Toronto Maple Leafs: War Veteran Conn Smythe

One week from today is Remembrance Day. A day in which we remember all those who selflessly fought and continue to fight for our freedoms. Many of those who leave home to fight never return. Those who do return are changed forever. Here is a look at war veteran and former Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe.

The Great War: WW1

Smythe is known for having served in both The Great War and World War 2. In 1915 he joined the 2nd (Ottawa) Battery, 8th Brigade. On July 17th Smythe secured the rank of Lieutenant. That August he headed to the Royal School of Artillery in Kingston, Ontario for five weeks of training. On September 11th he made full Lieutenant and was able to transfer to the 40th (Sportsmen’s) Battery of Hamilton.

In February 1916 the 40th Battery was sent overseas to Ypres Salient in Belgium. Smythe was made temporary Commander of the Battery after shelling found their position and killed Major Southam and Sergeant-Major Norm Harvie. The Battery would go on to fight in the trenches of Somme, France for two months before being relieved.

Shrapnel bursts over a reserve trench in Canadian lines during the Battle of the Somme, France in 1916. one of the bloodiest battles in history which claimed 1,250,000 casualties.

Smythe earned a Military Cross in February 1917. During an attack with the Germans, the Germans counter-attacked with grenades. Smythe ran into the fight and killed three Germans. He also helped several wounded Canadian soldiers back to safety. Smythe would go on to be awarded another Military Cross on March 5, 1917 for dispersing an enemy party at a critical time.

Military Cross

In July of 1917, Smythe transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. One of his instructors was Bill Barker who later became the first president of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Smythe served as an airborne observer and was responsible for directing artillery fire. Smythe’s plane was shot down on October 14th, 1917 and he was captured and imprisoned by the Germans. Smythe was a Prisoner Of War (POW) for fourteen months until the end of the war.

Conn Smythe

World War 2

At the age of 45, Smythe would again serve his country during war. He started as a Captain in charge of a group of troops within the Canadian Officers Training Corps.  In 1941, Smythe formed the 30th Battery along with Colonel Richard Greer. It was a sportsmen’s anti-aircraft battery that was part of the 7th Toronto Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery (RCA).

As both a Major and Commanding Officer, Smythe and the 30th Battery first served in Vancouver to defend against the Japanese. In September of 1942 the Battery was sent to England. They were stationed in England for nearly two years before being sent to France in July 1944. After being in France for nearly three weeks, Smythe was severely wounded when the Germans bombed an ammunition depot.

That September he was sent back to Canada on a hospital ship. Smythe would spend the rest of his life with a limp and suffering from both bowel and urinary tract problems. While in hospital, Smythe dictated a statement to the Globe and Mail newspaper regarding poorly trained reinforcement soldiers. The newspaper would post the statement on its front page on September 19th 1944.

Statement:

” The need for trained reinforcement in the Canadian Army is urgent. During my time in France and in the hospitals of France and England, I was able to discuss the reinforcement situation with officers of units representing every section of Canada. I talked to officers from far Eastern Canada, French Canada, Ontario and all the Western Provinces. They agreed that the reinforcements received now are green, inexperienced and poorly trained. Besides this general statement, specific charges are that many have never thrown a grenade.

Practically all have little or no knowledge of the Bren gun and finally, most of them have never seen a Piat anti-tank gun, let alone fired one. These officers are unanimous in stating that large numbers of unnecessary casualties result from this greenness, both to the rookies and to the other soldiers, who have the added task of trying to look after the newcomers as well as themselves.

I give these true facts of the reinforcement situation in the hope that:

  1. Col Ralston, if he has other information, will know that his facts are out of date or that he has been misinformed;
  2. The taxpayer will insist that no more money be spent on well-trained soldiers in this country except to send them to the battle fronts;
  3. The people who voted these men should be used overseas when needed should insist on the Government carrying out the will of the people; and
  4. The relatives of the lads in the fighting zones should ensure no further casualties are caused to their own flesh and blood by the failure to send overseas reinforcements now available in large numbers in Canada. ”
    – Conn Smythe
Conn Smythe (far left)
Enlisting for World War 2

Summary

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the men and women who honour their country and put themselves in harms way to keep us safe. I hope everyone will remember to take a moment on November 11th to thank all our military personnel. Thank You

Be sure to follow me @Jermz13 and @Hockey_OTH on Twitter

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