The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: War Page 1 of 4

Coupons Required

Jimmie put the ruler into the tank. He held it up, but it was dry.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 17, 1945.

“This is going to be a tremendous year,” said Jimmie Frise, “for maple syrup.”

“It’s going to be a tremendous year,” I remarked, “for various other reasons.”

“Aw, yes,” admitted Jim, “but once history is written what does it matter? Whereas, you can eat maple syrup.”

“What a horrible philosophy!” I protested.

“Now don’t get excited,” soothed Jimmie. “If war was as important as you like to think, why haven’t wars taught mankind anything in the past? Name one war that ever did mankind any good.”

“The Napoleonic war,” I announced. “It halted an earlier Hitler in his tracks.”

“It did nothing of the kind,” stated Jim. “It just delayed the revolution 100 years, until now.”

“What revolution?” I demanded indignantly.

“Why, the human revolution,” said Jim. “The revolution to set men free from monstrous masters. The revolution to bring about the brotherhood of man. It’s been going on for untold ages.”

“Puh!” I said.

“The French revolution,” explained Jim, “was one of the biggest explosions in that never-ending revolution. It shook all Europe. It shook the whole world. And so dangerous did it appear to all the kings and aristocracies of Europe that they felt if they didn’t destroy France immediately the thing might spread and put an end to all kings and all aristocracies. So they ganged up on France.”

“Aw,” I snorted, “you’re just trying to draw a parallel with the way the modern world ganged up on Russia. How did Napoleon come about, then?”

“Napoleon,” stated Jimmie, “didn’t come on the scene as emperor until the new-born republic of France was in danger from every side, and when all the diplomacy of Europe had brought about a league ready to destroy the subversive experiment of France.”

That ain’t the way I heered it,” I scoffed.

“Naturally,” agreed Jim. “All the kingdoms of Europe ganged up and destroyed Napoleon and France. They bottled the world up for another century. And, naturally, they wrote history the way they liked it.”

“Napoleon betrayed the revolution,” I recalled. “He made himself emperor.”

“Of the republic,” said Jim. “And he didn’t do that until the whole of royal and aristocratic Europe had furiously leagued themselves against revolutionary France. Then, to save his country, not the revolution, Napoleon took charge and made himself dictator – or emperor, in those days, because the common people could understand it easier.”

“And where did the great revolution get off?” I inquired mildly.

“Remember the Duke of Wellington?” inquired Jim. “He had quite a hand in destroying Napoleon and France. He went home a hero. He was an iron god to the British. They gave him £700,000 and made him prime minister.”

“A just reward,” I said.

Not Gold, But What?

“But you asked where the revolution got off,” inserted Jim sweetly. “Well, the revolution had got loose all over the world. And the Iron Duke got himself pelted with cabbages in the streets of London. The mob attacked his beautiful mansion, called Number One, London. He was kicked out of office. And the Reform Bill of 1832 was passed. That is how you and I, my good man, got the vote!”

“Hmmmmm,” I mused.

“The revolution never stops,” said Jim. “Even in the Golden Ages, and there have been any number of Golden Ages in history, the revolution goes relentlessly on. It isn’t gold mankind wants.”

“I wish somebody,” I complained, “could find out what it is mankind wants. When are we ever going to settle down?”

“Not,” replied Jim, “until everybody in the world loses the notion that they are more worthy than others. It is self-esteem that wrecks each nation, each class, each era. So long as anybody on earth still thinks he deserves more than others, so long as he thinks he works harder, is cleverer, smarter, more industrious, more deserving – you are going to have war. And revolution.”

“Then,” I concluded, “we will never be free of war. Because there ARE people more worthy than others. And always will be.”

“But they shouldn’t collect their worth,” explained Jim, “in money or power. Can’t you imagine, a world in which the worthy people will be content with their worth?”

“In about 1,000 years,” I growled.

“Then wars will end,” decreed Jim, “in 1,000 years.”

“The world is too hard-boiled,” I enunciated, “to swallow that idealistic stuff. Even the labor unions are out for themselves.”

“That is what they have said about all revolutionaries since John the Baptist,” smiled Jimmie. “But whether a revolutionary knows what he is doing or not, he is doing good. Because at the end of all struggle to set one man free, all men will be free.”

“It doesn’t look like it in the world these days,” I submitted. “The whole world divided into half a dozen prison camps of violent opinion.”

“The fiercer the fight,” replied Jim, “the sooner the freedom. You don’t get freedom merely by sitting and thinking. If so, the ancient Greeks would have given freedom to the world four centuries before Christ. Because they stated it completely. There have been no additions.”

“What do you think we will have,” I speculated, “by the end of this wonderful year, 1945?”

“Two gallons of maple syrup,” said Jim. “Each.”

“Back there, eh?” I muttered bitterly.

“This is going to be one of the greatest maple syrup years,” said Jim, “in a long, long time. At least in these parts. Very little frost in the ground and deep snow. That’s the makings of a tremendous maple syrup crop.”

“A lot of good that will do us,” I assured him. “Coupons are required for maple syrup. Sugar coupons. Do you know how many coupons a gallon of maple syrup requires?”

“I’m saving coupons,” said Jim, “and all I want is two gallons. I am not going to use it right away. I am going to put it down in the fruit cellar until the fall.”

“Maple syrup,” I informed him, “is at its best in the early spring, fresh from the sap kettle.”

“Utterly wrong,” said Jim. “It is at its best in fall and winter. On a nasty, cold November day a plate of hot pancakes, slathered in butter and drowned in rich, pale, amber maple syrup. In February, when your spirit fails within you, a couple of crumpets, their holey texture saturated with maple syrup. Or a big hunk of sponge cake, in a fruit dish, sloshed in maple syrup.”

“I like a good gorge of maple syrup in April,” I confessed.

Essence of Spring

“Wasted,” asserted Jimmie. “Utterly wasted. Maple syrup is the essence of spring. It is the very distillation of spring. It has mighty powers. It has a flavor both wild and infinitely bland and tender. It is the very blood of the veins of our native land, Canada. It comes from our national tree. To a Canadian there should be something almost religious about maple syrup. Something festival.”

“That is how I gorge it in the spring,” I explained.

“Ah,” countered Jim, “but in the spring there are so many other forces to revive you – the smell of April earth, the coming warm winds, the green things shooting, the birds returning. I like to keep that vernal juice of April to help me in the darkness of December.”

“Only two gallons?” I inquired.

“Look,” said Jim, taking a letter from his pocket. “Here is a note from my Uncle Abe inquiring if you and I would care to come down and lend him a hand with the maple syrup.”

“We’d have to pony up the coupons,” I protested, “even if we helped make it.”

“My idea is this,” explained Jim. “We run down over the week-end and help Uncle Abe collect the sap. He can run the sap kettles, but it is collecting the sap that is hard for him with his lumbago at this time of year…”

“Yah, lumbago,” I interjected.

“Well, you can’t prove he hasn’t got it,” declared Jim.

“He always gets it,” I observed, “at haying and harvest or whenever there is any real work to do.”

“The point is,” said Jim, “we go down and help him make it. While there, we can gorge ourselves on it. Remember my aunt’s tea biscuits with maple syrup …?”

“Aaaahhhh,” I remembered

“We can get our two gallons for nothing, except the coupons,” went on Jim, “in payment for our work. But in addition, all through the summer and next fall, whenever we get a craving for a gorge of maple syrup, why, we are always welcome at Uncle Abe’s. They can’t refuse a feast of maple syrup when we helped make it. And you know how it is in the fall? When you get a craving for maple syrup it is worse than a drunk craving whiskey. Why, I remember…”

“Okay,” I said, “okay. Just one little thing. How many gas coupons have you got left?”

“Me?” said Jim. “Why, I figured we would go in your car. It’s lighter. And the way the roads will be right now I’d hate to take that old stoneboat of mine. We’d be mired before we ever got there.”

“Jimmie,” I announced quietly, “I have no more coupons. I used my last only Sunday.”

“Hmmmm,” said Jim, studying Uncle Abe’s note.

“Besides,” I suggested, “you’re wrong about a light car being any good in the mud. Your old schooner would bust through a mudhole like a tank. My little job would simply slither to a stop half way through…”

“I,” said Jim solemnly, “have only one coupon left. Three gallons.”

“Any in the tank?” I inquired.

“A little,” said Jim cautiously.

“Let’s go by train,” I offered.

“It’s six miles from the station to Uncle Abe’s,” said Jim. “And he says here the road isn’t open yet. He can’t come for us.”

“We could hitch-hike,” I hoped.

“Nobody goes out Uncle Abe’s way,” said Jim. “Certainly nobody who would give us a lift.”

“If they knew we were going to his place, you mean?” I supposed. “Well, okay, let us call it off.”

Jim read the letter again. He licked his lips and made a smacking sound.

“It’s 29 miles out to Uncle Abe’s,” said Jim. “Twenty miles to the gallon? That’s 60. And a bit in the tank? Say 70 miles of fuel?”

A Buck and a Kick

He folded Uncle Abe’s letter and put it in his pocket.

“I’m going,” he announced firmly. “I can think of no more fitting, no more patriotic, no more spiritual use to put our last gasoline coupon to than to drive out to Uncle Abe’s sugar bush to participate in the festival of the maple. The true Rite of Spring!”

He picked me up at 8 a.m. Saturday – our day off on The Star Weekly.

I looked at the gas gauge and it was very low, between empty and a quarter.

“Good,” I said. “Let’s run until she shows empty. And then load up with our last three gallons at the nearest pump.”

“I got the gas last night,” said Jim.

“Last night!” I cried, as we bowled along, “But she shows almost empty.”

“Aw, that gauge hasn’t worked for years,” said Jim.

“You didn’t do any driving last night?” I inquired anxiously.

“Just a couple of errands for the house,” said Jim. “Don’t worry. I know my own car.”

“How far did you …?” I began.

But Jimmie just speeded up suddenly which is his way of showing his temper. So I let it go.

The highway was fine, despite a little sleet. and when we got off on to the side roads they weren’t too bad. A few ruts. But none of the pitch-holes I had feared.

The whole world wore the look of the Ides of March, the wood lots had a kind of wet glow to them, and we knew the sap was ready to rise if not already rising. And Jim and I regaled each other as we tooled along with reminiscences of the various times we had eaten maple syrup over our long and hearty lives.

Only two miles or a little less to Uncle Abe’s, when the engine bucked.

It ran a few yards, then bucked again.

“Dirty spark plug,” exclaimed Jimmie eagerly.

It ran another few yards, then bucked three or four times, violently.

“Dirt in the fuel line,” said Jim, revving up the engine.

She sputtered and conked. Came on again, and conked again.

“Pull over to the side,” I commanded grimly.

“That timer reeds attending to,” said Jim, in a thin voice, getting out.

He put the ruler into the tank.

He held it up.

Dry.

“I certainly can’t understand,” began Jimmie.

But there it was. The last drop of the last pint of the last gallon of the 1944-45 issue of AA category coupons by the grace of the Oil Controller of Canada.

On a side road in the sleet, beside a rail fence, and far from home.

“I can borrow a couple of gallons from Uncle Abe,” said Jim blankly.

“You cannot!” I informed him sharply. “That is against the law.”

“But, for Pete’s sake,” cried Jim, “do abandon my car here …?”

“By law, you do,” I enunciated.

“Surely there is some provision…” wailed Jim. “We were bent on patriotic business… maple syrup, from Canada’s national tree…?”

So we walked to Uncle Abe’s. And he got the team out. And we walked back behind the team and towed the darn schooner all the way to Uncle Abe’s shed.

And there she stays until the first of April.

And we came home by train, talking about the Duke of Wellington in the smoker.

Jimmie put the ruler into the tank. He held it up, but it was dry.

Editor’s Note: The Reform Act 1832 introduced major changes to the electoral system of England and Wales.

Ration coupons were introduced in World War Two to ration scare resources.

The microfilm image is reproduced at the end.

Real Stories of the War

March 15, 1919 – “A vague, blanket shrouded figure coming from a room of dead men”
March 15, 1919 – “Well fellows, you ain’t got anything on me, although you do believe in God. Where are Slim, Red, and Bob!”

As World War One had just ended, the Star Weekly would ask returning soldiers to write in with stories from the war. There would be cash prizes each week ($10 for first prize, $5 for second, and $1 for up to five other stories). ($1 in 1919 would be about $14 in 2021). The first and second prize stories this week also had an illustration by Jim. The first was about a sentry that was scared of a “ghost”, and second was about an atheist who successfully rescued a wounded man in no-man’s land where 3 others had failed, but ended up being the only one killed of the 4 moments later by a falling shell.

Camaracum

By Gregory Clark, January 7, 1922.

“What has happened to your friends, the French?” asked my editor the other morning.

He tossed across to me the newspapers containing the dispatches of France’s demands in respect to submarines. France was “rattling the sabre,” they said; the new “mailed fist in Europe.”


Let’s see…

The last place I saw action was at Cambrai, the end of September, 1918.

We were lying in the Marcoing Line. Through the mist of dawn the towers and spires of Cambrai stood up before us a mile away – our goal, our proud objective.

It was as if we were in High Park, advancing on Toronto. A meadow valley lay between. A few advance troops were plodding across, like workers bent cityward at break of day. But over our heads swept an endless succession of wheezy shells which thumped and crashed on to the edge of the misty city ahead of us. And far and near the air pulsed and jiggled and hissed with machine gun fire, ours and his.

In the sky the first aeroplanes were greeting the sun. They circled and slowly swooped earthward, peering, seeking, bursting off their machine-guns occasionally, or dropping bombs on to stealthy Germans scuttling through the streets of Cambrai. As I lay, belly tight to earth, I watched these airy ships; for in one of them, I knew, was a small brother of mine, wearing a white and scarlet helmet that I would recognize if ….


And while I lay there, aching my eyes against the misty dawn, I beheld a strange vision.

The towers and roots of Cambrai faded, and I saw instead a queer, walled town the name of which was Camaracum, and it was one of the cities of a people named the Norvil.

It seemed to be a scene from the very long ago, for the walls were heavy and crude, and the people moving about them were clad in rough and primitive garments.

A procession approached the city of Camaracum: soldiers in short kilts and sandals, armed with spears and shields, and after a great advance of these soldiers into the walled city came men on horses, one of whom was the emperor of Rome, visiting the outposts of his empire.

That scene fades: and now I see groups of rough, savage men swarming at the walls of Camaracum. These are the Franks, barbarians from the north. The time is 445 Anno Domini. And after a brief struggle the Roman garrison is driven from Camaracum: and Clodion, chieftain of the Franks, makes it his city.

Along time passes, for I see Camaracum greatly changed. A spire rises from within its walls. And into it rides a cavalcade of men in armor with banners, at the head of whom rides Charlemagne, Charles the Great, emperor of Rome. The thing is about the year 800 A.D., and Charlemagne makes the city or Camaracum one of his bulwarks against the heathen Magyars and marauders from the north and east.

Then down the Scheldt and the rivers from the seas come ghostly craft, the long ships of the Norsemen, fierce pirates who slay and destroy wherever their long ships will carry them. And they come, in the year 870 A.D., to this same walled city of Camaracum and burn it, sack it and destroy it.

But it rises again, its castles and spires and strong walls. And the vision shows it, all through the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, being stormed and captured, burned and sacked by the factions of various bishops. For Camaracum, since the fifth century of our Lord, has been a bishop’s see.

The vision moves swiftly. It is the year 1595 A.D., and the Spaniards are besieging’ the castled city of Camaracum. Charles the Fifth fortifies it with a great citadel.

The years fly. in 1793 It is the Austrians laying vain siege to this ancient city. And in 1793 the revolution comes: the mob, in the name of liberty, equality and fraternity, destroys the old cathedral, burns castles and palaces, and ruin descends still again upon Camaracum.

At last it is the years 1815 to 1818, Napoleon has just fled, and Camaracum, the city of the Nervil, the city of the Caesars, the outpost of Charlemagne’s empire, is headquarters for three years of the British army of occupation under Wellington in France!


Indeed, you have guessed it, reader.

Camaracum is Cambrai. Cambrai, as it lay before us in the hands of the Germans, is the Camaracum of old, that ancient and embattled city.

As we crouched there in the dawn the destroying shells were simply renewing a destruction already as old as history. The long ships of the Norsemen and the strange ships in the sky which I so tenderly watched were of one purpose.

My men, tense beside me in the trench, were plying an ancient trade: Roman, Frank, Viking, Goth, Magyar, Spaniard, Austrian – all had, through the thousands of years, lay thus with grim faces turned upon Camaracum.


And Cambrai is one of the lesser historical cities in France.

So I said to my editor:

“It is a thousand years since William of Normandy brought an invading army against our forefathers.

“But in France they have known war and the sack and pillage through unbroken centuries.

“If I do not agree with their militaristic policy, I can at least wholly sympathize with their caution.”

And I can still see the pillar of black smoke that rose vastly out of Camaracum as the Huns of 1918 fled before us into the north.


Editor’s Note: The Washington Naval Conference was held between November 1921 and February 1922., which resulted in the Washington Naval Treaty. The goal was to prevent an arms race by limiting naval construction. The British wanted the abolition of the submarine, but the French opposed. The conference ended without an agreement to restrict submarines.

“Italy Must Have a Regency”

Brooding and saddened, as if looking down on his country’s ruin, is the face of Benedetto Croce, world-famous Italian philosopher. At left and right are symbols of the tragedy of the peninsula’s recent history. Fascism – which Croce never yielded to – represented in the ceremony of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler in the heyday of the Axis placing a wreath on the tomb of the unknown soldier in front of the Victor Emmanuel II monument of Rome. At right, Italy’s present devastation, caused by combination of bombings, artillery bombardment and German demolitions, is typified by a war-wrecked granary. The nation faces a huge reconstruction after the war.

By Gregory Clark, December 31, 1943.

By Air Courier to the Star Weekly from Naples

Between my hotel in Naples and the temporary home of old and famous Benedetto Croce in Sorrento, lie 30 miles – in every foot of which occurs not one field, not one meadow, not one open garden.

It is just endless human habitation. Naples; then the suburbs of Naples; then the villages adjoining Naples, in continuous contact of house, hovel, wall, beautiful but forbidding villa, humanity crawling amidst it everywhere.

So that by the time my jeep drew up in front of the massive flower-laden (in November!) wall of the villa of the late William Waldorf Astor in Sorrento, where Benedetto Croce has had sanctuary the past year or so, I was already numbed and saddened for his answer to my question – “What is the future of Italy now?”

His answer was – a regency for the five-year-old prince, grandson of the present King Victor Emmanuel, which would allow 15 or 20 years before that young gentleman could become sufficient of a king to interfere with still one more of the countless attempts for Italy to work out a political system that will bring her abreast of the western world in freedom, in comfort, in stability – or abreast of us in our dreams of those things.

This regency would get rid of both the king and the crown prince who suffer some share of the Italian people’s furious reaction to fascism. They are tainted. The regency would permit Badoglio or some other trusted or half-trusted individual to act as head of the government, surrounded by ministers representing both the Socialists, who want a republic, and the anti-Socialists, who feel safer with a king.

There are not a few in Italy who want neither. They want exactly what all of us should have foreseen as the reaction to fascism when it collapsed. And that is communism. There is the rub in Italy.

All the forces, individual and political, in Britain, America, France and everywhere else in the shivering old-fashioned world who helped build up fascism in Italy and Germany as a barricade against communism failed to foresee that if fascism failed, a great dammed-up force of the thing they were trying so desperately to dam back, would burst upon them. Italy right now is the ground over which that dam is to burst – if a whole horde of excited and anxious people, not all of them Italian, do not bear false witness.

In going to see Benedetto Croce, who is 78 years old, and who was already a world-famous philosopher and scientist 40 years ago, and minister of education for three years prior to fascism, I went with no political interest whatever. I am just one of those thousands of Canadians and tens of thousands of Americans who for the past three months have been walking through Italy looking upon nationwide spectacle of poverty, degradation, despair and ruin.

We do not need to be politicians to know that something has got to be done about Italy. We need only be citizens of Canada and the United States to know that when this war is all over and we go back home, we will have memories to bear, opinions to hold and votes to cast.

Across the Bay of Naples from the villa window in Sorrento we could see Naples. Along the waterfront, as modern and up-to-date as any great seaport in the world, lay utter and pitiless ruin. Not millions, but billions of dollars have gone up under our bombs and German demolition blasts. By some infernal humor of war, we had left that part of Naples which was old and historic and muddled and narrow and typical of everything Italy has been trying to escape from intact. But everything modern and new and big, everything that represented Italy’s effort to escape from the past, her port, her shipbuilding yards, her great modern factories and warehouses of every conceivable line of industry, we had reduced to tangled ruins of bent steel and heaped rubble.

“And further north,” said Croce, “in Milan, Turin and Genoa, the ruin and loss are worse.”

“It is not this ruin I wanted to ask you about,” I started. “We have lately fought and marched several hundred miles from the very toe of Italy through an Italy I am sure not one of the thousands of Canadians who saw it believed was possible in this day and age. Tiny villages which in America would house 500 people, housing 5,000. Living conditions so remote from all modem conceptions of public health, let alone human dignity, that it seemed to us we were dreaming. Peasants in a world from which we thought peasants had gone long, long ago. Women acting as beasts of burden. Slavery, with no other word for it, everywhere. Here and there, a county town with a brave show of a few modern buildings in the midst. But around the back, the same old filth and degradation. If it takes billions to restore those factories over there along the proud front of Naples and in Milan and Turin and all over the north of Italy, how many more billions will it take to sweep Italy free of the 16th century?”

Croce may have been a little offended at my naive and unctuous question. But his answer was this:

“If we can have a pause, free of political turmoil, long enough to permit the best elements of the Italian people to express themselves to one another, I am confident that not only is there a sufficient number of those best elements to establish, by legislation, a reasonable and happy solution for Italy, but that the sufferings Italy has experienced in the last war, in this war and under fascism between the two, have finally inspired in the Italian people a mass desire for peace and security that will survive under whatever world politics the future may surround us with.

“I was offered, along with my friend Count Sforza, a ministry under the king when he escaped from Rome and set up his government in the south with Badoglio. I refused. I said I had no ambition but that I had 78 years! I am giving anyone who asks counsel and advice. My advice is always the same. Seek a pause in events in which to bring together all the parties, all the creeds, all the sections and interests of Italy. And in that pause, free from political struggle against one another or against the world, work out Italy’s salvation. Does that answer include both the proud modern cities and the peasants?”

“How long would it take to set up this regency in the present confusion?” I asked. “And is the regency the majority opinion of the national committee?”

“The regency suggested itself to the majority of the national committee, said Croce, “when it was realized no self-respecting experienced public man in Italy could associate himself with either the king or crown prince in view of their lack of character throughout the Fascist regime. It would take us only a matter of days to set up the regency if we had the facilities of press and public halls, which of course are denied at present. Above all, however, we do not want a coup de force, a coup d’etat, another party foisting itself upon Italy. We have had enough of those. Garibaldi was one. Mussolini another. It matters not who or how good the leader, or how bad. To force there is always the reaction. In God’s name let Italy have a rest, a pause, a time to relax and talk and think freely. I am certain that if the United Nations do not understand on what a brink Italy now stands, just another and worse confusion will descend upon us.”

Benedetto Croce all his long life has been an educator and a thinker. And in this hour, he thinks what Italy needs is a period of education. He was born on the island of Ischia, near Capri. When he was a small child, his mother was killed in a great earthquake and he himself was buried for many hours in the ruins. Then, in his prime years he was all but buried under the ruins of fascism. But he survived both catastrophes. He has no fear of the powers of nature, geological or human. But when the earthquake is over he believes in clearing away the ruin, not calling down another quake to reshape the ruins in the hope that they will tumble straight.

One of Benedetto Croce’s most famous contributions to modern philosophy is his writing on the absolute. He maintains that there is no absolute fact, no absolute good, no absolute truth or even absolute beauty. He has defined the forces that bear on life to change, imperceptibly but eternally, the absolute. A sort of Einstein in the realm outside mathematics.

He has lectured in America, France, Britain, at all the greatest universities of the world. He was already a very great man when fascism rose in Italy. So famous, indeed, that when he refused to join the Fascist party, and when his non-co-operation with the Fascists became a dangerous scandal to the party, there was not a thing they dared do to him.

He did not flee the country, as other anti-Fascists did. He just went ahead non-resisting and non-co-operating. He had been made a senator by the king in 1921. After fascism, he simply declined to take his seat. When they tried to convert his writings into support for the Fascist ideal, he immediately published corrections but in such terms that nothing could be done about it. To scientist, no truth can be adduced in support of anything. It is just truth – as far as it can be seen at the moment!

And now the only advice he can give is to cease believing you have the truth; cease fighting for what you conceive to be the truth; and to get together with all your fellowmen and try to find the truth among you all. All – including peasant women staggering day and night under huge burdens

And all – including such density of population that in my jeep journey from my hotel in Naples to the late William Waldorf Astor’s villa, with high thick walls for keeping people out, and hanging lovely and high over the famous Bay of Sorrento and of Naples, I did not pass in 30 miles, one open stretch of meadow, one garden, but only continuous human habitation, wall touching wall, house-house, hovel-hovel, and all swarming and crawling with humanity, ragged, stunned sleep-walking, bewildered in a far deeper bewilderment than I ever have seen in any humanity, but which I have seen in the animal kingdom, among herds of cattle in the stockyards, and among corrals and in herds of sheep driven along dangerous tumultuous town streets.

On my way home from seeing Croce I asked my jeep driver what he thought was the chief problem of Italy.

“Too many Italians,” was his solution, as he nipped the jeep in and out amidst the ragged, scampering, sleep-walking throngs.

Too many, too confused, too pitiably victimizing one another in their ultimate hunger of body and soul; too pitiably, with wide dark blank eyes, trying to victimize us in small pitiable things, so that the tough guys among us curse them for swindlers and the soft guys among us can scarce forbear to weep.

I am thinking this minute of my backyard in Toronto, full of peace, full of security. Thinking also of my jeep driver’s farm north of Orangeville on this afternoon brown and quiet and far-flung and with nothing moving. But in the barns, the stables, in the mow, in the house, in the kitchen, in the pantry, in the milk shed, in the rocking chair beside the stove, in the kettle simmering on the wide hot top – peace, security.

I have heard only one man laugh in Italy and that was old Benedetto Croce – you pronounce it Craw-chay – when he described how his king invited him to become a minister of this, his ruined and wrecked native land. And that was when he said, from the security of his age and of his pride these past 30 years in which he pursued only truth:

“I have no ambition: I have only 78 years!”

His laughter was the saddest thing to hear.


Editor’s Notes: Greg was a war correspondent in Italy at the time. Benedetto Croce was a Greg described him, and did serve in government again after the war was over. He was also President of PEN International from 1949 until 1952, and nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature sixteen times.

After the war, King Victor Emmanuel III had tried to save the monarchy by abdicating on May 9, 1946 with his son becoming King Umberto II. A constitutional referendum was held on June 2 1946 where the Republicans won, and the monarchy was abolished.

Pietro Badoglio was an Italian general during both World Wars. He became Prime Minister of Italy after the fall of the Fascists. Carlo Sforza was an Italian diplomat and anti-fascist politician.

Who’s Got Christmas?

We could find no sad young men. We saw any number, in fact hundreds of young fellows in uniform, brown, blue and navy. But they were far from looking lonely.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 24, 1943.

“Do you realize,” demanded Jimmie Frise, “that this is the fifth war Christmas?”

“I not only realize it,” I stated, but I have been worrying about it more than I can tell you.”

“I wonder how many million men – and women,” pursued Jim, “will be absent from their homes this fifth Christmas! Millions of Americans, hundreds of thousands of Canadians, millions of British, millions of Germans, Russians, Japs – not that they care….”

“I’ve been very uneasy this past few weeks,” I submitted, “watching Christmas approach. I’m a superstitious guy. All these December sunsets we’ve been having. I have looked at anxiously for fear I might see a fiery chariot come riding down.”

“We’ve got this on our side,” pointed out Jimmie, “that at least we are fighting to preserve Christmas on earth. If millions of us are blaspheming Christmas by merely being absent from our homes and hearths, at least it is because we are fighting the forces that have openly announced their intention of destroying all that Christmas stands for.”

“I’m sorry, Jim,” I stated, “I can’t agree with you. We did our blaspheming against Christmas in the 20 years this war was brewing. Back in those ugly terrible days when we sat fat and cosy in our little world letting all the rest of the world go to hell. Back in the days when we could not raise enough public funds to give more than a dirty little dole to our own unemployed, right here in this very city. We could not find a few of our soiled millions to give work, in government-owned projects, to a million Canadians quietly starving.”

“Just a minute,” said Jim.

“Just a minute you,” I insisted. “We had our Christmases then, remember? We who were comfortable – and eight million of us were comfortable – arranged through public charities for Christmas banquets for the homeless, down in the big empty hostels in the warehouse district. We gave to the public funds for Christmas gifts and Christmas hampers. But we had our own Christmases! Sure, sure. Around our sacred little burning trees, we cherished our children, and our wives, and the old, old tradition.”

Who’s Hiding It?

“Just a minute,” said Jim.

“But where,” I cried, “have all these billions come from, in little Canada alone, these billions, not millions, these billions and billions of dollars to be poured out into war? Who had those billions? Where were they in 1933, 1935, 1937?”

“You don’t understand,” said Jim. “It is a problem of economies. It is a question so complicated….”

“So complicated,” I sneered, “that even our greatest brains can’t grasp it. All right then, if you can’t say who had all those billions that we have found for war, can you say who has got Christmas? Where is Christinas? Who’s hiding it from us?”

“How do you mean?” inquired Jimmie indignantly.

“All I say is,” I muttered, “that wherever there is an absent man or an absent girl in a house in all this world today, there is no Christmas. We had our Christmases back in those years when we did not care a pin for all the rest of the world. Now our Christmas is taken away from us to pay the debt. Because Christmas is not a thing for individuals. It is not for you and me. Is it for one family and not for another? Christmas is for all mankind. And all I say is, those of us who presume to make Christmas our own personal and private affair are blaspheming it.”

“You mean,” said Jimmie, “that all this mess we are in is our own fault? Our own fault, each and every man.”

“Nothing comes of itself, Jim,” I explained. “Everything is brought. This Christmas is a tragedy to millions of us on earth today only because it was not a little tragic to us in the Christmases past. We celebrate the birth of Jesus in the greatest and most selfish and personal and private holiday of the year. We forget, on Christmas, to remember the death of Jesus.”

“It is not what He was born for,” suggested Jim, “but what He died for that is important.”

“Yes, and so long as we forget that,” I submitted, “I guess we too will keep on dying, on crosses of a kind, through all time.”

“What do you think!” inquired Jim, since we are both old soldiers who have never had much time to think about religion, “what do you think was the one essential thing Jesus taught?”

“That God is our father,” I submitted, “we are his beloved children.”

“The brotherhood of man,” muttered Jim.

“No other faith” I said, “can save us, forever.”

So again we sat and thought, about socialism and Communism and the C.C.F. and the labor movement and all the religions and all the social service enterprises and the Rockefeller Foundation and the countless, countless things men have tried, in centuries past, and in this bloody and grimmest of all centuries, to figure out the brotherhood of man. But we are so choosey.

“One thing,” said Jim slapping his knee, “we’ve got to do some little thing, no matter how late it is, to make Christmas a little less personal this year. For example, soldiers. There are sure to be some kids marooned in town this Christmas in the army or air force. We ought to look after two or three of them.”

“I keep thinking,” I said, “of the kids who have been five Christmases away.”

“That doesn’t make it any less lonely for these kids away for the first one,” said Jim. “How do we go about finding them? Could we call up the ‘Y’ hut at the camp or the Salvation Army hut?”

“It’s Christmas Eve,” I said. “Downtown it will be jammed and crowded. Among the throngs will be sure to be some kids in uniform wandering about pretty forlorn, trying to capture, from the very multitude, some feeling of Christmas – maybe looking for one face from back home. Do you know what my hunch is? Let’s drive downtown and walk in the crowds and pick up two or three of them and bring them home.”

“On Christmas Eve?” inquired Jim. “I thought of having them to share Christmas dinner tomorrow.”

“Christmas Eve is the best,” I explained. “Don’t you remember Christmas Eve when you were a kid? Let us go and pick up two or three of these youngsters and use them as symbols for all the others in the ends of the world. It was Christmas Eve, mister, that there was no room at the inn.”

“H’m,” muttered Jim.

And into the night we backed Jim’s car, which is in better shape than mine, besides he having seven more gallons left than me, and we drove down along the waterfront and up Yonge St. into the last-minute throngs of Christmas shoppers. We parked and went on foot into the midst.

But such is the mystery of human nature, eternally in hunger for whatever joy is offered, we could find no sad young men. We saw any number, in fact hundreds of young fellows in uniform, brown, blue and navy. But they were far from looking lonely. Most of them had a girl on one arm and a pile of parcels in the other. For all the war, there were no unhappy faces here. Up at the main corner between the two big department stores, we saw two soldiers leaning against the wall watching the throngs boil by. We spoke to them.

“How are you boys fixed for Christmas?”, I inquired heartily.

“Pretty good,” they said. “Why?”

“Well, we are a couple of old soldiers,” explained Jim, “and we just thought we’d take a last-minute look around downtown to see if we could find any of the boys that were left out in the cold that we could give a little Christmas cheer to.”

“Thanks very much,” said one of the two “But the fact is, we’ve been sent down by our families to try and pick up somebody the same way.”

“Good hunting,” said Jim.

“Good hunting, sir,” replied the boys.

It is pretty tough going in these Christmas Eve mobs, so Jim and I took the inside track along the store fronts, and shoved our way patiently along, because after all, a high resolve is not to be so lightly abandoned. And presently, I leading against the wind and hastening herd, we were held up by a small figure flattened against the bricks of one store front.

“Christmas cards,” he said, in the gloom. “Christmas cards.”

We, too, flattened ourselves against the bricks.

“Christmas cards,” said the weak voice. “Christmas cards, five cents.”

We could see him now, a small elderly ragged little man, his hat pulled down and his collar up so that he seemed to be calling out from a cave.

“Christmas cards.”

Nobody but us paid any attention.

“Speak up, man,” I said to him quietly. “Make them hear. Like this: CHRISTMAS CARDS!”

And I let it go good and round.

But nobody even looked.

“There’s Your Answer”

I saw the little man smiling out at me from the cave of his hat and his collar.

“See?” he said.

“Well,” I said, “anyway, I’ll take a few. How many have you got?”

“A dozen,” said he.

“I’ll take the whole lot,” I said, “I was just going in to buy some. You always forget somebody at the last minute.”

“They’re not much good,” said the little man, drawing a frowsy packet from his pocket.

“Call it dollar,” I said, handing him the bill.

“Thanks,” said the little man eagerly. “Thanks a million.”

We could now see him quite distinctly as the three of us huddled in the falling dusk amid the whirling throngs. He opened his ragged overcoat to secrete the dollar somewhere within his clothes and my eye caught a glint of a button on his lapel.

“Hey,” I said harshly, seizing the old boy’s coat. “What’s that!”

But I knew what it was. It was the bronze button with the Union Jack in the shield, the proud old bronze button that we got in that other war, and which marks us as veterans…

“Old soldier?” demanded Jimmie sharply.

“Oh, yes,” said the little man, buttoning his coat. “Oh, yes.”

“Listen,” I said, dropping my grip from his coat front, “we’ve got a proposition to make to you, brother. We’re old soldiers ourselves. We’ve got an idea….”

But just as I started to fumble with the idea, a great, a strange, a hard, a disturbing Idea, an idea shaking my Christmas to its very core, from the white Christmas table cover, from the bright candlesticks, the red crackers, the steaming turkey on the blue platter, the little man, like a gnome, vanished. Somebody jostled us. And when the jostle ended, he was gone.

“Hey, Jim….”

Jim fought upstream, I fought down. I ducked in and out of the mob. I came back along the curb, outside the throng. I heard Jim call me.

“He was gone,” said Jim.

Together we hurried up the block and watched. Together we went and watched the main corner. But he was gone.

“Mister,” and Jim to me, “there’s your answer, whatever it is.”


Editor’s Notes: The C.C.F was the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, which became the New Democratic Party (NDP) in 1961. It was a socialist-labour party in Canada.

The Rockefeller Foundation is an American private foundation for philanthropy that was created by the Rockefeller family in 1913, and still exists today.

They used Jimmie’s car since he had more gas, as gasoline was rationed during the war.

Those Other Christmases

By Gregory Clark, December 20, 1919.

The regiments are disbanded.

Their banners droop in the dusty shadows of silent churches.

Forty-eight battalions of infantry and a thousand guns, Canada’s historic army, scattered and stilled; and the comic lords of Peace decree it shall never assemble again, that it was a temporary army for a temporary war; and that its memories and its comradeships must be washed out, to make way for the gallant militia–

But to-night, and the coming four nights till Christmas Eve, those mighty battalions and shouting guns live again in the hearts of three hundred thousand men.

In the little homes and the great homes, men are sitting by the firesides, seeing visions.

They see again the narrow thoroughfares of Houdain, or Mazingarbe, Poperinghe, or Camblain l’Abbe.

The winter evening is falling. The little grey shops begin to glow with furtive lights. There is snow on all the steep roofs.

Men in khaki, muffled in greatcoats or leather jerkins, stamp over the frosty cobblestones. At the door of a crowded estaminet, a little group, amid much laughter and jovial profanity, gathers in a circle to sing a Christmas carol, entitled “Mademoiselle from Armentieres,” or perhaps “I Want to Go Home.”

A French girl, muffled in a huge scarf, with a basket on her arm, shuffles down the cobblestones.

“Merry Christmas, mamzelle!” cry all the troops

A limber comes clattering out of the darkness. It is laden with huge sacks. Atop sits the post corporal, who shouts:

“Nothing but parcels, boys! Seventeen bags of parcels from home!”

“Merry Christmas!”

Suddenly, a bugle thrills the crisp air. It is not “retreat,” nor “last post.” It sounds the “fall in!” But this unusual call seems to be expected, for the estaminets empty as if by magic, the cobbled street is crowded with men hastening to their company parade grounds.

The street becomes deserted. A silence descends. Then, from down at the village square, the sudden clear music of the regimental band rises up.

Presently the band comes closer in the darkness, and swings past, playing a rousing march. Behind it comes “A” company, and then “B.” The men are singing and laughing as they pass. They are without arms or equipment. To the French people who have come to their doors to see the sight, the boys cry out greetings, “Oo, la lal” and “Voulez-vous promenade?”

The battalion marches to the far end of the town. Spirits mount. There is a note of expectancy over all.

Band still playing, the battalion halts outside a great red-roofed barn rising out of the dusk. And, forming single file amid much loud, confused shouting of commands, the troops begin to enter.

Inside is fairyland. A thousand candles light up the scene. Long tables fill the great barn. The padre has garnished the bleak walls and cross-beams with evergreen. Flags and bunting drape the corners. And a smell, O! an overwhelming smell of roast pork and apple sauce, of plum pudding and rum punch, fills the cold bar with warmth.

Then up jumps the padre on a barrel. Silence is called for. And the padre, says that brief Army grace: “For what we are about to receive, thank God!”

The band plays “God Save the King.” In tumble the sergeants and corporals laden with steaming dixies. And the Christmas banquet is on.

Faint echoing crashes come from afar, but are drowned by the band and the singing. Green and white flashes flicker along the eastern sky, but the boys are safe in the light of the thousand candles.

There is pork and apple sauce and music. There is rum punch and speeches and more music. Then the band plays some of the old tunes and everybody sings. The smokes are passed around. A boy from “C” company with the voice of an angel sings “Roses of Picardy,” and everybody, even the old regimental sergeant-major, harmonizes on the refrain–

Outside, a pallid moon smiles down on the wintry little grey village, and the old village smiles back. For in a thousand years these two have looked upon many a company of soldiers singing by the wayside; not the same songs, but the same sentiments with the same hearts and the same high fellowship of romance.

Down this cobbled street Francois Villon has ridden, soldier, adventurer, poet; and Villon, four hundred years ago, sang-

“Where are the comrades of yesterday?

The winds have blown them all away.”

Have they? Not to-night!


Editor’s Note: This story comes a year after the end of World War One, with a few popular songs of the time mentioned, Mademoiselle from Armentières, I Want To Go Home, and Roses of Picardy.

Hardships of War

As we came through the door, a lady from behind gave an impatient shove, and to my horror, the bag of sugar, balanced conspicuously on the top of my load, fell off and burst with a most horrible squash fair in a puddle on the rainy sidewalk.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 28, 1942.

“I’ve got the week-end shopping to do,” announced Jimmie Frise. “Want to come along?”

“Wait till I phone,” I said, “and see if I can do our family shopping, too.”

And I phoned and got a list of a few things the house required together with due warnings not to go and buy up a lot of silly things we didn’t need.

“You’d think,” I said to Jim, “women would be glad of a change.”

“Aw,” smiled Jim, “the Saturday shopping trip is the most delightful fixture of the housewife’s life. The market place is one of the oldest of human institutions. And in the modern city, where the market place is spread along miles and miles of shopping streets, it is still perhaps the greatest human institution.”

“In days gone by,” I offered, “it was in the market place that public opinion was formed. Nowadays, to form public opinion, you have to organize service clubs, like Rotary and Kiwanis, the Board of Trade and other business organizations.”

“And the trade unions, don’t forget,” added Jim, “and the churches. In the olden days, when the market place was the centre of the community, all they did in church was worship God.”

“I have the idea,” I submitted, “that as the market place gave way to rows and rows of shops, and men stopped coming to market and let their wives do all the shopping, public opinion began to lose its power.”

“Nonsense,” scoffed Jim. “There was never so much public opinion as there is now.”

“Nor was it ever more confused and formless,” I retorted. “In the time of King Charles, the yokels in the market places had more opinion that mattered than we have within half a mile in all directions from King and Yonge streets. They had so much that the king lost his head.”

“Puh,” said Jim, “you can always dramatize history. It was just a gang of Nazis that executed King Charles. That was the only time Britain ever had a dictatorship.”

“They had market places in the days of the Roman Empire,” I recounted, “and in those market places, a little bunch of agitators called Christians told their story and took possession of the whole earth. They had market places all across the ages that followed and there resulted the slow and patient destruction, by an ever maturing public opinion, of tyrants and masters and cruel government. In the palaces, the rulers gave forth their edicts. But the palaces fell to dust and the market places stayed on. In the monasteries and colleges and churches, the thinkers spoke and wrote with the sublime power of logic and intelligence. But what they spoke and wrote seemed silly in 50 years, even to their own successors, and the market places stayed on and flourished. For in the market places, the mass of mankind met and talked, free of all party or sect, because in the market place, there is no room for party or sect.”

To Form Public Opinion

“But they could go home with their vegetables in their arms,” pointed out Jim, “but with their prejudices and convictions still in their minds.”

“No, sir,” I stated, “in the market place you go to buy or sell. And to buy well or sell well, you can’t take into account your own personal opinions nor those of the man you deal with. A service club or a lodge or a union or a church, you join it to signify the opinions you already hold. It is a place in which not to change your opinions. But in the market place, new, strange and often disturbing opinions are to be met with. You are exposed to the ever-present danger of the germ of a new idea in the market place.”

“You’re just one of those,” accused Jimmie, “who try to see something noble and spiritual in sordid business.”

“Far from it,” I responded. “It is the way in which sordid modern business has robbed us of the market place that disturbs me. For it is the way modern business has cut all men off from one another so that most business is done without men ever meeting one another and sharing each other’s minds that has got us all adrift in a vast sea of trouble.”

“The world has got too big,” said Jim, “for market places. The market place we are heading for now, down on Bloor St., is 15 miles long and 60 feet wide.”

“And in no half mile of it,” I declared, “is public opinion the same. Sometimes, Jim, I feel awfully suspicious of Nature in connection with this war. I wonder sometimes if it isn’t Nature that flings us headlong at each other’s throats every once in a while. Because we are too numerous. She is always trying to cut us down in numbers, so that we can get together more easily. In the rest of the animal kingdom, whenever rabbits or pigeons or anything else grow too numerous, a plague gets loose among them and they are practically wiped out – all except the strongest and toughest. As rabbits grow more susceptible to plague, the more numerous they are, so do men grow more susceptible to war, the more numerous they are. Because they can’t get together in market places and form their opinions. They have no opinions. Then along comes a small gang with a powerful opinion – like the plague germ in rabbits -and away we all go into a dreadful war.”

“There might be something in it,” said Jimmie, as we neared the corner and could see ahead the principal shopping district of our neighborhood. “And I can’t think of any cure for it, unless it was made the civic duty of all men to go shopping with their wives.”

“That is an important idea, Jim,” I exclaimed. “The civic duty of all men to go shopping with their wives. And while the wives are shopping around the shelves, the men could gather in little neighborly groups and chat together. ….”

“The way it is now,” said Jim, “the weekend is given over to men to golf or go fishing. The one period of the week when men might get together, as neighbors, and exchange a few ideas is given over to escaping from their neighbors, and to the companionship of those they have chosen to be with.”

“Yet there seems to be quite a lot of men, Jim,” I said, as we reached the corner and looked over the throng of Saturday afternoon shoppers milling along. “Why, there are hundreds of men out with their wives.”

“I should say, then,” pronounced Jim, “that these men we see are full of civic virtue. These are our better fellow citizens.”

Men Who Go Shopping

And despite the fact that a little rain had started to fall, cold November rain, we stood on the corner, watching the crowds of shoppers hurrying past, with our eyes especially on the men, to see what manner of men they were.

There were plenty of middle-aged men and not a few men in their 30s. And here and there some quite young house husbands. 30 and under.

“There is one thing about the men in this shopping scene,” said Jim, a little doubtfully, “they do look a little hen-pecked. Don’t you think?”

“Well, not hen-pecked, exactly,” I submitted. “They just look like guys who can’t think of anything better to do.”

“Now that one there,” muttered Jim, as a young, rosy faced man in spectacles and with light red hair, passed by with arms full of parcels, “looks as if he were fond of his stomach. I can understand him coming shopping.”

“And that cadaverous bird,” I pointed out. “He looks as if he wouldn’t trust his wife with the money. Maybe he just comes along to pay the bill.”

“And that one,” checked Jim, as a thin, neat little man trotted anxiously past in the wake of his large, commanding wife, “is obviously just brought along to carry the parcels.”.

“Our theory,” I submitted, “is not upset in the least by these examples. It is the men who don’t want to come shopping who should be obliged by law to come to market.”

And upon this reflection, and the rain starting to come down in earnest, Jimmie and I stepped into the stream of shoppers and hustled along to the big store where Jimmie prefers, if not to buy all his supplies, at least to look over the vast array of provender and get some ideas as to what to buy from the smaller merchants whom he has known for years and who give you the feeling of having bought something rather than having popped something out of a slot.

“I’ll get my tea here,” said Jimmie, putting Rusty on the leash and picking up a basket from the basket rack. “I’ve got the tea coupons, I hope.”

And to our astonishment, he had the tea coupons sure enough, and we went and got the one precious pound of tea for Jim’s numerous family. And then we started exploring, after tying Rusty up in the vestibule. One thing about these big modern groceries is that there seems to be no end to their expansion. The next thing they will be selling is phonograph records and 49 cent novels; and then the drug business will really have to step out.

I had a basket, and we moved happily along the high banks of merchandise, I getting a new shoe brush, a bottle of ginger marmalade and a new kind of light rope clothes line I had never seen before that would come in very handy next summer for putting new bow lines on the rowboat and canoes, up at the cottage.

Jim collected oranges, two cauliflower, ketchup, a small bag of flour, a carton of salt, a peck of potatoes and so forth; and then we came to the canned goods. We love the canned goods. Not only their immense array and variety but the human comedy that goes on in their presence. It is delightful to edge slowly along past the high cliffs of brightly clad cans, noting all the endless variety of the things that can be bought already cooked, from vegetables to filet mignons, from carrots to pig’s tails; fish, flesh, fruit, of every description. But one of the best things about the canned goods section is a lady buying a can of anything. Jimmie and I have spent hours observing the ladies. They stand wrapt before a huge pile of one sort of canned goods. There are 50 cans, all the same, all containing the same thing, all the same size, the same brand, all the same price. Nothing, not even a fly speck, distinguishes one can from the other.

The Wrong Basket

But it is more than a lady can stand. Not easily does a lady give in to the triumph of modern business.

There she stands, baffled and troubled. She stares intently at the trim stack of, let us say, canned tomatoes; all the same brand, same size, alike as modern scientific perfection can make them. She picks one off the top and examines it. Then she puts it back and takes down its neighbor. This she sets back, carefully, on the pile, and removing two other cans to one side, selects one perilously from the second row.

She nearly takes this one. She almost gets it into her basket but her eye unwillingly strays back to the stack and she pauses. Fascinated, she stares again, returns the can she has selected to its place and, with still greater risk of upsetting the whole stack, takes one from the third row. This she studies intently and thoughtfully for a moment, then steps back and stands gazing with wide-awake intelligence at the whole stack.

Abruptly, she steps forward, sets the can she has in her hand resolutely back on the shelf and takes one, any one, from the top of the stack. This, with an air of great resolution, she drops into the basket; and with an air of tremendous accomplishment, she moves along to the next stack.

“It never fails,” breathed Jimmie, rejoicing.

“Maybe there is something about the solder, or the way the can is closed,” I suggested.

“No, no! They all do it,” gloated Jim.

And he reached down to pick up his basket so that we could proceed with our own affairs.

“Hey,” he said. “Where’s my basket?”

“That’s yours,” I assured him.

“No it isn’t,” declared Jim. “I didn’t buy any bread. And hey… where’s my TEA!!”

He was looking in the basket. There was no doubt of it. His precious pound of tea was gone.

“Why, somebody has picked up my basket by mistake,” he said, raising his voice in the hope of attracting the attention of the guilty party. Everybody around examined their baskets. But Jim’s was not among them.

“Let’s get to the turnstile, quick,” I advised. For I too like tea.

At the turnstile, we explained to all the young ladies what had happened, and inquired if anybody had found a pound of tea they didn’t belong to. But nothing of the sort had been reported.

Again we examined Jim’s basket. In in among other things, was a bag of sugar, about six pounds.

“Well,” said the head girl, “whoever has lost that sugar would probably be as anxious to get it back as you are the tea.”

So Jim took one aisle and I another and we cruised up and down, looking at every body’s basket, without any luck.

“Look here,” said Jim, very worried, “that was our two week’s ration of tea. Can I get any more, by explaining….?”

“Maybe if you wrote the Tea Controller,” suggested the girl.

“Was That My Sugar?”

So Jim took back all the stuff in the basket, and set each item back where it belonged, except the sugar, which he kept as hostage. And then refilled his basket with the oranges, ketchup, potatoes, cauliflower, etc. that he required. And very crestfallen, stood before the tea counter for a while, hoping somebody would restore his tea. And also before the sugar counter, hoping that the loser of the sugar would come with his complaint.

“Men,” said Jimmie, as we wended our way hopelessly back to the turnstile, “should never be allowed to go shopping. They are too sloppy. They pick up the wrong basket.”

“How do you know it was a man?” I inquired.

“No woman would pick up the wrong basket.” said Jim.

Our parcels were bagged up, all except the sugar, which Jim gave me to carry as he wished to lay no claim to it.

“Take your time,” he pleaded, “Don’t let’s be in a hurry. Let’s even hang around in front for a few minutes…”

As we came through the door, a lady from behind gave an impatient shove, and to my horror, the bag of sugar, balanced conspicuously on the top of my load, fell off and burst with a most horrible squash fair in a puddle on the rainy sidewalk.

“Was that my sugar?” cried the lady angrily.

She had a square package in her hand.

“Is that my tea?” inquired Jimmie, taking it.

I was trying to scoop what sugar was still dry into my hat, and at the same time chasing Rusty away from the widening pool of sweetness.

Everybody was sympathetic about the sugar, but the lady accused us of having picked up her basket; and we retorted by fetching witnesses to prove our basket had been picked up first, because we had gone all over the place trying to set the mistake right; whereas the lady had to admit that she had only discovered her mistake when she came to the counter a moment before.

So Jim got his tea. And the lady accepted as a compromise the three pounds I had salvaged in my hat, plus a pound each from Jimmie and me, which we would faithfully deliver to her house in a few minutes, from our own domestic supply.

“For after all,” said Jimmie eloquently, clutching his pound of tea firmly, “aren’t all in this war together?”


Editor’s Note: Receiving rationed goods during the war would require you to hand in ration coupon before receiving the product (it would be behind a counter that someone would have to get for you). This would explain why Jim was distressed while he was still shopping when he lost his tea, as the coupon was already spent, and why he could hold the sugar “hostage”.

“Wrapt” is an archaic spelling of “rapt”.

Fifteen Years!

“On Armistice Eve, when the city hall square in silent and deserted, the Boys, in their old khaki, with their tin hats over their eyes, with braziers winking, come back for an hour or two, to bivouac around the steps in a sort of old boys’ reunion, in answer to the call of memory”

By Gregory Clark, November 11, 1933.

At the cenotaph in front of the city hall in Toronto there are wreaths and people and bands.

From the windows of the busy buildings high about, the faces of girls watch down. The street cars push respectfully through the gathering throng.

Then comes the Silence. And everybody is quite proud of it. It is a fine Silence. In the midst of it, Big Ben tolls with an unfamiliar tone, deep and fateful. We hold ourselves consciously, as full participants in this Silence. We feel deeply moved by some ancient, profound instinct. We try to concentrate our minds, but in the Silence our minds wheel in great circles, frightened, aimless.

This cannot be all. Some of us have queer and pagan notions. One of our fancies is that on Armistice Eve, when all the city hall square is silent and deserted, the Boys start to foregather around this tall white pillar of remembrance.

In their old khaki, with their tin hats over their eyes, in battle order, with braziers winking, the Boys come back for an hour or two, while they may, to bivouac around the city hall steps, a sort of old boys’ reunion, in answer to the call of memory.

And if we have eyes to see them, we can see them, in the November night, a glow about them, as they pass and repass in the braziers’ uncertain light, joking and laughing, the way they used to be. It is impossible for us to remember them with mournfulness. When an old soldier calls up a tender ghost in memory to mourn with him, lo, the ghost is full of life and laughter, and in a moment, instead of the remembered one being brought forward from the past, it is the shadowy one who has carried us backward with him, to the past. It is a curious thing.

But I know an old lady who, at eleven o’clock every Armistice Day, holds a private service in her own room.

She takes a photograph in her two hands and sits ready with it.

When the hour arrives, she sits, her old head tremulous, staring steadily into the eyes that look so boldly out of the photograph at her.

She, too, has the gift of imagination.

When the Hour strikes, it seems to her that the picture before her is suddenly suffused with life. The eyes shimmer tenderly at her. The corners of the mouth twitch in a fleeting, meaningful smile.

For that smile, the old lady will wait the whole long year.


Dear old lady, forgive me this story.

We have invested our memorial day with so much of pomp and circumstance that we are in danger of letting the drums beat without the muffling of crepe. There should be pathos in this day. Pathos for all the lives laid down for us that we might have something better, higher, nobler. There is pathos in this story now.


It is an orchard.

Never, I trust, will you see such an orchard. It is like a drawing by the artist, Gustav Dore, illustrating Dante’s Inferno.

In the twilight, while harsh small snowflakes rattle down, an unearthly light streams from a narrow strip of fiery sky along the west, and lights up the grotesque arms of the apple trees, riven and torn. The orchard is terribly plowed.

In this orchard are more than two hundred men. But you cannot see them. They are hiding in shallow ditches, in the strange furrows of the gigantic plow that has lately worked this land. In mud and slush, two hundred men are hiding. On their helmets tinkle the small dry snowflakes. Over their heads wail demons. With no tune or rhythm, some satanic drummer plays a tune with drums like thunder.

But look! Somebody is moving. There. By those apple trees. Just this side of that sprawled heap of bricks and charred timbers.

It is a skinny lieutenant, with sunken eyes.

“Sergeant,” he says, “we’ll start now. It is dark enough.”

Out of the ground crawls the sergeant.

“Come along, you,” says the sergeant.

And two more figures rise, heavy, grotesque, out of the sodden earth. These two carry shovels.

Amidst the broken and gnarled apple trees, the four figures move hurriedly, cautiously, stooping, heavy-footed.

“Are there any more since?” asks the lieutenant over his shoulder.

“Just the seven,” says the sergeant. “We could wait for the padre to come up to-morrow.”

“No,” says the lieutenant. “The padre will be busy all night back yonder. They say he has forty to look after between the old front lines alone. But nevertheless, I won’t have these boys lying out here overnight. I can’t bear that. All alone. They look like little kids, somehow, when they are like that….”

The lieutenant is going a little leery.

“Pull up, sir,” warns the sergeant, kindly.

“I’m sorry, sergeant, but to-morrow, maybe we can have the padre come up and say a regular service over them. All I want is cover over them, you understand ….”

“Yes, sir; yes, sir. Let it go at that.”

The crawling little party, struggling over the shadowy ragged earth, reach a spot where a large shell hole has already been squared away, its sides chopped off and made into a pit, six feet deep.

And in the pit lie seven forms, over each one a coarse gray blanket. You can see only the square, rough boots sticking out from the bottom of the blankets. That is for counting.

“Now?” says the lieutenant, as the four stand, like figures in the picture called the Angelus, at the edge of the pit.

“First,” says the sergeant, “you take their identity discs and personal effects such as pay books, watches, rings, and tie them up in their handkerchiefs.”

“Sergeant,” says the lieutenant, “if you don’t mind, will you do that?”

“Yes, sir.”

The sergeant slides heavily down and one by one opens each tunic collar and removes the identity discs, searches briefly in the simple pockets, makes a little heap of papers, trinkets, frayed and flattened letters, on the blanket.

It is growing dark.

The sergeant down in the pit works quickly, stooping in the gloom. He ties each bundle in a khaki handkerchief with a knot. He hands up the seven small bundles and reaches up a hand for a lift.

“Now, sir,” says the sergeant, dusting off his hands. “It is customary for the officer to say a short prayer.”

“Oh,” says the lieutenant in a small voice. “A prayer.”

“The Lord’s Prayer,” suggests the sergeant.

The lieutenant is stumped.

“Ah, yes, the Lord’s Prayer,” he says, shifting his cane to his arm and clasping his hands in front of his belt.

The Lord’s Prayer, the Lord’s Prayer! Back through his bewildered, blistered, tortured brain he scurries, seeking down long, empty aisles of memory, down forgotten corridors, scampering, frightened, seeking, the Lord’s Prayer, how does it start?

His mind is blank. Just a bare, shabby room, as if his spirit had moved somewhere else.

How does it go, the Lord’s Prayer?

Tinkling on his steel helmet, the dry small snow. Around him the three men, heads bowed, resting on their shovels, waiting.

Tinkling, far back down the long hall of his memory, from far and far away, from babyhood, here it comes, the Lord’s Prayer, sweetly, coming, coming.

“Now I lay me down to sleep,” says the lieutenant, clearly, proudly.

“I pray the Lord my soul to keep,

“If I should die before I wake,

“I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

The men bow to the shovels. The dark earth tumbles in.

They stand there, still, the sergeant and he. The satanic drumming throbs. Baleful flickers of lightning. dragons’ tongues, dance about the edges of the world.

And the skinny lieutenant with the sunken eyes does not know, until the sergeant tells him three days later, in a dry town, under the bright April sun, that he has not got the Lord’s Prayer.


Since 1920, when the present organization took Christie hospital off military hands, 26,626 old soldiers have entered its doors to stay for weeks or months. This doesn’t mean out-patients. They have from 40,000 to 50,000 out-patient cases every year. But the 26,626 brought their bundles with them. That is a lot of men. It is more than half the number that had bayonets in their hands and carried the glory of Canada as the spear-head of the Allies at Amiens in 1918. It is more than thirty regiments, line strength. And it is only one hospital in a long string of hospitals, that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

In those thirteen years, 828 have died in Christie hospital. Perhaps you don’t recall Euclid Hall. It was a special hospital, set aside in the early days for that little group of local men who never would rise again. Well, there were forty men in Euclid Hall when it was closed and the inmates transferred to Christie St.

There are six left.

The tempo increases. So far this year, Christie St. has faced the west, to watch a good man out, seventy-four times!


There are two banquets at the big hotel Armistice night. The one is a gathering of war pilots from far and near, three or four hundred of them. The other is a banquet to launch a new veterans’ organization, the University Veterans League. Sir Arthur Currie is speaking to this second crowd, and hundreds and hundreds of Varsity men from Toronto, McGill, Queen’s, Dalhousie, the west, will be there to try to recapture, somehow, the lost legend.

The legend of passion, of patriotism, of unselfish sacrifice, of loyalty, leadership, courage.

They had it. In the war they all had it, the thousands of these privileged men, educated, fine, forward reaching. There is a sort of cloister up at Varsity, a sheltered place whose walls are carven from vaulted roof to floor with the myriad names of Toronto Varsity men who died. These who came home are now, fifteen years after, holding a great banquet, their guest the Canadian whom they honor above all other Canadians, and they are seeking the lost legend.


On Armistice night, the fifteenth anniversary, they will try to pick up the torch, flung to them from failing hands…

“Who,” I asked the committee in charge of the other big banquet, the war pilots, “are your speakers?”

“We are having no speakers,” said they. “No guests. No prime ministers, mayors, celebrities. Old Red Mulock will likely get up and ask us to drink to those who did not fly home. And of course, someone will toast the King.”

“But four hundred of you …?”

“Maybe,” said the committee. “Ernst Udet, the German ace, might run up from New York. We are trying to get him.”

“Will he speak?”

“No speeches,” reiterated the committee.

Ten, five, even one year ago, Armistice had speeches about it, but now we see a thousand Varsity men from a score of different universities coming for the first time together in humility with the confessed design of trying to find something very precious they have lost.

And the pilots …

I wish I could dress up as a waiter and be your eye-witness at that banquet.

To be a pilot, remember, you had to be young and free. Maybe 17, 18, 19 years old. You could not be in love. If you went on leave to Blighty and fell in love, you were no good when you rejoined your squadron. Not a care in the world. That was what you had to have when you were a war pilot.

Look at them now. Thirty-five. Forty. Heavy. Careful. Frightened of their banker. Fifteen Armistices ago, all they knew of banks was a queer little sweeping turn they gave the joy-sticks as they eagled their way across a far distant sky.

And whatever it is they want this night, when they gather together, it is not speeches.

God rest them merry.


Chateau de la Haie was just north of Villers au Bois.

It was a great, squat chateau standing amidst park ground, with walls and a gate letting into a stately drive under tall elms.

It used to be Madame Patti’s country estate.

But then we came along and made it a divisional headquarters, with hundreds of Nissen huts, those round-roofed tin huts, in the park, and staff cars and motorcycle dispatch riders tearing in the gates and brass hats embarrassingly numerous.

The last snapshot any of the boys have seen of the Chateau de la Haie showed the poor old gates fallen ajar, grass growing rankly in the entrance, and through the tall trees, the chateau standing and lonely within.

But up on Sturgeon lake in Ontario there is a new Chateau de la Haie.

It is an old farm house, and it is the permanent headquarters of the 67th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery.

There they have annual Armistice banquets. They have frequent reunions and outings, summer, winter. All through the year, you will likely find some of the battery there. In the summer, they go in turn with their families, a club house.

The 67th was the University of Toronto battery. It recruited students and graduates and people associated with the university. They never went to France as a unit, but they were long enough together to found what is perhaps the most lasting friendship to be found in any unit of the corps that assimilated half a million Canadian men.

They started in a casual way with a reunion dinner after the war. Being a battery, they were few enough in number to be manageable. They formed a lively association. They published a humorous and happy history of the unit. Then they bought the farm.

In the secret recesses of the farm is hidden a bottle of old and good Burgundy. Safe and sacred it lies, until at last there shall be only two members left of the 67th battery to inherit the riches and tradition of the Chateau de la Haie.

And when there are only two, they are pledged to open the Burgundy and drink a toast to the memory of a hundred men who were unique in that, all rank cast aside, officer and man, they maintained the fellowship of war through the vicissitudes of peace.

They are up there to-night.


Where is the G.W.V.A.?

And all the other veterans’ associations, with their meetings and deputations and parades, their clamor for a bonus, their leaders whose names we have now forgotten so that when someone recalls them, it strikes no familiar chord?

All in one legion now.

Orderly now, front page news no more, doing a quiet, steady work, taking up cases, fighting unobtrusively and resolutely for those speechless ones who don’t know the ropes that lead to pensions, hospital care, justice.


Poppy Fund? It assures us proudly that for some $30,000 received last year from public subscriptions and tag days it expended $85,000 worth of relief by ingenious development of its funds and activities, and on its list of directors are twenty imposing names of generals, colonels and well-known civilians.

Like the sea after a storm, it takes time to settle down.

After a typhoon, you do not expect a smiling calm.

The sea is not like that, nor the hearts of men. The hearts of men are hidden, mysterious, fathomless. At the university, I bought a second-hand textbook on philosophy to save myself the price of a matinee at the old Gaiety. The textbook set forth the whole mind of man, out of all the ages. It explained all. Classified all. It was authoritative and urbane. It had the mind and soul of man set out like canned goods on the grocery shelf. The professor saw me with the textbook. “It is no good,” he said. “It is ten years old.”

This mysterious, unknown soul of man, which still defies understanding, has suffered a great storm on a more universal scale than anything it has experienced perhaps since the Ice Age.

After the storm came the long rolleth in the 1920’s, bearing us along so splendidly, in the bright sunshine after the tempest, toward some shore, we felt certain.

Then came the calm. The sea was filled with flotsam, and we discovered a thing we had not observed, so happy were we to be spared. We found, when the sea subsided, that our vessel was battered and wrecked. And there was no appreciable shore.

Well, there are signs of a breeze. To bear us along again on the normal voyage, toward that still uncharted haven.

We are busy clearing away the wreckage, setting the ship in order.

And those of us who were on deck during the last storm devoutly hope that our navigators will do their duty on the bridge, where they can see the weather, instead of working it out in the chart house with the blinds drawn.


Editor’s Notes: The photo is of the the Old City Hall Cenotaph in Toronto, which was dedicated in 1925.

The Angelus is a painting by Jean-François Millet. Greg has written the story of the officer who could not remember the words of the Lord’s Prayer mnay times. Identity discs were used for identification of soldiers in the First World War, like modern “Dog tags“.

The Christie Street Veterans’ Hospital was at the corner of Lambertlodge Avenue and Christie Street, north of Dupont Street. It was originally a factory of the National Cash Register Company, but was converted into a hospital near the end of WW1. Overcrowding at the end of World War 2 contributed to the decision to build a new hospital at Bayview and Lawrence called Sunnybrook, opening in 1948. The old hospital became a seniors’ home known as Lambert Lodge, and was eventually torn down. On the site now is the Christie Gardens Apartments and Care Facility.

Euclid Hall was a grand home in Toronto at 515 Jarvis Street. The building was originally built in 1867 for Arthur McMaster. In 1882, it was purchased by Hart Massey. The building was then bequeathed to the University of Toronto’s Victoria College in 1915. Today it is a restaurant, the Keg Mansion.

Sir Arthur Currie, was the first Canadian commander of the Canadian Corps in WW1. Redford “Red” Mulock was a Canadian flying ace. Ernst Udet was German flying ace.

The G.W.V.A. was the Great War Veteran’s Association, one of many groups that advocated for veterans after the war. Since the number of groups separately were ineffective, they all merged in 1925 to become the Canadian Legion.

The story of the officer forgetting the Lord’s Prayer was one Greg would often write about.

Kit Inspection

To my deep joy, Jimmie … let the bandage unroll in his hand and started winding it the way cowboy throws a lariat.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 7, 1939.

“With a little walnut juice or something,” said Jimmie Frise, “I could dye my hair.”

“The trouble is,” I explained, they have our records at Ottawa. Every old soldier, 600,000 of us, is all docketed at Ottawa. You can’t fool them, unless, of course, you want to get in under an assumed name.”

“If this war continues,” said Jimmie, “we won’t have to worry. They’ll take all the old soldiers. And be mighty glad to have us.”

“I tell you what they ought to do,” I stated. They ought to recruit what the Germans called the Landwehr in the old war. All men over a certain age, who had no particular right to serve in the active battalions, were enlisted in reserve battalions of older men They did all kinds of secondary work like guard duty, digging trenches, laying wire entanglements, repairing roads, and everything like that.”

“Not for me,” declared Jimmie. “Just because I’m over age is no reason why they should work me to death.”

“Jim, you’re romantic,” I said. “It is just as honorable to die from a heart attack while carrying a heavy plank, 30 miles behind the battle lines, when you are in uniform, as to die in a battle raid.”

“And somebody has to carry the planks,” agreed Jim.

“The way I’d do it,” I enunciated, “if I were the minister of defence, I would enlist every man who wants to enlist, so long as he is fit. Young, old, weak, strong, keen, dull, gay, crabby, enlist them all into a sort of depot. A sort of recruiting pool. Then let the recruiting officers of the infantry come along, for example, and call a parade of the pool and ask for those who wanted to enter the infantry, please step forward.”

“Who’d have first choice of them?” inquired Jim. “I wouldn’t want the infantry to get all the best men. Don’t forget the artillery.”

“Oh, no,” I enlightened. “The boys in the pool would know that all branches would be coming for them, so those that wanted to get into the artillery or the engineers could hold back until the officer from those arms called for them. Now, when the infantry officer came, a lot of men would step forward who aren’t suited to infantry, too old, too fat, too tall.”

“Huh,” snorted Jimmie.

“Yes, too tall,” I insisted. “If I were minister of defence, the first call for the infantry would be for men between five feet and five feet three inches and weighing not more than 125 pounds.”

“Good grief,” laughed Jim. “The Guards.”

“Modern infantry,” I informed him, “travels in trucks. You can get far more small men in a truck than you can big ones. Small men can move over the ground far slicker than tall ones, and instead of having to dig six-foot trenches, you would only need five-foot trenches. In a trench 100 miles long, I bet that would save enough digging to fill up the Grand Canyon of Colorado. Tall men are a waste of time in the infantry.”

“I suppose you’d put all the big men in the artillery,” scoffed Jim.

“Certainly,” I agreed “Because when you run out of gasoline, somebody has to haul those guns around. And the more beef you’ve got in the artillery, the sooner you bombardiers are going to be helping us poor little infantry away out there in the blue.”

New Plan For Recruiting

“I want to inform you,” said Jim, “that we artillery men have the highest respect and admiration for the infantry. It’s a pity you infantry haven’t got more feeling for us gunners.”

“We have the highest respect for you,” I assured him, “when you take time to aim your guns.”

“Now, that’s too much…” cried Jim indignantly.

“What I was getting at,” I interrupted calmly, “is that when men are over age for the active service battalions or units enlisted, they would automatically be appointed to the reserve units of the army, all branches; reserve infantry reserve artillery, reserve engineers and everything. For instance, I’d be a major of a reserve battalion of infantry, and you’d be a gunner in a reserve battery of artillery.”

“Yeah,” said Jimmie. “And you’d be swelling around ordering a lot of poor old soaks to dig roads and pile lumber, while I’d find myself with a hose and a sponge cleaning the tractors of some battery of the active force, who are far too busy and valuable to do any rough jobs like car washing.”

“The point is,” I explained, “by this reserve system of recruiting we older men would be learning the organization and set-up of the new army, we would be in training all the time. So that when the time came and I had to take my battalion of old soldiers to fight, and you had to go with your comrades of the old artillery to man the decimated guns, we would at least know the ropes.”

“I can still remember every detail,” said Jim, “of my old training on the 18-pounders.”

“Yes, but by the time you would be called up,” I pointed out, “it wouldn’t be 18-pounders they would be using, but some new-fangled, quick-firing anti-tank gun or some electrically operated group of anti-aircraft quick-firers that shoot 40 rounds at one shot.”

“Let them get electricians, then,” retorted Jimmie. “If they think they’ve got a new war, they’re crazy. This war, once they’ve bust up all the new-fangled machines, will get right back to Julius Caesar the way the last one did.”

“I doubt it,” I informed him. “You’re like the old Boer War veterans that were with us in the last war. Remember how we used to get so bored with the old Boer War veterans?”

“I know,” agreed Jim, “but they thought war was a matter of riding hell for leather across the veldt and capturing kopjes.”

“Well, you’ll admit,” I pointed out, “that our war was quite a surprise to them. With our trench mortars and our 50-foot dugouts, and that good old trench routine, a civilization all its own. Like Venice.”

“You forget,” said Jim bitterly, “that I did not see much of trenches. I saw gun pits. Holes dug in the hard earth, in which to seat a gun. Holes dug in the earth to store the shells for the guns. I saw roads, not trenches. When I had to deliver a mule load of shells to my guns, there were no deep, safe communication trenches for me. No, sir, I had to ride my mules right up the dark, blasted, riven road.”

“That was 20 to 25 years ago, Jim,” I said. “And those Boer War veterans had their war only 13 years before ours. If the Boer War veterans looked a little corney to us, how do you suppose we look to these young soldiers of today?”

Old Tunics and Breeches

“You’re talking like an infantry man,” corrected Jim. “But to us gunners, war never changes. Weapons do. But not war. We still have to haul our guns into position. Then we have to protect them. And then we fire them. I could deliver shells to guns just as good as I ever did.”

“On mules?” I scoffed.

“Yes, on mules,” said Jim. “War never changes. Only the uniforms and the size and the shape of weapons.”

“Did Julius Caesar have airplanes?” I mocked.

“No, he had scouts on flying horses,” said Jim.

“And could they drop tons of bombs on towns?” I insisted.

“No, but they could kill defenceless people just as dead with swords and lances,” retorted Jim. “They could set fire to temples; and to plain people cowering on distant hillsides. What’s the difference whether a bombing plane or one of Julius Caesar’s horsemen set their village on fire?”

“You have very old-fashioned notions,” I remarked.

“You infantry people,” said Jimmie, “give me a laugh. You are always thinking up something new, but it never works. There you were in the last war, millions of you, solemnly marching in and out of trenches. And what did you do? Not a thing. Whenever anything happened, you fired off sky rockets to signal us gunners to cut loose, There you at, in your trenches, in deep caverns and holes, while we gunners, on both sides, plastered the stuffing out of you. But you were happy because you figured you had thought up something new.”

“Artillery,” I shouted, “is just an accessory, a side-arm, of the infantry. We use you. We tell you where we want to go and you blow open a path.”

“Gravel crushers,” said Jim.

“Horse polishers,” I sneered.

As became my rank and appointments, however antiquated, I felt that it was beneath me to bandy words with a mere gunner, another rank. So I got up and left the room.

When I got home, I went straight up to the attic and amidst the quiet and the rafter smell of the trunk room, I found an old brown bag and unfastened it.

It was like undoing a bundle of old letters. Twenty years is quite a long time for a cap to go unworn, and the wrinkles of 20 years in a tunic, however good the cloth, are deep wrinkles. Field boots that once upon a time were such a pride and glory that it was a question whether I was wearing the boots or the boots were wearing me, can wither up very hard and dry in 20 years.

I got them out and brushed them down with my hands and pulled at the wrinkles and creases. I tried the tunic on, and it would button, only in one button, the top. My Sam Browne belt had vanished, however I scrabbled through the old brown valise. And I suddenly remembered seeing, six or seven years ago, a dog harness my sons had built for Dollie, the cocker spaniel, to draw a sleigh. My Sam Browne.

The breeches were more of an abdominal supporter than a pair of pants, but I got them on. The field boots were agony. I dragged them back and forth over a rafter. I rubbed them and anointed them with oil. But you can’t bask in the soft air of peace for 20 years and expect old leather field boots to stay limber, up in hot attics.

But when I came downstairs, some shadow of the former man followed me. The cap had shrunk and perched a little unsteady. By carrying my stomach well in and one hand in my tunic pocket, very jaunty, I could pass a mirror sideways and not look too terrible. Of course, with the years comes charity, in relation to oneself.

A lane connects the back of Jim’s garden, four doors south, from mine. And down this lane, in the quiet of the supper hour, I walked smartly, meeting nobody. And when I rapped at Jim’s back door, Jim happily opened to me, a tea cup in his hand. He was having bachelor supper, the family being all out.

“Holy Moses,” he said.

“Jim,” I offered, snapping my salute and standing very stiff, “I don’t think two old friends should quarrel at a time like this, over old jealousies dating back to the old war. Twenty years ago.”

“Come in, come in,” cried Jim. “Where did you dig up all the souvenirs?”

“Excuse me, Jim,” I protested, “this is my old service kit. It fits me pretty good, don’t you think?”

“I wonder where my stuff is?” said Jim, eyeing me enviously.

“Other ranks were supposed to hand their kit in, on demobilization,” I recalled.

“And come home from the war naked?” said Jim. “I’ve got my stuff here somewhere.”

Kit Bag in the Attic

I followed Jimmie up dark attic steps, and into the trunk room. All attics are alike.

Jim explored around amidst trunks, bags, and, under a pair of oars and duck decoys and a pile of things that appear to be anything at all, he found his old artillery kit bag, inscribed J. L. Frise and his regimental number. In an old topped trunk of pre-war vintage, he unearthed another treasure trove of the wars. I counted five moths when he opened the bag and trunk.

“Hm,” said I. “A fine way to keep your kit.”

My boots were chafing terribly.

Jim removed his trousers and had put on the artillery breeks with their clumsy leg patches.

“They fit,” he said a little huskily.

“Now try on your riding boots,” I submitted.

“I wore puttees when I was demobilized,” said Jim, rummaging in the trunk and pulling out spurs, all rusted, shirts, leather goods.

“Here’s the puttees,” he gloated. They are just the way I took them off 20 years ago.”

I stood and watched with grim amusement. I always knew the artillery did not know how to wear puttees. They always put them on upside down. The started the winding at the knees and tied them down at the ankle, on some wild theory that they were better that way riding a horse, but who would ride a horse in puttees.

To my deep joy, Jimmie, after trying on the puttee this way and that with a growing sense of bewilderment, finally started rolling them at the ankle, the way, the infantry did, and instead of rolling it snugly against his leg on the way up, carefully judging the distance of each lap, he let the bandage unroll in his hand and started winding it the way a cow puncher throws a lariat.

“Heh, heh, heh,” I said pleasantly.

“Let’s see,” said Jim, very flushed and studying the problem as from a far distance.

“Can’t even remember how to put on a puttee,” I said.

Jimmie straightened up and let the puttee fall on the floor.

“And you can’t even remember,” he said loudly, “how to button your tunic.”

“It isn’t my memory that is at fault,” I remarked bitterly.

“And your cap looks like a fungus,” said Jim, “and your pants don’t meet, and your boots look like an Eskimo’s mukluks.”

“Easy, Jim, easy,” I warned. “We won’t get anywhere criticizing our appearances.”

“And we won’t get anywhere,” remarked Jim, “making cracks about forgetting how to wrap puttees on.  Who the heck wears puttees anyway? Just a lot of mudhookers and infantry.”

“Pardon me, Jimmie,” I began.

“Puttees have been abandoned by the army, anyway,” cried Jim. “And infantry has been pretty near abandoned too. But the good old guns are bigger and better than ever.”

We eyed each other fiercely for a minute in the moth-filled attic room, and then he took off the artillery breeches and puttees and trousers and packed all the stuff back tenderly in the round-topped trunk and brown bag with the regimental number and we went downstairs and out the door and up the lane to my place. I changed back into Harris tweed and we listened to the radio news broadcast and thought of the young men that were out tonight doing all the old-fashioned jobs, the creeping and the crawling, the standing and watching, and the dim view of fat brown shells and the jerking of the yards of guns.


Editor’s Notes: This appeared shortly after the start of World War Two, and a lot of old WWI veterans were thinking on how they could help. Unfortunately, the right hand side of the microfilm was badly cut off, so some of the text had to be filled in with my best guess.

Walnut juice is a natural hair dye made from walnut shells, which is still popular today among those who want natural products.

Kopjes is a South African reference to small hills.

Breeks are trousers that stop below the knees. Puttees are bandages wrapped for a covering for the lower part of the leg from the ankle to the knee, and were in general use by the British Army as part of the khaki service uniform from 1902 until 1938. The Sam Browne Belt is a belt supported by a strap over the shoulder.

Gravel crushers and mud hookers were slang terms to refer to the infantry (along with foot sloggers, gravel grinders and mud crushers, an insult that carried over from the cavalry, implying that the infantry just marched around). A horse polisher is an insult to refer to the cavalry, implying they just looked after horses, but it could also refer to the artillery of WW1, as Jim indicated that he spent a lot of time delivering shells (more likely by mule). A cow puncher is just a cowboy, someone who works on a ranch controlling cattle.

Two Bankers and a “Dook”

Gregory Clark, photographed as he called a taxicab from the steps of his London hotel just before he set out for France at the beginning of the blitzkrieg. During this first trip, the baggage shown here had to be abandoned in France in his hasty departure.

By Gregory Clark, September 28, 1940.

These three men stepped out of their roles of being “big” persons and became just little men for the moment

In the famous blitzkrieg on France, only three battalions of Canadians, and some artillery, army service corps and stuff got to France. They got there, started on a railway journey inland and were turned around and landed back in the port of Brest within 24 hours. To say they never fired a shot in the blitzkrieg would not be accurate. They did fire their Brens at German mine-layer planes that flew over Brest while the Canadians were packed on a little channel steamer, the Canterbury, tied to the quay, waiting for permission to leave the harbor for England again.

However, some odd things happened on that in-and-out. We had arrived in Brest at daybreak Friday morning. Three battalions in two ships. It was a fine sunny morning.

These Canadians were the first-born of the new war. These were the first comers; and I tried to concentrate my mind and imagination on them to capture if I could the feelings of soldiers going to battle for the first time. But they marched off the ships and got into the waiting trains as glib and easy as children going on a picnic. And mark you, this was June 14, and for more than a month, the world had been rocked by the blitzkrieg. For all they knew, the three battalions of them were heading straight into hell. But it was a fine morning for it.

Alas, or hallelujah, as the case may be, they did not meet hell. We who saw the three battalions off waited around all day Friday in Brest, in expectation of fresh shiploads of Canadians arriving. It was that evening, in Brest, already jammed and seething with refugees and that air of bright-eyed hope on the verge of disaster, that we learned the three trains of Canadians were already being ordered to turn around. The next afternoon, Saturday, they arrived back in Brest and marched without delay straight aboard the little Canterbury tied to the east quays of that crowded harbor.

There at the quay we stayed, tied up, all Saturday evening, all Sunday night and all day long of the bright Sunday, until nearly 6 p.m. before orders came to cast off moorings and hie for England. To me, who had been through the blitzkrieg three weeks before and had been at Boulogne and seen what the Germans could do with Heinkels and Dorniers to a seaport, the delay was agonizing. These blythe Canadians, bitter at being re-embarked, all packed like buttons in in a bag aboard this tiny channel steamer.

Big Man Takes It Easy

It was Saturday evening just before dark, and we all crowded the rails to look ashore in expectation of casting off hawsers any minute, when a big rich-looking civilian car rolled out on the quay. In it sat a chauffeur, and behind a large, elderly gentleman in civilian tweeds. The car was packed to the roof with handsome leather bags, brief and dispatch cases.

Out of the car stepped the large gentleman, with his walking stick, a massive, elderly man with a military moustache. He showed some papers to the guard at the gangway. Officers inspected the documents and the stranger was at once passed up the gangway aboard the ship.

I, being a war correspondent, walked up to the stranger and inquired who he was, the only civilian on this ship. He was Hon. Hugo Baring, continental director of the Westminster bank.

One of the famous Baring family that has been engaged for generations in British banking and world business enterprise. Sixth son of the first Lord Revelstoke, related to the Earl of Cromer and many other Barings who have become peers.

In these brown leather bags were items of interest to Westminster bank, as to its continental affairs. Mr. Baring told me that he had dispatched the bank’s gold, documents, etc., and 30 of its staff off by a more southern French port. He had decided to make a lone departure via Brest.

Could he get a cabin, he inquired? Ah, the cabins were all full of wounded, of nursing sisters and a group of some 20 Salvation Army lassies driven from their canteens across France. Where could he settle himself, then, in the salon or where? Ah, the salon was all rigged up as a first aid and emergency station. How about something to eat? Well, there were no arrangements on board for eating. This was a troopship, and all there was aboard, in the nature of grub, were the rations of the troops.

This elderly, amiable man sat down on his bags on the open deck of the Canterbury finding space for his well-shod feet amidst the legs of recumbent bucks of the R.C.R. and Hasty P’s; rested his big hands on his stick and relaxed. This continental director of one of the greatest and, at the moment, perhaps most embarrassed banks on earth, remarked mildly that this was nothing new to him. It was not until I got back to London and looked him up in the blue books that I found he had been wounded in the South African war with the 4th Hussars, wounded at Ypres with the British G.H.Q.. and had been in Siberia in 1918 with the British forces. That accounted for a kind of limp and a twist the big man showed when he walked.

He sat and walked among us all that night, next day, next night and then Monday morning saw Plymouth with the rest of us from the foggy deck of the Canterbury. In all that time, he had no food but the bully beef, the little new style hardtack cookies of the private troops, and the sergeant-major’s tea. He slept with his head on a table or a rail, or with his hands clasped on his stick, his body resting forward on it. Elderly, rugged, continental director of a great bank, he seemed perfectly at ease in body and mind. Never referred once to his business. Never wondered aloud what was going on, where was his staff from Paris, where his gold.

But amid all that was abortive, broken, twisted, lost and bewildered amidst the famous in-and-out of Brest, this picture of a great banker, scion of nobility, master of wealth, partner of destiny, dependent upon the charity of private soldiers from the far distant face of the earth, remains to me. He was discovering what wealth is; what nobility; what destiny. All in the hands of private soldiers.

Banker Sews on a Button

It was at Brest I also met a duke and did him a little service. But before I leave one banker, I would like to mention another I met, on board a ship coming to Canada. A most charming man, Simon Epstein, a Jewish banker born in Russia, most of his life spent in Paris, but for the last 10 years in London. An international banker, of great wealth from time to time, probably a millionaire more than once. But at the time I met him, a refugee, not very sure whether he had any money or not. And not much caring, because his wife and sons were safe in America.

Of the many amusing stories he told, this one remains. It was 10 years ago, when he was a Parisian, and spoke English very little. He came to America to visit friends in Chicago. He had only part of a day in New York, so he made the Grand Central Station his headquarters and walked up Fifth and Madison Park Aves., drinking in the wonder and the beauty of downtown New York. It was his first view of the new world and it amazed him. He was a wealthy banker. Strolling the golden streets of New York. He felt his braces slip as a pants’ button came off.

Banker or no banker, he halted and saw the button roll on the pavement. He picked it up and recollected having seen, a few blocks back, one of those little hole-in-the-wall pressing and tailoring establishments, operated by co-religionists of his, tucked in amidst the towering splendors of New York. He strolled back and went in and with his poor English and their various English, managed to purchase a needle and small spool of thread for five cents.

For mark you, one does not become a wealthy banker by being too proud to sew on a button. Mr. Epstein had noted, in the Grand Central Station, that downstairs was a magnificent marble department, the toilets and lavatories, which included among its other marvels, a whole row-of private chambrettes or toilets into which you were able to purchase your private way by inserting five cents in the slot on the little individual door handle.

Mr. Epstein proceeded to select a cubicle. He removed his trousers and sat down on the seat to sew the button on. As he started to thread the needle, the spool, as spools will, rolled off his knee and spun away along the floor, under the partitions of two of the adjoining cabinets.

Mr. Epstein peered under the partitions and tried to draw the spool back. But it just rolled and unwound. No matter what he did, the spool played truant. Now, banker or no banker, five cents or no five cents, a man who is a man is not going to let a spool of thread get away on him. Mr. Epstein opened the cubicle door and peered out. In the great marble hall of these super toilets, nothing stirred. Mr. Epstein, laying his trousers on the seat, nipped out and picked up the spool. And heard the door click behind him.

There stood Mr. Epstein, Paris banker, in his coat and vest but no pants, in the vast, forbidding marble emptiness of the Grand Central gentlemen’s department; and his pants inside and all his money in the pants. In a foreign city, his command of the language sketchy in the extreme, Mr. Epstein felt panic. Down the marble stairs he heard footfalls.

The stranger saw the spectacle of Mr. Epstein, paused and half turned to retreat upstairs.

“A neeckel,” said Mr. Epstein. “A neeckel, please.”

And with motions of his hands, he tried to explain that if he had a nickel, he could open the door and recover his pants. But the stranger eyed him with increasing suspicion and fled upstairs. To return almost immediately with a New York cop swinging his stick and demanding to know what was going on here.

Mr. Epstein, needle and spool in hand, explained in various French, Russian and English gestures, the calamity of what had happened

“A neeckel,” he pleaded, in conclusion.

It took four nickels to locate the right cubicle, because Mr. Epstein had forgotten which one he had selected, since they all look

alike. But he got his pants, returned the cop’s four nickels very happily, retired into the cubicle, threaded the needle, sewed on the button and duly returned to walk the sounding streets of New York.

And this was the story Mr. Simon Epstein told as we plunged across the wastes of seas off the northwest coast of Ireland, all lights out, and the watch stared into the wind and spray, westward-bound for the new world where Mr. Epstein, international banker, refugee, hoped to see his wife and sons.

Souvenir of a Duke

To get back to Brest for a minute; on the Saturday, as we waited in mounting anxiety for the 48th Highlanders, I got assurance from the officers of the Canterbury that they could not sail for at least a couple of hours by reason of tides; and I went back into the city to visit the hotel which was military headquarters for the area to see if they had any word of the missing Canadians. The city was already showing the unmistakeable signs of that fatal despair which I had seen, three weeks before, in Lille, Arras, Amiens, Boulogne. The streets were jammed from wall to wall with crowds of refugees in a slow-motion, almost immobile anxiety.

At the H.Q. hotel, a captain of the movement control staff eyed my badges and stepped up to me.

“You are a correspondent?” he asked. “My name is Keith-Braden. When are you planning to leave here?”

“I’ve already got aboard the Canterbury,” I said.

“How are you fixed for baggage?” he asked. “We movement control blighters are in a bit of a hole. We have to stay to the last and we won’t have any chance to get our baggage off…”

“You get me a working party,” I said, “and I’ll take all the baggage you want.”

“I’ve got a friend here,” said Keith Braden, and a middle-aged major came over, a quiet, scholar type of a man rather than the sort of dasher they usually have on staffs. The major said he had a suitcase and a cavalry great coat.

“Send ’em along,” I said. “As long as I have somebody to carry the stuff down to the Canterbury …”

The two officers disappeared and presently came back with two big, shabby suitcases, the kind of suitcases of which I have several in the attic. And a huge cavalry great coat. We arranged where I was to deliver them in London.

“Take mine,” said Keith Braden, “to my tailor’s in Bond St. And the Marquess will want his sent to his house, I suppose.”

“The Marquess?” said I.

“This is the Marquess of Cambridge,” explained Keith Braden, and the scholarly gentleman shook hands with me.

“Ah,” said I, “I’ll take your baggage anyway. You don’t have to be a marquess.”

“But he IS the Marquess of Cambridge,” laughed Keith Braden.

And while they tied tags on their shabby suitcases I stood and looked out the big hotel windows at the surging mobs of the poor French, their faces turned upwards while the air raid sirens bansheed, for there were German raiders over by this time. And it did seem a strange thing to see a marquess of the royal connection stooped over, in the foreground of that grim and woeful window picture, tying a tag on a rusty old valise.

I put the bags on the Canterbury deck where the boys of the Hasty P’s and the R.C.R. could see the tag. I left them and the cavalry great coat in the care of the nearest of the lads, sprawled in half sleep on the deck. And when it rained in the middle of the night, went up and found one of the lads had put on the marquess’ great coat and was lying wrapped in its voluminous folds asleep. It was a tidy when I retrieved it in the morning.

And it was all tidy when I returned the baggage to the Marchioness two days later in London.

“How was he when you saw him,” asked her grace.

“Fine,” I assured her, thinking of him bending over tying on tags, against that hotel window with its great surging picture of despair moving across it.

“I do hope he gets away,” she said.

He did. Keith Braden wrote me a note of thanks, and said they nipped off on the last boat, after seeing Brest set afire.


Editor’s Notes: This story was printed as Greg was a war correspondent in WWII. The original photo of him in his uniform in the microfilm of the newspaper was muddied, so I substituted it with a better copy of the same photo from one of his books.

Heinkels and Dorniers were German planes in WWII.

Page 1 of 4

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén