BICKELL firstname.lastname@example.org_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2007-11-10 published
Doctor won Military Cross for bravery in a raging tank battle in North Africa
Trained in Toronto, he was seconded to the British Army to become a battalion medical officer at Tobruk, writes Sandra MARTIN. He was captured and spent the rest of the war treating PoWs
By Sandra MARTIN, Page S12
Shy, smart and athletic, Allen GRAHAM graduated from medical school a few months before Canada entered the Second World War. Less than two years later he had exchanged his intern's whites for a khaki uniform. As a member of the medical corps, Lieutenant GRAHAM was not supposed to be directly involved in fighting the enemy. Instead, he was expected to provide medical services when soldiers fell ill, and to care for the wounded. Instead, he was decorated for bravery in North Africa, captured by the Germans and spent most of the war behind enemy lines treating the sick and dying in prisoner of war Camps.
Allen Frederic GRAHAM was born in the middle of the First World War, the third of four children of Doctor Joseph and Eleanor (née BOYD) GRAHAM. On his mother's side he was the grand_son of Sir John Alexander BOYD, a very prominent lawyer and judge in the late 19th century. After Allen's father died when he was 11, the bereaved boy's godfather, J.P. BICKELL, the millionaire mining executive and part-owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, provided the funds to send him to St. Andrew's College in 1927.
In his six years at the boarding school for boys located in Aurora, Ontario, Allen excelled both academically and athletically. He played cricket and was on both the first rugby and hockey teams and was the boxing champion in June, 1932, according to the school's records. He was also a prefect and won the Old Boy's Medal in math when he graduated in 1933.
After St. Andrew's, he went to the University of Toronto, graduating in medicine in 1939. He had served in the General Reserve of Officers Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (R.F.) while he was at university, and was an intern at the Toronto General Hospital when the Second World War broke out. On July 1, 1941, he enlisted as a lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps. He was quickly seconded to the Royal Army Medical Corps and shipped to England for training and then to Cairo. The British got a bonus in Lt. GRAHAM, according to his family, because he introduced his cricket-playing colleagues to the North American game of baseball.
He probably first saw action with British Forces at Tobruk, the heavily fortified and strategically located fortress in Libya that was hotly contested by Axis and Allied powers. But it was his courageous actions at the Gulf of Sidra, a body of water on the northern coast of Libya, that earned him promotion to the rank of captain and the Military Cross "in recognition of gallant and distinguished service in the Middle East."
The citation, which was published in the Canada Gazette on November 5, 1942, stated: "During the attack on El Sidra on 5 June 1942, this officer [Capt. Allen Frederic GRAHAM] was the battalion medical officer. He followed closely behind the attacking tanks, but realizing that a smokescreen put down by the enemy obscured his view, he brought his un-armoured vehicle to the forefront of the tank battle. There, in his truck or on foot, despite the battle raging around him, and the intense artillery and machine-gun fire of the enemy, he calmly proceeded from one damaged tank to another, evacuating the casualties and rendering first aid. He showed complete disregard for his own personal safety in the execution of his duty and his bravery was responsible for saving many lives."
Capt. GRAHAM was captured during the offensive led by The Desert Fox, German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, and his Afrika Korps Panzer tanks on Tobruk in May and June of 1942. (Tobruk remained under Axis control until the Allies re-took it after the Second Battle of El Alamein in November, 1942). After his capture, he continued working as a doctor, but tended to Allied prisoners of war from all over the world.
He was sent first to Italy "in such a dilapidated aircraft that he doubted they would reach their destination," according to an account written by W.G. Cosbie in his book, The Toronto General Hospital 1819-1965: A Chronicle, and then to Lamsdorf in Poland, the notorious Stalag VIII-B (later renumbered Stalag-344) that had been the site of PoW camps since the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. It was there that the Germans had incarcerated Polish PoWs after invading Poland in 1939. Approximately 100,000 Allied PoWs eventually spent time in this over-crowded camp.
After having been incarcerated in Lamsdorf for nine months, Captain GRAHAM was moved to Stalag Luft III, a primary PoW camp for Allied officers in Sagan, about 170 kilometres southeast of Berlin. This camp was famous for the number of times PoWs attempted to flee their captors, including the major break from the British compound on March 24, 1944 that was the basis for the book and the movie entitled The Great Escape. Of the almost 80 prisoners who crawled out of camp through a tunnel 102 metres feet in length, dug nine metres below ground level, only three made it to neutral territory. The rest were recaptured, and 50 of them were executed.
Capt. GRAHAM's main job, according to an interview that he gave to The Globe and Mail on his return to Canada in June, 1945, was taking care of prisoners "who were unable to march." As the balance of power shifted after the D-Day invasion of Normandy in June, 1944, and Allied forces moved eastward through France and westward from Russia hoping to join up west of Berlin, the Germans began evacuating some of their PoW camps by forcing their prisoners on "death marches," or by cramming them into box cars on railway lines. Capt. GRAHAM's patients were the PoWs who were too weak or sickly to be transported.
Like many veterans, Capt. GRAHAM didn't like to discuss the horrors he had seen and experienced, but he did tell his daughters how frustrating it had been to try to treat PoWs when he had virtually no medical supplies. He was always performing triage and making horrific decisions about who was likely to die and who might survive with a dose of his paltry drugs. When the first Red Cross parcels, containing the miracle drug penicillin, arrived late in the war, he was jubilant.
The Russians liberated Capt. GRAHAM's camp in March, 1945, and he finally began his long trek home. He told his family later that the Russians separated the officers from the enlisted ranks and fed them a meal of pigs' feet slathered with sour cream, washed down with vodka. It was far too rich for men accustomed to nothing more nutritious than black bread and water. Capt. GRAHAM was so nauseated that he went outside to be sick and fell head first into an open grave.
Many of the troops and the other PoWs began looting German houses, but all that Capt. GRAHAM wanted was a knife and a fork and a napkin ring - symbols of the civilized life he had left behind three years earlier. The GRAHAMs still have that "liberated" napkin ring, dated 1576.
Along with other Canadian PoWs, representing 48 different ranks, he travelled with Russian troops by box car, bicycle and on foot through war-devastated Poland and Ukraine. The Canadian PoWs embarked by ship from Odessa on the Black Sea. Capt. GRAHAM arrived at Union Station in Toronto on June 12, 1945, where he was greeted by his widowed mother and by a reporter and a photographer from The Globe and Mail.
Two months later, on Victory over Japan day in mid-August, 1945, he met Helen HAWKER at a celebratory party at his mother's big house on St. Clair Avenue in Toronto. Ms. HAWKER, who had arrived with another man, noticed tall, skinny Capt. GRAHAM sitting alone on a sofa under the stairs. Wondering who he was, she asked her friend, James GRAHAM, the veteran's name. "Oh, that's my brother, Allen," he replied, according to a well-told family story. "He's just back from the war. Don't pay any attention to him. He's boring." Ignoring this caution, Ms. HAWKER introduced herself and spent the rest of the evening by Capt. GRAHAM's side - while her date finally went home alone.
Five months later, they eloped to New York, where they were married on January 28, 1946. This past January they celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary. Together, they raised two daughters, Shari Graham FELL and Annabel GRAHAM.
After Capt. GRAHAM was demobilized, he returned to his medical studies, qualified as a specialist in internal medicine and became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (Canada) in the late 1940s. Doctor GRAHAM had privileges at Toronto General Hospital for many years, and saw patients at his offices in the Medical Arts Building at St. George and Bloor Streets in midtown Toronto for more than 50 years.
The GRAHAMs summered at Goodcheer Island in Georgian Bay and spent winters and weekends at "Hawksprings," their home in the Hockley Valley. Doctor GRAHAM finally retired when he was 80. After a long, healthy life, he fell ill last month with interstitial pneumonitis, a disease that is not usually responsive to antibiotics and causes a progressive shortness of breath.
Allen Frederic GRAHAM, M. C, was born in Toronto on October 2, 1915. He died in Toronto General Hospital on Wed., October 24, 2007. He was 92. Predeceased by his three siblings, he is survived by his wife Helen, his daughters Shari and Annabel, four grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and his extended family.
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BICKERSTAFF email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2007-06-25 published
Passed away at Saint_Joseph's Health Centre on Friday, June 22, 2007 at the age of 92. Beloved husband of the late Alma (nee SORENSON,) for over 63 years. Loving father of Harry and his wife Jo-ann, and Bill. Proud grandfather of Darren, Jennifer (Laird HAUGH,) Matthew, Morgan, Robert and great-grandfather of Harrison. Alf will be sadly missed by his brother Bob (Marg), and sister-in-law Doris. Brother of the late Ken and Winnifred. He will be sadly missed by Pamela BICKERSTAFF, and by his extended family and Friends. Alfie had a distinguished career in the fastener industry, culminating with an induction into the industry's Hall of Fame. Born in Toronto in 1915, veteran of World War 2, lived and retired in Etobicoke, he was most at home at the cottage he built in 1964 in Parry Sound. Alfie always enjoyed a good manhattan and had no complaints. A heart-felt thank you to the kind staff of the Dialysis Unit at Saint_Joseph's Health Centre. Friends may call at the Turner and Porter Butler Chapel, 4933 Dundas Street West (between Islington and Kipling Aves.), on Thursday from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. Funeral Service to be held in the Chapel on Friday, June 29, 2007 at 1 p.m. Interment Glendale Memorial Gardens. If desired, memorial donations may be made to Saint_Joseph's Health Centre Foundation, or to the Kidney Foundation.
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