The story of Binnie’s POW guitar came to light earlier this year in the tiny Daily Inter Lake newspaper in Kalispell, Montana. An editor there became aware of Leslie Collins, a real estate agent in nearby Whitefish who had been helping Alf ’s widow, Joan, find the best home for Alf ’s small, precious collection of wartime belongings. The collection, now in the possession of the Canadian War Museum, includes a poster from the Strike up the Band concert at Stalag IX-C, a photo of one of Alf ’s prison-camp bands, the original bill of sale for the guitar, and, most remarkably, the guitar Alf acquired in February of 1942. It stayed with him through four more prison camps and “The March,” during which thousands of POWs were forced out of their camps and sent hundreds of miles on foot to flee from the invading Russian army. We recently spoke with Collins and Joan Binnie to find out more about this remarkable story about a man and his guitar.
The receipt for Alf’s guitar, which was purchased for him by guards on the condition that he play for them.
LEFT: The printed program from the April 26, 1942, Strike up the Band performance for the guards at Stalag IX-C. RIGHT: Alf’s pilot’s log indicates he was shot down on March 11, 1941, over Alkmaar, Holland. He was one of two survivors from his seven-man crew, but his leg was wounded badly and subsequently saved by German doctors.
More Adventure Than He Bargained For
Alfred E. Binnie was born in Montreal, Quebec, on January 6, 1920. His father, a reporter for the Montreal Star, was also the long-time organist and choirmaster for a large church. Joan believes Alf had a ukulele as a boy and perhaps a guitar, and he was an avid fan of Django Reinhardt and Louis Armstrong. Apparently Alf never harbored a desire to become a professional musician. When pressed to find work during his teenage years, he opted for adventure and a short-term commission in the Royal Air Force of Great Britain, an option open to Canadian citizens. By the time he got to England in 1939, the Germans were on the march across Europe, and in September, Britain and France formally declared war on the Nazi regime. Alf ’s program was suddenly eliminated, but with some persuading and patience, he was accepted into the RAF as an officer and pilot in training. By 1941, he was co-piloting missions in a Vickers Wellington Mk II bomber.
It’s unclear how many missions Alf flew before he was shot down, but it wasn’t many. On March 12, 1941, his plane took enemy fire and, with a badly wounded leg, he bailed out over Holland. Only one of his fellow crewmen survived. Alf managed to bury his parachute and walk to a farmhouse, where a family called a doctor. After looking at Alf ’s wounds, the doctor said there was no alternative but to call the German authorities, both to get access to a proper hospital and to ensure the family wasn’t called out for harboring an enemy combatant. Joan Binnie says the Nazis showed surprising respect and compassion for enemy officers and pilots. The next three months in the German-run hospital were agonizing, but several surgeries did manage to save Alf ’s leg. When he’d recuperated, he was processed in the German city of Oberursel and then sent to Stalag IX-C.
A British government public-domain photo of a Vickers Wellington Mk II bomber like the one Alf
began piloting for the Royal Air Force in 1941. He was shot down, captured, and given
medical treatment for his wounds in March of that year.