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Robert Lavack 2008


Robert Lavack in the Western Desert in 1942


See Robert Lavack and the Norval Morrisseau Postage Stamp ~ 1990 Christmas Stamp Info

Robert "Kurt" Lavack

Hero = Zero by Robert Lavack,

edited by Angie Littlefield

Under this working title, Robert Lavack is writing a fact-filled memoir of his life. Born and raised in Canada's west, and later working as a citizen of the world, Robert's extraordinary World War II experiences make compelling reading in the heart of an engrossing life. Friendship with Norval Morrisseau, aerial geological surveys in Canada's north, near death flying adventures in Africa and brief commercial forays into chemical toilets, sugar beet grinders and zeppelins are just a few of Mr Lavack's post WWII adventures. The book should be ready for publication in 2009.

Below is a lesson from the Durham West Art Centre's Reading and Remembrance project 2005. and

Robert "Kurt" Lavack was a young Canadian lad in the merchant marine when
his boat was torpedoed. As one of six survivors, he was taken to Britain
where he could choose training in the Royal Air Force. He was trained and flew 84 bombing missions-a remarkable feat considering the tremendous casualty rate of British and Canadian airmen.

"My first tour was 250 combat hours on fighters. This tour started in the UK and culminated in the Middle East during the first and second battles of El Alamein. Then I made the mistake of volunteering for bombers to get out of the Middle East. My first bomber tour started in the UK but half way through our group was transferred to the Middle East. Bomber tours in the UK were 30 operations (raids), but when we were transferred to the Middle East this had increased to 40 operations. Supporting the invasion of Sicily and Italy resulted in losses of crew and slow replacements. Like many other RAF aircrew, my tour was extended. My tour terminated at 47 raids. My second bomber tour was out of Italy and was a 30 raid tour. The old loss and no replacement formula persisted and as a result, I did 37 raids on that tour."

The photo showing me half inside my tent was taken in the Western Desert in
1942 during the first Battle of El Alamein. My squadron was based south of
Sidi Barrani when Rommel captured Tobruk in June 1942 and the British forces
started their withdrawal to the El Alamein line. We lived rather rough like in
the army. The dug out tent wasn't mandatory, but it tended to be safer in
bombing and strafing attacks. Water was rationed and the diet was mainly
bully beef, tinned potatoes, pickles, hardtack, jam and tea. A good evening
snack was to fry the hardtack in butter and eat it warm with jam. We would
occasionally get eggs from Bedouins who passed through the area with their
camels and sheep. They wanted dry tea and we had lots of that but limited
water. Washing was a luxury but we could occasionally take a trip to the
ocean about 20+ miles north and soak in the sea."

Mr Lavack, now living in the Czech Republic on a posting with his Swedish Diplomat wife is writing the stories of his war years.

Study Questions

1. Look up the locations mentioned in Mr. Lavack's oral history.
Locate El Alamein, Sid Barrani and Tobruk on a map of the area.
Why were allied troops in Africa during World War II?

2. What are bully beef and hard tack?
What nutrients would they supply?
Why would frying the hardtack and eating it with jam make it easier to eat?

3. Who are the Bedouins and why would they be passing through this area of
Why would dry tea appeal to the Bedouins?

4. What details about WW II does Mr. Lavack's oral history supply that are
missing from textbook accounts of WW II?

Morrisseau Xmas stampRobert Lavack and the Norval Morrisseau Postage Stamp

Robert Lavack started agitating for Norval to be considered to design a Native Canadian postage stamp in 1970. He contacted Keith Penner, then Member of Parliament for Thunder Bay. F.G. Flatters, the Chief of the Postage Stamp Division of the Post Office Department, Mr. Gorden Aiken M.P. for Parry Sound/Muskoka, Leo Bernier, Minister of Mines and Northern Affairs and even his old pal, Dr Walter Kenyon, then Associate Curator, Office of the Chief Archeologist of the Royal Ontario Museum. In an April 13, 1971 letter to Mr Flatters which Dr Kenyon wrote at Robert's suggestion, he wrote of Norval, "Through his art, he has become almost a legendary spokesman, not only for his own Ojibway people, but for the Native Candians generally, and in the art galleries of the world he is respected as an outstanding Canadian. These, surely, are impressive credentials. The letter exchange about the issue continued until just before Mr. Lavack left to work on the smallpox eradication program conducted by the World Health Organization in Africa.

Canada Post | The Morrisseau Papers

The Morrisseau Papers, by Hazel Fulford, published by Perdida Press in Thunder Bay in 2007, is an inside story based on the papers Robert Lavack had from his days with Norval Morrisseau and the art circuit. It also contains Lavack's reminiscences of the time. The book provides key evidence about the early life and career of Norval Morrisseau.


Angie Littlefield | 416.282.0646 |