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.
“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?”
“To eat mice and insecks?”
“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.”
“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.
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.
“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.”
“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).
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.
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.
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.
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:
“Nothing,” I said. “I can’t seem to get going since that article by Charles.”
“That was only meant in fun,” said the editor
“It may be, but I’ve had to shave off my moustache, borrow $500 to pay a lot of debts, answer a lot of letters and generally clean up. I haven’t had time to do any work.”
“Why,” asked the editor, “not take your revenge?”
“Charles is bigger than me.”
“I mean,” said the editor, “take your revenge by writing one about Charles. Revenge is sweet.”
“He wouldn’t stand for it,” said I. “He’s funny that way.”
The editor and I leaned out and looked through the door at Charles. He was sitting at his desk, close up to it, his back very straight. Charles looks at everything with the same expression. You can’t tell whether the thing he is reading is a cheque from his brokers or vice versa. He even reads his own stories with perfect emotional control. In all the time he has been with us he has never been known to stop the rest of the office working while he read aloud a few choice sentences.
“Not a very promising looking prospect,” said I.
“Every man is vain,” the editor mused. “Charles is probably no different. Go at him by stealth. Don’t let on you are going to interview him. But if he suspects anything his vanity may overcome his suspicions.”
“Yeah, but,” said I, “what will I interview him on? He hasn’t got any weaknesses, therefore you can’t describe his character.”
“Eh?’ said the editor.
“And he hasn’t got any hobbies, so you can’t make fun of him.”
“Don’t be bitter,” the editor said.
“He’s one of those cold-minded men that nobody could interview but himself. You know the kind of people Charles interviews? I’d sooner go out and interview Scarborough Bluffs.”
“You are afraid of Charles,”
“Say, listen …”
I got up and walked out to Charles. He was reading something. It looked like the annual report of a bank or something.
“Good morning, Greg,” he replied, looking up politely.
“Say, Charles, you ought to have some kind of sport. You ought to fish or shoot or something.”
“Why? Don’t I look well?”
“Yes, you look all right. But I don’t like to see a man who hasn’t any hobby.”
“I have. I play golf.”
No Angle of Approach
“Gosh. It’s the first I ever heard of it. I never heard you even speak of golf.”
“Why should I?”
“Well, what I mean to say … a fellow might … what I mean to say, you hear me mention fishing now and then.”
“Your fishing wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t hear about it,” said Charles.
The trouble with interviews is you are liable to get into arguments.
“We’ll let that pass,” I said. “How about your golf? What’s your handicap?”
“It’s a delicate subject,” replied Charles.
“Sure, but I’m interested, Charles. Just as a friend, you understand? This is very interesting about you. Suddenly coming across a thing like that. Tell me something about it.”
“What shall I tell you?”
“Well, for instance, about golf. Which is your favorite golf stick?”
Charles has an inscrutable way of gazing at you. He began to tap the paper he was reading ever so gently on his desk. Then a smile slowly spread all over his face. And he just looked at me and said nothing. Not a word.
“I’ve been decent with you,” I said. “I’ve told you all about fishing. You might tell me about golf. I’d like to hear about golf. Maybe I’d like to play it if it was a good game.”
Charles continued to smile.
“Ask some of the other boys,” said he. “Bill Orr or Deacon Johnson know far more about it than I do.”
“Oh, well,” said I.
I went back into what is generally called the editor’s sanctum.
“No luck,” I said. “Revenge may be sweet, but this is sour.”
“Well, you don’t expect to get an interview in three minutes, do you?”
“No,” I said. “But there isn’t any angle of approach. I tried to get him going on sport. He plays golf.”
“Certainly,” said the editor. “The way to Interview him is to go and play a game of golf with him.”
“I’d drop dead before I’d ever take a golf stick in my hand.”
“Take him to lunch then. That’s the way he interviews the big fellows. Lunch or a golf game.”
“Who? Henry Ford and Al Smith and all those fellows?”
“That’s the way he gets them,” said the editor. “They’re all human, after all.”
“Charles isn’t,” said I.
“Well, then, work him this way. Tell him you are going to interview somebody and ask him how he goes about it. It would make an interesting story. The public like to know how you go about interviewing these big men.”
“But,” said I, “I don’t want to play him up. I want to get my revenge on him. I want to describe his character.”
“Won’t that show when you tell how he gets the facts out of men like Hoover and Big Bill Thompson of Chicago?”
A Psychological Gunman
“I suppose I could make him out a sort of a gunman.”
“Sure,” said the editor. “A dandy heading, ‘Psychological Gunman.'”
“You would spoil it!”
“Don’t give up. Revenge is sweet,” the editor egged me on. “Get after him. You can pry him open.”
“With a brad awl. Like an oyster,” said I.
I walked out to Charles again. He had a pink slip in his hand. It looked like the second notice from the electric light company. But Charles was viewing it with the same composure with which he would regard a complimentary memo from the chief.
“Good morning again,” said he.
“I’ve got a big interview I’ve got to do. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind giving me some ideas about interviewing big men.”
“Are you kidding?” asked Charles.
“Certainly not. You’re the interview man. I never do interviews.”
“Then why not let me interview this fellow? Who is he?” asked Charles.
“No, the editor has asked me to get this interview and I couldn’t very well pass it up, could I? But tell me, what’s your method of approaching these big fellows?”
“Usually on foot,” Charles replied.
“But seriously, Charles. There is surely some technique about it. Do you write them first? Do you make appointments and so forth, and arrive in some ceremony?”
“Yes, I hire the town band and get a bunch of the boys to make a torchlight procession.”
“I wish you’d help me, Charles. I’ve often helped you. Remember the time I introduced you to the police sergeant?”
“Well, then, what do you want?”
“I want to know how you go about interviewing these nabobs, these moguls of finance and industry and politics.”
“All right,” said Charles. “You walk into the room. They ask you to sit down. They offer you a cigar. You don’t take it. You talk to them. They talk to you. You look at your watch. In twenty-five minutes your train is leaving. You apologize, rise, shake, hands and depart. That is an interview.”
“But what about technique?”
“It is all bunk.”
“How do you analyze them? How do you arrive at an estimate of their character?”
“No man reaches a high place in any work whose character has not been made manifest.”
“Then interviews are easy?”
“Easy as rolling off a log,” said Charles.
“I disagree with you.” I retorted, and walked back into the editor’s room.
“Well?” asked the editor.
“Bad,” said I. “Think of all the years Charles and I have been friends, working on the same jobs, sharing our toothbrushes and so forth, and now he turns to me the frozen face.”
“Maybe he is on to you. If Charles is nothing else he is shrewd.”
“I have been very guarded.”
The Art of Interviewing
“Well, do what he did to you, then,” said the editor. “Ask him all about his views on Canada as a nation and whether we should have a governor-general.”
“We couldn’t possibly print Charles’ views on that sort of thing.”
“That’s right. But didn’t you get anything out of him on the art of interviewing?”
“He said it was nothing.”
“We know better.”
“Yeah, but how can you describe the character of a man who says to you that the art of interviewing is all bunk?”
“Well,” said the editor quietly, “that’s kind of a character sketch in itself.”
“I don’t want to leave a good impression like that,” I said. “He’s got to get his.”
“Well,” said the editor, “he’s a worker. You know that. Make him out a regular steam engine for work. The public likes to think of other people working like the dickens. It explains the general failure.”
“Then I’ll make out that Charles is nothing but a toiler. A kind of robot. A mechanical man. That’s the stuff.”
“All right,” said the editor, “get him to tell you how he got on top of that stuff about the St. Lawrence waterways. There was a job.”
Once again I crossed the room to Charles
“Ah,” said he. “Welcome. You seem a little restless this morning.”
“Say, Charles, a fellow was asking me the other day how you got around all that material about the St. Lawrence waterways, how you went about it, and so forth. By golly, I couldn’t tell him. I wish you’d tell me some time the story of how you go about getting a grasp on subjects like that – technical and involved and complex.”
“It is work,” said Charles. “You wouldn’t understand that.”
“Charles, you are being nasty?”
“No, I am being careful.”
“Look here, Charles, you don’t suspect me of anything, do you?”
“Well, I mean to say, we’ve been friends long time. We’ve slept in the snow together and ridden in aeroplanes together and been summer bachelors together and all that sort of thing.”
“Granted,” said Charles.
“We’ve banged around all these years together in the unhappy business of amusing and entertaining the public, getting frozen in Elk Lake and attending functions that made us both sick, risking our lives and going hungry together …”
“You got the big half of that porcupine,” interrupted Charles. “But what are you driving at?”
“Well, then, Charles, why don’t you help me? I want you to tell me some things about you?”
“You asked me my object in life and I told you.”
“So you did.”
“Then will you tell me your object in life?”
“Yes. My object in life is to have a large bathroom with a fireplace in it.”
Well, what I mean to say, what can you do with a man like that!
Editor’s Notes: This is a story about Charles Vining, a fellow reporter at the Star Weekly. He was only at the Star Weekly for three years, with this year, 1928, as his last.
One thing the father of a first born infant must beware of is an alarm clock.
Those first few weeks when a young man is making the acquaintance of his first child are fraught with many difficulties. For one thing, he need expect no sympathy or understanding from anybody connected with his household. However enthusiastic he may be, everything he does will be wrong. But of all things in this dark, blundering and difficult time, let him put not his trust in alarm clocks.
A certain young man recently was presented with a large and lusty son. It might be said right at the start that from the moment of the arrival of this remarkable small son the poor young father entered on a career of unparalleled and unenlightened blunder.
The first thing he did was to rush down town and buy a beautiful blue enamel and gold locket, heart shaped.
This, with sundry gladioli, roses, zinnias, marigolds, candies, all-day suckers, rattles, dolls, horses, and teething rings, he bore triumphantly and proudly to the hospital.
Several female relations on both sides of the family, various nurses, hospital officials, and other people of the indignant sex were grouped around the sanctum where his new son lay.
Of course, they did not notice his approach. In fact, they had not been aware of his existence all day. They had told him of the arrival of his son merely as an afterthought.
The poor young man stood there, proud, smiling eagerly, yearning to be recognized as a party to this great event. The ladies were cooing and exclaiming, oblivious to his presence. So the father produced the blue locket on its chain, and advanced with an air of proprietorship to hang it about the neck of his son.
The cries of the multitude, when they beheld what he was about to do, filled the whole hospital. The young father was well nigh done to death by the infuriated ladies. A nurse threatened him with a chloroform pad.
It appears that heart-shaped lockets are for girls, and girls only. To present a boy with a locket is considered the most deadly of insults!
But who was to tell the young father that beforehand? Nobody! Nobody cared.
Now the young man is kept in fear and trembling by all his relations, who threaten to tell his wife all about it as soon as she is up and about. And he has hidden the locket, the horses, the candy bulls-eyes, and the teething rings in his desk at the office.
A book of hints to young fathers should certainly be written. The etiquette, for instance, of the drawing-room is a bagatelle to the etiquette of the nursery. When a father, beholding his first born son for the first time, sees him lying helplessly on his side, his little face pressed on the hard, flat mattress and crying fit to explode, nothing could be more natural for the father to do than to try to set the little fellow up on end and make interesting faces to amuse him. But it is astonishing the way every body will jump on him if he tries it.
Then again, they don’t feed a baby till it is two or three days old. Ordinary people may believe this is right. But you can’t expect a father to believe it, when he sees his child desperately trying to eat its own little hands.
This young man I speak of brought up a couple of egg sandwiches and a few arrowroot biscuits in his pocket the second day, intending to sneak them surreptitiously to his son. But the nurse caught him, and ejected him with violence from the room. They simply won’t trust you at all.
It is when the baby arrives home from hospital that the real trials begin, and young fathers should be warned of this period.
The last thing the nurse tells you at hospital is not to “spoil” the baby. If it cries, don’t pick it up. If you pick it up it will learn to cry until you do pick it up. Of course, if you think it has a pain you can pick it up for a moment–
In the case I speak of, the baby slept all day and all evening of its first day home. But at midnight it opened up. Naturally, it was in pain. Father, mother, and maternal grandmother All took turns till dawn in relieving its pain. The minute it was laid down it was in pain. The minute it was picked up and sung hymns to its pain departed.
After two nights of this, the father stated it was his opinion that the baby was not in pain, but was, in short, in danger of being spoiled.
In vain he quoted nurses. He might as well have been a murderer. What little respect for him was left in his family’s eyes was by this statement dissipated into thin air.
Now comes the alarm clock. This young man wound up his trusty, old alarm clock and set it for two o’clock in the morning, the baby’s halfway feeding time.
To the ladies of the household he said:
“Retire. I will keep watch. I will let him cry little, before lifting him, to see if he won’t stop of himself. And don’t worry about the time. I have set my alarm clock for two. I will get up and bring the baby in.”
This speech, delivered with a dignity and an air of authority, did much to restore the prestige he had lost in recent weeks.
Now, this is what happened. At two o’clock the baby was in his mother’s arms, and had been there for some hours. Maternal grandma was sitting rocking into the small hours. Father lay in the adjoining room sound asleep on his couch.
Suddenly the alarm clock bursts forth. It rings and rings. Even the baby’s cries are stilled by it.
Father moves drowsily. He reaches out and turns off the alarm, and with comfortable snuggle sinks again into profound slumber.
And in the other lighted room, grandma and mother and baby look significantly at each other, in silence.
To what greater depths of ignominy can that father fall? Betrayed by sleep and an alarm clock, he let his little son go hang! Go starve!
He will not hear the end of that. It matters not that the family all was and the baby warm and cuddled.
It to the spirit, not the performance, that counts, that cuts.
Editor’s Note: This is one of a number of stories Greg wrote about in the early 1920s about being a father.
For twenty years three men have been waiting to talk back to their sergeant-major. At the Canadian Corps Reunion they get their chance
“What’s he mean, dumb insolence?” demanded Pte. Billings. “The old buzzard.”
“Dumb insolence,” explained Pte. Budd, this being in an estaminet near the village of Gouy-Servins in the year 1918, “dumb insolence is a sergeant-major’s pet crime. It means, you give him a dirty look. You didn’t say anything. You just looked it. So he crimes you. He has you up before the colonel for dumb insolence.”
“He can’t prove it, though,” interjected the third gravel crusher, Pte. Andrews. “He can’t have you up before the colonel and say, he had a dirty look on his face. He can’t do that.”
“Oh, yes he can,” said Pte. Billings, bitterly. “A sergeant-major can do anything.”
“I can’t go on,” said Pte. Budd darkly. “It can’t go on, boys. If the people back home knew what we were being subjected to over here. It isn’t the shell fire. It isn’t the mud and the lice. isn’t the lousy food. It’s the way we’re bullied and humiliated and shamed. Think of it. Three guys like us, three free-born Canadian citizens. And that blankety-blank old sergeant-major with his airs. You’d think we were dirt.”
“Why can’t we go before the colonel,” demanded Pte. Andrews, “and state our case? Why can’t we ask to be paraded before the colonel and tell him straight. Tell him, colonel, our lives are being ruined by this bloody old sergeant-major. He ought to be sent back to England, where he belongs. Around some parade ground in Shorncliffe, puffing and swelling, that’s where he belongs, not out here in France, with men.”
“We could ask the colonel,” expanded Pte. Budd, “how he expects to have any morale in this regiment, if he is going to let loose a vicious old rooster like the sergeant-major on us. Here we come out of the line, and right away, our lives are made hell.”
“The one reason I prefer being in the trenches,” contributed Pte. Billings, “is that you never lay eyes on that old buzzard. He sticks deep in the headquarters dugout for the whole trip. You never hear his voice, roaring like a bull. There he hides, sweet and soft and never making a sound for fear somebody will notice him and send him up the communication trenches.”
“And then,” took up Pte. Andrews, “the minute we come out of the line, oh, boy.”
“Yeah,” joined in Pte. Budd, “the night of the relief, when we are about three miles back, you begin to hear him. Faintly. Just a little bellow or two. Then, at four miles, he begins to really tune up. Hear him bellow. Hear him roar. And when we come into the village, there he is, standing at the crossroads, swollen up like an inner tube, roaring like a fog horn, pick ’em up, pick ’em up, make it lively there, you tramps.”
“Do you know what he called me, once?” asked Pte. Billings, pitifully. “He called me a hooligan.”
“He once said I looked like something,” chimed Pte. Budd, “that had been dug up by accident.”
“Hmmm,” said Pte. Andrews bitterly, gazing around the crowded estaminet where nine men were sitting at each of the tables for four, and a shabby mamselle was hurrying with glass pitchers of watery French beer. “I wonder we put up with it. Maybe the reason he never shows up, in the line, is that he is afraid he might get a shot in the back. There isn’t a man in this regiment that wouldn’t take a shot at him if he got the chance.”
“No shooting,” said Pte. Billings. There is enough shooting around here without any body having to shoot anybody in the back. He’ll get it one of these days. Mark my words. Things like that can’t go on forever. There is justice. He’ll get it. When he least expects it. Some day, in the deepest dugout, one of those rubber-tired shells with the long noses is going to go right through and hit him. Or maybe, when he’s standing as usual so big and important back in some safe village, some airplane is going to come over and drop a bomb square on top of him, right in the middle of one of his roars.”
“Couldn’t we send an anonymous letter to the colonel?” begged Pte. Andrews. “They’d never know who sent it. Just itemize a few of his worst deeds.”
“Today was the worst,” moaned Billings. “Us just walking along the street to this estaminet, and him standing there, with his stick under his arm, all pulled up like a telegraph pole, his mustache sticking out and that horrible grin on his face.”
“‘Well, my pretty soldiers, he says,'” recounted Pte. Andrews, “‘and where might you be going with no belts on and your tunics unbuttoned and your puttees put on like the wrappings on an Egyptian corpse?’ he says.”
“‘You’re filthy,’ he says,” remembered Pte. Budd. “‘You’re foul and you’re unclean.’ he says. ‘Your hair looks like a goat we once captured from the Afridis in the campaign of 1897. And you smell.'”
“Why shouldn’t we smell?” enquired Andrews. “Eighteen days in the line. Him, he had his nice little bath every morning in his deep dugout.”
“With water that should have been sent up for us, drinking water,” cried Budd.
“Goats,” grated Billings.
“And when we so much as looked at him,” said Andrews. “he roars, ‘Don’t look at me like that, my lads, or I’ll have you up for dumb insolence,’ he says.”
“Smell,” muttered Budd. “Wait till this war’s over. I’ve got it all worked out in my mind. I know what I’m going to do, after the war. I’m going to find that old buzzard, if it takes me years.”
“I’m going to lay for him,” echoed Andrews, “if I have to travel from Halifax to Vancouver.”
“Let’s form a pact,” said Billings. “Let’s form a secret society. The minute we’re out of uniform, we’ll start hunting for the old vulture. We’ll catch him and set him down on a chair. Then we take turns, like Heinies diving on an R.E.8, at telling him off. We’ll call him all the things he called us and all the things we have called him behind his back. We’ll tell him what the troops really thought of him, the big yellow belly. Taking advantage of his rank.”
“We’ll probably find him cleaning spittoons in some dirty little Montreal joint,” mused Buddy happily.
“Wherever we find him,” said Andrews, “we’ll take him and we’ll crucify him and we’ll call him down for hours until we can’t think of anything more to say and then we’ll beat him up.”
“That’s it,” agreed Budd, furiously. “We’ll just slap the starch right out of that silly mustache, and we’ll make him get down on his knees and beg our pardon. We’ll beat the tar out of him.”
“We’ll clip off his mustache,” said Billings.
And in the hum and din of the estaminet, the three sat, heads close together, a faraway and happy expression on their stubbled countenances.
“He pinches our rum,” muttered Andrews. “Every night in the line, each company, in rotation, loses one jar of rum, mysteriously.”
“It’s the only duty roster the old beggar keeps,” said Budd. “Which company’s turn is it tonight to lose one jar of rum out of their rations?”
“Don’t let’s forget.” said Billings, as a party of half a dozen newcomers burst in the estaminet door and started rowdily towards their table. “Don’t let us forget about after the war. If only one of us gets out, he promises the others that he’ll hound that old devil and get him and get him good.”
“It’s a promise,” agreed Andrews and Budd, reaching out dirty rough hands and clasping them across the stained table.
And then the newcomers dragged up chairs around the crowded little table and somebody started a new line of conversation. It was about that lousy old yellow belly, the sergeant-major.
Twenty years later, almost to the week, the day and the hour, Billings, Andrews and Budd are standing flushed and happy near the Prince of Wales gate of the Toronto Exhibition grounds. Age has not withered them, nor custom staled. Except for their bright blue berets and their clean though sweaty clothes, and a certain ripeness of feature that has developed, they are easily recognizable, here in their late 40’s, as the three lads that sat in the estaminet in Gouy-Servins, long ago in their middle 20’s.
Andrews has come from Edmonton, Budd from Newmarket and Billings is a Toronto boy, born, bred and bound. He has the Toronto look.
They have met by long appointment. They have been exchanging letters now for six months, ever since last January, when the big corps reunion was first mooted. They have been together now since Wednesday night, when Andrews arrived from the west and was met at the station by his two cronies.
They have been up to visit the two families, Budd’s and Billings’, where they stopped briefly and awkwardly and withstood the ironic stare of several children in their teens, and drank a lot of tea and ate a lot of pie. But they hurried back down town, where they sought out tables in dim places where they could lean far out on their elbows and set their berets at silly angles and unbutton the top button of their trouser bands, and tangle their feet, in an old fashioned way around the legs of their chairs.
“Somebody saw him yesterday,” said Billings, “right here. They said he came marching along him, with his beret and looking as sergeant-majory as ever, with his stick under his arm, pacing 120 to the minute and glaring fiercely at everybody, as if he was trying to recognize some of his old battalion.”
“Has he got nerve?” said Budd.
“He must be near 70 now,” said Andrews.
“Boy,” breathed Billings, “will it be a treat to see him.”
“Remember, now,” cautioned Budd. “Polite. No rough stuff. We’ll just gang up around him, very politely. We’ll be so glad to see him. And when we get him off by ourselves, we’ll let go.”
“Huh, huh, huh,” chortled Budd.
As If Old Muscles Stirred
They stood in the throng, now and then darting out to grab a passer-by and draw him into the group for a few minutes of pawing and back-slapping and laughter and bending over with glee. But the three never relaxed for an instant their watchful survey of the multitude in the colorful berets and the badges and medals and canes and pennants, milling in for the afternoon ceremonies.
“It’s him,” shouted Budd, suddenly, and all three leaped to tip-toe. “Look. On the grass over there, walking with his arm swinging away up.”
“Old Hatchet Puss,” breathed Andrews, as in prayer.
And the three, elbowing and tip-toe, thrust their way across the pavement in a wild scurry.
They reached the grass sward and curved, like hunting harriers, around ahead of their prey.
“Hello, sergeant-major,” said Billings, heartily.
The sergeant-major halted, clicked his heels, snapped his stick up under his armpit, and glared at the three.
“Let’s see,” he roared. “Who is this?”
“You remember me, Billings, B company?” said Billings.
“Billings?” bellowed the sergeant-major fiercely. “And who’s this?”
He threw his stick from under his armpit and pointed it scornfully at Andrews and Budd.
“Budd, sir,” said Budd.
“Andrews, major,” said Andrews.
They stood at attention, as if they couldn’t help it. As if old muscles stirred within them, forgotten muscles of the back, the thighs, the neck.
“Well, I’m damned,” barked the sergeant-major. “Billings, Budd and Andrews. Well, well. well. I’m delighted to see you.”
He snapped the stick up under his armpit again, and taking a smart pace forward, shoved his hand out at them as if it were a salute halted midway to the cap brim, fingers extended, palm turned out, tip of the middle finger….
The three stepped one pace forward, clicked and shook hands violently.
“Where have you come from? Where do you live?” roared old Hatchet Puss, in a voice like a ship’s whistle. “Are you married? Are you all working? Have you any children? Tell me all about yourselves!”
They started, but old Hatchet Puss interrupted them violently with a wave of his stick.
“What are you doing now?” he barked. “You look a little seedy. Have you been hanging about in beer parlors? What’s the matter with you? Straighten your beret, What’s Your Name. A little less on the back of your head. You wear it the way an old lady wears a bonnet. Are you enjoying yourselves?”
They were all in the midst of admitting they were enjoying themselves immensely when the sergeant-major roared:
“You’re coming up to tea. I brought my old lady down with me to visit my son during the reunion and I promised to bring her up some of the old battalion for tea. Fall in.”
There was a moment of indecision, a sort of flicker, as when a flock of blackbirds seems to lose direction for an instant, but then catches itself again.
“We’ll march to my son’s car,” barked the sergeant-major heartily. “I’ve got him waiting over here.”
“By the left,” roared the sergeant-major, dressing him, as of old.
The old boy got to the side and extended his stick to tap Andrews back into line, “queeeeeeek march!”
And he marking, they marched across the grass, left inclined, right inclined, marked time, wheeled, and then in column of threes advanced upon a motor car in which a huge young man, looking very much like the old man, sat grinning at the wheel.
“Halt,” roared the sergeant-major. “Left turn.”
Andrews and Budd and Billings filed into the back seat.
“Meet my son,” shouted the sergeant-major.
In the car, as they drove rapidly out of the multitude, the sergeant-major gave a brief account of himself.
“Returned to my old job,” he stated, loudly. “Bank messenger. Pensioned off three years ago. Live in a nice little cottage 20 miles out of town.”
One by one, with shouted questions, brief and businesslike, he queried the boys as to where they lived, how many children, what kind of jobs.
“Ah,” he roared, “it’s great to see my old boys a success.”
They pulled up in front of a pleasant little house. They marched in the side drive and into a garden where an old lady sat in a chair, a gentle little old lady.
They were paraded before her, column of threes, wheeled, halted, dressed by the right and then the nominal roll was called.
Tea was brought. Tea and tea biscuits and jam and white cheese.
“These were the men,” roared the old sergeant-major, “these were the men, mother, that made the victory possible.”
He slapped them on the shoulders. He got up and marched into the house for the cigars and cigarettes.
Andrews leaned one shoulder against a tree while Budd and Billings sat forward in their chairs.
“He’s a grand old man,” said Andrews confidentially to the old lady. “He was a father to us, in the war.”
“If it hadn’t been for him,” said Budd, “we’d have been like a lot of hoboes, I’m afraid.”
And when Billings saw the old sergeant-major coming out the back door balancing a tray of cigar and cigarette boxes, he leaped up:
“Let me give you a hand, major.”
And until the old man got his fill of them, they sat recounting the old days, while the old lady swung her gaze ever back, with pride and tenderness to her man; and finally he jumped up and barked:
“All right, lads, be off with you. Don’t get slack. Watch those berets. Wear them as I wear mine. Look! And listen to me: Square your shoulders. Try to look like men, not sandbags.”
And he allowed them the luxury of marching at ease out of the garden and even permitted them to slump into the son’s car, who drove them back down to the Exhibition grounds where they wandered easy in their minds amidst the multitude, having buried an enemy.
Editor’s Notes: On July 30, 31, and August 1, a reunion of the Canadian Corps was held in Toronto, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the end of the First World War. It was estimated that 100,000 people would participate in the three-day celebration.
Dumb insolence is an offence against military discipline in which a subordinate displays an attitude of defiance towards a superior without open disagreement.
An estaminet is a French cafe that sells alcoholic drinks.
“I’d like to see Mr. Denison, please,” I said to the lady at the desk in the hospital corridor.
Yes, hospital. Merrill, whether from the after affects of being jiggled on a horse’s back or from too much golf, was taken from the train at an eastern town and rushed to hospital where he was operated on for appendicitis.
And taking the first train after hearing the bad news, I dashed down to his assistance.
“Mr. Denison?” asked the lady in white. “You mean Dr. Denison.”
“Ha, ha,” said I to myself, “the big scamp is masquerading as a doctor is he! Doctor of what? Doctor of architecture, doctor of horse-back riding, doctor of expense accounts?”
“Very well,” said I to the lady, “Doctor Denison.”
Far be it from me to disrupt any of Merrill’s little schemes.
“You are expected,” said the lady in white. “If you will just come this way, I will hand you over to the nurses.”
It was a nice little hospital, surrounded by beautiful bushy gardens, and its corridors were spotless and shiny. I was glad Merrill had the good fortune, if he must be stricken away from home, to land into such a hospital as this.
The lady in white led me down the corridor into a small white room. On a table lay a quantity of linen. And at one side of the room stood one of those wheeled cots on which the sick are taken for a ride.
“Just undress here,” said the lady in white, and put on that white gown there. When you are ready, ring this bell and the nurse will come for you.”
I looked at her in astonishment.
“Undress?” said I.
“Of course,” said she.
“Why undress?” I demanded.
“You can’t go in your business clothes,” said she.
“Ah,” said I, “for sanitation’s sake?”
“Exactly,” said the lady in white, going out the door.
Well, the last thing in the world I would do would be to carry germs into Merrill, lying there exhausted from his operation. But how wonderful, I said to myself as I unbuttoned my collar, the way science is advancing! Here in a small city hospital you couldn’t even go in to visit a friend without undressing and putting on a sanitary nightgown.
“I suppose,” said I, as I removed my boots, “the next thing they will be doing will be making you take a bath before you can visit a friend in hospital.”
The hospital nightie did not exactly fit me. It was more like a tent than a nightshirt. But I liked its extreme modesty.
I rang the bell.
Two nurses entered the room.
“Will you come this way, sir, for your bath?” said the one with the blue eyes.
“Bath!” said I.
“Yes, sir, you must take a bath.”
“Well, I’ll be jiggered,” said I.
So they led me through an inner corridor and left at the bathroom where I had a real good shower. It was a dandy needle shower. I felt fine. Merrill, said I, will be glad to look at a chap as fresh and rosy as me. After the train journey, this bath is a good idea.
“This Gentleman Pulls a New One”
When I came out of the bathroom, the nurses were sitting waiting for me.
“Now we will go to the ante-room,” said the blue-eyed one, “where the male nurse will prepare you.”
“Prepare me?” said I. “Is anything wrong?”
“No,” said the blue-eyed nurse. “Prepare you means shave you and that sort of thing.”
“But I shaved this morning,” said I, somewhat indignantly, for even on a train I pride myself on giving my chin a good clean scrape.
The blue-eyed nurse laughed prettily.
“He’ll do a much better job,” said the nurse.
“Well,” said I, “your hospital is away ahead of anything in Toronto. I never heard of such precautions as you take. Why, you would think I was the world’s champion germ carrier. But if you don’t mind, nurse, I think we will pass up the shave. I feel perfectly presentable now.”
“Dr. Denison insists on everything,” said the nurse.
“He would be to glad to see me if I was covered with mud.” said I.
“Well,” said the nurse, “I’ll have to see the superintendent. Will you wait here?”
I waited. Presently the two young nurses came back with an elderly lady with a peculiarly cool and determined face.
“Good morning,” said she. “How do you feel?”
“Great,” said I.
“Have you any pain?” said the superintendant.
“Pain,” I snorted. I never felt better in my life.”
“That’s splendid,” said the superintendent. “Now, tell me, did it have a flexible handle?”
“I beg your pardon,” said I.
“Did it have a flexible handle? Or a stiff handle? In other words,” said the superintendent, “will it bend?”
“I certainly beg your pardon,” said I, entirely bewildered.
“The toothbrush,” said the superintendent.
“What toothbrush?” I asked.
The superintendent turned and winked at the two nurses who were smiling shyly.
“The toothbrush,” said the superintendent, “that you swallowed.”
It was like a dream. I have had looney dreams like this often.
“I didn’t swallow any toothbrush,” said I, laughing.
“No?” said the superintendent. “Now, like a good man, you just come with us to the ante-room where the male attendant will prepare you. It’ll all be over in no time.”
“Look here,” said I, “there’s a mistake somewhere. I didn’t swallow any toothbrush. All I came here for was to visit my friend Mr. Denison.”
“Now that is ingenious,” said the superintendent to the two young nurses, talking to them just as if I were not there at all, or as if I were a specimen in a case. “It is not at all uncommon for patients to lose their nerve at the door of the operating room. And they are very clever about it too. But this gentleman pulls a new one. He was coming to visit his friend Mr. Denison. I must tell Dr. Denison that.”
She led on. I stood fast.
“Look here,” said I. “Excuse me. Just be good enough to ask Mr. Denison if he is expecting me.”
“Dr. Denison is expecting you,” said she. “He is changing now. You must be ready in five minutes.”
“But I don’t know any Dr. Denison,” said I, shakily, for I could see no way out of this. “I just got off the train half an hour ago and dashed up here to see my friend Denison, who was operated on for appendicitis yesterday.”
Bound, Gagged and Bathed
“There is no Mr. Denison operated on for appendicitis here,” said the superintendent. “Come, come, sir, pull yourself together. You are in a very dangerous situation.”
“I know it,” said I.
“If that toothbrush gets past a certain point, you are likely to have peritonitis and die.”
“Look here,” I yelled, “I swallowed no toothbrush!”
The superintendent turned to the nurses.
“This is the gentleman?”
“He was handed over to us,” they said.
“Short, medium stout,” said the superintendent, sizing me up. “How was he dressed?”
“In a brown suit,” said the blue-eyed nurse.
“Well, yes,” said the blue-eyed nurse. Never put your faith in blue-eyed nurses. They look at you with such sweet eyes, but they think your suit is shabby.
“This the man all right,” said the superintendent. “Just call MacWhirtie.”
It was impossible to look dignified in that nightshirt. I knew that. Then the door opened, and in came great giant of a sandy-haired Scotchman in overalls, the kind they have one of in every hospital. His hair grew down almost to his eyebrows, and he had blue, simple eyes.
“Just help this gentleman into the ante-room,” said the superintendent.
“Hand’s off!” I roared as MacWhirtie advanced.
But, making soothing and clucking noises, MacWhirtie swept me up, smothered me in the colossal nightshirt and laid me down on a table. I struggled. He held me down.
“Careful,” said the superintendent. “He’s got a toothbrush in him. Don’t let him struggle like that.”
So MacWhirtie got one of those crag-climbing strangle holds on me, and pinned me down.
I could see, from under MacWhirtie’s arm, a pallid little man in soiled white overalls approaching me with a shaving mug and an old fashioned razor.
“Get away from me,” I yelled.
The door opened and in walked a tall thin blond man.
“Well, well,” said he.
“Dr. Denison, this the gentleman that swallowed the toothbrush,” said the superintendent, “and he has got a little fright just at the last minute.”
“We’ll soothe him,” said the doctor, “Get off, MacWhirtie.”
I sat up.
“Doctor,” said I, “there will be the devil to pay over this. I just came in on the train half an hour ago…”
“Where do you feel it now?” asked the doctor, sitting down on the edge of the table, and putting a kindly arm around my shoulder.
“I say,” I said stoutly, “I came up here to visit my friend Mr. Merrill Denison who yesterday was operated on for appendicitis. And they have seized me, bound me, gagged me, bathed me, put me into this nightshirt…”
“Well, well,” said Dr. Denison.
“Well, well, nothing!” I shouted. “I warn you I am not the man you think I am.”
“Then why did you accept the nightshirt and take the bath?” asked the doctor, good-humoredly and patiently. “Like a good chap, now, pull yourself together.”
“Listen,” said I, desperately, and probably by this time I did look like a man who had swallowed a toothbrush, “how do I get out of this?”
“Just as soon we get the toothbrush,” said the doctor. “All right, MacWhirtie, just assist the gentleman into the operating room and we’ll do without the shave. I’ll use plenty of alcohol first.”
Blue-Eyed Nurses Should be Forbidden
MacWhirtie assisted me.
He laid me down on a cold marble table with dazzling lights in my face. I lay there wondering what Merrill would have done in such a predicament as this. Merrill would have said something witty. But I couldn’t think of anything witty. MacWhirtie was standing over me, with a great compassionate look on his simple face.
I smelt druggy smells. I heard something making sizzing noises. The nurses were busily dashing about the dazzling room. They rolled a big thing like a tank on a baggage hand truck over beside me. I sat up. MacWhirtie laid me down.
A silence fell on us all. The doctor smiled down on me.
Then the door of the operating room opened.
The lady in white who met me at the door of the hospital, stood there.
“The gentleman who swallowed the toothbrush is waiting downstairs,” said she.
The silence continued.
The smile faded from the bending face of the doctor.
MacWhirtie put one hand under me and helped me sit up.
“Well,” said I.
The blue-eyed nurse started to giggle. I think blue-eyed nurses should be forbidden. They have no sense of other people’s dignity.
“Well, sir,” said I, “you nearly had me disembowelled!”
“We were just going to X-ray you for the toothbrush,” said the doctor. “It would have been quite a hunt.”
“Now, how about taking me upstairs to see Mr. Denison,” said I.
“There is no Mr. Denison here,” said the superintendent in a business like voice. She was the sort of lady who takes the offensive especially when she in the wrong.
“I have a telegram in my pants, if I can get them,” said I, “informing me that he is here.”
“Maybe he is at the other hospital,” said the doctor.
“What other hospital?” I asked.
“There are two hospitals here,” said the doctor, “Just go to the phone and ask if there is a Mr. Denison over there.”
The blue-eyed nurse hurried out.
By the time I got my clothes on, which I donned in the same room with scared little man who was hastily undressing, the nurse informed me that Mr. Denison was indeed at the other hospital.
I shook hands with everybody, the doctor, MacWhirtie, the little man who was now wearing the large nightshirt, and even the blue-eyed nurse.
Then I took a taxi over to the other hospital.
“Mr. Denison?” said the lady in white sitting in the corridor of this hospital. “Just come this way.”
She led me down a corridor.
“Just a minute,” said I. She halted.
“I shaved this morning,” said I. “I’ve had a bath, this suit was French-cleaned only the day before yesterday, and I’m in highly sanitary condition.”
“Yes, sir,” said the lady in white, stiffly.
She opened door.
And there, pale, weary, but with one eye shut in silent greeting, lay Merrill.
Editor’s Note: This is one of the early “pre-Greg-Jim” stories that Greg wrote co-starring fellow writer Merrill Denison, from the Star Weekly. He also worked as a playwright and would later move to New York and still contribute occasionally to the Star Weekly. Jim would often illustrate these stories.
“I don’t understand all this business about flappers,” said Aunt Melinda. “What is a flapper? I thought it was one of those absurd girls who wear their galoshes unbuckled and flapping about their calves.”
“Flappers! Flappers?” exclaimed Aunt Agg, who sets herself up as an authority on everything modern and effete. “Why, my dear, isn’t a flapper a girl”- (she pronounced it gyerl) – “whose skirts flap about her knees? I’m sure that is the derivation of the word.”
Grandma, who was listening with unconcealed astonishment to this conversation, I dropped her knitting and her hands into her lap and gasped:
“Why, I thought a flapper was one of these deaf and dumb persons who converse by means of flapping their hands!”
“Mother!” said Aunt Agg with scorn. “If you aren’t the old-fashionedest–“
“Well,” continued Aunt ‘Linda, who was one of those persevering conversationalists, “I can’t see what there is to make such a fuss over these innocent little girls. We scandalized you, didn’t we, mother, when we were girls…”
“Not you, my dears,” replied Grandma, “but some of our neighbors children…”
“I think we should pay less attention to these pretty, harmless children, and try to do something for these bold, golfing, motoring, horseracing women of mature years,” said Aunt ‘Linda. “They are the ones who are undermining the foundations of society, to use the minister’s words. Look at these photographs of the fashionable crowds at the races. Not a female there under forty.”
“No,” interrupted Aunt Agg, pointing to the picture, “there are several flappers.”
Aunt ‘Linda examined the picture.
“You are wrong. Agg. All the flappers have their backs turned to the camera, and all the women of forty are facing it. It simply means that they look like flappers from behind, but are all over forty.”
“Tee, hee!” giggled Grandma. “That’s what we used to say about crinolines, that they made all women the same age from the back.”
“What is the sense,” went on Aunt ‘Linda. “of criticizing the youngsters when the gaudiest women we see downtown on our shopping trips are dowagers of near fifty? Who was it we saw smoking cigaret in the dining room of the Prince Edward last New Year’s but a fat woman on the verge of sixty? Think of our neighbor who goes off dragging her golf implements with her two friends every afternoon, all women of mature years, and I doubt not that out at the golf club they indulge in cigarets between every bout.”
“Indeed, I am told,” said Aunt Agg, “that the women have bottles full of cocktails in their cupboards out at these golf clubs.”
“I recall,” remarked Grandma in an absent manner, “when cocktails were first invented.”
Grandma started guiltily and dropped a stitch. Her face flushed a little, and the shiny look that came into her eyes when she was about to become difficult now appeared. She hitched her rocking chair to face her two daughters.
“Girls” said she, “I have no patience with you middle-aged people. Young folk and old people have some redeeming qualities; youth has the charm of innocence, age the charm of sophistication.”
“I have just invented a new classification of the unfair sex: flappers, floppers and fleepers. The flappers are the young girls, whose skirts flap, whose galoshes flap, whose brains flap airily, bless them, in the lightest breeze that blows. The floppers are the middle-aged girls who flop about the lawns of society like large, sleek seals, who flop about the golf courses, flop about hotels and tea rooms, or whose tongues flop continually about the follies and frailties of their sisters old and young. We old ones are the fleepers, who fleep and cheep und wheeze our last few paces down the easy slope.”
“And of the three, the most disagreeable are the floppers.”
As usual when Grandma has one of her difficult spells, her knitting got into an awful tangle.
Now Aunt ‘Linda silently moved over and commenced unravelling the mess. Aunt Agg rose coldly and said-
“I think I’ll go and make a tray of tea.”
“Then, Agnes,” said Grandma, “would you bring up off the mantel that big box of candled cherries that grandson Eddie sent me?”
Editor’s Notes: This is another article from the early 1920s, that shows society’s confusion over the transformation of women’s roles. The characters focus scorn on flappers, young women who smoke, drink, and publicly enjoy themselves, the complete opposite of Victorian or Edwardian manners. Even in this article, it is unsure where the term “Flapper” came from.
“Grandma” mentions crinolines, the hoop-skirt type of fashion popular in the 1860s, presumably when she was young.
In a fighting man’s life, there are never enough cigarettes.
There may not be enough ammunition, or enough bombs or even enough food. But if there are enough smokes, everything is jake.
In fact, every old soldier will agree with this: that though there be boxes of ammunition enough to build a barricade and bombs and shells and food enough to stand a siege, if there are no smokes, the battle looks gloomy indeed.
Every soldier’s family knows this. If you listen to the troop broadcasts from Britain, you will hear about every fifth man laughingly but not too laughingly exclaim…”and don’t forget the cigarettes.”
But there are thousands of our men in the army, the air force. the merchant marine who either have no family contacts to keep them supplied with smokes or whose families are living so strictly within the narrow confines of a soldier’s pay and allowances that a dollar for cigarettes is not a little gay gift but a sacrifice, even a heavy sacrifice.
And since there are so many millions of us in Canada with no warmer wish in our hearts than to do some little gracious act towards some unknown man in army, navy, air force or merchant marine, here is the way.
Send a donation of a dollar up – or a dollar down if you like – to the Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund, 225 Bay St., Toronto.
For every dollar you send, 400 cigarettes go to a Canadian fighting man in Britain, on the sea, in the air in Newfoundland, West Indies, Iceland, and wherever Canadians are these days.
His majesty the King is patron of the Overseas League, also the Earl of Athlone, representing his majesty in Canada. Every lieutenant-governor in Canada is a patron. Hon. Ernest Lapointe, Air Marshal Bishop, and Sir William Mulock are patrons. Chief justices of provinces, presidents of universities and namely men all over Canada are patrons. The Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund is a reputable organization if ever there was one.
You personally can send 300 cigarettes to a friend in the army for a dollar. The Overseas League sends 400. Because of their mass purchases. They have so far sent 4,000,000 cigarettes. They have, in past months, on an income that never yet exceeded $2,000 a month, tried to give one package of cigarettes per man per week to 80,000 Canadians. They need $20,000 a month to supply every Canadian soldier, airman, sailor or merchant marine a packet of cigarettes a week. And they think that if The Star Weekly tells all those people who have the warm wish in their hearts about their program, the $20,000 will roll in. And the league will then give at least one packet a week to every one of the 80,000 Canadians, and in each package will be a postcard bearing the giver’s name and address for the soldier or the sailor or the airman to send his thanks.
The league will also personally acknowledge your donation.
Never Enough Smokes
Now that is the simple and direct process by which you can touch with your own hand some Canadian fighting man somewhere in the far, battled world.
Simply mail your money to the Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund, 225 Bay St., Toronto.
By return you will get an acknowledgment from the league.
Supplies from home are of tremendous value to the boys. Under the present system, you can go to any reputable tobacco dealer and send 1,000 cigarettes to your soldier overseas for only $2.50. Imagine 1,000 cigarettes arriving in one gob to your lad sitting in some stuffy hut in a coastal village in England!
Besides, in these perilous times, so many plans go agley.
Ships go down, and with them cigarettes and socks and many a treasured gift. So the more we keep flowing across, the more will get there.
Speaking of ships going down. Our main supply of cigarettes in the old war came via the Expeditionary Force Canteen. The supplies were brought over from England and distributed to our battalion canteens via the big wholesale canteen. But a channel boat loaded with a week’s supply of smokes was sunk. And before another boat could be loaded, a tobacco famine had struck.
And were we ever conscious of what a smoke means to a man! What little stores of smokes we had each treasured up, from our parcels from home, were soon exhausted. And there, mile after mile along the front, were some millions of men all going through the business of “giving up smoking” at the same time. And we got a little on each other’s nerves.
In the dugout in which I lived there was a small wooden box which had come up with the rations. It was a familiar little box. It came to each company of our battalion once a month from a ladies’ auxiliary of our unit back here in Toronto. One month it would contain tooth brushes. The next month, washcloths. Another month, dear little icky-dicky tubes of toothpaste or fairies’ own soap. Now, mind you, these little gifts are welcome. They marked the fact that we were remembered back home by somebody else.
But we never opened these boxes up the line. We carried them back out of the mud and filth, and opened them and distributed their contents when we got back to billets.
However, I adopted this box as my chair or stool in the dugout. And there I sat, during the six-day tobacco famine, on that small box. And such was the state of my nerves that while the company commander just drummed his fingers on the table and the other lieutenants acted queerly according to their natures, I took the old three-cornered French bayonet that we used as a poker for our brazier, and with it sat moodily picking at the small box which protruded between my shins.
And I accidentally split off a bit of the wood. I looked within. I saw a sheet of thick, dark brown waxed paper.
H’m, said I; funny packing for bath salts or something. And I stood up and picked up the box and let out a great and mighty yell. For the box contained one gross of plugs of vicious black chewing tobacco.
Chewing tobacco. As black and fat and pungent as tar. But the note inside explained that the ladies’ auxiliary had been too busy to pack the gifts this month and had left it to a committee of three husbands. And the three husbands had secretly agreed together to be rid of this icky-dicky soap and paste stuff, and send us, for once, the he-mannest thing they could think of – eatin’ tobacco!
God bless those three husbands. It was awful stuff. We cut it up into finest dust and rolled cigarettes with it. We used it in pipes. The bravest of us chewed it. But it broke the famine. And cheered us beyond all belief.
I have seen men in the last outposts of despair, cut off from all help, no food, no water, no ammunition – and because they could steal a smoke, they looked one another in the eye and grinned. And came through.
I have seen men deathly wounded, who, when the stretcher bearer stuck a cigarette in their lips, seemed, at any rate, to lose their pain for a time. Seen men dying who, by the grace of a cigarette, could relax and smile.
There be grim-hearted people who will look askance at this panegyric of tobacco. They think it mean of a human being to bear so heavy upon a wisp of paper and twist of a weed. But on the sea, in far seas, on land, in remote worlds far beyond anything our lads ever dreamed to see, are tens of thousands of our boys who give the lie to the grim-hearted who think of mankind as something to be improved upon what it is, by denial.
Send your dollar, your less than a dollar, your five or your collected $50 to the Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund. 225 Bay street, Toronto.
Readers who wish to contribute to the fund are requested NOT to send money to The Star Weekly. Donations should be addressed to: The Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund, 225 Bay St., Toronto. This is the Canadian headquarters. Your gift will be acknowledged by return mail – and later, some grateful soldier in Britain will doubtless write you a note of thanks.
Editor’s Notes: I’ve labelled this article as an advertisement, for understandable reasons. 225 Bay Street no longer exists in Toronto, it is now just part of a block containing the Commerce Court West Office tower.
The Earl of Athlone was the Governor-General of Canada at the time of the article. Ernest Lapointe was Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s “Quebec Lieutenant” in Cabinet, Billy Bishop was a World War One Flying Ace, and Air Marshal in World War Two, and Sir William Mulock was involved in so many things, you will have to read his Wikipedia article to see why he was referred to as the “Grand Old Man” of Canada. At the time of the article, he was the Chair of the Canadian Committee of the International YMCA, and 98 years old.
Greg so liked the story about the unexpected tobacco received during the First World War, he would repeat it on many other occasions with various embellishments.