March 11, 2020 ~ Vol. 90 No. 10
Looking Back - John Kinnear
Torindo John Bisaro – K-38606
Looking Back
courtesy Library and Archives Canada
Extracts showing alien restriction and his declaration and oath to the King
K-38606 is the World War II regimental number for a soldier named Torindo John Bisaro. Every soldier had a number like this assigned to him when he signed up for service. Torindo’s records are now available on-line and there is a story within these files, and yet another story that emanates from them, that makes for some interesting reading.

First, let’s look at Torindo’s background and reveal what happened to this young Italian volunteer. Bisaro’s enrolment form reveals he was born in 1923 in Gradisca d’Isonzo in the very northeastern part of Italy near the Slovenian border. He immigrated to Canada along with his parents in 1927 when he was only four years old. His Personnel Selection Record shows that his parents returned to Italy in 1933 with his three sisters while he remained. Where he remained was his uncle’s farm in Baldwinton, Saskatchewan, where he worked for four years as a labourer.

Torindo finished up Grade 8 at the Irene School in that town, in 1941, and then left at the age of 15 to find work. Torindo wound up as a coal chute loader for the Crows Nest Pass Coal Company in Michel, B.C. What drew him across two provinces in search of work might be explained by the fact that there was a Luigi and Maria Bisaro (possibly relatives) living in Michel at the time. As an aside, I find a useful tool when it comes to chasing down a particular family name. In this case this is how I located possible Bisaro relatives. Torindo worked for almost a year as a coal car loader underground before he signed up with the Second Battalion of the Rocky Mountain Rangers where he remained in reserve from October 1942 until February of 1943.
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The number of acronyms in his record almost overwhelmed me but mercifully I found a comprehensive list of military abbreviations used in service files that helped me (sort of) track his movements. Through the National Resources Enrolment Act (NRMA) enrollment form I was able to follow his transfers and training through the system from Vancouver to Camrose to Calgary and then Nanaimo. Eventually, in April of 1944, he was S.O.S. (Struck Off Strength). This term means; “ceased to be a member of a unit because of transfer, injury or death.” A typical soldier’s file can contain a few S.O.S’s and T.O.S’s (taken on strength) as they are moved around and reassigned. The sad reality of this was that sometimes regiments, battalions or platoons were so decimated from battle that a lot of reassignment went on.

In Torindo’s case he was then T.O.S. from the 1st Battalion Oxford Rifles on August 31st, 1943 and officially enlisted for active duty here in Canada. A disturbing note highlighted in red at the top of his Personnel Selection Record reads: “RESTRICTED TO NON-SENSITIVE UNIT ANYWHERE including OVERSEAS” In that record, under recommendations, part five, it states the following; “Enemy Alien – not to be employed in Coastal Defense Areas or sent to Chilliwack C.A. (B) T.C. #112.” See what I mean by acronyms! So because Torindo was Italian born and Canada had declared war on Italy on June 10, 1940, the Canadian government designated Italian nationals and Italians naturalized after 1922 as enemy aliens.
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Similar to the Japanese, 31,000 Italians Canadians were singled out; finger printed, photographed and required to report monthly to the police. Some 600 plus were interned in rural camps in Petawawa, Kananaskis and Fredericton, most never even charged with a crime. Locally, I recall the case of respected Italian contractor, J. S. D’Appolonia, who was elected mayor of Coleman in February of 1940 and resigned four months later because of agitation about his nationality.

I wonder how Torindo felt about being treated with suspicion despite his pledge to serve this country. There were several evaluations done of him and his suitability up until April 10th of 1944 when his record reads; “Qualified Driver Mech. Group “C” – suitable for O/S (overseas) C.I.C (Canadian Intelligence Corp) if Pulhems profile confirmed”. Pulhems is, I believe, an acronym similar to the American Pulhes acronym for a grading system which evaluates a candidate’s physical profile (overall, upper, lower, hearing, eyes and stability/psychiatric). This comment was signed by J. F. English, a lieutenant and Army Examiner in Prince George, B.C.

It is probable that Torindo’s reclassification had to do with Italy switching sides and declaring war on Germany on Oct 13, 1943. In May 26th, 1944 Bisaro was shipped overseas to England where his record indicates he landed on June 2nd. He was disembarked in France on the 14th of July and was taken on strength with the 1st Battalion of the Black Watch of Canada. He was listed missing in action two weeks later. So this so called enemy alien died for our country in very short order in Normandy at the age of 21. He is buried in the Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery.

Torindo was killed fighting in the late stages of the Normandy invasion. I suspect he may have been involved in the terrible battle of Saint-Andre-sur-Orne. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about this; “That village witnessed the expulsion of many schoolchildren from the "Maison du Clos" by the Nazi army during World War II, but the marching children were then rescued by Allied soldiers. The village was finally liberated in late July 1944 by Canadian soldiers, many of whom died in this fierce battle, hence the street names of "Royal Black Watch" (the Montreal-based regiment) and the village's main street "Rue des Canadiens". Their bodies are buried in the Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery in the nearby village of Cintheaux.”
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Of the 2958 soldiers buried at Bretteville, 2782 are Canadian. On Torindo’s marker is the inscription: “Torindo - quanto si manchi- inconsolabili pregano mama pappa e sorelle.” It translates; “how you are missed, we are inconsolable, prayers from mom, dad and sisters.” Amongst Torindo’s records are two telegrams sent not to his mother and father Frank and Angela in Italy, but instead to his listed next-of-kin John Bisaro in Baldwinton. One is on August 6th from the Ministry of National Defense and notifies John that Torindo is missing in action. The second came June 6th, 1945, incredibly some 10 months later, and reads; “DEEPLY REGRET TO INFORM YOU THAT K38606 PRIVATE TORINDO JOHN BISARO PREVIOUSLY REPORTED MISSING IS NOW REPORTED KILLED IN ACTION TWENTY EIGHT JULY 1944 STOP.

Amongst his other papers is a will filed in February 1943 bequeathing to his Uncle John; “all my estate both personal and real.” It was a requirement of all soldiers to file one after being moved to active service. Below the will is a copy of a letter sent by Frank to Canadian Military Headquarters in Acton, London in September of 1945. In the letter his father Frank acknowledges their 28th of July, 1945, notification of, in his words, “the bad notice of my son.” This came to him one year after Torindo died, for God’s sake! Frank goes on to say in a heartbreaking paragraph; “He was the only son I had so you can imagine how my dalour (sorrow) is like and what it means to me by having lost him. We are both, his mother and I, old and rather sickly. We were waiting for him and always thought to have his help in our last years, and now that we know he will never come back to us, how can we live?”
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There is also a 1947 letter, typed in Italian, from his mother Angela Bisaro and signed by her. It was probably crafted for her by others and below it is a typed transcription, done by the Bureau of Translation- Foreign Languages Division, that basically reveals her thanking the Department of National Defense for the photographs they sent her of her son’s grave. She also asked if it would be possible to have his remains transferred to Italy.

Finally there is a 1951 official response letter to the family from Colonel A.G. Cherrier, Military Attaché, Canadian Embassy, Rome, Italy. Sent from Ottawa, it stated that it had received the family’s request on March of that year wondering if it would be possible for Frank, at no personal cost, to visit his son’s grave. The letter reveals there was no provision for such requests and that possibly the Canadian Legion might organize subsidized trips to war memorials in a couple of years but that this was a Canadian initiative only. It goes on to say; “The possibility of extending any financial help to Mr. F. Bisaro is most unlikely.”

This is just half of Torindo John Bisaro’s legacy. The other half will come next week when I will reveal the wonderful story behind the naming of a mountain and a spectacular cave in the Fernie area after this young Italian who gave his life for this country.

Authors Note: Outside the entrance to the Bretteville Cemetery is a memorial in the shape of a maple leaf dedicated to Gérard Doré, considered to be the youngest Canadian soldier to be killed during the Battle of Normandy. He lied about his age and volunteered for the Royal Canadian Artillery at the age of 15, and was just four weeks shy of his 17th birthday when he was killed at the Battle of Ridge Canopies on 23rd July. That is his picture on the front page. He died one day before Torindo did.
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March 11, 2020 ~ Vol. 90 No. 10
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