Award-winning journalist, author and broadcaster Ted Barris was the guest speaker at the February 20th Canadian Club of Halton dinner. He discussed his latest book Rush to Danger: Medics in the Line of Fire, which shares the stories of medical personnel in times of war.
The book was inspired by Ted’s father’s experience in the Second World War. Ted’s father, Alex Barris, was a pioneer in Canadian television, remembered by many as host of The Barris Beat, named after his daily show-biz column in The Globe and Mail and later The Toronto Telegram. What many don’t know about Alex Barris is that he served as a medic in the US Army during the war, and saw action in the aftermath of the Battle of the Bulge.
Ted began his talk with how his father became a medic for the US Army. When Alex Barris enlisted he was asked where he would like to be placed, to which he responded “wherever I’m needed”. Ted showed the audience a photo of his father’s application to the army, which stated his occupation as Sewing Machine Operator. Ted explained that his father’s aunt was a seamstress and his father sometimes helped by stitching the lining of jackets. Since there was a need for medics, Ted said he can only imagine the US Army saying “if you can stitch a jacket, you can stitch a body.”
Ted also shared his journey researching his father’s experience in the war. While looking through military records, Ted found a veteran who served as a medic alongside his father, Tony Mellaci. Tony shared that Alex developed a medical newsletter – The Weekly Dose – to which he was the reporter, writer, and editor and publisher. Tony gave Ted copies of the newsletters he still had. Tony also shared the story that on February 12, 1945 four medics were sent into Campholz Woods in search for wounded soldiers. They didn’t return, so that evening Alex Barris went into the woods by himself and brought them back. Alex Barris was awarded the Bronze Star for his act of heroism. Ted knew that his father received a Bronze Star from the Second World War, but never knew the story behind it.
Shortly after Ted finished writing Rush to Danger, he received an invitation from the 94th Infantry Division of the Historical Society and 319th Medical Battalion to join them for a tour tracing the Battle of the Bulge. Ted shared that he knew this was an opportunity he could not miss! Along the tour Ted met Al Theobald, whose childhood home in Borg, Germany served as a first aid station during the Second World War. It just happened to be that this was also the first aid station where Alex Barris served. Al walked Ted through the bunkers, trenches, fox holes and dense woods of Campholz, and took him to his mother’s home in Borg, the former first aid station. When Ted returned home, he rewrote the entire book. Ted shared that Al Theobald brought him closer to his father’s wartime experience than he’d ever been before.
In addition to his father’s story, Ted Barris shares the stories of medical personnel over the range of 150 years; from the American Civil War to the ongoing crises in the Middle East. This includes John McCrae, Edith Cavell, and Jacob Markowitz (whose story inspired the award-winning classic film The Bridge Over the River Kwai). Ted says he learned that Jacob Markowitz attended over 9,000 patients using only handmade tools. He personally conducted over 7,000 procedures, 3,800 transfusions and saved over 5,000 soldiers. While Jacob’s story inspired the movie, he is never mentioned in the film.
Ted ended his talk by saying that through his research and interviews, he was able to share insights as to why these men and women risk their lives in war zones and why they rush to danger.
About Ted Barris
Ted Barris is an award-winning journalist, author, and broadcaster. For more than 40 years, his writing has regularly appeared in the national press as well as in magazines as diverse as Air Force, esprit de corps, and Zoomer. He has also worked as host and contributor for most CBC Radio network programs, and on TV Ontario.
After 18 years teaching, he retired in 2017 as a full-time professor of journalism at Toronto’s Centennial College.
Ted is the author of 19 bestselling non-fiction books, including a series on wartime Canada. His 17th book, The Great Escape: A Canadian Story, was honored with a 2014 Libris Non-Fiction Book of the Year Award.
Article by Kristen Curry