Saturday

Bob Carse

This is Bob Carse. He was a promising hockey player out of Edmonton by winter, a gas station manager by summer.

He never fulfilled his NHL hockey promise because of World War II. He was one of the first professional hockey players to enroll in basic military training. He was quickly identified as a promising rifleman, and by August 1944 he was pulled off the ice and sent overseas, one of the few NHLers to see dangerous warfare action on the fields of Europe.

Dangerous indeed. In October his wife received a a telegram dated October 12th, 1944 stating that Carse's status was officially listed as Missing In Action. In actuality, he was wounded with a bullet to the shoulder, and captured by Nazi forces. Bob Carse, by this time a four year veteran of the Chicago Blackhawks, was a prisoner of war.

Douglas Hunter's amazing book War Games details Carse's plight quite nicely. Carse was treated in a Nazi hospital in Holland until he was declared healthy enough to be transferred to a prisoner of war camp. Hunter tells of Carse's ability to simply walk out of the hospital to talk to local Dutch people who offered to hide him. He refused to leave his fellow captured Canadians, and simply walked back into the hospital. He did arrange to have news of their capture and well-being sent back home to Canada via shortwave radio.

Carse and the Canadians were shipped east by train. While on the crowded rail car he trades his watch, a Christmas gift from his wife, to a French soldier in exchange for a loaf of bread, a pound of prunes and 300 cigarettes - the ultimate currency even in Nazi prisons. He is able to parlay the cigarettes into favors from the guards.

Hunter also goes on to tell a heartbreaking story. When the Soviets made significant gains into German territories leading to the end of the war, the Nazis force-marched Carse and the other POWs through a severe winter's storm, barely surviving the trip. By mid January, 1945 he is seriously malnourished, weighing just 110lbs.

By late March Carse is freed when his Nazi guards fled in the dark of the night knowing allied forces were about to strike. It was still a very dangerous situation for the POWs. Carse did not know he would be safe until he is found by a medical officer originally from Pittsburgh. As the two get to talking, it turns out the officer spent many nights at the Duquesne Gardens watching the hometown Hornets take on the Providence Reds, Carse's team in 1939-40.

Carse was transferred to a US military hospital where he met more people who know him as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks.

In mid April he is transferred to Canadian military hospital in Britain, where he is treated for severe malnutrition, peripheral neuritis and dysentery. Returning to the NHL was probably the last thing on his mind when he touched down back in Canada in June and made his way home to Winnipeg to be reunited with his wife and two daughters.

But he would return to the ice. It was no small miracle he was able to. His wounded shoulder in particular threatened to hamper him most. It was enough of a concern for the Blackhawks that they traded his playing rights to Montreal.

In his first season back, Carse opted to return to Edmonton, site of his junior hockey glory days. He had led the Edmonton Athletic Club to a couple of Memorial Cup appearances. He returned to Edmonton, after successful reinstatement as an amateur, hoping to once again find his game.

After a season with the Edmonton Flyers it was apparent he would be able to return as a top hockey player. He returned to the pro ranks, but, with the exception of 22 games, Montreal farmed him out to Cleveland of the AHL for the next four years.

It was a good fit for Carse. He would become one of the greatest Barons' players of all time. In 1947 he led the AHL in assists and barely missed winning the league scoring title. The next year the Barons would win the Calder Cup. In his short tenure the Barons also won three division titles and Carse was twice named as a first team all star at left wing.

During his four years with Cleveland before retiring from the rink in 1950, Mr. Carse helped lead the team to three Western Division titles. In the 1947-48 season and playoffs, the Barons played 30 consecutive games without a loss and won the Calder Cup.

Upon retirement in 1950, Carse remained in Cleveland. He became a very successful insurance salesman while also remaining in hockey. He ran a youth hockey program in Ohio for 15 years, while also serving as a linesman in the 1950s. He would return to big league hockey in the 1970s, serving as the NHL's official scorer for the NHL's Cleveland Barons and WHA's Cleveland Crusaders.

Carse did not retire from the insurance business until 1994. His wife died a year later. They had been married an amazing 58 years.

Carse himself died on July 27th, 1999, just eight days past his 80th birthday. He died at a Cleveland hospice while trying to recover from a broken hip.

5 comments:

Michael Langlois 5:02 PM  

What a wonderful story Joe. Apt, of course, for November 11. This is the kind of real 'story' too often untold. Thanks.

Michael Langlois
Vintage Leaf
http://vintageleafmemories.blogspot.com

Anonymous,  6:20 AM  

The story of Bob Carse is a great one indeed, pro athletes like himself and Phil Marchildon had some very unexpected and unappreciated issues when they returned to their professions after being POW's.

Please note, the image shown above is actually of Bill Carse, Bob's older brother.

Anonymous,  1:52 PM  

Thanks for the wonderful article! (note the photo with this is of our Uncle Bill)As one of Bob's daughters,it is always special when someone remembers our Dad. War Games is a great read - every history buff and hockey lover should read this book.
And we wish the 'Hawks well in the Cup playoffs this year!

Anonymous,  1:53 PM  

I got to know Bob back in 1990, when I started my career. Our offices were next to each other, so we were able to chat alot and get to know each other. Bob, was one of the warmest guys to be around. Always a smile on his face and telling his same old jokes, which always made me smile no matter how many times I heard them. It was an honor to get to know such a hero in all aspects of his life. Bob, Thank You and "Check" you right back.
Steve Magovac

Graham Clayton 1:43 AM  

Carse was the only NHL player to be a POW in World War 2.

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