“Too crude, too rough,” declared Mayor W. D. Robbins to-day when shown photographs of the chorus girls of the new Club Esquire at Sunnyside, which opened with a $7.50 per couple bang last night.
“I have been asked for a report,” admitted Sergeant George Eagleson, head of the Toronto morality squad, who attended not only an official police preview but the big bang as well.
“I shall report the matter to Chief Constable Draper on his return to the city Monday,” said Deputy Chief George Guthrie.
Thus once more the defenders of this good old Alcazar, Toronto the Good, are manning the ramparts to guard against the invasion of the city by fourteen Eves, with little more than a fig leaf and a few pine needles apiece to cover them.
“There were many eminent citizens at the opening of the club,” said Sergeant Eagleson, “I heard no adverse comments.”
Last night, when the Club Esquire opened, this reporter happened to be in Callander, Ont. visiting the Quints, which is a fine way for a newspaperman to miss the last boat. But a few discreet inquiries amongst friends who had $7.50 plus some loose change for hat checking and car parking and such emergencies of a gentleman of fashion’s life, discover the fact that compared with New York, Montreal, Chicago and Buffalo night clubs, the performance was decidedly prim and proper. But that compared with any previous attempts at introducing night clubs to Toronto. It was a long step either forward, backward or sideways.
Looks Like Free Ad
“In some of the numbers,” they told me, “the girls did that floating gauze dance like they do at the Skating Carnival, only they were dressed for summer, not winter, and they had no skates. They had, as a matter of fact, what is called a G-string in the night club business, plus a brassiere perhaps not quite as big as those bandana handkerchief brassieres that were so popular last summer at the swimming beaches. But of course, it was nothing like the strip-acts that have created former scandals in Toronto burlesque theatres, nor even remotely as daring as the acts to be seen at practically every night club everywhere in the world except Toronto.”
As a matter of fact, this whole action on the part of the city fathers come Monday will probably boil down to a beautiful free ad for Mr. William Beasley, promoter of the Club Esquire, a publicity which he couldn’t buy even if he did spend $70,000 on his new club.
In feeling Toronto’s pulse, as they say, about this matter, I did not interview any ministers, because we know anyway what ministers would think and say. Nor did I interview any furriers or ladies’ tailors, since obviously they too would condemn any move toward nudism. Being unable to reach Sir Edward Beatty, president of the C.P.R., I only talked to a ticket seller at the station, and he said it would certainly cut the traffic to New York and elsewhere if night clubs like this were allowed in Toronto, since the only thing Toronto hasn’t got, as a convention city, is a series of night clubs adequate to the convention business.
“Wow, Oh Boy”
But I did sneak the pictures of the girls off the editor’s desk and took them out into the snowstorm to show to the man on the street, as the saying is.
And was he ever interested?
“Wow, oh, boy!” and things like that were their comments, in the same tone of voice you will hear from the lads at the swimming baths in July and August, when a particularly daisy one strolls, ah, so unconsciously, along the concrete in a three-ounce bathing costume.
One thing that always stands out in this controversy every time it recurs in Toronto is the lack of humor displayed on both sides. The condemners are shocked beyond measure. The upholders are as mad as wet hens.
A quarter of a century ago, when I was a cub reporter, Rev. John Coburn created a front page sensation by attending a burlesque show disguised in smoked glasses and then reporting a sensational disclosure of the depravity of man or the theatre. I forget which.
Rev. J. Coburn’s View
Here, a quarter of a century later, Rev. John Coburn makes the following statement:
“Toronto does not need to import the American night club. There are already abundant means of entertainment for the people. I was shocked this morning to find that a group of people had spent $10,000 last night on that kind of thing. For thoughtless people to spend $10,000 a night in dissipation while multitudes of good folk are forced to live in semi-starvation here is to inspire and encourage violent discontent. Such callous disregard of the needs of the disinherited is one of the forces making for revolution. A newspaperman has shown me some photographs which he claims were taken at this club. If these photographs are true pictures I have no hesitation in saying that the entertainment was not of a wholesome character.”
Hard to Draw Line
I was thinking of going to see a snazzy movie to-night, but now I guess I won’t. It’s hard to draw a line. What tickles me doesn’t tickle these 1,000 top hatters who went to the Esquire last night at all. They probably wouldn’t even twitch their upper lip at Laurel and Hardy, whereas I actually get down under my pew and stuff my plaid neck muffler down my throat to prevent myself dying at Laurel and Hardy. It’s pretty depraved of me to enjoy myself so in times like these. And all I say is, anybody who has got $7.50 plus a little loose change in case of a flat tire or anything, and a silk hat and a dress suit, is probably so depraved anyway that there is practically no use trying to lift him up.
It each of those 500 couples who were at the Esquire last night will kick in $7.50 to The Star Santa Claus Fund, I personally will for give them this once.
And as for Mr. Willie Beasley and his fourteen little girls who were probably positively perspiring I under all that gauze and stuff, Mayor Robbins Chief Draper and Sergeant Eagleton, the eagle eye, will tell us Monday.
Editor’s Notes: $7.50 in 1936 is equal to $139 in 2020.
William D. Robbins was mayor of Toronto briefly between 1936-37. He was appointed mayor after the death of incumbent Sam McBride and remained in office until defeated by Ralph Day in the 1937 elections.
The Morality department of the Toronto Police was formed in 1886, to go after drinking, gambling, prostitution, Sunday opening, juvenile delinquency, and other “social evils”. Some context can be found here and here. Because of this strict morality, Toronto was known as “Toronto the Good”. As the article indicated, it was considered by some as much too strict.
The history of Club Esquire at Sunnyside Beach can be found here. Built in 1917, the Sunnyside Pavilion held two restaurants and a tea garden with views looking out on to the lakeshore. In 1920, the building was enlarged and a new south entrance was added. At this time, the pavilion became known for the Blue Room, with a capacity for 400 diners or 175 dancing couples, and the Rose Room, which could seat 300 or hold 150 couples. Dancing would follow supper, with music often provided by a live orchestra. In 1936, the Sunnyside Pavilion was renovated and became known as the Club Esquire Supper Club, with stage shows and dancing. In 1941, the building was converted again, into the Top Hat Night Club. The building was eventually demolished in 1956 to make way for the new westbound lanes of Lake Shore Boulevard.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 2, 1939
“What,” inquired Jimmie Frise, “do you know about rats?”
“Rats,” I informed him, “are my meat. What I don’t know about rats isn’t in the encyclopaedia. I have killed thousands of rats. Black rats, gray rats, brown rats, fat rats. In the army they called me the Pie-Eyed Piper.”
“There are rats,” stated Jim, “under my garage. They’ve tunnelled down under the concrete floor. You can see the two entrances. From this dugout they come at night and forage in the garbage cans of the neighborhood. Members of the family coming home at night see them scuttling. They are huge.”
“It will be no trick to get rid of them,” I assured Jim. “You can use traps, poison, fumigation or a ferret. Maybe a ferret would be the best fun.”
“I was thinking of sitting up some night,” said Jim, “with a pleasant companion, both of us armed with .22 rifles. I thought we might spend a very amusing evening popping off rats.”
“It would bring back the old days,” I admitted fondly. “Many’s the long night, in the war, I have whiled away potting rats with my revolver. I often thought that officers carried revolvers for no other purpose but rat shooting.”
“Gosh,” mused Jim, “did you ever see so many rats as we had in France, especially around the Vimy sector?”
“There were millions,” I agreed. “Great big scaly-tailed brutes as big as tomcats.”
“You might say,” said Jim, “that after dark you could look in any direction, at any spot on the ground, and within one minute a rat was sure to cross that spot.”
“They got so plentiful,” I submitted, “and so bold, that they no longer confined their activities to the night. They moved freely about all over the place in broad daylight.”
“And why not?” said Jim. “Nobody disturbed them. They had that vast silent world to themselves, especially by day. No human stirred. No man showed a head. It was at night that rats had to take care. At night we humans were abroad. We shared the night with the rats.”
“As soon as night fell, in the trenches,” I told, “and all the sentries were posted and all the working parties detailed, an officer had little to do but walk up and down and see that all was well. So presently he would pick a suitable spot, a bit of trench or a sap preferably near an old ruined house or barn. And there, sitting on the fire-step of the trench, he would unlimber his revolver and wait.”
“So that,” cried Jimmie, “was what all the shooting was about? We artillery used to sit away back with our guns, wondering what you gallant infantrymen were doing all the popping at.”
“Mostly it was rats,” I admitted. “I used to sit in the dark, motionless. In a few minutes, along the trench, on the parapet or from a rat hole in the wall of the trench, out would come a rat, secret, silent, sliding his head down, his back arched, seeking, sniffing. Quietly, the revolver comes up. Bang.”
“You must have made an awful mess of them with that army gat,” said Jim.
“If we hit them,” I provided. “The best way of hitting a rat was known as fishing for rats. It was mostly done in old dugouts that were rat infested. When it became so bad that the boys could not sleep owing to the rats running over them and fighting and squeaking all over the place, the boys would declare a fishing trip. All the men in the dugout would leave their snug beds on the damp cold planks of the dugout floor and go and sit on the stairways of the entrances. Then the expert would extinguish all the candles stuck along the plank walls and sit on the floor. Extending his legs, he would rest his rifle on his legs, the muzzle resting between the toes of his boots. Out from the end extended the bayonet; and on the end of the bayonet a piece of cheese would be impaled. There in the dark the fisherman sat, finger on trigger. When he felt a nibble on the cheese he fired. Seven times out of ten he blew the rat against the far wall of the dugout.”
“Rather nasty,” muttered Jim.
“What were sanitary corporals for?” I retorted.
“You wouldn’t get many that way,” said Jim.
A Major Problem
“The rats were so plentiful and so greedy,” I assured him, “that no sooner was one rat blown to pieces and the candles doused and the fisherman in position again before the rats, with a secret, soft, scuffling sound and squeaks and scutters, would be coming from their holes again amidst the planks of the dugout walls and ceilings, snuffling for that cheese. I have seen Corporal Cutsey Smith, now with God, get one dozen rats in one hour by this method.”
“But it was a hopeless business,” submitted Jim.
“It was,” I agreed. “And I have often wondered since how France and Belgium got rid of all those countless rats after the war. It must have been one of the major post-war problems.”
“When I close my eyes and try to recall what dugouts were like,” said Jim, “I can smell the queer sour smell of them, and the smell of coke gas and wood smoke. I can see again the dimness, the quietness, the men lying in their matted gray blankets and greatcoats on the muddy plank floors, see the two or three sitting up awake, in dim candlelight, writing letters; but most of all I can feel the silence, amidst which, ever and always, goes on the quiet scuffling and scratching of the rats behind the plank walls and ceilings, a sound that went on day and night.”
“I woke up one night,” I said, “with two rats fighting furiously on my chest.”
“I have had a rat,” countered Jim, “exploring in the dark come to me, lying on the ground, and place his two hands on the bridge of my nose to look over.”
“Ugh,” I surrendered. “What puzzles me is, if men hate rats so badly, how is it we haven’t exterminated them ages ago, like all the other animals we hated and killed off?”
“I figure,” said Jim, “there is a family of six rats under my garage.”
“Right,” I agreed. “The problem is, how can we deal with the present situation. I suggest poison.”
“Too many dogs in the neighborhood,” said Jimmie. “I would sooner put up with rats than poison a dog.”
“We can pump gas down the hole,” I suggested. “Put a tube from the exhaust pipe of your car and carbon monoxide them.”
Plan of Battle
“Wouldn’t you kind of like to sit up tonight, with .22 rifles, and do a little shooting?” wheedled Jim.
“It’s too risky,” I declared. “And too cold.”
“Very well, a ferret then,” said Jim. “Let’s get some fun out of this. I don’t like the idea of putting poison or fumes down the hole and letting them quietly die down under the concrete floor of the garage. They might smell. I’d like to get a whack at them. And a ferret would chase them out and we could stand at the hole with clubs.”
“Where would we get a ferret?” I demanded. “And besides, we’d have to have somebody handle the ferret. I don’t want to be partly responsible for a ferret getting loose in our neighborhood.”
“Well, I’ve got some rats,” said Jim, with pride, “and I want to find some sporty way of dealing with them.”
“I tell you,” I cried, “we’ll drown them out. Why didn’t I think of it sooner? Of course, drown them out. How many holes have they got?”
“Two,” said Jim. “One under the corner of the garage and another at the back. We can block one hole up and turn the hose into the other and they’ve got to come out.”
“You’ve got it,” I agreed. “I’ve often drowned rats out. They hate water.”
And we went home a little early so as to deal with the rats before darkness came to their aid. Jimmie got his son’s baseball bat and we brought the hose up from the cellar, where it had been stored for the winter. We turned on the water at the outside tap that had been turned off for fear of frost, and we proceeded to study the terrain.
Just under the south corner of the garage a hole about the size of a milk bottle led downward steeply. At the back of the garage a much smaller hole served as an emergency exit. Trust a rat for emergencies.
“It looks as if a whole army of rats used this front entrance,” I said, as we examined the larger hole. “They probably hold meetings here. Maybe this is a public hall.”
“They’ve got a great cave under there,” said Jim. “I bet it’s tunnelled into a regular apartment. An apartment with a concrete roof. The floor of the garage gives them an ideal bombproof shelter.”
So we took sticks and gravel and cinders and filled up the smaller emergency exit at the back. We shoved all the stuff deep down, packing it in, so as to prevent any possibility of the rats digging out by that route.
Then we turned the hose on and into the larger hole I directed the stream while Jim limbered up with the baseball bat, in readiness.
“You’ve got to be ready for fast work, Jim,” I cautioned him, “because when they come they may come all in a bunch.”
“Don’t fret,” said Jim, “I can hit with this bat faster than they can fight their way past that stream.”
And indeed it was a dandy stream, because in winter the water pressure is good. No other hose owners are watering any lawns. A powerful jet of water bored into the hole and we could hear it gurgling and swishing deep in the dark cavern of the rats.
“They may come any minute,” I warned. And Jimmie stood poised and tense.
“What do you suppose is going on down there?” I chuckled, as the water gushed. “I bet there’s a commotion.”
“They were likely asleep,” said Jim, “and about now they are getting anxious. This is no ordinary rainstorm.”
“Heh, heh, heh,” I laughed, and squatted down to aim the icy water deeper and more vicious.
“They probably have galleries and upper levels,” said Jim, “into which they are already fighting their way. How long do you suppose it will take to flood ’em?”
“Well, there’s probably quite a large space,” I submitted, “counting all the rooms and galleries. It may take several minutes. The earth is soft under there and will naturally soak up quite a lot of water.”
“It’s sand under there,” said Jim. “It sure will soak it up. This may take half an hour or more.”
“Relax,” I said, seeing Jim still poised with the bat. “Take a look around the back at that escape hole and see there is no sign of anything being tampered with.”
Jim skipped around to the back and returned eagerly to report that the hole was thoroughly stopped.
Still the water from the hose hissed and bored into the hole, which consumed it without any sign of filling. No sound of gurgling came from below any more though I put my ear down.
Jim made several trips around to the rear to see that the exit was properly secure. It was chilly work holding the hose, and when I suggested Jimmie take a turn at running the water in, he said I would be too cramped to do a proper job of execution in case the rats came out.
“Look What You Did!”
And suddenly there was a most extraordinary result. With a loud crash, something inside the garage fell. We could hear the car inside bump heavily against the front doors of the garage, and bulge them outward.
“The floor,” bellowed Jimmie, “the cement floor, you sap!”
I ceased firing with the hose and ran around to the front of the garage with Jimmie. Very carefully, Jim unlatched the bulging doors, and when he opened them, there was his car sunk down on its left rear wheel, its front end high in the air, one-half of the cement floor of the garage having collapsed into a huge dark hole in the ground.
“Look what you did,” shouted Jim.
“The rats did it, not me,” I retorted hotly.
“That water ate away the sand,” accused Jim.
“The rats had dug the hole,” I countered. “The whole foundation of your garage was honeycombed with rat tunnels.”
“It would have held forever, if you hadn’t bored in there with that hose,” concluded Jim. “You and your drowning out methods.”
It was a mess, all right. The car was tipped down at least three feet on its rear end, and securely wedged into the hole.
“Did you see any rats?” I inquired, incidentally.
“I certainly didn’t,” said Jim.
“Well,” I assured, “I bet you’re rid of them. That’s what I undertook to do, at your own request – rid you of the rats.”
“A fine mess,” said Jim.
“Now you can put a proper foundation under your garage,” I pointed out, “and never be troubled with rats again.”
“Any child would have known,” muttered Jim, “that you can’t run a hose for 20 minutes into sand…”
“Look, Jim,” I interrupted, “did you or did you not wish to be rid of the rats? Well, you’re rid of them.”
So Jim phoned for the garage man come with his derrick and hoist out the car. And the garage man’s brother-in-law was the cement business; and before supper, whole situation was well in hand.
And Jimmie is rid of rats.
Editor’s Notes: This story was repeated on November 20, 1943, under the title “Rat Catchers“. The illustration for that story appears at the end, and you can see that the microfilmed copy was very poor. There was no difference in the story, except that references to the war were changed to the “old war”.
Many of the Greg-Jim articles which have long been a feature of The Star Weekly are to-day issued in book form under the title “Which We Did.” The volume, published by S. J. Reginald Saunders, Toronto, contains sketches which have previously entertained Star Weekly readers in addition to several new ones hitherto unpublished.
A representative of The Star Weekly had in Paris recently an experience which shows that the fame of Gregory Clark and James Frise as humorists has spread far beyond Canada. The gentleman in question was introduced to an editor of Le Paris Soir, one of the largest and most successful of Parisian papers and especially famous for its feature articles and high literary standard.
“So you are from the paper that every week has the funny article,” the Paris editor ejaculated, with open arms. “They are wonderful, magnificent, classic!” Both the French and English language were totally inadequate on him.
This from a prominent editor in a country which still regards Moliere as its standard in comedy is high praise indeed and a great tribute to these collaborators’ power of comic invention.
Perhaps one of the great reasons for their success is their spontaneity and naturalness. No man knows what they are going to do next or write and draw next. Neither does Gregory Clark nor Jimmy Frise.
Necessity is often the spur to their invention, when the roaring presses will permit no further procrastination. They are like clever after-dinner speakers who, when unexpectedly called upon, can take a felicitous subject from thin air as a magician draws a rabbit from a hat. This gives their work the charm of the impromptu.
Their admirers invariably ask, “How on earth do you ever think of all the queer things you do?”
Their only answer to that is an expressive gesture which means, “Search me. How do I know?”
Their real reason is that they dip into the stream of current contemporary life, and that rich flow never fails to bring fish to their net. Their acute awareness of what is in the mind of the average man gives their work the authentic stamp of actuality.
Another question frequently put to this writer and his illustrator is, “Do you actually do all the queer stunts you say you do?”
“And the funny thing,” said Greg, “is that people will swallow our most fantastic adventures and refuse to believe some of the very simple things such as dropping a 50-cent piece on the pavement for a prosperous citizen to stamp on and claim as his own.”
“Last summer in the hot spell,” remarked Frise, “when the postman came to my door he said ‘Surely you fellows didn’t fry an egg on the city hall steps? You can’t make me believe that.'”
“I happened to have by me a photograph of Greg and I watching the egg sizzle in the sun with my dog Rusty looking over our shoulders. I showed that to the postman and seeing was believing for him. I am sure now that there is no adventure Greg can concoct which that postman won’t fall for, hook, line and sinker.”
After going through the ordeal this morning of a formal interview for The Daily Star, neither Greg nor Jim were in the mood for any further agony to provide a sprightly birth notice for “Which We Did.”
An efficiency expert would never approve of their methods of collaboration. There is good deal of artlessness in their art. They may arrange a rendezvous in an armchair lunch and the important conference may be adjourned since die without a scintilla of an idea.
Clark may climb to Frise’s tower studio and elevate his short legs to Jimmy’s littered desk while Jimmy drapes his long legs around his drawing board. There for half an hour or more they may commune like Quakers in silence. Then Greg suddenly, like Archimedes, may cry out, “Eureka! I have it,” or they may exclaim simultaneously, for their two minds are so well attuned that they often have a single comic thought.
The reading public that laughs at their printed adventures does not get half the humor that there is in their eccentric modes of joint production.
With regard to Liddell and Scott’s well-known Greek dictionary, there is a famous query as to which half was by Scott and which half was by Liddell. It is just as difficult to unscramble the partnership of Clark and Frise. Greg, of course, is the scribe who plays Boswell to Frise’s Johnson, but a Greg-Jim article without Jimmie as the eternally baffled stooge and without Jimmie’s characteristic illustration would be like “Hamlet” without Hamlet.
Frise in his modesty is apt to deprecate his own contribution, but without Jim’s art and whimsicality there would be no Greg-Jim.
Theirs is no artificial union, a mere stage partnership. Everyone who knows them is aware that they admirably balance one another’s qualities and are, as the slang phrase has it, a pair of naturals.
As it takes two greyhounds to course and capture a hare, so it is necessary for these two humorists to hunt their quarry together. Their book’s title “Which We Did,” bears witness to the duality of their comic existence.
To one who ponders the reason for the Paris editor’s remark that their humor is classic, it is apparent that it is a humor of situations, a factual humor, and not a mere fireworks of verbal wit. Their adventures can be filmed like those of Mr. Pickwick.
And so they have created a living human comedy, giving their readers a vivid sense of their essential reality as the long and the short of the genus homo, and go merrily on their way in their present book as in their past articles perpetuating as veraciously as any Mr. Gulliver, the popular illusion that their life is one long series of laughable, farcical adventures.
Editor’s Notes: This article was published on November 14, 1936 to promote their book, Which We Did (and reprinted again the next week on November 21).
R.C. Reade was a staff writer for the Toronto Star and Star Weekly, who had some of his stories illustrated by Jim in the 1920s and 1930s.
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 11, 1933
“One of my country friends,” said Jimmie Frise, “has invited us to go jack rabbit hunting.”
“They are getting very plentiful,” I said.
“And big!” cried Jimmie. “I’ve seen them myself over twelve pounds, and I hear they go up to eighteen pounds.”
“It is almost big game hunting,” I admitted. “But as time goes on, I suppose they will get them bigger and bigger. We may expect any day to hear of a thirty-pound jack rabbit.”
“Or fifty or even a hundred,” said Jim, “because you know the way nature goes kind of nutty over these transplanted creatures.”
“Look at the starlings,” I agreed.
“Yes,” said Jim, “and they took English trout down and put them in the streams of New Zealand, so that a little fish that might go as big as five pounds in its natural home develops in those New Zealand waters to twenty-five and thirty pounds.”
“Well, these jack rabbits are the European hare, transplanted to Canada,” I said.
“In time, we might look for hundred-pound jack rabbits,” said Jim.
“I would rather shoot a hundred-pound jack rabbit,” I announced, “than capture Quebec.”
“When can we go?” said Jim. “It’s only a few miles west of the city.”
“What are we doing this afternoon?” I asked.
So Jim lent me his spare shotgun and we went out twenty miles and down the third line and got to the farm of Jimmie’s friends just in time for noon dinner.
The farmer had invited a few friends in for dinner to go jack hunting after, so that, counting Jimmie and me, fifteen of us sat down to table.
The way we city sports go jack hunting, rushing out, poor lean hungry mortals, from the nerve-racked city to chase nerve-racked animals across the country fields, is not hunting at all.
Hunting in the time of King Henry the Eighth had some pomp and beauty about it. And there are still vestiges of the old art of hunting to be found in the country, even as near as twenty miles from Toronto.
Fifteen of us at table, with roast lamb and mint sauce, all the kinds of vegetables there are, including parsnips, and one kind of pie, but it was pumpkin. And they cut a pumpkin pie in four. And as fast as one pie plate was bared, the ladies rushed a new one from the kitchen.
And there was chocolate cake and mocha cake, and home-made pickles in large chunks with that lovely briney flavor, and we finished off with crab apples and thick cream and large quantities of dark brown tea with an aroma city tea never has.
Then we all leaned back in our chairs and put our feet up on the rungs of the chair next to us and looked at one another.
But after the table had been cleared and the ladies stood around looking comfortably at us all sagging back from the table with our eyelids heavy, and nobody even trying to be the life of the party, our host, with a sudden burst of determination, shoved back his chair and said:
“Well, how about a little jack rabbit hunting?”
And heavily, all fifteen of us rose to our feet, patted the collie dog and the two cats, thanked the ladies personally for such a meal, dawdled with our hats and coats, let everybody go ahead of us out the door, and finally, with a sense of great accomplishment, got out into the open air.
Mark you, this was noon dinner, BEFORE we went jack rabbit hunting.
Getting Bigger Every Year
I felt like Henry the Eighth when I waddled out with the rest of the gang into the barnyard where the cars were parked.
With our shotguns, we squeezed ourselves into cars and away we went down a couple of side roads to a vista of plowed fields interspersed with areas glimmering green with fall wheat.
“Ideal country,” explained the farmer neighbor in whose car I was riding. “These big jacks have no burrows. They just spend the winter out in the open, cuddling down in furrows of a plowed field, handy to a fall wheat field.”
“They grow big,” I remarked huskily.
“Huge,” said the farmer. “They are getting bigger every year, too. I saw my first jack about ten years ago. He was about six pounds. Nowadays, I see lots of twelve and fourteen pounders, and they are getting even bigger.”
“Soon be classed as dangerous game,” I remarked, sleepily.
“You have to be careful even now,” said the farmer. “If you shoot a big one, don’t just rush in and grab it as if it was a bunny. It can give you a nasty kick. And I suspect they bite too.”
“My, my,” said I, waking a little.
All too soon we reached our starting point. The cars all pulled on to the side of the country road, and we piled out. Ahead of us spread a lovely misty prospect of fenced fields, pastures, plowed areas with wood lots scattered away in the distance.
The farmer who was our host scattered us in a long line down the road, with about three of us to a field. And at a signal, we started to advance. Jimmie was in the next field to me.
The fences were nearly all wire, and each fence had a strand of barbed wire along the top. Long-legged men can step up to the middle strand of wire and swing their leg over the barbed with grace and ease. But a short-legged man finds it not only difficult but entirely outside the realm of grace. He has to climb to the top strand, balancing carefully, and then, by a series of uncertain and waggling movements, shift himself over the top barbed strand, and leaning far out, lower himself to the ground. With an eight-pound shotgun, it is quite a feat.
We had gone only three fences when I heard a sudden shot and, looking to the west, beheld Jimmie crouched forward, blazing ahead of him. Bounding away was a large fawn-colored animal about the size of a collie dog. On the third shot it rolled over. And the line of us halted while Jimmie picked it up, tied a strong cord to its four legs and hoisted it heavily over his shoulders.
There was much applause and congratulatory shouting.
“Fifteen pounds,” shouted Jimmie.
Slowing Up the Line
On we went. Far to the east and west, the long skirmish line extended, and in about every second field, we would jump a hare and away it would streak, amidst a bombardment of guns.
The fences were getting more numerous and my dinner continued to embarrass me, so that the line of march had to slow up to my speed. But the rabbits continued to fall. Jimmie got another and bigger one, and I was glad to see, that with the animals’ huge forms slung over his shoulders, it was Jimmie who was now slowing up the line. By the time we had gone a mile, and climbed about twenty fences, four others had jacks slung over their shoulders, and I was carrying my hunting coat over my arm.
It was this fact which caused me to miss a very large jack that leaped up not fifteen feet in front of me in a plowed field. It was heavy going. A plowed field is not meant for amateurs.
There was a splutter of dust, something huge and buff-colored slithered out almost under my feet. I had my gun over one shoulder and my coat hung over the other arm. Before I could come to any decision as to what to do, the jack rabbit had bounded ahead across the furrows and had vanished in the shrubbery along a fence.
And there I was standing, with gun over one shoulder and coat over my arm.
“What’s the idea!” they all shouted. “How about coming hunting with us some time? Did you expect it to hobble away?”
“It was about twenty pounds!” I shouted back. “I was observing it, that’s what I was doing.”
Two fields farther on, another got up ahead of me. I threw my coat down and swung my gun into action, but it appears the rabbit had turned to the left after it had gone a few yards, so that my shots, fired straight to the front, appeared particularly ineffective to my comrades.
Jimmie climbed a couple of fences and came over to me.
“Here,” he said, “let me carry your coat.”
“You’ve got two jacks to carry,” I said, but he took the coat anyway.
“Now,” said Jim, “get busy and knock the next one down.”
It was one of those misty autumn days. The sky was overcast. We came, after a couple of fields, to a wood lot, around the margins of which were scattered patches of small brush.
“Watch yourself along here,” said Jimmie, as he left me to take through the middle of the wood lot. “There’s like to be a twenty-pounder around here. If you see one, it will be a big one.”
Unencumbered by any coat, with my gun carried at the charge, I walked carefully up the side of the woodlot. In the distance were spread away my companions, most of them watching me, I felt sure. I lost that Henry the Eighth feeling.
Halfway along the edge of the wood lot, while I had almost given up my fear that there might be a jack rabbit hereabouts, there was suddenly a terrific crash in the bushes beside me.
There, plunging through the underbrush was a huge tawny shape, the biggest jack rabbit ever seen or imagined.
It would not be twenty pounds, or fifty pounds, or even a hundred pounds. It would be hundreds of pounds!
With terrific leaps and plunges, half hidden in the brush, this monstrous rabbit was fast vanishing, while from all sides, as I raised my gun, came wild shouts and cries.
“Bang!” I let go. “Bang!”
Both barrels, dead on.
And amidst a ghastly silence, the monster jack rabbit lay still. And from all across the fields came running my companions.
“Boys,” I cried triumphantly, rooted to the spot, the gun shaking in my hands, so great was the thrill of it all, “I have got the biggest dang-busted jack rabbit ever seen!”
As they arrived, they all plunged past me into the brush to view the world record monster I had slain.
I could hear mumbling and excited chatter.
I strode into the brush to stand over my kill.
There on the ground lay a year-old Jersey calf.
The farmers were all bent down over it. More of them came charging into our midst.
I began to feel like King Charles the First.
The calf was breathing heavily, its sleek fawn sides heaving. It rolled its eye back at me.
“Look out for Bill Bowser,” said somebody. And about ten of the boys got up hastily and vanished into the surrounding brush.
A large stranger in overalls appeared from nowhere and stood looking at the calf, and with one accusatory state that swung around the three of us who remained, he fastened his dark and furious gaze on me.
“That,” he said, “is my prize Jersey.”
“I thought,” I squeaked, “it was an extra large jack!”
At that moment, the little Jersey got up, hind end first and stood blinking its eyes.
“She ain’t hurt, Bill,” said one of my friends.
Bill Bowser stepped up and felt the calf all over very carefully.
“He missed her,” said my friend, as Jimmie came into view through the brush. “The sound of the gun scared her so bad she just fell down.”
Bill continued to feel carefully along the calf’s flanks and down her legs.
“From where I was,” said Bill Bowser darkly, “up near my barn there, it looked as if he was less than ten feet from her when he let fly both barrels.”
“Even so, he wouldn’t have hurt her,” said Jimmie. “He is shooting blanks.”
“Blanks!” we all said.
“Yes,” said Jim. “I lent him the gun and I had a box of blanks left over from a regatta we had this summer. I figured no man should have live shells on his first jack rabbit hunt.”
Bill Bowser turned his back and led the Jersey away.
“You fellows keep off my property from now on,” he yelled back at us. “Wasting time shooting jack rabbits, instead of earning your daily bread.”
And pie and cake and crab apples with cream, I thought.
Gradually the others came out of hiding in the brush and we formed line again after carefully skipping Bill Bowser’s fields.
“Jimmie,” I said, as we started skirmishing again, that blank cartridge business was pretty low.”
“The joke of it is,” said Jim, “they weren’t blank. I just said that to disarm the guy. You missed, that’s all!”
“I couldn’t have missed at that range!” I cried.
“Wait and see,” said Jim, moving away from me.
We jumped two more jacks out on the flanks. Then we jumped another between Jim and me.
“Take it!” shouted Jimmie.
As I swung the gun up, I thought of the long two-mile hike back to the cars. I thought of that great big fifteen or twenty-pound buff streak hung like a millstone around my neck. I thought how sad it would be to deprive this harmless fleeing creature of its life. And anyway the barrels were waving all over in front of my eyes.
“Bang!” went Jim’s gun.
Down went the jack.
So I don’t know whether I was shooting blanks or not.
These are a series of illustrations by Jim accompanying a story by Peter Patterson, about running a summer resort. The subtitle called it “An Adventure in the Great Open Spaces, Running a Summer Resort – Being a Combination Mayor, Street Cleaner, Social Secretary and Children’s Guide – Only the Honeymooners Seemed Satisfied With Anything and Everything.”
By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by Jim Frise, November 8, 1947
“It’s a brain wave!” shouted Jimmie Frise.
“Good planning,” I yelled back, “is the secret of everything!”
We were in the back of a rented truck which was joggling us terribly over the backwoods tote road that led into our log hunting cabin.
With our duffle bags, rifles and hunting gear, we were being bounced and thudded through the dusk on the last 10 minutes of the 15-mile journey from the ultimate village.
“Boy,” exulted Jim, “I bet this is going to be the best hunting trip of our entire lives. Something tells me.”
“Organization,” I bellowed, “pays off. When I think back over all the hunting trips we’ve been on, haphazard, unplanned, disorganized …”
“Of course,” interjected Jimmie, “part of the charm, the attraction, of outdoor sport, is its uncertainty. I don’t go for these highly organized hunting camps where the deer are practically tied up to trees by the guides, beforehand.”
“I was thinking of the cook,” I shouted. “The Chinese cook. Why didn’t we think of that years ago?”
“Ah, that,” cried Jim happily, “was good old Skipper’s idea.”
Skipper is the newly-elected captain of our small hunting party. For years, he has been the chief complainer about lack of organization in our annual excursion. And one of the first things he did, on taking over command of the party, was to engage Wang, a Chinese friend of his from a city restaurant where Skipper eats chicken chow mein.
Wang, with Skipper and the rest of our party, was already in at the hunting cabin. Jim and I had been detained to the last by Jimmie not having his cartoon done.
“When I think,” I joggled “of all the years we’ve gone into the bush with a dozen great big cartons of canned goods …”
“So we were all half sick, about the third day,” agreed Jim, “with greasy food.”
“Aw,” I reminded, “and think of the mess the cabin was always in! And the delay in getting going in the morning, because of having to get breakfast.”
“And all the quarreling and bickering,” said Jim, “as to whose turn it was to wash up dishes or get the dinner.”
“I don’t see how we put up with it,” I submitted. “Every hunting party should hire a cook. It’s a very small outlay, divided among six men. Yet, it makes all the difference. Wang will get up early and have breakfast on the table before daybreak, so we’re all out in the bush by the time we’re able to see.”
“And,” contributed Jim, “he’ll have our lunch sandwiches packed up for us to put in our pockets. And when we come in at the end of the day, think of finding a real meal all ready and steaming!
“Wow!” I yelled.
So we sat, balancing as best we could on the cartons and boxes of supplies which we were contributing. To be on the last leg of the November hunting trip journey is exhilarating. To those of us who are still uncivilized enough to respond to the autumnal desire to go forth and hunt, the smells of the wilderness, the chill of the frosty air, seem to waken very ancient memories that we have inherited. It may be November was the month when all our ancestors went forth to fill their caves with meat and furs against the oncoming winter. There is a sort of joyous desperation in the spirit of a man who goes hunting in the fall.
But added to this, to know that, for the first time, we were going on a properly organized hunting party with a cook, filled our cup to overflowing.
I leaned out the back of the truck to peer into the misty dusk and see how near we were to the cabin. Our cabin is on a small lake in a very remote and uninhabited neighborhood. We are 15 miles over a vicious rock and corduroy tote road from the nearest village. No other hunting camps are within six or seven miles of us, separated from us by impenetrable bogs and swamps.
And tomorrow, the season opened!
“I can see the cabin lights,” I shouted to Jimmie. “Across on the point.”
Jim came and leaned out too, sharing that indescribable tumult of feeling that rises in a man at the sight of his wilderness destination.
The rest of the gang had heard the sound of our truck and were all out with lanterns to give us a royal welcome. They had come in the night before so as to get the camp settled and to do a little spying out of the land in advance of opening day.
Old Skipper superintended the unloading of the supplies and duffle and he gave Elmer, the truck driver from the village, his last and final instructions.
“Now, remember, Elmer,” said Skipper in the lantern light,” you come in every third day. That’ll be Wednesday. Then Saturday. Unless, of course, there are any important messages for us, or emergencies.”
Elmer drove off into the night; and with our duffle, Jim and I staggered into the old familiar cabin.
Just the standard log hunting shack, it is, with sets of double bunks on either side of the single room. In the middle is a large plain plank table, with benches. At the end, a large old fashioned wood stove which serves to warm the cabin as well as cook the food.
But Jim and I both stood staring in the light of the bright gasoline lantern hanging from the ceiling. For the old familiar cabin wore a most unfamiliar air of tidiness and order.
The bunks were all neatly made up with their bedclothes. The plank table was covered with white oilcloth. The rusty old stove was black and gleaming. On the shelves, lined with newspapers, the canned goods and other supplies were set up in the attractive style of a groceteria.
Skipper stood beaming at our surprise.
“Well,” he demanded, “how does the old joint look now?”
“Why,” gasped Jimmie, “it doesn’t even smell! No mice! No squirrels …”
And from the other door of the cabin beyond the stove, appeared Wang, the author of all this miracle. He was a small, chunky Chinese in a white apron. We shook hands with him formally.
“Wang,” said Jim, “we should have met you 20 years ago.”
And Wang beamed too and proceeded immediately with his cooking.
As Jim and I tossed our gear on our bunks and got ourselves settled, Skipper and the rest of the boys told us how Wang had sent them all out for a walk while he scrubbed and disinfected, and made the beds and organized the layout of supplies and stowed everybody’s equipment neatly under the bunks or hung it on nails.
“You’d think,” said Skipper, “that Wang had been born in the wilds or spent his entire life in hunting camps, instead of being a city slicker.”
Wang waved his appreciation and grinned happily.
Dinner was just ready. It consisted of small lamb chops grilled over bright red birch coals, to bare which Wang had simply removed the front top of the stove. You never tasted such chops, even in the costly restaurants. There were boiled potatoes, peas, broccoli, a large bowl of salad, lemon pie and coffee.
Skipper sat at the head of the table in the captain’s chair and watched us with pride and satisfaction as we stowed away the delicious victuals, with glances at one another which revealed more than words could our delight with the whole situation. Wang stood, like an adjutant, behind Skipper’s chair, watchfully. It was certainly a far cry to the hunting parties of the past, when we had stumbled about a cluttered cabin and sat down to amateur meals dished out of cans.
“I would have you gentlemen know,” announced Skipper, “that out in the lean-to, at the back, where, by the way, Wang has made his bed, we have a front quarter and a hind quarter of lamb; a side of finest bacon; a roast of beef and fresh vegetables too numerous to mention. And it all costs a great deal less than the canned goods we would have brought otherwise.”
Wang cleared the dishes off without disturbing us in our places. He wiped and mopped the table deftly. And there we sat, ready for the evening’s planning of tomorrow’s strategy.
Skipper, as captain, had prepared some fresh maps of our hunting territory. In different colored pencil, he had sketched maps of each section of the country, showing all the favorite runways and all the familiar topographical features, so that as he laid each map out, we could follow his instructions almost as though we were on a high hill overlooking the actual locations.
“Planning,” announced Skipper, “is the essence of any enterprise. To go hunting and just wander about by random, as we have done for years past, isn’t fit to be dignified by the name of hunting.”
“Here, here!” we all chorused; and from the end of the cabin came the cheery clatter of Wang doing dishes.
“According to the barometer, which I brought with me,” announced Skipper, “tomorrow is going to be cold and wet. A lot of east wind and rain. Therefore, I suggest we do not hunt the usual first-day section, which is down in that swampy area near Loon Pond. It will be too wet, too exposed; and the deer won’t be wandering around in such weather. We will hunt instead up in the cedar and hardwood country around Job’s Hill, where the deer will be taking shelter, and where we won’t get so wet hunting.”
“Here, here!” we all agreed, and Skipper laid down before us the big red and green pencil map of Job’s Hill and proceeded to appoint each of us to our station.
In that delicious mood in which you climb into your berth on a train that is about to take you to New York or San Francisco, we all undressed and climbed into our bunks for a good night’s sleep to prepare us for the opening day’s hunting, Wang had finished in his chores and brought in armfuls of wood for the morning, wound his alarm clock and stood dutifully to the last to see if there were anything wanted of him.
“Good night, Wang,” called Skipper, as he turned off the gas lantern and slipped into his bunk.
We heard Wang retire to his bed in the lean-to and before the first faint snore from Jimmie disturbed me, I had slipped away into dreams.
What waked me, I could not at first determine. I glanced at the cabin window and saw the first faint gray of dawn. I could see Skipper, leaning out of his bunk, pumping furiously at the gasoline lantern. The back door of the cabin was open, and a chink of light indicated that Wang was already up and about.
I could hear Wang’s voice, low and tense.
He was saying:
“Come on! Get out! Hey! Come on! Get out!”
“Hullo …” I began heartily.
“Shut up!” hissed Skipper, down below me.
He scratched a match and set it to the lantern. It burped and glowed and suddenly filled the cabin with glaring light.
“What’s up …?” I murmured.
“Shh!” commanded Skipper sharply and started to swing his legs out for the floor.
At which moment we heard a loud thud from Wang’s lean-to; and a sudden wild yell.
Through the cabin door, from the lean-to, came a large skunk, with that hop-skip-jump and sideways gait of an indignant and outraged slunk. A skunk likes to move with dignity.
And in the doorway, his face contorted with rage, appeared Wang, brandishing a stick of stove wood over his head.
“No, no, nooooo!” roared Skipper, diving back under his bed covers.
It was too late anyway. The skunk had fired his first shot in the lean-to, at Wang. The cloud of incense rolled in on us.
“No cat,” yelled Wang, letting the billet of stove wood fly, “is going to eat my eggs!”
The stick hit the skunk and………well………
Well, well, well!
At the council of war, held outside in the dawn of the opening of the season, Skipper applied the talent for organization which he possesses. We had no tomato juice. All our juice was grapefruit and orange. We had one pint of vinegar. It would take, at the least, four gallons of vinegar or eight gallons of tomato juice to wash down the cabin.
“And all the fresh food in the lean-to,” I reminded.
It was 15 miles to the village.
So we drew lots and it was Ben Holt, our youngest member, who is only in his forties, who got the job of walking the 15 miles into the village for Elmer to come and take us all the heck out of here.
“The best laid plans of mice and men,” said old Skipper sadly, “are easily skunked.”
Editor’s Notes: A Tote Road is a road for hauling supplies, especially into a lumber camp.
This story reads a lot like the Greg Clark stories from the 1950s, in that Skipper, their friend who shows up more in the 1940s, plays a major role.
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: