The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Category: Other Story Page 1 of 4

Yachting in the Sky

By Gregory Clark, September 1, 1928.

A Trip in a Dirigible is Something New in Flying

You ask the kind of fellow who likes flying what flying is like and he brightens up perceptibly and says:

“Oh, it’s great. Great stuff.”

“But what’s it like? Tell us something about it.”

And his vivid eyes in his wind-red face stare anxiously at space as he bites his lips, trying to think.

For those who like flying as a rule are feelers, not thinkers. And how can you describe feelings? How would you describe the taste of oysters?

When the Goodyear people were kind enough to offer The Star Weekly a nice long ride in their little dirigible, “The Puritan,” we decided that here was a good chance to describe one aspect of flying – height.

So we took the train down to Akron, the Goodyear city, and at six o’clock in the morning, climbed the ladder into the four-passenger gondola of the little airship to fly to Toronto. We had aboard a hundred gallons of gas, because there was a strong east wind blowing, and as the dirigible only makes a true speed of about fifty miles an hour, the head wind would cut it down to thirty or thirty-five, just as a wind behind us would boost our speed to sixty-five or seventy. And in addition to the pilot, Jack Boettler, who is about a hundred and eighty pounds, besides being the acknowledged best airship pilot in America and who taught the United States Navy most of what it knows about blimps, there was August O’Neil, the boss mechanic, who is another near six-footer, and H. E. Blythe, assistant to the president of the Goodyear corporation in the States, who wears forty-twos.

Seeing old navy blimps at Folkestone during the war, I had the notion that a dirigible was a kind of balloon with a propeller and that it floated along through the air aided and abetted by an engine that helped it on its way.

I did not know It could put its nose straight up in the air and shoot skyward like a rocket, or pointing Its nose to earth, dive like a plummet.

But when we were all aboard at Akron, with twenty men hanging on to our drag ropes and removing the heavy sand bags that held us down, the ground crew slowly hauled us out of the great hangar, and at a word of command let go the ropes.

The two engines, one on each side of the gondola, roared, and with a rush and a whoosh, the little dirigible pointed its nose to the sky and leaped, in a breath-taking instant, to a height of a thousand feet. I have taken off as a passenger, in Bristol Fighters, RE 8’s and big, modern five-passenger planes, but nothing I ever felt, not even New York elevators, shot me aloft quite so suddenly and swiftly, as this little airship that I was cheerfully expecting to float off the ground like thistle down.

Quite Different to a Plane

When you look at it, silver and glistening and huge, crawling through the air, it looks so smooth and bloated, you cannot imagine it is hitting up a speed that would make your motor car vibrate even on a pavement.

The sensation in a balloon is utterly unlike that in a plane. They call it an airship. And a ship it is. It rides the waves of air.

The sky is filled with great rollers, rapids, backwaters, eddies, currents. When an aeroplane goes tearing through the sky, it is smashing and backing these waves and pockets. Sometimes a plane will drop, with a sickening sensation, scores or hundreds of feet into an unseen abyss in the ether.

But the airship slowly and cheerfully heaves up over these air waves, lifts her nose to the near side and dips her nose down into the far side of them. In the aeroplane, the pilot is continually fiddling and manoeuvring with his stick as the plane rushes and leaps, like a sea flea, over the air currents. In the blimp, the pilot, sitting back in his easy chair, in a nice little cabin hung in space, has a large wheel beside him, like a ship’s wheel turned sideways. This is the elevator control. When the ship lifts her nose on a roller, he depresses the elevator. And when she rides across the top and starts down the far side of the unseen, heaving waves of air, he lifts her nose.

There is no sensation of speed, of tumult, of force. The vibration and frenzy of the aeroplane do not exist. The big fat bag can be seen looming above, out of the windows of the gondola. The gondola is about the size of a limousine, with four chairs. It has windows all around, and the ones beside you open so that you can rest your elbow out them and see the world go by.

There being nothing between you and the earth, there is no sensation of dizziness or of great height. I get slightly sick when I look over the top of the new Star building. I let my wife hang pictures and put new bulbs in the light fixtures. But when you look over the side of an aeroplane or an airship, you simply don’t believe it anyway. So it doesn’t hurt your feelings.

The world seems to contract. Grow small. Trees and houses and fences become tiny, like the toy farms and houses you buy the boy for Christmas. And ever so much prettier than they look close up. They seem clean and ordered. All the stains and dirt are lost to sight. Toronto is one of the most beautiful sights in the world from a thousand feet above it. The wild geese must have a very great respect and admiration for men.

Leaving Akron, we leaped, with not merely engines hoisting us, but a huge helium-filled gas bag, to a thousand feet, and Pilot Boettler tested the air. That is, he turned his nose into the wind and found it strong and bucking hard. So little by little, he steered the ship lower and lower, as he began the drive northward towards Lake Erie, until he found the altitude at which the air was least disturbed by boiling currents and heaving waves, and the wind mild and steady. It was at about four hundred feet that we made the first few miles of the journey.

Like a Monstrous Flying Pig

That is the one great cardinal virtue of airships. You can fly so low, with a good margin of safety. Pilot Boettler dropped us down to two hundred feet in some places to have a look at the ground. An aeroplane rushes along at such a pace, the scene is blurred if you are low, and if you are high enough for a safety margin, the earth is in map-like miniature.

We sailed along, like yachting, so low that we could wave to the farm children that ran out to see us passing. We could see their faces. I noted and identified two kinds of hawks floating in the air beneath us. We put the wind up the bird world something terribly, for an atavistic memory made them dream for an instant of ichthyosauri and other monsters that flew in vastly bygone ages.

Cows were the least moved of all creation by our appearance. A few went so far as to rise clumsily to their feet as we sailed over. But most of them went right on biting grass. It takes a lot to make a cow worry about the future. But pigs!

You see, a blimp looks something like a monstrous flying pig. It is huge and fat and sleek.

We arrived low over a field in which there was a litter of seven or eight pigs about the size of spaniels. They were busy in a bunch when suddenly they saw – well, maybe they thought it was the god of pigs coming down to earth! Anyway, they stood in a circle for a moment, in consternation, heads lowered, turned aside, afraid to believe their eyes and ears. Here was the hugest pig imaginable, with the longest sustained grunt and squeal they had ever heard, and it was making right for them.

Then as we approached, and they believed, they broke and fled, scampering in a tight, tangled mass, simply crazy with fright. But pigs can’t run fifty miles an hour, so we overtook them, and they halted suddenly, all in a frantic heap, and stood, with heads lowered and hidden, until we passed with a roar over them.

And then – when we had passed, they pursued us, chased desperately across the field in our path, until a fence halted them. I imagine they stood for some time, squealing their supplications after us as the god of pigdom.

Horses when we appeared would lash their tails and scam per excitedly around the field, first away from us and then, with a kind of arch-necked bravado, right towards us.

It is not far, by air, from Akron to Toronto. But we went across Lake Erle between Chatham and St. Thomas, and then passed over London, Woodstock, Brantford and Hamilton on a kind of sightseeing tour. Yet this journey took us nine straight continuous flying hours. We left at six a.m. and we landed on the Goodyear lawn at New Toronto at 3p.m., a working day of nine hours steadily plodding through the air against an east wind that sometimes was a young gale.

A Nice Sleep in the Air

We were two hours crossing Lake Erie, two hours with nothing but the steel-gray lake eight hundred feet below us, with little gulls waving out of our course far below. Mr. Blythe leaned back in his deck chair and had a nice sleep over Lake Erie. We passed a number of freighters that seemed to be stopped, so smartly did we outdistance them, even though bucking a wind. They were toy ships. I wanted one for my boy, but Captain Boettler said it probably belonged to somebody anyway.

When we came at last to the Canadian side, we did not know the precise locality on account of the possible drift that had occurred over the lake, so we saw, just a little way inland, a railway, and on the railway a station and a village.

Captain Boettler pointed the ship’s nose at the village, ran down to within a hundred feet, shut down his engines! – that was a curious thing to one who had flown in a plane – slowed them down until they idled, and the ship just hung there in space about a hundred feet above the village while we read the name on the station. West Lorne. Then we waved good-by, thank you, tilted the prow upwards, turned on the engine and went soaring away while the pilot got out his map, located our position and laid a course across country for London. He has a compass floating in front of him.

Canada seems to be so much more cultivated than the part of the States we passed over.

Every field that is not woodlot is under cultivation. The fields are laid out better in orderly lots with fences. But the farm houses lack the paint and color of the American farms.

Every few miles, the air currents would shift and change. Where it was best riding a four hundred feet at West Lorne, it was much quieter at eight hundred as we neared London. The pilot, sitting back in his chair, with his feet cocked up on the railing in front of him, with a sort of bay window in it that made it feel as if he were sitting in an old fashioned hotel settin’ room, the pilot would keep the ship’s nose on the course and lift and lower her over hundred-foot waves that sometimes rolled under us.

It was exactly like yachting. When we heaved up over a wave, the ship’s nose would veer to one side or the other, and the rudder, which is controlled by foot pedals, would have to correct her direction while the elevator wheel kept her on an even keel.

Landing on a Dollar Bill

Nine hours is a long time to fly, or even to motor, without once getting down to stetch your legs or eat a little lunch. It was a relief to come at last out over the mountain at Hamilton, where fierce air rapids boiled and rushed up and over the great wooded cliffs. We swooped and slid about on them as Captain Boettler aimed her down, down into the valley and over the lake, heading for Toronto, and able from our height, already to see the tall white towers of Toronto that are beginning to make it a city against the sky.

We sailed over the Exhibition, just to let Mr. Blythe see what Toronto can do in that sort of thing.

“Sail her over high and do a dive,” I said to the plot. “These people think this is just a balloon. They don’t know it can stunt.”

So we dove and climbed while I shot pictures out the window with a camera – none of which turned out because the developer did not know they were panchromatic plates. And the views of the crowd from on high were failure.

When we turned back to New Toronto the Goodyear plant, and hovered over the vast factory, I could not figure out how Boettler was going to dock his sky ship on so small a piece of ground. There were chimneys al about and the recreation ground was hemmed in by houses and telegraph lines.

“Oh,” said Mr. Blythe “he can land on a dollar bill!”

Far below, we saw the ground crew of two men waiting on the grass. We sailed down wind, turned nose into the wind and suddenly, startlingly. Boettler swung the nose of the ship straight down. And with engines on, we dove at forty-five degrees straight for the landing ground. With a whirl of the wheel, he flattened her out, slacked off his engines, dropped the long trailing ropes that had been coiled up, and the ground crew had us. Sand bags were slung on. And there we were, riding on our single tire, with ladder dropped from the cabin door.

But the first thing that happened as we set foot on the ground, a young man in blue stepped forward:

“Any baggage, Mr. Clark?”

“Yes. My valise here.”

“Would you open it, please?”

“Eh? Really?”

“Yes, please. I’m from the Customs.”

I thought he was joking. But he was not. He was an officer of the Customs.

So even if I did smoke Luckies, which for mercy’s sake I don’t, it wouldn’t have done any good smuggling by air.


Editor’s Notes: Bristol Fighters and R.E.8s were World War One airplanes.

New Toronto used to be a separate village in the Etobicoke area of Toronto which housed the Goodyear Tire and Rubber plant from 1916 until 1987.

Panchromatic film was a type that was available commercially in 1906, however it was more expensive, and had to be developed in total darkness (no red lights). It would still be something relatively new in 1928, and could be ruined if not processed properly.

“Luckies” were Lucky Strike cigarettes, the top-selling cigarette brand in the United States during the 1930s and 1940s.

Nothing Like a Camping Trip

You didn’t have to be a naval architect to tell right away that there was something wrong.

By Merrill Denison, August 16, 1930.

“The thing you need after your operation,” said Greg’s letter, “is a short camping trip. Lots of fresh air, violet rays, and all that sort of thing. A touch of roughing it, in competent hands.”

I thought it mighty generous of Greg. His were to be the hands, and “in competent” was spelled as two words. The letter went on to sketch an idyllic few days during which I would loaf in the middle of a canoe propped up on cushions, while Greg did the paddling, portaging, camp making, cooking and other labors, which go to make camping a delight for those who delight in camping.

All I was asked to do was to provide the canoe. Greg had everything else needed for a short camping trip, including a silk tent which only weighed seven pounds and occupied a little less space than a pocket handkerchief.

Along in the afternoon of the day appointed, Greg drove up to the cottage. I could see at once that he had brought everything we were likely to need. If he had brought one more aluminum frying pan, either he or it would have had to come by train.

“You won’t know yourself when I’ve got you back from this trip,” were his first words, and I can’t recall offhand anyone ever making a truer prophecy in my hearing.

From the first, Greg wouldn’t let me do a thing. He wouldn’t even let me carry the silk tent. When I offered to help him unload his covered wagon, he said, “No. Your job on this trip is to rest. Have you got the canoe?”

By this time hall the veranda was covered with little bags and big bags, little pots and big pots, little fishing rods and big fishing rods, little axes and big axes. I tried to compare the canoe with the pile Greg had brought.

“I’ve got the canoe all right, Greg,” I said, “but I don’t think it’s going to be big enough. It’s only a seventeen footer.”

“Haha!” laughed Greg. “You’ve no idea how this stuff will compress into a small space. Camping equipment is very deceptive when it’s piled loosely like this.”

I took his word for it because he was an expert, and all the camping I’d ever done was of a most primitive sort. I didn’t even ask why there were so many rods, and axes, and bags. I supposed Greg used a big axe for a big tree and little axe for a little tree, and let it go at that.

Greg was for getting under way at once, but I thought it mightn’t be a bad idea to have a last night’s sleep, so he agreed to wait till morning.

“That’s fine,” said Greg. “It will give you a chance to look over my camping equipment. I’ve got some lovely stuff here. Not one unnecessary thing, and everything designed for maximum compactness and convenience.”

As a sample of how convenient his camping gadgets were, he allowed me, as a treat, to light my way to a match in his waterproof matchbox. With the help of a pair of pliers I emerged victorious. I suggested it might be a good idea to take a couple of pair along on the trip, but he pooh-poohed the idea.

“Who ever heard of taking pliers on a canoe trip?” he said, but since he was taking everything but the kitchen stove and family album, I thought I ought to be allowed to take along one pair of pliers. It was a good job I did. Next to the canoe, the pliers were the most useful tools we had.

Greg was so keen to start camping right away that we had difficulty in keeping him from pitching his silk tent out in front of the cottage, and we dissuaded him only by agreeing to spend the evening looking at the cooking equipment.

Everything was made of aluminum because of its superior lightness and the marvellous way it retains heat. The only trouble with aluminum is that the way it retains heat just about ruins the lightness unless you have a pair of pliers handy.

The Least Bit Bow Heavy

Before we went to bed we talked over the trip. Greg had it all planned on a government map. It was to be a short trip of about fifty miles, with a couple of easy portages. Greg knew exactly where we would stop for lunch, where we would camp, where we would pause and catch a few fish for supper. On the map his arrangements looked well nigh perfect.

“The beauty of a camping trip,” said Greg, “is that you can tell just where you’re going. It’s not like a motoring trip with detours, and torn-up roads, and hotels you can’t get into. On a canoe trip you can plan ahead. You can always find water enough to float a canoe. Then pick some delightful spot in a grove of birch trees, pitch your little silk tent, cut a few balsam bows for a bed, and there you are.”

We decided to get up with the sun and make an early start, but something must have happened, because neither of woke up till half past eight. By the time we had breakfast and Greg had carried half a ton of camping conveniences down to the beach it was about ten.

Then we had to load the canoe. The canoe looked all right and was made by a reputable manufacturer, but it was easy to tell something was wrong with it the moment that Greg started to pack the things in it.

Nothing seemed to fit quite the way Greg thought it should. There were four large sacks and the only place these would fit was between the centre thwarts. But this was the place in the canoe where I was supposed to do my resting and lean against the lazy-back. It looked as if the outfit or I would have to remain behind.

“Don’t bother about me, Greg,” I said. “I can squeeze in the bow. It will be just as comfortable, and there’s no other way to get all this dunnage aboard her.”

“It will certainly make things easier,” said Greg, and set about stowing away the various trifles that for some reason or other he had not been able to put in the bags. Finally he tucked away the fishing rods and I climbed aboard. Greg pushed off.

You didn’t have to be a naval architect to tell right away that there was something wrong with the way the canoe clove the water. Where I was sitting the cornice was about two inches from the lake, while down at Greg’s end the canoe looked like one of these racing sea fleas which only touch the water every second Tuesday. Greg had to lean away over the edge to wet his paddle.

I noticed that the canoe wasn’t steering very well, but didn’t like to say anything about it because I was a passenger. I thought Greg would probably find out for himself anyway. He was trying to steer the way the Indians do, with a sort of slosh and twiddle stroke, but wasn’t making much headway. Then he tried dipping bis paddle first on one side and then on the other. Each time the paddle changed sides I got a shower bath in the bow.

“Sorry,” said Greg, “she doesn’t seem to be balanced quite right.”

“What’s the trouble?” I asked.

“We seem the least bit bow heavy,” said Greg. “I think we’d better shift the load.”

So we went to shore and shifted the load. That got us into the same trouble we’d met before and Greg decided that we had better empty one of the duffle bags and pack its contents separately.

“We’ll empty the blanket bag,” said Greg, and then shook out on the sand a nest of little canvas bags all neatly labeled flour, cornstarch, tea, hard tack, corn meal, salt pork, and other staples of an invalid’s diet.

“Where are the blankets?” I asked when about twenty little bags had poured out on the sand.

“They must be in another bag,” said Greg, “but we know where the food is anyway.”

We got under way again and this time the canoe was balanced, but I wouldn’t like to say the same for myself. I was sitting in the middle of the canoe on top of the three largest rolls and felt as if I might have gone crazy and entered one of these tree-sitting competitions. I was about a foot above the lazy-back.

“Just sit still and you’ll be all right,” said Greg, paddling tenderly. “Now let’s see where north is.”

Keeping to Schedule

I knew where north was, but Greg didn’t I want me to tell him. “Half the fun of a camping trip is finding things out for yourself,” said Greg. “Now, where’s the compass?”

It turned out that I was sitting on it. Not on purpose, but just in the way people always sit on things on camping trip. I tried to get the compass but my resting perch was too precarious to permit much action, so we put ashore and got the compass.

Greg decided that the blue needle must point north because the white one was pointing at the sun, and the camping trip got under way in earnest. I never saw north make such a difference in a man.

According to Greg’s schedule, we were supposed to reach the portage about eight in the morning, daylight saving time, but because of one thing and another, including a slight leak that we tried to ignore but could not, we arrived at the portage at five-thirty in the afternoon, standard time.

“Now, you’re not to carry a thing,” said Greg. “You walk on ahead and wait at the other end of the portage. You’d better take a fishing rod along. You might find something below the rapids.”

I protested. “I may be recovering from an operation, but I’m not a feeble invalid,” I said. “Surely I can carry the silk tent or something.”

As portages go, this wasn’t bad one except for about a hundred yards where it led through a barnyard. This was about the only place you couldn’t take a rest if you wanted to, but on the other hand it was about half way across and so was the one place you had to take a rest whether you wanted to or not.

I reached the end of the portage quite awhile before Greg turned up carrying a bale of stuff tied to his forehead, but I didn’t bother doing much fishing because there wasn’t enough water. I didn’t say anything to Greg about the water because he was in a hurry and besides he liked to find things out for himself.

So I had a rest while Greg staggered back and forth with all the luggage, and finally the canoe itself wobbled into view with about eighteen inches of Greg showing beneath it.

The minute he put the canoe down I could tell that something had gone wrong. Greg doesn’t very often get angry, but this time he was in a towering rage. When I heard what had happened I couldn’t blame him a bit.

It would hardly do to repeat what had happened as Greg told it, but even a censored account will give some inkling of its harrowing nature.

After a superhuman effort, Greg had managed to get the canoe on his shoulders by crawling under it and pretending he was Atlas. Although he expected to be crushed to earth at every step, all went as well as could be expected until he reached the barnyard gate. Here he had trouble with the steering gear.

Although the opening was eight feet wide, Gregory said it was almost impossible to find it with the bow of the canoe. Three times he charged the opening with the canoe only to run foul of the fence on one side or the other. The fourth time the bow of the canoe slipped over a fence post and stuck there.

But this gave Greg a chance to escape from under the appalling weight, which had been growing greater each moment, and to see exactly where he was and get a straight run at the gate. But in his haste and anger he failed altogether to notice one very important fact.

Portaging Through a Barnyard

It being around milking time, the cows had I wandered back from pasture and were dotted idly about the barnyard waiting to be milked. Gregory said the first time he knew that he had cows for company was half through the barnyard, when one of them stuck her head under the canoe and “mooed” at him.

Fearful that the cow’s horns would get entangled in the canoe, and somewhat startled by the unexpected sight and noise, Gregory swung the canoe sharply up and to one side, an excellent manoeuvre, had not the first cow’s sister (an elderly bell cow) been standing directly in the path of the canoe’s stern. Stern met stern, it seems, with a mighty smack. Frightened and indignant, the old bell-cow set up an enormous clatter and in a moment the whole herd was in a panic.

Greg couldn’t tell how many cows had joined his aquatic rodeo, but he figured there must have been about six hundred. It was a desperate situation. He couldn’t see. He daren’t move for fear of offending another cow. He didn’t want to let the canoe down for fear of offending himself when he came to pick it up.

He waited there like a ship at sea with foghorns blowing all around it, until at last things got quieter and he heard a man’s voice.

“What’s the trouble, mister,” it said. “Canoe kinda heavy?”

“Canoe nothing,” said Greg. “This portage is full of cows.”

“‘Tain’t now,” laughed the farmer. “They’re back in the pasture just scared to death.”

Greg thought we’d better camp where we were for the night, so that we could get a good start in the morning.

It didn’t strike me as much of a camping place. There wasn’t any grove of birches, I couldn’t see a balsam, the cows had been making free with what little water there was left in the stream.

I pointed out this last drawback to Greg, and it looked as if one of us would have to go back to the lake and portage some water, but I realized that the farmer would probably have a well. So I left Greg to unpack and start a fire while I went for water.

The farmer was a nice man and gave me some water and some information. “Where do you lads figure you’re going?” he asked me. I told him we were going on a canoe trip. “Then you’d best hire a truck,” he said. “There ain’t no water below here for about six miles since the Hydro’s dammed the lake for storage.”

I asked the farmer to come with me and tell Greg about the Hydro. He did and Greg got out his maps. The farmer said the map wasn’t any good till September, when the Hydro let the water out. Greg said we couldn’t wait till September. The farmer said he didn’t know about that, but that he had a couple of tourist huts for rent and we could get a good meal at his house for sixty cents.

The idea appealed to me but made Greg very angry. So the farmer left and Greg went on getting supper. It was a good job we were in a field, because there never would have been room in the woods for all Greg’s labor-saving devices. Our camp covered about half an acre.

Greg sent me off with the little ax to get some firewood, so I went back to see the farmer and made a deal with him for a wheelbarrow load of stove wood for fifty cents, f.o.b. the camp-fire. Greg was so angry he could hardly speak when I returned with the farmer and the wheelbarrow. I also brought back pie, which Greg threw in the middle of what was going to be the river in September.

“We’re on a camping trip and that’s not cricket,” said Greg.

“Who ever heard of playing cricket on camping trip?” I said.

“‘You know what I mean,” said Greg. “There are rules for camping, just the same as every other game.”

When I understood it was a game we were playing, I said no more. Greg went on cooking. If hotels took the room Greg took to cook supper for two, it would require about two square miles of kitchen to provide a medium-sized banquet at the Royal York. The piece de resistance of the meal was flapjacks.

Back in the Farmer’s Truck

I never found out what a flapjack is like I when it’s young and tender, but Greg talked about them as some people do about pate de fois, or truffles aux pimpernells, or planked porterhouse steak and onion soup.

They caught fire twice and I had to rescue them with the pliers because the aluminum pan was too hot to touch without asbestos gloves. There was only one each, for flapjacking rules require that you flip them in the air over the fire. Greg lost six that way.

The rules of flap-jacking require that you flip them in the air over the fire.

After we had stayed our hunger on flapjacks and brownish liquid which Greg said was coffee, we put the tent up. “Now for some balsam boughs,” said Greg. “A real night’s sleep and you won’t know yourself.”

“Wouldn’t some other tree do?” I asked. “Why,” said Greg. “Because I don’t think there’s any balsam around here.” “Nonsense,” said Greg. “There’s always balsam. You go that way and I’ll go this.”

So Greg went off one way and I went up and made a deal with the farmer to fill the tent with hay for a dollar and fifty cents, the hay to remain his property after we had gone. Then I had some supper.

I made a deal with the farmer to fill the tent with hay for a dollar and fifty cents.

Greg was gone almost an hour and couldn’t find any balsam, which made him sore, but he was much sorer when he found his silk tent packed so full of hay you could hardly burrow into it.

“It’s disgraceful,” he said. “It’s worse than cheating at cards. I’d sooner sleep out on the ground than on hay on a camping trip.”

“That’s all right for you,” I said, “but I’m recovering from an operation. I’ve got to take care of myself.”

What worried me was the waterless river we were supposed to go canoeing on in the morning. I tried to tell Greg that the farmer had a truck, but Greg said the farmer had done enough harm already.

“Wait,” said Greg. “I’ll think of something before morning.”

He did. Along about dawn he roused me with what seemed wonderful news. “I’ve got it,” he said. “There’s no water below, but there’s a lake full of water above. All we have to do is to remove the obstruction that is keeping the water back. Take out a couple of stop logs and we’ll have enough water to float a steamer.”

So I went up and bribed the farmer to take some stop logs out of the dam while Greg got to work and piled everything in the canoe. When I got back he had the canoe out in the dry bed of the stream and was sitting in it.

“Get in so’s we’ll be ready the minute the water hits us.”

We were ready and waiting. First a small trickle of water arrived and then a little bit more, and then I heard a roar and looked back. Greg says the wall of water wasn’t over three feet high, but it looked more like a three-storey house to me.

“Hold tight,” said Greg, “we’re going.”

“Hold tight,” said Greg. “We’re going!”

We went all right. Everything went. Fortunately the stream bent right ahead of us so that most of the things, including Greg and myself, were washed on a rocky knoll. Then I realized what a true camper Greg is. No sooner had he been flung safely from the raging torrent than he said: “Quick! Let’s dump the canoe and get going while the water lasts.”

“I don’t think I’d better, Greg,” I said. “I don’t think I’m strong enough yet to stand any more camping.”

“You wouldn’t go back now in ignominy and disgrace?”

“No,” I said. “We’ll be going back in the farmer’s truck.”

August 16, 1930

Editor’s Notes: Though I normally only post stories by Greg, I included this one by our old friend Merrill Denison, since Greg is a character in it. It is an example of an older story before the Greg-Jim stories started. The image at the end shows how the overall illustration was placed on the page. The operation he mentions is having his appendix out, which he also wrote a story about on July 12, 1930, which Jim also illustrated.

F.O.B. means Free On Board, a transportation term that indicates that the price for goods includes delivery at the seller’s expense to a specified point and no further.

Summer Holidays a Fiendish Device of the Capitalist Class

Beautiful city, how art thou misjudged!

By Gregory Clark, July 3, 1920

Designed to Make City Dwellers So Fond of the City They Will Be Contented to Stay There and Slave – The Wail of an Urbomaniac Who is Now Fed Up With Summer Resorting

This is the holiday season.

Now for the annual going away in order more gladly to return.

Now for the fevered escape from the city into the beautiful sun-soaked, clean winded land of the mosquito, ant, sunburned nose and summer hotel food. Out of the frying pan, say I, into the fire. Aye, as in the old fable, it is a goodly thing to pop out of the frying city into the fiery country in order, more thankfully, to return in a couple of weeks to the city.

This sounds pessimistic, so early in the season. But it is not meant as a criticism of the holiday habit. It is

rather, an investigation into the psychology of summer resorting.

A radical gentleman of my acquaintance, familiarly known as “the Red” states as his earnest opinion that the summer holiday is one of the most devilish devices of the capitalists.

It is eminently to the wicked capitalists’ interests to make the common herd love the city, he says. The capitalist has many means. He encourages movies, parks, ice cream parlors. But, greatest of all, is known as the summer holiday. He gives, free, to all his salaried employees, that powerful but unsuspicious middle class, two weeks at full pay, which to go to some remote original spot in the wilderness. To the propaganda in the press, these are made out to be the places for holidays. At any rate, a deep and malignant power is at work. For, in two weeks the poor man of the brick and asphalt who fled so willingly and into the picturesque wilds, returns to his desk and his high stool like a shipwrecked mariner comes home.

That, my friend “the Red’s” view does not matter. My own experience to some respects, bear him out.

The street car strike added to the expense and gayety of our departure. After setting our trunks safely away three hours before train time, we did not remember, in our excitement, that the street cars were on strike until one hour before train time. Hastily, we seized the telephone and called up a garage. Too late! No cars available for two hours. One after another, for fifteen increasingly desperate moments, we called all the garages in the directory. None could send a car in ten minutes or in half an hour.

Taking the dilemma by its horns, we seized our suitcases, paper bundles, coats, umbrellas, fishing rods and golf sticks and raced madly for the street.

Jitneys, indeed, were plentiful. But it was the hour of even, when young ladies and gents go for cheap tours in jitneys at five cents the mile. The jitneys were full.

We raced to main corner, five blocks distant, in hope of getting an empty jitney there. But no; a crowd of one hundred leisurely evening revellers were there in the same hope.

Standing at the kerb, however, was a motor delivery truck fitted up with benches. Aboard it were eight others. We scrambled atop bag and baggage. And then we whispered to the driver:

“We have to be at the Union Station in thirty minutes. Make it, and we give you a dollar each!”

“Right-ho!” replied the driver, and leaped to the throttle.

I have many times jumped for my life to escape being hit by motor trucks. But not till that night did I realize how unnecessary such leaps were. Motor trucks make a great sound of speed. But they go about four miles an hour. This one of ours roared and hummed. But it crawled. And it stopped for several passengers en route. The minutes fled by.

As we neared Simcoe street, the driver said:

“I can’t go around by the station. You’ll have to run for it.”

So from King and Simcoe we ran, bag, baggage, golf sticks and all. When we reached the cobbled subway leading to the Union Station, it was six minutes to train time.

Baggage men, undoubtedly, are in league with the capitalists. We had three trunks to check. There were fifteen flurried people ahead of us at the check room desk. Five minutes! Four!

The baggage men, as cool and unhurried as though our train were not leaving for an hour, moved quietly at their task. Our agonized expression finally caught the eye of one checker Three minutes! He accepted our tickets, helped us we find our trunks; calmly he affixed checks and returned our tickets. One minute! Out to the platform we galloped. Just as a far baritone voice wailed:

“‘Board! ‘Board!”

We got on the train with the preliminary jolt of the engine.

Inside, the car was filled. That is to say, every two persons had their seat turned in so as to form a cosy rest for their feet. They occupied four seats per pair. As we paused beside each set, they would look suggestively backwards, as much as to say that there was lots of room further on. We struggled and bumped our way down the aisle, from car to car. The train was now moving.

But the conductor and brakesmen gave us no help. Why could not they go through and turn back those double seats?

Finally, we picked out couple of helpless and harmless looking people and turned the extra seat over on them.

Ha! Whew! We were on our way!

Of the heat and the smell of that car, of the intoxicated gentleman from the far north who made frequent and unsteady pilgrimages through the cars; of the stale sandwiches and tan-bark tea obtained at “ten minutes for refreshment” station; our arrival at a Muskoka station and our journey by boat to our hotel, little need or can be said.

After a week, we can look back through sun-seared and mosquito-bitten eyes, at a memory, fragrant with pine and balsam; of spacious bright days and still moonlit nights. We have eaten many curious things. Our noses have peeled twice. Our lips are sunburned, but look as if consumed by cold sores. We fished and caught nothing but sunstroke. We golfed and lost seven balls and busted four clubs. We tramped in the fragrant forest and got bitten from every angle and grew creepy with unseen spider webs striking our faces, as we walked. We have listened, in the moonlit evening to the life story of a dozen middle-aged ladies We’ve heard all about the boot business, the wholesale grocery business, and several other vocations represented on the hotel register. Our ears still ring with all the song hits of 1919, played on piano, mandolin, and gramophone, and sung in all the voices from old maid treble to baldhead basso profundo. And there is no health in us!

Ah, the music of the birds! Especially at five o’clock in the morning, when a cheery little warbler sticks his beak trough the mosquito screen of our bedroom and says:

“Tweetle, tweetle, tweet!”

And the lowing of the kine! Here the poets are wrong. The kine do not low at eventide. They come along to the hotel just after daybreak. And they are not kine. They are cows They do not low. They bawl and moo.

But, on second thought, now that I have this all off my chest, I must admit that the brittle feeling has gone out of my spine I feel a whole lot bouncier and brisker than I did ten days ago. And what’s more, the city looks good to me. What lovely trees, with no spider webs strung between them. What well-trained robins and sparrows, who do not screech at the dawn. How good the grub at the cafeteria tastes! How dry and fresh the sheets of my bed! And the movies! And the Ice cream parlors! And the neat, orderly streets, with no winged monsters to leap out and sting you unawares!

Beautiful city, how art thou misjudged!


Editor’s Notes: Kine is a collective term for cows.

Last week’s story told of a street car strike in 1919. There must have been one in 1920 as well.

With the Horse Lovers at Thorncliffe Track

You never see people at a cat or dog show studying pedigrees the way they do at a race track.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, June 11, 1921

Mr. Raney may be right. But he is not fashionable.

For one Mr. Raney there are thousands of men who love horses passionately: racehorses that is, not these great, clumsy wagon-horses.

Mr. Raney has been entirely misled by somebody as to the motives of these tens of thousands of men and women in Toronto who attend race meets. Someone ought to be made to suffer for kidding a minister of the crown.

Does Mr. Raney imagine for a moment that these great hordes of people go to the races only from motives of sordid gain? Is he so innocent as to believe that these mobs of sportsmen and horse-lovers attend the races only to bet?

Mr. Raney must have a very poor opinion of his fellow men.

As a matter of fact, it is time we horse-lovers began to proclaim the truth.

And the truth is, if you are willing to believe the sportsmen who love horses, that betting has nothing to do with the popularity of the racetrack. Betting is done for two reasons: First, because it is an ancient and honorable custom in connection with horses, dating back to the days of ancient Greece and Rome -merely a formality; second, because it encourages horse-breeding. But as for mere money –!

In short, the one and only reason for the great crowds at the race tracks is love of horses.

I will admit, right at the start, that up till a week ago, I held very much the same views as Mr. Raney. Because I had never seen a racecourse. But one day my friend James L., an ardent sportsman and horse lover, insisted on my going up to Thorncliffe with him. I had frequently been guilty of condemning James for his absence from the office. I looked on him as a deep-dyed gambler. And his protestations that it was just his passion for seeing horses run I regarded just as so much tosh.

I went with him. Leaving all my money, my watch and wallet securely locked in my desk, I drove in his flivver with him up to Thorncliffe Park.

“Now,” said James, as we drove up Yonge street, “I have fifty bucks on me. If I bet that on a twenty-to-one shot that would give me a thousand dollars. Then if I planted the thousand onto a ten to one shot – ten thousand. By that time I’ll go close on a few favorites and sure things. And maybe I’ll come home with twenty thousand dollars!”

And James’s face lighted, and he switched up the gas, narrowly missing a traffic constable.

“Think of it!” he cried. “Here I go up Yonge street with fifty measly bucks. And in four hours I may be coming down with twenty thousand.”

“But,” I protested, “what has this to do with horses?”

“My boy,” said James, soberly, “don’t let me kid you. We horse-lovers talk like that about betting just for fun. We all do. But don’t let that deceive you. It’s just our jolly manner.”

But as we passed through the cemetery through which the road to the racetrack runs, I noticed James crossed the fingers of both hands on the steering gear, and turned the lucky ring on his finger.

At the race track – a small grand stand, several stables, all painted white and a large oval race track in front – was a crowd of about seven thousand people.

At first glance, I was not at all impressed by the crowd. There seemed to be a larger than usual percentage of hard-boiled looking people in it. But James reassured me.

“Isn’t it wonderful,” he cried, “what a noble thing is man’s love for a dumb creature, even among people you wouldn’t expect it of?”

And as I looked about at some of the faces around me I was deeply moved that such noble emotions could be concealed behind such unpromising exteriors.

The crowd surged under the grand stand where the betting machines were located, then surged out again to the fence. And before I realized what was doing, a race was run.

It was all very sudden. A bugle blew. Several horse-lovers cried hoarsely: “They’re off!”

Then a tense silence for a few seconds while seven thousand horse-lovers feasted their eyes on the sight they loved best – beautiful horses running.

Then it was over.

And I must say only a very few seemed interested in which horse had won. The rest of the crowd, just turned away, deeply disappointed that the beautiful sight of running horses was soon finished, and went down under the grand stand where the betting machines were, to rest and wait for the next race.

I didn’t see much of James while the races were on. He was rushing about, like a true horse-lover, chatting enthusiastically with different people about the beautiful steeds. In fact, I saw him earnestly talking with some very disreputable-looking men and I marveled at the equality that existed between horse-lovers. These strange fellows he was talking to were pointing out for James on his program the special qualities and beauties of the horses that were to run in the next race.

The horse-lover is an intense person. This crowd at Thorncliffe was not a crowd in the ordinary sense. There was no crowd feeling. They were simply seven thousand individuals, each deeply engrossed in his devotion to horses. They all walked with bent heads, devouring the facts contained in little newspapers specially printed for horse-lovers.

To imagine that all this intensity was over mere filthy money getting, mere greed, would be surely to misconceive the finest qualities of mankind. You never see such devotion at a dog show or a poultry show. You never see cat lovers bumping into each other so intently as they study the pedigree and former prizes won by their favorite cat! These horse-lovers are a race apart.

James and I met at the end of the last race.

He had tired look.

“Well,” said I, “have you got your twenty thousand?”

“You’re a jinx!” said James, with pretended bitterness.

He was very glum all the way down to the city. I then understood how fatigued a horse-lover could become with enthusiasm.

But I also noticed, at the garage where we had to stop for gasoline, that James could only find forty-five cents.

So we only took one gallon.


Editor’s Notes: This can be considered a very early Greg-Jim Story, as “James L.” is definitely James Llewellyn Frise. We also know from past stories Jim’s love of the race track.

William Raney was Attorney-General of Ontario at the time. He was known for his opposition to gambling on horse racing and the sale of alcohol. It is interesting that when the UFO (United Farmers of Ontario) won the 1919 election, the leader, Drury, approached Raney, a Liberal, to be Attorney-General since the UFO had elected no lawyers.

Thorncliffe Park Raceway existed from 1917-1953. It used to exist in the location of the Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood in Toronto today.

A “flivver” was early slang for cars, usually referring to a Ford Model T.

Currency conversion for 1921 to 2021: $50 = $665, $20,000 = $265,900.

45 cents/gallon in 1921 equals $1.31/litre in 1921 (which happens to be the same price of gas the day I write this!)

“Ride ‘Em Cowboy!”

“Haven’t you got a lower horse?” asked Merrill.

I’m not sure, but I think I heard laughter from the grooms behind us as we made off down the lane.

I executed a manoeuvre I had learned in the Mounted Rifles in getting off the back of moving lorries.

By Gregory Clark, June 14, 1930.

“My doctor,” said Merrill, “has ordered me to take up horse-back riding.”

“You’ll require a horse,” said I doing something else.

“Horse-back riding,” said Merrill, “is good for the liver, it jounces you around and makes up in one hour for all the jiggling your insides could get from a year’s work with pick and shovel.”

“Have you ever ridden?”

“No,” said Merrill. “I am told there is a kind of electric spark that passes from the horse to the rider as he bounces up and down which does a man a great vitality.”

“I think you’ll enjoy riding,” said I, “if you can persuade a horse that it will.”

“I am counting on you,” said Merrill. “You can teach me to ride. You were with the cavalry in the war, weren’t you?”

“Mounted Rifles,” said I, quickly.

“The same thing,” said Merrill. “When can you come with me?”

Of course, it wasn’t the same thing by any means. The Mounted Rifles may have intended to have horses but all of the time I knew them, they were just plain gravel crushers. Any riding I did in France was on a lorry. But men are silly. No sooner are they flattered with the notion that they were dashing cavalry men than they submit themselves to situations which are unbearable.

So I stand here writing this – I’ve had my typewriter set up on a high desk so I don’t have to sit down – I realize that the most cowardly part of a man is his tongue. Why didn’t I briskly tell Merrill that I knew nothing whatsoever about horses? But no:

“Any time you say,” said I. “Make arrangements for a couple of horses and I’ll go any day”

And the following noon, Merrill phoned to say that he had made arrangements with a riding academy up Yonge St. for that very afternoon. He would pick me up in his car.

Merrill called at the office in riding clothes, hard hat, shiny boots – as if he were a life long member of the Hunt Club.

“Where’s your bag?” asked Merrill.

“I’ve no bag,” said I.

“But your britches,” said Merrill. “How will you ride without britches?”

“The Mounted Rifles never rode in britches and always rode in trousers.”

“The academy fellow said to be sure to wear britches,” said Merrill.

Anyway, we arrived in a back lane that smelled strongly of horses and in a few minutes of being shown through a dark stable by a sun-tanned riding master who seemed to regard me with deep suspicion.

“Haven’t you better have britches, sir?” he said. Merrill had told him on the telephone that a cavalry officer was a friend of his and was going to teach him riding.

“No, no,” said Merrill, interrupting. “The Mounted Rifles always rode in trousers.”

“Merrill,” said I, “you should have a good tall horse, strong and well built.”

“I’ve the very thing,” said the groom. And backed out of its stall a huge brown horse that had to duck its head under the stable rafters. “Here’s a good strong horse, with lovely manners and it doesn’t care what it carries.”

Merrill looked unimpressed. So did the horse. It snorted loudly.

“Haven’t you got a lower horse?” asked Merrill. “A lower, wider horse, with shorter legs and broader across the back. I’d feel more sure.”

Spanked on a Large Scale

This is the very horse for you, sir,” said the groom. “Now for you, sir.”

And the groom stood inspecting me for a moment.

“You’d like something pretty,” said he. “No nags for you, sir.”

“Oh, just a nice little horse,” said I, trying to look cavalry. “I don’t want to be too busy riding to devote some attention to my friend here.”

He backed out a small, yellow horse with its ears pointing back.

“I don’t like its ears,” said I.

“That’s all right sir,” said the groom. “That’s the way he wears them all the time. He’s a dandy little horse.”

With the help of a couple more grooms, the two steeds were soon saddled. Twice I saw my little horse stretch out its neck towards Merrill’s big horse, and both times the big horse backed violently away.

“Are these horses good friends?” I demanded.

“The little chap is playful,” said the groom. “but don’t mind that, sir. You’ll have no trouble managing him.”

When Merrill came to mount, all three grooms had to help him up. It was a terrific heave. They had to push the horse up against the lane fence and then hoist Merrill on with the fence for a backing.

“Wait a minute,” said Merrill uneasily. “Suppose I fall off, are their any loading platforms in the neighborhood where I can get on again, or are you three going to follow me about?”

“You won’t fall off, sir,” said the head groom.

“I feel as if I will fall off at the slightest movement,” said Merrill. “This horse is like a barn roof.”

I have seen hundreds of horsemen mount their charges in the movies, at the horse show, and so forth. I stepped boldly up to my small horse, seized its reigns, raised one foot for the stirrup when the little brute swerved violently away from me.

“The other side, sir!” shouted the head groom. It appears you cannot climb on a horse from any side. There is a particular side. I forget which one now, but with one of the grooms holding his head, I managed to clamber up the side of the beast and get myself in the saddle. Merrill and his large horse were standing waiting in the lane.

I don’t know anything more deceiving than a horse. It looks, from the ground to be a nice round animal, with a broad, smooth back slightly curved downward as if for the comfortable seating of a man. But the minute you get on top, you find it entirely different. A horse is really a three-cornered animal. It is triangular in shape, and one of the edges is up. The saddle is a small seat on this thin and dangerous edge, and your legs hang down two slippery sides.

And even my small horse seemed to be ten feet high.

Its ears were pointing back all of the time. The minute the groom let go, it gave a couple of little skips and, with its neck outstretched, trotted towards Merrill’s horse.

Merrill’s horse wheeled suddenly, almost upsetting him right at the start, and made off down the lane.

When a horse runs, it bobs up and down. By some curious lack of sympathy between man and horse, a man is always coming down just as the horse is coming up. I know of no other sensation quite like it. It is like being spanked on a large scale. And also like being hit on the jaw by a man much bigger than yourself. Both Merrill and I went out the lane being spanked. And I am not sure, but I think I heard veiled laughter from the grooms behind us.

“Whoa!” shouted Merrill, as we came out of the lane to the street. “Hold your horse back away from mine. Mine’s nervous of yours.”

A Horse Can Jump Sideways

I hauled on the reins and mine stopped.

“Which way will we go?” asked Merrill. “Up north of Forest Hill Village is nice.”

“Let’s go there then.”

“Turn left,” said Merrill, pulling on the left rein. But his big horse turned right.

“We’ll go this way,” Merrill called back to me. So one behind the other, we proceeded east towards Yonge St.

Merrill’s horse paid no attention to traffic. But mine began to prance every time a motor car passed. It laid back its ears and pointed itself in different directions, and sometimes it even backed up a little, which was very disconcerting. My trouser legs were beginning to work up and show my garters.

“We’ll go north on Yonge,” said Merrill, as we approached.

But at Yonge, when he pulled the north rein, the big horse turned south.

“Hey,” said I, “north on Yonge.”

“I’ve changed my mind,” called Merrill. “We’ll ride in the Rosedale ravine, it’s more secluded.

My pant legs were working up so high that I wished I had got britches. I don’t believe the Mounted Rifles ever rode in trousers. They probably wore puttees.

Amid traffic, we proceeded at a walk down Yonge St., Merrill having to slow up every little while until my small horse stopped pointing itself at half the cars that passed.

When we came level with the entrance to the Rosedale Glen, Merrill stopped his horse, turned it facing the entrance and then clicked his tongue and started it. But, without the slightest concern, the horse turned and proceeded down Yonge St.

I let my horse loose just a little bit and came within speaking distance of Merrill.

“We don’t want to go down town,” I said.

“He knows where he’s going,” said Merrill. “Take the lead yourself if you like.”

I tried to move my horse past Merrill. In doing so, I must have conveyed the wrong impression to him. I clicked and said “Giddap,” and slightly urged him forward with my body. And the fool horse started to trot!

As soon as he started to trot, Merrill’s big horse gave a lurch and started not to trot but to gallop.

“Whoa!” roared Merrill. I yelled whoa too. But it appears in the best horseman circles, nobody ever says whoa to their horse. Around a corner off Yonge St. we charged.

Merrill’s horse was going at what is called a canter, and Merrill was bouncing easily up and down. But my small yellow horse, with its ears back, was trotting smartly, with the result that I was joggled horribly, and I could only see in a blur. I could see in his elbows that Merrill was trying to stop his horse. Just as he got it slowed, we caught up, and mine gave a small whinny and made a nudge at Merrill’s.

A horse can jump sideways. You would be surprised at how far a horse can jump sideways. I wonder they don’t include sideways jumping events at the horse shows. Anyway, it was all of ten feet from where Merrill hit the pavement to where the horse stood, all trembling and indignant. For fear my horse would step on him, Merrill scrambled up and my horse stood up on its hind legs. I executed a smart manoeuvre I had learned in the Mounted Rifles in getting off the back of moving lorries. I slid off the rear end of my horse while it was standing up.

The two horses trotted in a leisurely way along the street towards Queen’s Park, which glimmered greenly a block distant.

“Well,” said Merrill.

“I was afraid you were hurt,” said I, pulling down my pant legs.

“What about the horses?” asked Merrill.

“What do you say if we let them go?” said I. “They will find their way home. Horses are marvellous that way.”

“It’s all my fault,” said Merrill. “I’m sorry. But if you ‘ll try me just once more, let’s go and catch them and you take the lead. I’ll follow.”

We walked with an accompaniment of small children, over to the park, where our horses were nibbling the grass peacefully and a park attendant was creeping warily up on them.

“You catch yours first,” said Merrill, “and then you can ride mine down and catch him.”

“No, Merrill,” said I. “I’m the teacher. I want you to learn to catch your horse right at the start. It is one of the most important things.”

“But how will I get back on it?”

“Some of this crowd will help,” said I. For all of the people in the park, who had been lying on the grass and lounging on the benches, had suddenly come to life and were gathering to see us catch our horses.

We stalked the big horse carefully. Merrill called “Co-bossy, nice co-bossy,” to it. Just as we were about to grasp the reins, it raised its head suddenly and galloped a few yards away, where it began to nibble the grass again. This was repeated several times, and we had made almost the complete turn of the park when a policeman came walking briskly up and said to Merrill:

“Here, you’ll have to get that horse off here.”

“That’s what we’re trying to do,” said Merrill.

“Well go on – get it off,” said the policeman.

“All right, all right,” said Merrill, approaching the big horse.

“Come on, now, no fooling. Get it off of here right away,” said the policeman.

Merrill reached for the reins and again the big horse bolted a few yards off.

“Look here,” said the policeman, sternly, “are you going to get that horse off of here, or are you not?”

Merrill turned to me.

“I guess you’d better catch yours, after all,” said he.

So we turned our attention to the small yellow horse, which had been watching the whole proceedings out of the corner of its eye while nibbling grass.

The crowd now numbered hundreds. To the nearest of them, I explained how we used to catch our horses in the Mounted Rifles. I said we used to turn out the whole battalion and form a huge circle, just like ring-around-a-rosy, and then narrow it down until the horse was caught in the middle. I asked them if they would like to help us. And a large circle was formed around the little yellow horse, so that five men, the policeman, Merrill and I managed to corner the beast, and a short man with bow legs and a peaked cap walked bang up to the brute and took it coolly by the straps.

“‘Ere’s your ‘orse,” said the little man. “What’s your trouble?”

“I was teaching my friend here to ride,” said I, “and he fell off.”

“Did he fall off bofe ‘orses?” asked the bow-legged little man.

“I got off to help him catch his horse.”

“Ow, I see!” said the little man. “Now then, wot?”

“We’re going to get on again,” said Merrill, “if we can find a sort of platform around here anywhere. Maybe a couple of benches one on top of the other will do.”

“Perhaps,” said the little man in the cap, “you’d like the ‘ave the ‘orse kneel down for you to get on?”

“Will it do that?” asked Merrill, eagerly.

“Sure,” said the small fellow. “An’ roll over.”

“You catch my horse now,” said Merrill to me. “Let’s hurry. This crowd is getting noisy and the policeman is getting out his little book.”

“That Horse is a Killer”

“We’ll catch yours the same way as we caught mine,” I said. “I don’t like galloping all around this park. There are women and children to be considered.”

“Form another ring,” said Merrill.

“Wite a minute,” said the little man holding my horse. “Do you want me to get that other one for you?”

“Do you mind?” I asked quietly.

The little man was quivering with anxiety to get on my horse. You could see that.

Up went one leg, with an easy bound the little man was on top and had hooked his bow-legs over that prancy yellow beast of mine. Its prancing stopped. With an easy twist or two, he rode it up to the big horse, took the reins and brought the two of them to us more quickly than it takes to write about it.

“Now then,” said Merrill, looking haughtily at the policeman, “up we go.”

“Merrill,” said I, holding him by the lapel, “look at the eye of that horse of yours! Just look at it! I didn’t notice it before. But that’s a bad horse you’ve got. A bad horse!”

“Eh!” said Merrill.

“That horse is a killer,” said I. “I’m sorry I ever let you get on such a horse as that. I wouldn’t dream of being responsible for you on a bad horse like that. He’s got blood in his eye.”

“What shall we do?” asked Merrill.

“I’ll ask this little chap if he would like to take the two of them back to the stable,” said I.

“All right then,” said Merrill. “I’m mighty glad you saw in time.”

“Would you like,” I asked the small man, still sitting on my horse, “to take the two of them back to their stable?”

“Right-o,” said he.

“What’s the address of that stable, Merrill?”

“Oh, I knows it,” said the little man. “I come from there and I’m the groom what the boss sent down to follow you two gents in case you got in trouble.”

“The very idea!” cried Merrill indignantly, looking to me to burst out into cavalry temper.

“Right-o,” said the little chap, wheeling the horses and taking them tamely out of sight.

“Let’s walk over to Yonge and get a taxi,” said I. We walked away and left the crowd to sort itself out on the benches and grass again.

“Ouch,” said Merrill.

“What is it?”

“That electric spark from the horse is catching me,” said Merrill. “It feels like a knife inside my leg up there.”

I walked a short distance and noticed the same thing.

We were walking slightly bow-legged by the time we got to a taxi. The next day we both stayed home. To-day I am working at my task standing up.

“What shall I tell my doctor?” asked Merrill.

“Tell him you consulted a cavalry officer who said that you were not cut out for a horseman and ask him if riding in a tank would server the same purpose.”

And the doctor retorted that Merrill should go in for sea fleas.


Editor’s Note: This is a pre-Greg and Jim story, in the similar format, but with Greg and Merrill Denison, another Star Weekly columnist. A few of these stories would run in 1930. Denison would later move to New York and still contribute occasionally to the Star Weekly, and Jim would still illustrate his stories. The quality of the microfilm was also quite bad, so I had to make some guesses with the text.

Toronto Has 3 Lawyers to Every Criminal – Ain’t it Awful?

For the first week, the young lawyers sit in their offices and place huge volumes of the law open before them on their desks

Osgoode Hall Continues to Belch Forth Young Barristers at a Furious Rate – Devious are the Devices Used to Decoy Possible Clients to the Doors of the Ambitious Young Legal Lights.

By Gregory Clark, January 22, 1921

There is a plague of young lawyers in Toronto.

It to estimated that there are now three lawyers for every criminal in this city.

That is a terrible state of affairs.

Osgoode Hall is belching forth raw barristers at a furious rate. Bay street, Yonge street and the other solicitor-laden thoroughfares are crowded at all hours of the day with grim, judicial appearing young men in search of junior partnerships. Several of Toronto’s leading barristers have given up their lucrative practices altogether in order to devote all their time to refusing jobs to the hordes of young lawyers who lay siege to their offices.

Many of the young lawyers have in consequence been forced to accept poor but honest situations as salesmen, insurance agents and office clerks.

But a few of them have courageously extracted a few hundred dollars from their parents and have opened up offices.

Most of the law business goes, naturally, to the old established law firms with six or more names on their office doors. The humble citizen loves to refer to his lawyers in names covering from fifteen to twenty syllables, although the actual work is done by the office boys and students while the numerous senior partners play “Ricketty Aunt” at the club, or shoot birdies in Bermuda.

The young lawyers who set up offices, therefore, have to do some real work in securing clients.

Clients are like pickles. The first pickle out of the bottle is hard to get. After that, they come easy.

It is that elusive first client that is the difficulty.

For the first week, the young lawyers sit in their offices and place huge volume of the law open before them on their desks. They walk out frequently, briskly, for the double purpose of looking again at the fine shiny new name plate on the door, and of creating an impression of traffic. To the same end the new barrister has his father, uncles, friends call on him as many times a day as possible. These know their part. They must walk anxiously, eagerly along the corridor to the law office; worried expressions on their faces; and come out smiling, as if all their anxieties were laid aside.

They go in and out frequently for the double purpose of looking at the shiny new name-plate on the door and of creating an impression of traffic

The young lawyer, for the first few days, has the stenographer copy yards and yards of egregious bunk out of fat law books so that the office will be filled with the comforting, prosperous music of the typewriter.

Some little genius is also displayed in the pursuit of clients. One young barrister, who is bound to be heard from, by the name of Torts, went forth as soon as he had hung his shingle and made the acquaintance of one of the most notorious bad-eggs in the city.

The barrister and vagrant were closeted together for over two hours. Presently the vagrant, well-known to every policeman appeared on the streets in a highly intoxicated and belligerent condition. He was, of course, promptly arrested and locked up.

In the morning, when he was brought to court with nearly a hundred other prisoners of all kinds, the rascal began to shout out to the guards:

“Send for Mr. Torts! I want Mr. Torts! There’s only one real lawyer in this town! I want Mr. Torts!”

Half a hundred prisoners heard this significant praise from one who apparently should know one lawyer from another.

Mr. Torts was, indeed, waiting in the Court. He defended very ably the vociferous scalawag who had called for him and got him off with a $10 fine, which was promptly paid.

Thereupon at least a dozen prisoners in the dock called upon Mr. Torts to defend them. Three of these cases were remanded and went before juries. The ingenious Mr. Torts practice was founded.

Still another inventive young solicitor named, shall we say, Mr. Repleven, hired the hardest looking man he could find in the unemployment line-up. And all this hired man has to do, for $25 a week, is to ride up and down elevators, hang around restaurants and repeat in a challenging fierce voice:

“That’s all right! Mr. Repleven will get me off, he will! If any lawyer in the world can get me off, it’s Mr. Repleven. See if he don’t!”

Repetition! That’s the secret of publicity! Look at Beecham’s Pills and Mayor Church! Repetition. So by hiring this conspicuous and desperate-looking character to go about at random repeating that liturgy, Mr. Repleven has succeeded in drawing his first client out of the bottle.

He is expecting another any day.


Editor’s Note: Osgoode Hall was originally founded by the Law Society of Upper Canada and where one would go to become a lawyer in Ontario. It is now affiliated with York University.

Compulsory National Service for Everybody

“Each calling will be known by a number, and this number will then be painlessly branded in small, neat figures on the left ear lobe of each child.”

By Gregory Clark, January 17, 1920

Major-General G. B. Tallowhead, C.B., C.M.C., Outlines His Ideas as to How Canada May Profit as a Result of the Late Lamented War and Be Ready For Another at a Moment’s Notice.

It was with the greatest difficulty and only, through the efforts of certain personages in high political and diplomatic circles, that we secured the following interview with Major-General G. B. Tallowhead, C.B., C.M.C., etc, on the subject of universal military service for Canada.

General Tallowhead, it will be recalled, was an international authority, during the late war, on the subject of the tactical employment of field-kitchens. And his work in the salvage of bully-beef tins, wastepaper, and beef-dripping in the battle zone, with the enormous saving in money and material, was one of the factors in the ultimate success of the allies.

After a great deal of circumlocution and circumnavigation, we were admitted to a secret interview with the General in the rotunda of the King Edward Hotel.

Safely secluded behind a pillar, we opened the interview, as is well to do with distinguished personages, with a challenge.

“Is it not, sir,” we asked, “an historically typical thing that we British having fought Germany on the grounds of freedom and democracy, should now propose to adopt some of Germany’s most offensive principles? We refer, sir, to Brig.-General A. W Griesbach’s plan for compulsory military service in Canada, which was recently exploited in the Canadian newspapers.”

General Tallowhead’s face became purple with earnestness as he said:

“Not at all, sir, not at all! We British learn the secrets of civil government only in war. In the late war, we have taken far more than cash indemnities from Germany. We have taken the secret of her civil success. Not only do I believe in compulsory military training. I stand for compulsory social training, and a compulsory national organization for both peace and war!

“General Griesbach,” said General Tallowhead, “is a distinguished Canadian soldier. But I am deeply disappointed that he promotes such a half-measure as he outlined recently. His plan, in a word, is to take boys at the age of twelve and carry them through a period of compulsory military training until they are twenty-three, whereupon they enter a military reserve and are held in various reserves until they are sixty.

“Very elementary!” declared General Tallowhead. “After the lesson of the late bloody war, surely Canada is prepared to go further than that feeble compromise.

“My plan,” said the General in a loud voice, “is national civil service!

“To describe it briefly, it is as follows:

“On reaching the age of twelve years, all children, male and female, will come before a tribunal, which I will be appointed in each municipality and township.

“This tribunal will investigate the physical condition, parentage, mental force and general tendency of each child and then will decide for it what its trade, occupation or profession will be. Each calling will be known by a number. And this number will then be painlessly branded in small neat figures on the left ear-lobe of each child. I have myself, just patented a small branding device on the principle of the electric toaster and the rubber stamp.

“That, then, is the basic principle of my plan. As you can see, it will do away once and for all with the absolutely crazy irresponsibility of our present national life. Instead of leaving the future of a man or woman to mere chance, life will be consciously directed by the State. To an extent, it will do away with personal ambition. For instance, the son of a plumber whom our tribunal decides is to be a plumber cannot become a captain of industry or a lawyer. But there nothing to prevent him becoming a great plumber!

“In a word,” said the General, “it will do away with the ridiculous case of a golf professional masquerading in his spare time as a lawyer or a banker The State will consciously direct its citizenship. We will know where we are at.

“Upon being branded, these children will then be separated into their respective groups. Instead of our present absurd educational system, where we have twenty schools in a city all teaching the same generalities to children as a whole and leaving their futures in their own hands, we will institute specialized State education. These children will be wards of the State. Those who are labelled as artisans will go to the school of artisanry, and there learn nothing but what they require to know. So with all grades – lawyers, doctors, dentists and so on.

“The girls will each be taught a useful occupation. And all the while, military training will be going on in an intensive manner. The boys will be graded into the different arms of the service and thoroughly drilled and trained. The girls will be trained as nurses, munition-makers, conductorettes, postwomen, clothing makers, in addition to being taught a few of the lighter military subjects, such as the machine gun, anti-aircraft defence, and sniping from attic windows; these for home defence.

“Now,” said General Tallowhead, enthusiastically, “picture Canada on the hour of the declaration of war!

“The State, owning all the citizens, owns all property as well. Word goes out, and every man reports to his military headquarters. Every woman leaves her home and goes to the factory, munition works, car-barn or office to which she has been allotted as her reserve.

“The State, owning all money, would promptly institute military rates of pay for everyone; and having charge of all industries, would control all prices.

“Not weeks and months, but only hours would elapse before this country would be established on a war footing. The slacker and profiteer would be eliminated. War would become, not a monstrous burden of debt, but a paying enterprise for the State.

“Aside from war altogether,” said General Tallowhead, you can see clearly how this organization would benefit the nation in times of peace. Canada would be like a huge regiment, with each member doing his or her allotted task. State discipline I would be modelled on army discipline, and our laws, instead of being hazy concoctions from out of the ages, would be smartly designed on the Manual of Military Law. Elections of our Governors would be done away with, and our Governors, etc., trained as such from boyhood, would be promoted from alderman, to mayor, premier, etc., as officers and N.C.O.s are promoted in the army.

And as soldiers are happier than civilians, so would the nation be happier, under compulsory national control than they are now under the present reign of casual, drifting, undirected indifference.

“It is going to take time,” concluded General Tallowhead, “to educate the public to this plan of mine. But I am assured that it has a big appeal to all thinking men.”


Editor’s Note: There was no doubt some recent discussion on national military service which prompted this tongue-in-cheek response.

Snakes and Theology

By Gregory Clark, January 9, 1926

“What is a snake for?” asked the heir to my millions.

There are some things a child of four cannot solve by reasoning. A snake is one of them.

“What a question!” I parried. “What a question!”

And I attempted to change the subject by introducing a little wrestling bout. But it was no use.

“Now tell me what a snake is for?” he asked, after wrestling had been carried to its furthest usefulness.

“Well, sir, snake is a very useful little creature. It eats mice and wicked insects.”

“Are mice wicked?”

“Well, you know what they did to your little mattress up at the summer cottage.”

“Did God make snakes?”

“Undoubtedly.”

“To eat mice and insecks?”

“Indubitably.”

“And did He make mice and insecks too?”

“Now, son, theology is no subject for little boys.”

We have a private understanding that when I put on certain grave and solemn air and screw my face up horribly, he does not ask the obvious and next question, which, in this case, as you can see, would have been – “What is theology?” It is a cowardly device, but I can’t help it.

“Well,” said he, “why didn’t God make snakes pretty?”

“I think,” I said, “that he made them pretty to begin with, but after they had been eating mice and wicked insects for a long time, they turned into the sort of looking things they are now.”

The boy’s grandmother, who has already commenced teaching him a few Bible stories, went –

“Ahem!” She signalled me, sternly, for this tale of mine would be sure to conflict with the Adam and Eve story, to which she would be coming one of these days. She finds it hard enough, as it is.

“Did God make everything pretty?”

“I am sure He did.”

The boy sat studying the problem earnestly.

“What,” he asked, “does Mrs. Tootum eat?”

Mrs. Tootum is an elderly friend of his grandmother’s, who has the misfortune to be somewhat unprepossessing in her later years because of an absence of teeth.

In the silence that followed the question, Grandmother got up and left the room. We could bear her crying as she walked up stairs. At least, we thought it was crying. Her face was very red.

The boy came over to me with a rather horrified air.

“What does Mrs. Tootum eat, Daddie?” he whispered, confidentially. “Does she…. does she eat……?”

And be nodded his head suggestively.

“My boy,” said I, “what might be true of snakes is not true of men and women. Some of the nicest people in the world God made – well, not pretty.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, God made birds pretty, because they sing. He made chocolate eclairs pretty because they taste nice, He made Mamma pretty because she is my Mamma, and He made snakes ugly because they eat mice and insecks, and toads ugly because they hop, and motor trucks ugly because they run over. That’s what God does.”

“It doesn’t always work,” I said, profoundly.

Pondering the question, he went upstairs, and I heard him say to his grandmother very sweetly.

“When is Mrs. Tootum coming to dinner again?”

Silent Night

In disused and battered dugout, the conspirators of Sixteen were gathered. The Weasel was putting on his Santa Claus suit

By Gregory Clark, December 19, 1931

The rumor was abroad in the regiment that the new Lieutenant Maybee Basset still believed in Santa Claus.

And, with some humor, everybody waited to learn what Sixteen platoon was going to do about it. For Sixteen platoon being the tail-end of any regiment, and marching next to the sick, lame and lazy, was always a collection of rogues and rascals that could be depended upon to do something about anything.

Mr. Basset was the newly-arrived officer of Sixteen. And the Weasel was his batman.

“I seen him,” said the Weasel, in his soft, sly voice, “saying his prayers. In his kit I found two suits of silk underwear. It was pink.”

Sixteen platoon, sitting, lying and lounging in the hay of its billet barn, received this juicy morsel of news with suitable uproar.

Nifty Smith, the prize fighter, who always lay back on his elbows like a boxer in his corner, said:

“I don’t mind that. That pink stuff. I think it’s time they was somebody different in Sixteen. The last two lieutenants we have had has been loud and yellow. I like this big guy Basset.”

“He writes letters,” said the Weasel, “all the time. To his mamma, I think.”

“I think he’s going to do all right,” said Schwartz, the cheese-eater, “but the regiment says he still believes in Santa Claus and I guess we got to do something about it.”

“We’ll be in the line for Christmas,” croaked Tobacca-chewin’ Martin hoarsely. “We ought to have a Christmas party for him. Maybe a Christmas tree. Or a little stocking hung on the parapet or something.”

“He’s soft lookin’, but I like him,” said Nifty Smith.

The Wessel, who had been batman for longer than anybody could remember, whom nobody loved because of his tattling ways, and whose sly voice always seemed to pick silences into which to creep, now said:

“I know a padre I can get a Santa Claus suit from. I’ll take it up the line and we can put on some kind of a razz for him.”

“We could take him,” said Tobacca-chewin’, eagerly, “out on patrol and he could capture Santa Claus!”

“There’s a swell idea,” said the Weasel, amid a chorus of agreement.

“You be Santa Claus,” said Schwartz, the cheese-eater, to the Weasel.

“Sure, if you birds will undertake that his gat hasn’t got any bullets in it!”

“That won’t be hard!”

So, on the eve of Christmas, when the regiment marched up the line, Lieutenant Basset walked at the head of the swaggering line of Sixteen platoon, little dreaming that he was to be the hero of another of that notorious platoon’s exploits.

The Weasel had the Santa Claus suit in his pack-sack. He had been unable to get one from any padre, but a French family a few miles back – so he said – which had been interested in theatricals before the war, had gladly fixed him up.

In secret, the platoon had all inspected the outfit, and the Weasel had put some of it on. It was old St. Nick himself.

We went in on the Loos-Hill Seventy front; and at Hulluch, where our front was, the No Man’s Land was barely fifty yards across.

“I wonder,” said Nifty Smith, who studied the ground, “if they is enough room for our little Christmas show?”

“Sure, there’s room,” said the Weasel, who had put himself heart and soul into the drama. “I got it all figured out. Christmas Eve, we can do some singing. You remember last Christmas? You could hear Fritz singing all over the line. Well, I know a German song. It goes like this: ‘Stille nacht, heilige nacht! I’ll teach it to you. Well, while we are singing this, and Fritz is singing it back at us, I can sneak out just a little way and lie there. Then you birds crawl out with Basset and just when you get close to where I’ll be, you leave him. I’ll make some sound and he can capture me. And in the dark he won’t know until he gets me back into the trench that I’m Santa Claus.”

“He’ll Be Scared Stiff”

“It sounds swell,” said Schwartz. “We ought to have somebody there, the colonel or somebody, to congratulate him.”

“As soon as we go out,” said Nifty Smith, “we could send word to the other officers that there was something funny on our front. And ask them to come and wait until Basset comes in.”

It was all settled.

And Lieutenant Basset, the day before Christmas, stood innocently in his trench, his kind, friendly face beaming as he listened to the talk of his men. He was a large, shy fellow. Dreamy and far away. One of those good-natured big clumsy men who never could be made into soldiers.

Lieutenant Basset, the day before Christmas, stood innocently in his trench, his kind, friendly face beaming as he listened to the talk of his men. He was a large, shy fellow

“And tonight,” said Nifty Smith, the prize-fighter, “we can hear them singing. And we can sing back at them.”

“Doesn’t it seem absurd,” said Lieutenant Basset, “sitting a hundred yards apart singing Christmas hymns and killing each other.”

“My idea,” said Tabacca-chewin’ Martin, “would be to sneak out into No Man’s Land about the time their singing is at its best and lob a few bombs into them.”

Lieutenant Basset looked horrified.

“Sure,” said Schwartz. “The colonel would be tickled pink.”

“Would he really?” asked the lieutenant. “He spoke to me rather sharply a couple of days ago about my word of command. If I went out and bombed them while they are singing, he would be pleased, eh?”

“Sure,” chorused the elite of Sixteen platoon, who should have been sleeping at midday instead of gossiping with their new and inquisitive officer.

“And would some of you go with me?” asked Basset.

“We’d all go,” said they.

And like a large, happy child, Lieutenant Basset left them smiling amongst themselves.

It was dark shortly after five o’clock Christmas Eve. And a few lazy flakes of snow were falling to create a little atmosphere of Christmas. But to the shadowy figures who stood-to-arms in that little bit of Hill 70, part of the long line of millions of men who stood facing each other unseen across a wide and unhappy nation, there was little thought of Christmas it was just the same old thing.

In a disused and battered dugout the conspirators of Sixteen were gathered quietly. The Weasel was putting on his Santa Claus suit. A quartet under the leadership of Bunson, the stretcher bearer, were softly practising “Stille nacht, heilige nacht,” which was only the old hymn, “Silent night, holy night,” only with a lot of funny words which the sly and widely travelled Weasel taught them.

“I got two bombs,” said Nifty Smith to the Weasel, “with the detonators took out of them. They’re for Basset. Then, I got hall a dozen pistol shells that I drew the bullets out of, and took out the powder. I’m going to tell him, just before we set out, that I got some new stuff for my pistol and I’ll change these for what is in his gun.”

“Don’t make any mistake about that,” said the Weasel, rather breathlessly. “I don’t want my head blown off by no Basset.”

The Weasel, it was arranged, was to go out at ten o’clock while the quartet lustily sang “Stille nacht” into the still air. He was to be given full hour to get set in a shell hole straight out from the place he went through our wire.

“The reason I want a whole hour,” said the Weasel, “is so there won’t be too much activity. If we all go out within a few minutes of each other, Fritz might notice it and start shooting up our little Christmas pantomime.”

“And at eleven,” said Tobacca-chewin’ Martin, “we’ll come out, crawl straight ahead about twenty yards, until we hear you say Psst! Then we let Basset go on an attack you. Suppose he beats you up?”

“He won’t. I’ll surrender,” said the Weasel. “He’ll be scared stiff and it’ll be me who will lead him back into the trench. But make dead sure his pistol’s a dud.”

Sixteen platoon thought ten o’clock would never come. Every time Lieutenant Basset came through the trench, they held their breath. But about nine-thirty the lieutenant and to Corporal Perry:

“The colonel has sent for me. I won’t be back until ten-thirty or eleven.”

And Sixteen breathed easy.

“His nibs,” said Tobacca-chewin’ Martin to the Weasel where he was concealed in the old ruined dugout, “has been called down to B. H. Q. He won’t be back until half-past ten.”

“I’ll be waiting for you straight out twenty-five yards whenever you come out after eleven,” said the Weasel. He was stiff with excitement.

The Boys are Speechless

At ten o’clock, Sixteen platoon spread itself out to see that no strangers should be in its trench while a comic spectacle appeared: Santa Claus himself, in whiskers and crimson bathrobe and pink fur cap, was hustled through the trench and out over the parapet at the little lane in the wire through which patrols pass into No Man’s Land.

“Start singing,” said Santa Claus breathlessly, “in about five minutes.”

And the quartet drew themselves together and started taking deep breaths.

As Santa Claus faded into the dark there was silence for a moment, broken only by the soft and sudden appearance in their midst of Lieutenant Basset.

“Keep still,” he whispered sharply.

He stepped smoothly on to the firestep and stared after Santa Claus.

Tobacca chewin’ Martin was close to him.

“All right,” said Lieutenant Basset in low whisper. A curiously changed lieutenant; a big, lithe strong lieutenant, from whom all innocence and goofiness had been wiped away as with a rag.

“Take this watch,” said Lieutenant Basset to the stretcher bearer and song leader, Bunson. “In three minutes from the time we go over here, start to sing. Understand? And sing until we come back. Don’t fail!”

His voice was like a Vickers gun.

“Come on, Martin,” said the lieutenant. And with Tobacca-chewin’ right on his heels, the lieutenant pulled himself out of sight over the parapet.

The boy’s stood speechless. But Nifty Smith was the first to swallow.

“Look at that watch,” he warned.

And in moment, the quartet was harmonizing in the finest barber shop manner, “Stille nacht, heilige nacht.”

The music rose as softly into the night as the snow flakes drifted down

At the end of the first verse, there came, faintly and full, from the German trenches, the sound of men’s voices repeating the same tune.

Nifty Smith, Schwartz and the corporal were on the firestep staring tensely into the night.

“Start again!” hissed Nifty, as the far away song ended.

The quartet repeated the verse. “Louder,” said Nifty.

Once again, the Germans repeated the tune back to them, and once more the Bunsen quartet soulfully roared the tune into the night.

But half way through the verse, the watching figures on the firestep flattened to their rifle butts. And then through the gap in the wire came Tobacca chewin’ Martin bent low as he dragged a heavy thing behind him.

The heavy thing was the Weasel. His Santa Claus disguise was gone, and around the Weasel’s mouth was bound white bandage.

Tobacca-chewin’ slid the limp body into the trench and snarled everybody to silence. In silence, he frantically unwound his puttee and with it, he trussed the Weasel from head to foot, and then knelt low to listen to the Wessel’s breathing.

“What’s going on?” demanded Schwartz, at last, out of the gang of silent and startled men.

“Watch out there!” commanded Tobacca-chewin’ fiercely. “We gotta go back, Nifty and you and me, and help Mr. Basset when he comes. Keep up that singing. And see nobody fires, whatever happens. Corporal, Mr. Basset’s orders, see nobody on the flank does any firing. All companies on both rides of us are warned. Just look after our own company.”

“What’s happened to the Wessel?” asked the corporal.

“Detail somebody to watch him. Don’t let him move,” said Tobacca-chewin’. And with a gesture, he led Nifty and Schwartz over the top and out into that still, music-filled darkness that was more terrifying than if it were filled with fire.

Suddenly, into the quiet little twisty trench that was Sixteen’s piece, there arrived a squad, a mob, a regular guard of officers. Below their steel helmets glowed the red and gold gorget patches of the mighty staff. The regimental colonel was with them. One very small, aged officer led them. And they stood looking down at the Weasel.

The harmonious quartet faltered and prepared to vacate this part of the earth for more lowly regions. But the little old man with the snow-white moustache rasped :

“Sing damn it!”

And they sang.

The Big Surprise

The little old man stepped up on the firestep and watched into the night.

Four, five, six times, the quartet repeated their Christmas carol across No Man’s Land, and as many times, it was sung back to them, faintly, by the Germans.

And suddenly, the little old general dropped off the firestep and said: “Here they come!”

Lieutenant Basset came first, low and swift like a great hound. Behind him came Nifty and Schwartz, gripping between them a helpless figure over the head of which had been pulled a sandbag. And his feet dragged like those of one sorely hurt. Last of all came old Tobacca-chewin’ Martin, and they slid into the trench all of a heap.

Lieutenant Basset whipped the sandbag off. And there, bare-headed and speechless with fright and fury, stood a German officer.

“Herr Major Rupprecht,” said Lieutenant Basset. “I beg to introduce number of the general staff of the First Army.”

Herr Major Rupprecht staggered back against the trench wall and raid his hand to the back of his head.

“I — I — gentlemen –” he said, and sat down with a bump on the firestep.

“How did you get him, Basset?” asked the old general.

“Just the way you planned it, sir,” said the lieutenant. “I followed the Weasel, as they call him here, and when he called to the trench where the Germans were singing and got an answer, I slugged him, changed into his Santa Claus costume, went in and met Rupprecht, who was actually waiting in the front line trench, good chap.”

Lieutenant Basset suddenly slugged the Weasel, and proceeded to change into the Santa Claus suit

“I gave him the Weasel’s package. We will presently see what is in it. Then we had a very jolly drink. And I then informed Rupprecht that perhaps he would like, personally, to bring in complete new Stokes mortar of the latest pattern, complete with sample shell, and a couple of other things he would like to have, which I had secreted just outside the wire. For a moment, I feared he was going to send someone else with me. But all at once, visioning, perhaps, a special order pour le Merite, he slapped me on the back and said I was a capital fellow. And like two schoolboys we slipped out of the trench, into No Man’s Land. And then, shaking him by the hand and wishing him good luck until we met again, I clubbed him on the head and here he is.”

“Has he the stuff the Weasel, as you call him, had written for him?” asked the old general.

“I got it out of his pocket, sir. It’s quite a good sized package. Maps in it, too.”

“Who brought the Weasel in?” and the old man.

“This good man, Martin,” said Mr. Basset. “Martin has been in my confidence from the first day I joined this platoon.”

“We shall let Martin hear from us later,” said the old man.

And with Rupprecht walking amongst them, as though he were one of them, the squad of brass hats filed out of the trench. Mr. Basset, before following, shook hands with Martin, Nifty and the others.

“I had only short visit with you, men,” said he, “but I enjoyed it. Good luck to you.”

Behind remained one cold, black-jawed officer.

“Put this man,” said he to Corporal Perry, “on a stretcher and detail a party to carry him out with me.”

They lifted the mummy shape of the Weasel on to a stretcher, hoisted him and followed after the staff.

“Do you know that last guy?” asked Schwartz, as the little remnant of Sixteen stood dazed in their no longer dreary trench. “That’s the provost marshal. I seen him once at a wall party down at Doullens. One of those early morning wall parties.”

The first German shell of the alarm screamed over the trench.

The night across No Man’s Land, the still, holy night, leaped suddenly and frantically to life with flares, Maxims, shells.

And Sixteen, save for Nifty on the Lewis gun, ducked into the earth.


Editor’s Notes: In case it was not clear, Lieutenant Basset (as Provost marshal and in charge of military police), was undercover to catch the Weasel. Jimmie Frise provided the illustrations.

A batman in the military is a soldier assigned to a commissioned officer as a personal servant. This position was much less common after World War One.

A firestep is a built into each trench, cut into its wall some two or three feet from the trench floor. The purpose of the firestep was to enable each occupant of the trench to peer over the side of the trench through the parapet into No Man’s Land in the direction of the enemy trench line.

A puttee is a covering for the lower part of the leg from the ankle to the knee, wrapped like a bandage. This was standard in British and Canadian troops in World War One.

The German officer was perhaps expecting a Pour le Mérite, a German medal or order of merit (despite the French name).

Little Armistice

“He went plunging about in full view of the enemy, stabbing rifles into the mud…

By Gregory Clark, November 6, 1937

Now on the 20th anniversary of Passchendaele it can be told – how a lone man forced the world’s cruelest battle to cease for half an hour

This big armistice we are celebrating next week was not the only armistice. It took all the kings of earth, all the prime ministers, statesmen, the international giants of industry and the super gangsters of blood and fury and the yearning hearts of 400 million people to bring about this armistice now about to enter its twentieth tremulous year.

But the little armistice, that fewer than a thousand Canadians and Germans saw, was staged by only one man.

It lasted 30 minutes. But this one man with his pallid face and his blue chin, had something. Joshua made the sun stand still on Gideon. This one man made the battle of Passchendaele stand still. And because what he had, all men may have, and what he did, any man may do, I would like to tell the tale.

It is true. You will find it recounted in the war records at Ottawa and in the history of the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles. In Schleswig-Holstein and Hanover, Germany, and in Grey county and New Brunswick, there are men who talk of it still, because they were in it.

They saw one man, alone, make Passchendaele stand still; which, in some men’s minds, was a greater feat than Joshua’s.

Passchendaele, you remember, was the titanic end of a greater battle, officially termed the Battle of Ypres, 1917, to distinguish it from all the other battles of Ypres around that shattered city which was the graveyard of an empire.

On July 31, 1917, the British, to keep up the pressure after Vimy, and to upset the Germans, who were rushing whole armies south from Russia, now that Russia had quit, started a major battle out from Ypres. They were going to smash across those Flanders lowlands, only a few feet above sea level, capture the ridges, six miles away, which were the first good ground beyond Ypres, and so relieve the three years’ pressure on that fateful city and salient.

But rain, rain that always has destroyed conquerors and always will, started to fall. That August was the wettest August in history. The plan of battle had to be postponed from day to day, waiting for the rain to cease. It did not cease. The great attack went on. But even indomitable infantry can go no faster than the guns that support it. And the rain and the guns had converted those low flats into a pudding.

Day after day, the attack waited, or tried minor moves; but the rain fell. September, it fell. And the Germans, inspired, suddenly selected all the little hillocks and bits of solid ground, amidst the quagmire, to erect solid concrete field forts, “pill boxes,” one behind the other, slantwise, the fire of each covering its neighbors. In these five-foot thick forts the German machine-gun crews hid while the British barrages reared. And the instant they lifted, the crews dashed out with their guns to the concrete wings and turned their withering fire on the plunging, floundering figures advancing not merely knee deep but often waist deep through the quaking bog. September the rain fell, October. That dreadful quagmire, flat, treeless, featureless save for the low sunk gray shadows of those pill boxes, became a quicksand filled with the bodies of British men from every part of the isles, from Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland – everywhere but Canada. The roads were no more. To move at all, the troops had to lay their wooden bathmats, four abreast, across the bog, and these shelterless paths they called “tracks.”

Not an Ordinary Battle

So 9,000 yards in three months the great attack had penetrated. And on October 26, at 20 minutes to 6 a.m., dark, with lashing rain sweeping the first ridge lifting out of this dire swamp was 2,400 yards ahead. And the Canadians were starting.

To go that 2,400 yards or to retreat 9,000 yards, back across the flats to Ypres again – that was the choice. Winter was at the door.

Our division attacked, that first Canadian day, with only three of its twelve battalions in front. We had behind us all our Third Division artillery, all the New Zealand artillery, the 49th Imperial artillery division, two army brigades of Imperial Field Artillery, the 13th and 70th groups of Heavy Artillery for counter-battery work, the 16th and 62nd Groups of Heavy Artillery for bombardment, and the 1st, 3rd and 6th Canadian Siege Batteries to cap all this immense weight of guns.

Don’t ask an infantryman how those guns got into position amidst the swamp. Don’t ask how a gun can fire aimed shots on a platform of quaking bog. But there behind three narrow-fronted battalions lost in the outermost sea of mud, were all those guns.

Trenches did not exist. Where those shelterless tracks of bathmats ended the troops took to the mud and move their forward way, in the night and eternal rain, amidst the water-full shell holes, across swollen brooks that flooded far and wide. Waist deep, they waded and foundered. Instead of trenches, they found little disconnected series of shell holes joined together, wherever a slight mound or a suggestion of dryness presented itself to those who had gone before. No landmarks showed. The furtive guides sent back to lead the platoons into their battle positions got lost. It was 5 a.m. of the 26th of October, 10 minutes before zero hour that the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles were all in position.

Ahead of them, Germans in concrete pill boxes, waiting. German cannon mased on the dry ridges of Passchendaele.

It was, of course, dark, when at 20 minutes to 6 a.m., all that British, New Zealand and Canadian artillery burst loose behind them.

The pauses between the 100-yard lifts of the barrage were 10 minutes. In ordinary battles, that pause is three or four minutes. But even 10 minutes was far too short a time for men to go the 100-yard dashes through that dark slime. Men swam. Men started only to have to return and seek a new path around some deeper bog. Men lightly wounded by the intense German bombardment that immediately broke loose sank and were smothered in the mud. The pill boxes blazed and laid the regiment in windrows. To add horror upon horror, both flanks were left open when the Canadian brigade on the right and the Imperial naval brigade on the left, were driven back, leaving the regiment enfiladed by pill boxes from both sides as well as in front. Yet when 10 a.m. came, four hours after the start of this incredible business, the 4th C.M.R. were 500 yards into the enemy, pill boxes had fallen to individuals like 17-year-old Tommy Holmes, V.C.; and the 1st, 2nd and 5th C.M.R., the fellow battalions of the brigade, were thrust forward, backing up the attacking battalion, squaring the flanks, filling the holes.

Scattered all over the front, the remnants of the battalion, isolated from one another but holding savagely on, saw, at noon, the magnificent performance of Captain Christopher O’Kelly. V.C., and Colonel W. W. Foster, of the 52nd Battalion, leading their men through a storm of fire to capture the first faint rise of ground that led on 2,000 yards to Passchendaele. This brought the right flank up. The Germans, fearful of that foothold on dry ground, began intense bombardments and counter attacks, but by 2.30 p.m., eight and a half hours from that start before the dawn, both flanks were level with the C.M.R.; and there they were, 500 yards deep. Four officers only, out of the 21 who started, were unhit; eight were killed, nine wounded. And 304 non-commissioned officers and men were killed, wounded or missing. Two of the battalion’s majors were dead.

An Astonishing Silence

But now, on the high ground, the Germans were beginning to catch their breath and realize that at last, after three months, and acres 9,000 yards, their enemy was within touching distance of solid earth and a ridge beyond which the Germans would have no direct view of that broad Ypres plain. The fury began to grow again. Now began the worst part of a battle, the holding.

It was about 3 p.m. that he was first noticed.

A familiar figure. Sturdy his helmet tilted curiously forward over his eyes.

He was surely the unlikeliest figure to be expected in such a place, in such a bloody slime and sea. He should have been back at the wagon lines, in the Canal Bank, in far-off Ypres. He was the padre.

Rev. W. H. Davis, the man who made the battle of Passchendaele stand still for half an hour.

Dramatize padres as we may have, the fact remains that the normal place to look for a chaplain is not in the middle of a battle. In the front line, frequently, yes. But this 4th C.M.R. chaplain, the Rev. W. H. Davis, was a little odd. He more or less lived in the front line.

And here he was, about 3 p.m. of the afternoon, floundering around right in the open, in full view of the enemy, in advance of the newly established line, acting in a very queer manner.

He had a handkerchief tied to his walking stick. Padres are not allowed to bear arms, by international law. Holding his stick up and waving it every time a blast of fire came near him, he went plunging about, bending and straightening, and stabbing rifles into the mud.

If it was a German wounded, he hung a German helmet on the gun butt. If Canadian, a Canadian helmet.

Men shouted to him to come in out of that. The heavens were about to break.

Aye, they were. In a funny way.

Serenely, the padre continued to quarter the dreadful ground this way, that way, while the crumps hurled in and the machine-guns stuttered and filled the air with their stomach-turning zipp and whisper.

One major caught the padre’s ear. Through the crumps, the padre waded over.

“I was getting anxious about you!” he cried.

They held him there a little while until, unnoticed, he slipped away, and appeared, far to the right, dipping and foundering, and setting up that ever-growing ragged chain of rifle butts, helmets aloft.

Small parties of his own men tried to reach him or to carry in one of the wounded he marked. But they were flattened with enemy machine-gun fire. The padre beckoned nobody. He called no man, Canadian or German, though he passed close to both. He simply stuck up the rifles, hung the helmets, and left them mutely there.

Then the heavens opened. But with silence. With a sudden gathering lull. Shellfire ceased. Machine-guns died, all across that narrow C.M.R. belt. To north, to south, the fury raged. But out from this solitary figure, resolutely plowing his zigzag course in the horror, there radiated a queer paralysis.

In a matter of minutes, silence grew. It was as if the sun stood still. As if the whole mad world were abashed. And there, all alone in the middle of the silence, walked the solitary figure, bending rising and stabbing rifles into the earth.

From the Canadian side figures crouched up, ventured forward. From the German side men rose. Where an instant before had been a three-year-old hate, grappled in its most tragic force, were men awkwardly and cautiously advancing, empty-handed, to meet one another. They ran to their own maskers, the helmets, German or Canadian. Some of the Canadians were far over amidst the Germans. Some of the wounded Germans lay back of the Canadian outposts. Canadians began to carry the Germans forward.

Padre Davis went and stood on the ruined remnants of a pill box, a few vast hunks of concrete. Aloft, he stood and beckoned the parties to him. He had established a clearing house.

They traded wounded. Enemy hands touched enemy hands. From German arms Canadian arms took wounded Canadians, tenderly. Cigarettes were offered. In amazement, enemy looked on enemy and grinned shyly. But with imperative signals and shouts, the padre bade them hurry. Waste no time. Garner in the sheaves.

For nearly 30 minutes this armistice maintained. And from back, thousand men stood and watched in astonishment.

Then, a mile away, some artillery observing officer, through his glasses, beheld the target. He could make out enemy uniforms. Yes, it must be enemy. Clustered, right in the open. What folly.

Aye, what folly. There is always an artillery observer, afar, not seeing, not hearing, not knowing.

Shells came whistling. The chaplain leaped down off his perch and commanded them all to run. Figures crouched and plunged homeward. The silence vanished in a rising mutter. In three minutes the whole dreadful business was in full roar again. And the dark came down, and the sons of God were all huddled in the foul swamp again, under the rain and the low Flanders sky, and the shriek and crack and stutter of night.

The 4th C.M.R. was relieved the next day and went away back to recruit and rebuild itself. Padre Davis was a week late in catching up with us. It took him the week to seek and find and consecrate as many of our dead as still showed a bit of themselves up in the bog. For, as you know, in two more attacks the Canadians went the full 2,400 yards and took Passchendaele and beyond, and handed it over safe and sound for the winter.

They pinned on him the M.C. when he arrived back. He put it on much as Dr. Livingstone would have put on some pagan ornament given him by the Congo savages. He was Dr. Livingstone, we were pagans. He was sane. We were a thousand lunatics.

An Order All to Himself

With his pallid, blue-jawed face, Padre Davis remains an eternal image in the memory of every 4th C.M.R. man. His pale gray eyes wide in innocent dismay and astonishment. He had the body of a man, the heart and mind of a child. He knew no fear. What we called courage – and hung decorations on him for it – he regarded with sheer amusement. He had something deeper. As preacher, with his thick Irish brogue and lilt, we could hardly understand a word he said. Even the passage from Revelations that ends the burial service – and surely we ought to know that by heart – sounded foreign as he lilted it. He had come out from Ireland as a missionary to some little Anglican Church in Alberta.

Canadian veterans will remember such scenes as this … guns being taken through shell-wrecked villages to the front lines.

But he was a queer one. He consorted with publicans and sinners. He deliberately sought out all the blacklegs in the battalion, the drunks, the gamblers, the blasphemers, the timid, the fearful, and sat with them, by day and by night, in the trenches. He carried around haversacks of secret treasures which we who loved him most accused him of having stolen somewhere, and these he gave to the least worthy.

He wheedled patrols out of sentimental platoon officers in order to go ghouling around in No Man’s Land to seek and bury fliers, British or German, it did not matter, who fell flaming between the lines; and there, before the abashed patrol guarding him, he would kneel, helmet laid aside, in the wind and the night, speaking softly from a little open book which he could not see in the dark; and in the morning the Germans would be astonished to see, in No Man’s Land, a fresh grave and a new cross shining.

We tried to keep him. The colonel thought up special duties for him, that would detain him at the wagon lines. He was not encouraged to spend his time up in the front trenches. His friends, both officers and privates, reasoned with him. He listened to all our importunities with earnest, wide stare, as if trying so hard to understand our point of view. We told him he was becoming a moral hazard; if anything happened to him, it would ruin the morale of us all. He just laughed. He buried a hundred or two of us. He was so mad, so lawless, so childish and irresponsible, that when, ten months later, we came to the Battle of Amiens, the Colonel favored Captain Davis with a special, personal order. Not merely a mention in operation orders. An order all to himself.

“From the O.C.

4th C.M.R.

To Captain W. H. Davis, M.C. Chaplain, 4th C.M.R

“During the coming engagement you will please remain at the battalion wagon lines at Boves Wood until you receive from the commanding officer a written order to come forward.”

At broad noon, we swept, almost a battalion in line, like in Wellington’s time, out of Le Quesnel to go, across a lovely August plateau of waving wheat, to Folies, 1,000 yards ahead.

About the middle of the line, stiff and straight, was Padre Davis, turning his head to right, to left, watching where they fell.

When enough had fallen he turned and ran back to the brick wall of the chateau in Le Quesnel and led out the bandsmen, who acted as stretcher-bearers in battle.

Leading them, pointing to where the boys had fallen, a shell struck at his feet.

And from his top left-hand breast pocket, the one the little purple and white ribbon was over, as we laid him number one in the long grave with Lieut. John McDonald and twelve men of the regiment, in Le Quesnel Catholic cemetery, though they were all Protestants, we took that same order, at the bottom of which the padre had written in pencil:

“Orders is orders.”

Whose orders?


Editor’s Note: The 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles was the unit that Greg Clark belonged to in the First World War.

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