, drink beer in either the Bellevue Inn or the Legion. There was also the pool hall, a hardware store, a lumber yard, a barber shop, the skating rink, and the ever prevalent Chinese restaurant. Bellevue had two, one on each side of main street, facing each other. The only business establishment not in Bellevue was the liquor store. For a case of beer or the preferred keg, one had to go to Blairmore, which also had the only den of iniquity for the entire area.
Maple Leaf also had a newspaper of sorts, albeit not in English, or that other language, French. It was put out in Slovak and was the inspired work of one, a Mr. George Klesken. He was the owner, chief editor, publisher, and with a work force of one, his son Jerry, managed to put out several issues in the course of a year. Another enterprise, was that run by the Bogush family. Their's was the dairy farm located directly across from the row of houses in which we lived. This small strip of land from which they garnished the feed for their cows was adequate for the daily quota of milk required by their customers.
We, were not their customers. Our milk came from Bessie, owned and milked by the Hvizdos family. The milk was delivered to our home by Steve, my best friend and sometimes by his younger brother Gasper. Making their delivery in a five pound pail every day around five in the afternoon, each was then given a weekly music lesson as payment in full for the milk. Steve on the violin and clarinet, Gasper on the mellophone, and big brother John on a baritone horn.
Last, but not the least of business establishments serving Maple Leaf was Swischuk's service station. This was our hang out, particularly on Monday nights. On our way home after an evening at Cole's theatre where we sat spellbound to a Buck Jones drama, we would stop for a cuban lunch bar and a bottle of coke. Then, sitting around the huge pot bellied stove, rehash everything we saw at the show or what we did at school that day and if it was winter, listen to the hockey game coming over the radio. Turk Broda and the Toronto Maple Leafs were our favorites, probably because the teams which now make up the NHL had not yet been invented.
A bottle of coke for a nickel and the bar for the same price did not add up to much when it came to settling accounts at the end of the month, but some came in for quite a shock. My tally never rose above ten dollars but for those who smoked, be it fine cut or ready-made, twenty-five to thirty dollars was not uncommon. During the depression, that kind of money was not easy to come by. I earned mine by playing at dances but most of the others had to depend on whatever was left over after the weekly shopping for the necessities of life. Only then could the parents dole out the weekly allowance.
Maple Leaf, where did it begin and where did it end? Come to think of it, I doubt that anyone really knew, or cared. Going to Bellevue for the mail one simply said," I'm going up town." Personally, I place the demarcation line between the Maple Leaf school and the Bellevue mine office. That would put Steve, (my friend) in Maple Leaf, and Frenchy Breton,( my enemy ) in Bellevue. But why belabor the issue? Probably because Bellevue had running water and sewers while we in Maple Leaf had to dig wells and septic tanks, which meant that the Bellevue kids had inside toilets and we living in Maple Leaf had to use the outside biffy, stuck next to the coal and wood sheds.
And what to do in such a small coal mining community? With no YMCA or any other organized group activity for the young one would think that life was dull, but that was not it at all. For one thing, there was fishing, a week at a time. Because the mines worked so few shifts in each two week period, what else to do but gas up the 29 Ford and head for either the North Fork up in the Livingston Range or behind Beaver Mines to the South Fork. Fasten the tent to the running boards, tie the twenty foot bamboo fishing poles to the side of the car, pack all the food brought home from the union hall, and with a four gallon keg of beer plus a gallon of Loganberry wine, head out for the best fishing country in Southern Alberta.
There, in the evening of a beautiful day when the tent was up and with a healthy fire in progress, tap the keg, pour out a little wine, and then sit, silent, looking into the fire. After a while, the question, "Where to fish in the morning, up stream or down and what size hook to use. And what about bait, worms or grasshoppers?" Pertinent questions, all of them, more so than staying home waiting for the mine whistle to blow to see if there was work the next day or to listen to the radio for news from the trouble spots on the other side of the world.
Fishing was a family affair, a way of life during a time when there was little else to do. It was one way of spending time during the long days of summer. For us, the young and the reckless, there were other ways as well. Riding empty coal cars at the mine was a sure thriller when life seemed dull. Usually on a Sunday when no mine officials were present, a group of us would select an empty coal car, push it up the incline in the track and while held stationary by the selected brakeman, climb in. Then, with all aboard, the one holding the car stepped on the bumper and the ride of one's life began. Slowly at first, but picking up speed, the coal car careened towards the tipple. It was as if riding in the Toonerville Trolley seen in the funny papers of the day. Somehow, we always managed to stop before being dumped down the chute to the waiting box cars below.
One Sunday afternoon when it was my turn to hold the car for the others to scramble on board, I had the misfortune of falling on the track in front of the car just as it was beginning to roll. Because of it's slow acceleration I was able to wiggle out of the way, but it was a close shave. No more riding coal cars that day. Instead, we ambled over to Ludvick Borovic's place to ponder the almost ill fated trip and to come up with some other hair brained scheme, probably not as dangerous but equally thrilling. Summer was such a good time to have lived in good ole Maple Leaf.
After the escapade with the coal cars, the dust had to be washed off so a swim in the river was suggested. Our swimming hole was down stream from the Bellevue mine tipple, near the railroad tracks. Once in the water, every stroke in the book was tried but the dog paddle was the most successful. Some tried to do like Tarzan as they battled the current but the cold fast flowing water proved too much for them. And if one dared to dive, it was to emerge with a hole in the head for having hit rock bottom. There was always blood to be shed, the price for having so much fun.
Then, while drying off stretched out on the rocks and nursing the many bruises, we watched for the trains, to count the number of cars. These were always topped with throngs (swarms) of happy-go-lucky bums, as we called them at the time, bumming a ride to somewhere, hoping that when they got there they would find a job. Some even thought that by going all the way to Ottawa some government bureaucrat might see their plight and end the depression by putting everyone back to work. But no such deal materialized. Instead, they were jailed along the way, even shot at by the RCMP as they rode the rails. Later, when Canada went to war, these were the first volunteers, the first to enlist. Patriotic zeal was high on their list of priorities. It was their way of showing a much felt gratitude.
Winter too had it's share of good clean fun, it's quota of spills and thrills. Sleigh riding on Boutry's hill, skiing on Borovec's slope, skating on Gatto's pond, and snow balling, where and whenever it was the urge to do battle. My favorite sport was to hitch rides on the back of Fidenato's horse drawn sleigh as he made his daily delivery of groceries from the Fidenato/Decillio store. Skiing I also tried, on a pair of skis so warped that each went in a direction all it's own. Since there were no groomed ski hills, we merely pointed ourselves down hill and shoved off. If a tree or some other obstacle got in the way, we simply jumped out of our harness and let the skis go their way. A simple toe strap was all there was to the harness. Then, once or twice a week, or whenever there was ice, skating, in the Bellevue arena. Memories, beautiful memories of winter and summer, of years back when living in Maple Leaf.
When winter began to give way to spring and the crocuses started popping up all over, it did not take long for the wild life to start making its presence known. Gophers were the first. Then, with my 22 and accompanied by my dog Sport, up the mountain we went, behind the Maple Leaf Mine for a little shooting. Not that I hit anything, because I really had no wish to kill gophers. It was an excuse to go for a long hike and to give Sport a good run. When on top the mountain, invigorated by the cool fresh air, I could not help but be transfixed by the scene below. It was as though the whole world was stretched before my feet, and I the landlord. There to the left was Passburg, Hillcrest straight across the valley, and to the right the towns of Frank, Blairmore, Coleman, and far off to the west, the mountains of British Columbia. As I took it all in, consumed by the view, I could think of little else to give me so much pleasure.
And the older generation, our parents, how did they fare? To be sure, skating, sleigh riding, or playing hockey did not figure in their activities. Their's was a need to meek out a living at a time when it was difficult to do so. These were the mid thirties and in the Crows Nest Pass of which Maple Leaf was one small place, only a few miners worked and these on a rotation bases. One half worked the first two weeks of the month, the other half the second two. The trouble was that they worked no more than two or three shifts in their respective half which meant a pay check for no more than three days work.
On a Saturday every two weeks when they drew their pay, it was felt only right that the coal dust still in their throats be washed down with beer. Therefore, what to do but stop at the Bellevue Inn, so conveniently close to the bank. Some miners had real trouble washing it down so crossed the street to the Canadian Legion to try again. The miners who had a lump of coal stuck in their throats, that crossing from one drinking establishment to the other was made several times. It could be argued that some over did it, but not those who were married. They had a responsibility, a family to feed. Additional work is what they needed and not going from one drinking hole to another.
My father took on digging ditches during that critical time for which he earned the sum total of twenty-five cents an hour, and happy to have added to his income. And if there was no extra work, there were chores to be done. Wood needed to be gathered, and coal, the very coal they worked at under the conditions of the thirties, to be brought home in gunny sacks picked up on the slack pile. It may have sold for as little as seven dollars a ton but even that was too much, especially when it could be gleaned for only the work involved. Harsh times, during parts of the thirties.
If the men of the community had it hard, the women had it equally so - my mother, for example. Not only did she have the work of maintaining our household, she also took in washing. In a hand powered washing machine and wringer, she did a weekly wash for several bachelors - ten cents a shirt. They were not that difficult to wash but when it came to the clothes worn underground, that was a matter for the strongest of heart to bear. Many times when the crude washing machine broke down, she used a scrubbing board and ended up with bruised knuckles and an aching back. And when the clothes were ironed, she did so with an iron heated on the coal burning stove. Even so, my mother sang as she labored. She had a beautiful voice and sang all the songs remembered from her childhood days in Czechoslovakia.
If my mother worked hard during the week, it was no different on the weekend. Saturday nights she played the drums in our family orchestra. The saying, a woman's work is never done, certainly held true in her case. Ours was a small orchestra, three in number. I played the violin, my father the clarinet, and she held it together with a steady beat on the drums. The Saturday night dances we played at were held in the miner's union hall. There were also parties to play for in the homes of the many bachelors living in coal mining communities. Tucked away in some remote corner to be out of the way in case a fight broke out, which usually did, we played while the bachelors drank, argued, drank some more, eventually tearing off their shirts for a good fight.
The fights erupted as a result of a misunderstanding to the contents in a letter received from the old country. Leaving home without their wives and children for an imagined better life in Canada, the letters received were never understood because so few of these bachelors could read or write. These letters were written by youngsters who had received an education different to their parents. The language the parents knew was more German than either Czech or Slovak. When they were young, Czechoslovakia was under the rule of the Austro/Hungarian empire and the language spoken was German. Seeing themselves as foreigners in their own country and wanting a better life, they left for the far shores of the new world, Canada. When Czechoslovakia gained it's freedom during the first world war, the children of the departed fathers were taught their native tongue and the letters written were in a language the father's could not read. So, with letter in hand, the contents of which they could only guess at, and after several hefty swigs from the beer jug, it was inevitable that arguments would ensue and the two antagonists start pummeling each other around on the floor.
For me, these parties were quite lucrative. Playing the violin came in handy for all the nickels, dimes, and quarters, that were dropped into the instrument through the f holes. When the occasional dollar bill was tried, my playing became rather shaky as the benevolent donor tried his best to squeeze it through. If it was a good night, my violin would be quite heavy by the time the party ended, usually late the next day. Then it was a job trying to get all the money out but with a lot of probing and shaking while holding the violin upside down, a tidy sum was realized, enough to keep me in cuban lunch bars and Pepsi until the next party. Sometimes I wonder how much money I would have made had my instrument been the bull fiddle.
In time this family orchestra left its cocoon and grew into a blossoming ensemble of seven players. Frank Godek came in on the piano accordion, Frank Edle on tenor sax and clarinet, Mary Blyth from Coleman on piano, and on trumpet, a muscular giant who at one time had been a wrestler, named Jerry Vysholid. Lucky for us to have him on our side. Often, when playing a dance in Bushtown, a suburb of Coleman, there would be the usual brawl by a couple of drunks which only our man Vysholid could subdue. Taking each by the scruff of the neck and without too much effort, unceremoniously ejected them from the hall. For the orchestra to try and smooth things over with some dreamy waltz was of no use.
The Saturday night dances in the Bellevue Miner's Hall were a blessing for the girls of the area. It gave them an opportunity to meet all the eligible young men who had come up from the relief camp they were housed in down by Lundbreck Falls. While there was no admission fee for the girls, the young lads had to dole out a whole twenty-five cent piece which they took from their government handout. Always to make the first appearance at these dances were Juggy Giacummuzi, and Charlie Walsh, both terrific dancers. Walsh was a spitting image of Clark Gable so one can guess the effect he had on the girls. With the men on one side of the hall and the girls on the other, the race was on as soon as the music started, for the beauty waiting with fingers crossed lest she be left out. Such good clean fun, back in the dirty thirties.
We also played for dances in the community hall of Frank, situated in that part of town remaining after the rest had been covered by tons of rock when Turtle Mountain blew its top shortly after the turn of the century. Because polkas were our specialty and people of Czech origin who thrived on polkas were in predominance in this part of Southern Alberta, our orchestra was made to order. These people came here because of a certain Czech, a butcher by trade, who had made his way in this new country and could assist the newcomers in their quest for work in the mines. My father and uncle were amongst those post first world war immigrants thankful to Henry Zak for the help he gave them in making their way.
Zak had three butcher shops - one in Coleman, another in Blairmore and the third in Bellevue. Having been given work by him in the Bellevue shop, my work consisted of calling on his customers twice a day for orders, in this case those living in Maple Leaf, Bellevue and the village of Frank and delivering them when they were made up. Able to speak Czech and so many of his customers Czech immigrants, I could communicate with the housewives whose command of English was non existent and thereby take down their orders for their daily needs. Sausages, cold cuts, wieners, and soup bone were the staples of a miner's world and those I delivered once in the morning and again during the afternoon. Taking orders and delivering them was timed to the different shifts the miners were on. As there were no such conveniences as a fridge in those days and meat was so essential to the miner's diet, buying groceries was a daily affair and a speedy delivery system was good for the business.
And good it was, considering the praise received from the many customers. Much of it was passed on to Mr. Zak in words such as, "That Frank is such a good worker. He is so understanding and so quick on the job. We never have to wait for our orders to be delivered." Of course, little did Zak know what speeds I flogged out of that 1941 Ford light delivery when going through the slide to Frank. I exalted in what I was doing and if that was called work, then surely I had the best job in the world.
Now, back to all those dances and parties I played at. I was no more than a kid fourteen or fifteen years old, going to school. As a consequence, all that night life had a detrimental effect on my schooling, so much so that my grade nine teacher said to me one day, "Frank, do you know what you got on your math exam this morning?" Meekly , and with a quivering voice I said, "No?" For a while he was silent and then said, "A big fat goose egg, you got zero, and if that is all your going to do in school, you might just as well quit."
Needless to say, I buckled under such a stern reprimand and that was it, no more school for me. I went home that day determined never to set foot in that school again. My mother did her best to make me change my mind, even my violin teacher, Mr. Moser, tried to convince me that I should go back but my mind was made up, I quit. A year later, this time under a different teacher I went back to try again but that too ended in failure although not for the same reason. I had received a music scholarship from the Royal Academy of Music in London, England, and set to packing my bags. A week before I was to sail, war broke out and for a brief space in time my future was put on hold. Too young to enlist and my trunk not yet unpacked, I was put on a train bound for Toronto, to study music at the Royal Conservatory. Since I was not going to become a scholar, nor yet a soldier, and my father determined I would never work in the mines, the die was cast. My good life in Maple Leaf had come to an end.
But now, back to the Czech dances in that little town of Frank. Although they may have contributed to my demise as a student they were actually quite enjoyable even though they took so much out of me. When my arm got so tired that I could not hold up the violin for another note, I would jump off the stage, go over to where all the ladies were sitting and ask anyone of them for a dance. They were friends of my mother's, and all such willing partners. While she had to be on the stage playing the drums, I would dance with Mrs. Ruzicka, then with Mrs. Koran, followed by a dance with Mrs. Borovec, and so on. No one thought anything of it, a young kid like myself dancing with all those ladies. They enjoyed it, and I learnt how to dance the polka.
Fox trots? Well, that was a different ball of wax. My tutors in that arena were not as kind. These dancing lessons always took place in our kitchen when our folks were out and my instructors were Emily Koran and Hanna Ruzicka, friends of my sister. Verbalizing lala lala lumpa, whatever that meant, we lumped around the kitchen floor until I either got it right or suffer a crushing blow to my toe with my partners heel. Obviously I had to learn quick or suffer permanent damage to my feet.
I left Maple Leaf in the summer of 1946, but I have not forgotten my buddy Steve Hvizdos. We were the best of friends. He lived on the Bellevue side of the Maple Leaf school and like me, also played in the West Canadian Collieries Band so every Sunday morning we went to band practice together. For one short period in our lives, we were in the same grade while attending school. It was grade nine and our teacher was a certain Tony Schmiedle. There was also a girl, Margot Lang. To Steve she was the answer to his dreams. He asked her to marry him, and she did. I was not at the wedding because by this time I had quit school for the second time and had gone to Toronto to study music. That is how it was with me. The only way I could get out of grade nine was to quit school. I did it twice.
When Steve left school, it was to work as an electrician at the mine so he did not have to work with pick and shovel, digging and shoveling coal. I too never got to dig coal, or do any kind of work at or in the mine. My father made certain of that by making me practice the violin three hours every day, with another hour on the clarinet and reminding me always that I was going to make my living through music and not by digging coal. He had my future planned.
Another friend back in those good old days, was Jerry Klesken. To everyone who knew him he was Professor. He was the only one in our bunch who wore glasses and to us that made him look the part. Who else but a professor would wear glasses? He also played in the West Canadian Collieries band, making it three going off to make heathen music while others went to church. Later it was six, when joined by Steve's brothers John and Gaspar, and trombone playing Charlie Olitch.
Jerry's mother died when he was very young, so like all bachelors he did the housework when his father was at work. His specialty was making peanut butter sandwiches. He threw out more empty squirrel brand peanut butter cans than anyone else I knew, but not all. Some he buried in the back alley a few feet apart to serve as cups for his own private golf course. At least half a dozen of us kids gathered around his place on either Saturday or Sunday for a game of golf, using the one and only club, which he owned.
Around Jerry's place we also did battle, with rubber guns. These weapons were lethal, some having as many as three or four rubber bands with which to cut down the enemy. On this battle field were many places to hide in order to get out of the line of fire - wood sheds, coal sheds, cow sheds, chicken coops, outside toilets, and just plain ordinary sheds, all of them strongholds for whom occupied them at the time. As the battles wore on, shouts were heard, "Gotcha, your dead." Then, if hit in the face, which was never supposed to happen, the real war started, with fists, but not for long. Truce was usually quickly declared. In these wars there were no real casualties, not like in the one soon to come. The aftermath of those battles as they concerned our group, was quite different.
We all knew the war was coming and talked of what we would do when it did come. Sitting about at Jerry's place or gathered around the pot bellied stove at Swischuks, we were all agreed that we would have nothing to do with it. What did we have to fight for? Our fathers were for the most part on relief, out of work, so where was the incentive to fight? As far as we were concerned, we were going to hide out in some place where no one would find us - up behind Beaver Mines or out in the north fork of the Livingston Range. There were not going to be any heroes in this group.
How different it all turned out. Almost to a man we enlisted. We chose a branch of the service and off we went. Before long, the sons of Maple Leaf were scattered on battle fronts from far off Italy to the north Atlantic, taking part in such battles as the Battle of Britain, Dieppe, the Hitler Line, Cassino, D Day, the push across the Rhine, anywhere were there was fighting to be done. Six from this small group of ours did not come back.
At home there were battles too. Because Maple Leaf gave to the war the much needed coal, miners were essential to the war effort and there were those who remained at their pick and shovel. They also did their share, and as so often happened, had casualties. By 1942, when the war was at it's peak, our gang of would-be conscientious objectors gave up it's members to the army, to the air force, to the navy, and Maple Leaf was never to be the same again.
My war started in July of 1942. In the fall of 1939, there were those who saw it as an opportunity for adventure and were the first to answer the call. I remember the day after Canada declared war on Germany, members of the Canadian army drove into Maple Leaf and on a telephone pole in front of the service station where we congregated, pinned a sign calling for volunteers. A trumpet player with whom I played in the West Canadian Collieries Band was the first to go. He, Matty Woods, saw it as an opportunity to soar with the eagles and, not waiting to be called, sailed off to England to enter the ranks of the R.A.F. He was never to come back. Somewhere, in his Mosquito Bomber over the coast of France, he took his last flight. He was the forerunner of things to come, of others who were to go and not return.
How, in this small world of ours, of such insignificance, did Matty Woods and others like him learn of the existence of the R.A.F., the navy, or the many branches of the army and then voluntarily become members of a fighting force not to be taken lightly. This was Bellevue, a pin prick of a place tucked away in a remote corner in the Province of Alberta. Here, where we lived, played, and went to school, we took only a scant interest in world affairs and yet news of the war and of the need for men to fight it filtered through our isolation and nibbled away bit by bit at our determination to stay aloof from all that was happening in the outer world. It soon became apparent that more and more of the young from this small corner of the world called the Crows Nest Pass and of which Bellevue was but one small town, were answering to the call. The lure of adventure, perhaps even patriotism may have bid some to go but unemployment and the dwindling ranks of those who stayed behind were the deciding factors for us all.
Several years after the war, when the annual day of Remembrance was drawing near, memories of life in Maple Leaf before the war moved me to write about those who did not come back. Six who died were close, very close friends.
"It is November and a blanket of snow covers the ground about the cenotaph where this Saturday, November 11th., we will gather to honor the dead of two wars. Standing at ease, shoulder to shoulder amid the ever diminishing ranks, my thoughts will go out to a period of life never to be forgotten. How young, those of us who went, so full of life, taking it all in stride. If only one could re-live even so little as one of those days. What day would it be, how would I choose? Perhaps a day out of the Italian campaign, the day we passed through Cassino over the blackened battle-field in the Liri valley; or the day on seeing Pontecorvo, where there was not a wall standing in the entire village, where the dust was knee deep and where the heat bore down as if to punish us, for being there, for having taken part in the town's destruction. I could choose a day when in the middle of a convoy, trucks, bumper to bumper from Naples in the south to the Gustav Line in the north and going in the opposite direction, another line of vehicles, equally as long. They were the ones carrying back the wounded and going for more of the material to make war. So many, many, days to remember. The bombardment, the wall of fire from the hot barrels of so many guns, the concussion as shell after shell tore the night apart. And then the rest camps, on the Anzio and Sorrento beaches, in Naples, Rome, and Avellino - names and places, and memories, never to die.
I will be at the cenotaph on November 11 and I will remember. Though so many years have passed since the war, I will remember Primo Maniago. We went to school together, most of the time in the same grade. We always sat in the same row, he at the very back, and I near the front. Passing messages to each other along the line of seats put us at odds with our teacher and when during our daily spelling match we got the strap, one whack for every misspelled word, he really took it out on us - one whack for every word. Primo joined the army very early in the war, before turning eighteen. He was sent overseas - to Italy - fought - and died.
I remember Auston Fortunaso. The last time I saw him was in England, on the coast near Brighton after I too had gone overseas. He was in the second division, destined to go across the channel. I was shipped off to Italy shortly after that meeting from where I had written him. He never saw the letter, having been killed soon after landing, somewhere in France. Months later this letter was returned to me, marked, "Deceased in Action". I treasure that letter, and I remember.
I remember Harold Jordan. He was one of the Bellevue kids I went to school with. He also joined up before leaving school and like Primo, was sent to Italy and there, somewhere on the Italian Front, was laid to rest.
I remember Donald Manchell. Like Harold, he too was in Tony Schmiedel's class during that last year of our schooling. Not many survived the war from this group, only Steve and I did. Donald joined the air force, trained as a rear gunner, flew his first mission, and disappeared. In his memory, there is a small headstone with his name inscribed upon it, placed in some soldier's cemetery in England. He was the third of my school friends who did not come back.
I remember Alfred Rhodes. Also in the same grade before joining up, he shared with us the same glorious days of our youth, though not for long. Now, while I have grown old, Alfred remains young, as I remember him. He too joined the air force and like Donald, trained as an air gunner and was shot down on his first mission. Though I have no proof, he too may be remembered in the same cemetery as Donald. He was the fifth of my friends who did not come back.
I remember Matty Wood. Matty went overseas even before Canada entered the war. He wanted to be a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Earning his wings, he fought in the Battle of Britain flying a mosquito Bomber. Before going to England, he was a trumpet player in the West Canadian Collieries Band. We used to see each other every Sunday morning at band practice held in the Bellevue Legion. Now, in memory, his name is inscribed on a plaque with all the others who did not come back. The plaque hangs on a wall in the Legion, in the same room where so many years ago we played band music together.
I remember Tommy Price. We used to ski together on Borovec's Hill, a stones throw from where I lived. Tommy was one of the lucky ones. He came back - back from Dieppe - back from Italy - back from Holland - back from Germany. As a tank commander in the Calgary Tanks, he fought in every major battle throughout the entire war.
During my stint in Italy I had the good fortune of meeting Tommy on three separate occasions. If I knew in advance that our paths would cross, I would become uneasy, not knowing of what awaited me. Then, seeing him alive and well, experience such relief and happiness. During one of those meetings he asked me to accompany him in procuring another tank. His own had been put out of action during the break through on the Hitler Line. Riding in that tank I observed the hole in the turret made by an armor piercing shell, and how the Italian dust poured in, almost suffocating us. My thoughts went out to the previous commander and crew, poor guys. There could not have been much left of them after they were hit. Later that day, June 6th., we heard over the tank's radio of the landings in Normandy. The second front had begun.
Tommy was awarded the Military Medal for his part in the fighting on the Ortona Front. After Italy, I again ran into Tommy, this time in Gronigan, Holland. The war was over, the tanks and guns were silent, and we were all waiting for our return to England and from there to Canada. With a group of Tommy's buddies, all veterans of so many battles, we did a little celebrating. Whatever it was we drank during that meeting, none of us will ever forget, especially its effect on us the day after. Sometimes I wonder if it wasn't the fuel from one of the tanks. That was the last time I saw Tommy. To this day, I have no idea as to his whereabouts, what he is doing, or has done since the war, or in fact, whether he is alive. Perhaps I will find out one of these days.
So, when I blow the Last Post at the cenotaph on Remembrance Day as I have done every year since the war, I know that my eyes will fill with tears, they always do. At first I will feel a little embarrassed, and then, seeing the faces of the ever dwindling number of vets, realize that I am not alone. They too will be thinking about those far off days, of what we had gone through, of the friends we had lost, and in silence as the bugle sounds the Last Post, like me, wipe away the tears.
We will remember.
I left the army in March 1946. I immediately I took over the West Canadian Collieries Band of which I was the leader before enlisting and put in rehearsal music and ideas brought back from my experiences in show business. The concerts were a success. Everyone who attended claimed they were the finest they had seen. But they were not to last. By mid summer I began to think of a future for myself and Maple Leaf and the Crows Nest Pass did not figure well for the life of a music teacher. Mines had already been shut down, more were to follow, and the prosperity brought on by the war was on the wane.
The answer to my search for something substantial came in the form of an article in the Lethbridge Herald. It read, "Wanted, a music teacher to form and conduct a band comprised of young boys and girls in the city of Lethbridge. " The sponsor was the A.C.T. (Association of Canadian Travelers), an organization of traveling salesmen. I made contact by phone with a Mr. McKitrick, president of the organization, set up a date for a meeting between us, and the rest is history. I moved to Lethbridge in the summer of 46. My job ? To teach music, band music, to the young of Lethbridge. My contract was to charge the students two dollars a month for lessons and should my income not come to an agreed upon figure of two hundred dollars per month, the balance would be forthcoming from the ACT. In 1946, fresh out of the service, I considered this a whopping salary. Now that the ACT had a teacher and conductor, the next step was to procure some band instruments. These were purchased for a lump sum of five hundred dollars from the Canadian Government as war surplus. They were the instruments sent through the Red Cross to the German prisoners of war interned in the prisoner of war camp in Lethbridge.
On first sight of the instruments, I saw a heap of brass, one instrument on top of another, in the center of a huge drill hall. Then, on close examination, I saw for the first time in my life an assemblage of musical instruments unlike anything I imagined. These, everything from an E-flat trumpet to the largest, a sousaphone, were of one design. All were constructed in sousaphone style. In other words, every instrument, be it trumpet, french horn, baritone, trombone and bass, were made circular, to fit over the shoulder of the player. Made in this fashion, it was possible to perform on the instrument with one hand and yet steer a bicycle with the other. Music in the German army was also a part of the blitzkrieg and had to be mobile. This assemblage of such odd looking instruments was beyond my comprehension. I needed help, and who to turn to but my father. Requesting that he come to Lethbridge to have a look, he did more than that - he packed up and also moved, to be my assistant.
Capacity audience says 'thank you' Sunday afternoon was Frank Hosek Day at the Yates Centre. A capacity crowd was on hand to say thank you to Southern Alberta's Mr. Music. Frank Hosek spent 45 years doing what he loved most - teaching music to literally thousands of Southern Alberta youngsters. For many it was a trip down memory lane. For Frank Hosek it was a day he and his family will remember - a day they will cherish. Frank Hosek was a young man when, in 1927, he came to Southern Alberta where he dedicated his life to teaching music. The results of his tireless work bore fruit and all of Southern Alberta benefited. He can be proud of his bands which won the hearts of audiences wherever they played. More importantly, he provided a rich musical legacy to thousands of Southern Alberta's young people under his tutelage.
I heard it first when encamped in an olive grove for a brief respite. We had moved on through the Liri Valley, Cassino, and Pontecorvo, witnessed the blackened earth, destruction brought on by war, and now we were lying low, perhaps for a day or two. The artillery had moved on and though still audible, was not the thunder of so many guns as when shelling the Hitler Line. We could relax now. That is when I heard it, Lili Marlene, the song so dear to the Germans and adopted by the Eighth Army as their own. It was towards evening and I had gone off for a walk on my own when the sound of someone singing reached my ears. A beautiful male voice, an Italian tenor, still able to sing, even though surrounded by death and destruction, his homeland in ruin. I stopped walking and I listened as the voice echoed through the valley, bouncing off the few remaining walls yet standing. The misery of war had not silenced the urge to sing, the beautiful melody of Lili Marlene.
listen to the original 1939 recording of LILI MARLENE
by Lale Anderson.
Kamloops High School Band - Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada
First row, left to right: Cecelia Frolek, Elspeth Normand,
Bridget Parkes, Carol Richmond, Mr. Frank Hosek, Conductor; Margo
French, Mary Ellen Gamble, Secretary; Lynn Oldham.
Remembrance Day is a special occasion for Frank Hosek & his daughter
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