Hockey in wartime: Lest We Forget
As we get closer to Remembrance Day, all hockey teams around the world are donning camo jerseys and incorporating the military, navy and air force into pregame ceremonies to show a gracious tribute. This is a fantastic thing. Honouring our brave men and women that serve our country and strive to make the globe a peaceful place is awe-inspiring.
However, we very rarely think to remember the hockey players who have actively served during war time. The NHL played through both World Wars. During World War II, so many players joined the military either on their own accord or by conscription that that NHL actually thought about shutting down for the 1942-1943 season. To keep public morale high at home, they nixed that notion and played on.
At the very least, over 100 players served their countries during both wars and miraculously only two casualties were sacrificed.
Here’s part one of a brief history of hockey players in the military.
Allan McLean “Scotty” Davidson was a right winger out of Kingston, Ontario. He and his junior team out of K-town won two Ontario Hockey Association championships before he moved to Calgary and led the senior team to a provincial championship. The year of 1912 saw him turn pro with the Toronto Blueshirts . His rookie year saw him notch 19 goals in 20 games and at the age of 22, he raised the Stanley Cup. With his skill, he was said to have skated faster backwards then anybody who could forwards.
Besides making the hockey history books with his skill, he made hockey history in a not so pleasant way either. With World War One looming, Davidson volunteered his services with the Canadian Expenditionary Force and served with the Eastern Ontario Regiment and attained the rank of lance-corporal. He was the first recorded professional hockey player to do so. Davidson was killed in action when he refused to retreat during a battle in Belguim. He name is etched in both the Hockey Hall of Fame and the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.
Another Kingston, Ontario native, George Richardson was a left winger for Queen’s University. Richardson won a total of four Intercollegiate championships with the Golden Gaels before suiting up for a series against the Ottawa Hockey Club for the Stanley Cup. At 6’1, he was a towering addition to a front line. In 1908, Richardson joined the Frontenacs in their front office.
Richardson also volunteered with the Canadian Expeditionary Force and reached the rank of Captain. 8 months after the death of Davidson, Richardson was killed in action while fighting in Belguim and is now buried in France. Kingston’s Richardson Stadium is named in his honour.
A name that most people recognize is American hockey great Hobey Baker. The Princeton University grad played his last collegiate game in Ottawa for the Intercollegiate Hockey Championship of America. The University of Ottawa beat Princeton by a score of 3-2 but that was not the talk of the town. Baker was said to have scored over 120 goals and 100 assists in three years while only taking one penalty. This kid also had the brains to back up his skill as he majored in History, Politics and Economics.
Baker became a bank executive and turned down a $20,000 contract to suit up for the Montreal Canadiens in 1916. Baker join the US Air Force when the war was in full swing and became a fighter pilot. With three confirmed kills to his name, Baker was ordered back to America after being stationed in France. One last fateful tour over his squadron’s airfield in Toul, France, Baker crashed his plane nose first into the ground. He made it out but died minutes later in an ambulance. The NCAA hands out the “Hobey Baker Award” each year since 1981 to the best player in NCAA hockey.
If you’re any kind of hockey fan, or if you consider yourself a Leafs fan, you’ll know Conn Smythe. Smythe has eight Stanley Cup titles, was owner of the Leafs for 34 years and helped build Maple Leaf Gardens. What most people don’t know or even realise is that he served in both World Wars and was a POW.
Reaching full lieutenant with the 40th Battery of Hamilton, Smythe and his fellow soldiers headed overseas in 1916. As they faced heavy fire in Ypres, both commanders were killed leaving Smythe in charge. The Battery fought for two months straight near the Somme before reinforcements arrived. That’s nothing compared to what was next.
Conn Smythe is a god damn crazy Canadian war hero.
After getting into a battle with some Germans, the Germans managed to counter-attack their offensive with grenades. So what did Smythe do? Oh just what any other sane person would. HE RAN INTO THE MIDDLE OF THE FIGHT AND SHANKED THREE GERMANS WHILE HELPING A FEW WOUNDED CANADIAN SOLDIERS BACK TO SAFETY. He earned himself a Military Cross.
He wouldn’t come back until the end of the war though. In 1917, Smythe had transferred himself to the air force and was shot down by the Germans and subsequently captured. The Germans threw him into solitary confinement a camp at Schweidnitz after he tried to escape not once, but TWICE. Fourteen long months as a prisoner of war and he was finally liberated.
After a few years of fun with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Smythe’s military didn’t stop. He joined up the 30th Battery that was apart of the 7th Toronto Regiment and took off in England in 1942. His bad luck in the military continued as the ammunition depot he stationed to in France was bombed by the Germans in 1944. Leaving him badly wounded, Smythe came back to Canada and would suffer lower body problems for the rest of his life.
But hey, he owned the Leafs.
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