Hockey's Prisoner of War
Bob Carse 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. Bill 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 favours 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. His wounded shoulder made it no small miracle he was able to. He would play mostly in the minor leagues, but he did eventually return to the NHL, playing 22 games, in the 1947-48 season.
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. During his four years with Cleveland before retiring from the rink in 1950, Carse was a two time All Star who helped lead the Barons to the Calder Cup, the AHL championship, in 1948.