A hearty voice was crying: “Come along, lads; end of the line!”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, April 17, 1943.

“Be alert!” asserted Jimmie Frise. “Be keen! Be fit! Be wide awake! Be on your toes!”

“That,” I agreed, “is our duty. At a time like this, it is not merely our duty; it is very much in our own interest.”

“Correct,” said Jimmie briskly. “When half a million of our fellow Canadians are in the armed services, learning as never before to be alert, wide awake and on their toes, it is only common sense on our part that we do not lag too far behind them. Because one of these fine days, the war is going to end. And we are going to be in competition not with the easy-going, self-centred generation that owned and controlled Canada before the war. We are going to have to compete with a whole generation of men trained to be alert and fit to a degree never dreamed of before in our history.”

“Everybody makes the mistake,” I concurred, “of comparing the return of the veterans from the last war with the return of the troops from this war. They imagine the conditions will be about the same. They picture to themselves a lot of bedraggled old soldiers coming wearily home, glad to accept any little handout of a job. They picture the boys holding meetings, perhaps, veterans’ meetings of protest. But, with the skill and shrewdness with which the business world handled the old soldiers of the last war, they think they can handle them again after this war.”

“In the last war,” agreed Jimmie, “we had no quarter million young men trained in the air force to be Varsity graduates, practically. Our army, in the old war, was just a lot of pack horses. The army coming home now will be trained minds, trained business men, trained technicians and trained mechanics.”

“Last war,” I said, “there was no time for training. We got into the army, were hustled through a little drill, some route marching and some shooting on the rifle range; and then, bang into action. This war, we have had nearly four years of training. A university course is only four years.”

“You would hardly say,” objected Jim, “that the army and air force give a man a university education.”

“Yes, I do,” I declared. “For, after all, what is the bigger part of a university education? Is it the collecting of information or is it the discipline of study? Which does a university graduate use most after he graduates; the ancient history, philosophy and so forth he learns at Varsity; or the habit of concentration and self-control he learns at Varsity?”

“I suppose,” agreed Jimmie, “that is what happens to his mind and character in those four years, rather than the mere facts he absorbs.”

“Then,” I submitted, “since four years of army training puts far more stress on concentration, discipline and self-control than a university course does, I submit to you that the army education our men are getting is much more on a par with a university education than we have so far supposed.”

“We’d Better Wake Up”

“And don’t imagine,” said Jim, “that the boys aren’t picking up plenty of book learning. And don’t imagine they are not attending plenty of lectures. And meeting interesting and exciting people and leaders. And doing a lot of study group work among themselves, even if it is in tents and huts, rather than university classrooms.”

“We’d better wake up to the facts,” I suggested, “and realize that the boys who are coming home from this war are going to be perhaps the most dynamic generation Canada has yet produced. They are going places. They will do things.”

“And there will be plenty to do,” surmised Jim. “Unlike the devastated world, Canada has not had her cities and her industries destroyed. We’ve got far more factories, more great power plants, far greater mines, all equipped with the most modern machinery and laboratories and scientific background, than we had before the war.”

“Hold on,” I interrupted. “That isn’t going to make it easier. That is going to make it harder. All the rest of Europe and Asia will be busily employed rebuilding and re-creating their industries. They’ll have something to occupy their energies the minute the war ends.”

“And we,” said Jim, “will occupy our energies in our undamaged industries, providing the devastated world with materials for its reconstruction.”

“Well, I hope so,” I sighed. “All I hope is, the big business cliques of Canada aren’t busy now planning some painless program for the re-absorption of Canadians back into civilian life. Painless, I mean, to business.”

“Probably they are,” smiled Jim. “But it won’t make any difference. Let us say that Canada’s industry is controlled by one thousand powerful, rich and clever men. They are all in their 50s and 60s. There are mighty few forties among them. Therefore, we will be rid of most of them in the next eight or ten years.”

“Rid?” I cried, horrified.

“Sure,” said Jim. “Rid of them. They’re old-fashioned. They cling to pre-war ideas and ideals. You don’t suppose, do you, that we will have room in Canada for half a million trained and educated men as well as the thousand old-fashioned geezers who happen to have carried over control from before the war? One or the other lot will have to give way. And I bet on the half million as against the thousand, no matter how smart the thousand have been. Because, you see, the half million are no longer ordinary men. They are extraordinary men. Through no fault of the big shots in this war, half a million Canadians are suddenly Varsity trained.”

“You exaggerate the Varsity stuff.” I protested.

“If going to school,” stated Jimmie, “does anything for human beings – and you admit it does – then going to school for two, three and four years in the army has done more than alter the personal situation of half a million. Canadian men. It has also altered the future of Canada. Anybody who tries to scheme the future of Canada here and now is wasting his time. For the Canadians will bring their schemers and their leaders home with them.”

Deciding to Be Alert

“We’re fools then,” I cried, “to be dawdling innocently along at what we call our war effort gait. We, too, should be training. We too, should be on our toes, getting ready to march in step with the boys coming home.”

“That’s exactly what I said at the beginning,” reminded Jim. “We should be forming clubs and societies in every city, town, and village. Not easy-going clubs like knitting and soldiers’ aid clubs which we won’t attend if it’s raining or if there is a good picture at the neighborhood movie. We should have various sorts of clubs, for men and women, for old and young, with discipline and training in them. Athletic clubs that would drill us like soldiers. Technical clubs, in which we would have to master technical arts.”

“Compulsory,” I submitted.

“Exactly,” said Jim. “In the army, everything is compulsory. In civil life, some things are starting to be compulsory. Gas rationing, food rationing. Why not ration our leisure? Why not organize a few compulsory clubs, athletic, technical and mechanical for the men, cooking, household science, athletic and mothercraft for the women? And make every man and woman at home join up and start disciplining themselves.”

“Unless,” I suggested, “the government is deliberately letting us dawdle so the soldiers can come home and take the country over.”

“Don’t be silly,” cried Jim. “Would a government do such a thing?”

“Maybe the government is tired of governing,” I explained. “Maybe the rich, clever, powerful old boys who control the country are growing weary of it all. Maybe they are looking happily forward to a Soldier Party, consisting of half a million trained, keen, alert young men, coming home and assuming control of Canada. Maybe they prefer that to all the Socialist tendencies they feel rising about them these days…”

“Well, my heart,” declared Jim, “is with the soldiers. And if I decide to be alert, on my toes, wide awake and fit, it isn’t to fight the soldiers when they come home, but to be able to stand with them.”

“Are you planning something?” I inquired eagerly.

“I saw in the paper last night,” announced Jim, “that there is a little club forming down in the East End of the city. It embodies exactly the ideas we have been discussing. The organization meeting is tonight.”

“Just another service club?” I inquired.

“Far from it,” said Jim. “It will meet three nights a week, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.”

“That’s a lot of nights in one week to give up,” I murmured.

“Excuse me,” said Jim. “It is not giving up. It is taking. This new club has nothing to give. You take.”

“What is their program?” I inquired.

“Fitness, mental and physical,” quoted Jim. “They are going to rent a hall of suitable size, and the meeting each night, which is strictly disciplined, opens with calisthenics, gymnastics and marching.”

“Mmmmmmm,” I complained.

“One half hour of hard physical training,” went on Jim, “is followed by one hour’s hard work on some technical or mechanical problem such as engine repairs, map reading, aerial navigation, carpentry and so forth. This is followed by a half-hour lecture by an outstanding expert on the subject worked on during the previous hour.”

“Sounds a little too earnest and worthy to me,” I protested.

“The newspaper item said,” went on Jim, “that for example, the subject of the hour’s work one night might be repairing a punctured tire in the most expert fashion. So there would be 50 punctured tires at the meeting which the members would have to sit down and repair, under expert garage men’s supervision. The lecture following would be by the president and general manager of at tire manufacturing company.”

“Ah, not bad,” I admitted.

“Another example,” went on Jim. “After the physical workout, the shop work consists of repairing shoes. A hundred shoemaker’s repair lasts are set up in the hall. Everybody lends a hand at soling, nailing, sewing and trimming a shoe. Every member has one of those tasks to do, by hand. At the conclusion, the lecturer, a professional shoe repair man, with a short movie reel, explains the art and science of shoe repairing.”

“This sounds interesting,” I confessed.

“Just discipline,” explained Jim. “Making men centre their minds on small, necessary, precise jobs. But the best part of the new club is the rule about attendance.”

“What is that?” I asked.

“There is no entrance fee,” announced Jim. “No fees at all. Just fines. When you join the club, you sign a legal document, properly drawn up by lawyers, agreeing to pay one dollar for every meeting you miss.”

“Holy smoke!” I gasped.

“Regardless of sickness, business or any other excuse,” stated Jim, “regardless of anything save death, you sign an agreement to attend every meeting or else pay $1 for every meeting you fail to attend.”

“That’s novel, isn’t it?” I exclaimed.

“It is so novel,” said Jim, “that I wouldn’t be surprised if they got a thousand members. Because this whole country is weary of the voluntary spirit. It wants compulsion. It is aching for discipline. In short, the whole country is jealous of the soldiers and is hungry to be kicked around.”

“Excuse me,” I interrupted. “But if the whole country is greedy for compulsion, and a thousand members turn up, how are they going to raise the funds to rent big halls and employ lecturers and so forth?”

“Well, explained Jim, “about 500 of the thousand will turn up the first three meetings. And then the greed will vanish from them. Thus, the 500 enthusiasts will, with the others’ fines, pay for the 500 who really want to be disciplined.”

“That’s always the way,” I confessed. “But, Jim, I’m tired of doing nothing. The whole spring, summer and autumn is ahead of us. Three nights a week is nothing…”

So we decided as follows: We would attend the meeting. And if, after looking over the gathering, we felt they were a likely looking crowd, if they weren’t just the usual joiners, if they seemed like people who, like ourselves, were really bent on accomplishing something, we would sign up. For both Jim and I had some ideas about those technical hours. For example, trout fly tying, and rod making, and basket weaving, for making trout creels, and light carpentry such as making Yukon pack frames, boxes for holding camp stoves, etc.

“We might pick up a lot of useful items,” we agreed.

So we had a quick supper and I walked up to Jim’s and we caught the bus that takes us down to the nearest car line at 10 to 7 p.m. and which gave us an hour and 10 minutes to make the journey across town to the East End.

At that time of day the rush hour is over and the street cars are not crowded. Only a few late goers are the passengers. It is a relaxed time. The theatre and evening crowds have not yet started. The car we got on was half empty and grew emptier. Half a dozen war workers with lunch pails dozed in their seats.

“I’m looking forward to this, Jim,” I opened the discussion, “because, if it looks good, we might better organize a similar club in our own end of the city.”

“Mmmmm,” said Jim, gazing out the window.

It was a lovely soft evening. At every car stop, we could hear the robins singing, even down in the shopping districts. A robin is a great blessing.

“Even that shoe repairing stuff,” I continued, “is good. I think I’ll buy one of those dollar outfits, you know, with iron lasts and awls and needles, to take up to the summer cottage. Somebody’s summer shoes are always ripping.”

“Mmmmm,” agreed Jimmie, resting his elbow on the window sill.

Contrary to the Spirit

Rush hour over, the street car rocked and teetered along, the motorman slumped on his stool, giving it the juice and taking the juice off in a sort of drowsy rhythm that rocked the passengers in their seats.

Traffic was light. The sunlight evening streets floated past.

“One thing I…” I began.

But Jimmy’s eyes were closed, his chin resting on his cupped hand; and by the way his mouth stood slightly ajar, I guessed he was snatching a little snooze.

I relaxed. The motorman was again amusing himself by his off-again-on-again-Finnegan sort of driving, and the motion lulled me.

I swear I did not go to sleep. I merely closed my eyes for a few seconds. We had a long, long way to go to the East End yet.

But I felt a tap on the shoulder and a hearty voice was crying:

“Come along, lads; end of the line!”

Jim leaped to his feet and jerked the bell cord.

“What’s the idea,” he demanded angrily, “letting us sleep past our stop? We stop at…”

And he looked out at the pleasant lawns, sheds and buildings of the line’s end.

“What’s the time?” I demanded of the motorman.

“Eight fifteen,” he said.

“What do we do?” I asked Jim.

“Walk up and put another fare in,” replied the motorman.

And by the time the street car had lazily returned the 20 blocks westward to the street we wanted, it was 8.35.

“What do you say?” I asked Jim.

“Somehow,” yawned Jimmie, stretching, “It wouldn’t seem right to turn up at a meeting to organize a new club for discipline and fitness, mental and physical, 40 minutes late.”

“It would be contrary to the spirit of the thing,” I contributed.

So we sat right where we were and snoozed all the way back to the home bus stop.