This drawing went with a short article advertising the Toronto Star Santa Claus Fund, a charity for the poor. The article talks of the unemployed father who finds it hard to go home to the family for the Christmas season with nothing. It still runs every year, and you can donate at the link above.
When sharpening a straight razor, a “leather strop” is used. Here, Mrs. Clipper cuts right through it, implying she should not be trusted.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 3, 1932.
“Barter,” I said to Jimmie Frise, “barter, what is barter?”
“Well,” said Jim, “in the country, for instance, instead of a farmer selling his eggs to the general storekeeper he trades his eggs for a pair of boots.”
“I notice,” said I, “that all the editors are writing about barter and over the radio all the world problem solvers are talking about barter. The dollar is no good any more. Neither are quarters, dimes and nickels. Even fifty dollars isn’t any good any more, according to them. The world, they say, is going to fall back on barter.”
“Don’t pay any attention to them,” said Jimmie. “They’re just earning their living. I bet they take dollars for talking and writing. I bet they don’t take it out in barter. Imagine a radio expert taking a bunch of air in payment. Or a big newspaper editor going around with a truck from house to house collecting bread, potatoes, old boots, cast-off shirts and phonograph records from his readers.”
“Personally,” I remarked, “I don’t see how barter would work. How would it take care of you and me, Jimmie, for example?”
“Well, as for me,” said Jim, “I could draw a lot of little cartoons on small cards and then I could call around at the grocery store and trade a laugh for a pound of butter. Then I’d go into the dairy and get a bottle of milk for a chuckle.”
“Wait a minute, Jim,” said I. “Cartoons are very perishable things. You go into the grocery store and offer an original and new cartoon for a pound of butter. The grocer would want to see it first, wouldn’t he?”
“I guess he would.”
“Well, then, he’d look at the cartoon, have a grin at it and hand it back and say he was full up with jokes for the present.”
“H’m,” h’med Jimmie.
“And it would take a lot of cartoons to buy a pair of boots,” said I. “What shoemaker would want twenty cartoons? One cartoon at a time is plenty.”
“How about you?” asked Jimmie. “You could type out a story, but how far would it get you?”
“I’d do little stories for the grocer and the butcher,” said I, “and big full-page stories for the shoemaker; and I’d write a serial novel for the milkman, a chapter a day, in exchange for the milk.”
“You’d be a lot busier writing than you are now,” said Jim. “I wonder if part of the trouble with the dollar isn’t the fact that cartoonists and jazz singers and brokers and lawyers get too many dollars for what they do in comparison with the people who grow food and make clothes and things?”
“It’s supply and demand,” said I.
“The farmer up north of Orangeville doesn’t demand Greta Garbo1 or Eddie Cantor2,” said Jimmie. “As far as the fellow who grows our potatoes and turnips is concerned there is no demand for these big shot lawyers that live in those half-acre houses north of St. Clair avenue.”
“I hope barter doesn’t come in,” I said. “If it does I’m going to learn some useful trade. About the only thing I can do, outside of this writing, is hunt and fish. Maybe I could work up a nice business in rabbits and pheasants; and in the summer fresh bass and trout.”
“You’d work out some pleasant sort of job, anyway,” said Jim. “But if the worst came to the worst, we’ve all got a lot of things we could dispose of and never miss. The average home is filled with extras that aren’t needed, goods lying idle that other people need badly, and we could trade them for the things other people have that we need.”
Everything We Don’t Need
“That wouldn’t last long,” said I.
“The farmers,” said Jim, “with wagon loads of meat and vegetables would come driving through the city streets calling their wares and the city people would come out and trade hats, coats, blankets, radio sets and all kinds of things. I know lots of houses that have eleven cast-off wrist watches lying about in drawers, fountain pens, umbrellas, all manner of things, valuable and idle.”
“I can see a farmer,” said I, “trading a roast of beef for an old umbrella or six worn-out fountain pens. The more I think of this barter business, Jimmie, the more it looks to me as if the farmers were going to have all us city people working for them as hired men and hired girls before very long.”
“I must have about a thousand dollars worth of stuff in my house that isn’t working,” mused Jim. “Counting your fishing rods and books, I bet you have two thousand dollars worth of stuff that isn’t earning its keep.”
“I could trade you a good fly rod for one of your guns,” I suggested. “How about it?”
“I haven’t any use for a fishing rod just now, Jim replied, “and this is the shooting season. What else besides a fishing rod would you give me?”
“There you are!” I exclaimed. “That’s barter for you. The old racket. Getting more than you give.”
“I tell you what to do,” cried Jim. “Let’s send our wives out some night to the movies or a hockey game and you and I have a night of barter. A grand spree of barter. I’ll get together everything that we don’t need any longer and bring it over to your house. You collect everything you can dispose of in one room, and we will see what this barter business goes like. What do you say?”
“It sounds good, but our wives–“
“Listen,” said Jim. “These are hard times. Us men have got to assert ourselves. The old-fashioned man wins nowadays.”
“We’ll buy them hockey tickets.”
“All right,” said Jim.
So it was arranged. Jim, as the proposer of the big barter market, was to bring the stuff from his house in clothes baskets. We were about evenly matched. We had been married the same length of time; a couple of war brides. We had worked up fairly large families. We had houses about the same number of rooms and we both had attics, storerooms and mothers-in-law.
Our wives were safely shipped to the hockey game and then we went to work. Jim was to arrive at nine p.m.
I had done some preliminary scouting for several evenings and I was certainly amazed at the quantity of goods and chattels which had succeeded in finding permanent resting places in all sorts of holes and corners, drawers, boxes, closets and shelves in my house.
First, a baby carriage. Blue, wicker, a little gone in the tires, three hub caps gone and a slight sag in one spring.
I wheeled it down to the living room, which was cleared for auction.
Out of bureau and desk drawers I got five wrist watches, seven assorted fountain pens, a lovely white satin book for Baby, with pages in which to enter all the details of baby’s birth, christening, growth, first tooth, first word, etc.
I found a large round cardboard box, white and shiny, of a style I had quite forgotten, in which were four of my mother-in- law’s ancient hats. Boy! Purple ostrich plumes, beads, bird’s feet, glass eyes!
A clock! A great big gift clock that struck the hours. It had black marble slabs on it.
In another box I found a pair of my black dancing pumps that I had not seen for years, and beside them, done up in old tissue paper, a pair of white satin pumps that my wife wore long, long ago.
Three umbrellas, one black, one gray and one mauve. They were worn and ragged, but I do not remember ever having seen them before.
An old gas heater from the cellar.
An old lawn mower that only needed a good mechanic to make it work.
A magic lantern and seven glass slides. I nearly cried when I found this. It was given to me on my twelfth birthday. One slide was of gold fish. Another was Little Red Riding Hood. One was Bible stories. How on earth had it followed me all through the twisted path of life, from twelve to forty!
If We Only Knew How
By nine o’clock I had all these articles placed against the far wall of the living room and I cleared the opposite wall for Jimmie to stack his barter.
And at nine p.m. he arrived and backed his car into the side drive.
First, he handed out a baby carriage.
It was blue, wicker, three of its hub caps were gone and it was weak on one spring. He pushed it into the living room and stacked it up facing mine.
I assisted him to hoist in a couple of clothes baskets. And then he shoved ahead of him a lawn mower. It was a 1910 model, in need of a mechanic.
Out of the clothes baskets, as I sat on the far side watching him, he dished out a large black onyx clock with gilt slabs on it, four fountain pens, seven assorted watches, including wrist and ladies’ bosom watches worn with a pin; three hats with plumes, five pairs of satin slippers, assorted colors, all a little up in the toe; two umbrellas and a hand-carved walking-stick with a horse’s head for a handle; one old gas heater; one magic lantern; and last of all, a white satin book.
“Hold up that book, Jim,” I said, a little weakly. “Let’s see the title.”
On it in gold paint was printed “Baby’s Own Book.”
Jim arranged all his goods along the wall, dusted off his hands and then strolled across the room to look at mine.
He looked at the baby carriage! The lawnmower, the rusty gas heater! He stared intently at the hats, the satin slippers, the Baby book. His hand went up to his mouth when he looked at the umbrellas, the fountain pen and the decayed wrist watches.
Then his wavering eyes met mine.
“This is funny,” he said, uncertainly. “
“No, it isn’t,” I replied. “I’ve been thinking about it. Everybody has about the same amount of no use for the same things. You would likely find these same things in every house in Canada.”
“Let’s trade something,” said Jim, “just for luck. I’ll trade you this pair of green satin slippers with the ostrich feather trimmings for those white satin ones you got there.”
“No,” said I. “I just remember what these are. I just recollect these black pumps of mine were the ones I was wearing the night I met my wife, when she was wearing the white ones.”
“Trade baby carriages,” said Jim. “They are about the same model.”
“It just occurs to me why our wives keep those old things,” said I.
“I better pack up,” said Jimmie, rather lamely.
“Barter,” said I. “Barter means only things you make or grow. It doesn’t mean things you own. And we city people only know how to make parts of things. We don’t know how to make anything whole. Storekeepers, clerks, doers of small services, handers-over-the-counter, adders up of other people’s figures, each of us a jig in the jigsaw puzzle of life. It looks bad for us, Jimmie.”
“No,” replied Jim, his arms full of property. “It’ll work out all right. In the old days the story-tellers went from village to village, singing songs and telling stories, and everybody was glad to see them. The artists travelled all over the world, building cathedrals, palaces, painting frescoes that have lived forever.”
“Not cartoonists,” said I.
“Yes, sir, cartoonists!” cried Jim. “They put gargoyles on the cathedrals!”
“Room for everybody.”
“For everybody,” said Jim, shoving his lawnmower across my hardwood floor. “If we only knew how.”
Editor’s Notes: This story was reprinted on January 20, 1940, as “Fair Exchange”.
This illustration accompanied a story by Frederick Griffin about the higher rate of crime in the United States due to gangsters and Prohibition.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 23, 1935.
“There are, say, about fifty guys in the world,” said Jimmie Frise, “who know whether there is going to be war and who’s to be in it. Fifty guys. A few politicians, a few big bankers and generals. The rest of us three or four hundred millions in Europe and America just sit back and wait.”
“I’m sorry, Jim,” I confessed. “But the people chose them.”
“So they just leave things to them,” went on Jim. “They chose them, of course, because of their great interest in their welfare, didn’t they? They elected all those big international financiers and statesmen and generals, didn’t they? They went through the highways and by-ways of the world, seeking the most upright, gentle, kindly and humane of all men. And these they set up at their head, and said, brother, lead us in green pastures, beside the still waters.1“
“Not exactly that way.” I agreed.
“No,” cried Jim. “Not exactly. But by reason of their brain-power, their hunger for wealth and influence, their incentive, as they call it; by reason of the drive and fury and cleverness, they chose themselves, rose up, fighting, scheming, battling, manoeuvring, gathering, amassing and hoarding, until they became the leaders, whether they were politicians or generals or super business men.”
“Aw, Jimmie,” I complained, “you’re bitter.”
“Bitter?” asked Jim. “Bitter? Oh, no. I’m just so happy that all over the world. there are such unselfish, humanitarian gentlemen at the controls of the human race.”
“How can people get a more tender type of man to be their rulers?” I demanded.
“If I knew,” said Jim, “I would tell you.”
“Well, then,” I shouted, “what do you suppose people can do about it? I don’t want a war any more than anybody else. But how can you stop them?”
“If I knew,” said Jim, “I would tell you.”
“It gives me an awful pessimistic feeling,” I submitted.
“You are a student of Nature,” began Jimmie, sitting back. “You spend all the time you can out on the good earth, looking at the birds, the trees, the flowers. I have seen you, almost like a simpleton, standing watching just the seasons coming and going. You love the good earth. It is a religion to you.”
“Yes,” I breathed.
“Very well,” said Jim. “In your interest and devotion to Nature, are you one of those who thinks we humans are outside Nature. Do you think we are something separate from Nature, and that Nature is only a sort of picture, at which we, from the outside, gaze?”
“Nature is God,” I said.
“Or do you think we humans are part of Nature itself,” questioned Jim; “that we are right inside the frame of that picture, part with the animals, the birds, the trees, the good earth itself?””
“That is the way I try to feel,” I admitted. “That is why I stand, if you like, like a simpleton, just feeling, feeling the seasons come and go. Come and go.”
Fighting Off the Facts
“I’ve got that feeling lately,” said Jim, gently. “This last while, with all the wars and confusions and muddles we humans are in, I have developed the notion within my own heart, that after all, we are only an item in Nature, and that now Nature’s laws are in process of working on us.”
“How?” I asked.
“Except in us humans,” said Jim, “the law of life is the law of the jungle. But we shouldn’t call it the law of the jungle. Because the law of the jungle also applies to the song birds in Muskoka and the mice in York county; we deceive ourselves when we talk, solemnly, about the law of the jungle, because that makes it seem far away. It is right here. In our gardens. The terrible, basic, stark law of Nature, the survival of the fittest.”
“And how do we come into it?” I inquired.
Because we humans,” said Jim, “are in the picture of Nature, too. And Nature’s laws govern us before any other laws. For some two or three thousand years, we have been artificially fighting off the facts by endlessly, struggling to prove that we are better than beasts, that there is something higher and nobler in us, that we are, after all, outside the grim grip of Nature.”
“And we aren’t?” I asked.
“We aren’t,” said Jim. “I show you the whole round world to prove it. In this age of grace, here we are looting and destroying and enslaving. Despite all the ruins of beauty two thousand years old, we are smashing and destroying again just like the Goths and Vandals who made those ruins, two thousand years ago. You can’t beat Nature. Nature has us in her grip.”
“This is terribly pessimistic, Jim,” I groaned.
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Jimmie. “Maybe we weren’t ever intended to be civilized. Maybe all this war and international confusion is just Nature’s patient way of sending us back to the good earth again, to dwell in caves and rude huts again, and to take our place in the good old natural struggle against bears and sabre-tooth tigers, and to hunt the mammoth.”
“The bees live in communities, Jim,” I pointed out, “and they have no wars.”
“And no politics, either,” explained Jimmie. “And they don’t elect their queen bee, either. She doesn’t rise up to enslave all her fellow bees. She’s born. God creates her. She hatches from the egg a different shape and size, bigger, more beautifully colored. She is queen by Nature’s decree, not the bees’.”
“Then it is not a case of going back to the land,” I suggested.
“Not at all,” said Jim. “It is going back to the jungle. Give us another great big slaughter of a war, another completely smashing and exhausting war, and about ninety-nine per cent. of us will be glad to throw together a valise full of blankets, pails and frying pans and beat it forever from so-called civilization to live alone, in isolated families, in some secret, safe forest. That is where Nature raised us. We left it of our own free will. We worked out a scheme called civilization. It wasn’t Nature’s idea. If Nature had that idea, she would have worked it out with some of her other creatures. So now we are headed back to where we belong.”
To Abandon Civilization
“Will you come and see me sometimes, Jimmie?” I asked. “Maybe we could get a couple of forests not too far apart. Let’s arrange a series of whistles and signals so that we can find one another once in a while. We could pass our signals down to our children so that a Clark would never fling a spear into a Frise, as they lurk through the jungle.”
“Maybe we could both go to the same. forest.” thought Jimmie. “You and your kids take one end of it, and I and my kids. would take the other.”
“It would never do, Jim,” I explained. “Sooner or later, it would come to a blood feud, and your great grandchildren would slay mine, or vice versa. The way it is now, the birds in Muskoka arrive on their ancestral nesting grounds, and they fight, even the tiny little white-throated sparrows that sing ‘Poor old Canada, Canada, Canada’, even these bright, tiny birds fight like demons amongst themselves until, by the time the nests are to be built, no two birds occupy the same feeding range of so many acres of bush. I have seen deadly battles between wrens, tiny brown wrens. All because they could not both nest in the same section of bush. There wasn’t enough feed in that one area of bush to support two families of wrens. Now Nature knows just how much woods a wren needs for its bailiwick. And Nature decrees that these wrens shall fight to the death, if necessary, until only one wren remains to nest. That’s Nature. And it isn’t in any jungle, either. It’s in every beautiful glade in Muskoka and all over the great big world.”
“Well,” said Jim sadly, “when the time comes for us to abandon civilization and head back for the bush, we can at least go part way together. We might go up Yonge St. as far as Orillia together.”
So we sat, brooding on the imminent end of a life-long friendship.
“Speaking of war,” said Jim, at length, “I have to lay a new concrete floor in my cellar. I was out getting the cement and stuff last night. And I was just thinking, hadn’t I better build a sort of concrete pill box in my cellar while I am at it? For air raids, and so forth.”
“And earthquakes, too,” I pointed out. “A good concrete vault in the cellar might prove a very handy item if these earthquakes become a habit around here.”
“War and earthquakes,” mused Jim. “The two things we can’t control. In the face of these two great manifestations of Nature, man can do nothing but fall back wholly on himself. What good are communities, cities, states, when an earthquake or a war strikes? Nothing. It is each poor little man for himself, just the same as in the jungle.”
“My dear boy, in war,” I protested, “men are in mass.”
“Yet every man is all alone,” stated Jim. “When you die, it is a solitary business. There is little or no satisfaction that ten other men are dying with you.”
“I fail to see it,” I declared. “It was just to defeat these disasters of war and earth- quake and what not that man invented the social idea and formed communities, instead of facing life lonely and alone, each in his separate den, like bears, in the jungle.”
“The deadliest feature of society,” propounded Jimmie, “is that masses of innocent men are swept away in the passion of war; and as far as earthquakes go I imagine you could survive it by yourself, but think of the dreadful battle in a great city to secure food and drinking water, just the simple essentials, after a real good earthquake? No, sir, either for war or earthquake, I would rather have a concrete pill box in the back areas of Muskoka than live on the finest avenue in Toronto. I think I’ll build me a pill box.”
“It might almost pay you,” I agreed. “About the safest place I ever was in in the war was a German pill box at Passchendaele. It was sunk in the ground almost to ceiling level. Its walls were five feet solid concrete and its roof was seven feet solid concrete. No shell could ever smash it.”
“Did any shells hit it while you were in it?” asked Jim.
“Several,” I said. “They sounded like somebody dropping a boot upstairs, that’s all.”
“What were you doing in the pill box?” asked Jim idly.
“Well, it sounds silly, but I had a typewriter,” I said, “and I was typing out the recommendation for Tommie Holmes’ V.C.”
“How quaint,” said Jim. “In a war, sitting in a pill box, with a typewriter, typing out a recommendation.”
“In septuplicate, too,” I added. “Six carbon copies and one original. In a pill box. In the mud. With shells landing on the top and sounding like a boot dropped upstairs.”
Nice Concrete Porridge
“War,” said Jimmie, “is silly.”
“Yes,” I agreed, “but now that my memory recaptures that scene, twenty years ago, I was just figuring how you would build that heavy concrete pill box. We ought to remember things like that, Jim. We might need them some day again.”
“How would you like to come over tonight,” asked Jim, “and help me mix concrete for my cellar floor?”
“Nothing,” I said, “would please me better.”
So I got out my muskie fishing overalls and old boots and went over to Jim’s after supper where he had suspended the start of operations until I should arrive.
Jim had built a concrete mixing box in the yard. It was like a mortar mixing box, of planks, about six feet square and a foot high. I explained to Jim that the way concrete was really mixed was in a machine. But Jim solved that by showing me he had bought a new quick-drying cement that dried in a very short while, and you mixed fine sand with it to make it the consistency you required.
So Jim arranged that, while I mixed and stirred the concrete, he would hod2 it down to the cellar and spread it.
It was a fine starry night. We flung in bags of sand and bags of cement, and stirred in water with the hose. We made a nice porridge of concrete, and colored it with red powder from another bag. Jim had a little cup to test the proper thickness of the mixture.
“If it stands up, it is too thick,” said Jim. “If it smears down, it is too thin, but if it just sags a little, it is just right.”
So while Jim tested, I stirred, and finally we got just the right mixture of cement, sand and water, and Jim proceeded to carry the hod down into his brightly lighted cellar.
Up and down he trotted, while I stirred and stirred. In between hod trips, I tried, under the stars, a few little designs of pill boxes and bombproof shelters of one kind and another. I scooped out small handfuls of the concrete and moulded the little fortifications on Jimmie’s lawn.
About the tenth trip Jim made down the cellar, I was stooping down with a sort of ultra-modern design of a pill box, for dealing with poison gas as well as bombs and shells, when I inadvertently backed up against the board wall of the concrete mixing box.
And in a second, I had toppled backwards into the soggy cement. I sank a foot. I rolled over, keeping my chin above the heavy, boggy mixture, and got my elbows on the bottom and heaved.
But in rolling over. I had gathered my overalls a heavy load of the cement and it weighed me down.
“Jimmie,” I shouted loudly. “Jimmie.”
Jim came up the cellar steps.
“Quick, Jim,” I shouted. “It’s drying.”
And Jim rushed and took a grip my head and dragged me out of the box.
“What the heck?” he asked.
“I tripped, and fell in,” I explained.
“Well, it seems to be pretty dry, why haven’t you been stirring it?” demanded Jim. “Quick, come down cellar till we get your clothes off.”
Like a knight in heavy armor, I waddled to the cellar stairs and eased myself down. I was carrying about six inches of concrete all over me, except my head. My feet were the heaviest.
“Snappy,” said Jim. “It’s drying. And the heat of your body is helping it. This new-fangled concrete dries fast.”
I felt no panic. I reached the cellar and took my time selecting a good spot to undress, off Jim’s freshly laid floor.
“O.k.,” I said. “Unbutton the top button of my overalls, Jim.”
Jim shoved his hands into the concrete and I felt him fumbling for the button. My own hands were useless, encased in huge boxing gloves of the stuff.
Then I felt Jim starting to grab and fumble faster and faster and I looked at his face. It was white.
“It’s hardened,” he gasped. “Wait till I get a hammer or something.”
But by the time Jimmie had failed to find his hammer and had called at two neighbors until he borrowed one, I was encased in solid concrete from head to foot.
“My dear chap,” Jim groaned, as he beheld me, solidly rooted into the fresh concrete of his new floor.
“Jim,” I said, “get busy. Get a chisel. Get some stone masons. Phone the Labor Temple3. Get a bomb.”
Jim was hammering at me. It was vain. It was idle. His blows did not sound even like a little girl’s slipper falling to the floor in the room above.
“Jim,” I said, “on second thought, I tell you what you do. Go and get a hod of that concrete upstairs and pour it over my head. Encase me. Mummify me. Seal me up forever, and then at last I will be safe against all bombs and shells and poison gas and everything.”
“I wish,” said Jim, “I had never talked the way I did. Can you stand it until I go and get help?”
“I feel a great peace,” I stated.
And as I stood there, waiting for Jim to return with a squad of concrete workers and masons with mallets and roadworkers with those automatic machines for chopping up pavement. I thought how wonderful was my discovery!
“All we need,” I mused, “is a bag of this rapid-drying cement in the cellar of every house, one bag per member of a family. And a gas mask each. And the instant the alarm is sounded, everybody dive for the cellar, mix up a batch of concrete, bathe in it, adjust the nozzle of the gas mask in the mouth, pour the last hodful over the head and, presto – a personal pill box, a private, intimate fortress. And let the enemy do his worst, he cannot reach us in our final and complete individuality.”
But Jim just brought one man with him, a little old man in an old frayed sweater coat: and he, with a little electric buzzer sort of thing, cut a few cuts in the concrete and peeled it off me like peeling an orange.
“Jim,” I said, “our fortunes are made.”
But I didn’t tell him about it yet, because I want to have it patented.
This illustration accompanied a generic article by Raymond Knister about community or church suppers usually held in the fall. In this case, “Birdseye Center” was used as a generic term to describe a small town, and did not have anything to do with Jim’s comic. John Knister was known primarily for his realistic narratives set in rural Canada.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 18, 1933.
“I suppose,” said Jimmie Frise, “you have had your old tin hat and uniform out of the moth balls?”
“As a matter of fact, I have,” I confessed. “The world is very uneasy.”
“If they are going to have a war,” said Jim, “I wish they would pull it off soon, while us old birds are still eligible, instead of waiting until our kids are grown up.”
“That’s just what I felt,” I said, “when I went up to the attic and got out the old tunic and Sam Browne belt.”
“How did they fit?” asked Jim.
“Terrible,” I said. “The tunic won’t come within five inches of meeting across my stomach. My breeches don’t fit at all. Anywhere. I’ve used up all my old khaki shirts long ago, of course, fishing and hunting. But I’d have to get a whole new outfit.”
“The tin hat still fits, though,” suggested Jimmie.
“Even the tin hat felt funny,” I admitted.
“Well,” said Jim, “I tried on my old uniform the other night, and I must say I used to be a far better man than I am now.”
“Jimmie,” I reminded him, “you must remember it’s nearly twenty years ago!”
“Oh, no!” cried Jimmie. “Not twenty!”
“In less than one year,” I said, “it will be twenty years since the night you and I stood out in front of the old Star office looking at the bulletin boards, with the crowd jammed right across the road to the old red brick Bank of Commerce building, and out to Yonge St.”
“Twenty years,” breathed Jimmie. “It seems like the year before last.”
“There are young men,” I went on, “who are to-day just the age you and I were that night when we were watching the bulletins announce the declaration of war, who weren’t even born that night!”
“My goodness,” whispered Jim.
“Or a bridoon3 from a snaffle,” cut in Jimmie, always butting in with some artillery stuff.
“Imagine them having to learn all over again what we learned,” I said. “And this modern young crowd so cool and sarcastic and nice. They’d hate it.”
“We were kind of innocent at that age,” mused Jimmie.
“And sort of yessir, nossir,” I said. “It was easy to make soldiers out of us. They wouldn’t find it so easy with the twenty-year-olds of to-day.
Getting Ready For the Next War
“If they’re going to have a war,” said Jim, angrily, “let them have it now while we’re still good. It takes two years to learn how to pull on a drag rope4. Why put it up to our kids to have to go through all of that again?”
“Or how to work a patrol in No Man’s Land,” I cut in. “Or how to sleep in a barn, without even straw. Or how to carry a man with his leg off.”
“Or how to build a funk hole5,” came Jimmie, “or make a gun platform on soggy mud, with nothing solid for miles around.”
“Or how close to walk behind a rolling barrage,” I said. “There’s a thing! It takes years to teach the boys how close to walk behind their own barrage, and it costs thousands of lives just to learn that one thing.”
“They ought to have their war now, if they are going to have it,” cried Jimmie, “so that those of us who know the tricks can use them.”
“Jimmie,” I said, “let’s get going. Let’s rejoin the militia and get in shape.”
“What will we join?” demanded Jim. “You were an officer in the infantry and I was only a gunner in the artillery. Let’s go together to this next one.”
“Right!” I cried. “We’ll both join the infantry.”
“We will like the dickens!” exclaimed Jim. “Why should a man want to spend his life sitting in the mud? The artillery’s the thing, with horses to ride, and great big shiny guns slamming in the dark, and interesting things to do every minute of the day and night. I’d die of inaction in the infantry, just sitting around.”
“Where do you get that stuff about sitting around!” I demanded heatedly. “Boy, if it’s action you want….”
“Now listen,” pleaded Jimmie. “If we go back to the infantry, you will be a major or colonel, and I’d have to start at the bottom as a buck private.”
“I’ve got it,” I cried. “You be my batman6!”
“If you are honest about wanting to take part in a war to end war,” said Jim, levelly, “if you wish to make the world safe for democracy, a world fit for heroes to live in, just to use a few phrases of a former and almost forgotten nobility, then you will be willing to start at bottom again. And you’ll join the artillery with me as a gunner.”
“I suppose it would be only fair,” I confessed. “But I’ll be surrendering a lot of ground I gained in the last war.”
“The last war,” snorted Jimmie. “What a fizzle you made of that! I should think you would be glad to start at the bottom again.”
“All right,” I said, “I’ll join the artillery with you, and you can teach me how to polish a horse.”
“There’ll be a lot of things I can teach you,” said Jimmie, darkly.
For the Good of the Corps
So Jim found out what night the local artillery units would be parading, and taking on men if any.
And about 8 p.m. we went down to the armories on University Ave. One or two infantry regiments were also holding parades that night, and I held Jimmie back while we stood inside the huge wooden paved drill hall and watched the boys forming up.
“Aren’t they splendid, Jimmie?” I cried. “Oh, it’s a shame we are not going into the infantry.”
We watched a company form up. We saw the sergeants and then the lieutenants inspecting.
“There is a slight sort of I-don’t-know-what missing,” I said to Jim. “They haven’t quite got a sort of something that my boys used to have. I can’t say what it is.”
“Wait till you see us gunners,” said Jim.
The officer commanding the company took over and gave a few drill commands.
“Ah,” I said, “now if I were out there in his place, you would hear commands. You would hear a voice. Like a bomb. It would make this place ring.”
“Come on,” said Jimmie, “let’s get on down to the artillery barracks if it’s style you want.”
We walked around the corridors and came to a room with some mystical numbers on the door which Jimmie said meant Field Artillery. Two young men in uniform were sitting at a desk reading some documents. They did not look like infantry. They had a clean, tidy look, and they had white cords over their shoulders that gave them an appearance of chastity, nobility, which is not part of the disposition of infantry. You could not imagine either of these gentlemanly young men charging a stuffed sack with a bayonet and the proper facial expression.
“Good evening,” said Jim.
The two lads looked up at us pleasantly.
“My friend here and I,” said Jim, “are a couple of old soldiers and we thought we would like to join up again. Are you taking any men on?”
“Were you artillery?” asked one of them.
“I was,” said Jim, proudly. “My friend here was infantry, but he is anxious to switch.”
The two high school boys smiled at us and at each other.
“Well,” said the better looking youth, “as a matter of fact, we are fairly well up to strength just now.”
“What we were thinking,” said Jim, sitting down on the corner of their desk, “was that the militia would be rather keen on getting some of us old timers back into harness. For the good of the corps. We know the ropes. It wouldn’t be like taking on new recruits.”
Everything To Unlearn
The two lads looked at us solemnly.
“For instance,” went on Jimmie, earnestly, “you chaps are no doubt thoroughly trained on theory and gunnery. But what do you know about active service conditions? Did either of you ever haul on a drag rope?”
“Which war were you in?” asked one of the slim young men. “The South African or the 1914-1918 affair?”
Jim and I were both astonished.
“The great war,” we said.
“Ah, things have changed a lot since those days,” said the first youth. “You would have to unlearn everything you learned in that old war. Nothing is the same. For example, I suppose you used to fool around with horses?”
Jim nodded speechlessly.
“Of course nowadays,” went on the young man, “everything is mechanized. Guns are drawn by tractors. The personnel travel in fast trucks. Are you a good mechanic?”
Jimmie slid off the corner of the desk.
“Well, well!” he breathed.
I felt extremely sorry for Jim.
“I can’t imagine artillery,” said he, “without horses. Without the stables, the trumpets sounding. Now I suppose you toot the horn on the truck for the boys to fall in. No more ‘stables,’ no more trumpets sounding hoarsely, no more horse lines, pickets, all the romance gone, all the thrill of driving the guns into action, the night roads, the pack trains of ammunition going up the line.”
The two lads smiled pityingly.
“Oh, there’s romance in the guns,” they said. “I suppose you old boys who did your courting in a buggy can’t imagine a modern youth doing any courting worth while in a fast roadster, huh?”
“Jim,” I said quietly, “I told you before you should come into the infantry. Nothing changes there. It is the same to-day as it was in Caesar’s time, or the Duke of Marlborough’s.”
“How fast,” asked one of the bright youths, “did your machine gun shoot in that 1914-1918 show?”
“Sir,” I said, with dignity, taking Jim by the arm, “our Vickers guns fired upwards of four hundred a minute!”
“Well,” laughed the first youth, “even the Vickers is stepped up to 800 a minute now, but modern infantry will be using the new Farquhar-Robertson gun that fires 2,400 shots a minute, air cooled, and you can change a barrel in three seconds!”
“I don’t believe you!” I said.
“Fact,” said both the young soldiers.
“I don’t believe it,” I shouted.
Jim and I stalked from the room.
“Which infantry units will we join?” I asked, as we strode along the corridors filled with striplings.
“Any one at all,” said Jim. “My gosh, going into action in a motor truck in low gear! You can tell an artilleryman in the dark by the smell of gasoline instead of horse!”
“Jimmie,” I said, “it is a soulless machine age, and it was foolish of us not to foresee that in twenty years there would be dynamic chances in such a thing as artillery. But infantry, now! No matter what new inventions they may make in the art of war, they still have to have the foundation, the infantry! The good old gravel crushers. Come on!” From the corridor we emerged into the huge echoing drill shed.
There was the good old infantry!
“Shun!” shouted an officer.
“Standat-ICE!” he yelped. “Shun!”
“Slow-ope-UPPS!” he barked.
“Come on, Jimmie,” I cried breathlessly, “the same old stuff! Duke of Wellington! King Canute! Nothing changes. Let’s get into it, the changeless and unchanging…”
We hastened around the walls of the echoing vasty drill hall. We went into an open door.
There were two or three young lieutenants standing, in the room.
“Is this an infantry unit?” I cried.
“Yes,” said they, poising their cigarettes.
“All right,” I exclaimed. “Show us where to sign up. Where’s the orderly room7?”
“I’m in charge of the orderly room,” said the tallest of the lieutenants coolly. “What is it you want?”
“We want to sign on,” I said. “We’re going to get into the game again. We’re two old soldiers and we think it high time we were back in uniform. Give us a couple of attestation blanks8.”
“Hold on,” said the tall lad. “How old are you boys?”
“Pardon me,” said Jim, standing stiffly. “You are talking to an ex-major!”
He indicated me. I stood at attention, but my stomach seemed to be in a different place from where it was the last time I stood at attention. I shifted it around here and there, but I realized the effect was not good.
The three lieutenants put their heads together. They were mere cadets.
“So you want to join up,” said the tall one. “Aren’t you on the reserve?”
“I wish to go in with my friend here,” I said. “And I am going to start at the bottom, again. With him.”
“We will rise together,” said Jim.
Just Two Decrepit Old Men
They put their heads together again. “I think,” said the tall one, “a medical examination might be arranged to-night. If you will just wait, I will go and see if I can locate the medical officer.”
He left us with the two young lieutenants and they chatted with us pleasantly, asking us about the Great War, and we told them various stories that would show how important it is that an army should be filled with old veterans. They seemed very impressed with us, and they both said it would certainly be a comfort to have men of our experience in their regiment.
The tall young officer returned with a fat officer who told us to follow him. The other three lieutenants followed, too.
We went into a small bare room and the medical officer ordered us to strip. It was a chilly little room and we both had the goose flesh by the time we got our shirts off, and I am afraid we made a poor impression on these younger men who had youth on their side. The doctor measured us longways and across, he listened to our hearts, lungs; asked us to cough, made us read printing at ten feet; and all the time he kept shaking his head more and more.
“Both of you have flat feet,” he said, at last. “Your hearts are full of murmurs, your chest expansion is practically gone, your eyesight is defective, you have got fallen diaphragms, one of you is overweight, and the other is underweight, I can see every sign of high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries. Your King and country may want you, boys, but they don’t want you bad.”
They all helped us dress. They assisted us out the door. They saluted us ceremoniously as we staggered out into the drill hall heading for the main exit.
Down University Ave. we moved, with leaden feet, Jimmie helping to hold me up by my elbow. By the time we got to Queen St. we were just two decrepit old men, with our backs bowed, our cheeks fallen in and our legs bent at the knee so that our poor old feet slid along the pavement, instead of lifting.
“Jimmie,” I said, and my voice was thin and quavering, “even if we could go to war, I don’t think we would enjoy it any more.”
“Not with caterpillars pulling the guns,” said Jim, in a cracked old voice.
“And machine guns,” I whined, “shooting at the rate of 2,400 a minute, not for me!”
“It sounds like a game for younger men,” said Jim.
“They’ve taken all the pleasure out of it,” I yammered.
“Let these young squirts find out about war for themselves,” squeaked Jimmie.
And two old veterans, holding themselves very stiff and marching in step, held a parade all by themselves along Queen St. to the City Hall, where our car was parked.
Editor’s Notes: There were a few of these types of stories, just before the Second World War, where they spoke of signing up again. This is very early, from 1933 rather than others that appeared in 1939 or 1940.
- A Bayonet stud is the metal mount that either locks the bayonet onto the weapon or provides a base for the bayonet to rest against, so that when a bayonet cut or thrust is made, the bayonet does not move or slip backwards. ↩︎
- A Breech bolt or breech block is the part of the firearm action that closes the breech of a breech loading weapon before or at the moment of firing. ↩︎
- A bridoon is a bit (for horses) designed specifically for use in the double bridle, while a snaffle is a simple bit used with a single set of reins. ↩︎
- A drag rope is a rope with a short chain and a hook that is attached to an artillery carriage and used in emergencies in dragging it or locking its wheels. ↩︎
- A funk hole is another name for a dugout, a concealed place where one can hide in safety. ↩︎
- A batman was a soldier assigned to a commissioned officer as a personal servant. These disappeared before World War 2, except for only the most senior officers (so Greg is out of touch here as well). ↩︎
- The orderly room is a room used for regimental or company business. ↩︎
- Attestation blanks are the forms used to give personal details when signing up. ↩︎
By Gregory Clark, November 14, 1925.
Did you go in for radio heckling during the campaign?1
It’s the latest sport.
Amongst those invited in to hear the speech of the Right. Hon. Mackenzie King was our Aunt Jess.
She is getting on in years, but still bears a stout and doughty attitude towards life. And she is a Tory.
During the preliminary speeches Aunt Jess sat in stony silence, a slight smile on her face, which curled with mild scorn whenever there came the buzz of thunderous applause out the horn.
When the prime minister was announced she sat forward in her chair and bent a challenging gaze into the amplifier.
“Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,” began the prime minister.
“Bah for you!” shouted Aunt Jess.
“Sssh!” we all hissed, in astonishment.
“It is a source of very special pride and pleasure,” continued the prime minister, unabashed by Aunt Jess’ rude interruption, “for me to-night…”
“Daddy, what did you do in the great war!” yelled Aunt Jess, who is a reader of the Telegram as well as the Mail.
“Sssh!, Whisssht!” we expostulated.
“… to have with me on this platform to night,” continued the prime minister, “my chief lieutenant in the government of this country.”
“For five days more!” yelled Aunt Jess, in a loud voice, and very red in the face.
We turned off the switch.
“Look here, Aunt Jess,” we cried, “you can’t do that! He can’t hear you, you know.”
“I know that, my lad,” replied Aunt Jess. “But you don’t know what pleasure it gives me to be quite rowdy. I have never heckled in my life before and here’s my chance. Turn that thing on again.”
“Please, Aunt Jess, we want to hear Mr. King’s message.”
“Would you deny an old woman her dying wish? Turn that thing on!”
“But nothing. I have been going to political meetings all my life and have had to sit like a fool, afraid to open my mouth for fear everyone would turn and stare at me. Now’s my chance. Let ‘er go!”
Sat Closer Than Before
And Aunt Jess sat up closer to the horn than before, in a most rowdy attitude, her eyes sparkling. “Let ‘er go!”
“I understand, ladies and gentlemen,” came Mr. King’s voice, “that the right honorable the leader of the opposition…”
“Hurray! Hurray! Hurray! Tiger!!!” roared Aunt Jess into the amplifier, while Mr. King’s voice continued unperturbed but somewhat drowned by the lone cheers.
“I would like to ask Mr. Meighen to do what I have attempted to do here,” went on the prime minister.
“Oh, is that so!” shouted Aunt Jess.
“I would like him to state on this platform, who he will have in his cabinet from Quebec, and who he will have in his cabinet from the west?”
“Better men than you’ve got!” cried Aunt Jess, her face up to the horn.
The old lady’s spirit was infectious. We all began to see this as a battle between Aunt Jess and the prime minister. As the speech went on Aunt Jess unloosed some expressions, some modern and some quite old and well-worn, that we had no idea she possessed in her ladylike vocabulary. When the prime minister got going in his stride, with long, oratorical sentences that could not very well be broken in on, Aunt Jess would merely retort with long, raucous laughter, utterly confusing and spoiling the effect of the prime minister’s best arguments. She produced a small flag from her sateen bag and began waving it in front of the horn with derisive shouts.
“These are the policies,” said the prime minister, “for which the Liberal party not only stands…”
“But falls!” shrilled Aunt Jess. And she rose to her feet.
Continued Right to the End
The prime minister was marching to a close.
Aunt Jess removed her little bonnet which she wears in the house. Eyes alight, voice husky from use, she continued her heckling right to the end.
“.. and with that greater understanding,” concluded the prime minister eloquently, “a larger fellowship for the good of the individuals concerned and the greater good of all.”
Aunt Jess hurled her bonnet into the horn, thus muffling the Liberal cheers which sprang from it.
“Hurray for Meighen!” she screamed. “Hurray! Hurray!” And she did a sort of dervish dance in front of the amplifier.
“The best time I ever had in my life,” declared Aunt Jess, breathlessly. “How much do these radio things cost?”
Aunt Jess has a lot of old scores to pay.
“There are singers I want to inform that they have rotten voices. There are certain ministers in this city I would like to interrupt.”
(Aunt Jess is an Anti2, you understand.)
“All my life, for over sixty years, I have had to go to concerts, meetings, and to church, and listen to people that irritated me beyond measure. Here is my chance to tell them what is on my mind. You see, I give them no offense, yet I get a burden off my mind that has weighed too heavily… Turn on some singer until I see what it feels like.”
We got a station in which a lady with a slow soprano was singing “Marquita.”
We sat in silence. Aunt Jess lifted her chin and tapped with her knitting needles.
“Too slow,” she called into the horn. “Don’t chew your words, girl. Enunciate. Enunciate. Oh, horrible. Stop her!”
We switched off.
Aunt Jess tossed her head delightedly.
“What a treat!” said Aunt Jess. “Are there any Unionist ministers preaching to-night?”
“No, not until Sunday.”
“Very well, I’ll be here Sunday,” said Aunt Jess.