Ontario conducted it’s 5th plebiscite on Prohibition on October 23, 1924. (following ones in 1894, 1902, 1919, and 1921). Prohibition was not successful in 1894 and 1902. It was instituted nationally in 1916 during World War 1, but removed (nationally) in 1919. The 1919 referendum voted to keep it in Ontario, and the 1921 one voted to ban the import of alcohol. The 1924 referendum was whether to keep prohibition. It was approved by only 51.5%, a result that did not sit well with many and urban centers voted against it, while rural areas voted in favour of it.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 17, 1936.
“What’s the good of a sunroom,” asked Jimmie Frise, “if a big tree shades it?”
“Build the sunroom somewhere else,” I explained.
“Cut the tree down, you mean,” said Jim.
“Nonsense,” I cried. “A tree takes longer to grow than you do. It takes a tree a hundred years to mature.”
“This tree,” said Jim, “was just a little bit of a thing when I bought the house. A slim little girl of a tree. Who would ever have suspected it of growing up into a great fat dowdy matron of a tree that would become a nuisance?”
“We’re all human,” I pointed out.
“It has grown higher than the house,” said Jim, “and it not only cuts off all the sun from the sunroom but the grass won’t grow under it any more. Its big fat arms wave and scratch at the roof. One of these days it is going to rip a cornice off. It’s got to go.”
“Jim,” I pleaded, “pause. You can cut off a branch here and there, if it offends. But if you cut that tree down, you will miss it as you would miss a member of your family at the table. A vacant chair.”
“It will be a great relief to see the thing gone,” said Jimmie. “Every time there is a thunderstorm we imagine the lightning hitting the tree and jumping across to the house, killing us all in bed. Fresh air will blow in our windows again. A dampness that has slowly been increasing on that side of our house will vanish, and the good sun will cleanse and brighten us.”
“A nest of robins in its hair,” I reminded him. “Lifts its leafy arms in prayer.”
“Caterpillars drop off it to the window sills,” stated Jim, “and crawl into the house. Black squirrels use it for a ladder to enter our home and chew nests under our eaves.”
“It will cost almost is much,” I declared, “to have the tree cut down as it will to remodel the house and put the sunroom on another corner.”
“I’ll cut it down myself,” said Jim.
“Once I had a tree cut down,” I said, “and it cost $38. Two Norwegian sailors came and scaled the tree like a mast, and started cutting it off from the top, a few feet at a time. I never saw anything so cruel and terrible in my life. This lovely tree, that had patiently thrust itself up, up, year by year, being patiently chopped off, from the top, hour by hour. It took them all afternoon to cut that tree down. And I missed it ever since.”
“Why did you have it cut down?” asked Jim.
“Because its roots were breaking into my drain pipes,” I answered. “Not because it gave me shade.”
“My tree has got to go,” said Jim. “It has outlived its usefulness and beauty. What we need is air.”
“I warn you, Jim,” I assured him. “I warn you. This sacrifice of all life in careless worship of our own needs is some day going to get us humans into a dreadful jam.”
“A tree is a tree,” said Jim.
“That Would Be a Swell Joke”
“It lives,” I declared. “It has life. It probably has feeling. And who knows but it may actually think.”
“Yeah,” agreed Jim. “I often hear it muttering.”
“Jim,” I insisted, “did you ever pause to think of the dreadful slaughter of life that man is responsible for? Think of the creatures mankind has destroyed in the past few millions of years in order to eat. The billions of deer, fowl, cattle, sheep, goats. The incalculable hordes of beasts, birds, fish, oysters. Just so merry little man might write his story on the stones of the earth.”
“Everything eats something,” said Jim. “If we hadn’t eaten them, wolves would have.”
“Ah,” I said, “think of all the things man has destroyed for which he had no earthly use, but just because they were in his way. The wolves, tigers, lions. The elephants. Poor, gentle elephants, doing no harm, yet man slaughtered them for their teeth.”
“We had to play billiards,” explained Jim, “and before we invented composition balls, all we had were ivory balls.”
“The buffalo,” I reminded him. “Once our plains were black with buffalo. So men went forth and slew them, leaving a thousand carcasses a day to rot on the prairie, while the hunters ripped off the hides and sold them for cheap leather in the east at a dollar a hide.”
“How could western farmers operate their wheat fields,” demanded Jim, “if there were a lot of buffalo stampeding all over the place?”
“And the passenger pigeon,” I recalled. “Just to make a holiday, men trapped these lovely wild creatures by the tens of thousands and caged them and sold them to the trap shooters, so that, on a Saturday afternoon, the sportsmen could go to the gun club and each shoot a hundred live birds.”
“If you had lived in Toronto in 1880,” said Jim, “you would have been glad of a little live-bird shooting to break the monotony.”
“To make our fields,” I cried loudly, “we burned and chopped and blasted the forests primeval. To make our fields, we destroyed the buffalo and the deer and all the wild things. For our sweet sake, we have chased and hunted and killed and exterminated not only billions of individual creatures given, like us, the divine blessing of life on this earth, but we have completely wiped out certain whole species.”
“Now that you come to mention it,” agreed Jim, “we have kind of hogged the show.”
“Hog is right,” I mused. “And now, by golly, having nothing else to chase and fight and kill, we are turning on each other. Look at the nations of the earth.”
“That would be a swell joke,” agreed Jim. “Having killed everything else, we kill ourselves.”
“Nature,” I stated, “is essentially humorous. Nature has played a lot of jokes in her time. The various proud races she has built up, and then let them drop in the mud. The species she has allowed to rule the roost, only to have them end up as monstrous and comic skeletons in a museum. I guess the dinosaurs didn’t realize they were comic, in the days they thrashed around the earth, making all living creatures flee in terror. But I get a big snicker out of them whenever I see their great waddling obscene bones in a museum.”
Jimmie Wields the Axe
“Do you think Nature really designed those dinosaurs?” asked Jim. “With clown frills around their necks, and faces like gargoyles, and limp necks seventeen feet long and thick legs three feet long?”
“I believe Nature is a joker,” I assured him. “And I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if she was busy right now playing a joke on men. I can’t think of any other reasonable explanation of the world as it is to-day. Somebody is having fun with us. It can’t be serious. It must be somebody’s idea of fun.”
“I guess a humorous basis for life would be just as good as a serious one,” said Jim. “If we could only persuade everybody, Hitler and Gen. Blanco and Stalin and everybody, that it was all a joke, then they wouldn’t be so serious about everything and we could all have fun and sleep easy.”
“The first thing you do, then,” I said, “is spare that tree and shift your sunroom to some other part of the house.”
“The tree,” said Jim, “is coming down. Do you know what we call that tree in our house? We call it Mussolini. It is coming down, with a crash. But I’ll tell you what I’ll do. If you give me a hand with it, I’ll plant a new baby tree in its place. Right in the same spot. A new baby tree, of any kind you like to choose.”
“I would as soon,” I said “shoot your dog as cut down your tree. Wait. You’ll find out.”
But the next evening, when I heard an axe ringing unaccustomed in our quiet neighborhood, I knew it was Jim. And, after listening to the sound that has for five thousand years been the most characteristic of all human sounds on this round earth, I felt a curious fascination growing in me and I went down the back lane the three doors that separate our homes, and there was Jim, swinging a bright blade. Already a great white gash showed in the hip of the beautiful tree.
“Which way,” I called, after watching Jim for several minutes, “do you intend it to fall?”
Jim rested from chopping and surveyed the tree.
“Back towards the lane,” said Jim. “I cut a big notch on this side, see? Then I go to the other side and cut a smaller notch a little above the other, so that when the weight begins to tell, the tree will fall towards the larger and lower notch.”
“Correct,” I agreed.
“A lot of good wood in this tree,” said Jim appraisingly. “I’ll saw up the trunk and larger branches. I bet I get three cord of lovely firewood.”
“A wood fire is a fine thing,” I admitted.
“To anybody that wanted a little wood,” said Jim. “I’d be glad to give those large limbs, if they would go to the trouble of sawing or chopping them off, after she’s down.”
“I’d be glad of the branches,” I submitted.
Jim stepped up, spat on his hands, and began to swing the axe again, in great sweeping blows, making big white chips leap out on to the lawn.
There is something graceful about swinging an axe. Graceful and satisfying. It uses all of a man. His arms, shoulders, back. His legs, thighs, calves, feet. A good swing of an axe is about as complete a use of the human body as can be imagined. It may be all this dreadful orgy of killing and chopping and cultivation was the result of early man discovering how nice it is to swing an axe. Maybe even war started from man liking the feel of an axe. Maybe.
“Jim,” I called, “if you need a hand.”
Jim took a few more extra heavy whangs and then let the axe fall, and rested.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“I say, if you would like a rest, I could take a few swings.”
“Certainly,” agreed Jim, stretching his shoulders.
I took the axe, and felt the slide of its smooth handle through my hands; felt the heavy bite of its blade into the gleaming wood. It is a sort of rhythm that makes good chop. You don’t heave and thump with an axe. You simply swing it, in a rhythmic and accelerating arc, allowing the weight of the blade to do the work, and concentrating the mind on the accuracy of the blow.
“Don’t widen the cut,” called Jim, who was standing admiring my work. “Keep to the same notch I was making.”
“Listen, boy,” I said, “my great-grandfather owned the hogs that hollowed out Hogg’s Hollow. Tell me about an axe!”
But in a minute, Jim stepped in and I handed it over to him.
“We’re not the right sizes,” he said, “to both work on the same notch. “You’ve widened this all out.”
“Good clean chips, though,” I said.
“I’ll have to even it out,” said he.
And with a few keen, upcurving strokes he joined the lower part of the notch where I was hitting to the larger notch he had made.
“You had better go around and start your higher notch now,” I warned him. For the big notch was more than half way through.
“I do a workmanlike job,” said Jim, pausing to study the notch and then stepping up and giving a series of neat, sharp chops to remove a few rough cuts.
A loud crack.
A creak, a squeak, and I saw the tree starting to sway. A sudden rending splitting sound, and the tree began to fall not towards the lane, but straight for the house.
We leaped aside, and as it fell, the unchopped side caused the trunk to swing a little, so that what it did strike was not the house but the sunroom, jutting out from the back. A side-ways swinging blow. And in a tremendous shower of glass and splintering frames, the sunroom collapsed like an orange crate.
There was a long moment of utters silence, such as always marks the fall of a noble tree, even in the lonely forest, where the wood choppers toil. And then the trouble began. Family, neighbors, that sort of thing.
“The point is,” said Jim, as he and I stood out in the lane while everybody else crowded around the tree and the hanging sunroom, “the point is, we had more or less decided to take your advice in the first place, and shift the sunroom around to the south side.”
“Then why did you chop down the tree?” I demanded.
“We thought we’d do both,” said Jim.
“Nature is humorous,” I suggested. “And often she’s very helpful.”
Editor’s Notes: $38 in 1936 is $730 in 2021.
Who is this Gen. Blanco, on par with Hitler and Stalin? Probably Luis Carrero Blanco, Francisco Franco’s right hand man. As the Spanish Civil War only started a few months earlier, maybe it was not clear who was in charge of the Nationalist side?
This is another excellent image by Jim to accompany a Merrill Denison story about women who turned fighting a bush fire into an enjoyable experience by making it into a kind of picnic.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 7, 1939.
“With a little walnut juice or something,” said Jimmie Frise, “I could dye my hair.”
“The trouble is,” I explained, they have our records at Ottawa. Every old soldier, 600,000 of us, is all docketed at Ottawa. You can’t fool them, unless, of course, you want to get in under an assumed name.”
“If this war continues,” said Jimmie, “we won’t have to worry. They’ll take all the old soldiers. And be mighty glad to have us.”
“I tell you what they ought to do,” I stated. They ought to recruit what the Germans called the Landwehr in the old war. All men over a certain age, who had no particular right to serve in the active battalions, were enlisted in reserve battalions of older men They did all kinds of secondary work like guard duty, digging trenches, laying wire entanglements, repairing roads, and everything like that.”
“Not for me,” declared Jimmie. “Just because I’m over age is no reason why they should work me to death.”
“Jim, you’re romantic,” I said. “It is just as honorable to die from a heart attack while carrying a heavy plank, 30 miles behind the battle lines, when you are in uniform, as to die in a battle raid.”
“And somebody has to carry the planks,” agreed Jim.
“The way I’d do it,” I enunciated, “if I were the minister of defence, I would enlist every man who wants to enlist, so long as he is fit. Young, old, weak, strong, keen, dull, gay, crabby, enlist them all into a sort of depot. A sort of recruiting pool. Then let the recruiting officers of the infantry come along, for example, and call a parade of the pool and ask for those who wanted to enter the infantry, please step forward.”
“Who’d have first choice of them?” inquired Jim. “I wouldn’t want the infantry to get all the best men. Don’t forget the artillery.”
“Oh, no,” I enlightened. “The boys in the pool would know that all branches would be coming for them, so those that wanted to get into the artillery or the engineers could hold back until the officer from those arms called for them. Now, when the infantry officer came, a lot of men would step forward who aren’t suited to infantry, too old, too fat, too tall.”
“Huh,” snorted Jimmie.
“Yes, too tall,” I insisted. “If I were minister of defence, the first call for the infantry would be for men between five feet and five feet three inches and weighing not more than 125 pounds.”
“Good grief,” laughed Jim. “The Guards.”
“Modern infantry,” I informed him, “travels in trucks. You can get far more small men in a truck than you can big ones. Small men can move over the ground far slicker than tall ones, and instead of having to dig six-foot trenches, you would only need five-foot trenches. In a trench 100 miles long, I bet that would save enough digging to fill up the Grand Canyon of Colorado. Tall men are a waste of time in the infantry.”
“I suppose you’d put all the big men in the artillery,” scoffed Jim.
“Certainly,” I agreed “Because when you run out of gasoline, somebody has to haul those guns around. And the more beef you’ve got in the artillery, the sooner you bombardiers are going to be helping us poor little infantry away out there in the blue.”
New Plan For Recruiting
“I want to inform you,” said Jim, “that we artillery men have the highest respect and admiration for the infantry. It’s a pity you infantry haven’t got more feeling for us gunners.”
“We have the highest respect for you,” I assured him, “when you take time to aim your guns.”
“Now, that’s too much…” cried Jim indignantly.
“What I was getting at,” I interrupted calmly, “is that when men are over age for the active service battalions or units enlisted, they would automatically be appointed to the reserve units of the army, all branches; reserve infantry reserve artillery, reserve engineers and everything. For instance, I’d be a major of a reserve battalion of infantry, and you’d be a gunner in a reserve battery of artillery.”
“Yeah,” said Jimmie. “And you’d be swelling around ordering a lot of poor old soaks to dig roads and pile lumber, while I’d find myself with a hose and a sponge cleaning the tractors of some battery of the active force, who are far too busy and valuable to do any rough jobs like car washing.”
“The point is,” I explained, “by this reserve system of recruiting we older men would be learning the organization and set-up of the new army, we would be in training all the time. So that when the time came and I had to take my battalion of old soldiers to fight, and you had to go with your comrades of the old artillery to man the decimated guns, we would at least know the ropes.”
“I can still remember every detail,” said Jim, “of my old training on the 18-pounders.”
“Yes, but by the time you would be called up,” I pointed out, “it wouldn’t be 18-pounders they would be using, but some new-fangled, quick-firing anti-tank gun or some electrically operated group of anti-aircraft quick-firers that shoot 40 rounds at one shot.”
“Let them get electricians, then,” retorted Jimmie. “If they think they’ve got a new war, they’re crazy. This war, once they’ve bust up all the new-fangled machines, will get right back to Julius Caesar the way the last one did.”
“I doubt it,” I informed him. “You’re like the old Boer War veterans that were with us in the last war. Remember how we used to get so bored with the old Boer War veterans?”
“I know,” agreed Jim, “but they thought war was a matter of riding hell for leather across the veldt and capturing kopjes.”
“Well, you’ll admit,” I pointed out, “that our war was quite a surprise to them. With our trench mortars and our 50-foot dugouts, and that good old trench routine, a civilization all its own. Like Venice.”
“You forget,” said Jim bitterly, “that I did not see much of trenches. I saw gun pits. Holes dug in the hard earth, in which to seat a gun. Holes dug in the earth to store the shells for the guns. I saw roads, not trenches. When I had to deliver a mule load of shells to my guns, there were no deep, safe communication trenches for me. No, sir, I had to ride my mules right up the dark, blasted, riven road.”
“That was 20 to 25 years ago, Jim,” I said. “And those Boer War veterans had their war only 13 years before ours. If the Boer War veterans looked a little corney to us, how do you suppose we look to these young soldiers of today?”
Old Tunics and Breeches
“You’re talking like an infantry man,” corrected Jim. “But to us gunners, war never changes. Weapons do. But not war. We still have to haul our guns into position. Then we have to protect them. And then we fire them. I could deliver shells to guns just as good as I ever did.”
“On mules?” I scoffed.
“Yes, on mules,” said Jim. “War never changes. Only the uniforms and the size and the shape of weapons.”
“Did Julius Caesar have airplanes?” I mocked.
“No, he had scouts on flying horses,” said Jim.
“And could they drop tons of bombs on towns?” I insisted.
“No, but they could kill defenceless people just as dead with swords and lances,” retorted Jim. “They could set fire to temples; and to plain people cowering on distant hillsides. What’s the difference whether a bombing plane or one of Julius Caesar’s horsemen set their village on fire?”
“You have very old-fashioned notions,” I remarked.
“You infantry people,” said Jimmie, “give me a laugh. You are always thinking up something new, but it never works. There you were in the last war, millions of you, solemnly marching in and out of trenches. And what did you do? Not a thing. Whenever anything happened, you fired off sky rockets to signal us gunners to cut loose, There you at, in your trenches, in deep caverns and holes, while we gunners, on both sides, plastered the stuffing out of you. But you were happy because you figured you had thought up something new.”
“Artillery,” I shouted, “is just an accessory, a side-arm, of the infantry. We use you. We tell you where we want to go and you blow open a path.”
“Gravel crushers,” said Jim.
“Horse polishers,” I sneered.
As became my rank and appointments, however antiquated, I felt that it was beneath me to bandy words with a mere gunner, another rank. So I got up and left the room.
When I got home, I went straight up to the attic and amidst the quiet and the rafter smell of the trunk room, I found an old brown bag and unfastened it.
It was like undoing a bundle of old letters. Twenty years is quite a long time for a cap to go unworn, and the wrinkles of 20 years in a tunic, however good the cloth, are deep wrinkles. Field boots that once upon a time were such a pride and glory that it was a question whether I was wearing the boots or the boots were wearing me, can wither up very hard and dry in 20 years.
I got them out and brushed them down with my hands and pulled at the wrinkles and creases. I tried the tunic on, and it would button, only in one button, the top. My Sam Browne belt had vanished, however I scrabbled through the old brown valise. And I suddenly remembered seeing, six or seven years ago, a dog harness my sons had built for Dollie, the cocker spaniel, to draw a sleigh. My Sam Browne.
The breeches were more of an abdominal supporter than a pair of pants, but I got them on. The field boots were agony. I dragged them back and forth over a rafter. I rubbed them and anointed them with oil. But you can’t bask in the soft air of peace for 20 years and expect old leather field boots to stay limber, up in hot attics.
But when I came downstairs, some shadow of the former man followed me. The cap had shrunk and perched a little unsteady. By carrying my stomach well in and one hand in my tunic pocket, very jaunty, I could pass a mirror sideways and not look too terrible. Of course, with the years comes charity, in relation to oneself.
A lane connects the back of Jim’s garden, four doors south, from mine. And down this lane, in the quiet of the supper hour, I walked smartly, meeting nobody. And when I rapped at Jim’s back door, Jim happily opened to me, a tea cup in his hand. He was having bachelor supper, the family being all out.
“Holy Moses,” he said.
“Jim,” I offered, snapping my salute and standing very stiff, “I don’t think two old friends should quarrel at a time like this, over old jealousies dating back to the old war. Twenty years ago.”
“Come in, come in,” cried Jim. “Where did you dig up all the souvenirs?”
“Excuse me, Jim,” I protested, “this is my old service kit. It fits me pretty good, don’t you think?”
“I wonder where my stuff is?” said Jim, eyeing me enviously.
“Other ranks were supposed to hand their kit in, on demobilization,” I recalled.
“And come home from the war naked?” said Jim. “I’ve got my stuff here somewhere.”
Kit Bag in the Attic
I followed Jimmie up dark attic steps, and into the trunk room. All attics are alike.
Jim explored around amidst trunks, bags, and, under a pair of oars and duck decoys and a pile of things that appear to be anything at all, he found his old artillery kit bag, inscribed J. L. Frise and his regimental number. In an old topped trunk of pre-war vintage, he unearthed another treasure trove of the wars. I counted five moths when he opened the bag and trunk.
“Hm,” said I. “A fine way to keep your kit.”
My boots were chafing terribly.
Jim removed his trousers and had put on the artillery breeks with their clumsy leg patches.
“They fit,” he said a little huskily.
“Now try on your riding boots,” I submitted.
“I wore puttees when I was demobilized,” said Jim, rummaging in the trunk and pulling out spurs, all rusted, shirts, leather goods.
“Here’s the puttees,” he gloated. They are just the way I took them off 20 years ago.”
I stood and watched with grim amusement. I always knew the artillery did not know how to wear puttees. They always put them on upside down. The started the winding at the knees and tied them down at the ankle, on some wild theory that they were better that way riding a horse, but who would ride a horse in puttees.
To my deep joy, Jimmie, after trying on the puttee this way and that with a growing sense of bewilderment, finally started rolling them at the ankle, the way, the infantry did, and instead of rolling it snugly against his leg on the way up, carefully judging the distance of each lap, he let the bandage unroll in his hand and started winding it the way a cow puncher throws a lariat.
“Heh, heh, heh,” I said pleasantly.
“Let’s see,” said Jim, very flushed and studying the problem as from a far distance.
“Can’t even remember how to put on a puttee,” I said.
Jimmie straightened up and let the puttee fall on the floor.
“And you can’t even remember,” he said loudly, “how to button your tunic.”
“It isn’t my memory that is at fault,” I remarked bitterly.
“And your cap looks like a fungus,” said Jim, “and your pants don’t meet, and your boots look like an Eskimo’s mukluks.”
“Easy, Jim, easy,” I warned. “We won’t get anywhere criticizing our appearances.”
“And we won’t get anywhere,” remarked Jim, “making cracks about forgetting how to wrap puttees on. Who the heck wears puttees anyway? Just a lot of mudhookers and infantry.”
“Pardon me, Jimmie,” I began.
“Puttees have been abandoned by the army, anyway,” cried Jim. “And infantry has been pretty near abandoned too. But the good old guns are bigger and better than ever.”
We eyed each other fiercely for a minute in the moth-filled attic room, and then he took off the artillery breeches and puttees and trousers and packed all the stuff back tenderly in the round-topped trunk and brown bag with the regimental number and we went downstairs and out the door and up the lane to my place. I changed back into Harris tweed and we listened to the radio news broadcast and thought of the young men that were out tonight doing all the old-fashioned jobs, the creeping and the crawling, the standing and watching, and the dim view of fat brown shells and the jerking of the yards of guns.
Editor’s Notes: This appeared shortly after the start of World War Two, and a lot of old WWI veterans were thinking on how they could help. Unfortunately, the right hand side of the microfilm was badly cut off, so some of the text had to be filled in with my best guess.
Walnut juice is a natural hair dye made from walnut shells, which is still popular today among those who want natural products.
Kopjes is a South African reference to small hills.
Breeks are trousers that stop below the knees. Puttees are bandages wrapped for a covering for the lower part of the leg from the ankle to the knee, and were in general use by the British Army as part of the khaki service uniform from 1902 until 1938. The Sam Browne Belt is a belt supported by a strap over the shoulder.
Gravel crushers and mud hookers were slang terms to refer to the infantry (along with foot sloggers, gravel grinders and mud crushers, an insult that carried over from the cavalry, implying that the infantry just marched around). A horse polisher is an insult to refer to the cavalry, implying they just looked after horses, but it could also refer to the artillery of WW1, as Jim indicated that he spent a lot of time delivering shells (more likely by mule). A cow puncher is just a cowboy, someone who works on a ranch controlling cattle.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 5, 1946.
“The world,” insisted Jimmie Frise, “is getting better.”
“I can see no signs of it,” I asserted.
“It’s getting better and better all the time.” declared Jim. “Better and better for ever larger numbers of people in ever wider areas of the world’s surface.”
“Aw,” I protested, “you mean India and China and Africa and such…”
“Certainly,” said Jim sharply. “Why not? Do you mean the world just around you? Maybe it isn’t so comfortable right in your own immediate circle.”
“How can I judge the world,” I demanded, “except from where I sit?”
“From where we sit,” smiled Jimmie, “is where most of us are judging the world these days.”
“Back in the good old days,” I complained, “we didn’t know about the rest of the world. Occasionally, some missionary would come home from China or Africa and preach to us about the tragic way of life of all those teeming millions. So we gave a dollar to the missionary fund.”
“Conscience,” agreed Jim, “was cheap a few years ago. But nowadays, with the movies and radio and everything, there is no escape for us.”
“Not to mention,” I added, “that millions of British, American and Canadian boys have been in those far parts of the earth – India, China, Africa – and are apt to have formed some opinion.”
“Public opinion,” submitted Jim, “was easy to manage, 20, 30 years ago. Nobody knew anything but what they were told.”
“And now,” I confessed, “when a politician gets up and tries to steer the mob his way, 20 or 50 or 100 young guys who have been in China or India or Africa can get up in the audience and slaughter him with a few words.”
“It isn’t going to be easy to be a politician from now on,” gloated Jim cheerfully. “Too much food for thought lying around everywhere. Newspapers, feature magazines, radio, movies. And too many people eating it.”
“Eating what?” I inquired.
“Food,” said Jim, “for thought.”
“Do you think,” I asked, “that if more people start thinking, the world will get better?”
“Maybe not for us comfortable people,” explained Jim, “who have been doing the thinking in the past.”
“Does thinking make us comfortable?” I parried.
“Thinking,” elucidated Jim, “is merely masticating or chewing food for thought. If you don’t give the people anything to think about, they don’t think. Back 50 years, when only a selected few were allowed to go forward with their education as far as the end of high school, much less the university, only a selected few were given any food for thought. There were no modern newspapers and magazines. No movies, no radio. The serious theatre was expensive and largely designed for that same selected few who had already been supplied, by education, with food for thought. But look at the world now! Education is becoming compulsory. Forced feeding. Whether the young people of today have any appetite for food for thought or not, they are stuffed with it by force. And modern publishing, movies and radio are furiously competing in cooking the food for thought in attractive forms and serving it up in an appetizing way.”
“Darn you and your metaphors,” I groaned.
“I don’t suggest all these millions,” went on Jim, “are going to think straight. But they are going to think. You can’t shove food for thought into the mouths of millions without them chewing it.”
“It’s a horrible simile,” I protested, “Everybody, will have indigestion. Mental indigestion.”
“Maybe, maybe,” agreed Jim cheerfully. “But which is worse? Starving? Or indigestion?”
“In the past, Jim,” I presented, “the people who went ahead eating food for thought were those with the appetite for food for thought.”
“I think,” mused Jim, “that everybody is born with the appetite in some measure. But the way we have had the world organized, the appetite was killed in early life for the vast majority of human beings.”
“But not any more?” I queried.
“Not any more,” said Jim.
Jim drove the car slowly homeward. It was only mid-afternoon, but we had a caulking job to do at Jim’s house. We were going to go all over his downstairs window frames which, over the years, had shrunk somewhat, leaving wind cracks for winter.
“It’s a sort of cafeteria,” he suggested. “And even compulsory education is getting into line with publishers, book, newspaper and magazine, the movies, the radio and all the other distributors of food for thought, so as to make the cafeteria presentation as attractive as possible.”
“Jim,” I suggested, “in the past, when only a comparatively few people were equipped for thinking, what did they devote their thinking to?”
“Okay, what?” asked Jim guardedly.
“They devoted their thinking,” I stated, “to how to get out of doing work. They devoted their thinking to how to get others, who didn’t think, to do their work for them, and make a profit.”
“Now, now,” laughed Jimmie.
“It’s a fact,” I cried. “That’s all thinking really amounts to. How to escape working for somebody else.”
“Well …” said Jim, puzzled.
“And if we equip everybody in the world to think,” I demanded, “then what happens?”
“Well …” floundered Jimmie.
Suddenly he tramped on the brakes and steered the car sharply towards the curb. We were just approaching a big public school. Not a soul was to be seen about it, except a middle-aged man wearing a white cap and white cross bands of canvas over his chest, who was sitting on the curb with his head in his hands.
“I’ll Handle The Traffic”
“Something wrong here,” muttered Jim.
“He’s the guy who ushers the kids across the intersection when school’s out,” I said.
“I know, but look at him,” said Jim, as we bailed out.
“Hi,” said Jim.
The man turned a gray face up to us.
“Sorry,” he said. “I had a bad turn there for a minute …”
“Are you all right?” asked Jim. “Can we run you home? Or to a doctor, maybe?”
“No, no, I’ll be all right,” said the old boy, trying to struggle up. But his knees gave way under him.
“Say, look,” cried Jim, putting his arm around the old chap. “Let’s run you home, eh?”
“No, no,” he said thickly. “The children will be out in a minute …”
I looked at my watch. It was 3.15.
“They won’t be out,” I assured him, “for 15 minutes. Look, we can take you home, and my friend and I …”
“Hey!” interrupted Jim sharply and gave me a fierce look.
“We can call the police station,” I corrected, “and they’ll …”
“There’s no time,” moaned the old boy, weaving in some sort of anguish. “There’s no time to get a substitute.”
“Then,” I stated firmly, glaring straight at Jim, “you give me your hat and cross belt, mister, and while my friend drives you home or to your doctor, I’ll handle the traffic…”
The old fellow clutched his stomach and looked up at me eagerly.
“Would you?” he gasped. “Would you do that? It’s a grave responsibility. All those little children …”
Jim shook his head at me with an expression of disgust on his face.
“Certainly I will,” I assured the old boy kindly. “Think nothing of it. It is a duty any citizen…”
“It would be terrible,” groaned the old man. “All the teachers will think I’m on the job. Nobody will be watching. They’ll stream across … the smallest ones are the worst.”
He was unfastening his cross belts. He handed me his white cap, and a round fanlike sign with “Stop” printed on it. Jim assisted the old chap to his feet and led him to the car.
“I’ll be back in a jiffy,” he told me.
I stood near the school-yard gate, holding the cross belt, cap and stop sign behind me; and planned my strategy. Traffic was typical 3.30 traffic – delivery trucks in charge of slouching boys whizzing past; middle-aged ladies out on their afternoon jaunts, gripping their steering wheels with fixed expressions; trucks, oil tankers, business men busily chewing the fat with their fellow passengers and not looking at the street at all.
Children – Millions of them!
As I watched the traffic in this pleasant residential neighborhood. I suddenly became conscious of its menace. I had never noticed that menace before. Highway traffic has menace. Downtown traffic has menace. But does menace come away up into these nice residential regions?
A small scarlet delivery truck in the hands of a surly youth of about 17 suddenly careened around the corner of the school. His tires screeched. My outraged glare he countered with a lazy sneer and waft of his hand. Down the street came four passenger cars in a row, and behind them a giant truck with trailer. As the parade neared the school, the truck slewed out of line, roared its engine and by-passed the passenger cars.
I looked at my watch. It was 3.26. Four minutes!
To me, it seemed as if traffic suddenly exploded. Cars, trucks, lorries, vans, motorcycles appeared from north, south, east and west.
I cautiously started to strap on the white cross belt.
Glancing around, I tried the white cap on. It didn’t fit. It perched on the top of my hair. Suddenly. I hear bells ringing in the school. And instantly. I could FEEL the school burst into a thousand little lives. At which instant, I heard a particularly fierce screech of tires on the pavement, and there was Jimmie bounding out to my aid.
I had no time to ask him how the old boy was. Already the school doors had swung wide and out poured the children, millions and millions of them. All yelling, all screaming, all darting in every direction like darning needles, butterflies and ants.
“We’re fools!” gasped Jim, as he helped lash the cross belt on me. “Fools! Talk about thinking!”
“Thinking!” I grated. “What this world needs is action, and not so…”
But the horde was already streaming past us. Jim leaped to the gate. I ran to the corner, holding the white cap with one hand and waying the stop sign with the other.
“Stand fast, everybody!” I bellowed in the most authoritative manner, holding the stop sign as high as possible.
A Rabble of Ruffians
A rugby ball took me fair on the back of the head and knocked my cap off.
“Here, GIVE me that football,” I yelled amid the screaming, screeching and din.
“Hey never mind that,” came Jim’s voice bellowing above the tumult.
Cars whizzed, children screeched, trucks groaned, lorries hooted, cars tooted, motorcycles machine-gunned, bicycles swerved and the whole earth seemed a madhouse of racing, gyrating, tumbling, dancing, jumping children of all ages.
“Steady!” came Jim’s voice in my ear.
I held the stop sign to the fullest extent of my arm high over my head. I held my other arm extended. Then I proceeded to walk slowly and with dignity across the intersection. A rabble formed about me, swarmed ahead of me. The football came sailing from nowhere and knocked the stop sign out of my hand. I made a wild leap and caught the ball AND the stop sign in one stoop.
Car horns tooted from all four points of the compass. I was tackled by three young ruffians. With dignity, I continued across the intersection, dragging them with me. Jim followed, holding a little boy and a little girl by the hand.
But 1,249 other children went north, east, west and south, regardless. And when I reached the far corner, 19 young hoodlums tackled me and downed me on a doctor’s lawn. There they played bags on the mill with me until Jim finally got them off.
By which time, the traffic jam had untangled itself, most of the children had gone the way they wanted to go, nobody had been killed, and my services were no longer required.
I walked across and sat on the curb in the exact spot the old man had been sitting when we found him. I too, put my head in my hands. Jim stood over me.
“You see,” he said, “thinking is not enough. You have to reflect. You have to weigh and ponder.”
Three lady teachers came out of the school and walked over to us.
“You might have caused a disaster,” scolded the eldest. “We were watching from the window. Who appointed you to this corner?”
“He appointed himself,” explained Jim. “The regular crossing guard was taken ill and I drove him home while my friend here undertook to take over the duties …”
“You should know better,” said the same lady, “To be a school crossing guard calls for a very special talent.”
“Which my friend hasn’t got,” added Jim.
He helped me to my feet. We undid the white crossbelts off me, and retrieved the white cap and the stop sign from the doctor’s lawn across the street. And we drove around to the regular incumbent’s house and returned his property.
“He’s in bed,” said his wife at the door. “I’ve given him a nice hot drink. He’ll be all right.”
So Jim drove me home and we too revived ourselves with nice hot drinks.
Editor’s Note: I’m not quite sure what “they played bags on the mill with me”, means, but from what I can tell, it just might mean piling up on top of each other.
By Gregory Clark, September 28, 1940.
These three men stepped out of their roles of being “big” persons and became just little men for the moment
In the famous blitzkrieg on France, only three battalions of Canadians, and some artillery, army service corps and stuff got to France. They got there, started on a railway journey inland and were turned around and landed back in the port of Brest within 24 hours. To say they never fired a shot in the blitzkrieg would not be accurate. They did fire their Brens at German mine-layer planes that flew over Brest while the Canadians were packed on a little channel steamer, the Canterbury, tied to the quay, waiting for permission to leave the harbor for England again.
However, some odd things happened on that in-and-out. We had arrived in Brest at daybreak Friday morning. Three battalions in two ships. It was a fine sunny morning.
These Canadians were the first-born of the new war. These were the first comers; and I tried to concentrate my mind and imagination on them to capture if I could the feelings of soldiers going to battle for the first time. But they marched off the ships and got into the waiting trains as glib and easy as children going on a picnic. And mark you, this was June 14, and for more than a month, the world had been rocked by the blitzkrieg. For all they knew, the three battalions of them were heading straight into hell. But it was a fine morning for it.
Alas, or hallelujah, as the case may be, they did not meet hell. We who saw the three battalions off waited around all day Friday in Brest, in expectation of fresh shiploads of Canadians arriving. It was that evening, in Brest, already jammed and seething with refugees and that air of bright-eyed hope on the verge of disaster, that we learned the three trains of Canadians were already being ordered to turn around. The next afternoon, Saturday, they arrived back in Brest and marched without delay straight aboard the little Canterbury tied to the east quays of that crowded harbor.
There at the quay we stayed, tied up, all Saturday evening, all Sunday night and all day long of the bright Sunday, until nearly 6 p.m. before orders came to cast off moorings and hie for England. To me, who had been through the blitzkrieg three weeks before and had been at Boulogne and seen what the Germans could do with Heinkels and Dorniers to a seaport, the delay was agonizing. These blythe Canadians, bitter at being re-embarked, all packed like buttons in in a bag aboard this tiny channel steamer.
Big Man Takes It Easy
It was Saturday evening just before dark, and we all crowded the rails to look ashore in expectation of casting off hawsers any minute, when a big rich-looking civilian car rolled out on the quay. In it sat a chauffeur, and behind a large, elderly gentleman in civilian tweeds. The car was packed to the roof with handsome leather bags, brief and dispatch cases.
Out of the car stepped the large gentleman, with his walking stick, a massive, elderly man with a military moustache. He showed some papers to the guard at the gangway. Officers inspected the documents and the stranger was at once passed up the gangway aboard the ship.
I, being a war correspondent, walked up to the stranger and inquired who he was, the only civilian on this ship. He was Hon. Hugo Baring, continental director of the Westminster bank.
One of the famous Baring family that has been engaged for generations in British banking and world business enterprise. Sixth son of the first Lord Revelstoke, related to the Earl of Cromer and many other Barings who have become peers.
In these brown leather bags were items of interest to Westminster bank, as to its continental affairs. Mr. Baring told me that he had dispatched the bank’s gold, documents, etc., and 30 of its staff off by a more southern French port. He had decided to make a lone departure via Brest.
Could he get a cabin, he inquired? Ah, the cabins were all full of wounded, of nursing sisters and a group of some 20 Salvation Army lassies driven from their canteens across France. Where could he settle himself, then, in the salon or where? Ah, the salon was all rigged up as a first aid and emergency station. How about something to eat? Well, there were no arrangements on board for eating. This was a troopship, and all there was aboard, in the nature of grub, were the rations of the troops.
This elderly, amiable man sat down on his bags on the open deck of the Canterbury finding space for his well-shod feet amidst the legs of recumbent bucks of the R.C.R. and Hasty P’s; rested his big hands on his stick and relaxed. This continental director of one of the greatest and, at the moment, perhaps most embarrassed banks on earth, remarked mildly that this was nothing new to him. It was not until I got back to London and looked him up in the blue books that I found he had been wounded in the South African war with the 4th Hussars, wounded at Ypres with the British G.H.Q.. and had been in Siberia in 1918 with the British forces. That accounted for a kind of limp and a twist the big man showed when he walked.
He sat and walked among us all that night, next day, next night and then Monday morning saw Plymouth with the rest of us from the foggy deck of the Canterbury. In all that time, he had no food but the bully beef, the little new style hardtack cookies of the private troops, and the sergeant-major’s tea. He slept with his head on a table or a rail, or with his hands clasped on his stick, his body resting forward on it. Elderly, rugged, continental director of a great bank, he seemed perfectly at ease in body and mind. Never referred once to his business. Never wondered aloud what was going on, where was his staff from Paris, where his gold.
But amid all that was abortive, broken, twisted, lost and bewildered amidst the famous in-and-out of Brest, this picture of a great banker, scion of nobility, master of wealth, partner of destiny, dependent upon the charity of private soldiers from the far distant face of the earth, remains to me. He was discovering what wealth is; what nobility; what destiny. All in the hands of private soldiers.
Banker Sews on a Button
It was at Brest I also met a duke and did him a little service. But before I leave one banker, I would like to mention another I met, on board a ship coming to Canada. A most charming man, Simon Epstein, a Jewish banker born in Russia, most of his life spent in Paris, but for the last 10 years in London. An international banker, of great wealth from time to time, probably a millionaire more than once. But at the time I met him, a refugee, not very sure whether he had any money or not. And not much caring, because his wife and sons were safe in America.
Of the many amusing stories he told, this one remains. It was 10 years ago, when he was a Parisian, and spoke English very little. He came to America to visit friends in Chicago. He had only part of a day in New York, so he made the Grand Central Station his headquarters and walked up Fifth and Madison Park Aves., drinking in the wonder and the beauty of downtown New York. It was his first view of the new world and it amazed him. He was a wealthy banker. Strolling the golden streets of New York. He felt his braces slip as a pants’ button came off.
Banker or no banker, he halted and saw the button roll on the pavement. He picked it up and recollected having seen, a few blocks back, one of those little hole-in-the-wall pressing and tailoring establishments, operated by co-religionists of his, tucked in amidst the towering splendors of New York. He strolled back and went in and with his poor English and their various English, managed to purchase a needle and small spool of thread for five cents.
For mark you, one does not become a wealthy banker by being too proud to sew on a button. Mr. Epstein had noted, in the Grand Central Station, that downstairs was a magnificent marble department, the toilets and lavatories, which included among its other marvels, a whole row-of private chambrettes or toilets into which you were able to purchase your private way by inserting five cents in the slot on the little individual door handle.
Mr. Epstein proceeded to select a cubicle. He removed his trousers and sat down on the seat to sew the button on. As he started to thread the needle, the spool, as spools will, rolled off his knee and spun away along the floor, under the partitions of two of the adjoining cabinets.
Mr. Epstein peered under the partitions and tried to draw the spool back. But it just rolled and unwound. No matter what he did, the spool played truant. Now, banker or no banker, five cents or no five cents, a man who is a man is not going to let a spool of thread get away on him. Mr. Epstein opened the cubicle door and peered out. In the great marble hall of these super toilets, nothing stirred. Mr. Epstein, laying his trousers on the seat, nipped out and picked up the spool. And heard the door click behind him.
There stood Mr. Epstein, Paris banker, in his coat and vest but no pants, in the vast, forbidding marble emptiness of the Grand Central gentlemen’s department; and his pants inside and all his money in the pants. In a foreign city, his command of the language sketchy in the extreme, Mr. Epstein felt panic. Down the marble stairs he heard footfalls.
The stranger saw the spectacle of Mr. Epstein, paused and half turned to retreat upstairs.
“A neeckel,” said Mr. Epstein. “A neeckel, please.”
And with motions of his hands, he tried to explain that if he had a nickel, he could open the door and recover his pants. But the stranger eyed him with increasing suspicion and fled upstairs. To return almost immediately with a New York cop swinging his stick and demanding to know what was going on here.
Mr. Epstein, needle and spool in hand, explained in various French, Russian and English gestures, the calamity of what had happened
“A neeckel,” he pleaded, in conclusion.
It took four nickels to locate the right cubicle, because Mr. Epstein had forgotten which one he had selected, since they all look
alike. But he got his pants, returned the cop’s four nickels very happily, retired into the cubicle, threaded the needle, sewed on the button and duly returned to walk the sounding streets of New York.
And this was the story Mr. Simon Epstein told as we plunged across the wastes of seas off the northwest coast of Ireland, all lights out, and the watch stared into the wind and spray, westward-bound for the new world where Mr. Epstein, international banker, refugee, hoped to see his wife and sons.
Souvenir of a Duke
To get back to Brest for a minute; on the Saturday, as we waited in mounting anxiety for the 48th Highlanders, I got assurance from the officers of the Canterbury that they could not sail for at least a couple of hours by reason of tides; and I went back into the city to visit the hotel which was military headquarters for the area to see if they had any word of the missing Canadians. The city was already showing the unmistakeable signs of that fatal despair which I had seen, three weeks before, in Lille, Arras, Amiens, Boulogne. The streets were jammed from wall to wall with crowds of refugees in a slow-motion, almost immobile anxiety.
At the H.Q. hotel, a captain of the movement control staff eyed my badges and stepped up to me.
“You are a correspondent?” he asked. “My name is Keith-Braden. When are you planning to leave here?”
“I’ve already got aboard the Canterbury,” I said.
“How are you fixed for baggage?” he asked. “We movement control blighters are in a bit of a hole. We have to stay to the last and we won’t have any chance to get our baggage off…”
“You get me a working party,” I said, “and I’ll take all the baggage you want.”
“I’ve got a friend here,” said Keith Braden, and a middle-aged major came over, a quiet, scholar type of a man rather than the sort of dasher they usually have on staffs. The major said he had a suitcase and a cavalry great coat.
“Send ’em along,” I said. “As long as I have somebody to carry the stuff down to the Canterbury …”
The two officers disappeared and presently came back with two big, shabby suitcases, the kind of suitcases of which I have several in the attic. And a huge cavalry great coat. We arranged where I was to deliver them in London.
“Take mine,” said Keith Braden, “to my tailor’s in Bond St. And the Marquess will want his sent to his house, I suppose.”
“The Marquess?” said I.
“This is the Marquess of Cambridge,” explained Keith Braden, and the scholarly gentleman shook hands with me.
“Ah,” said I, “I’ll take your baggage anyway. You don’t have to be a marquess.”
“But he IS the Marquess of Cambridge,” laughed Keith Braden.
And while they tied tags on their shabby suitcases I stood and looked out the big hotel windows at the surging mobs of the poor French, their faces turned upwards while the air raid sirens bansheed, for there were German raiders over by this time. And it did seem a strange thing to see a marquess of the royal connection stooped over, in the foreground of that grim and woeful window picture, tying a tag on a rusty old valise.
I put the bags on the Canterbury deck where the boys of the Hasty P’s and the R.C.R. could see the tag. I left them and the cavalry great coat in the care of the nearest of the lads, sprawled in half sleep on the deck. And when it rained in the middle of the night, went up and found one of the lads had put on the marquess’ great coat and was lying wrapped in its voluminous folds asleep. It was a tidy when I retrieved it in the morning.
And it was all tidy when I returned the baggage to the Marchioness two days later in London.
“How was he when you saw him,” asked her grace.
“Fine,” I assured her, thinking of him bending over tying on tags, against that hotel window with its great surging picture of despair moving across it.
“I do hope he gets away,” she said.
He did. Keith Braden wrote me a note of thanks, and said they nipped off on the last boat, after seeing Brest set afire.
Editor’s Notes: This story was printed as Greg was a war correspondent in WWII. The original photo of him in his uniform in the microfilm of the newspaper was muddied, so I substituted it with a better copy of the same photo from one of his books.