In a bay by themselves huddled down on the firestep in excited conversation were Dad and Babe Kinzie.

By Gregory Clark, October 4, 1930.

Two brothers in the same unit was bad enough. But father and son! Let me tell that story.

Whenever a lieutenant was wanted to go back to the wagon lines to fetch up a new draft, I was always willing. It meant I lost the day’s sleep. It meant giving up the comfortable surety of the front line or support for a long walk down communications and over roads that might be strange to me and might have a little shelling, especially on the trip in with new men. But the officer who went out to get the draft of recruits had the pick of the men. And I had enough love of D company to desire the pick of the recruits for her.

And I picked them a funny way. I never heard of anybody picking men by their Adam’s apples. But that’s the way I did it. A man with a prominent Adam’s apple may not always be the bravest man, or the smartest. But he nearly always has one striking characteristic. And that is, when you say to bunch of fellows, “Let’s go and push that outhouse over,” or “Who’s game to come down to the divisional dump and snitch a case of rum to-night?” the first man to jump to you is the man with the biggest Adam’s apple in the bunch. I put this theory up to Lou Marsh1 one time, and he recalled that nearly every outstanding loose puck artist, practically all the most reckless plungers and tacklers in rugby, were men with Adam’s apples, as Lou put it, that were bigger than their chins.

So when I arrived at the wagon lines, and after I had paid the proper respects to the quartermaster, paymaster and transport officer, all round, both ways, I would order the new drafts paraded in full marching order. They usually had a conducting sergeant with them who was most likely one of our old n.c.o’s returning from hospital.

“Sergeant,” I would say, “have these men stand easy and undo their tunic collars, please.”

There they would stand, clutching their rifles between their knees, undoing their tunic collars and wondering what sort of a war they had arrived at, with pint-sized lieutenants with shaved heads asking them to undo their collars.

“Open them up!”

And down the parade I would go, falling out to the left all the boys with Adam’s apples that croaked up and down nervously as I walked past staring intently at them.

That would put all the Adam’s apples at the D Company end. For after the inspection, I would number them. Say they numbered to thirty-five. That made seventy men, front and your rank.

One to eight, A company,” I would say, “nine to seventeen, B company, eighteen to twenty-six, C company, and God bless you, twenty-seven to thirty-five, D company.”

And there, front and rear, from twenty-seven to thirty-five, I had the greatest collection of knee joints in the neck you ever could see.

That was how I got the Kinzies, father and son.

The elder Kinzie must have been over forty-five if he was a day. There he stood in the rank, such a heap of kit, khaki, bulging packsack and pendulous limbs as would send a drill sergeant crazy. He had a large untrimmed moustache hiding a small, weathered face. Gentle, timid eyes peeped at me questioningly as I came abreast of him. He was not much taller than I. His shoulders were thick and oversize. His hands were knuckly and awkward. He toed in a little, even when standing with feet turned out at an angle of forty-five degrees. Even if I hadn’t seen that great corded knot of an Adam’s apple projecting out of his open collar, I think I would have picked Kinzie for D company. For if ever I saw a backwoodsman, a guide, a real old settler from up north of Kingston or Belleville, it was Kinzie. I could almost smell the bacon frying over the campfire as I stood before him with his equipment on him like so many bundles. I must have paused a long moment in front of Kinzie, for I was lost to the war as my mind looked hungrily back to memories of little lakes and reed beds and big splashing bass.

Dad Kinzie and Babe Kinzie

“Fall out to the left,” said I huskily, and old Kinzie, with an anxious look in his eyes, which I did not understand at the moment, assembled with all his junk on him, down to the left.

For young Kinzie, his son, age about twenty, was standing as rear file to his old man. And not until I had inspected all the front rank and came down to the middle of the rear rank did I come to the boy. But they need not have worried about being separated. I did another long look in front of Babe Kinzie. Dad Kinzie and Babe Kinzie is what they came to be called in the company.

Young Kinzie was taller than his old man, and had that boyish, almost childish look that twenty year olds born and raised on a remote, backwoods clearing may wear. But he had the heavy shoulders, the long arms, the innocent blue eyes and leathery face of his old man. And he also wore his equipment and pack in that way which made me think he was portaging. And Adam’s apple! I hope my memory is bad and deceiving me over the years when I say it was, despite his youth, as big as a billiard ball.

“Fall out to the left,” said I to Babe Kinzie.

I think the leap of joy that came into his face when I ordered him to the left was only equaled behind my back, by the look in his old man’s face. For I heard a gruff exclamation behind me. And I turned around to see the boy trying to push in as rear file to his father, though it was not his place.

“Here,” said I. “Fall in to the left, I said.”

But the two faces, forty-five and twenty, turned appealingly to me.

“They’re father and son,” said the sergeant.

“Heaven help us,” said I. And right there I lost all interest in the inspection. For if you are superstitious about brothers, what could you help feeling about a father and son in the same company?

Before we went up the line, towards evening, I had a chat with the transport officer and tried to wrangle the elder Kinzie into some jobs around the lines. We sent for the old man, and asked him there in the tent:

“What do you know about horses?”

He thought a full five seconds, his questioning eyes looking from transport back to me.

“I’m afraid I don’t know nothing about horses, sir.”

“No good to me,” said Transport.

“What’s your trade?” I asked desperately. Do you know anything about blacksmithing? Tailoring?

“I been lumbering,” said old Kinzie, helpfully. But farming is my line. I got a small farm up in Frontenac county.”

“Kinzie,” said I, “I would like to get you a job here at the horse lines. How old are you?”

“Forty-one,” said the old liar, looking around at nobody.

“I hate this idea of you and your boy going up the line to the same company. How would you like me to assign your boy to some other company? Or maybe I could get the colonel to put him on as a battalion runner?”

The old man’s face and figure were pathetic. He seemed to go to pieces all in a dump.

“Please, sir,” he begged, “we got to be together, because he don’t know much, and it was me brought him here. I got to keep him by me, please, sir.”

The please sir from this old bushwhacker was as incongruous as a song from a porcupine.

“All right,” said I.

But it wasn’t all right with me, and because the thing stuck out in my mind as little things did in those days with nothing much to think of, I made sure the two Kinzies came to my platoon when we got up to the company.

“Rifles Aren’t for Shooting With”

I told the n.c.o.’s about them and instructed that the Kinzies were not to be detailed to any jobs such as patrols or wiring without consulting me.

“You’ve got so many pets in this platoon now,” complained old Tommie Depper, the senior sergeant, “that I can’t get a ration party together without consulting teacher.”

“Sergeant!” said I, severely.

“Hell,” said Tommie, “excuse me, is this a parade?”

I am afraid D company was almost as bad, as far as discipline was concerned, as the colonel said it was.

So the Kinzies, along with six or seven other new men, were scattered through the platoon and did their first eerie night in the trenches, amid the stealth, the silence and the moonlight.

There was a company conference next morning in D company dugout, after breakfast, and the officers and sergeants sat chewing the fat until nearly eight o’clock. And at that late hour, with the sun up in the sky, when all good soldiers save a couple of gas sentries per platoon, should have been down underground asleep, I came up for a listen at the skylarks and maybe the sight of a rabbit or a partridge.

And to my right, nearby, I heard a shot crash out.

Now who in blazes would be firing his rifle on a peaceful morning like this? It was an outrage. Nothing could upset a company officer more than to hear a vagrant rifle shot bang out on a nice quiet sector, day or night. It was unheard of!

Around the traverses I charged, my indignation rising.

And in a bay all by themselves, huddled down on the firestep2 in excited conversation, were Dad and Babe Kinzie. And in the old man’s hands, a guilty-looking rifle.

A very guilty looking rifle. I may say I never saw, even in Buckingham Palace yard, a Lee Enfield that looked as smart, as oilily gleaming, as babied and cared for as the rifle that was clutched in Dad Kinzie’s hand.

“Who the devil fired that shot?” I demanded.

“I did,” said Kinzie, standing up very surprised.

“Well, hang it all, Kinzie, you ought to know better than go shooting off around here like a boy scout! Rifles aren’t for shooting with,” I said, “they’re a drill weapon. Any shooting around here will be done by the snipers, and they’re pets of the colonel. No common company bum is allowed to play with his rifle except at the ranges back in rest. What were you shooting at? Rabbit or partridge?”

“A German,” said old Kinzie.

“And got him,” said Babe Kinzie proudly. “Right on the nose.”

“Do you mean to say you two rookies had your heads sticking up over that parapet!” I yelled.

And anxiously, the two showed me the parapet, all decorated up with rubbish, through which was gouged a narrow tunnel or ditch which gave a view of the further German support trenches but screened from the German front line.

“It won’t do,” said I firmly. “You will get a Mauser bullet right through your bean if you start monkeying with things like this. A nice, bronze Spitzer bullet from some Heinie sniper’s rifle with telescope sights on it.”

They were abashed.

“I rigged up this hole before dawn,” said the old man, ruefully, “just so’s I could see that spot about a hundred and sixty yards back. The boys told me they was some kind of a shovel dump or something there and they often seen Germans’ heads at that place.”

A Little Sniping on Our Own

“How do you know you got him?” I asked the younger Kinzie.

“You got to prove you ain’t got him when Dad shoots,” said the boy.

“Is that so?” said I. “Well, until you men are appointed to the select company of snipers on battalion headquarters, you’ve got to curb your shooting. Now get off to the dugout and get your sleep.”

And very meekly the Kinzies trailed their long arms around the traverse and off to bed underground.

Before the tour was over, I got used to the Kinzies. They even did a wiring party out in front one night. This test of fate I watched with nervous breath. And nothing happened. They did as smart a job as any of the older men on the party. They seemed to be able to see in the dark.

“Good men, those Kinzies,” said Tommie Depper. “I bet they come from somewhere near Windsor.”

Depper came from Windsor.

Out of the line, resting, we did some musketry practice, and I said to Dad Kinzie:

“Now let’s see what you can do with your pretty rifle?”

He made a string of ten bulls at the rickety hundred-yard target.

“That’s shooting,” said I, really impressed (I suppose you know what army shooting was like?)

“Pah,” said the old man.

We had no longer ranges. But with my permission, old Kinzie was allowed to fire one shot at the white-washed mud wall of a broken cow stable against a hill all of six hundred yards away. Old Kinzie said it was a little over four hundred yards. I thought it would have been good shooting to hit the wall. Dad Kinzie asked me if I could see a narrow plank bordering one edge of the wall. I couldn’t.

He knelt. He aimed snugly. He fired. With Depper and the Kinzie boy, we walked across the fields to the ruined stable. There in a six inch plank bordering the white wall was a neat round hole.

“How often can you do that?” I asked.

In reply, he fired four more shots from back in the same place, and the five holes in the plank, when we walked forward, were easily covered by my cap.

I told the colonel about it. But the sniping section was full. We went back up the line, in by Merincourt. One afternoon, I saw some sort of small hawk soaring low above the field where most of the larks sprang from. I sent for Dad Kinzie. Dad allowed it was a tough shot. We edged along on to C company’s front. The hawk poised an instant as it made a turn. It was perhaps eighty yards off. Dad Kinzie’s pointed bullet flipped the hawk, a wrecked bunch of feathers four feet in the air.

“A little low on the side,” said he.

That was about the time Dad Kinzie and I began to chum around.

“Why can’t the boy shoot?” I asked the old man one day.

“He can shoot good as I could at his age. But,” said Dad Kinzie, “it takes about twenty years to get real good. Your rifle kind of grows out of you in that time like your finger or your eyesight. It’s like part of you.”

I could well believe it.

We did a little sniping on our own. Especially when the company was in close support trenches. We would lie out in the turnips or hide in old ruins. The boy was always along with us, because he could see movement where certainly I couldn’t, and often the old man couldn’t.

We got meat too. From the support trench north of the electric power station at Avion, we could look down into Lens. We saw a party of what were likely officers moving discreetly in amongst the ruins all of six hundred yards away. Really six hundred, estimated by old Kinzie. When he fired, one of the four Germans lay on the ground. Old Kinzie waited. One of the others ran out from behind a wall and knelt by the down one. Kinzie hit him, though he staggered out of sight.

In one afternoon, in one place, just east of Avion, where the railway embankment passed through our lines, we got three, about half an hour apart. It must have been one of those places men like to stand and gaze on, like mountain sheep.

Another day, Babe Kinzie spotted a German chopping. You could see the axe head rise and fall. Now and again you could catch a glimpse of the German.

“I wish I had my binoculars,” I said. Old Kinzie would not let me bring glasses. He said the flash of field glasses would scare deer and they would scare Germans, too.

So Kinzie got the chopper too.

Late one afternoon, with the sun behind us streaming down on the German lines, Babe Kinzie saw something that he took to be a pump handle sticking up in the German support trench. He finally made his Dad see it, and the old man laid his rifle on the mark, very delicately aiming it and then securing it in position with sticks, stones and string.

A Gorgeous Outburst of Pyrotechnics

About eleven o’clock that night, we went out in the turnips and without the aid of any light, Dad Kinzie fired. It was not a pump handle but some kind of a rack or store of German skyrockets and signal flares. Whether Dad’s bullet hit a friction lighter or exploded something else in the store, there was the most gorgeous outburst of pyrotechnics back there in the German supports that I ever saw that side of the Toronto exhibition. It lasted all of ten minutes and the riot caused the German artillery to open up. Ours replied. And as we lay in the turnips, we snorted with guilty laughter until our diaphragms hurt us.

But all wars come to an end. And all those days spent in fun around sun-bathed trenches with not a thing in the world to worry about come to an end too. For about every six months, the higher command thinks up a battle. It is like being at Varsity and then exams come along.

So came Amiens. After the winter of licking Passchendaele’s scars, and a happy spring and summer spent around Vimy listening to the ominous thunder to the south and the north, or out in distant rear areas training for open warfare, the lucky Canadian corps prepared in stealth and rather breathlessly for the great Hundred Days.

The Kinzies withdrew from my immediate life and became two chessmen in the backdrop of the company against which we officers, as in the days of our earliest training, began to strut once again in the guise of officers and gentlemen rather than as section foremen in the trenches. I felt easy about the Kinzies. Fate was kind to them. My superstitions were lulled. Father and son could team together, even in that unearthly sphere where Fate seemed more a humorist at heart than a vengeful fury.

They had no chums. They chummed together. Always together on the line of march. Always eating out of the same mess-tin, sharing their blankets, their heads peering side by side whenever you paid a night visit to the billets. I was sorry our days and nights together were ended. It had been like a touch of the Rideaus again.

At Amiens we did not go over the first day. Close on the heels of our division, we advanced three incredible miles up the Roy road, the sounds of triumph just over every rise. What a gay, reckless day that August 8 was!

We slept under our tarpaulins that night, like Napoleon’s soldiers or Caesar’s. I thought of Waterloo, as I walked about the misty field, amongst the bivvies3, at dusk, asking them how they liked open warfare. The Kinzies were as usual under the same bivvy, all dry and comfortable, as woodsmen and trappers should be. I planned, the next rest, to have the Kinzies demonstrate to the company just how to make a comfortable shelter out of a bit of canvas.

“There’ll be moving targets to-morrow, Kinzie,” I said to them. “Like deer across the open.”

“I’m all oiled up and ready,” said the old man. “But this is my first battle.”

“It’s my first, this kind,” said I. “I hope I get stage fright out here in these open fields.”

“I suppose I can keep the boy by me?”

“Nothing to prevent it,” said I.

“If anything happens to me,” said Dad Kinzie “I don’t suppose the boy could come with me?”

“Oh, no. But nothing will happen, Kinzie.”

“Yes, but something might, and I was wondering if I got wounded maybe the boy could be a stretcher bearer and come down with me.”

“Nobody is allowed to fall out to help a wounded comrade, and that’s so of even father and son,  I’m afraid.”

“Well,” said Kinzie, “I’d hate to go out wounded and leave this boy here alone. I’d rather him get wounded and me stay, though that would be bad enough.”

“Greatest Shot I Ever Knew”

“I guess the boy knows enough to look after himself, Dad,” said I. “But you don’t plan things so far ahead.”

“I plan everything ahead,” said Kinzie, with a worried air.

Well, turn in boys, and ready for dawn.”

And dawn saw us on the march, like olden wars, up roads in column of fours, and the sun came up and found us marching steadily eastward, while ahead of us the sounds of victory grew louder, and we passed field guns in the open meadows firing like in the picture books. An incredible sight. Few of us had ever seen a cannon. All we knew, in three years, was the sound of their shells.

And thus, before noon, on that brilliant August day, across fields of waving grain, we suddenly found ourselves in front and the attack to carry on, like a tide.

As we emerged out of Quesnel, where, the Six Bits4 had made their glorious dash, a storm of shellfire met us. But across the green fields, we saw the little gray buglike figures retreating before us.

More shells howled amongst us and kicked up their fountains.

“Old Kinzie’s got it!” suddenly shouted my batman5.

And there, limp on the ground, a few yards lay old Kinzie, while the shell dust settled on him.

“Where’s the boy?” I cried.

“Ahead there! He hasn’t noticed the old man,” said the batman.

And Babe Kinzie, along with the rest of the section, was doubling forward waist deep in the grain, all eyes to the front, wild with the excitement of his first show: and what a show!

I let them go. I walked across to Old Kinzie. He flopped over on his back as I approached, and I hurried to kneel by him.

“My leg, my leg,” he murmured, as I got his head up.

The shell had flung a heavy splinter into the thick of his calf and torn it badly.

He blinked at me. The stunning concussion of the shell was leaving him.

“The boy!” he gasped, as he realized he was missing. “Where’s the kid?”

“He’s gone on,” said I. “He’ll be all right now. I’ll take good care of him.”

“Where is he?” cried Dad Kinzie, struggling to kneel up on that bloody leg.

“There here he goes, just to the left of that shed,” said I. “Now lie down and I’ll send one of the stretcher bearers.”

He was still sitting when I ran ahead.

A few yards out, I met Courtney, one of the stretcher men, working on a chap in the wheat.

“As soon as you can, look after old Kinzie back there by the brick wall.”

“Yes sir.”

I had not taken more than six steps when I heard a rifle shot behind me. Turning, I beheld old Kinzie just lowering his rifle from his shoulder. He was kneeling.

“What the devil!” I shouted. “Can’t you quit even with a leg-off?”

“Got him!” shouted old Kinzie, and dropped out of my sight.

Then I overtook the boys, weaving through the grain. And just beyond the little shed, I found two or three of the boys bending over young Kinzie who was sitting on the ground among wry faces.

“Where’s he hit?”

“In the leg, sir. He was just lifting his leg over this picket, here, when he got this. But,” said the lance corporal, “by gosh, he got it from behind. I swear he did. Look.”

“Nonsense,” said I, but the wound unquestionably entered from the side of his leg that would have been to the rear as he got over the picket.

“Get him back there to Courtney, near the brick wall,” said I. “One of you lend him your shoulder that far and then get right back here.”

And we got young Kinzie to his feet, arm around the other’s shoulder, I looked back and there knelt old Dad Kinzie, beckoning excitedly to his boy.

“Good-by, Babe,” said I. “And tell your Dad for me that he is the greatest shot I ever knew. He didn’t even touch the bone.”

That was the afternoon he had tea in the rear at Folies.

Editor’s Notes:

  1. Lou Marsh was an athlete, and later sports reporter and editor at the Toronto Star. ↩︎
  2. A firestep is a step dug into the front side of a trench allowing soldiers to stand on it in order to fire over the parapet. ↩︎
  3. Bivvies is short for Bivouac, which can describe any improvised shelter that is usually of a temporary nature. ↩︎
  4. “Six Bits” was the nickname of the 75th Battalion (Mississauga), CEF. ↩︎
  5. A batman was a soldier assigned to a commissioned officer as a personal servant. This practice diminished greatly by World War 2, and was later phased out. ↩︎