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Canadian-Swedish Hockey During World War II

CNS was contacted recently by Lars Ingels, who has written a book about some interned Canadian airmen who played a full hockey season in Sweden in 1943/44. The following is based on his email:

My new book called “”De kanadensiska bombflygarna och Leksands IF, ” tells the fascinating story of the interned Canadian airmen who played a full hockey season in Sweden during World War II. It is the true story of an unlikely season that would forever change life in the small town of Leksand (population now 15,000), which has the most popular hockey team in Sweden today. "It was a great way to fight a war," a sergeant of the Royal Canadian Air Force later described the winter of 1944, when he, together with a dozen compatriots, played a hockey season in the province of Dalarna, in central Sweden.

Between August 1943 and January 1944, eight British aircraft managed dramatic escapes to Sweden for emergency landings or as a result of crashes after facing down German fighters and anti-aircraft guns (flak). Five of the planes had Canadian crew on board. As Sweden was a neutral country, these airmen were interned in accordance with the Hague convention, waiting to be exchanged as prisoners of war. The Canadians ended up in Falun (just 30 miles from Leksand). When winter came they realized that here they could play their favourite sport, ice hockey, just like in Canada. Hockey had skated into Dalarna just a few years earlier and here came a crew of Canadian hockey players as an unexpected gift from on high, literally!

As a result, new spectator records were set and hockey made its real breakthrough in the county. The Canadians played twenty matches and competed in the very first Dalaseries against Mora IK and Leksand’s IF. The very next year Mora advanced to the highest Swedish national league and were followed a few years later by Leksand – today Sweden's most popular hockey club.

So what really happened during that cold winter of war? Who were the airmen and where did they come from? What led up to the winter of 1943–44, and what came after? It is an exciting tale, untold until now, where many twists of fate transformed the horrible theatre of war into a game played on the Dalarna ice.

In 2011 the Swedish Coast Guard found one of the planes, a Halifax, in the Baltic Sea outside Falsterbo in the south of Sweden. The discovery has gotten much attention in Canada and salvaging efforts began in 2016, collecting pieces of wreckage from this unique bomber plane in order to reconstruct the historic aircraft.

New research by the author Lars Ingels shows that some of the airmen on board the plane actually played hockey in Sweden in 1943/44. The salvage of the Halifax will resume in the summer of 2019 under the guidance of Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada).

Some of the other hockey playing Canadian airmen were sent back to England in time to take part in the D Day invasion of Normandie on June 6th 1944.

The Swedish book title, ”De kanadensiska bombflygarna och Leksands IF”, translates as “The Canadian Airmen and Leksand’s IF.” The book has 248 pages and more than 200 pictures. “Hopefully there will be an English version someday,” the author says. He is looking for a Canadian publisher.

(Note: We have invited Lars Ingels to give a talk to the CNS if he ever finds himself in the Ottawa area.)

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