Today marks the 72nd anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 1944. On that historic day, the allied forces, which included Canada, began their assault on Western Europe at Normandy France. Canadian forces concentrated on a beach front in an operation called “Juno”.
Numerous battles ensued after the June 6th invasion and many young Canadian men lost their lives fighting for future generations.
The hockey world wasn’t immune to the conflicts of World War Two. This story is about about one such brave individual, who loved playing hockey and more importantly, loved his country.
Red Albert “Ab” Tilson was born on January 11, 1924, in Regina Saskatchewan. In 1941, Tilson travelled east to play junior “A” hockey in the OHA. Tilson became a member of the Oshawa Generals and played under coach Charlie Conacher.
That season, the Generals went all the way to the Memorial Cup Final and faced the Portage La Prairie Terriers in Winnipeg. The Generals lost the best-of-five Final 3 games to 1. Despite his team’s loss, Tilson led Memorial Cup play in assists with 12 and points with 20.
The following year, 1942-43, Tilson won the OHA scoring title with 57 points in 22 games. Once again, the Generals played in the Memorial Cup Final held at Maple Leaf Gardens, but lost 4 games to 2 against the Winnipeg Rangers.
Tilson repeated as scoring champ in the tournament by recording 32 points in 11 contests. For most of his time in Oshawa, Tilson centered a line with Floyd Curry and Kenny Smith. He was a prospect with the Toronto Maple Leafs and by all accounts was a can’t miss NHL’er.
After the ’42-’43 season, Tilson, then 20 years old, enlisted in the service at Kingston, Ontario. He chose Kingston in hopes of playing hockey with the senior “A” Kingston Frontenac Army Club. Ultimately, he played only 3 games with Kingston.
On June 17, 1943, Private Tilson underwent his basic training in Cornwall and on August 18 his rank was upped to acting Lance Corporal.
A year later, on May 2, 1944, Tilson arrived in Nova Scotia to become part of a training brigade in preparation for going overseas.
He departed Canadian soil on June 17 and arrived in England on June 24. Now ranked a Private, Tilson landed in France on July 23, 1944, and was assigned to the Queen’s Own Rifles of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division’s 8th Brigade.
On August 9, 1944, Tilson got his first taste of action. The operation called for his unit to clear a path in the Quesnay Woods for an attack by a Polish Division, which was attached to the Canadian Army.
In October, Tilson, now back to his rank of Lance Corporal, was part of “Operation Switchback”. It involved clearing the south shore of West Scheldt (SHELL-T) in Belgium. It became known as the Battle of Scheldt.
On October 12, Tilson and the Queen’s Own began their crossing, but came under German fire. As a result, Tilson was injured and sent behind the front line for treatment.
When he returned, Tilson was ranked as a Rifleman.
On October 26, the Queen’s Own started their attack on the town of Oostburgh and secured the territory. Also, they took a number of prisoners. However, they soon faced a counter-offensive by the Germans, who were located nearby at Walcheren. They used 88-millimeter guns against the Canadians.
The Battle lasted several days and on October 27, 1944, Red Tilson was hit and died in action. He was 20 years old.
In time for the 1944-45-hockey season, The Globe and Mail donated a trophy to the OHA in honour of Tilson. The first winner of the Red Tilson Trophy as the league MVP was Douglas McMurdy of the St. Catherines Falcons. Johnny McCormack, then with St. Mike’s, finished second in the voting.
The first Leaf prospect to be awarded the Tilson was Tod Sloan. He was named the winner the following year. The last Leaf prospect to be voted the winner of the Tilson was announced just a couple of weeks ago when London’s Mitch Marner got the nod.