The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

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House Husbandry Course at the “Tech” to Train Young Men to be Useful Bridegrooms

“House-husbands qualified in all the domestic arts from, washing celery to basting a roast of beef”

Ornamental Hubbies Have Gone Out of Fashion – The Lad Who Has the Call To-day Is He Who Knows How to Prepare a Dainty Breakfast to Be Served to Milady in Bed.

By Gregory Clark, February 12, 1921.

The technical school, it is said, is about to institute a course in domestic science for young house-husbands.

In the last couple of years a very considerable demand has arisen for some sort of instruction for young men in light housekeeping, such as preparing dainty breakfasts, knocking out omelettes, tastefully arranging tea trays, and the like.

For in the most advanced feminine circles of younger Toronto the first requisite in a good husband is not his good looks, nor, indeed, how much money he makes; but whether he is handy at preparing a dainty meal on a tray to be consumed in bed.

And it is with regret that I must bring credence to this astonishing rumor.

When Jack married Ysobel six months ago, no one was more confounded than I. Jack is an amiable fellow, of course. But he is a shabby, moth-eaten little fellow, with a pet dog sort of an expression – perky, you know, but tame. And as for his other qualifications for marrying the magnificent Ysobel, the debonnaire, the almost boyish Ysobel, well, he is one of those bond salesmen who spend a busy day between the five soda fountains of Yonge street.

His income, as far as any of us ever knew, is equal to four sodas and one chocolate-egg1 per diem,

But he married Ysobel. And there they live, in their sporty apartment, amid a bliss that is the envy of all their friends, an ill-mated but preposterously happy couple.

What was the attraction Jack possessed? He tried to intimate to me that it was his war record that turned the trick. But I knew that Ysobel had been pursued by D. S. O.2‘s in her day, and Jack had not even the M. C.3

Only last week I made the amazing discovery.

I was passing Jack’s apartment house about ten in the morning, and decided to call and see if he would walk down town with me.

I rang his apartment bell, and Jack himself answered the door.

Jack, not yet shaven and partly dressed, with a print apron tied under his arms.

“Jack, partly dressed, with a print apron tied under his arms”

“Come in, old bean!” he cried, with a false joviality. He was blushing through his stubble.

He led me into the sitting room and sat down with me in an awkward silence.

“Thought I’d call to see if you are walking down,” I said.

“I’m hardly ready,” replied Jack.

“I’ll wait,” said I, cheerfully, with the cunning of a wolf on the scent.

And just at that moment, the sleepy, muffled voice of Ysobel rose from behind the bedroom door:

“Jack, Jack! What are you doing? When do I get my breakfast?”

It was out. The secret was mine. Before I left with Jack, Ysobel, magnificent and drowsy in her kimono, had spilled all the beans to me.

“Why, Jack is the dandiest house-husband imaginable,” she said. “His breakfasts are delicious and endless in their variety. And on Sundays he can cook a dinner and serve a tea that would knock your eye out!”

There lay his charm.

Since last week I have made great progress in this discovery. By dropping unexpectedly on all my young married friends, at odd hours of the day. I have found that almost without exception the husbands of the past couple of years are house-husbands, qualified in all the lighter domestic arts from washing celery to basting a roast of beef.

Is this the beginning of the revolt of women? Thus quietly and secretly are they inserting the thin end of the wedge of domestic equality?

Possibly the war had something to do with it. All these young fellows overseas, saying “Yes, sir,” and “No, sir,” for four years, clicking to everybody. And when they got home habit got the better of them, and they weren’t happy unless they were clicking to somebody. So they click to their wives.

It is a widespread and dangerous thing. Where will it end? I know one young fellow whose mother-in- law, who lives with him and his wife, informed him that the reason she supported his suit for her daughter’s hand was that all her life she had yearned to have a son-in-law who would get her her breakfast in bed. And he had looked promising to her!

It is a conspiracy, that’s what it is. We men should get together. Anyway, I purpose this article to serve as notice to certain parties who shall be nameless that in future they need not expect me to get their breakfasts for them except on Sundays and statutory holidays.


Editor’s Notes: Yes, this story is pretty sexist, but still highlights the confusion over changing roles after World War One and the “flapper” women.

  1. A chocolate egg cream was a popular soda fountain drink. ↩︎
  2. Distinguished Service Order ↩︎
  3. Military Cross ↩︎

Do You Believe It or Not?

February 11, 1933

These drawing went with a story by Cyrus Leger about particular myths or urban legends. Other myths mentioned in the article that were not illustrated included “a child is influenced by what its mother sees or thinks before it is born”, “In old days people lived longer than they do now”, “hairy arms or chest indicates the person is very strong”, or that “those with a square jaw have great willpower”.

February 11, 1933
February 11, 1933

Wine and Water

She rose quietly and came over to Hubert, who had removed his hat and was looking at her dumbly.

By Gregory Clark, February 4, 1922.

Three generations in the city, and the wine of life becomes water.

The third generation born and bred in the city has lost its spring, its sparkle, its flavor. It does one of two things. It seeks artificial and erotic stimulation, and so becomes that type of sophisticated and effete waster common enough in cities. Or it succumbs to the enfeeblement it feels within its veins, and joins the lower ranks of those drab, mechanical tollers who are the chief inhabitants of cities, the fourth or tenth or fiftieth generation of dwellers in cities.

For there appears to be an energy in the soil that man must absorb. The city man goes away in summer for a two-week holiday close to the soil, and sucks enough of this mysterious energy out of the earth to revive him for a year. But presently there comes to town a young man born and raised close to the earth and abounding in this primitive energy. And he drives the city man to the wall; outlasts him, out-moves him, skins him, picks his bones.

But this new man’s grandson is in turn the victim of a newcomer, fresh from the soil. All about us are examples of the third urbane generation putting up its unconscious struggle against a soily Fate. In some of the wealthier families, so filled were the first generations with energy, as the wealth they accumulated bears witness, that the fourth generation is sometimes left still in the ring.

But we have made the pursuits of the soil so hard, unpleasant and unprofitable that the enfeebled generation finds it easier to slip back into the permanent category of the city’s damned than to return boldly to the soil to recuperate in a few generations the supply of vital energy.

There is a way out, nevertheless.

And J. Hubert Waterberry found it.

Hubert was the third generation in Toronto. His grandfather, son of an immigrant who fought with Mackenzie’s rebels in 1837, came to town and built up a great contracting and building business. Scores of houses still standing south of Carlton street were built by Hubert’s grandfather.

Hubert’s father, however, was sent to school and became a lawyer. A good lawyer, too. He had offices in Victoria street and developed a big practice. But he found professional life to be merely the service of business life, and he determined that his son Hubert should be a business man.

Hubert was twenty-one in the year 1900. He was a sophisticated, elegant young man, fresh from college. His father got him into a prosperous firm of insurance brokers.

When Hubert was thirty, he was a bachelor. He had been hectically in love with several girls, but all had rejected him, in an indifferent way, as if they had sensed a want of energy in him. At thirty, he was feeling that want of stamina. On his father’s death, he used up every atom of his energy in breaking away from the big insurance firm with another young member of it, and starting a business of their own with the old man’s money.

But after five years, Hubert’s partner became restless for some reason and left the partnership.

At forty, Hubert was not so much a bachelor as an old maid. His office was a dim, dusty mausoleum in that remote district behind the King Edward Hotel. His business was reduced to those old accounts which had not yet been won away from him by live competitors. Hubert lived in the same select boarding house on Sherbourne street which he had taken on his father’s death.

Hubert’s only employe was elderly Miss Murdagh, who had been middle-aged when Hubert brought her with him from the old company.

In the dim office, with its maps, calendars and directories, these two sat from nine a.m. to five p.m., writing letters, issuing renewals of policies, but rarely going out for new business.

He had no clubs, no recreations. He read his newspaper at night, sometimes he went to a theatre or a lecture. His only hobby was his health, which, finding its self an object of interest, became steadily more complex.

His hair grew thin and grey. At forty he looked fifty.

Then one day old Miss Murdagh failed to turn up at the office. Hubert phoned her boarding house and learned that she had died during the night, quite unexpectedly.

Hubert was badly upset. He could handle the work all right, but it meant hustling. And Hubert had not hustled in fifteen years. three weeks after Miss Murdagh’s funeral at which Hubert was the chief mourner, he struggled alone in his dusty office, but found a wave of untidiness, disorder and tangled business engulfing him. Several faithful old accounts phoned him impatiently. Each night he went home later and more distressed.

He decided he would have to get help. After writing and re-writing half a hundred ads., he went down at noon one day to the newspaper offices with this:

“Wanted a mature woman acquainted with insurance business and office work. Telephone Mr. Waterberry, Main –”

At three o’clock that afternoon, girls began phoning him and calling at his office. They had looked up his address in the phone book. Hubert got into a panic. Suppose he picked the wrong girl? He couldn’t tell what they, were like over the phone. All who called at the office were young, flippant girls with powdered faces–

At three forty-five, with the telephone ringing. Hubert breathlessly seized hat and coat, locked up his office and fled home.

As he sat in his room waiting till dinner time, Hubert was filled with alarm. What would he do? Doubtless, when he went down to his office in the morning, there would be a queue of girls a mile long. He’d have to pick one. And Hubert didn’t want to have to pick one. He had lost his nerve. He would perhaps pick some horrible, hustling, cocksure creature.

Hubert decided he would be ill, in bed tomorrow, and maybe the ad. would blow over.

Just before supper-time, there was a knock on his door, and the housemaid said:

“You’re wanted on the phone, sir!”

Hubert went down.

“Mr. Waterberry?” asked a pleasant feminine voice.

“Yes,” His heart sank.

“I am answering your ad. in the paper today,” said the voice. “I hunted you up in the directory, finding your office, closed. Am I too late?”

Hubert was reassured by the softness of the voice. He could picture another Miss Murdagh.

“No,” he said.

“Then, I’ve had experience in insurance office work, not in Toronto, but in a small town in western Ontario,” said the woman. “I am very anxious to get any work, so whatever you regard as a fair salary I am willing to take.”

“Yes. All right,” said Hubert.

“Shall I call at nine or earlier?”

Hubert had an inspiration.

“Yes. And – and would you mind – I’m not very well – perhaps if you would take charge of the office for the morning and deal with the other applicants?”

“Why, yes!” said the woman. “The key?”

“Could you call here at my boarding house to-night? I’ll leave it with the housekeeper,” said Hubert.

“Very well.”

And Hubert, leaving the office key in an envelope, fled out and had dinner at a restaurant and spent a most enjoyable evening at Shea’s1.

The following morning Hubert went down town before lunch. He couldn’t help walking past his office, just to see–. There was no line-up of painted girls. He entered the building and paused outside his office door to listen.

There was a strenuous sound as of someone house-cleaning.

Hubert could scarcely eat his lunch, he was so excited. What if this woman he had engaged turned out to be one of those energetic, aggressive, chirpy women? What if she were young and bouncy? And Hubert spent a few minutes in prayerful remembrance of quiet, stodgy old Miss Murdagh.

Bracing himself, at two o’clock Hubert shoved himself down the back streets to his office. With leaden feet he climbed the old wooden stairs. He rapped nervously on his own office door and entered.

At the typewriter sat a big, splendid, brown-haired girl in a blue skirt and white waist.

She rose quietly and came over to Hubert, who had removed his hat and was looking at her dumbly. She smiled at him.

“Yes?” she said.

“I-I-ah!” said Hubert.

He looked expectantly at her. “Are – are you-?” he began.

“I’m in charge of the office. Mr. Waterberry is not in yet? Is there anything I can do?” said the pleasant young lady.

“Well,” said Hubert, immensely confused, and laying his hat down on a desk with an attempt at the proprietorial air. “I’m – ah – that is to say you see, I am –!”

“Ah, you’d care to wait?” said the girl, pulling out a chair.

And nodding pleasantly to him, she returned to the typewriter.

Hubert sat down weakly. He gazed around the office, noting its tidiness and order. “I – ah” he began.

The girl swung on her chair.

“You see,” said Hubert, “I’m Mr. Waterberry!”

What happened afterwards was a golden memory all his life to Hubert. The girl leaped up and helped him out of his coat. She escorted him over to his swivel chair. She was blushing furiously.

“Why – when you knocked,” she was saying, “you see, I was expecting Mr. Waterberry – but when you knocked, I thought you were a client. And then, when you stood there, with your hat in your hand –“

Her eyes were glimmering with laughter. Hubert looked sheepishly up at her and smiled. Then out came the laughter, boiling and bubbling. And Hubert suddenly joined in. He leaned back and laughed till he wept. They looked at each other and laughed again. It was years since Hubert had laughed with anybody. Years and years. It was a wonderful sensation. He hated to stop laughing. So he confessed about his fear, and how he ran away from the office yesterday -and – and –

So they chuckled and laughed. They exchanged confidences. Hubert how he detested these modern office girls. The girl, how she had come to move to Toronto. The minutes passed. Then an hour. Still they were talking. Hubert was zestfully explaining to her her work, the various accounts.

It was a long time since Hubert had been intimate with anyone.

When dusk caught them in the dim office. Hubert regretfully closed the discussion. He bade her a most cheery good night and went home feeling better than he ever remembered feeling in his life.

It was a new world for Hubert. It was a pleasure to go to the office. He felt infinitely younger, boundlessly young. The girl talked before a week was out, quite boldly about the need of new business. She discovered openings for it in old accounts. Hubert went and got it.

At the end of a year, the business and Hubert were so changed that Miss Pigeon – that was her name -found it necessary to hire another girl, and a little later, a young man.

She won Hubert over to joining a golf club. On business grounds.

Hubert and she still kept sacred their regular daily laugh and exchange of confidences. It was found necessary, after a while, to go to lunch together in order to complete these conversations. And finally, it came to theatres and movies.

Naturally, the whole thing had but one end. Hubert felt himself drawing the very breath of life through this vigorous, splendid girl. He depended on her more and more, in countless little ways, and in big ways.

Finally, she helped him select a new overcoat and hat.

He looked in the mirror of the hat store and beheld a mere lad of forty – a swagger, upstanding fellow–

And when they closed up the office that evening, the juniors having gone, Hubert helped Miss Pigeon with her ulster2. As he did so, something that had been smoldering in him all afternoon, broke loose. He felt as if an electric current were flowing from her to him, a magnetic, swirling current. And he released his hold on the collar of her ulster only to seize her shoulders, turn her around to face him and stare breathlessly and foolishly at her, and then enfold her in a vast, stupid hug.

Romance: thou art as sly of foot in Wellington street as in the castled fastnesses of Rosedale.

They were married in no time. They live in a bungalow out beyond High Park, in an atmosphere of the most absurd happiness, forty-four and twenty-five.

“You’ve made a new man of me,” says Hubert, at least once every twenty-four hours.

But while Hubert is aware of it, he doesn’t give proper value to the fact that his pigeon was born and raised on the farm.


Editor’s Notes:

  1. Shea’s Hippodrome opened in 1914, and was the largest movie palace in Canada, and one of the largest vaudeville theatres in the world. It was demolished in 1957 to make way for Toronto’s new City Hall. ↩︎
  2. An Ulster coat is a Victorian style working daytime overcoat, with a cape and sleeves. ↩︎

One Keg of Rum

He hoisted one keg on his shoulder and fled by a roundabout overland route back to the horse lines where the pipers were waiting.
“It must be gas,” cried the major excitedly. “Don’t stand there, sergeant. Get four men at once and rush him back to the dressing station.”

By Gregory Clark, January 31, 1931.

In every regiment there are wheels within wheels. The colonel, the adjutant and the regimental sergeant-major are supposed to be the three paramount powers in whose hands separately and collectively the fate of thousand men lies.

But it is not so. Underneath the polished exterior of a regiment of infantry, shunting and wheeling and sloping arms so magnificently to the barked commands of one lone voice, there revolve wheels within wheels. Cliques, intrigues, parties grow and flourish. Some are founded on social distinctions, whereby men who were clerks and schoolmasters separate themselves from those of rougher hand. Others divided themselves on the substantial basis of county, so that men of Grey and Bruce held themselves in league against the men of Frontenac or the Maritimes.

But the greatest wheel of all, the mainspring of the works, was a sort of shabby Masonic brotherhood that scorned all pride of place or social position, and leaped the bounds of company or even the greater bounds of period of service, and consisted of those in the regiment who were ultra hard-boiled1. This secret society existed in every battalion of a thousand men. It was officered by a few old-timers, some of whom ranked as corporals or even as sergeants. Its membership was recruited from all companies, and even the signallers and scouts and the transport section contributed their little quota. If you were tough, you needed not to be a year or even six months with the battalion to be made welcome within the sanctuary of this old-soldiers’ lodge.

Most of the mysteries in any regiment’s history can be attributed to this ancient brotherhood. They held no meeting, they possessed no lodge room. Any estaminet2, any dugout, where two or three of them gathered together, was the holies of holies. These knights errant, who pitted their wits against highly technical fortifications of modern military organization were the heirs to the soldiers of fortune who, until a hundred years ago, roved the world in search of payment for their swords. It stands to reason that soldiers of fortune, like singers and dancers and horsemen born to a saddle, should still survive in this age.

I knew that my Corporal Jimmie Post was one of the high-ups within this secret sodality. Post was dusky, with mocking eyes and a scornful mouth, who sang courage back into his platoon with unspeakable songs, and who was to be found in time of disaster not with the little cliques of the brave, but lending his arrogant voice to comfort the weakest sister in the sector. He was aware of his gift of courage. He could throw it, a sort of blanket, around those of us who needed warmth in the cold gulf of fear. And he employed that mantle, and gloried in it.

Brotherhood’s Senior Warden

Court martials went astray, punishments were deflected, plans went amiss in that clean cold region where colonels, adjutants and regimental sergeant-majors live. And Corporal Jimmie Post knew all about it in advance. If any of my men got into serious trouble, Post would tell me, it would be all right. And it would be. Hard-looking strangers from other companies used to come into my trench and talk with Post. And he would be absent occasionally visiting abroad in the regiment in the line. Whenever I would be orderly officer, I would sometimes come on an estaminet being emptied at last post, where the gathering would adjourn with all the earmarks of a lodge meeting coming to an end; and Post was always in these companies. Post was senior warden, if not better, in some indefinable brotherhood of warriors.

Contrasted with Post, Sergeant Buster Parker had a saintly look. He was only a boy, but he had and still has, though one of his legs is gone, a mouthful of the most wholesome flashing teeth I ever saw in a human head. And, like many other men who had that flashing smile, he was gifted with power over his fellows. Despite the fact that he was a boy, Buster Parker was a sergeant and a crackerjack. And it was hard for me to believe now that if Corporal Jimmie Post was senior warden of that secret society in our regiment, Sergeant Buster Parker was worshipful master.

Captain Hal Franks, quartermaster, Lieutenant Seth Norton, transport officer and I as assistant or rear adjutant, were the officers of the horse lines who at that time were dwelling in comfort and security amidst the mud of Neuville St. Vaast while our regiment was up in the reaches beyond Vimy Ridge. Around us were uncamped the rear details, the drivers, the wagons, the orderly room and record clerks, the brass band and the pipe band, the provost sergeant and the artificers3 who are the tailors, horseshoers, carpenters and so forth; all of us the commissariat details of a regiment in the line, who take up their feed each night, and to whom the regiment comes back for rest when relieved.

We were a bomb-proof lot. Mostly old soldiers, retired to his ignominious region by reason of long service or weak backs. And we understood one another perfectly and got along like a lot of creatures in a barnyard.

There was an outbreak of impetigo4 in the regiment. Nasty skin disease that broke out all over, on the legs, body, hands and face. A few of the more valuable non-commissioned officers were sent out of the line to get themselves doctored up. But for most of the troops, it just meant salve and bandages.

Amongst those sent down to the horse-lines, I was delighted to find my old platoon corporal, Post, from whom I had been separated when I was promoted to the eminence and absurdity of assistant adjutant at the rear.

And a day or two later came down Sergeant Buster Parker, with sores like pennies all over his legs.

We spent some pleasant afternoons together in the thin March sunlight of Neuville St. Vaast and Aux Rietz Corners, talking of old-timers and how soft the war had been in my time as compared with now.

There would be, in all, counting these sick, lame and lazy and all the drivers and bandsmen, about a hundred and fifteen dwelling in the huts and tents of our rear camp.

A Memorable Saturday Night

It was a Saturday night that trouble came.

Out in the March night the wind howled and a chill rain lashed our hut. Captain Franks, Norton and I sat about our table, reading and writing and chatting in the desultory fashion known to rear headquarters. The batmen5 had retired. Our bedrooms were laid out. Captain Franks undressed and was preparing to insert himself into his blankets when, on the wild night air, there sounded a snatch of song.

Captain Franks, the senior, nodded to the door and I went and opened and listened. Through the storm and rain and across the mud I could see the lights burned in the scattered huts, and from them came the murmur of many voices.

And in a rift of the wind there came to us the loud skirl of bagpipes.

“Take a look around,” said Captain Franks. “It’s going on for eleven o’clock.”

I pulled on my rubber boots and raincoat and sloshed out into the night. The nearest hut was the guard-room where the provost sergeant lived in charge of whatever prisoners might be awaiting judgment. There were two men in confinement at that time.

A lone candle guttered in the guard hut, and it was empty. I called the sergeant. I called the guard. And no answer came, save the increasing murmur of song and bagpipes from the huts across the muddy field.

I circled round past the horse lines, where the horses drooped beneath their canvas shelters. I called for the piquet and got no answer. I walked around past the artificers’ shanties past the stores, rapping and calling, and got no reply.

And then I headed for the big huts, all glowing in the storm.

From a discreet distance I stood and looked in an open door. There was a sound of revelry. Some were playing cards. Some were lying and singing. Bagpipes skirled, and someone of the band was mournfully blowing a constantly interrupted solo on a trombone. Presently a drum came into action, and the laughter and tumult grew.

Without disturbing the scene, I returned and informed my senior officer that it was apparently somebody’s birthday. Beyond our hut lay the senior n.c.o.’s hut, where dwelt the quartermaster sergeant and transport sergeant and other nabobs in an isolation almost as grand as our own. I went to their door, and they dressed in hasty garments and went to investigate.

They returned in a few minutes, greatly disturbed.

“The whole outfit is tight6,” said they, standing across the table in the candle light. “Tight as owls. They must have got an awful lot of liquor.”

“Tight!” we cried.

“Everybody, the batmen, the clerks, the bandsmen, everybody,” said the quartermaster sergeant. “The provost sergeant is sitting in there singing with his two prisoners. The pipe band is putting on a concert. They are all jammed in there, and by the look of them it would be crazy to interfere. That Corporal Post and Sergeant Buster Parker and a bunch of others from up the line are raising hell.”

“Go and order the lights out,” said Captain Franks. “Get those men back in the guard room. Have everybody go to their quarters.”

The senior n.c.o.’s retired into the storm.

“There will hell to pay over this,” said the senior officer.

And we sat in silence waiting for the n.c.o.’s to return.

After a long wait they returned.

“The only thing you can do,” said they, “is send a riot call up to the battalion in the line and have them come back. Nothing else will stop them now. They’ve got rum. And I think they must have about ten gallons of it.”

“Are we to sit here and let it go on?” demanded the captain.

“I will crime the whole lot,” said the quarter-master sergeant, “but I think it would only aggravate matters it we tried to interfere now, with no men to back us up.”

We agreed with the n.c.o.’s, and we sat far into the night, listening to the rising and falling hubbub from the huts, in which no man came near us. And sometime in the stilly watches we retired, with maudlin snatches of music and yells faintly in our ears.

“Just a Little Party”

The first batman to rouse us was Bertrand, who supervised me. He wore a grin on his face and he looked much the worse of wear.

“I wouldn’t be in a hurry getting up if I was you,” he said to me, as he started laying out my razor kit.

“Why not?”

“The boys,” said Bertrand, “are in kind of bad shape this morning.”

“We thought we heard some noises last night,” said l. “What was up?”

“A little party,” said Bertrand. “Just a little party.”

“Were Post and Parker in it?”

Bertrand laughed, and withdrew apologetically.

We dressed and went forth to look at the wreckage. It was terrible. Many of the men were still sleeping, though buglers sounded the call to rouse and breakfast right into the hut doors. It was Sunday morning, and no parades until eleven o’clock to the church hut down on the Arras-Bethune road a few hundred yards away7.

Everyone ducked as we appeared. A few who still had a little in them brazenly appeared and it became a sort of duel whether we would approach them or they would approach us. Finally, the provost sergeant, looking extremely seedy, could stand the strain no longer, and he marched across the mud, quite unsteadily, and saluting with extreme care, said to us:

“Everything present and correct, shir.”

Saluted again and snapping about unsteadily, marched back to his guard hut.

We retired into our hut for breakfast.

“We can’t crime the whole camp,” said the captain. “We can only seek out the ringleaders. In any event, it is a scandal, and we are going to look very badly, however we handle it.”

The church parade was terrible. It was a travesty. But with a hundred sullen men still bleary from too much rum, it more than useless, it was unfair to attempt to goad them into resistance which would get them and us into deeper trouble.

After the church parade we held an investigation. My share was to sound out Sergeant Parker and Corporal Post, while the others dealt with the transport and quarters personnel.

“We got a little rum,” admitted Sergeant Parker. Post corroborated this statement.

“Where did get it?”

“Nobody knows where it came from,” they said, with deep interest in the subject. “It just appeared, and then everybody was singing.”

And then suddenly I realized I was up against that secret society within the regiment, as far these two were concerned, and I passed it up. At the hut, I found the captain and Norton. They had got nowhere. They had demanded, wheedled, threatened. But it appeared that the rum just came from nowhere, and nobody could remember who had had it first.

But Captain Franks that afternoon ordered Sergeant Parker and Corporal Post to return to the line for duty with their companies.

And he was right.

The Rum Story Spills Over

The story came in the door with Buster Parker the other day, as he tried to sell me a new car. He is a one-legged, two fisted salesman of Fords now, with his flashing smile undimmed.

Something recalled to mind that far-off March night, and in a minute the story was spilling over us with laughter.

“That episode,” said Buster Parker, sitting here fourteen years after in The Star Weekly office, “is remembered by you as one time you really felt the loss of authority. Some day I must write a book about all the times the officers thought they were in command and weren’t. But now I’ll tell you how we got the rum.”

Parker, with his infected legs, arrived out at the horse lines Saturday afternoon and immediately looked up Corporal Jimmie Post re the matter of the most comfortable flop. Post was living with the pipe band, a little group of ten Scotties, some of could not speak English at all; a distinct and isolated little band of superior beings, a sort of Scottish rite within that brotherhood I speak of, who were very particular who so much as sat down in their midst.

So Parker joined Post as a partner in the pipers’ hospitality.

“Now how about a little drink?” asked Parker, after his kit was settled away.

“None to be had,” said Post.

“How about Clarkie?” asked Buster.

“He’s gone mean since he joined the orderly room,” said Post. “I haven’t had a bottle from him for months.”

Then up spoke Brother Fluellen, who was a bugler by rights, but who had achieved by some devious route a position on the staff of the rear headquarters cook kitchen.

“You know this big ration dump down here below Aux Rietz Corners?” asked Fluellen.

“Yes,” said Sergeant Parker, sharply.

“It’s guarded,” said Cook Fluellen, “by a regular guard of crocks. They march sentry on it, one to each side of the dump. It’s about three hundred yards to a side. Well, the last time I was strolling along I had a look into the dump. It has sort of lanes running all through it. In one the lanes I seen some little six-gallon kegs.”

“Yes,” whispered Sergeant Parker, Corporal Post and all the ten pipers.

“So I says to the sentry, I says, what is in them little kegs back there, brother? And he says you would be surprised. I says, is it vinegar? And he says you would be surprised. And by the way he kept halting on his beat and looking back at me, boys, I know there is rum in them six gallon kegs.”

A great silence fell on the pipers’ hut.

Everybody knew the one-gallon rum jars in which the rum came up to the infantry. But a six-gallon keg!

Sergeant Parker rose to his feet. He looked out the door of the hut. Evening was falling and the March wind and rain made all the world a desolation.

“Corporal Post,” said the sergeant, “and Fluellen, you will parade in proper guard mounting order at eight o’clock to-night. You, corporal, will borrow from somebody a great coat with no stripes on it. Have your buttons shined to the nines, your pouches clean, and wear your tin hats.”

A New Guard for the Dump

Thus, at eight o’clock, after all the world of the horse lines had settled down for the night, there formed up discreetly out of the way of officers, a small parade consisting of a sergeant, corporal and a cook. Post and Fluellen, the pictures of soldiery smartness, stood side by side with rifles at the slope and bayonets fixed. Behind them stood Sergeant Buster Parker, dressed for guard mounting.

Down the deserted La Targette road they marched, in the wind and rain, the sergeant’s voice picking them up, hup, hup, until, half way down the road along the dump they overtook the sentry on duty on that side, who and turned outwards.

“Party, halt,” commanded Sergeant Parker, level with the sentry.

“Right turn,” said the sergeant in the business-like tone of the guard.

“What’s this?” asked the surprised sentry on the dump.

“Relief,” said Parker, surily. “All right, Smith,” to Post, “take post. Fall in, sentry.”

And with alacrity, the honest sentry stepped smartly out and fell in beside Fluellen. What a swell night to get relieved!

And without the slightest hesitation, Parker commanded the party to turn, quick march, and down the road in the rain and the darkness they proceeded.

After marching about hundred yards, and nearing the end of the dump, where another sentry might be standing, Parker halted his party.

He reached over and firmly took the rifle from the sentry.

“Boy,” he said, though the man could have been his father, “you are in bad trouble. You can take your choice, but I think you ought to submit to a beating up, because you will never be to tell your officer that you were relieved.”

“What’s this?” stammered the C3 sentry, suddenly filled with an awful fear that all was not well.

Parker chucked the rifle away in the dark and swung on the sentry. There was a moment’s scuffle while the sergeant and Fluellen mussed and muddied up a figure that struggled frantically on the road.

“There,” said the sergeant, “you look as if you had been assaulted. Now run and call your guard.”

And like rabbits, Parker and Fluellen dashed into the hedges, doubled back and forward, and in a moment were lost in the stormy March night. Meanwhile a bedraggled sentry was on the dead tear to his guard room, desperately trying to make up his mind what to tell the sergeant of the guard as to being relieved or assaulted. And whichever way, it would need a lot of explaining.

Post was like a cat in the dark, anyway. When the sentry party left him standing smartly in the rain, he waited until they got out of earshot and then he quietly walked into the dump, found the kegs exactly where Fluellen had described them, hoisted one to his shoulder, retrieved his rifle and fled by a roundabout overland route back to the horse lines, where the pipers were waiting.

Some New, Terrible Epidemic

The question was: Did the keg really contain rum. It did. They first of all poured the rum into two of Fluellen’s big cooking dixies8, then burned the barrel and inside of a few minutes, the free invitation party to all ranks at the regimental horse lines was under way.

“I,” said Parker, “as chief steward of the party, decanted off two full waterbottles of rum before the party started, and these I buried in the earth in a secret place. So that when Captain Franks ordered me to return to my company up the line, as I thought might happen, I was quite content. I went up that night with the ration wagon. I dug up my two bottles, and then clinging to the back of D company limber I fortified myself from time to time during the journey up, so that by the time I met the D company ration party, I needed help, which was gladly given, for a consideration.

“Among those to whom I confided a share of my rum were my fellow sergeants of D company. And only one of them took too much. Because he is probably by now an elder in the kirk9, I will not mention his true name. We will call him Tram. Anyway, Tram by morning was in bad shape. Rum cannot be trifled with like whiskey or brandy. And he trifled with it. So we lay Tram out on the firestep in the sunlight to boil out.

“He was still there, breathing heavily and noisily, when word came that Major Victor Sifton was on his way round the trenches, making his morning inspection. He would be in D company lines any minute.

“And there was Tram lying, unconscious on the fire step. We tried to lift him to hide him in a dugout, but he fought us fiercely and started to shout.

“‘Get a stretcher,’ said I to Tram’s boys. We laid Tram softly on a stretcher. Then I opened my first aid bandage, broke the iodine ampoule and poured the iodine all over the bandage.

“With this swab, I delicately painted Tram all over his face, neck, hands and wrists, so that he was the most terrible pale yellow-brown color you ever saw. It was the most awful case of jaundice imaginable.

“And I just had the job neatly finished and the swab pitched over the parapet, when around the traverse walked Major Sifton.

“”What’s this!’ cried Major Sifton. ‘It’s poor Tram.’ He was rather fond of Tram.

“I told him Tram had just been suddenly took this way.

“‘It must be gas,’ cried the major, excitedly. ‘Don’t stand there, sergeant. Get four men at once and rush him back to the dressing station.’

“So very smartly,” says Buster Parker, “I rustled out four men, and away went Sergeant Tram, breathing noisily and turned a terrible color.

“At the dressing station they just took one look at him and rushed him for the ambulance. I suppose there they just took one look and rushed him back to the clearing station. And there, if he had not recovered consciousness, they probably put a red ticket on him and made a special flying trip to the base with him.

“Anyway, it was three months before Tram came back to D company. Nobody ever found out about the run and iodine. Tram woke up and wondered where the dickens he was. He felt awful bad, and he was able to wash off some of the iodine. His pulse was bad, his heart and lungs were bad. The doctors were sorry he had lost his bad color, but they put him under special observation for a few days, for fear of some new and terrible epidemic.

“Then he was returned, but Tram was so good a soldier, all the divisional schools and reinforcement depots held him for a few weeks as instructor. So that it was nearly three months before Tram got back to us and heard the full story of his holiday.

“So that,” says Buster Parker, “is the story of one keg of rum, and I tell it to you just to show there was a lot of going on all around us in the war that we knew nothing about.”


Editor’s Notes:

  1. Some one who is hard-boiled is tough and does not show much emotion ↩︎
  2. An estaminet is French for a small café, bar, or bistro, especially a shabby one. ↩︎
  3. An artificer is an appointment held by a member of an armed forces service who is skilled at working on electronic, electrical, electro-mechanical and/or mechanical devices. ↩︎
  4. Impetigo is a common and highly contagious skin infection. ↩︎
  5. A batman in the military is a servant to an officer. This was phased out between the wars. ↩︎
  6. Slang for drunk. ↩︎
  7. A church parade in the military is a parade by service personnel for the purposes of attending religious services. This was mandatory at the time. ↩︎
  8. A dixie comes from the Hindi word ‘degchi’ meaning a small pot. It consists of two parts, a large lower pan and a top lid that could be used as a frying pan or a serving platter. ↩︎
  9. This would be an elder in the Scottish (Presbyterian) Church. ↩︎

Crossed Shovels Rampant

January 16, 1932

This illustration went with a humourous story by Caesar Smith, a regular contributor to the Star Weekly in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Booze-Running Had its Humors and its Tragedies

An old man in the next chair glared out from behind his paper.

When it was Illegal to Import Spirits from Montreal There was an “Underground Railway” in Operation, Which Succeeded Many Times in Beating the Police, But Which Also Enriched the City Treasury by $500.000 – A Few of the Funniest Stories that are Told.

By Gregory Clark, January 10, 1920.

Now that liquor can be imported legally into Ontario1, some of the tales pertaining to the illegal importation of booze may safely be told.

Sober citizens have snapped their fingers, during the past four years, and said:

“Pah! There is more drinking nowadays than ever before! Liquor is coming into this town by the carload. The police don’t even pretend to stop it. Why, I know four places right now that I can phone to, and have a bottle of whiskey delivered here in five minutes.”

We all know this sober citizen. Needless to say, if he had really known of four such miraculous places, he wouldn’t have been wearing such an old hat. He could have sold his information and made a fortune.

No, the majority of such romancers were either highly imaginative extopers2, who, in the dire dessication of modern times, permitted themselves a free fancy; or merely wise guys of that old type which knows of so many wicked and thrilling places, but which seems content to remain in the haunts of ordinary and gullible men.

Nevertheless, that there have been underground routes for liquor, everyone knows. The whiffs of half-forgotten odors that we occasionally got on street cars were not all from doctor’s prescriptions. The hilarious gentleman on the night-car hadn’t been sitting at a sick-bed. And we all know of somebody who has a friend who safely wangled one lone bottle of rye in his suitcase from Montreal.

Taxicab drivers have been accused of being Toronto’s liveliest source of illicit liquor. All you had to do, the wise guy said, was to phone a taxi stand and the bottle was yours.

We asked one of Toronto’s senior police officials about the underground of liquor traffic.

“Did it exist?” we asked.

“It did,” said he.

“Why wasn’t it stopped like the underground drug traffic?”

“Because,” said the official, “in the drug traffic, there are a few crooks engaged in a sly business. They are hard to find, but once found, are easily squashed.

“But when crooks, bootleggers, lawyers, financiers, professors, bankers, clubmen, business men, aldermen, and even a few church officials all engaged whole-heartedly in the jovial game of booze-smuggling, the police, numerically inferior, were up against a big job. Some liquor was bound to leak in. To say that the police have done nothing is hardly exact. Their activities in Toronto alone, in the past three years, have cost the cosmopolitan booze runners over half a million dollars.”

The first and most popular method of smuggling liquor into Ontario was by freight.

The liquor, cunningly disguised as anything from a bale of hay to a human corpse, was addressed to the consignee who ordered it. Any article of merchandise big enough to contain a quart of whiskey was utilized as camouflage by the imaginative smugglers. The police and Inland Revenue Officers kept as close tab on these methods as was possible. But to probe every item of freight entering Ontario would have necessitated the remobilization of the C. E. F3.

One of the cutest ideas was a dozen cases of Scotch shipped as human body. The whiskey was in a beautiful black coffin inside the shipping box, just to allay suspicion. A case where the body was absent but the spirit present.

The second most profitable system, according to record, was by means of motor cars or lorries. To motor to Montreal or neighboring ports, load up at the alleged hoards, and drive home, was said to have been as easy as rolling off a log. But it had its comedies of error, too.

A Toronto military man decided to replenish his cellar. He drove in his touring car to Montreal, loaded up with $300 worth of assorted delicacies and started home. Outside Belleville, his car skidded into a ditch.

Presidently along came a flivver.

“Quit hoggin’ the hull highway!” yelled its two occupants at the Toronto man. And they got out of their flivver to investigate the Toronto man’s predicament.

While giving him the benefit of their advice, they casually noted the square contents of the ditched car, said contents being vainly covered with rugs.

“Excuse me,” said one of the strangers, “but I’m the county constable. Pardon me if I seem to examine your cargo.”

Luck? Merely luck. The Toronto man was soaked $500 and costs at the nearest court of competent jurisdiction, and the assorted delicacies were confiscated.

The third method of importation was by hand. The police have uncovered many schemes for concealing liquor about the body in hollow metal body shields. But the ordinary suitcase, handbag and trunk were the principal means used.

A Toronto traveling-man, finding himself in Montreal with an empty sample trunk, decided to load it up with liquor. He did so. He had it carefully deposited at the station, and hung around till he saw it safe on board. Then he took a seat in the coach nearest the baggage car, and at every stop between Montreal and Toronto, he hung out the window to make sure that his precious trunk was not put off.

Arriving at the Union Station, he trolled unconcernedly into the baggage room to claim his trunk. Picture his horror when he found his trunk set to one side in the “excess baggage” corner.

He figured he was found out, and that the police had set it aside, awaiting to pinch him as soon as he claimed it.

He was sick with disappointment. But he remembered he had a good friend high up in the railway company. Rushing to his office, he telephoned this friend, confessing all.

“And they’ve set my trunk aside,” he said. “You get it out, and I give you a good share of the contents”

“Sure,” said his friend. “Don’t worry. I’ll do what I can.”

And sure enough that afternoon, the precious sample trunk was delivered up to its owner’s home.

Feverishly, he opened it. It was empty!

Not a smell of liquor in it. Who had done this wicked thing: someone on the train, in the station, or was it his friend?

But the joke was on the traveling man. He could not kick4.

That was more than half the humor of the smuggling game. Whatever happened, one couldn’t raise a kick. Being contraband, liquor could be stolen with impunity.

Two friends were on the train coming from Montreal. Each had a bottle of whiskey in his grip5. They were in the smoking car.

“Look here,” whispered one to the other, “why should both of us run the risk of being caught. You put my bottle in with yours and then if you’re caught, I’ll split the fine with you. You’ll find my satchel back behind my seat.

“Shoot,” whispered the other. “That’s the talk. I’ll do it.”

But into the parlor car he went, drew his friend’s handbag from under the seat and quietly and stealthily withdrew the bottle of liquor from it.

An old man opposite suddenly looked out from behind his paper and beheld this action, glared at him but said nothing.

“Caught, sure,” said the traveler who felt the gaze of his fellow-passenger piercing his very vitals. “That fellow’s a detective and I’ll be pinched as soon as I arrive in Toronto.”

But nothing happened.

On arriving at their hotel, the two travelers opened their grips.

“Hello!” said the one, “I thought you put my bottle of whiskey in your grip!”

“So I did,” replied the other, producing two bottles from his bag.

In silent astonishment, the other produced a bottle from his.

“Great Scotch!” cried the first, “I must have opened that detective’s bag by mistake!”

He had. And the other chap, not knowing who the others might be, the was powerless to raise an objection. He happened to be staying at the same hotel, but when the friends hunted him up and returned the bottle he failed to see the joke.

“Whole carloads of whiskey have disappeared in transit,” say the police “If a foxy railway employe discovers a car of whiskey labelled sewing machines, and can sidetrack that car, he is fairly safe in assuming that the owners of the car, fearing they are discovered, will not raise a run holler.”

As the ravens fed Elijah, so did a jocular fate bring a grateful gift to a little village outside Toronto.

This little village is one of those way-stations which closes up at night, even the locals passing it swiftly by. The station agent goes home about nine o’clock in the evening.

One night, not long ago, a freight car was quietly sided at this station, The agent had gone home. All was silent.

About midnight, one of the village worthies, on his way home, passed the station.

Now this man had sort of a sixth sense. He could smell liquor through a cement vault,

He felt his spine tingling and his hair rising as he passed the station.

“Spirits!” he said, softly.

Just to see if his senses had betrayed him, he came over and investigated the lone box car.

Sure enough, it was packed full of cases of whiskey.

Here was a problem.

“This liquor,” argued the villager with himself, “is contraband. Some wicked man is trying to smuggle this liquor into the country. Is he going to get away with it? Well, not with all of it!”

And the villager hastened to the home of another villager. A working party was secretly assembled, and several buggies, democrats and Bain wagons6 came in the night to the lone freight car.

A working party was secretly assembled, and several buggies, democrats and Bain wagons came in the night to the lone freight car.

In the morning, the station agent, on arriving, found a freight car the siding, broken open, and about a quarter full of cases of whiskey. He Immediately notified railway headquarters and that afternoon a number of officials and police appeared on the scene.

The police scoured the village for the looted liquor. Suspect after suspect was visited. At several places, where they were cheerfully shown over the premises, they were given a quiet snort by the jovial owners. In fact, the police were of the opinion that nowhere had they encountered a village the cellars of which were go well stocked. And such fine, amiable people, too! But a hoard of looted liquor was nowhere to be found.

The police finally gave up the search, deciding that in all probability, some professional gang of booze runners from the city had arranged to have the car side-tracked at the village, and had motored out and taken most of their haul, leaving some because of daylight.

And the village concurs in this theory.


Editor’s Notes:

  1. Even though Prohibition was in effect in Ontario, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council had ruled in 1896 that provinces do not have the authority to prohibit the importation of alcohol. Quebec allowed alcohol at the time. This loophole was closed in the 1921 referendum. ↩︎
  2. I’m not sure if this is a typo, I cannot find the definition of this word. ↩︎
  3. The Canadian Expeditionary Force from World War One. ↩︎
  4. Slang for “complain”. ↩︎
  5. Slang for “suitcase”. ↩︎
  6. Democrats and Bain wagons were types of horse drawn carriages. ↩︎

Do You Cash in on What Gifts Santa Claus Brings You?

January 2, 1926

This is an image from an article by C. R. Greenaway on returning unwanted presents after Christmas.

The Song Barrage

December 31, 1932

These illustration were with an article by Paul Frederick about the overwhelming of Canadian made songs by American song writers. Until the 1920s, the music business was dominated not by major record labels, but by song publishers and big vaudeville and theater concerns. In those days, sheet music consistently outsold records of the same hit songs, proving that most of the music heard in homes and in public back then was played by people, not record players. A hit song’s sheet music often sold in the millions between 1910 and 1920. Recorded versions of these songs were at first just seen as a way to promote the sheet music, and were usually released only after sheet music sales began falling.1 With the decline of vaudeville and the rise of radio and records, big American hits could be produced more cheaply, and therefore became more popular than Canadian songs.

Gordon V. Thompson, Toronto song writer and publisher, keeps a piano back of his desk. He sings his chair around, strikes a few bars and bursts into song when the mood hits him
  1. History of the Record Industry, 1920— 1950s ↩︎

‘Twas Put to Good Use’

A greenish flare lighted up the whole scene.

“What can you do alone?”

 “I’ve got a secret,” said Fannah.

“This is crazy,” cried the sergeant-major. “You’ll be plunked the minute you move.”

“No, I won’t. They won’t see me.”

“They won’t see a balloon!”

By Gregory Clark, December 21, 1929.

“Snow!”

The sergeant-major made it sound like a curse.

To the Canadian corps as a whole, burrowed in for the winter along the Lens front, the snow, fine and crisp, and comforting the ghastly ground swiftly, had a merry touch of home. The sentries, staring out over No Man’s Land, felt the strain relaxing as the white blanket grew. But the sergeant-major of C company of the Central Ontario regiment sensed a panic rising in his bosom.

“Now what the hell’re we going to do!” he groaned, as he thrust his way along the trench to the company officer’s dugout.

At the entrance, fat Captain Fannah was standing in the dark listening to the crisp pellets tinkling on his steel hat.

“Merry Christmas, sawm-major!” he squeaked.

“Sir, this jiggers the works,” said the sergeant-major, jabbing his heels into the bathmat1 by way of salute. “This snow is going to last. No Man’s Land is already white with it. The raid will be impossible.”

“What’s time?” demanded, the pudgy captain. Offhand, Captain Fannah was a type of man you would not like. It took a week to like him. And then you gave him your shirt.

“Nine-fifteen, sir.”

“Raid’s at one ack emma2,” said Captain Fannah. “Plenty of time to dope it out. Reduce the party from the full platoon to ten men. And inform Lieutenant Beaurien that I will take the raid instead of him.”

“Very good, sir. Will I report back to you or stay in the trench?”

“Tell Lieutenant Beaurien to take over trench duty. You come back. I want you tonight, sawm-major.”

The little fat captain spoke querulously3, like a head-waiter busy with a banquet. He struggled, grunting, into the dugout entrance.

The sergeant-major hurried to the left where Eleven Platoon stood, and picking up its sergeant, went on to where the platoon officer, Beaurien, was sitting on the firestep4 discussing the impending raid with a few of his toughest men.

“Sir,” said the sergeant-major, stamping his salute on the frosty bathmats, “here’s good news for most of your platoon. Captain Fannah has ordered plans changed in view of the snow. He will lead the raid himself, and will take only ten men instead of the whole platoon. With his compliments, will you please take command of the trench and act for him until further orders.”

Beaurien was visibly relieved. The good word spread along the trench and down into dugouts where Eleven Platoon lay worrying about the raid and the snow. But the handful of choice spirits who had been gathered round Beaurien gave no sign of joy. A raid is a jumpy business. A battle is one thing, with its tumult and vasty compass. In a battle you feel as if all the world is with you in disaster. But a little raid has a lonesomeness that eats into the core of a man. From the length of a brigade front away, a raid, with its two battery barrage, sounds like a drunken celebration with giant fire crackers. And you wonder about the little handful of lads that are scurrying about in the night beneath that angry vortex of shellfire in the heart of the great tropic stillness of the long No Man’s Land.

In every platoon were a half-dozen hard-boiled characters who invariably found themselves selected for raids, battle patrols, wire-cutting and the more desperate adventures of trench warfare. Five of these, standing about their relieved lieutenant, knew that no matter how the raiding party might be reduced, from thirty-five men to ten, they would be amongst the ten. And they were right.

“Well, troops,” said Beaurien, rising. “I don’t mind telling you I have been glad to sit down ever since this snow started falling. My legs is bad.”

“I’ve Got a Secret”, Said Fannah

Beaurien, with a white and purple ribbon on his tunic and enough bloody exploits to his credit to permit him the luxury of confessing fear, produced his little platoon roster from his pocket.

“You five will go,” he said. “Each of you pick one other man. How’s that? Then there can be no belly-aching about the wrong man being sent.”

The five departed along the trench to select their voluntary partners in desperation.

Raids were the peculiar pride of the Canadians. They had, in a sense, originated them. At any rate, back in Fifteen, they had become aware of a higher rate of individual initiative which existed amongst Canadians and had developed various forms of raids, some with the famous “box” barrage, three walls of shell-fire, the fourth or near wall being left open for the entry of the raiders. Then they went on to the stealth raid in its many forms, where no gunfire disturbed the silence of night, but only the sudden whang of bombs bursting and the muffled crack of pistols held close to the stomachs of surprised sentries in the violated trench. It was a stealth raid that Eleven Platoon was about to pull.

“And how,” Captain Fannah was saying into the little field telephone deep in his candle-lit, coke-gassey dugout, “can we make a stealth raid across a blanket of virgin snow?”

“Fannah,” came back the colonel’s Royal Military College voice, “brigade says we have got to – got to – get a prisoner for identification. I have put it up to you. This snow may last a week. I realize the mess this makes, but, my dear Fannah, you’ve got to figure it out. You can shift the time if you like.”

“One ack emma,” said Captain Fannah, in his pained voice. “They will go at one ack emma, colonel, but I am reducing the party to ten.”

“And Beaurien taking them?”

“Mmmm,” said Fannah, knowing that the crackling telephone, with its lines laid across the waste of mud between his and the colonel’s dugout, six hundred yards back, would convert this sound into an affirmative.

The sergeant-major, sitting on a cartridge-box beside the captain, filched a cigarette out of the captain’s leather case. These two, off parade and when no other ranks were looking, were more than comrades.

“What’s the dope?” asked the sergeant-major, as the phone was laid down.

“The Stokes guns5,” said Fannah, “are going to start right away and make a lot of dark holes out in that white No Man’s Land. They will fire at random around the open and over towards the German trench. Tell Beaurien to get as many of our men as he can risk out of the front line, so that some of the Stokes can fall short, close to our trench. It will look like a warming-up from a new bunch of Stokes just come in.”

“Won’t Fritz be on the lookout?”

“The Stokes will stop at twelve midnight. Starting at one o’clock, I want you to get the boys, one by one, out into the best Stokes holes that occur. Scatter them out from Tivvy Sap.”

“Then what?”

“Then,” said Fannah, sighing deeply and looking guiltily away from his sergeant-major, “when they are in position I go over and go in.”

“What!”

“You know there is a gap in their wire?”

“I found it. But they may have closed it since last night. But what the devil can you do alone?”

“I’ve got a secret,” said Fannah.

“This is crazy,” cried the sergeant-major. “You will be plunked the minute you move.”

“No I won’t. They won’t see me.”

“They won’t see a balloon!”

“It will have to be done as slyly as possible. All I want them for is to cover me coming back. Just plain rifle fire. Some of us are going to get hurt, but I can’t see that can be helped.”

The first faint thump of the Stokes shells vibrated in the dugout and made the candles flicker.

“Get out and watch that Stokes stuff and pick a nice bunch of dark spots for the boys to lie on.”

“I don’t like your scheme,” said the sergeant-major, standing up and looking at his officer grimly. “I think you have gone nuts.”

“They won’t be able to see me,” said Captain Fannah. “I will be all white.”

Disappearing in the Snow

A random fire from Stokes mortars disturbed the night. These softly belching little cannon hurled their whiskey-bottle shells high in the air, to fall and lie a horrid moment on the ground before they went off with a terrific crash. They blew shallow, five-foot-broad patches of darkness on the snow-covered ground. A steady, thickening whirl of snow continued to fall. Machine guns woke up on the German side and chattered about nervously. Flares went up more frequently, to dazzle the new fallen snow. Fritz was on the alert. But the Stokes fire neither increased nor seemed to concentrate. It gave a lazy, casual and poorly-aimed battering to a strip of No Man’s Land for a three-hundred-yard stretch. About eleven o’clock, puzzled by this desultory crashing, the Germans ordered their field guns to fire some retaliation, which cheerfully increased the number of dark spots out in the snow.

As if quelled by this come-back, the Stokes died away at midnight. And peace, oddly spiritualized by the snow, settled over the line. The one point of discord in miles of silence was stilled.

About twelve-thirty the first of the covering party, crouched and swift, skipped out an opening in the Canadian wire and flung himself into one of the shell holes. There was a breathless moment of waiting, but no hint that the figure had been noticed came from the German trench. The bank of barbed wire, which was a filigree of rust and silver, acted as a dark screen for the raiders’ movements. Another figure made the dash, then another. Obviously the German sentries were lulled by the same feeling of security the new fallen snow gave the Canadians. One by one the ten men of Eleven Platoon got into the dark splashes on No Man’s Land where the Stokes and the German field guns had left their scars.

Then appeared queer and ghostly little figure in Eleven Platoon’s trench. His head was swathed in white field bandages. His legs and feet were likewise wrapped tightly in white. Over his arm he carried a large white garment. And from amongst the bandages emerged Captain Fannah’s plaintive voice:

“If any man fires from this trench until I return I will personally lame him!”

Beaurien and the other two lieutenants of C Company were with the captain to see him off. The sergeant-major was the last to go out before Fannah, and he was to go furthest and be closest to the lone white raider when the entry into the German trench was attempted. Shaking hands with the captain, the sergeant-major himself wrapped in bandages in different spots so that he appeared raggedly camouflaged, climbed over the parados6 and disappeared into the silence.

Not a Shot was Fired

Then Captain Fannah shook out the garment he was carrying and drew it over his head. He stood forth absolutely white, save for pencil-wide strip across his eyes.

“No shooting from the trench,” he said again. “The boys in front will do any shooting required.”

And helped by his lieutenants from behind the pudgy captain grunted his way over the parapet. The thick snow fell like feathers.

“I can’t see him already,” said one of the sentries.

Beaurien stood up on the fire-step. Through the haze of falling snow could faintly be seen the scattered dark splotches where the shells had cleared a space. But no movement disclosed the fact that in eleven of them, staggered across towards the German lines, lay eleven men with their rifles cocked and pointed to answer any flash from the enemy trench. And not a trace could be seen of Fannah, though Beaurien knew his stout little officer could not have got far on his dangerous mission.

A long time passed. Suspense during a stealth raid is a sensation never otherwise experienced. The burst of a bomb, the crack of a shot comes like a note of joy to break the tension. But no sound came from white-shrouded No Man’s Land. The usual night silence lay like a desert stillness, and you would never have guessed that within a square mile ten thousand men were standing with their wits wide awake. Only occasionally the German flares mounted and lobbed vividly through the glistening night. But there was no flare-thrower on duty closer than three hundred yards from Eleven Platoon’s front. Beaurien watched for a telltale moving shadow when the flares were falling, but on the shining shadows of No Man’s Land nothing stirred.

After twenty minutes that had seemed hours there was a quiet movement at the German trench, a hundred yards away. Shadows in the misty snowfall, dark figures moving fitfully against the white.

“Psst!” hissed the sentry beside Beaurien. A sergeant came running.

“Figures moving over against the German wire!” he cried in a low voice to Beaurien.

“I see them. Get back to your duty.”

Yet not a shot was fired, no flick of orange pecked in the darkness.

Then quite distinctly, moving slowly towards the Canadian lines, came two figures looming black against the snow. On they came, stumbling, hesitating. After a moment’s intent staring it appeared that they walked with their arms in the air over their heads.

“My God!” said the sentry, removing his safety-catch.

“Keep still, you…”

“They Thought I was a Fairy”

A greenish flare popped into the air opposite, burst and lighted the whole scene in dazzling splendor. The two figures stopped dead still in their tracks, their arms on high, lividly silhouetted against the snow. Beaurien, watching the shadows, not the objects themselves, as an old-timer should, saw what he was looking for, a small, round shadow in rear of the long shadows of the two standing Germans.

A shout came from the German trench. The flare lobbed to the ground and went out with a loud hiss. A shot was fired from the enemy. Instantly two shots from the dark shell holes spat back. The two dark figures against the snow began to run, hands held appealingly high. A machine gun opened from the German side. The shell holes began to spit, spit, redly. The way a typhoon could spring in an instant out of the solitude of No Man’s Land was a miracle not comparable to anything in the temperate zone. A very gale of machine gun fire rose out of the German front and support lines. White flares and red signal flares zipped and lobbed into the sky. The German artillery opened up with its usual smartness. But not a sign or sound came from the Canadian trench. The two tall Germans, guided by some unseen force in rear of them, wriggled and scrambled unhurt into the Canadian trench. A white-robed figure slid pantingly in on their heels. One by one the men in the shell holes leaped and crouched back through their wire gap. Two were wounded in the rush. The sergeant-major was last, a wounded man clinging to him.

In Captain Fannah’s dugout, ten minutes later, while his batman unwound the bandage from his head and legs, the purple-faced company commander stared up sulkily into the face of his colonel.

“I understood,” said the colonel, breathless after his dash up from his headquarters, “that Beaurien was doing this show?”

“No, sir,” said Captain Fannah. “I distinctly told you that I was going.”

“I didn’t hear you. Damn it, Fannah, you have no right to be fooling about on operations of this sort. We need you. You keep out of these things. Let the young fellows do it.”.

“Now tell me,” said the colonel, “how did this thing come off?”

“Very simply. I dressed all in white. I had a covering party in the Stokes holes. When I got close to their wire I heard voices singing softly. I had found the gap they had in their wire for working parties and patrols, and the voices were coming from the trench directly in front of the gap.

“So I crawled in the gap, got my pinnie7 caught in the wire a couple of times and finally going barely an inch at a time, got to where could see these two men here.

“They were singing what seemed to be Christmas carols. I guess the snow affects Germans the way it does us. Anyway, instead of watching the gap as was their duty they were facing each other, revelling in close harmony. They would brake off, argue quietly and then try the passage again, to get it just right. So while they were working out their harmonies I got within a few feet of them. Then I held up my pistol and said distinctly – ‘Bleib still8!'”

“They blibed. All they could see was the pistol about two feet from their heads, suspended in space. I told them, in my good high school German, to put their hands high and with me to come. They thought I was a fairy or a ghost of something. German folklore has other winter characters besides Santa Claus.

“So I digged them in the ribs to show them the visible gun was real. And here they are.”

“But where,” said the colonel, picking up the garment which Fannah had over his head, “did you get this? Why Fannah, it is a flannel nightshirt!”

“That,” said Fannah, “is my dear old mother’s Christmas present to her boy in the trenches, received in the mail.”


Editor’s Notes:

  1. In World War 1, a bathmat is another name for a duckboard. Wooden planking were placed at the bottom of trenches and across other areas of muddy or waterlogged ground to avoid sinking into them. ↩︎
  2. Ack Emma is a British signalmen’s telephone pronunciation of A.M., before noon. So one ack emma is 1 a.m. ↩︎
  3. Querulously means in a complaining way, especially using a weak high voice. ↩︎
  4. A firestep is narrow ledge, located inside a trench, that allows soldiers to see over the parapet. ↩︎
  5. In World War 1, Stokes mortars were 3 inch mortars. ↩︎
  6. Parados were an elevation of earth behind a fortified place as a protection against attack from the rear, especially a mound along the back of a trench. ↩︎
  7. A pinnie is short for the British word “pinafore,” a term that originally meant “an apron or sleeveless garment”. ↩︎
  8. German for “Stay still”. ↩︎

Our Leading Winter Sport

More doctors are prescribing dancing for their patients.
“The first thing you must understand if you wish to dance is that there is grace in your body whether you have suspected it before or not.”

By Gregory Clark, December 10, 1927.

The leading winter sport in Toronto is dancing.

Not enough snow for skiing, tobogganing or sleigh bells.

The people who golf and tennis and otherwise romp the long summer through are not free to quit, suddenly, all activity. Their nerves won’t permit it.

So they dance. With all due respect to those who denounce the sport of dancing, doctors are ready to agree that modern dancing is nothing but a form of exercise – a sport.

Etiquet forbids doctors to talk for publication but a well known young Toronto specialist answered the question:

“Is dancing good?”

“You take,” replied the diagnostician, “the average young man and woman of to-day, and they are a pretty active pair from, May to November, with golf, tennis, summer resorts, motoring, boating, playing as much of their time as they can spare. It is impossible for them, from purely physical reasons, to suspend all activity from November to May. Their whole being demands action. That explains the popularity of dancing, and it also explains, if I may theorize about something I know nothing about, the extreme simplicity of the modern dance: it is a form of pleasant exercise, reduced to the minimum of artificiality.”

This theory is borne out in the history of dancing. In olden days when duelling was a very formal sport, dancing, too, was formal and ornate. The barn dance, with its vigor and bounding simplicity, was merely a translation into terms of the off season of plowing, reaping and the common activities of the farm.

Modern dancing translates into indoor terms such games as golf and tennis. Waltzes are golf; one-steps and the flat Charleston1 are tennis.

You have to learn golf and you have to learn dancing. The proof that dancing is not a welling up of original sin in a boy or girl is the fact that few people are natural dancers, just as few are natural singers. The easiest way to learn is to start as a youngster, during the unselfconscious years. The great majority of beginners, according to dancing masters in Toronto, are eldest children of a family or only children. If dancing is learned in the home, as part of the everyday fun of the home, the two simple fundamentals of dancing are unconsciously won: unselfconsciousness and natural grace. And they never have to take lessons in an academy.

We visited different dancing classes and public dance floors in Toronto to witness the process by which the sport of dancing is mastered, and to see if it were a pastime to be classed with golf, tennis, skating and so forth as a means of enjoying that period of inarticulate ecstasy called youth.

In all of them, we found a majority of young men. They were attractive as a type, almost without exception. And they were going at the business of learning to dance with a concentration that reminded us more of our early days of squad drill as recruits in the army than anything else.

“If they like this,” said Jim, “we must have liked squad drill.”

First Lesson Just Walking

For the dancing master has only one or two principles to teach and he handles them as dexterously as the drill sergeant handled his “right turn by numbers.”

Picture a large dance floor with forty or fifty boys and a lesser number of girls grouped around the edge.

It is a beginners’ class.

“Take your places out in two ranks on the floor,” says the master.

They stride out, gamely or bashfully as they are constituted, these young students, clerks, juniors in all the callings and professions. The girls are less self-conscious than the boys.

“Watch me move from here to there,” says the master. And he walks, with a slow, graceful, gliding steps, about ten paces.

“The first thing you must understand, if you wish to dance, is that there is grace in your body, whether you have ever suspected it before or not. You can carry yourself handsomely, or you can carry yourself badly. You men will have the greatest trouble in this. I ask you only this: carry yourself in a manly fashion, straightly, easily, and not slinking or heavily. And instead of placing your heels down first, point your foot and place the ball of your foot on the ground first. All right. Now we will walk the length of the floor.”

And the roomful, to the count of the master, paces slowly all together from one end of the dancing floor to the other.

Some of them are extremely comic. The self-conscious ones are suddenly terrifically self-conscious. They shrink into themselves, and stride unsteadily, awkwardly. The bold ones swagger down the floor, with elaborate mincing steps as far from the master’s demonstration as could be conceived.

“Now, then! This is the way some of you went,” and the master imitates the bashful ones. “And this is the way others of you went.” He mocks the swaying, swaggering ones. There is a burst of hearty laughter and the class is suddenly on the way to learning how to walk. For the master again shows the way: body held still and straight, easily and lightly, advancing by an almost cat-like tread on the forward part of the foot. He seems to glide. There is not the slightest up-and-down motion to him. He is a big, manly man, and there is not the faintest trace of sissiness about his actions.

“Now, let’s be graceful. Take it easily. You are all so self-conscious that none of you is looking at his neighbor, so don’t be afraid of grace. It is in you all. Merely let it out.”

For half an hour the master makes these novices walk, walk, walk. They walk around in a circle or across the floor in ranks. A piano quietly cuts in, and they find themselves, each by himself, pacing slowly to soft music. The dance has begun.

“Ladies and gentleman,” says the master, “you are now dancing.”

And these clumsy-footed boys, awkward and painfully self-conscious, these girls rather shy and most of them mincing, under the impression that they must bounce in fairy-like swerves and shoulder-swayings, have delighted expressions on all their faces as they pace thus slowly, their bodies suddenly graceful and consciously graceful because they are light, easy, and under the first control of grace.

The master then lectures them: simply and without pretense or bluff; tells them to practise walking in the privacy of their homes, turning, rounding corners, to the music of the victrola, until they can handle themselves without losing balance, until they teach long neglected muscles to function with ease and sureness.

“Practise as you walk in the streets and in your offices,” he says. “Start right now to walk gracefully. Practise grace consciously until it becomes unconscious. Here endeth the first lesson.”

A dance class consists usually of six lessons. It starts in this simple fashion. The next meeting, the class is taught the first rudiments of steps. Instead of merely walking in a straight line, they walk two steps and turn. One turn is the two-step, another turn is the waltz. Again, the class is suddenly awkward, because new rhythm is demanded from unaccustomed muscles – muscles just left, for years past, to work as they felt like working. Now they must work with grace.

And Doctors Prescribe It

In six lessons, the average dance master can teach his pupils enough to put them at their ease on the ballroom floor.

Cecil Da Costa, one of the leading masters in Toronto, has no belief in much of the pretension and bunkum about dancing.

“The majority of people, wish to dance because it is one of the ways of being happy,” he says. “They are deterred from dancing because they feel they are awkward. Therefore, we simply have to prove to them that they are not awkward. And with the usual exceptions, it does not take more than three or four lessons to make them understand the simple principle of grace – which is nothing but control.

“All sports are graceful in the hands of proficient players – awkward in the hands of beginners. A great golfer is one of the finest exhibitions of grace there is. A great tennis player is not far removed – in his or her perfect control and rhythm – from a perfect ballet dancer. It is nothing more or less than that.

“The fashionable steps which come and go are simply decorations upon an institution fundamentally simple. Not ten per cent. of the people. who are dancing in Toronto to-night know what step they are dancing, or care! They are simply dancing to the music. What the music demands, they give. As in all other pastimes, there are the refinements. In dancing, these are the flat Charleston which the Prince of Wales2 dances, or the Varsity drag3. We give those who want them these refinements. And they must be learned, as Bobby Jones4‘ style of grasping the club must be learned. But we are busiest teaching the two principles and the few basic facts – grace, unconscious grace, and control of the body.”

Always there are the impossible ones. There are certain people who seem to be mentally incapable of conceiving rhythm or the beat of time. Not tone-deaf but time-deaf. And they try so hard. The careful, exaggerated beat of the master’s specially trained pianist is unheard. They stamp and stagger and hesitate all over the floor, trying to put their foot down when the others do, not when the music asks for it. These are hopeless, and are about as luckless as color-blind people in matching silks.

A certain number of elderly people are in every class. They move with an awkwardness born of years. The little finenesses of control in muscles is far behind them. In nearly every case, when investigated, these elderly people are studying dancing on physicians’ orders.

“More and more,” says the instructor, “we are getting what you might call patients – people who must have some gentle exercise or some new interest in life. A doctor called me and told me he was sending a man whose trouble was solely nervous, a man past his youth, who must be got interested in something stimulating to his mind as well as easy exercise.

“Then we have the reducing work: no end of women are taking private lessons for the sole purpose of reducing. They tell me the same story: that after settling down to the routine of married life, they missed the gay activity of their earlier years, and began to put on flesh. And of course, it is nothing new that dancing is the finest kind of reducing exercise. Now the doctors are beginning to prescribe it, most particularly to young married women who have suddenly surrendered their youth and settled down to matronly, habits – which, after years of activity, are bad habits.”

Which all goes to show that dancing may be many things, but really is one thing: a form of sport or pastime which, like many other pastimes, calls for mastery of the body, grace, and a stimulating activity.


Editor’s Notes:

  1. The Flat Charleston is a dance step. Here is a how-to video, also from 1927. ↩︎
  2. The Prince of Wales (future Edward VII) was considered quite the playboy at the time, and followed breathlessly in the press. ↩︎
  3. The Varsity Drag was a song as well as a dance step. ↩︎
  4. Bobby Jones was a champion golfer. ↩︎

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