Historical Aircraft

RCAF Flyers take Olympic Hockey’s Gold Medal – 1948


Canadian Olympic Gold at the RCAF Museum (by Frank Artes)

One of the more unusual (National Air Force Museum of Canada) museum displays has recently been re-showcased to coincide with the 2006 Winter Olympics. The display honours the extraordinary exploits of the RCAF Flyers, a hockey team which represented Canada at the Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland in 1948, and against all odds, came home with a gold medal.
Why was it such an extraordinary achievement? Well, Canada’s 1948 Olympic hockey team was not comprised of the top league players as would normally be the case, in fact, it was made up of military and ex-military men, hurriedly pulled together under the banner of the RCAF, to represent the country’s best hockey talent. Even before the team sailed for Europe in January 1948, fans and skeptics in the press had written them off as “a less than encouraging sight.”
Museum Curator, Jodi Ann Eskritt, describes the display this way, “The exhibit brings to life an event that took place 58 years ago and is a wonderful example of a small piece of Canadian military history that is sometimes overlooked. Most of the artifacts on show were donated by the family of Orville “Red” Gravelle, from Aylmer, Quebec, one of the forwards on the team. The gold medal is the one he was presented with at the awards ceremony in St. Moritz, and is a very impressive artifact in its own right. The complete display contains “Red” Gravelle1s team sweater, a souvenir cup commemorating the final game between Canada and Czechoslovakia, a broken hockey stick with the signatures of all the team members, plus photographs and insignia celebrating the 1948 winter games.”
A decision by the !OC {International Olympic Committee) during the latter part of 194 7 affected the status of amateur athletes and their eligibility to participate in the games. The new rules made it impossible for the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA) to assemble a team good enough to compete and still meet the new IOC regulations. With this in mind it was decided that for the 1948 Winter Olympics there would be no Canadian national hockey team participating at the event. The news was greeted with astonishment by He lobbied the top officials in the air force, the Ministry of Defence and the CAHA suggesting the RCAF, with its 16,000 members, would be the best resource from which to draw the most talented amateur athletes. Within 36 hours the decision to go ahead was made, Watson was appointed team manager and the search for the best players began with a scant three months to go before the games were to start.
Within weeks more than 7 5 air force hopefuls were flown to Ottawa for tryouts from bases all over the country. A series of exhibition games were organized during December to bring the final 17 players together but the results were less than impressive, losing 7-0 in their first game against a team from McGill Universiry. However, with an additional run of exhibition games scheduled for Europe, in the weeks leading up to the event, the team was confident it would improve … and improve it did.
The Winter Olympics opened on January 30th, 1948 with the Flyers beating Sweden 3-1 in their first game on an outdoor rink. Despite the problematic winter weather, games went ahead even in blowing snow as was the case when the Flyers beat the British team 3-0 in near whiteout conditions. Dodging snowballs thrown by an irritated Swiss crowd which disagreed with the officiating, and the slushy ice cut up by the figure skaters, was all part of the extraordinary circumstances that met the Canadians in St. Moritz.
After beating Poland 15-0, the United States 12-3, Italy 21-1, Austria 12-0 and Switzerland 3-0, the Flyers were tied with the Czechs, both teams holding 7 wins, 0 losses and 1 ti . In calculating the goals for and goals against average, the decision fell to the Canadians, which in large part was a result of their outstanding goal tending … and the gold was awarded to Canada.
It had been a remarkable event that has since become part of Canadian hockey history. The RCAF Memorial Muse um display is a fitting acknowledgment of the tenacity and sheer resol\’e of the Canadian players who were expected to be quickly eliminated by the stronger European teams, players who were serving their country in more ways than one.
Today, the 1948 RCAF Flyers World Champions banner hangs over the ice at the new rink named in their honour ar Canadian Forces Base, Trenton.

With the RCAF Flyers in Europe (by Cpl. “Patsy” Guzzo)

When the RCAF Flyers returned from Europe as Olympic and World’s Hockey Champions on 7 April, thousands of Ottawa citizens lined the streets for a glimpse of Canada’s hockey heroes. Bands were playing, flags waved, and cheers greeted each group of players as they moved slowly along Sparks and Elgin in This was quite unlike the send-of ! this same group or boys receiv-ed three months before. On that occasion, in addition to families and close personal friends or the players, only a delegation at Air Foree personnel. led by A/V /M Morfee and A/C Mackell was on band to wish the boys luck.six shiny convert! ble Buiclca. Criticism bad been heaped upon the teu by sports writers throughout CaDSda and by self-appointed hockey experts and the boys sailed out
New York Harbour under a cloud of uneasiness aDd distress.
Tba first day in Ellglalld was tar trcxa a happy one. OD every side scenes ot devastation wrought by the war greeted the teem, and a short distance from the dock, the bus transporting the players to London troa South8111pton was struck by a double-decker 1treet car and the rest ot the trip was very cold and uncomfortable,
After a short series in England the teem flew to Paris tor a single game against the parertul Racing Club de Paris,
The food here was bad and the air was chill tor lack of coal,
At our first 1111al we were served
a steak which looked unfamiliar
and tasted unlike any meat we bad eaten before, We SJ.spected it
was horse meat 8.Dd the next dq
our suspicioDS were confirmed
when we saw a carcass of a horse haugi:ag in tt.e window of a butcher shop With a placard pinned to it indicating it was “first quality” horse meat. Just than several hairy horses passed by, which led Red Gravelle to remark, “I don’t millld eating horse meat it the horse has bem well-groomed, HOll’ever, until we leave bare I’m strictly a vegetarian,”
.lt lunch we told S/L Watson of our experiences and he ret’ulled to eat meat, ordering eggs iDStead, These eggs did not look Uk& our 01111 back home, and Doc bad a suspicion they bad at one tuie been inside a duck, He wouldn’t eat them until a consensus ot opinion co11vinc ed him they were laid b7 a heD, SWi tzerland and the scene ot the Olympic games was our next stop, The country was beautiful, Mountains towered majestically on all sides and the food was excellent ,
‘!here was one tly in the ointment, however, A particularly acute aitu-at1011 had arisen when both the Allateur Athletic Union of the UDited States and the American Hockey Association claimed the right to select a tsa11 to r9Jresent tba t countl.’y i n the 01,-pic s and both sent the teams to st, Kari tz.
After numerous charges, cou11ter charges, protests and proposals bad beEll submitted to tba International Olympic Committee, it was resolved that hockey would not count tor poi11ts,
H011ever, after further discussion and in fairness to countries who bad entered the hoc ksy series 1n good faith, it was decided to count hockey as part ot the Fifth Winter Olympic g11D1es, This decision enabled our teem to contribute ten points to the total ot 14¼ Cllllllda bad won in the skating and, as a result, our countIT placed ninth in the final standing,
Our quarters in st, Kori tz were at the Hotal Stehlbad which bad be• closed up sine e the outbreak ot war, Room 145 occupied by Gilpin, Kc!’aul and Guzzo was chosm b7 Doctor Watson as the meeting place, alld it was Dot unusual tar the rest ot the team to bri in their own card tables and engage iD hilarious gamss of hearts and five hu11dred rumm:r,
A monster parade in which all competitors and officials took part started ott the Olympic games. ‘nle RCA!’ tellDI iD tull service uniform took part, IUll’ChiDg behind the rest of Canada’s sports representatives, inc ludi cg Barbara Alln scot t, Cpl. George KcP’aul, the trainer of the team led this parade of Canadians carrying a placard with the l18JD8 CANA!lA., while illllll8diately
behiDd came F/O Bubert Brooks with
the Canadian flag. After an i.alpres-aive ceremony at the stadilllll, the
progr8IIIIDII got Ullder way.
The Swiss team defeated the USA
5-4 in the opening gem while the
Flyers defeated Sweden 3-l.
After Sweden, came England,
Poland, Italy, USA., Czechoslovakia, Austria and Switzerland, in that
After the Flyers were presented
wt th the Gold medals emblem tic of
Olympic supremacy, a reception was
arranged at the Hot Ill Stahlbad by
G/C C1111111ron, Air Attache at Prague
who ads the loQS trip by car
acccmpanied by Mr. R.ll. llacDonnell
(Charges d’Affairea at Prague),
Cpl. Peter Vanier and Sgt. Reg. De.nke.
After we had been crowned Olympic
and World Is Hockey champions and
hundreds or photographers were “shoot-ing” the team, George KcF81ll, our
trainer, took time out durixg all the ei:cit811l8nt to climb the pole and haul down the Canadian Flag. This he placed out the window of our bus as we proceeded down to our hotel, cheer-ing and singing in celebration of our victory.
The following morniig, F/O Bubert Brooks joined the ranks 􀀁 the
Benedicta by marrying lo!i•s Birtllll
Grontved whom he met and cau.rted in Dex11111uit while there with the Missl ng Research and Enquiry service.
Barbara Ann Scott was the bridesmaid. S/L Watson acted as best man, while G/C C1111111ron gave the bride away.
A series or exhibition games were played at Arosa, Zurich, L81lsanDII
and Berne before the team •de the
plalll!I hop to Prague, czechoslova.Jd.a.
Here we were 11111t by G/C CUii r011
who atteDded every gam played by
the team in that country. Leo Dousa, a naturalized AJmricaa born in Czecho-slovakia, was also at the airport.
He was to act u our (!llide and inter• preter es well as arrange our trans• partation and acc01aodation while in Czechoslovakia.
Duri11g our shol’t stay in thi■ country we learned to look on Leo u a t’ather. Everything was arranged tar us without a hitch, am his con-stant jolms and antics -.de the trip to each city much more pleasant.
A. special Diesel-engine car which was used to transport the Prague toot-ball team was put at the disposal or
the Flyers tar the long journey t’rom
Bratislan near the A.ustrian Border
to Ostrava, a coal-aining city near
SUdetanland. About halt-way there,
our guide and interpreter, Leo Dousa,
had the e11gineer stop the train, pull up to a sid111g alld proceed to Bzenec,
tile little wt1111-produci11g town where
Leo was bom. We walked a few short blocks to the v1llage•s only hotel
and were guests or the Mayor at a very enjoyable lunch. On our return the
train was waitillg and the journey was
At’ter leaving Prague we t’lew to
Paris tor a three-g11111e series tar the
J’ean Potin trophy. Czechoslovakia,
Scotland aDd Paris Racing Club were
the other teams represented.
Although we earmd the same number
ot points, Paris Racing Club won the
trophy as a result at a better goal
average, we had one consolation,
however, as our team was the t’irst
to det’eat Paris at home all season.
Bet’ore leaving Paris we were guests at the Canadian Embassy end entertained by General Vanier.
We were to t’ly to Stockholm but at’ter rece1v1Ilg an invitation from the Dutoh GoYernment, we paid a flying Visit to the Hague tor a game there bet’ore goillg to SWeden. Here again we were guests at the Canadian Legation. Because ot’ t’cggy weather our pla1111 was forced to
land at Copenhagen and the rest ot’ the trip to Stockholm was made by train at’ter a short crossing by terry t’roa Denadc to Slfeden.
At the Statton in SWeden we were met by G/C H.G. Richards, Mr. Anton
;Johanson (President ot’ the SWediah
Ice Hoclay Federation), and other
spar ts orn c ials , As soon as we
reached our Hotel , we were in com-
munication with G/C Richards (The
Canadian Air Attachli). G/C Richards, Mrs. R1c1Brds, Sgt Reuben Austring
(who was at Central Reg1stl’Y here
last Fall) attended all or our ga1111s which were played in Stockholm. We enjoyed a reel Canadian d1Dllllr at
G/C Richards• home ( and al’ tic e) in
Saltzjobanan, twenty lllinutes by train t’rom stoclchola. The R1c1Brds proved to be really gracious hosts and were very sorry, they said , to see us
leave. Mr. Fred PalJDer (Canadian
Charge d’At’faires) also had us as
his guests.
Swedish sports t’igures went all
out to mak8 our st&¥ in SWeden 01111
to remember. Mr. Lennart Sodestr0111, an advertising agent who drives in a Lincoln Conti:oental ‘lilich cost him
$?500.00, entertai:oed the team at
the nanky Grand Hotel • It was
estimated this E11tertailllllent set him back at least $500.00.
SVan J’anzon, a hardware merchant who lived with his t’alllily in the
same hotel as the team, gave a party tor the boys the last night in Sweden, and after this party broke up, Oscar Morlin, the Hotel Manager, took the team to his house tor mcn-e. We spent three days in London and pla:,ed t110 exhibitions, one against Wembley and the other against
Streatham. we were in Scotland tor a six-game tour in the next eight
On Easter Sunday, each member of the team made resernt1ons at the
Hotel in Kirkcsldy, scotlalld, to cell home even though it did cost fr<n ten to fifteen dollars, a call.
In Scot land , wile re bright sunny weather prevailed, the boys combined so.1118 golf playing With t.heir hockey. Several toolr part in a game at famous st. Andrew’s Golf Course. At the Hotel Strathearn, the home of the team during the latter part of the stey in scotland, more golf was practiced in the spacious grounds surrounding the Hotel. Red Gravelle, who was quite a caddy before becoming a machinist, made a hole in one !IIld collected 18 shillings from the rest of the players. Pete Leichni tz, who bad to be coaxed into the gam and who had never played betore, took the boys for 14 sh 111 ings.
On our return to London, we were givm our last reception before sailing home. Thie took place at the Garden Clover Club and our host was A/V/11. R.E. McBurney,
A/V /M McBurney, though unable to be down for the Olympic g811111s, took time out to attend one o1’ our exhi-bition g1111es at Berne, SWitzerland, a tew days atter the Olympics.
‘lh• trip hClllle was veey rough tor the first three days and at least ten or the group or eighteen stayed away :!’ram meals.
As we were pulling into New Y<ll’k Harbour, A/C D.E. Maclatll, accom-
panied by F/O w.M. Lee (PRO) and
Jack Kottman (or the Ottawa Citizen)
boarded the ship and we had a short reunion in Doctor Watson’s cabin.
Immediately on dis embarking we
were taxied to the Hotel ‘Naldort-
Astoria where the Canadian Club
gave us a chicken dinner.
Arter a rough trip across, the
team was glad to get settled in
pullman berths and prepare them-
selves :!’or the big dey in Ottawa. Ice Hoc kDy in Europe is a Te-ry
cle an geme, and the least roughness calls :!’or a penalty, which is immed-iately increased 1:!’ the recipient
talks back to the re:!’eree. This was tbe :!’irst lesson our team bad to
learn on arriving in Europe. During the Olympics some ge.J111 s were cri t-icized for being rough and somet11118s numerous penalties were banded out, which was invariably played up by
the mwspapers; but actually, accord-ing to our standards, we neTer saw what we could consider a rough match. Wally Halder, who played through his entire Un1Tersity cu-eer without a penalty, was nicknamed “The Brute• and was described as a •vicious
pla:,er to the point or being brutalӉۢ
Before the last gllJll8 in czecho-
slo,rakia, an “extra” bad been printed shOWing pictures ot the Flyers e.rcund the pege w1 th the headi “Can thll Canadians be beaten?” Betore leaVing the countey another special edition was printed w1 th big headlines “Good• bye, Canada 1” The Flyers were un-iTersally popular in every country they visited and lett J!m’ope with no regrets and no apologies,
Caricatures ot individual players and sometimes or the whole team were published in the newspepers in 9i’eden and czechozlovakia, In Prague, during meals, men With peds in their hands would come and sit in the dining rOOJIIS and draw pie tures ot thll players tar publication the next day,
On our arrival in sweden the stock-bola newspeper “De.gens Nyheter” had a cartoon eh01Jing our team laming in
,Sweden by parachute, Later, attar we bad deteated their tirst tlllllll 4.-0, this same paper showed a cartoon ot Red Gravelle, Ted Hibberd aDd Andre Laperriere w1 th snOlf shovels aid SWediah players being shovelled into the snow banks,
A total ot torty-tour g1111es were played in Europe , two o! thllll amo the pla:,ers themselves, or this total, 31 were won, tive lost aDd aix tied, The teem tultilled all ot its e age1111nts although ODIi SUnday in Czechoslovakia it came DBar to misai ng a g&1111, Tbs team was proceeding to Bratislava trom Brno by bus when a snow stor111 cue up, and it took the bus tive hour e to reach Bratislava — a distame ot only 84 miles. On three occa-sions the players had to get out
to push, and only the appearance they were so good looki .
Others were re-ceived trom other indiv !duals request-ing pins aDd pictures ot the team,
Guzzo received one in Sweden trom an Inga Nasberg who said she bad tollowed the team’s success in SWitzerlam am would continue to follow the games there in Sweden, Guzzo and
Inga get
ot a snos plow tro111 the City enabled the bus to finish thll trip, Many tan letter• were received by D11mbere ot the te1111. In Zurich, SwitzerlaDd, rray Darey & Ted Hib-berd received the tirst which stated that it was not written becais e they were good hockey players but becaise