Sunday, April 2, 2017

Family Legends

Philip Halls "Pip" portrait in uniformIt seems that every family has someone who stood out from the crowd, whose name is talked about long after they are gone.  In my branch of the Halls family that person is Philip Ashley Patrick Halls, but I think mostly he was called Pip.

Why is Pip a legend?  I think some of it has to do with his personality, part of it has to do with the fact that he was not yet thirty when he died, and part of it is how he died, far from home on battlefield in Italy, fighting against one of the worst tyrannies the world has yet seen.

Pip was born on April 2, 1915 in Toronto, Ontario.  He was the son of Fred Halls, a locally well know paper magnate and philanthropist, and Kate McGill, a girl from Gravenhurst.

Pip enlisted in the Canadian Army on Sep 8, 1940 and was assigned to the Victoria Rifles for his training, some of which took place in British Columbia.  After his training he was sent to Newfoundland from December of 1940 to August of 1941 acting, with the rest of the Victoria Rifles, as garrison troops against any threat from the Nazis.  After August he was transferred back to Canada for more training, and then in October of 1942 he arrived in Sussex in England.

Excerpt from Interview after enlistmentWe can see from his pictures that he was good looking.  From what little I know, he was charismatic and made a good impression on people.  During an interview some time after he enlisted the interviewing officer stated that Pip was a, "Bright, intelligent, good looking N.C.O.1  Thinks R.C.A.2 would be more interesting.  If sent to the field unit he will quickly adapt himself and become interested in his platoon, or section."  The final line was typewritten and stated "Recommended as possible officer candidate - 52/Off Sel/1 - 20 May 43"

I should point out that much as Pip impressed people around him, he was by no means a saint.  He was docked pay for barracks damage the day after he was discharged from the Esquimalt Military Hospital.  There are two incidents of his being AWOL as well.  One of them was while he was stationed in BC on Oct 13th, 1941, and he was only gone for 8 hours.  The second time was in the UK, when he was absent from Jan 28th to 31st, 1943.

In July of 1943 he was with the Carleton and York Regiment.  I have been unable to determine at this point whether he landed on the beaches of Sicily with the first wave of Canadian troops in Operation Husky or if he came ashore the day after the main landings.  In October of 1943 he was transferred to the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR).

Letter from Red Cross
In January of 1944 the family was given a scare when it was reported that Pip was a casualty due to the collapse of a tower on December 31st/Jan 1st, which had been hit by artillery fire.  The telegram received by the family on Jan 28th did not indicate whether Pip was killed or injured.  However, the family had already received a cable (on Jan 13th) from Pip stating that he was fine.  At this point Fred pulled some strings by contacting Mrs. H. P. Plumptre and set off a small storm in the Red Cross and the Army trying to find out what had happened to his son.  It turn out Pip had been slightly injured, and might have had an intestinal upset into the bargain.

Pip remained with the RCR until the end, which for him came on September 16th, 1944, during the fighting to secure the Rimini airfield.  He is buried in the Coriano Ridge War Cemetery, grave 11, row E, plot 1.

Philip Halls "Pip" sitting on a stone wallAfter the war his sister, Frances Catherine Gorman wrote to inquire about the location of his grave.  I find it a bit odd as one assumes her parents. Fred and Kate would have known.  Perhaps she was planning a trip to Italy and wished to be sure she knew where to find the grave.

Pip's memory continued to be passed around in the Halls family.  My father received his medals.  Pip's dog tags were sent to his father, Fred, so someone probably has them even now.  The same can be said for the Memorial Cross (Silver Cross) that Kate, his mother, should have received after Pip died.

I read a letter to the editor written by Susan Riggs in November of 20103.  As with me, he was her great-uncle, someone we never knew.  He simply would have been a name and a face, and yet, for many of us, he is remembered in an idyllic, idealistic sort of way.  The young man who gave his life to defeat the Nazi tyranny.  The young man, sitting on a stone wall, grinning, while waiting to go out and maybe shoot some squirrels or ducks at Pleasant Point, the family cottage.

1. N.C.O. - Non-Commissioned Officer, i.e., sergeants and below
2. R.C.A. - Royal Canadian Artillery.  Pip wanted to be an anti-aircraft gunner.
3. The article her letter was written in response to can be found here.

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