EPISODE 920     SCHOOL YEAR 1958-1959    ONE OF BEST YEARS OF MY LFE: PART 1          

alan skeoch’Nov25, 2023

Alan Skeoch and Grant Weber  – Toronto Daily Star @ Oakwood field


I never expected to be so warmly greeted by the football community in the fall of 1958 when  returning to Humberside
for second stab st Grade 13.   What an exhilarating feeling to be welcomed and wanted. Russ Vanstone, Gary Logan and
others were also welcomed.  But I got the biggest load of glory.   So much so that it is hard to put what happened on paper.

I am caught on the horns of dilemma.  To write about my awards and honours is to be vain, yet not to write about them
is to be unappreciative.   

So here goes a fast description to show my appreciation of those who’ nominated or voted for me.
Captain of the 1958 HCI  senior football team, winner of the Wildman Trophy* (see note*), selected forCity of Toronto All star
football teams by Toronto Daily Star and Toronto Telegram, selected Head Boy for 1958-59 at HCI, elected President of
the BAA.  

 Contrast these awards with the depression I felt in the previous year with my broken hand.  

1958-1959 was a grand year for me.  Please excuse my inflated ego for a moment…my 15 minutes of fame.

Now let me flash back to my meeting with Mr. Couke…the suspension.  I Decided to buckle down academically
To prepare for the Departmental Exams but to go beyond that.  I Bought a scribbler and plotted my free time in half hour intervals
and began a personal reading plan.  I decided to read as many great authors as I could…Charles Dickens, Jules Veerne, John Steinbeck even
Dwight Eisenhaur.   The psychiatrist Eric Fromm caught my eye and his book The Sane Society made me think about
socialism much to the disgust of Russ Vanstone and the amusement of Jim Romaniuk, my two best friends.  Jim had made the cut
the previous year but remained a close friend until his early death.

FOOTBALL…always  present
(I am not sure if Ted and Vic were my associates…memory says they were)

“Alan, you have a couple of spares, come with us to spot the Central Tech team.”
“Yeah…we’ll see who carries the ball mostly…note their best plays…see if they
have a double reverse like Burf is secretly planning.”
“Is spotting legal?”
“Who gives a damn…join us…Burf will be pleased…”

Somehow our VP got wind as to what we had done.  Mr.. Couke was a man with high principles.
Spotting was unfair.  Skipping school to spot was worse.  Vic, Ted and I were not as highly

“Would Puccini, Hoszko snd Skeoch report to Mr. Couke,”  came over the PA with the morning announcements
We gathered there and Mr. Couke saw each of us individually.  Ted and Vic were each suspended 
for the week.  My turn was next.  I was scared to death but not for the reason most would think..

Mr. Couke looked at me and said  “Alan, I have to treat everyone equally…”
“Yes sir  Mr. Couke can I shake your hand?”
“Alan, you will be suspended for the week.”
“Thank you , sir…thank you.”
(Nothing could be worse than favouritism . If I had got off as a first offense then any respect people had
for me would be lost.   I wanted to be penalized.  My respect for Mr. Couke lit up like the North Star.)

Something snapped in my head during that suspension.   Was I going to spend this year fooling around?
Wasting my time,  Or  was there another path?  Could I make every moment useful.  Be a  better person?
Where was I going with my life?   I was not sure where but I did know the direction.  University.  If I could make it.
So I took a few steps in a better direction,

First I spoke to Crooky,  
“Mr. Cruikshank would you allow me to write the Grade13 history exam?  Working on my own,  Outside of 
the class.  I know teachers are judged by their success with students.  I will not let you down.”  Crooky
agreed.  I would self study.

Next I asked Mrs. Charlesworth the same thing.  She agreed well aware my self study plan could be a

Next I bought a  notebook on which I planned a whole year of self study, 
 I broke all my free  time into half hour  blocks and assigned myself s certain task for each half hour.   If I did the
task then I drew a yellow line through the entry.  I became a spare time bookworm 


Paperback The Sane Society Book

(Russ Vanstone and Alan Skeoch in discussion — Fall season 1958)

“Russ, what do you think of the graduated income tax?”
“Think it’s a load of crap.  Why shouldI I pay more tax if I work harder than my neighbour.:”?
“Erich Fromm would  make the rich pay higher taxes than the poor.”
“Sounds like crap to me, Alan”
“Try this side on for size.  Fromm thinks we should all have the same salary. Exactly the same…let’s say $100 a week would be paid to
bricklayers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, store clerks, garbage collectors, teachers, ..;everybody.”
“Sounds goofy…off fthe wall, Alan…wacko.”
“Fromm figures most of us are unhappy because we are not doing what we enjoy in life.”
“Makes some sense to me.  Most people pick a job because of the money.   What is the wage….what’s 
in it for me?”
“Now that makes sense.”
“Just suppose money did not matter….everybody gets the same wage. Then what job would attract you?”
“You are getting more wacko by the minute, Alan….got a screw loose somewhere in your head.”
“What would  you really want to do? I know your choice even if you do not.”
“Keep me out of this.”
“No, Russs , you already told me what you loved doing.  You loved that farm your dad owned out in 
Manitoba…the tractors …the people.”
“I told you it was flat as piss on a plate…nothing more.”
“Not true Russ.  You loved that farm. Fromm says if we delete money as a motive for work, we will find jobs that make us happy”
“My dad would call you a Commie.”
“I am nothing.  Give the idea a chance.”
“You mean find a job I love.”
“Yes.  Russ you are  natural farmer.”
“And what are you, Alan?”
“I don’t really know…maybe a teacher..”
“Do you really believe that crap?”
“I would make an exception.   Doctors should be paid more.  I don’t want some prick
with a knife carving me up because he loves doing it?”
“Let’s get a hamberger and coke.”
“From a waitress who loves her job?”
“Right.   No joke.  There are people who love to cook and serve food.   Right now
they are at the bottom of the economic pyramid.”
“Give her a big tip Alan,”
“I can’t do that.  I have no extra money.”
“Case closed.”

Meanwhile other things happened…


Here are  several events associated with football that year.  


Jarring Jack Osmond brought his violin case to the Red Feather night game at Exhibition 
stadium.  Violin case?   Jarring jack was not in the orchestra.   Why the violin casy would he bring a violin to an alll city footballl game?

“Jack, why the violin case?”
“Want a beer, Alan?”
“I don’t drink beer, jack.”
“Tough luck.”

Jack had a six pack of Mosons Export beer tucked neatly in the violin case.
He was nabbed quickly and then suspended from Humberside C..I. for a
few days.   To us he became a kind of folk hero.   A gregarious chap who meant
no great harm to anyone;  Took his suspension in his stride.  a folk hero.


About the same time Wrong Way Cush became famous and got the nick name
of “Wrong Way” because he intercepted a pass from the enemy quarterback
and proceeded to run with the ball for a possible touchdown,   Only trouble was that
he ran the wrong way.   He was about to score a touchdown against his own team…
our team.   As he ran by our team bench we were all lined along the
field white chalk line margin yelling “Wrong Way! WRONG WAY CUSH!

“Hey there Cush,…why did you run the wrong way?”
“I got confused….got turned around,,,,did not ex[pect  to catch the ball really
but once caught I knew I had to do something.”
“Some of our guys weere trying to knock you down…didn’t you notice?”
“Yes I noticed.  Wondered why they would want to knock me down…I was on
their team.  I thought they were confused.”
“How come you stopped?”
“Passing our bench someone called me an ‘asshole’ while the rest of
you were yelling “Wrong Way Cush.”
and that was how Wrong Way Cush got his name.


(fond memory of Caroline Laughlin, Nov 22, 2023)

“Grant Weber’s stomach sounded like a big bass drum”
“He blocked a kick with his stomach.”
“How would you know?’
“Heard the drum sound way across the field where the fans stood,”
“That was more than 50 years ago…are you sure?”
“Yes…some fans wondered why Grant would do that.”
“I wondered as well”

END PART 1   SCHOOL YEAR 1958-1959

Romance, yearbook fiasco, coagulation, HERMES error In school assembly, Alaska, MARJORIE



alan skeoch
Nov.  25, 2023


Note: Grade 9 — 1953
“Alan, choose one option…music, art or typing.”
“I am left handed.”

Sketch done by Kate McCartney…Alan  Skeoch….Did he deserve to fail?  


I knew I was in trouble , I could not write or make notes due to
the cast covering my left hand.  And almost immediately my schoolwork began  a slow  l decline. I did not
want anyone to know.  Denial . both coaches ….Mr Griffiths and Mr Burford…asked if the cast  impeded my Grade13 studies.

“Alan, is that injury to your hand affecting your school work””]
“No.  Not at all.  Everyting is fine.”

But that was a big lie….a delusion.  Each school day in 1958  I slipped further down.
Yet I did not want to face up to my problem.  It was a terrible school year which culminated in my Grade 13 Departmental exams.
These final exams were meant to identify the best students in Ontario High  Schools and then funnel them into
the universities.   I would not be among them.

A lot of students failed to make the cut.   I deluded myself into the belief I could do OK…not stellar but OK.
But I was riding the escalator down.   I think my teachers knew that and were concerned.  I think some of them were not enamoured
of Humberside’s fanaticism regarding football.  My broken baby finger and subsequent 
academic decline was a good reason to cool football .I ceertainlhy did not want that to happen.   I did not want help.Too embarrassing.

The school year made me more and more unhappy internally while my external demeanour MAY have seemed upbeat and joyful.   
In retrospect a lot of  people knew I was troubled.   

Try and decipher  this note written with my left hand which has the crooked little finger.  Easier still —find the word decipher’

TRANSLATION  ’NOV. 24 / 2023

The crisis climaxed with the departmental exams.  Students today in the year 2023 have no idea how demanding 
were these exams.  There was no wriggle room.  Failurerate was high. 
As I remember a university acceptance  would need a grade average of  75%.  

I knew deep down that I had slipped below the cut off.  But maybe I would be lucky.  No Such luck!    It was the Physics exam 
that got me  I Could not remember what the letter “s” meant i n solving physics mathematical problems   I was blank.
And “s” was such a simple part of the exam.   It was a given.  A simple given but for the life of me i could not remember

Then the school year ended.

I accepted a summer job as a surveyor working on the new stretch of the Canadian transcontinental Highway .
There were 8 of us living in a shack near the village of Hunta just a few miles west of Cochrane.  To get there I rode
the last steam train on the ONR.  It was an escape.  The survey crew were all much like me .Young and 
full of energy and misplaced enthusiasm. All except for one boy who was really troubled.  Made my troubles seem minor.  the boys
badgered him So I chose hin for my three man team.

I can still remember the moment he snapped.   His pent up hatred burst forth in a frenzy of anger directed
at me for some reason.   I was running the transit and john C was setting up pickets with a blazing axe.

“Get in line, John, More to the left”
“Fuck you!”  And he turned and threw his blazing axe right st me.  It missed but it was close.
“What the hell did you do that for?”
And John went into a kind of catatonic state. I  told our crew chief what had happened.
“We will have to do sometihng” 

That night John went a little more berserk/  All 8 of us slept on metal cots in the highway bunkhouse.
About midnight when we were all asleep,  John got up quietly.   Picked up a large rick the size of a football that he had
secreted under his bed.  
He tip toed over to Hazuda’s bed and dropped the rock on what he thought was Hazuda’s head.   Smashed the water jug
to smithereens.   
Then got back in bed before we put the lights on.   He said nothing.  He was crazy.  We stayed up all that night while
John jus lay in hia cot.  In the morning he was  put in a straitjacket and  taken away.  We never heard what happened but 
imagined he was committed to a place like Penetang for the insane.

This event and the regular arrival of a black bear took my mind off my own troubles but not for long.

The letter came.

I new it would be bad news but I had persuaded myself to think that miracles happen.  I did not open the letter in our
sleeping shack nor in our cook trailer.   Instead I took s long walk to an abandoned one room school
on the transcontinental highway near the village of Hunta, a village made famous as the boyhod home of
a member of the notorious Boyd Gang.  I think his name was Steve Suchan (something like that).

There was an outdoor back house behind the school and that is where I  opened the letter.  Time to 
be blunt.  I failed.  Failed get above the cut off mark.  My marks were OK in most subjects.  Not stellar
but OK.  Middle of the pack marks.   Good enough to pass but not good enough to enter university.

It ws convenient to blame my busted baby finger for my failure.  But that was not true.  Even before the 
injury I had stepped on the road to failure by avoiding homework.   By bluffing.  I thought I was good
at that.   Thought I had fooled my teachers.  Not so.  

Miss Schroeder made hatt clesr to me gently in a French exam.  While writing the exam she slipped
a newspaper clipping on my desk.  A clipping from the Dagwood and Blondie comic strip where 
Blondoe accuses her husband of using words that do not exist.  Dagwood’s response was
“It takes brains to invent words that do not exist.”

I looked up.  Looked at Miss Schroder whose face was impassive.  That was a moment of truth for
me.  I had  fooled no one by using English words with French pronouncement.   If anything I had 
been a source of amusement. My desk was in front of her desk….by accident rather than design.
Or had she put me there for her amusement.   “Monseur Skeoch, would you read P 23 of the 
story converting English to French from your homework?”
At which point I would read from a blank page.   
But she liked me anyhow.   Smart ass stuff fooled no one except for me. I had bad habits.  Rarely
did homework.  Spent more time dating girls, sharing stories with my 38th Boy Scout Rover Crew,
playing football, joining the Drama Club, the Science club, the student council.  No time in the 
school day for something as trivial as homework.

So my failure in hat letter read in the back house of an abandoned school in the wilderness of 
Northern Ontario was not just due to the cast on my hand and wire drilled down the centre of 
mybsby finger.   All the same it was comforting to have n excuse.

MY history teacher, Evan “Crusher” Cruickshank, had a few good tricks up his sleeve.   His best one was just three words.
“I don’t know.”  He would leave a question dangling as if he really did not know.  On a couple
occasions I even tried to help “Crooky” by going to the Runnymede Public Library to 
find the meaning of something like Karl Marx’s ‘dictatership of the proletariat ‘.  I was deluded 
into believing Crooky needed help.

Much later in my life after Crooky hired me as a high school history teacher I discovered that
a blood relative, Alex Skeoch, had been the barn builder n the late 19th century on the Cruiksahnd farm near Sarnia.

Down deep I loved my techers but did not suck around.  What I liked best about them was 
their objectivity.  They treated all students the same…or tried to do that.  There was no crime greater
than being a teachers pet.  Better to keep buried in the classroom….as far back as possible.

Roberta Charlesworth new how to straighten out students that did not do their work.
She handed out detentions in an even handed way.  “Skeoch, you come in after school
….detention….Next time do your work.”

She was coaching the girls basketball team in the girls gym.   Why serve s detention in
home room If i could sit in the gym and watch the girls jump around in their blue 
gym bloomers.  So I did.   Next day.  “Skeoch, come up to he front.”  I thought i must
have done something right.  Thought that until she lifted me off the grabbed by my
left ear lobe and lifted.  Made my eyes water in front of he whole class.    “When I say detention
I mean detention in this room not the girls gym.  Now sit down.”

Later she got me several jobs tutoring students in English.  She did this as well as lift me by my ear
lobe.  I never told  one Greek student I helped started our 
tutoring with a glass of liquorice brandy.    And another was a friend of a nice Ukrainian
girl I waned to date.   Her parents did not like me until I used  a few Ukranian words
that Jim Romaniuk gave me.  “Sho Tish Niyue” (??) meant ‘How are you?.  Won them
over and got the date.  But that went nowhere as she was Catholic and I was
Presbyterian which seemed to be a wall.

IN school…public school…religion had no place.   Tha was a good thing.   Football 
replaced religion I suppose.


My parents were not upset in a way some might expect.  They were only upset 
because I was hurt.  They loved Eric and I in spite of some of he stupid things we did.
What a joy that was.   To be loved in spite of failure. No condemnation.  Mom
knew the cast covering my baby finger was a partial reason.  But she also 
knew I had rarely done my homework and was  partially o blame .   But she never said so
And dad did not really give a dmn.  He had been thrown out of school in Grade 9
at Fergus for firing snowballs at girls in the female back house that hung over the
steep hill above he Fergus Fairgrounds.   Instead of going back to school he caught
a train to Saskachewan after hiding from his father for some time.  

Should I do the same as dad.  Head for Saskachewan where Uncle John had a huge farm. 
 In other words Quit school and ‘climb telephone poles’ as my typing 
teacher ’Tiny Tim Talbot called quitters.  No.   Mr. Burford’s words
popped into my conscious mind. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
Football philosophy had a powerful influence on daily life.   Replaced religion.
Some readers will  be offended by that comment I know.  My mind was like a blank
slate on which new ideas were written all the time.   I only wished that  my
mind had not gone blank in that 1958 Departmental physics Exam.  Maybe my mind just up and failed me
as a lesson.  

Did I have the guts to go back to high school…to repeat my Grade 13 year.
“To suffer the slings snd arrows of outrageous  fortune.?”  Did I have the guts?

Luckily I was not alone.  My best friend got the same devastating news
that I got.  We would both return to Humberside.  And surprisingly we were 

Note:  This may sound like a lot of crap.   What am I trying to explain?  Simple. My 
crushed baby finger was not the whole cause of my failure to get 75% on the
1958 Deparmentsl Exams.  Mea Culpa!   It was my fault,,,not just my baby finger.
Simple causation.   For every effect there are multiple causes.

I had many surprises ahead of me…good surprises…wonderful surprises.
And I chose a new path.  Study can be a joy….even an obsession.

alan skeoch
Nov. 24, 2023

1958-Grade-13-History-Final-Exam-by-toramble-ontariopage 1 of an old 1958 Department of Education, Ontario grade 13 Chemistry exam



alan skeoch
Nov. 23, 2023


It has been a long time since  we have seen each other.   Shirley and Ted Freeman have moved
back to Canada after 35 winter months at their ex=pat home in Texas.  
They are back on the farm I remember so well.  Ted’s mom and dad are so close to me that
it is hard to write about them.  Their farm is the farm where we spent so much of our childhood
years that it seemed like a pat of our own home.   It is very hard to write about people and 
places that are close…tight…personal.

Why did they return to Canada after so many winters inTexas.  Health care.  Simple.  The cost
of extra health care for Snowbirds is around $10,000 per year.   That cost cannot be sustained. And it
may not even be enough if a devastating illness or accident happens.   

Some Canadians experiencing a terrible operation prefer to hire an air ambulance to get
back to Canada.

Ted and Shirley are not ill.   They are back home.   And maybe this will give me a chance
to write about their farm.  Of all the farms in our family there are only  two where relatives still live.
The Townsend farms and the Freeman farm.

my cousin Ted Freeman had aneardeth experience…the thought of which he would rather not talk


Note:  Such a trivial event…a broken baby finger.  But it Changed my life.  Embarrassing and personal… maybe the story is too
boring for readers.  Skip it then.   That baby finger, however, is a big parr of my life. I feel driven to tell the story even though most
readers might feel I have wasted their time.

Take a look at my  baby left finger.  See the bump on it.   Now to tell the story.


alan skeoch
Nov. 20, 2-23

The accident seemed so trivial at first.  But the consequences on my life Big time and bad….in the short run.
And surprisingly positive in the long run.

I threw a good Cross Body block.  Was it in a game or just in a practice scrimmage ?  I do not remember.
I do remember the block.  My left hand touched the ground as the block finished.  Then our halfback ran by.
And he stepped on my left hand.  Let’s say that was 180 to 200 pounds of crested foot were landed on my baby finger.
It hurt a bit.  Later I had trouble writing.  My left hand scrawl was bad enough butDoing so with a broken baby finger
was worse.

“Your finger is broken, Alan.”
“I know that but it does not  hurt much.”
“You should get it fixed.””
“See Dr Pennal, at St. Joseph’s Hospital.”  I think that was the surgeon’s name. Not sure.  And I think Dr. Greensway
suggested getting a surgical opinion.
(seventy two years ago)
“Yes , it is broken.”
“Does it need to be fixed?”
“Yes.  Fragment floating around that little finger need to be stabilized.  Minor operation,”

And that’s how this major event in my life began.  Noting major.  Minor surgery  The year was 1958.  My Grade 13 year
of high school at Humberside.  Big plans?  I had none.  Had no idea what to do with my life.   The smashed baby
finger changed everything.


I went to the hospital alone.  Not because my parents didn’t care.  But they were working
Mom was a sewing machine operator in a needle trade sweatshop hidden workshop on Annette Street near Keele St.
If she did not work, she did not get paid.   Dad made good money a long way from home.  He was a truck tire buider and  had to catch a series of busses and street cars from
West Toronto to the small tow of Whitby, east of Toronto.  Probably 3 to 4 hours there and back home.  He was a gambler….horse races too all his free time. 

So I went alone.  Never a good idea going to a hospital alone.   I read that somewhere.  True.  

First i was asked to lie down on a gurney while a nurse shaved my right arm.  Now That seemed
odd to me.  

“Why are you shaving my right arm?”
“To get you ready for the surgeon.”
“But it is my left hand with the broken finger.”
(She checked  my chart)
“Sorry…you are correct.
(Then she shaved my left arm)

What would happen if they opened up the wrong finger?”

“This local will numb your hand…no pain. You wil be awake.”
(And a  nurse gave me a needle. Then the gurney was wheeled 
into the hallway and left there for some time.  I waited on the gurney for a long time it seemed.

Then was wheeled in to the operating theatre.  Yes, theatre.   There ws a huge round gallery
above me with half a dozen people gazing down.   Such a small operation for interns and
nurses to watch.  I never did know exactly how damaged my finger seemed.  No time for

“YOWEEE!  That hurts, “ as the surgeon began to open up the finger.
“When did this boy get the local?”
“Some time ago, perhaps an hour or more>=”
“Give him another shot right now.”

No pain after that.  I took my mind off the surgery by watching the people who were in turn
watching the surgery.  Tried to put my mind elsewhere. Ten it was over.

“Son, you  will have a cast on your left hand for some time.  The bones on 
your little finger have been put in place… a long wire pin goes down the centre of your finger.
When all seems fine the pin will be removed.  See the tip of it there.   Be careful.”
(Instructions were something like that.  The pin was there but not visible due to the cast.)

Day surgery. “You can go home  now.”   I boarded the Roncesvales street car heading for 
the Annete Strreet bus and home.  I felt a little faint as blood oozed into the cast but 
soon I began total the immobility of my left hand for granted.

Should I play football?  Why not?  We had a game against Oakwood where I made a
textbook shoestring tackle.  Burf said so   He may have also noticed my white cast. Never told him about it.
And in that game I nearly intercepted a pass but knocked the ball to the ground instead.
“Why did you not catch the ball and run with it?”
“Never occurred to me.” (Left Guards andi inside linebackers are not ball carriers)

I was back in the game…playing my role with the team.  It felt good.


The consequences of that damaged little finger changed my life.
Grade 13 was a tough year for students across Ontario in 1958.  Grade 13
exam papers were marked by special markers  in June and July.  Markers that
did know or care that I could barely scribble my name even after the cast was removed.



postscript:  The Grade 13 exams were very serious…expected much of students.

Circular S. 4C 1959-3113
ivjinisiry 0 i E
r r
33 3 • I9i G
o 6T>>e {H –
To Principals of Secondary Schools
Re Grade 13 Departmental Examinations in English
Markers of the English Literature papers in 1959 observed a gratifying improvement in handwriting and spelling, as well as in sentence structure and coherence. It was still evident, however, that a great many candidates lacked training in organizing their material. The habitual use of clear, precise, and idiomatic English remains the exception rather than the rule, and startling deficiencies in vocabulary were revealed. For instance, many candidates lost marks because they did not know the meaning of “thwart” and “subsequent”. Those who neglected to read the questions carefully penalized themselves by failing to perceive the main requirement of the question and by wasting time in writing irrelevant material.
The defect most frequently found was that, though most candidates revealed an adequate command of the content of the course, few were able to discuss critically and appreciatively the means which an author uses to produce his effects. Key words in the questions, directing the candidates to attempt a critical approach, were largely ignored. Thus, though candi¬ dates were asked ‘how a statement contributes to the achievement of a purpose’ and ‘how a character is revealed’, and were directed to state or describe ‘the means by which suspense is created’, ‘the uses of metaphor or simile’, ‘the methods of inducing the reader. . . ’, and ‘the sources of comic



Nov. 18, 2023
This is my brother Eri…14 months younger than me…we are close , like twins,…did things together.  He was right handed though
which made a hell a of difference in life.

Eric’s 1955 Football jacket…his number was 29, right end.  which meant he could catch afoootball pass from the quarterback while
my job was to bash the guy opposite me, the defensive guard.  Quite a different job. No glory


It was a mud game.  Late October at Millen Field in East end against Riverdale C. I.   THE Riverdale boys were tough. We expected
the game to be very physical the moment our team arrived at the ramshackle changing room bisected into
two parts by a flimsy sawdust board dividing wall.  Big hot in the wall where a Riverdale guy poked his head ans yelled, 
“’We will knock the shit out of you Pansies,” or some comment like that.  We were no better as we were determined to
 ‘Get Banana nose,’ the less than flattering term for their quarterback.  Enemies ar war…with one big difference in weaponry.
Mud spike.

“Boys, I want you to wear mud spikes today, better traction in Millen Field.”

And so we hsdto unscrew our normal spikes which were about an inchi long and replace them
with 2 inch mud spikes.  Better traction for sure.  Like running with studded tractor tires. 

It was  still raining and had been doing do for a couple of days.  Ugly day.
I remember the mud slurry went over my boots in places.     Mud did not bother me much.  Getting dirty
was expected of football players.  We were not pansies.

The game was tough   Body against body.   Most plays were ground plays.   Very little passing.  Lots of 
body contact.  I read somewhere that the impact of an offensive Guard like me against my opposing defensive guard
was the same as the impact of an astronaut breaking the gravity barrier into outer space.  Heroic effort.

My brother Eric must have been a defensive right end in that game.  His job was to ‘Get Banana Nose’ or the ball carrier.
He had to charge full speed into the mayhem after the ball was snapped.  The Riverdale quarterbacks nose did not look 
as long as I expected.  But he did look tough.

Something unusual happened.  Eric was helped off the field….Limping.
A couple of mudslpikes had cut the calf of his leg.  Hard to tell how deep because the
exposed flesh was covered in mud and the dirty white powdered chalk used mark the field into five yard intervals.
He  limped to the bench.  “I am OK…just a scratch’  LIKE HELL IT WAS A SCRATCH.

This was no scratch…Could see the mud handing from the hole.
As for me I was suddenly overcome with a feeing of weakness.  My brother was hurt and I felt the pain.
It was hard for me to go on the field with ouroffenive squad. I was not looking for revenge.
 I think that is why brothers are separated in wartime.   They might look after each other.  Lose their concentration.
 Maybe the separation is so that one might be lost but not all would be lost.

I got over the shock next play when I saw Eric coming back on the field as defensive end.  Must just be a scratch…not serious.
So we finished the game.  I am quit sure we won.   As Burf said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”,   Foptball was not just s game,
it was war.

The terror set in after the game…after our team shower.  No!  There was no shower. And  Eric’s wound was not superficial.  It was deep…perhaps an inch or more into
the calf of his leg.  The hole had filed up with mud…stopped the bleeding.  Mud mixed with blood becomes mud.  Why was he not in
pain?  Adrenalin.  

“Get your mom or dad to take Eric to the doctor,,,this wound could be bad.”  

Mom took control immediately. 
  Dad was on night shift…gone to work.   Mom ran our house anyway. 

“Alan, you come along.  We will see Dr. Greenaway right now.”  Family doctors were accessible in the 1950’s.
Doctor Greenawy cleaned the wound, applied some alcohol in the wound, stopped the bleeding.   D.r Greenaway
was concerned.

“Who willl watch Eric tonight?”
“lan will….The boys sleep in the same bed.”
“Then, Alan, I want you to take this syringe..this needle.   If Eric begins to act strangely…to have a convulsion
tonight, I want you to give him this needle.  It is very important.  Can you do that?”
“Ye,sir,,,I think I can.” knowing full well I would get mom fast.  She slept in the couch in our
one bedroom house.  Dad sept in our bed when he was on day shift at Dunlop Tire Corporation. All
very efficient.  All very close.  All very natural to us.  Doesn’t everybody live that way? We lived on top
of each other.  My boyfriends each had their own rooms. Soft life for them. I rarely did homework…no room.

It was a long night for mom and I.    Maybe for Eric too.   But morning came and no odd behaviour.
Eric was alive.   I think he e ven played football later in  the season.  We were not pansies.

Grea chsnce for a cruel joke on mom.


7)  The next football season, 1956, we played a cruel joke on Mom.  It realy was not  funny.  
but to us it was a hoot…really funny.  

 Mom loved
us and did not want to see us hurt.  Dad was the same.   Touch my kid then answer to me.  Physical world we lived in.
Eric and I played cruel jokes on them both.  Careful with dad because he might overreact.  But mom was fair game.

Mom has been gone a long time butI often Eri and I remember this joke.   It is not funny but we thought it so.

We returned form a football game in Russ Vanstone’s Chev.   He dropped us at the door.    We lived on
the second floor and there was a long staircase upward.   The plan was cruel.  I knew mom would
ask about the game and sure enough as soon as I started up the stairs the asked, “How did the game go?”

“Eric got hurt mom,” and I threw his crushed footbsllhelmet up the stairs.

Russ had accidentally back the Chev over the helmet.    Very funny, don’t you think?
I came up the stairs alone but Eric was not far behind.   I think mom laughed when she
got over the shock.  zoo hugs and kisses.  The joke was not so funny to mom.


Post script:  Much more to come…Wrong Way Cush and Jarring Jach Osmond and
my operation at St. Joseph hospital where people go to die.

POS SCRPT:  I remember when the scab and hardened puss came out of Eric’s leg….not

Here are some family pics that might sue your  Mom made all our winter clothes out of old coats.

Eric, our farm cousin Ted Freeman, Alan….much later in life.

Mom with her two boys wearing cut don costs



Alan Skeoch

Nov. 15, 2023

Left handed Alan Skeoch could not skate well because skates were hand me downs and too large.
He ankled his way across the ice. Hockey was out of the question   His athletic career was football centred.

Victoria University team…Alan skeoch far right, front row,  Russ Vanstone beside him. Eric Skeoch fifth /sixth? person back row right side.  Who has most mud on face?

HOW utterly boring.  Who in their right mind would want to read about my football career.
I never scored a touchdown.   Never trounced the football except once between 1954 nd 1961…
from High school to University of Toronto .   Who would care if it did?  Not you, especially 
if you are female.   Most males would not give a damn either.

Here is a reason to read these episodes.  I was scared to death a lot of the time.  I was nothing really.
No glory.  A lineman and inside linebacker.  Not worth watching.  Then why was I so scared?  I was 
afraid I would let our coach down.  Afraid I would make the wrong move.  

I had difficulty telling left
from right.  Being left handed meant being different from 90% of the population.  It is a right handed world.
At Kent Public School the teachers tried to ‘break me’…to make me right handed. The result was
not good.  I have always had difficulty telling left from right.  Still do.  If asked to use left hand my thumb 
moves fast … left thumb touches left little finger where there is a bump.  That is my left hand.  And that ‘bump’
is a big part of my athletic career.   That little finger was crushed.   More will be told about that bump.  But not now.


I am enormously proud to say that I conquered the handicap.  Became a Toronto City All Star on both
city all star teams….Daily Star and Telegram.  Was winner the Wildman Trophy as well.
Bragging?  There is a difference between bragging and having pride.   When winning the accolades I have
always been well aware that many players must have been better than me.   One of my best friends
and fellow lineman, Russ Vanstone, had a forearm smash that was something to be envied.   Rich Mermer,
our high school halfback was the best athlete I have ever seen.  The same applies at University to our
fullback, Don Seeback.  Ed Jackan’s cleated leather boot rescued me from a violent incident…kicked the guy
who was making hamburger out of my face. I have always had good friends.  Ed kicked the gy between the legs.
Cooled him down fast.

I still get s warm feeling when thinking of those football days.  Just being an integral part of a team
was like being an integral part of a Canadian army platoon.   We depended on each other.  We knew 
that.  Our top athletes like Mermer and Seeback knew that and never let their ego loose.   Gest gas who
became great men.

Our coach, Fred Burford knew the importance of team work . “Alan, the reason you got those all star awards was the team.  We are proud of you
and hope you recognize your success was team success.”

Why are you reading this?  I will tell you why.  Some very bad things happened to football players.
Life long events.   I am 85 years old now and in a few weeks…on Dec. 12, 2023, will face knee
surgery to make me walk normally again.   So this is more a story of injuries than glory.  Are you still with me?

Eric’s Humberside jacket has hung in our barn for 73 years….a little ragged now.   The jacket has been waiting for 68 years for
me to do this story   Be understanding.   Avoid criticism.   Russ Vanstone’s jacket is perfect he tells me.  Different barn I guess.


 Fred Burford believed in football
as some believe in god.   The game dominated his waking hours even at the expense wife and family.  His son joined our
Old boys club shortly after Burford died.  His observation says it all.

“One day I went to see Dad’s Humberside team play a game against another TSSAA team.   I was shocked.
The team from Humberside came on the field like a well oiled machine….every move synchronized.
I was flabbergasted.  I knew Dad loved football but I did not know he had made the top team in Toronto in 1955.”


Now I would like to give my observation on those football years in a series of personal anecdotes.
Surprised to say how many incidents involved injuries.  Some awful things happened. Some of which may sound silly.
Some, in later episodes, were horrific.

1) I was scared when I joined the Huskies back in 1954. Only a second string lineman and occasional Inside
linebacker. I sat on the bench most of the time.  Scared I would actually be sent to actually play.  Scared I would let the coach down because 
had trouble telling right fro left.  When the teacher at Kent Public School tried to break me, she failed. Left? Right? Got
me confused.   Football is a science of right and left diving fullbacks and racing halfbacks while the humble linemen
try to bash holes in the defensive linemen’s position.

“OK boys, let’s try a left reverse.  Left Gard will pull and smash the left cornerbacker.  Do it on count of three.”
So spake the quarterback in this imaginary huddle.  My job as left guard was to take out the outside corner backer with
a flying cross body block (now illegal). 

 IN the fall of 1954 I was scared and was only sent into the huddle when 
the first stringer got hurt.  But I became noticed by Burf.

“Who is whistling?”
I raised my hand. ( Whenever I feel afraid I whistled a happy tune as in The King and I.) 
“So it was you.”  (I am not sure if Burf knew my name back in ’54.)
“Come over here and stand on this bench”
I did so but did not know what that had to do with whistling.
“Boys, gather round.  There is nothing worse than over confidence in a football game.
Whistling shows overconfidence.  I want you boys to be quiet..to think about your
game..to be sure and know all the plays on the mimeographed sheets.  We are going to 
win this game.”
“OK Skeoch, step down…no more whistling.”
I was mortified.  If I could have crawled under the bench I would yhave done so. Seemed that 
every boy in the room looked at me as if I was the anti-Christ.

All coaches try to think of a way to get teams up for games. Burford was good at that.
I think he knew he had made a mistake picking on me but he never said so.

   I am a joiner.   I’m nor a quitter.  Mom said  to me when I filled at skating. “Alan, you
will always start at the bottom but rise to th top.  Was she just trying yo boost my morale?   I never told her about
the whistling incident.   And Certainly did not tell dad.  He might have laughed or, worse, he might have gone thundering
over to see Burf  like Gengis Khan

2)  Burford seemed agitated.    We were all assembled in an east Toronto locker room. Enemy territory.
Something was wrong.  Tension was higher than usual.  Like the wire on a guitar…tense, tight, close to breaking.
“Boys we have a problem.  Our quarterback left his shoes at home. One of you will have to
lend him shoes which means you will not be able to play today.  Quarterback is essential.
Back up Quarterback, Jim Romaniuk, missed the preparation chalk talk.  We have a crisis.
Who will give up his shoes?”
“I will , sir.”
“Let me look at you boots.”
 My shoes were the bottom of the team shoe distribution bag.  They were old 
and cracked in half.  Something like Bozo the Clown would wear to flap around a circus tent,
“Sorry.  These shoes are no good.  Surprised  you could even wear them.”
That rejection hurt as much as the whistling incident.
Other shoes were found.

Humberside C.I had three football teams…Bantam, Junior and  Senior.    Nearly a hundred boys
had to be strapped into equipment.  Shoulder pads, kidney pads, boots, helmet, padded pants, .  
“You boys will have to buy your own jock straps…make sure the jock has  a cup to
protect your hardware.”

3)  Joining the Huskies was like joining the Canadian army in wartime.   At least it seemed that way to me.
Schoolwork was important but the football war against other high school teams demanded total 
allegiance.  World War II  had only ended 8 years before Ientered grade 9 in 1953. A long time in the past for me
bt not so long ago for Burf who I Believe had been in the Canadian navy.There was a relationship that 
was akin to the gap between officers and enlisted privates.  Salute and do what you are told.
So every lunch hour of my high school career was spent in Burf’s hoe room studying endless 
mimeographed sheets of plays.    No chance to scout out the girls .  This was war.  The victories
were all important. Noting else mattered.  We had around 1,000 stents at Humberside.  Only 100
were members of the football team. The chosen few. Football was war.

4)  One lunch hour I was sitting with the rest of the Junior team in Burf’s room while he reviewed
 a recent game.  We probably won for we had   a terrific team and eventually
won’t the TSSA championship that year (1955). The room was silent as Burford
went over the game.  

The silence was broken suddenly b a rattling…then a deep surging.  I turned around 
and looked at Don Philips in the middle row.  He was twitching…emitting some kind of bubbly gutteral nonsense.
 foaming at the mouth.  Then he fell from his seat twitching.  I was dumbfounded.
Though Donnie ws going die   Burford quickly ran down the aisle and put a ruler in his mouth at right
angles.   Later I was told this ruler prevented Don from biting his own tongue.  It is Hard to describe
the silence in the room tht day.   Once the convulsion stopped there was dead silence.

Never head what happened to Donnie.  He never played football again although he 
completely recovered.  The scuttlebutt round the school was that Don had bashed his 
head in a direct tackle in the previous  football game. Spearing.  Seemed some teachers were blaming Burford
But that was only said in whispers.

It was not Burf who was at fault.  He trained us  to never ever use our head as  a”spear”
when  taking down a ball carrier.  “Use your shoulder, never your head and get him blow the knees
….clamp onto him.  Nice clean tackle.  No ’spearing’.   Had Don forgotten that rule?
Or did Don have a previous ailment?   We would never know.  But that moment shook me
and for the rest of my long football career.  I used my shoulder and tried to hit low.

THE CROSS BODY BLOCK (now illegal)  
5) No one gives a sweet goddamn about linemen.  It took me  a while to realize this.
I thought girls liked football  and being part of the team would lead to romantic conquests.
That never happened.  Girls , I think, found the game boring.   Certainly my part
of the game.  no one could see me.  Except..except … except when given the chance to
throw s Cross Body Block.  That happened when the ball carrier was trying to out run
the defence  players…particularly the Outside Corner Backer.  If left side play  I had the chance to run
beside our halfback and takeout that cornerbacker with a Cross Body Block.

“Alan,  To throw a good Cross Body Block you must put your whole body lengthwise
in the air.  Six feet of body flying in the air.  Knockdown the corner backer and help 
us get s touchdown.  Be accurate….just one chance.”

Picture: Left Guard Alan Skeoch, Fullback Grant Weber  (Grade 13…less scared than I was in 1954))


   This year, 2023, on Dec. 12 I will be having
my knee replaced by surgery.  My knee has given out and I blame the Cross body
Blocking I did from 1954 to 1961.   My knees got bashed badly….ribs as well.

“How do you know you were good at it?”
“Because Bob Cwirenko said I was good at it.”
“Who is he?”
“He was one of our high school team….a corner backer.  Bob played for SPS,
the engineers at U. of T.   I played for Victoria  and threw a cross body block on Bob…
took him out.  When he got to his feet he said “Good block Al”

(Aside: Marjorie Hughes was an SPS Cheerleader who would later accept my
brown bagged engagement ring from the glove compartment of our old 1953 Meteor.
I wonder if Cwirenko noticed her?)

6)  I set some limits  after I saw Roger Pugh block a kick with his face.  A lot of
the guys congratulated Roger.   “Way to go “Pugh!’  I was impressed by his courage but
resolved to never put my face where the cleated shoe of a kicker was about to come up full force.
Bad things happened while playing football.


NEXT EPISODE 914  — “IF Eric begins a convulsion shove this needle in right away, Alan”

Ed Jackman and Marjorie…hE played left tackle at U. of  T., later became a priest.   A good friend now gone.

Alan Skeoch married Marjorie Hughes in 1963

Below: Russ Vanstone and Alan Skeoch played football together 1955 to 1961, married roommates.


Note: POSTSCRIPT:   Next  Episode will be memories of football at HCI.  Sound boring?
Not so. 1)   “Now Alan, if Eric starts convulsions, shove this needle into his arm immediately.”
            2)  “The blood was seeping through the cast as I got on the streetcar.”
            3) “How was the game boys?” “Eric got into an accident,” and I Threw his crushed helmet up the stairs
            4) Beer in a violin case thanks to Jarring Jack Osmond — who was suspended
           5) Wrong Way Cush (how he earned his name)
           6)  “He started to twitch and foam at the mouth,”  Burf put a pen across his mouth to save his  tongue
           7(  Playing football should attract the girls.  A false statement that we believed.
           8)  Alan, you must be suspended like the others.”   “Thank you Mr. Couke…thank you, thank you”


I Am a joiner as are the eight Humberside C.I Old Boys in this picture.
Why did we join this elect group of 80+ year old club.   We enjoyed  high
school….liked our teachers (most of them) and liked each  other.


PHOTOGRAPHER,  THOM NORRIS (above left)  see note from Thom in postscript



We meet two to three times a year when Gord Nicholls and Zig Novak can get this lunch
table at the Burlington Golf Club.  That’s a long way from HCI and West Toronto.  Very few people even
know we exist…or care.  We have no grand project now in 2023. 

In past years we were a much larger group…perhaps 20 or so.  and we began just to meet once more with
our football coach Fred Burford and Track and Drama coach Dunc Green and basketball coach Big Al Merritt.
Those fellows have departed this world now but we remember them still.   We remember lots of things
that bring us together.   One of the Rodin brothers does an imitation of Les Devitt, an HCI math
teacher who had idiosyncrasies.

My memory of Mr. Devitt is slightly profane.  He was checking homework …moving down 
the fifth row of seats where Christine Skironsky sat.  She had a particularly low cut blouse
on that day.  I noted thins like that.   I was not alone.  As Mr. Devitt approached the low cut
blouse, he said  “What have you got there”

Christine shrieked and put her hands against that blouse.  The class went wild.   I think Mr. 
Devitt put a couple of us in the hall.  I am not sure if he knew why we were laughing.
I honestly believe he had no idea but I  could be wrong

When Devitt retired I was asked to give a speech honouring him.  “Be funny, Alan.”…said Roberta
Charlesworth, our English teacher.  She knew there were many stories about him.  I did a little research and 
discovered Les  Devit was a test pilot in World War I.  If he thought an airplane was not
good enough then he brought it down to a very hard landing…a damaging landing.
Why?  Because he did not want young pilots to be endangered.  We never knew this
courageous side of Mr. Devitt.  No one laughed as he sat on the stage.  All applauded.  Some with
tears in their eyes.  Even Christine Skironsky who never wore that blouse again.  I would have

Stories like this have been shared over and over again by the fellows.  Les profane.

We are all in our late 80’s now.  Real Old Boys.   Some have departed.  Some are  ill.
Some live far away.  Some, no doubt, do not have fond memories of high school.  Our
own two boys do not have this nostalgia.  They never mention high school days as we
do.  Too bad.

November 15m 2023

POSTSCRIPT:   Next  Episode will be memories of football at HCI.  Sound boring?
Not so. 1)   “Now Alan, if Eric starts convulsions, shove this needle into his arm immediately.”
            2)  “The blood was seeping through the cast as I got on the streetcar.”
            3) “How was the game boys?” “Eric got into an accident,” and I Threw his crushed helmet up the stairs



From infancy, Humberside Collegiate Institute was part of my life. I remember my mother in long gowns going to the At Home  dances and bringing home hats, horns and treats. The Toltons, Wismers,(relatedto us) bachelor and later married Stuffy MacInnis, LaPierres, Devitts, Coukes, Talbots, Cruikshanks ( related to us),)Maclellans and more were on our doorstep as almost family., All were my teachers.. The wives were like a club. Noreen Couke, Helen Tolton, Ellen Wismer , Mrs. Talbot and others were like sisters .d_The McHoull’s lived in the apartments at Clendenan and Bloor and paid $9 per month rent frozen during the war and said they had so little furniture they kept their Christmas tree up for months.. My father joined the Humberside staff in 1922. In 1952, upon graduation, I received the Alumni Award before heading to Normal School.
Helen Tolton and Doris Norris were my Sunday School teachers at High Park United, the largest Sunday School of any denomination in the British Empire when my dad was Superintendent of the Sunday School in 1934 when I was born. 800 soldiers came out of HPU and Alhambra United ( our H.C.I. 125th Anniversary venue in 2017)including my brother John born in 1925. Everyone lived nearby and either walked to H.C.I. or drove, as when Dad was in shock that Romeo La Pierre moved across the Humber to Glenaden bordering on Park Lawn Cemetery. He would have to drive to work Dad said in amazement , as he couldn’t understand why anyone moved to the Burbs with no transit nor sidewalks nor stores to which to  walk . Why was I not so wise? Especially why would anyone want to give up High Park ???. 60 Pacific Avenue was 12 houses from my extended playground-High Park.
It was after the war that immigrants flocked to High Park as was typical of European culture. All Toronto  teachers’ cheques were deposited by the Toronto Board  of Ed.in the Bank of Toronto on the north-east side of Keele and Dundas. The Manager was their financial advisor.After the war he advised ones like Romeo La Pierre  to get a new house in Etobicoke since with immigration  from Europe to disturb our British milieu ,Polish and Ukrainians were willing to pay $6200 for the old three story houses in High Park./Runnymede.
It is interesting on this Victoria Day weekend that I have the Union Jack flying out front that fluttered on the eves of 60 Pacific Ave. along with all  other loyalists with the same, t hat has fluttered over 4 Coronations in 1936,1937, 1952 and 2023.


You write a great story Al. I’m sure your 300 pager was unique also. Who knew that you and I tackled a Master’s degree about the same time – mine an M. ED. at OISE, Computers in Education. I was on a 12 year “sabbatical” raising our 2 girls and when ready to teach again, there were no jobs available, so I looked to the future to upgrade my qualifications. It ultimately worked and I got in 13 more years to add to the earlier 13. 
My husband, Bob,  would have been very interested in your grad degree, as he worked at Massey Ferguson for a time in the 60’s and turned down a move to Desmoine Iowa. Whenever we travelled, he was on the lookout for Massey equipment that he might recognize. It finally happened in 2000, when he saw an ancient looking tractor in a field in Western Turkey and yup –  it was a Massey. Then we saw a bright new one at an Outdoor Museum in the same area. It made his trip! 
Coincidently, my dad, Tom, had also worked for Massey Harris, as it was then, when my sisters and I were little tots. Even a math teacher couldn’t stretch an end of June pay cheque to the end of September and that’s how he got us through the summer for a few years. I’m sure dad would have loved your agricultural treasures and might have even read your whole 300 pages, if he’d still been around. That was the total of my agricultural experience – more or less.
Keep them coming Al. Your slice of life is unique and quite fun and interesting to read.

alan skeoch
Feb. 3, 2023



alan skeoch
Nov. 13, 2023

Nothing seemed to go right today.  Drove to farm and  accidentally spilled five gallons of 
water on my clothes….stripped  and found old pair of leotards …. Gave up on cleaning  the barn and took a THERAPEUTIC RIDE down 
fifth and sixth line reads,

There is no storY here unless you make one up yourself.  Sorry   

I could get nothing done  in the barn…anticipate some work now the actors’ and writer’ strike is over.   has been tough times.

But I am soaking wet and wearing leotards.    I quit.

More fun to search for wild apple trees now the leaves have fallen and the apples cling for a final display that no one cares  about

This farm has been derelict for four years.   The stable was filled with riding horses.  Now all gone and combination  of wind and and vandals
will pull it down.  Hopefully someone will rescue those hand made beams.

The beams may have been hacked from this root fence……white pines


Note:  Here is a short episode…a mystery.  Easy to read.  I wonder if any of you took the time
to read my “Last flight of HX 313” sent for Remembrance Day…too long I know   This is hoister..a mystery.



alan skeoch
Nov. 5, 2023

“Dad, have a chunk of honey.    All that is left of four bee hives.   One bite for each of us.  What happened?”

OUR SON ANDREW lost four of his five bee hives in the lsat 6 weeks?  They swarmed.  A bunch of the bees and a queen just took off.   Then the others did the same.   Leaves him with one hive.
Why did this happen?  Bees are smart    But these bees seem to have a low I.Q.   Why take off in a swarm in late October?   Winter not he way  Thousands of them seem to face a sure and
certsin death.   Most bees swarm in the spring.  Why did Andrew’s bees swarm when the leaves were falling and the nectar giving flowers were dying?
I know there are bee lee[ers eep read these stories.   Starvation is a reason for some swarming.  But these hives had stocked up on honey…yet when we looked at the hives they were near empty
Some mice were chewing in one hive and a cloud of wasps were catching a few free meals.  But no bees.   No bee messenger had been left behind to say:”Andrew we have taken a hike. If you want us
back we are over in Bobb Kerr’s south field fence line.”   No message, however.

Prime Bee Swarm

A primary bee swarm is the most common form of bee swarm and is the first bee swarm to leave the hive. It is usually made up of around 50% of the size of the parent colony, which is normally around 25,000 bees. It also contains the queen bee.

swarm of bees

Absconding Bee Swarm

An absconding bee swarm does not happen very often and is the result of problems in the beehive such as starvation, pests overtaking the hive, or disease. If an absconding bee swarm happens, all the bees will leave the hive instead of splitting like in swarming. In this case, very few if any bees will be left in the beehive.



alan skeoch
Nov. 11, 2023

Victor Poppa touched my life.  And, yes, I do remember him.  Readers may find this Episode too long for
casual reading.   I understand.  The story is  a living story even though Victor died decades ago. Thisstory
was written when he was alive and we visited him in his unuusual California home.   I hope ou find 
the story both moving (tears) and amusing (laughter).  

My cousin, George Freeman, (who I never knew when he was living),,,George and Victor were both
gunners on HX 313.  Good friends in 1944.  George was killed when a German fighter strafed  HX 313.   As the plane pirouetted out of 
formation On May 24, 1944, Victor was trapped in his rear gunners’ bubble.  He felt he was about
to die then the force of the fall twisted the bubble and he fell out…read the story…..

Begin forwarded message:

From: SKEOCH <alan.skeoch@rogers.com>
Date: October 28, 2019 at 12:04:12 AM EDT
To: Alan Skeoch <alan.skeoch@rogers.com>

When I think of Victor Poppa I want to laugh and cry at the same time.
(I think Victor will be  pleased with this story wherever he is.)

I have been considering this story for more than 40 years.  Should the life  of
Victor Poppa be edited…be sanitized in other words.  Or should it be presented
just the way he wrote it back  in 1984.  I  decided  to be true to Victor and
present the story just as he  wrote it.   Rough and real.  Soft and sweet.
Some people will be disturbed no doubt…
either by  the brutality of the World  War II bombing of Germany or  by Victor’s
sexual exploits  when on the ground.  

alan skeoch
oct. 2019

Take  a moment.  Look closely at Victor.  His face in 1987 needs to 
be burned into your brain.  Look at that smile.  And  look deeper if you can.

VICTOR POPPA was such an unusual man that I have difficulty finding a place

to start my story of his  life.   He was unique in many ways but foremost was
his  ability to make every moment of his life magnetic, humorous and so enjoyable.


alan skeoch
Oct. 2019

As  mentioned  in my story titled “the Last Flight of HX 313, Victor was the tail
gunner in a Halifax bomber that was strafed and  set afire on a  bombing run over
Bourg Leopold on May 17/28, 1944.   He was trapped in his bubble and sure
to die as the big plane pirouetted out of the night sky burning in its death throes.
Then by a quirk of  fate the plane made a violent turn that threw Victor out
to the open bubble.   His  parachute was only attached by one thin strap
and Victor had to pull the strap down to grab the D ring.  When he did so
HX 313 and Victor were separated but both in free fall.

Victor survived but was badly injured.  That much you already know but there
is so much more that I would like to share with you.  Initially I only knew 
Victor from his letters  sent to me in 1984.   He cried when I first initiated
contact with him.  MY letter was sent 40 years after the crash.  Totally unexpected.
Victor was  then living in a trailer camp near Lake Elsinore, California.  Retired
air industry worker who moved to California when the AVRO  Arrow was 
scrapped  by the Diefenbaker government in Canada.  

Sometime around 1990, Marjorie, Andrew  and I visited  Victor.
I had a  short term sabbatical leave from teaching and  we flew to 
New Zealand and  Australia to look at their educational systems at
our own expense.  On the return flight we stopped for a few day
in California to visit with Victor and Louise Poppa.  We had no idea what  
to expect.  Our visit made New  Zealand and  Australia fade into the

Victor met us at the airport in Los Angelus driving a very large and very
dated Cadilac.  He had a grin a mile wide.  He loved us and made no
pretence otherwise.  In those few days  with the  Poppa family a  lot
of things  happened which are stories  in t themselves so  ‘let me count
the ways’ as the love poem stated.

1) The Cadillac.  It had seen better days at least a decade earlier.  We never
made the trip to Lake Elsinore.  On one  semi deserted  California
road, the Cadillac stopped.  “Damn thing, let’s me down too often.”
It was around 9 p.m. and the problem seemed  easy to me.
“Phone  the AAA and we can get a taxi to your place.”
“Not that easy, Alan.”
“Someone has to stay with the car…can’t leave it by the side of the road…”
“Why not?”
“It’ll get stripped.”
“Surely not…”
“Fact of life here…got to be careful.”
“Who will stay with the car?  Victor , I can stay here…no problem.”
“Would you mind, Alan?   Louise and Marjorie and  Andrew can get home with me
by taxi.  You stay with car and tow truck until it’s  safely put away…won’t take long”

So away  they went by taxi while I was left to mother the Cadillac and wonder
what evil persons were watching from the California darkness.  Probably waited 
only an  hour or so.  Not long.  No incidents.  

My initial image of  California was based on Hollywood.  Great wealth.  Extravagant lifestyles.
Splendour.   Well, Victor did not live that way.  His home was  a long trailer in a sprawling
trailer park where Victor had a lot of space to keep things.  Things?  Lots of spare tires,
fuselage of a light plane with no wings, motor parts…that kind of thing.

2) “You and Marjorie can sleep in this room.”
“Got to be careful though.”
“Close to the Mexican border…never know who is  passing through.”
“Could  be.   Look under your pillow.  There is  a pistol there.  If someone
comes in through the window shoot first, ask  questions  later.”
(I thought Victor was joking and maybe he was.  One thing certain  is that
there was a  real pistol under the pillow.)

“Nice picture above the bed…sort of contrasts with the pistol.”
(Not sure if I said this or just thought it.  Above our bed was a picture
of Jesus Christ with a  beating heart with words like “love”  and  “peace.”.)
“We are Catholic, Alan, maybe you and  Marjorie would like to come with 
us to mass on Sunday.”
“No problem.”
The picture of Christ and the pistol under the pillow were formost in my
mind by then.  The  two  things just did not fit.  That became  my image
of California.

3) “This is Shadow, our dog.”
“What breed?” 
“Pit bull…good guard dog.”
“Never know around  here.  This is not a gated subdivision.”
“I mean is Shadow dangerous?”
“Can be, but I have a solution to that.  Look here.”
(Victor pulled a baseball bat from behind the front door.  Not just an
ordinary baseball bat but a bat that he had ‘improved’ by driving
long spikes through drilled  holes so that the long  points  were  exposed.)
“What’s it for?”
“Shadow.  If he attacks someone or just attacks another dog, I give  him
a good rap  on the nuts with this  bat.”
“You are  joking.”
“Nope, I take Shadow for a walk every with and take the bat along with me.
You can come with us.”
(And sure enough, Victor was telling the truth.  His  great grin never left
his face all the time we were with them.  The grin fooled me often.}

4)  Shadow was  a nice dog.  He liked  us.   Shadow  made me laugh so
hard one evening that I nearly died.  I  mean it.  I nearly died.  Victor 
saved  my life that evening.  I must tell this story for it shows  another
facet of  Victor.   He had many facets…many skills…a heart so  big
it enveloped all.  That is probably why he was so  lucky with English  girls
when on leave in England.  He was very  heterosexual. Those stories will come later
…in full detail
if I have the nerve to transcribe them.  

“Alan, let me  tell you a story about Shadow.”
“Don’t tell me he bit somebody.”
“Shadow does not bite…just looks like wants to bite if things get tense.”
“A couple of nights ago Shadow was eating his dinner.  Bowl  was almost 
empty when a mouse jumped  in the bowl.   Shadow was surprised and  looked
over at me.  Then he looked  back  at the bowl with a furrowed brow.  And
he then  did the weirdest thing.  He parted his lips  and  slurped the mouse
up.  Then looked at me again.  The mouse  was trapped in his mouth between
his lips and  his teeth.  And the mouse was running back  and forth making 
bulges in Shadows mouth.  Shadow was startled.  He  seemed to be asking
me what he  should do with the mouse…not eat it but where could it be released…
set free…where could he put the goddamn thing gently.”

We were sitting in a restaurant when Victor told  me this story.  One of those 
all you can eat places that cater to retired Americans with limited money.  I was
eating some kind  of stew with large chunks of meat.  And  I was  laughing hard.
My image of Shadow  was  so  funny I could do nothing but laugh.   Then
 a lump of meat got wedged in  my assophogas.  Blocked
entirely.   This  had  never happened before but I knew that moment that I 
would be dead unless helped.  I was suffocating while Everyone was  laughing. 
 No one suspected
I  was  on the verge of passing  out…perhaps choking to death.  I  couldn’t
speak.  Precious seconds ticked by.  I then leaped up on the table trying to
gasp…trying to get even sliver of oxygen but failing.  Panic.  It was then 
that people  realized  I was in serious trouble.  I jumped down  from the table…could not 
breathe.  No one knew  what was wrong.

But Victor was a man who knew a crises when he saw one.  He immediately
jumped from his chair linked  his arms  around my back below my rib cage
and gave me one hell of hug.  Bingo!  In that split second the lump of beef
was ejected and I could breathe again.  I will never forget that moment.

“How  did you know  what to do, Victor?  How did you know to give me that hug?”
“I didn’t.  Never saw that happen before.  Seemed you needed  help.”
“Victor, you saved my life.”

“How did it happen,  Alan?” asked Marjorie.
“It was that goddam story about Shadow…made me laugh so  hard I could cry…
make me take a deep breath with a mouthful of food.”
“Why  so  funny?”
“Because I pictured Shadow with that furrowed brow while the mouse was
running back  and forth inside his lips.”

5)  And  of course we talked about World  War II at length.   Victor felt 
devastated  when he returned to England after walking  out of his POW
campt in Germany and trekking with Seeley and  nine French nurses
through the chaotic  ruins of the Third Reich to American lines in what
would become West Germany.  “George Freeman, I called him Hank, was
my best friend…we were both gunners in 424 Squadron, RCAF and that was
a bond but our shared  life together on military ‘leaves’ really made us as 
tight as brothers.   Someday i will tell you about our experiences with English
girls.  We met a lot of them.  George  was about to marry one and would
have done  so had not that JU 88 strafed his middle gun turret.”

“I am writing a story of my life,  Alan…don’t know  what to do with it 
really…let me send  a copy to you…I have a  good  memory for detail.
Maybe you can make something out of it.”

Victor did sent me his hand written journal.  This is only part of the story.  
Part One.   What do I remember most about Victor?  He laughed a lot.
His  face was creased with a few wrinkles that turned upward and not 
downward.  He was always  good  company, a  person people like to spend
time with.

6) My only flying experience with Victor came about almost as an
afterthought.   I did  not know he  owned a Cessna 170.  It was obvious
that he was not a wealthy man since his home was  a trailer in a 
trailer  camp that seemed insecure…need for the pistol under the pillow  
and  Shadow the laughing
pit bull.

“Would you like to go up, Alan?”
“Fly around Lake Elsinore…we  can do that…I own a plane…keep it
near here.  How about it?”
“Sure.”  (I said that with some nervousness as my experience with light
airplanes was not a bed of roses.  Flying in S 52 helicopters in the wilds
of Western Alaska had been exciting when I was a single male of limited 
value to anyone.  And then later aborting a takeoff on a swampy lake
full of deadfalls  in Ontario…and doing the attempt again with a pierced 
pontoon.  And hearing tale after tale of bush flights that failed.   These made
me a little nervous to say the least.)
But I said  ‘sure’ and  Victor drove me to the nearby airstrip where
his Cessna sat.   

“How long have you had this, Victor?”
“Quite a  few years…love to fly…wanted to be a pilot back in the war but
they had lots of pilots and  made me a tail gunner.  I just love flying.
Get in.”
(A Cessna is  a light aircraft…could carry two people and a bit of baggage. 
I notice the paint had pealed  off in several places.)
“Buckle up, here we go.”
Victor was  in his element as we taxied to the runway  and full throttled
our way into the California skies on a clear bright day.
“Important to buckle up Alan, because of that door.”
“What door?”
“Your door doesn’t close properly…easy to push open.”
I tried  to move a little closer to Victor…this flight was not a good idea.
“That’s Lake Elsinore ever there…coming up.”
“Do you fly often?”
“Whenever I can…mostly alone.”
“Louise doesn’t like to fly unless we are going somewhere special
in the interior.”
“Alan, take a look down there…gated subdivisions…more and more of  them being
“Why…are they needed?”
“Rich people seem to live in fear so they have guards
at the front of their estate homes.  Costs  a lot of money.
The rest of us  live wherever we can find a place   No guards.”
And  Victor circled over one gated community with a fancy Spanish name that
I have forgotten.  
“Can I take your picture Victor….while we are in the air?”
“Of course.”

And this is the picture I want readers to see. This was  Victor Poppa around
1990.  Beside it is his picture when he was a 22 year old gunner on HX 313.
Note one thing.  They look the same.  They  have that devil may care look.
Hard to hold back a smile…determined to live life to the full and prepared  to
share whatever he has with friends.

Now I think you are ready to read  Victor’s  journal.  I have  decided not to
edit his sexual exploits for they are as funny and  sensitive as  Victor’s dog
Shadow with a mouse running under his lips.

(sent to Alan Skeoch in January, 1987, transcribed by Alan Skeoch 2019)

Alan, I am going back to day one in the story of my life.   Nine months after that
gleam  in father’s eye,I was born, August 30, 1921. The last of five children.  My
life up to four was uneventful until one  day as was just standing  in  my back yard
my oldest sister Sylvia approached  me  with one arm behind her back. 

“Victor, guess  what I have for you?”

She handed  me a model airplane with about a  6 inch wingspan with two
wings,  From that day my life was purely  airplanes.   I used to walk to the 
Elliotts airport and watch the airplanes take  off and land.  Mostly Curtiss
Jennies (JN4w’s)  I also remember a  damaged deHaviland Hornet Moth
…a high winged airplane , cabin for 2 people.  I can remember sliding my hand over
the shiny fabric and dream.  Since the airport was near Hamilton bay, we were
also visited by a Vickers Vidette, an English airplane.

Elliott’s airport closed down and a new one opened about an eighth of a mile
from our house. Here they had  four Gypsy Moths (de Haviland)  but the airport
had a short life because the approach and runway  were not ideal.  Finally 
Hamilton’s Civic Airport was built and  lasted until the end of  World War II
when  it became a  housing tract.

Only a mile from home  so I spent as much  time there as  I could.  Enjoyed watching
the  Piper Cubs land  and takeoff.  The Cubs had tail skis instead of tail  wheels.
Hamilton’s first air force Squadron , 424, was formed here. Equipped with Tiger Moths, then
later  Fleet airplanes with 90 horsepower Kenner radial motors.  It was  a big
day for me when a Lockheed 10 landed.  It had two motors and  I marvelled 
at how it could take off and  land  in such a short space. 

Then, for two dollars that I had saved,  I got a ride in a Taylor Cub.  I walked
on the  clouds for days after that one.   One  day  a Piper Cub J3 crashed and
the pilot was  killed.  I looked at the crash soberly but my feelings  for airplanes and
flying were not dampened.

One winter day I was  leaning against the  4 foot fence looking at a Curtiss
Reid  Rambler with its inverted cirrus motor.  The owner Ray C. came to his

“Mister, I have 75 cents  to help pay for the gas, could give a ride?”

He agreed but disappeared for a long time.  it was  a really cold day  and
my feet by this time  were freezing So I left,  downcast, not for my 75 cents
but that I had  been let down.  I had come so close to an airplane ride.
The next week end I went back to the airport and while looking at the old
Rambler, Ray C. came  along.  He spotted me.

“Hey, aren’t you the kid that gave me the 75 cents for gas?”

My heart skipper a beat.

“Come on, get in.”

I climbed nto the front seat, Ray  strapped me in.  Soon we  were taxiing to the 
active runway. Before  i knew it we were in the air in this wonderful yellow
airline with tis two  wings.  We flew up towards Hamilton’s so called  mountain where i was treated to 
steep turns, dives, and spins.   The cold day did not matter one bit.  The  wing 
arrangement was called  Sesqui-plane because of the short lower wing.  Had
struts instead of  wires.  At the time, I did not know that Ray’s airplane was a 
retired airplane from early RCAF  days.  All this came to light on looking through
my 1985, 424 Squadron history book purchased  from the squadron reunion in 
the summer of 1985.

“During these tender years I built model  airplanes and  I still do  for that matter. As a very 
young lad I was not familiar with balsa wood so I used my mothers’ kitchen knife to split
pine boards with the help of a hammer.  Mother never said  anything about the abuse
of  her knife.   I used  my imagination a lot.   I made a hanger from a wooden box
wirth my squadrons installed as I whittled.   By he tie I reached  high school my
had really progressed with my model airplane building.

“During  lunch  hours in High School, I didn’t bother with sports or running through
peoples back yards, climbing fences, etc.  Instead I went over to a small building
where Piper J3s were being covered and  later assembled at our local airport. 
I used to enjoy talking to the fellows working  there and smelling that wonderfull
dope they used.  It smelled so ‘airplane like’. (I wasn’t into glue sniffing though.)
To me  a person has not lived until that person visited a place where airplanes
were covered  with Irish linen, then painted.  The smell was like fine perfume.

“About the last year I was  in high school the National Steel Car Corporation of
Hamilton was aproached by Ottawa and asked to build an airplane factory in Malton
just outside Tronoto.  When possibleI would wangle  car  ride from Hamilton to
Malton to see if I could get a job there.  Sometimes  I travelled all that way  on
my bicycle.  And often  I hitchhiked.  Finally i was hired on August 28, 1938.


“About 100 of us were loaded in trucks and driven to Long Branch, a suburb of
Toronto.   We  were unloaded, marched and line-up.  We  were  each given a 
Ross rifle and handed 10  rounds of .303 ammo.  On order we  were  to load and
fire at will. Bullets hit rocks and whistled every which way.  It was a frightening 
experience.   I almost  dropped my rifle but pulled myself together and fired my
ten rounds.  That was  my first World War II shooting experience.

Just before posting  out on my first pay parade the paymaster counted
out my pay.   I was given $10  more than I was due which I returned and
was thanked for my honesty.  That’s the way I am. 

I was posted to Quebec City where I met my wife Louise  Voyer.  
(Louise was a girlfriend not a wife until after the war.  In between
Victor was  never short of  female companionship when on leave.
And  that is an  understatement.)   Then I was posted  to Belleville, Ontario
to Number 5 I.T. S.  Here we study airmanship, navigation, wireless, etc.

At this school decisions were made about our future  positions and placement.
I did not apply my energy fully asI should have and as a  result I was  offered
the opportunity to be a Bombardier.  Disappointing day. I would not be a 

“If I can’t be a pilot, Just make me an air  gunner then.”

“So I was posted #9 Bombing and Gunnery school at Mont Joli, Quebec where
the St. Lawrence River is 20 miles wide.  We  flew in worn out Fairey Battle’s.
Two students at a time.  Bitterly cold.  When we fired our drum fed Vickers 
gas operated machine guns we  would hold one hand on the barrel and
fired until the hand was warm, then  we switched hands.  My flying time
at St. Joli was13 hours and 45 minutes.  I graduated as a  sergeant, given  
leave  and posted overseas from Halifax, Nova  Scotia’

Note:  Victor’s time  spent in Halifax was  disappointing. The “two brands of beer
tasted  more like  dishwater” and finding females was nigh unto impossible
as”they were gun-shy due to the constant flow  of  bodies passing them.”
After a week he shipped  out on the Queen  Elizabeth Steamship with
12,000 other Canadians. “We were  jammed into staterooms, aisles, every
part of the  ship.”  No luxury.  “My bunk was on the  floor with three more on
top of me.  The fourth person slept with his nose  touching the ceiling.”
there were chocolate bars available in he canteen  but the line ups were
long.  The kitchens ran 24  hours a day.  Occasionally they sailed past
cork life rafts that were empty.  This was sobering. Like floating coffins without
the bodies. They Docked after four days 
at Grennock, Scotland then they were sent to Bournemouth for posting. 

Note:  He arrived in England May  20, 1943 and returned  to Canada on July 17,1945 during 
that time he flew 49 hours and 45 minutes  on daylight bombing runs  and  42 hours
and  35 minutes night bombing the last of  which  was May 27/28, 1944 when
HX  313 was shot down and Victor became a  Prisoner of War.  In short Victor 
spent 12 months in active service May, 1943 to May 1944. One year.

He had one amusing comment about that year in England.
“I am Always hungry.”

“On arrival in England Victor was assigned to #22 Operational  Training Unit (OTU) flying Wellington
Bombers which were twin engined aircraft “of Geodetic Construction mid-winged,
70 foot wingspan, crew  of  5, sporting a Fraser back gun turret with four .303
machine guns (Browning), also had  a front gun turret which Bombardier was
resposilble for” in event of  a frontal  attack by a night fighter … a rare occurrence.”

Victor first crew was  Bill Tighe, a recently married Englishman. Bob Irwin
(Navigator), Ken Sweatman (Bombardier), Wilf Wakely (wireless operator) and Victor Poppa
himself (tail gunner). Wilf was experienced  having flown on 6 bombing missions one of
which was the first 1,000 bomber raid on the Ruhr Valley “which we named Happy 
Valley because  of the intense Flak, Searchlighs and  night fighters.”

Wilf Wakely was the only survivor of a Handly Page bomber (Halifax?) so had
experience  with parachute and escape  hatch.  Victor enjoyed the training flights and
the  lectures.  One lecture  saved his life.  Ken Sweatman asked Victor
to come to a presentation on photo flashes.  Later, Victor failed to properly address an
officer and  was told as punishment to harmonize the guns on an aircraft being
repaired.  Bombs had been unloaded safely it seemed.  So Victor paced off a 
target point behind the bomber, set up a harmonizing board, climbed the ladder
into the bomber and began walking along the catwalk to the rear of the plane.
His arm accidentally caught on the arming wire  for the photo flash and pulled out
the pin. Time delay began  ticking. In seconds the photo flash would explode thereby
detonating the other photo flashes  and then perhaps the whole bomb  load.
The photo flash units were bombs themselves though. “At this point I had two
choices either to remove the fuse  or jump out and run hoping I would be far 
enough away to survive the  blast.” Victor knew all the ground crew would die so
he decided to try and remove the fuse.  Success.  “I descended  the ladder and
told the armorer what happened.  He blanched’ as I handed him the fuse.  If  I had not attended
that lecture with Ken I would not be here today.”

While on training flights in England Victor had ‘real fun’ doing air to air firing from
his Wellington gun turret and also “we used  camera guns against spitfires” 
Then they practised  low  flying where Victor coaxed the pilot to get lower
and  lower.  Ken Sweatman got worried  and reminded Victor that “I am  a
married  man as  is Bill” All the same they did fly low  enough to touch the
top of trees, buzz a train and fly through a quarry ‘which was a near miss’. When
they to back from one practise run the ground crew pulled  branches  from
the motors.


“Night bombing was another matter…more dangerous.   Initially we did
circuits  and bumps in the dark…i.e. takeoff and  landing.  Then cross country flights
one of  which  created panic when a fire seemed  to happen just as  the plane
was  on its final approach. “Bill said, ‘I smell fire’ Wilf fired a red  flare and we 
were cleared  to land.   Bill had not bothered lower the landing gear, flaps  were
down.  Bill did a fancy  side slip but we hit the  air cushion between the airplane 
and the runway and  started  to slide, slide, slide…15 tons of  mass takes  a fair 
amount of  runway.  We skidded onto the grass as the tail swung around.  I felt
like an anvil on a chain.  Our airplane did not burn, fortunately, I had trouble getting 
out of my turret as the hydraulic  lines locked once the motor stopped.  The 
Wellington was totalled…ruined…fuselage was  twisted and wing bent up, centre
section spar twisted, propeller ruined, bomb bay a  mess and the bottom of the
motors cylinders mashed.  We got out OK…Bob our navigator cracked a couple
of ribs.  Bill had his log book ‘endorsed” meaning his idea of a fire was  not quite

NOTE: Operational training was no piece of cake.  Victor estimated that about half
of the dozen or so  crew  members he started with died before ever getting
to fly a bombing run over Germany.   One crash must have made Victor and
his crew feel really badly as they were partly responsible.

“There were always bad crashes using those tired  old Wellingtons which
were difficult to fly on one  motor. One night in our trading at #22 OTU we were
 doing  takeoffs  and  landings and while taxiing down the runway Bill managed to get one 
wheel off the runway.  As we were trying to get our Wellington back onto the 
runway we heard over our raidio telephone another airplane talking to our tower.
He said he had one engine out.  Tower asked if he could take one more circuit as
we were stuck part way down  the runway.  the pilot said he  would give it a  try.
He  did not make it.
A few seconds later I could see a big flash of flame.  All aboard perished.”

“There was never any talk  about about all of the things happening but every day
we  could see  stretchers leaning  against the hospital  wall with dark brown  stains
from  bloodied bodies.”

NOTE: Victor was young, 22 years old, blessed with a feeling of immortality when he
first arrived  in England.  At OTU that feeling diminished.  He kept a stiff  upper 

NOTE:  English girls were great distractions for Victor and for many other airmen
who tried to live their lives to fullest for they soon knew their days living
on this earth were numbered.  So sex was an escape and a pleasure…as Victor
graphically describes. Each base provided a big box of condoms. “We  could take
as many as we wanted and did so,” said a friend of mine.

NOTE:  Some  readers may find Victor’s stories upsetting because  the sexual
detail is a bIt rough.  Sorry about that.  These sexual exploits were part and
parcel of bomber command experiences.  Some  are very humorous.  If you  find
sex disturbing stop reading  now.  NOW!

“Wellesbourne  was my first real  opportunity to meet English  girls.  These girls
were easy to get along with and very nice.  Wellesbourne sported  4 pubs.  We would
start down  from 1 to 4 and then back  to #1.  There was a lot of just regular  sex
with these girls.  With some there was a bit more than  that which  I remember with
a smile.  This one girl was  about 5’ 6” and well proportioned and would wait near a
lane for her  prey.  You could do whatever you wanted providing  you were both
standing  up.  One of her first words were ‘you are raping  me you know’ to which
the response  was ‘Uh! Huh’ and kept proceeding. She  was my first experience with
what was known as a ‘knee shaker’.  Later this same thing was done in telephone booths
when it was raining.  It was fun if  a little strange.”

“Another night I was  drinking my way  back to the base and I was well into my cups and
using my bicycle for support.  This fellow I knew had two girls with him.  He said  ‘Vic, I can’t
fuck  them both, do  you want one?’  Sure, I said,  I was given my choice.   My  friends
choice of  words did  not upset the girls.  They were both attractive and eager to get 
on with it.   I got mine down the road apiece and over the hedge.  This time missionary
fashion was great, especially  with one nice  buttock inch hand.  I finally got her  back over
the hedge, kissed her  good night … mutual kiss back.  The next morning on my way to the 
mess hall, the back of my hands were very itchy and I had to scratch them.  After reflecting
on the  problem a bit, I came to the realization that I had  deposited  my girl onto stinging
nettles.  I’ve often wondered how much scratching she had  to do  to her very nice  bottom?”

Dances for airmen were
a regular occurrence across England

“Another high light was when one night a female Cabby offered to take two of us from
our unit to Leamington Spa (about 20 miles from our base) for 10 shillings each.  We had her
drop us off at the local once hall.  I  wasn’t making  much headway until after God save the 
King was sung at the end of the evening..   While passing through the door I noticed this
reasonably shaped female on my left.  I slipped my arm under hers and said ‘Let’s go to the 
park.’  To which she  replied  ‘The park’s closed, let’s go to my place.’  We did not waste words.
Thanks to the blackout my hands were busy. She said ‘I’m glad “.’ ‘Me too1’
I stayed with her all night.  When  we were really into it she said ‘I don’t care if have a baby’…
I said ‘Me, too!’ and kept going.   She told me her name was the Honourable Olivia.  Olivia must
have  been between  35 and 40 years old.  What a body?  and  good-looking.  I was 22 years
old.  I awoke  at 6.45 a.m. and had 15 minutes to get to the base.    We were scheduled to fly
at 8 a.m.   Olivia asked if I could make it on time.   I said sure , ‘I have  7 shillings which is
more than enough for the bus.’  Olivia insisted on giving  me a 1 pound note (worth about
$4.50 Canadian)  I did not have time to argue.  From time to time I have nice thoughts 
about the Honourable Olivia.”

NOTE:  Victor’s RCAF career…would make a good movie.  I like to think that the Honourable
Olivia really wanted a baby…needed one for her biological clock was getting  past its  best 
before date.  Maybe her British  army husband had  been lost in the disastrous early months of the
African campaign…a side story.   Maybe  Victor really earned  that 1 pound note.
But that is  just speculation…fantasy.  Maybe.

(SO intense that  the  streets  caught fire)

“Our Squadron Commander deemed us ready for combat on July 24, 1943.   Our target was
Hamberg.  Mission Number One.  All of our training came to a head.
At the briefing we were told we were  one of 800 airplanes to go  on this raid…mixed bag or Wellingtons, 
Short Sterlngs, Halifaxes, Lancasters. 

 Once  airborne  we each got busy with our own task.
I loaded my four .303 Brownings and cocked each gun in the ready to fire position.  I then switched
on my reflector sight and to my chagrin I discovered the bulb for the reflector sight refused to light up
This was good cause to turn back but I voted to continue anyway and take  the  chance.  We were very 
naive at this juncture and it was almost our undoing.  However the gods were smiling upon us.
We crossed the coast at Scarborough, heading for Heligoland where we met our  first baptism
from “Flak” (anti-aircraft shells).  We  were at 20,000 feet and passed over the German Flak ships
without damage.   We then crossed the coast where the Elbe empties  into the North Sea heading 
inland to Hamberg. More Flak explosions around us.  I heard  the sharp crack from each
shell and saw the black puffs of smoke. I knew we could be hit as the flak was  very close.  The plane bounced.
We were being handed off from one flak battery to another en route to Hamberg.  Then there it
was…the city.  Well lit. Looking down I could make out the streets and see bursts from our bombs
 exploding. Some aircraft carried  250, 500, 1000, 2000 and 4,000 pounders called ‘cookies’.  Others
carried a mixed  bag…some  of the above,  Magnesium bombs (400 to a canister) and last but
not least, 35 point phosphorus bombs.  Phosphorus  was nasty…it would stick to anything  including
flesh.  There were 8 of these to a canister.  If phosphorus stuck to flesh, it began to burn and could only be put out by
sand or water.  So people hit by phosphorus had to be submerged  in  water.  And had to stay in water  
because the phosphorus  would begin to burn the moment a person left the water…burns  in an
oxygen atmosphere.  Phosphorus burning  people who jumped into water had to stay there.  After 
the  war I heard tht the German SS machine gunned their own people to put them out of their misery.”

“This raid  to Hamberg was also the first time we used a device  called ‘window’…little pieces of foil. When cut to the 
correct wave length these strips would confuse German Radar.  Instead of picking up individual aircraft, German
Radar  showed hundreds  thousands of  aircraft.   Our losses  this  night were nominal from the flak
but that did not stop the night fighters.  A Junkers 88 crept up our tail and got within 100 feet  but was
down lower…about 25 feet lower so it remained very close.  Fortunately we were flying in a 
Wellington and from his position we could  have passed for a Ju 88 which has two motors and at night 
we must have made the Ju 88 pilot curious.  Were we an enemy or a friend?  First he put on a  big amber
light then a smaller green light.  I said to Bill to start corkscrewing.  Bill’s idea of  a corkscrew was not
my idea  of a corkscrew.  The Ju 88 followed.  Then, just as we were about to start another
corkscrew, the Ju 88 put on a red light, levelled off and was about to give ua everything he had.
I Said ‘Bill, 360 port, Go!’  Bill slammed us into a 90 degree  bank to Port just as the Ju 88 opened  
up.  Missed us by a split second and  at the same time  we lost him.  Our 360 degree turn was  right over 
the target and right in the middle  of our own  Bomber stream.  Talk about Russian Roulette.
We still had our bombs aboard and Ken  then  let them all go.  Not safe yet.   We  shook off
3 more German night fighters which  Bill handled OK.”

NOTE:           Victor Poppa believed  the German pilot of the attacking  JU 88 night fighter got a bit confused  since
a the Wellington bomber and the Ju 88 looked similar as  you can see.  Victor’s crew were lucky
because  the Ju 88 delayed the attack giving the Wellington time to corkscrew and then dodge
to Port side.   Rear gunners, like Victor, often played  major role in detecting night fighters coming
from behind.  Some felt those Browning machine guns were useless.

Ju 88 German night fighter

Wellington Bomber

“Then  our intercom  went out and I couldn’t get Bill.  I flashed my flashlight up the  fuselage,
Wilf saw  my light and figured something  was amiss.   He  checked  around  and found
he had accidentally disconnected the plug.  Then our wirelesses quit working.  All faults
that could kill us.  Like I said the gods were smiling down  on us.  If  the intercom had gone
out earlier, I would not be here today.”

Note:  Victor and crew got back  to England without another crisis.  There were so many things
that could go wrong on these fights.  Even the accidental disconnection of an electric  plug
could spell disaster.   Tail gunners, many  of them, knew the Browning .303 machine guns
were not very effective so they did not have itchy trigger fingers.  Better, they thought,
was to act a spotters should an enemy  night fighter be attacking.  Alerting the pilot
a top priority.  Firing the Brownings  was a  distant second.  Bursts  of machine gun
fire  might just allow  an enemy night fighter to hone  in on an RCAF bomber.   Victor
does  not seem to have total confidence in his pilot which is never a good  sign in
a bomber crew.

“July 29,  1943, We were  sent out on a practice  bomb trip to Strensell for Ken’s benefit.
That evening  we were to go back to Hamburg for our second mission but this duty was
not carried  out because our ‘Gee’ set would not function.  We got 5 degrees east and  Bob
refused  to navigate.”

 Note:  Abortng a mission was a serious  issue.  By  1943 most crews knew their chances
of successfully completing 20 Bombing runs was slim.  Some crews seem to have looked
for excuses.  Understandable for sure but not acceptable.  An aborted mission was
always suspicious…always investigated.

“A ‘Gee’ set not functioning was  a legitimate excuse to terminate a mission.  Bob  could
navigate  without the ‘Gee’ but refused to do so.   Bob’s nose could get hard at times.”

“JULY 28, 1943, During the day we did an air test and that night were sent out on another 
cross country no doubt penance for Bob’s refusal to fly without his ‘Gee’ set/“

“July 29,  1943:  We were to got to Hamburg again.  Number 3 Mission.  We caught hell on
this  one.  It was a hot summer day.  We  had a total  of 780 aircraft going.  As before mixed 
bag of airplanes.Gradually British production of 4 engined aircraft was  starting to replace
the two  engined Wellingtons.  I’m not counting theShort Serling.  This airplane was a real
dog.  Once loaded with bombs it could not get to 25,000 feet.  Later the Sterlings were
given the  job of towing gliders exclusively.”

“Bill gave full power for take off with around 10 degrees of  flap.   when  we were over the 
trees at the end of the runway I could see the flaps creeping up on their own and we
were starting to settle down to the tree tops, at this point as we were just
skimming the treetops we started picking up more airspeed and slowly started
to climb.

“During the war density of  air was  not known as a  factor in an  airplanes’ ability to lift weight.  The hotter the air the higher 
the  airplane thinks it  is at, hence an airplane with ,say, an  ambient temperature of 115 degrees  might
not get off the ground at all.  Now, say the temperature is 70 degrees  the airplanes’ ability to life the same
weight would be alright.

 “We followed similar course as we had on  our first trip…via  Heligoland, the Elbe River to the target.  
The flak was real close.  They had our altitude right on but we were  off our Port side by 200 feet.
The Flak stayed with us  all the way to Hamburg with  continuous  explosions of  88mm shells.  Over
the target was not much  better.We were briefly caught by  searchlights but shook them off.  Ken was
getting the  bombs off and then he turned  to  get a  look as the  bombs were  released.  Lucky.  A chunk of
flak from below  sent shrapnel through the perspex (plexiglass).  It struck exactly where his head had
been a  moment earlier and continued  up through the instrument panel . Another piece went between
Wilf and Bob and  back  into space.  Shortly thereafter another  shell burst above me and one piece went
into our carburetor down into our supercharger and  we lost 500 rpm to our port Port motor and stayed
that way for the rest of the trip.

The fires were fierce on the ground.  Detial of  city blocks burning were easy to see from our 20,000 feet
altitude .  Bomb  flashes bursting  around the fires were also easy to see. The super race was  now gettng
its’ due.

“A master searchlight was coming up on our Port side. I  said to Bill to get ready to dive to port. ‘Go, Bill, Go!’
and  Bill slammed the wheel left and  pushed down.  We shot through the light.  Ken said  ‘Jeez’ then I saw a
this great big Halifax with the master searchlight and smaller searchlights exposing him to everything
that could  shoot him down.  His  bomb bays were were open as he was letting his bomb  load go.  I could
even see what kind  of load he had…all one type of  4 pound magnesiums (144 to a canister) and  it 
seemed thousands were spilling out.  This  poor fellow had to continue flying straight and level for
two minutes while his aircraft camera  took pictures of where his  load  had  landed.  Ken’s  comment…’Geez’
was Ken’s exclamation as we dove just in front of the Halifax I  just mentioned. That was real close.

Note:  I am not sure if the Halifax bomber Victor watched  was shot down or not.  Seems it was.

“Columns of smoke were higher than  our altitude of  20,000 feet. On our return to base and just as we crossed the English coast, 
looking back some 300 miles I could see Hamburg  burning.

“We were cleared to land.  As  we were crossing the runway  threshold I could see the fog following.  The poor devil 
coming in behind  us never made it and  I don’t know  where he  went as fog was right down to the deck.
When we  reached the  far end of the runway and  were now on the taxiway, there was a person trying to signal Bill
instructions.  Bill could not make him out.  So I  said ‘Bill, I’ll jump out and  get his instructions.’  This I did.  I used
to wear my parachute tight.  As  a  result when  walking I was stooped down slightly.  Lucky.  Anyway I was
starting to jog back to the man on the taxiway.  I stopped. And  noticed  the man was pointing his finger upwards.   
Turned and  looked up and here was  our port side propeller going ‘Tick…Tick…Tick’.  One more step and  I
would  have been  beheaded.  I stooped  clear, gave a thumbs up thank you and climbed
back into my turret.  I have  often wondered  why I stopped that moment…was it mental telepathy that
said  ‘Stop and  look at the man on the  ground’? His  mind must have been screaming at me.  After I plugged
into the intercom I said, ‘Bill, why didn’t you shut down the  power on the left Port Engine, when you saw what
was about to happen?”, Bill said “Vic,  I was petrified!”.

We parked the  Wellington “J” HF 541, went to the debriefing and had breakfast.   This was our third mission to Hamburg
anti tiook 6 hours and10 minutes.

On August 2, 1943 we were again selected to go to Hamburg…fourth mission. The  weather was not the greatest. In fact
was so vicious that more than  half  our squadron turned back.  However, since we lost mission #2 we  decided to see
it through.  Once we crossed the enemy coast the flak followed us all the way to Hamburg.  We plowed through numerous
cumulonimbus (word?) clouds with up and down drafts where thunder,  lightning , wing icing,  St. Elmo’s fire, cloud
cover was  about 10/10ths .  Hamburg was still burning from our previous fires.  We could see  the glow  of the fires
through the clouds.  We found a small hole in the clouds  and Ken satisfied himself that we were over Hamburg and
then he let our bombs.  We returned to base by another route avoiding  the Flak.  Once landed we were debriefed
as usual.

“Photos showed that we laid waste to nine square miles.   In addition to our four raids the American 8th air force
(USAAF)  pasted Hamburg with daylight raids.  The american effort was modest in numbers. Approximately 75
B 17 Flying  Fortress aircraft.  This was the USAAF first taste of deep  penetration raids into Germany.  The fires
in Hamburg were so intense that the asphalt on the streets flowed like lava…a fire storm so intense that the
oxygen was consumed and people suffocated in their air raid shelters. There  was  no respite.  People rebelled.
Where possible some people began  looting but that was difficult for the wind created by the fire storm was hurricane
force.  Apparently there was  terror everywhere.  From our altitude we did  not see all this  misery.  Better them
than us I suppose.

“Back  home  we  went to breakfast and with no sleep we reported to our respective flight authorities to see
if anything was on and, sure enough,  we were posted on battle  orders.  This was to be mission #5, August 3,
1943.  As tired as we were the  ground  crew got pre-flight preparation underway on our  Wellington.  Lunch
time came and went.  As usual we had the gut wrenching feelings.  The possibility of death being  foremost.
The feelings are never any different…they  tore us apart but as the acton increases a calmness descends.

“This time we are using Wellington “P” LN 448.  Dinner time arrives …the only time in the squadron that 
we ever received  bacon  and eggs.  Sort of last meal kind of  feeling.  Like  the hangman is ready  to
trip the trap. Then comes briefing time and  we  then find out where we are to go.  A one  aircraft mission.
Unusual.  We  are expected to fly into the Bay of  Biscay targeting the harbour of  St. Nazere on the west
coast of France where  the Germans have  submarine pens and other types  of shipping.

“Five aircraft from other squadrons  are to go elsewhere into ‘Festung Europe’ so that is all the enemy had to
contend with tonight.  Our orders were to cross  the French coast at approximately 13,000 feet and gradually
drop altitude until we were in a  position to make our run.  Our attack altitude must not be no greater  than
100 feet.  We had to make a visual sighting of  a particular island and from this visual start a timed run towards
the harbour and  after an exact number of seconds drop our two 1500 pound  mines.  All of  this precaution was 
necessary as the mines were a very secret kind and our side did not wish the Germans to know their intended use.
  So far everything was going fine, however, we were in fog at 100 feet.  Hopefully Bill was
reading  the altimeter for our briefing had stressed forcefully that we ‘must’ make  our attack at exactly 100 feet.
Bob was getting excellent ‘Gee’ flashes and said 

‘Vic,  stand  up in your turret and  look down, we are just about over the
island…we must have a visual of the island, if not, then we  have to take our mines  home!’

‘Coming, coming, Now!’

“No visual for me.  Because of the fog, I could not see the  island.  Instead I got a burst of shells
from  a  20  mm Quad.   The quad gunner missed my face by 20 or 30 feet.  Close…Real close.
So close  that it was easy to see the caliber and there were enough tracer shells to see how
close his aim was to our airplane’s centre line.  The German had our airplane  right on.  Had he
pulled the trigger a split second sooner he would’ve parted our Wellington into two  distinct parts
right at the centre line.  The gunner probably picked up our red exhaust stacks and the noise
from  our motors.   He likely even had time to set his guns vertical and  just wait for us to pass over.  
It was that easy for him.  The gods again smiled on us. We  did not get our visual therefore
our mines were not dropped.  No point in doing a second run because  the  fog was very thick.
And, had we tried, we would have been hit by  that gunner and  20 mm Quad. We crossed  the
French  coast  in a climb and then  back across the English Channel to our base.  The armourers
then were obliged remove the mines.  This  mission lasted 6 ours and 20 minutes.
“August 5, 1943.  We are to go out again so  we went through our usual routine.  At briefing
we  were to go to the Ruhr Valley.  I do not remember the intended  target by name.  It was  a
bayonet factory which employed 50 people.  The buildings  all around the factory were hospitals
where thousands  of  injured from Hamburg were taken and others from  previous  air raids.
It was  in fact a hospital town.  We  were sending 600 bombers to get the bayonet factory and  its 50 employees
and in the process  wipe out the whole town. “After the briefing our C.O.  said it was  quote, ‘O.K.’
if we emptied the hospitals.  I  felt real squishy in the  stomach.  Not the usual nervousness preceding
a mission.  I did not like  the idea of  hitting  hospitals.   Our aircraft was bombed  up anyway and
just as we were taxiing for take  off a red flare  was fired.  The mission was scratched and  I think
everyone  was relieved.  Getting Krauts one way was fine with me but not by deliberately hitting hospitals.

“Sir Arthur  Harris was chief of Bomber Command and  fondly called  ‘Butcher Harris’ by Bomber
command aircrews.  This mission to the Ruhr could  technically  have called  a  war crime.

Note:  Much  has been written  about Sir Arthur Harris and  the carpet bombing  of German 
cities.  He was  never dissuaded by critics.   Did Harris know about the huge number of
German civilians were killed in his thousand  bomber raids?  He seems to have known.  One day
he was stopped for speeding in England.  The police officer asked  ‘Do you  want to kill
somebody?  To which Harris  responded ‘That’s my job to kill people.’  After the war, when
the massive devastation of German cities was seen by Allied  troops there were second
thoughts  about the actions of  Bomber Command.  This  ‘after the  fact’ criticism hurt the
feelings  of  Allied Bomber Command aircrews.

“August 6, 1943,   During the day we flew  Wellington “W” HE82 for an air test  then in the
evening we were ordered go up on our third command  Bullseye and cross country flight
which  was a test of British  air defences…searchlights and  night  fighters. We  were coned
by shearchlights and  supposedly shot down by a  Bristol Beaufighter (2 motor kind).  It’s a good
thing all was fun and games. This flight took  4hours  and 45 minutes.

August 13,  1943:Our squadron (427) was moved from Eastmoor to Leeming, a peace time
air field in Yorkshire with permanent buildings.  The really big news today is that our  crew
is going to switch from 2 motored Wellingtons to 4 engined  Halifax’s

(The  thought that ran  through every airman’s mind)

The odds were against survival.  Young airmen came to that conclusion early in the career.  No doubt many 
joined  the RCAF because it sounded  exciting.  To fly.  Each person on an aircrew was expected to complete
a tour of 30 flights  over enemy territory.  Only 16% managed to reach this goal.  Some of these airmen
even continued  to fly, i.e. more than 30 flights,  in spite of the long odds against them. 
 Most, like  my cousin George Freeman,
looked forward to completing 30 and retiring from active  bombing.  George Freeman even volunteered  and
joined extra  crews  to get the 30 missions completed  as  he planned  to marry if  he survived.  He did not
make it as HX 313 was shot down May 27/28 1944 and  he was likely  killed  in his upper  turret bubble.

In the big picture there were 120,000 members of  the Allied  Bomber Command of
which  55,573 died.   Of these deaths,  9,919 were Canadians, a death rate that 
was  very high for a country with a small population like Canada.

  Statistically that meant that a  member of RACAF  Bomber
Command in a Halifax bomber only had a 17.3% chance of  survival.*

Perhaps  the darkest way to explain what happened to these young  men is to consider it this way.
For every 100 men in Bomber Command 45 were killed, 6 were badly hurt, 8 became Prisoners of War and
41 returned to Canada with no visible scars.  That does not include the mental  scars which for many
were deep  and long lasting.  And that is perhaps  why few  airmen wanted to talk about their experiences.



March Map
March 1

Nothing in Shakespeare could match the impact of the short speech delivered in the middle of the second act of “You Can’t Take It With You” at the South Compound Theater on the night of January 27, 1945. Making an unscripted entrance, Col. Charles G. Goodrich, the senior American officer, strode center stage and announced, “The Goons have just given us 30 minutes to be at the front gate! Get your stuff together and line up!”

At his 4:30 staff meeting in Berlin that very afternoon, Adolf Hitler had issued the order to evacuate Stalag Luft III. He was fearful that the 11,000 Allied airmen in the camp would be liberated by the Russians. Hitler wanted to keep them as hostages. A spearhead of Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev’s Southern Army had already pierced to within 20 kilometers of the camp.

In the barracks following Colonel Goodrich’s dramatic announcement, there was a frenzy of preparation — of improvised packsacks being loaded with essentials, distribution of stashed food, and of putting on layers of clothing against the Silesian winter.

As the men lined up outside their blocks, snow covered the ground six inches deep and was still falling. Guards with sentinel dogs herded them through the main gate. Outside the wire, Kriegies waited and were counted, and waited again for two hours as the icy winds penetrated their multilayered clothes and froze stiff the shoes on their feet. Finally, the South Camp moved out about midnight.

Out front, the 2,000 men of the South Camp were pushed to their limits and beyond, to clear the road for the 8,000 behind them. Hour after hour, they plodded through the blackness of night, a blizzard swirling around them, winds driving near-zero temperatures.

At 2:00 a.m. on January 29, they stumbled into Muskau and found shelter on the floor of a tile factory. They stayed there for 30 hours before making the 15.5-mile march to Spremberg, where they were jammed into boxcars recently used for livestock. With 50 to 60 men in a car designed to hold 40, the only way one could sit was in a line with others, toboggan-fashion, or else half stood while the other half sat. It was a 3-day ordeal, locked in a moving cell becoming increasingly fetid with the stench of vomit and excrement. The only ventilation in the cars came from two small windows near the ceiling on opposite ends of the cars. The train lumbered through a frozen countryside and bombed-out cities.

Along the way, Colonel Goodrich passed the word authorizing escape attempts. In all, some 32 men felt in good enough condition to make the try. In 36 hours, all had been recaptured.

The boxcar doors were finally opened at Moosburg and the Kriegies from the South and Center Compounds were marched into Stalag VIIA.


Stalag VIIA was a disaster. It was a nest of small compounds separated by barbed wire fences enclosing old, dilapidated barracks crammed closely together. Reportedly, the camp had been built to hold 14,000 French prisoners. In the end, 130,000 POWs of all nationalities and ranks were confined in the area. In some compounds the barracks were empty shells with dirt floors. In others, barracks consisted of two wooden buildings abutting a masonry washroom with a few cold-water faucets. Wooden bunks were joined together into blocks of 12, a method of cramming 500 men into a building originally intended for an uncomfortable 200. All buildings were hopelessly infested with vermin. As spring came to Bavaria, some of the more enterprising Kriegies moved out of the barracks into tents that had been erected to accommodate the stream of newcomers still coming in from other evacuated stalags. Some men chose to sleep on the ground, setting up quarters in air raid slit trenches. The camp resembled a giant hobo village.