LEFT: The crack in the top of Alf’s guitar widens a bit as it approaches the binding, but it’s not bad for a guitar that survived both a POW camp and “The March” at the end of the war. MIDDLE: The binding appears to be separating from the
body a bit, but it’s otherwise in remarkably good condition. RIGHT: Alf’s widow, Joan, whom he met while working as a
ski instructor in Quebec. The two later ran a small hotel where he often jammed with guests.
Alf recuperated in England and returned home to Canada, where
despite his wounded leg he went back to his passion for skiing.
He bought a small hotel and became chief ski instructor at a
larger resort called Jasper in Quebec. That’s where he met Joan.
“I was working in Montreal,” she says. “I went up every Friday.”
Although many things that brought back memories of life in
Stalag IX-C were repugnant to Alf throughout the remainder
of his life—for instance, he couldn’t stand the smell of boiled
cabbage—his guitar stayed with him as a source of joy till the
end. He had the neck repaired when he was back home, and he
often played for hotel guests, sometimes alone and sometimes
sitting in on informal jam sessions with musicians who came up
for breaks from New York or Montreal. “It was romantic,” Joan
recalls. “I don’t think I appreciated it enough at the time.”
Around 1950, Joan and Alf moved to a more practical life in
Long Beach, California, where he became a real-estate appraiser
for a bank. Upon retirement, they moved back to snowy climes
in the town of Whitefish, Montana—near the Canadian border
and more great skiing. Alf continued to love jazz and some hill-
billy country, becoming a fan of Chet Atkins and Glen Campbell.
He played the guitar until nearly the end of his life. Sometimes
it would sit unused for a while, but then, says Joan, “All of a
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 … All this time,
Alf kept his guitar slung
on his back. . . .
sudden, something would come on the radio or TV or something
and he’d go upstairs. He’d play quite often by himself up there. He
would rush up there to get it. I used to love when he did that. The
guitar was a big part of his life—all of his life.”