Bill Hillman's Monthly Military Tribute
2016.04 Edition
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RCAF Flyers wrote Olympic history
Ref: Library and Archives Canada

It was February 1948, only three years after the end of World War II.
It seemed as though nearly anything was possible
in the calm after the storm that ravaged the world for the last six years.
The Olympic winter games were being held in St.Moritz, Switzerland,
and a band friends that had connection to the Royal Canadian Air Force,
got together, formed a hockey team and went on to win the gold medal!
This band of misfits went on to other things after their historic upset,
but the legacy they left behind was that a group of friends wearing a tattered maple leaf can win a gold medal.
The RCAF Flyers: Olympic and World Champions 1948. Rear row (left to right): George McFaul (trainer), Andy Laperrière, Frank Dunster, Louis LeCompte, Reg Schroeter, Hubert Brooks, Andy Gilpin, Wally Halder, George Mara, Irving Taylor, Wing Commander Sandy Watson (manager) and Frank Boucher (coach); front row (left to right): Murray Dowey, Ted Hibberd, Orville Gravelle, Ab Renaud, Roy Forbes, Pete Leichnitz, Patsy Guzzo and Ross King. PHOTO: DND
The RCAF Flyers hockey team participating in the Opening ceremonies of the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, 30 January 1948. Team mates Reg Schroeder (left) and Ab Renaud hoist figure skater Barbara Ann Scott on their shoulders after her historic Gold Medal win in St. Moritz, Switzerland. She is enjoying a piece of chocolate – a rare treat in post-war Europe. PHOTO: DND
The RCAF Flyers hockey team in action against Sweden's national men's hockey team at the 1948 Winter Olympic Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland, 30 January 1948. The RCAF Flyers hockey team on the players' bench during a game against the Swiss national men's hockey team at the 1948 Winter Olympic Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland, 8 February 1948.
The RCAF Flyers celebrate their Gold Medal win over Switzerland on the outdoor rink at St. Moritz in 1948. Rear row (left to right): André LaPerrière, Hubert Brooks, Andy Gilpin, Ted Hibberd, A. Sydney Dawes, head of the Canadian Olympics Association, Pete Leichnitz, Irving Taylor, Wally Halder, George Mara, Murray Dowey, George McFaul, Frank Boucher, Sandy Watson, and George Dudley, head of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. Kneeling in front (left to right): Roy Forbes, Orville Gravelle, Reg Schroeter, Ab Renaud, Patsy Guzzo, Louis Lecompte and Frank Dunster. PHOTO: DND The RCAF Flyers representing Canada, winners of the ice hockey gold medal, with the Czech national team (silver medallists) and the Swiss national team (bronze medallists) on the winners podium at the 1948 Winter Olympic Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland, 8 February 1948.
Dr. A.G. "Sandy" Watson, manager of the RCAF Flyers hockey team, receiving the World Hockey Championship trophy, at a game against the Czech national team in Prague, 17 February 1948. Telegram of Canadian Prime Minister W.L. Mackenzie King congratulating the RCAF Flyers on winning the ice hockey gold medal at the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, 9 February 1948.
The Olympic Champions, RCAF Flyers, received a tremendous ovation onThursday, April 8, 1948, at the Sergeant's Mess located in Ottawa's Beaver Barracks. Front row (left to right): Reg Schroeter, Orval Gravelle, Roy Forbes, Patsy Guzzo and Ted Hibbert. Standing (left to right): Warrant Officer Class 2 W.H. Fader, vice-president of the mess. Murray Dowey, Pete Lietchnitz, Hubert Brooks, Frank Dunster, Ab Renaud, George Mara, Louis LeCompte, Ross King, Sandy Watson, George "Buck" Boucher, Frank Boucher, Corporal George McFaul and Warrant Officer Class 2 Colin Campbell. Absent from the photo are André Laperrière and Wally Halder. PHOTO: DND Parade in Ottawa in honour of the RCAF Flyers, ice hockey gold medal winners at the 1948 Winter Olympic Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland, 7 April 1948.
RCAF Flyers wrote Olympic history
~  February 7, 2014 ~ by Vic Johnson
The Air Force won gold in February 1948 when the RCAF Flyers hockey team triumphed at the Olympic Winter Games held in St. Moritz, Switzerland. They had not been expected to win anything and in fact were a bit of an embarrassment to some.

After all, they were current and ex-Air Force members, along with some Army colleagues, who just happened to play hockey in their spare time! But the Flyers surprised everyone and proved that the old Air Force adage of “max flex” means you can do just about anything in the line of duty.

The 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, begin today. But let’s take a moment to turn the clock back to 1948.

By 2008, 60  years after their spectacular Gold Medal win at the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, the surviving members of the Royal Canadian Air Force Flyers hockey team had faded into obscurity for most people.

Following their stunning victory in post-war Europe on February 8, 1948, the underdog team was disbanded– the players returning to their previous duties – and oblivion.

Although they were inducted into the Canadian Armed Forces Sports Hall of Fame in 1971, as the years passed, they were forgotten by nearly all Canadians.

Except for the military hall of fame, ”the Flyers were never made part of any Canadian Halls of Fame for sports, hockey or the Olympics, nor were any of the players, said Ottawa author Pat MacAdam, author of a 2007 book on the 1948 games entitled Gold Medal ‘Misfits’.

That’s in contrast to Canada’s sweetheart figure skater, Barbara Ann Scott, who also took Gold at the same games, then went on to great fame as a skating superstar. The Barbara Ann Scott doll became a must-have for any young girl in the early 1950s.

The genesis of the RCAF Olympic team was a bold initiative by Squadron Leader A. Gardner “Sandy” Watson, a senior medical officer at RCAF Headquarters in Ottawa and a hockey fanatic. Upon learning that Canada could not field an “amateur enough” team to meet the new stringent guidelines for the 1948 games, persuaded his superiors that the RCAF could do it – but on a shoestring budget. He caught the attention of chief of the air staff, Air Marshal Wilf Curtis and the rest, as they say, is history.

From a lacklustre start, and a string of losses in exhibition home games, this ragtag assortment of “misfits” gathered from bases across Canada was panned by all the major media. The Ottawa Citizen editorialized: “The decision to retain as Canada’s Olympic entry a weak RCAF team which is tied for last place in the Ottawa Senior League will be greeted with dismay from across Canada.”

The final team was still being drafted hours before their departure from New York aboard the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth. But once in Switzerland they would soon jell into a dynamic force to be reckoned with.

Here’s how the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame describes their feat on their website: “At only the fifth Olympic Winter Games ever, the Flyers reeled off six straight victories before registering a scoreless tie with heavily-favoured Czechoslovakia. In their final game against the host Swiss team, a win by two or more goals ensured the team a gold medal. In a hostile environment, the Flyers rode 22-year-old goaltender Murray Dowey to a 3-0 shutout win. Dowey . . . finished the tournament with five shutouts in eight games.”

During their overseas tour, which included a series of exhibition games seen by some 250,000 people, the team racked up a record of 31 wins, five losses and six ties.

A famous photograph of a joyous Barbara Ann Scott being hoisted on the shoulders of team mates Ab Renaud and Reg Schroeter became the iconic image of the 1948 Games.

The Flyers returned to a heroes’ welcome on April 6, 1948, and were met at Ottawa’s Union Station by a delegation of VIPs that included Governor-General Viscount Alexander. They were then escorted in a motor cavalcade of Buick convertibles through the streets of the city to a welcoming luncheon at the old RCAF Beaver Barracks, and they attended a series of receptions over the next week.

Now fast forward exactly 60 years to the day of their winning Olympics game. On Friday, February 8, 2008 an assemblage of some 200 “friends of the Flyers” gathered at the hall of Ottawa’s St. Anthony’s Soccer Club to honour two of the eight surviving Flyers at a noon luncheon.

Ab Renaud of Ottawa and André LaPerrière of Montreal were there to accept replica gold medals from the president of Hockey Canada. Following the presentation, Michael Chambers, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee announced that the team would finally be inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame in Calgary on April 12, 2008.

The two Flyers team mates were then presented with replica team jerseys by Dean Black, executive director of the Air Force Association of Canada, on behalf of the association, to wear while dropping the puck for the next evening’s NHL hockey game between the Ottawa Senators and the Montreal Canadiens.

It was a fitting outcome to 60 years of public indifference, and a great tribute to an amazing group of amateurs who took on the world – and won.

With files from the official Canadian Olympic Team website. Master Warrant Officer (retired) Vic Johnson was a Canadian Armed Forces photographer and is former editor of Airforce magazine.

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Previous 2016 Issues:
Vets Home for Xmas Plus The Japan Homefront
Photo Story: WWII Remembered
Canadian Women in WWII
RCAF Flyers wrote Olympic history

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