Monthly Archives: January 2021

Gilmours’ Getaway?

Since writing last week about the Gilmour brothers, I’ve been spending some of my lockdown time trying to find the story of how Billy Gilmour and his daughter escaped from Nazi-occupied France. If their account actually appears somewhere in print, perhaps it was told in an Ottawa or Montreal newspaper that isn’t available online. But, I have been able to piece together from other sources quite a bit of what might have happened.

According to stories in Ottawa papers in the 1930s, Billy Gilmour did own a house in Paris. His daughter, Gerna Gilmour, was trained there to play piano by Yves Nat, a French pianist and composer. But Billy and Gerna also spent time in the south of France, in Bayonne and Saint-Jean-de-Luz, on the Bay of Biscay, between Bordeaux and the border with Spain.

From the Ottawa Journal on March 14, 1959 — the day after Billy Gilmour died.

In a story about Gerna returning to Canada after the War to live in Montreal that appeared in the Gazette on September 14, 1946, it’s noted that she (and perhaps her father?) had escaped from Bayonne after the Petain armistice. This was the “peace treaty” negotiated with Hitler in June of 1940 by the collaborating Vichy regime in France under World War I hero Marshall Philippe Petain. It was signed on June 22 and went into effect on June 25.

Throughout that month, Britain was actively doing what it could to evacuate troops and civilians, most notably from Dunkirk in the early days of June, but all across the country. Evacuations of British and Polish troops, as well as other foreign civilians, from around Bayonne began on June 19. This was part of Operation Ariel, sometimes called Aerial. (The evacuation of Dunkirk was known as Operation Dynamo. Operation Cycle was the evacuation from Le Havre.)

Many of those fleeing Bayonne went first to Saint-Jean-de-Luz, where the evacuation concluded at 2 pm on June 25, just after the deadline set by the Germans in the terms of the armistice. Two Canadian warships, the HMCS Fraser and the HMCS Restigouche, took part in the rescue, but later that night, the Fraser was accidentally rammed by a British ship, the Calcutta. Neither had lights or radar, but they were moving at closing speed of 34 knots per hour. The Calcutta tried to swing starboard to avoid a collision. The Fraser went to port, reversing its engines but to no avail. The two ships struck. The Fraser was cut in half and began to sink.

Photo from the Montreal Gazette on September 14, 1946.
The article is from the Gazette on January 6, 1942.

There were 115 crew members rescued by the Restigouche and other ships that night, but 45 men were lost.

It’s unclear if there were civilians on the Fraser, but there were probably some. Newspaper accounts from the time mention the losses to the crew, and the names of those rescued, but there likely hadn’t been time to compile any lists of civilians on board. Even so, Georges Vanier, Canada’s minister to France (and later the first French-Canadian to serve as Govenor-General of Canada) was there.

Frank Millan was an able seaman aboard the Fraser and he told his story in the Victoria Times Colonist on May 5, 1985.

“We were somewhere off Bordeaux,” he remembered. “We’d been down to the fishing port of Saint-Jean-de-Luz to pick up Georges Vanier…. The Germans were on their way in when we took off.”

It was shortly after 10 p.m. when the Fraser was rammed by the Calcutta.

George Garman was an ordinary seaman aboard the HMCS St. Laurent who had friends on the Fraser and the Restigouche. He told the story to the Salmon Arm (British Columbia) Observer on November 5, 1997. Garman says the British Admiral of the Fleet ordered the captain of the Restigouche to “disregard survivors and carry on with her duties.” Despite the threat of a court martial, the captain refused. According to Garman, he said “this is a Canadian ship and there are Canadian sailors in the water and I am picking them up.”

Article from the Guardian (London, England) on June 29, 1940.
There are pictures of the Fraser available from several sources.

A story in the Red Deer (Alberta) Advocate on June 18, 1965, says the Restigouche threw wartime discretion aside and played lights on the water, searching for missing men. “They rescued everyone alive,” said retired Rear-Admiral Wallace B. Creery, the skipper of the Fraser that night.

In the Red Deer account, Georges Vanier is mentioned as being one of 15 diplomats found, along with British Ambassador Sir Ronald Hugh Campbell, “wallowing in a sardine shack in heavy rain off the Bordeaux coast.” He was taken by the Fraser to the British cruiser Galatea. Most of the refugees onboard the Fraser were transported to another ship. It’s noted that Mme. Vanier was also in France and that she was among the refugees who poured into Saint-Jean-de-Luz, but that she got back to England aboard “a slow tramp steamer.”

Was there any chance that Billy and Gerna Gilmour were on the Fraser or the Restigouche? Had they been in Paris when Georges Vanier and his Canadian diplomatic party fled the French capital for the south of France a few days before the Germans occupied the city on June 14?

Even if they were with that Canadian civilian delegation, the chances are greater that the Gilmours left from Saint-Jean-de-Luz in a manner more similar to Mme Vanier than to her husband. Still, it’s possible that they were transported from the Fraser to the Galatea. At this point, I don’t know. But if they were anywhere in the Bay of Biscay that night, as they very well might have been, it would have every bit the “harrowing” experience that the stories I’d found before about Billy Gilmour and his daughter’s escape had told of.

Three of a Kind with the Silver Seven

The new NHL season gets started tonight. COVID concerns have already begun to play havoc with a few rosters, so we’ll see how it goes. I’m sure, as in other sports, there will continue to be cases. Hopefully there won’t be anything worse.

But this story has nothing to do with the current season, COVID, the Spanish Flu, or any of that. There’s no real reason, or timing tie-in, for this one except that (as is often the case) I came across a few articles in old newspapers that got me interested, and I’ve been trying to figure out a way to write about it. This story is a little bit all-over-the-board, but here goes…

According to Wikipedia (if I counted them up correctly!), there have been 299 sets of brothers who’ve played in the NHL from the league’s beginning in 1917 through 2019–20. Of that group, 47 sets of brothers have played together on the same team, but only 10 have won the Stanley Cup together. The numbers are slightly larger if we expand the time frame beyond the birth of the NHL and back to the start of the Stanley Cup in 1893.

Still, in all that time, there are only two instances when a group of three brothers have played together on a Stanley Cup team. (I’m one of three brothers myself, so this interests me.) Both sets are from Ottawa, and played with the famed “Silver Seven.” Alf, Harry, and Tommy Smith played together in 1906, although it seems that no more than two of those three ever suited up together in a Stanley Cup game that year. (I’ll likely write more about the Smith family in a future post). However, in the spring of 1903, brothers Dave, Suddie — short for Sutherland — and Billy Gilmour all starred together for Ottawa when the Silver Seven launched one of hockey’s most legendary dynasties.

Team picture commemorating Ottawa’s 1903 Stanley Cup title.

The Gilmour family was a prominent one in Ottawa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I’m not certain if the hockey family is related to the same lumber family of Gilmours for whom Gilmour Street in Ottawa was named, but the father and grandfather of our hockey Gilmours were both prominent in the lumber industry in the Gatineau region. So, the Gilmour boys, along with three other brothers (including one more who later played hockey) and a sister, likely grew up among plenty of privilege. This wasn’t always the case, but was not uncommon either for Canadian athletes in this era of amateurism. [NOTE: The Gilmour Street lumber family IS the same family as the lumber and hockey Gilmour family.]

All three Gilmour brothers played junior and intermediate hockey with the Ottawa Aberdeens, who were what might now be considered a top farm team for the Ottawa Hockey Club that would become known as the Silver Seven. The Gilmours, along with the great Frank McGee and a couple of other teammates, rose through the ranks more or less together.

Dave Gilmour on the left, and Suddie on the right from the 1903 team picture.

By the 1902–03 season, McGee and the Gilmours were all together on the top Ottawa club. Billy was still only 17 years old. Suddie was 20 (so was Frank McGee) and Dave was 21. They were all key in leading Ottawa to the Stanley Cup for the first time that season, first by defeating the Montreal Victorias in a two-game playoff to decide their league title, and then by successfully defending the Cup against the Rat Portage Thistles in a two-game challenge. Ottawa outscored its opponents by a combined score of 19–5 in those four Stanley Cup games. Though sources do differ, Frank McGee is generally credited with scoring seven of Ottawa’s 19 goals. Dave and Billy Gilmour scored four apiece, while Suddie added three more.

The 1902–03 season marks the only year that all three of the Gilmour brothers starred together with the Silver Seven (who were named — so the story goes — when team executive and mine owner Bob Shillington presented each member of the seven-man starting lineup with a silver nugget to commemorate their Stanley Cup victory). Suddie and Billy were both there in 1903–04 when Ottawa retained its title, but only Billy was still playing in 1904–05 when Ottawa continued its winning ways.

Billy Gilmour was probably only 17 years old when the picture on the right was taken.
The picture on the left would likely have been taken near his 20th birthday in 1905.

Billy Gilmour played just a single game in 1905–06, and did not take part in either challenge series when Ottawa successfully defended the Cup that year against teams from Queen’s University and Smith’s Falls, Ontario. That makes it debatable as to whether he should be considered a Stanley Cup champion for that season or not. However, he did play a full season with Ottawa (by then, officially, known as the Senators) when they won the Stanley Cup again in 1908–09. He was the only member of the “Silver Seven” dynasty that was with the team by that season.

Hamilton Livingston “Billy” Gilmour was voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1962, along with a host of other notables who had played before 1927, and inducted the following summer. Even so, he appears today as one of the more questionable of the Hall’s honoured members. Gilmour only ever played a handful of games at hockey’s highest level (he also played four seasons at McGill University while he was playing for the Silver Seven) and though he returned to play two more games for Ottawa during the 1915–16 season, he was basically done by the time he turned 24 right after the Cup-winning season of 1908–09.

Ottawa’s 1905 Stanley Cup team. The players identified are all members of the
Hockey Hall of Fame. Goalie Dave Finnie on the left replaced another future Hall
of Famer that season in Bouse Hutton. The player seated on the right is Art Moore.

Still, in his prime, Billy Gilmour was a talented and popular player on the top team in hockey, and was well-regarded by fans, sportswriters, his teammates, and his opponents. He was still a recognizable enough name in Ottawa and Montreal to warrant impressive obituaries in those cities when he passed away in March of 1959. He’d lived in Montreal for many years, but was buried in a family plot at Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa. Just shy of his 74th birthday when he died, Billy was the longest-lived by far of the six Gilmour brothers, with the others all passing away by the age of 50.

Cyclone Taylor and Marty Walsh were the biggest stars in Ottawa
by 1909, but Billy Gilmour was still a key contributor.

Oldest brother Allan Gilmour, born in 1878, was the first to die when he was killed in action in World War I on June 3, 1916. (Billy Gilmour had enlisted himself just a few days prior to his brother’s death.) Allan Gilmour was 38 years old. The second-oldest brother, John Gilmour, died in 1925 when he was 44 years old. Youngest brother Ward, the fourth hockey brother, was 47 when he died in 1940. Suddie and David Gilmour passed away within a few months of each other in 1932. David was 50 when he died on September 27. Suddie was 48 when he passed away on February 14.

The death of Suddie Gilmour came nearly 30 years after his hockey heyday, but it seemed to revive a nostalgia for the days of the Silver Seven. Frank McGee had also died in the War back in 1916, and his brother John, who’d been a bit player during the 1903–04 season, died in a horse-riding accident back in 1904. This meant that Suddie’s funeral was the first in the city to truly mark the passing of one of Ottawa’s old Stanley Cup heroes. Among the many mourners who attended Suddie’s funeral two days later were former Silver Seven stars Harvey Pulford, Alf Smith, Harry Smith, Bouse Hutton, Art Moore, and Harry Westwick. Brother David was there as well, and many of the same mourners would turn out at his funeral soon enough.

The notice of Suddie Gilmour’s death appeared in the Ottawa Citizen on
February 15, 1932. The story about his funeral appeared on February 17.

Ironically, the one notable teammate who wasn’t there for Suddie Gilmour’s funeral was brother Billy, who was living in France. Apparently, Billy spent a lot of time in France after the end of World War I. He’d lost his wife back in 1925, when she had died at just 38 years old, and he and his daughter were living either in Paris, or the south of France in Bayonne or Saint-Jean-de Luz.

Billy Gilmour was in Ottawa for Dave’s funeral in September of 1932, but he continued to live in Paris until the Nazi’s marched into the city in June of 1940. I’ve come across a couple of articles mentioning a “narrow escape” to London before the occupation. If I’m ever able to learn anything more about it, you’ll be reading that story here one of these days!