Above: At some point, Alf’s guitar—a copy of a Gibson L series archtop—
was damaged and the neck needed to be rebuilt. According to his widow,
Joan, the Canadian luthier who repaired it said it was a quality instrument.
Left: A detail shot of the supple carves on the back of Alf’s guitar.
Opposite: A close-up of a hairline crack that runs parallel to the strings
all the way from the f-hole to the anchor of the trapeze tailpiece. Note the
clean, art-deco-like lines of the adjustable saddle piece.
disease. But it does seem that Alf was able to keep the guitar and
play it basically when he felt like it. Joan relates that, at some point,
Alf ran out of guitar strings and his father corresponded with one
of the Dorsey Brothers (a popular jazz group from the 1920s and
’30s that was fronted by Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey), who helped
arrange for delivery of a care package that included new strings.
The latter stages of the war should have meant the worst was
over, but the opposite was true: Russian troops had purged the
Nazis from their homeland and were marching west, liberating
countries in eastern Europe as they went. This led to a frenzied
evacuation of prison camps all over Poland, Czechoslovakia,
and eastern Germany. About 80,000 prisoners were sent on
foot across hundreds of miles in the dead of the coldest winter
in decades. Thousands died, some from starvation or exposure,
others to friendly fire incidents when Allied planes strafed the
columns of men they mistook for retreating German troops. Alf
saw friends and comrades die in such a manner.
All this time, Alf kept his guitar slung on his back, covered
with some of the inadequate clothes still in his possession.
Rations were literally scavenged from fields and farms en route,