Jack Calder Was A Man With A Story
Jack Calder was a man with a story.
The former Chatham Daily News sports editor had many stories to tell, including his spectacular documentation of the 1934 Chatham Colored All-Stars.
A columnist, Calder told countless stories in his “Analyzing Sports” column.
As a storyteller, Calder also became the story during World War II, as a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force.
During his time in Chatham, Calder became a well respected writer.
According to University of Windsor scholar and researcher Heidi Jacobs, “Calder’s coverage of the All-Stars is some of the most elegant, eloquent, and empassioned sports writing I have ever read. His support of this team was
remarkably modern in its approach to this barrier breaking team and its accomplishments.”
Jacobs wasn’t alone in her admiration for Calder’s writing, which in the 1930s was considered groundbreaking itself in its lack of racism or bias.
As Dan Kelly wrote in his 1997 paper about the Chatham All-Stars while at the University of Waterloo, “In most newspaper accounts, the paper respected their ability to play the game, but the reporters could not help but qualify their remarks with racial bias. Perhaps the one exception to this was the author of the Sports in Short column, Jack Calder. Of all the reports in the news, his column appeared the least biased. Even so, as it was explained in a conversation with an ex-Star player, Calder had to be careful of what he said, or it might cost him his job.”
Calder appeared to be the exception to the rule of reinforcing the status quo of racism and bias at the time.
He boasted of the Chatham Coloured All-Stars in his columns stating that the All-Stars, “like to win their games the hard way. They’ll throw the ball down the mouths of the hostile fans and make them like it. Chatham’s champions, those up and down Stars, who fortunately are better uppers than downers.”
Of course Calder wrote about other sports, both professional and local in his column, and would later become a member of the Canadian Press editorial staff.
As World War II broke out, Calder enlisted becoming a Flying Officer, and a navigator in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Here, his writing shifted to focus on war time events including a raid on the Nazi pocket Battleship ‘Gneisenau’ then at Brest, which garnered syndication in papers across North America.
These were the stories he told. But the biggest story Jack Calder was involved in, was his own.
During his time in England, he even met Queen Elizabeth, King George, and Princes Elizabeth (who later became Queen) at Windsor Castle.
In 1941, the Chatham Collegiate Institute graduates story took an unexpected turn when he was reported missing. Calder, along with former McGill football star and pilot Bob Keefer, were involved in a raid over Frankfurt, Germany where their plane was badly damaged. Attempting to return to England, the crew overshot their target and were forced to parachute out over Ireland and into the bogs below.
Due to their intrusion into neutral airspace, the crew was captured and interned for more than a year alongside Nazi POWs. While in Ireland however, Calder was able to continue to write.
In fact, in 1942, Calder was able to publish an article in Maclean’s Magazine titled “I flew into trouble” describing that night and his jump from their plane.
“Jumping was easy,” Calder wrote. “As my feet went out, the slipstream caught them and I was speeded through by the rush of air. I pulled the rip cord; in a moment my head was jerked back as the chute opened and I felt as if I were being sawn through. The sensation ended quickly and the first thing I noticed was the desperate quiet after eight hours of listening to the buzz of the engines and the crackling of the telephone.”
His eloquent writing style from his days covering sport in Chatham, had been carried over the ocean to the war.
Calder was also given daytime parole privileges, where he could interact with the Irish in the area.
“The Irish people? Well, they’re very Irish. They’ve been very kind. We have been allowed considerable freedom on parole,” he wrote.
Despite the relative freedom however, Calder and his crew were determined to escape.
“The last escape attempt was a big one but got nowhere. Perhaps too many Irishmen know what it is to be locked up by other people. They’ve known all the tricks so far,” his article ended.
While the rest of his crew managed escape, Calder did not. It is said that he later devised a plan to feign a mental breakdown, which apparently proved successful, garnering his release back to England, where he would rejoin the RCAF.
Calder again took to the skies, but it didn’t take long for the navigator to be grounded again, as he was badly injured in a mountaintop crash in Northern Ireland in 1943 during a training flight. Through his treatment and recovery, Calder wrote stories, and sent them home about the work surgeons were doing, including for him, at military hospitals in England.
Sadly, after healing and returning to battle, Jack Calder was killed in action in 1944 while flying a mission to Hamburg with 571 Squadron. His plane was hit by flak, injuring both of Calder’s legs. He bailed out, but did not survive. Later, his body was recovered and buried in Kiel War Cemetery in Germany. Calder was only 29-years-old at the time of his death.
Jack Calder was a storyteller. He recorded one of the most legendary periods of sport in Chatham-Kent history. He recorded the unique experiences of interned soldiers in Ireland, and of recovering soldiers in military hospitals.
From his life in Chatham, to his death in World War II, Jack Calder was and will always be a man with a story.
“And for once we ride the crest. Let there be no trace of stinting to our celebration.”
Those were Calder’s words immediately following Chatham’s 1934 provincial baseball title; and those words could also ring true if applied to the life and story of Jack Calder.