THE WAR HERO THAT HAMILTON FORGOT
Earl McAllister single-handedly captured 160 Nazis in one day. He was supposed to be honoured for his heroics, but the city failed to follow through. Decades later, his sister is hoping to change that
MORE THAN 70 YEARS AGO, Hamilton city council passed a resolution to honour an Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders soldier who died a hero and whose exploits on the battlefield made international headlines.
But “Lance Sergeant Earl McAllister Day” never happened. No one followed through with civic recognition of the 21-year-old Hamilton man who incredibly captured 160 Nazis in one day in August 1944, and then was killed by a sniper’s bullet two months later while trying to help a wounded fellow soldier.
Now that oversight has become the focus of a last wish of his 97-year-old sister, Joyce (McAllister) Mason, who wants to see her brother recognized before she passes on.
“I would like to see it settled and have them do something before it’s too late,” says Mason, a widow who lives on her own in an apartment on the Mountain. “I feel very disappointed that they didn’t do something to recognize him at the time.”
Allying herself with a distant cousin, Gary McAlister — who came to know about the story from doing family tree research — she has asked the city to revisit the issue.
WILL BE this year,” Gary says. “She promised her parents that she would ensure that Earl received the recognition he rightly deserved but never received. It would make her extremely happy and proud if the city could somehow honour her brother, perhaps by naming a park or a street after him.”
The family has been in contact with Mayor Fred Eisenberger’s office and was told the mayor will meet with Mason. No date has been set for the meeting. Eisenberger is on vacation but supplied this
He did not suffer and let me assure (you) he died a hero. PTE. WILFRED DAY FROM A LETTER OF CONDOLENCE TO LILLIAN SHACKLETON
statement: “My office is pleased to acknowledge the amazing contribution of Earl McAllister a native Hamiltonian to our country’s efforts during WWII. We are working with staff to see what our City can do to recognize his bravery and courage that lead to him capturing 160 German soldiers single-handedly in France during the war.”
McAlister says he realizes that thousands of Hamiltonians died in the first and second world wars, and deciding who among them to recognize would be difficult. But the family notes there was an unfulfilled promise and that McAllister’s story in Falaise, France is the stuff of legend, even if some of the soldiers he captured were probably relieved to exit a war they were losing badly.
According to an account in The Hamilton Spectator, the then private used a combination of “force, psychology and courage to put 160 fully-armed Nazis in prisoners’ pens.”
He did this in three engagements. In the first two, he simply fired over the heads of groups of hiding Germans who threw down their weapons and surrendered. In the third case, about 70 Nazis came under his control after he commandeered a German armoured car.
The story made the New York Times and Time Magazine. A 30-second news reel from the time features McAllister in film footage and shows the captured Germans. A comic book was printed about him and he was featured on post cards.
IT WAS ALL so incredible for a five-foot-three, 135-pound Hamilton kid, who carried nicknames “Scotty” and “Mac.” His sister says when he joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, they had trouble finding a uniform that would fit.
“He got the shortest kilt he could find. He pulled it up under his armpits and put a belt on to hold it up and then put his jacket on. He was so proud of that uniform,” she said.
Argyll regimental historian Robert Fraser said, “He was not huge in stature but he was huge in terms of courage. He’s an impressive individual. Clearly his feats captured the local imagination in this community in 1944. It also got considerable attention around the world. Why nothing happened (to recognize him in Hamilton), I have no idea. But nothing happened.”
McAllister grew up on Wentworth Avenue North. He was a graduate of Hamilton Technical Institute, and an employee of Jones Brothers’ factory in Dundas when he enlisted.
He first tried to join the Royal Canadian Air Force but was rejected because of a weak nerve in his left ear. But the Argylls didn’t have a problem with that. He ended up overseas with the regiment’s 2nd battalion in February 1944. He was not part of the June 1944 D-Day landing, but found himself in Normandy shortly after.
After his death on Oct. 20 of that year in Kapellenbosch, Belgium, he was described in a letter sent to a Lillian Shackleton that eventually was published in The Spectator. It was started by McAllister, writing about conditions he was experiencing — “the worst thing we have to contend with is the infernal darkness when we’re on patrol and can’t see our hand in front of our face, let alone where we are walking ...”
He never finished it, and was carrying the letter in his pocket when he died.
Fellow soldier Pte. Wilfred Day wrote: “This is a letter that McAllister started but I am very sorry, I must end it for him. Mac, my best friend and yours, was killed yesterday, so I am writing this footnote to inform you Mac and I were always together and as he died in my arms he gave me all his belongings and told me to send this on.
“He did not suffer and let me assure (you) he died a hero. He was a friend of all and we miss him more than any one.
“You may wonder how he died. Well, one of his boys got hit and as Mac went out to get him, he got it as he walked outside. Well, Lillian, I will close now, as I have to write to my Mom.
“Please pardon the blood — it could not have been helped.”
According to an account in The Hamilton Spectator, the then private used a combination of ‘force, psychology and courage to put 160 fully-armed Nazis in prisoners’ pens.’
Lance Sgt. Earl McAllister single-handedly captured 160 Nazi soldiers in one day in August 1944.
Joyce Mason with a photo of her brother Lance Sgt. Earl McAllister, who captured 160 Nazi soldiers. Mason, 97, is seeking some public recognition for her brother’s efforts. Left: A family photo of Earl McAllister.
Top: The place where Earl McAllister and other Canadians died in Belgium. His body was later moved to the Canadian military cemetery in Holland. Above: A comic book created in recognition of McAllister’s capture of Nazis.