The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

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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.

The Canucks Beat Malaria

This is the female Anopheline mosquito, transmitter of the malaria germ. It takes on an average 12 to 20 days for the disease to develop in a human being after being bitten.
Three Canadian army nurses, above. At left is one way servicemen have devised to keep mosquitoes away.

By Gregory Clark in London, May 20, 1944

The First Canadian division shares with one famous British division, the Seventh Armored, the distinction of having the best malaria record of all the British forces engaged in operations last summer and fall. The Germans used the mosquito as one of their most potent weapons. In Sicily the reason for their vicious determination to hold us down in the Catania plain was to subject us to the bites of mosquitoes in that heavily infested malaria district. They tried again in Italy in two other areas famous for centuries as malaria plague spots. In the Volturno valley and the Foggia plain they blew dykes, created dams, did everything engineers could think of to flood the ground, not to impede our advance alone, but to multiply that most ancient of war weapons, the mosquito.

In Italy I met Lieut.-Col. Jameson Carr, the eminent British malariologist, who has in his lifetime travelled over 1,000,000 miles to every part of the world studying malaria. He completing a tour of the Sicilian and Italian battlefields before returning to make a report to the war office.

“The mosquito,” said Lieut-Col. Jameson Carr, “has been a major weapon of war from time immemorial. Possibly the mosquito is the most ancient war weapon in human history, outdating even the spear and bow and arrow. Possibly because the Canadians were ‘new boys’ in fighting in malaria regions they achieved their distinguished record of low malaria casualties.

“Being new to malaria,” said Jameson Carr, “and also being in a high state of training when they reached Sicily, the Canadian commanders and the Canadian rank and file apparently lived up very fully to the precautions. My Investigation shows they took their mepacrine in an efficient and systematic fashion which I think is the number one reason for the good record. I also find they kept up their precautions well into November and some units into December long after the average man would suppose the mosquito had gone for the season. At all events, they turned in a fine performance.”

Col. Milton Herbert Brown, O.B.E., deputy director of hygiene at Canadian military headquarters in London, well-known Toronto doctor, described to me the dramatic circumstances surrounding the Canadians’ training against malaria. A certain percentage of Canadian medical officers, of course, had been given some training. During the long years of training in Britain several dozens of Canadian army doctors had attended the school of tropical medicine in London. When the first division went into hiding last summer, prior to their secret departure for Sicily, the war office warned the Canadians they were going to enter a malarial zone. The Canadians asked for and got Capt. F. W. Bone, British army specialist in malaria, and in a very short period prior to departure and during the tense and exciting period of the great convoy by ship to Sicily, the Canadians were initiated into the mysteries of this potent war disease.

Lectured on Malaria

“Our Canadian specialist in fighting malaria,” said Col. Brown, “was Major Paul Scott of Picton, Ont., commanding number two field hygiene section. Every officer and every man was lectured and instructed in malaria. The use of mepacrine was explained and its issue was begun at the very outset, long before the Canadians landed, so that every man’s blood was saturated with it. Leaflets were published and senior officers were fully instructed. It was short notice, but I am very proud to know the results were so good.”

“What is there,” I asked Col. Brown, “about malaria that makes it so peculiarly deadly in the military sense? The rate is not high, is it?”

“No, the average lay-off with malaria might be as low as two weeks,” said Col. Brown. “What happens is this. A commander plans a battle. He gets up all his supplies. He places his artillery in position, gets up ammunition in plenty, prepares his supply dumps in the fullest degree. But he does not know that perhaps 15 or 30 per cent of his troops, including possibly some of his essential junior officers and non-coms, have been infected with malaria which is due to break out at the critical moment of his attack.

“It takes on the average 12 to 20 days for malaria to develop in the human after being bitten. Sometimes less, sometimes up to 30 days or more. But when a man comes down with malaria he is completely helpless from the military point of view. He has a high fever, is weak and wholly incompetent to fight or carry out his normal duties. True, he does not very often die, though it can be malignant. But he has to be evacuated. He is a casualty in the same sense as if he had been wounded by a shell.”

Lieut.-Col, Jameson Carr told me some extraordinary facts about malaria. It is carried by the female mosquito only, and she must bite somebody who already has malaria before she can transmit it to someone else she bites later. If we could ever cure everybody in the world of malaria, that would be the end of it.

You come down with a violent fever, sometimes fatal. It lasts a couple of weeks until you conquer it with quinine or mepacrine. But it lingers in you normally for about two to three years, breaking out every seven to nine months in another return. Any mosquito that bites you in that time may pick up a stray bug to ripen in her own tiny system and transfer to somebody else.

Jameson Carr told me he had known of malaria doing many other things besides giving a fever. It can attack internal organs and simulate many diseases. Unless he is suspicious of malaria, a doctor can diagnose it as anything from venereal diseases, pneumonia or bronchitis to mental disorder.

Mepacrine, the drug we took in such quantities against malaria, is a pill about the size of an aspirin. It is the most awful and wild livid yellow color you ever saw. It is so bitter it makes your eyeballs contract. You take four a week with sometimes a double at the end of the week. A few days after you start taking it you begin to notice the webbing between your fingers and the tips of your fingers are starting to turn yellow. Presently your face begins to show a queer ivory glow, despite your sun tan. Finally your friends call you “daffodil.”

The Germans are credited with the discovery of the drug, which they call atabrine. Before going to the Mediterranean we were all issued with mosquito net canopies for our beds, and tins of mosquito ointment to smear on ourselves. But of all precautions everybody seemed convinced mepacrine was the trick that did it. Fill your blood with this acrid bilious yellow and even a leech would fall dead off you.

In exploring the malaria story, I found these instances among hundreds to demonstrate what a tricky weapon it is. In equipping an air squadron with a new bombing device one pilot was selected for special training to carry out the necessary experiment. The day the experiment began this officer went down with malaria. In the same Foggia area one of the best fighter pilots got into a terrible jam in the air and made an incredibly bad landing. In hospital it was found he had been taken with malaria in the air, though he was 100 per cent fit when he took off.

On the Sangro an outstanding officer was selected for a particularly hazardous job. He was given 30 selected men. They went into training for the task on which a large operation depended. In their training they were in advertently exposed to mosquitoes. The officer and eight of the men went down with malaria on the eve of the show. Such instances can be multiplied endlessly in all armies and probably back to Hannibal’s time or Nebuchadnezzar’s. If you think about malaria, you begin to see that war consists of a vast number of things besides shooting.


Editor’s Note: Mepacrine was initially approved in the 1930s as an antimalarial drug. It was used extensively during the Second World War by Allied forces fighting in North Africa and the Far East to prevent malaria.

Real Stories of the War, Told by Returned Soldiers

March 8, 1919

Jim produced two illustrations for a selection of short anecdotes that were published in the Star Weekly from submissions from veterans of the Great War. The newspaper offered cash prizes. The first illustration was from the first prize ($10) winner “Captured by the Relief”.

March 8, 1919

The second illustration was from the second prize ($5) winner “Huns Behind our Lines”. All other winners of stories published received $1. $1 in 1919 is about $13.50 in 2020.

Pardon My Elbow!

Giving me the elbow so that my head banged against the upright rail, she aimed her shot and brought her heel down on my foot.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, February 13, 1943

“Meet me,” instructed Jimmie Frise, “at exactly 10 to 5.”

“Make it 5,” I suggested.

“No, sir, not by a jugful,” cried Jim. “I don’t want to get torn to pieces, and clawed and trampled into the bargain.”

“I beg your pardon?” I inquired.

“If you’re not there by 10 to 5,” stated Jimmie, “I’ll go on. Ten to 5 on the dot.”

“What is all this?” I insisted. “Why the exact specifications?”

“If you get on the street car,” explained Jim, “at 10 to 5, you can get far enough back in the car to have a fighting chance. But at five minutes to 5, the women are already on the run. And at 5 exactly, the stampede of the women is on. Your life isn’t worth a cent if you get in their path.”

“Women!” I protested. “How do you mean?”

“Don’t tell me,” said Jim, “that you haven’t been on a crowded street car lately. Don’t tell me you haven’t observed the Wartime Woman.”

“Jimmie,” I enunciated, scandalized, “the womanhood of Canada has risen to a man…”

“Yah,” cried Jim. “You hit it on the head. Risen to a man. That’s the trouble.”

“Why, Jimmie,” I protested. “If it weren’t for the women who are helping in industry, in the factories and munitions plants, where would we be right now?”

“It’s not the munitions girls I’m talking about,” asserted Jimmie. “They’re wonderful. They’re real he-men, to the core. They’ve got all the best traits of the men whose work they are doing. They have all a man’s innate courtesy and consideration for his fellow mortal.”

“Then who …?” I demanded.

“Wait till I finish with the war worker,” said Jim. “Those girls demonstrate a curious fact: give a girl a man’s work to do, and she develops the character of a man. I think the sight of a street car crowded with tired munitions girls going home from work is one of the most moving spectacles of our time. Weary to the bone after a long day’s toil, free by reason of their work clothes from that awful self-consciousness which the ancient laws of style and personal beauty have imposed on women, they sit relaxed, their faces untouched by make-up, with a softness and naturalness that a man somehow associates only with his nearest and dearest, like his mother or sister; those munitions girls are far more lovely to look at than they dream.”

“I agree,” I said.

The Wartime Woman

“If girls only knew,” sighed Jim, “how much more attractive and truly appealing they are when they are tired, a little dishevelled and unconscious of themselves.”

“A man,” I said, “hardly ever falls in love with a girl, no matter how hard she slaves over her make-up and clothes and pretty ways, until suddenly one day he catches her in tears, or scared to death or all mussed up and bewildered. That’s when a man falls in love.”

“When he sees,” summed up Jim, “what a girl really is, not what she is trying to be, he feels it safe to fall in love with her.”

“That’s it,” I declared. And I bet you some of the happiest marriages this world has ever seen are being framed up right now, when all those beautiful girls in the factories and war plants are being too busy to be anything but themselves.”

“Isn’t it a pity so many of the boys are away at the war,” Jim muttered. “The best guys may be missing their match.”

“Never,” I cried. “What these girls in the factories are learning about being natural they will never forget. And the wisest of them know that one fine day, a quarter of a million young unmarried men are coming swarming home from war, fuller of love of home and all the things that really matter to a happy life than any of the canny lads who have stayed home, no matter how valuable their services here may be. Those girls will wait for their boys to come home, don’t fear.”

“It’s not the munitions girls I’m scared of,” declared Jim.

“Then who’s this Wartime Woman you referred too?” I inquired.

“War,” detailed Jim, “due to the absence of a huge percentage of the male population, places new and unaccustomed burdens and duties on women. Those who enter men’s work, like in factories, are brought under men’s discipline. But of those who remain women, though brought out of the home into business and affairs, some become a problem.”

“How?” I inquired.

“It has taken men centuries and centuries,” explained Jim, “through contact with one another in the market place and the factory, to learn public manners. I grant you, men’s manners are still a long way from perfect. But you rarely find a man who will act in a crowded street car the way too many women do.”

“Jim,” I cautioned him, “you are on very dangerous ground. One of the oldest traditions in the world is the tradition of the gentler sex.”

“Gentle my elbow,” snorted Jim. “Women are lawless, untamed. For centuries, we have had to keep them tied up in the home while we men went out into the world to try and work out a system of civilization.”

“If women are so untamed,” I demanded, “how did we weak, sentimental men succeed in keeping them tied up in the home?”

“By refusing to marry any but the kind who would stay home,” Jim explained. “We men glorified the soft, feminine, gentle characteristics of an imaginary ideal womanhood. We hoped, by the process of natural selection, to eliminate the lawless woman. It worked to some extent. For a few centuries, we kept them tied up with domestic duties, family cares, trying to get them all worn out before they could break loose. We’ve always known they were untamed. We built up our civilization, in the hope that it would be too strong for the women to destroy even if they did get free. Then, 40 years ago, about the start of the 20th century, they got free. They entered business. Next they got the vote. Now they are loose upon the world. And look at it.”

Ladies in a Hurry

“For mercy’s sake,” I protested, “you don’t blame the women for the mess the world is in today!”

“The 20th century,” stated Jim, “is already known to history as the Bloody Century. Two of the most savage wars in all human history have taken place, and the century’s not half over yet. Now, what is the other thing the 20th century is notable for? What basic thing, different from all others? The emancipation of women.”

“Why, Jim, this is terrible,” I cried. “To accuse womanhood of any share in the things they hate and detest most …”

“Who hates and detests?” demanded Jim. “Is it that ideal woman we men have been dreaming up for a couple of thousand years? You just wait till we get on the street car after 5 o’clock. Anyway, I make no accusations. I draw no morals. All I do is go into the forest of speculation and bring out a few logs of fact. You do the building any way you like. I say the century of the emancipation of women happens also to be the Bloody Century. Maybe there is no connection.”

“The 20th century,” I cried, “has seen the greatest strides in social reform in all history. And the influence of women is to be credited with much of that reform.”

“The 20th century,” announced Jim, “is also the bloodiest century in human history. No other century can hold a candle to it.”

“But how could women be involved in that?” I shouted.

“Good grief,” shouted Jim, “it’s five to 5! Come on!”

So we grabbed our coats and hats and hurried out to the elevator. The elevator was full of girls, all with very determined expressions on their faces. The girl operating the elevator said:

“Room for one only.”

And as I tried to squeeze in beside Jim, she threw the lever that automatically slides the door shut, and I was very nearly sliced like a ham.

“Wait for me,” I yelled to Jim as the elevator door slammed.

The next elevator had a couple of men in it, along with about twice as many girls as the elevator would hold. The men held their breath and drew in their stomachs to allow me to squeeeeeeze in.

As the elevator door opened on the ground floor, and I stood aside to let the ladies out first, the lady behind me gave me a shove in the back with her knuckle.

“Okay, lady, no hurry,” I mumbled.

Jim was standing over by the pillars and we joined forces and fought our way out the revolving doors. Girls are nimble. They have grace. They can nip through revolving doors. But a man likes to approach a revolving door deliberately.

It was spinning too fast for me; so I paused. Two spaces whizzed round empty.

“Come on, Grampaw,” said a commanding voice behind me, and a young lady bunted me into the next vacancy and came round with me.

“Young lady…” I said indignantly as we popped out on the street and I caught my hat.

But she was gone in the throng.

“See?” said Jim, coming pop out after me.

When we reached the street car stop, there was a big crowd, about equally men and women. Three cars arrived in a bunch. The second one was our choice. We ran for it.

So did about five determined looking men and about nine women and girls. The men won.

They grabbed the hand rails and clung on the steps.

The girls panted behind us.

“How about this, Jim?” I inquired, my face buried in the coat tails of the gentleman ahead of me.

“Aw, we have to get on first,” explained Jim, “because the girls have to hunt through their handbags for their street car tickets. It is always best for the men to get on first, because they always have their tickets in their hands.”

“I see,” I said, hoisting myself another step up.

And more by luck than good management, Jim and I, poke checking a couple of men ahead of us, and executing a sort of echelon movement familiar to students of naval battles, got an empty seat together.

“Aaaaah,” we breathed, in a sigh familiar to all street car riders.

The warlike women poured in after us, nabbing seats with agility and speed until the seats were all filled and they scattered themselves down the aisles. None of them paused near Jim and me until, near the last of the load, a lady of about our age, obviously not a downtown worker but a shopper, came and grabbed the handrail of the seat with a very heavy sigh and a slight groan.

And she leaned back slightly and stared expectantly at Jimmie and me.

“How about it, Jim?” I murmured, when she shifted her fierce gaze off us for a minute.

“We come to a factory in two or three blocks,” said Jim out the side of his mouth. “Save our seats for a couple of war workers.”

“Okay,” I said firmly, and stared with intense interest, like a stranger in town, out the window.

The lady in the red-feathered hat and handbag, swayed alarmingly as the car started and stopped. She braced herself in the aisle against all who attempted to squeeze down the car to make room.

Her handbag caught Jim a couple of suggestive cracks on the ear. She continued emitting heavy sighs and faint groans and occasionally seemed to be muttering to herself. But I kept watching out the window with unabated interest.

Then we came to the factory street stop which we knew by the merry sounds of laughter and of crowds outside the car doors.

“Move down, lots of “room at the back,” cried the motorman heartily.

“Umffff,” snorted the lady beside us, holding her ground.

But despite her efforts, half a dozen of the slim war workers managed to eel their way past and at the sight of the first of them, Jim and I leaped dutifully to our feet and with the detached courtesy that becomes grizzle-headed old gents, gave them our seats.

“When We Stop Idealizing”

I could feel the lady’s breath hot on the back of my neck. For an instant, I feared for myself.

“Mashers,” she muttered; but I heard her.

The car started.

I lurched back. My foot came down on something softish and lumpish.

“Ow-ooooo!” screeched the lady with the red handbag.

And giving me the elbow so that my head banged against the upright rail, she aimed her shot and brought her heel down on my foot.

“Clumsy fool,” she grated.

I limped down the car and Jim followed, screening my confusion from the eyes of those who had witnessed the little contretemps.

“See?” murmured Jimmie in my ear, when we found a spot to cling.

I was too busy suffering to continue the debate. But after about 30 blocks, the crowd thinned in the car and I saw the lady in the red feathered hat get off the car and shake herself with all the grace of a horse getting up after a roll in the stubble.

“She didn’t get a seat all the way,” I gloated.

“Now you see what I mean about women,” said Jim. “No man would deliberately stamp on your foot like that.”

“But my dear sir,” I exclaimed, “she was only one. Look at all the rest of the fair sex in this car. All quiet and feminine and self-effacing. You can’t base a whole philosophy on one woman in a carload.”

“How’s your foot?” inquired Jim.

“I think,” I said, wriggling them cautiously, “she broke one of my toes.”

“Well, it wasn’t any man did that,” argued Jim.

“The thing is too complicated for me, Jim,” I pleaded. “That lady belonged to our generation. She was brought up to expect a seat in a car, no matter how crowded. It wasn’t my accidentally stepping on her foot that made her sore. She felt insulted.”

“Maybe,” said Jim, “we were at fault in idealizing them. If that dame is a sample of what idealizing does, we were wrong. If all the rest of the girls in this car are a sample of what letting them work in factories does, we sure were wrong.”

“Maybe keeping them tied up at home,” I submitted, “made them bad tempered, like tying up a dog.”

“Maybe,” rounded up Jimmie, “when we stop idealizing all things for our own comfort and security, even wars will end.”

And then a couple of dopey looking downtown business men, who had been sitting like two potatoes all the way, got up.

And Jimmie and I, like two potatoes, sat down for the remaining seven blocks.


Editor’s Note: A lot of creative writing had to go into this piece to both praise and complain about women on the home front during World War Two. I can picture their editor being very careful to ensure that women working would not be offended.

Silent Night

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

By Gregory Clark, December 19, 1931

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That won’t be hard!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He’ll Be Scared Stiff”

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

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

It was all settled.

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

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

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

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

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

Lieutenant Basset looked horrified.

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

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

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

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

“We’d all go,” said they.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Sixteen breathed easy.

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

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

The Boys are Speechless

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

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

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

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

“Keep still,” he whispered sharply.

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

Tobacca chewin’ Martin was close to him.

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

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

His voice was like a Vickers gun.

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

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

“Look at that watch,” he warned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sing damn it!”

And they sang.

The Big Surprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behind remained one cold, black-jawed officer.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Aw, Rats

Jim limbered up with the baseball bat, in readiness. “You’ve got to be ready for fast work,” I cautioned him, “because when they come they may come in a bunch.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 2, 1939

“What,” inquired Jimmie Frise, “do you know about rats?”

“Rats,” I informed him, “are my meat. What I don’t know about rats isn’t in the encyclopaedia. I have killed thousands of rats. Black rats, gray rats, brown rats, fat rats. In the army they called me the Pie-Eyed Piper.”

“There are rats,” stated Jim, “under my garage. They’ve tunnelled down under the concrete floor. You can see the two entrances. From this dugout they come at night and forage in the garbage cans of the neighborhood. Members of the family coming home at night see them scuttling. They are huge.”

“It will be no trick to get rid of them,” I assured Jim. “You can use traps, poison, fumigation or a ferret. Maybe a ferret would be the best fun.”

“I was thinking of sitting up some night,” said Jim, “with a pleasant companion, both of us armed with .22 rifles. I thought we might spend a very amusing evening popping off rats.”

“It would bring back the old days,” I admitted fondly. “Many’s the long night, in the war, I have whiled away potting rats with my revolver. I often thought that officers carried revolvers for no other purpose but rat shooting.”

“Gosh,” mused Jim, “did you ever see so many rats as we had in France, especially around the Vimy sector?”

“There were millions,” I agreed. “Great big scaly-tailed brutes as big as tomcats.”

“You might say,” said Jim, “that after dark you could look in any direction, at any spot on the ground, and within one minute a rat was sure to cross that spot.”

“They got so plentiful,” I submitted, “and so bold, that they no longer confined their activities to the night. They moved freely about all over the place in broad daylight.”

“And why not?” said Jim. “Nobody disturbed them. They had that vast silent world to themselves, especially by day. No human stirred. No man showed a head. It was at night that rats had to take care. At night we humans were abroad. We shared the night with the rats.”

“As soon as night fell, in the trenches,” I told, “and all the sentries were posted and all the working parties detailed, an officer had little to do but walk up and down and see that all was well. So presently he would pick a suitable spot, a bit of trench or a sap preferably near an old ruined house or barn. And there, sitting on the fire-step of the trench, he would unlimber his revolver and wait.”

“So that,” cried Jimmie, “was what all the shooting was about? We artillery used to sit away back with our guns, wondering what you gallant infantrymen were doing all the popping at.”

“Mostly it was rats,” I admitted. “I used to sit in the dark, motionless. In a few minutes, along the trench, on the parapet or from a rat hole in the wall of the trench, out would come a rat, secret, silent, sliding his head down, his back arched, seeking, sniffing. Quietly, the revolver comes up. Bang.”

“You must have made an awful mess of them with that army gat,” said Jim.

“If we hit them,” I provided. “The best way of hitting a rat was known as fishing for rats. It was mostly done in old dugouts that were rat infested. When it became so bad that the boys could not sleep owing to the rats running over them and fighting and squeaking all over the place, the boys would declare a fishing trip. All the men in the dugout would leave their snug beds on the damp cold planks of the dugout floor and go and sit on the stairways of the entrances. Then the expert would extinguish all the candles stuck along the plank walls and sit on the floor. Extending his legs, he would rest his rifle on his legs, the muzzle resting between the toes of his boots. Out from the end extended the bayonet; and on the end of the bayonet a piece of cheese would be impaled. There in the dark the fisherman sat, finger on trigger. When he felt a nibble on the cheese he fired. Seven times out of ten he blew the rat against the far wall of the dugout.”

“Rather nasty,” muttered Jim.

“What were sanitary corporals for?” I retorted.

“You wouldn’t get many that way,” said Jim.

A Major Problem

“The rats were so plentiful and so greedy,” I assured him, “that no sooner was one rat blown to pieces and the candles doused and the fisherman in position again before the rats, with a secret, soft, scuffling sound and squeaks and scutters, would be coming from their holes again amidst the planks of the dugout walls and ceilings, snuffling for that cheese. I have seen Corporal Cutsey Smith, now with God, get one dozen rats in one hour by this method.”

“But it was a hopeless business,” submitted Jim.

“It was,” I agreed. “And I have often wondered since how France and Belgium got rid of all those countless rats after the war. It must have been one of the major post-war problems.”

“When I close my eyes and try to recall what dugouts were like,” said Jim, “I can smell the queer sour smell of them, and the smell of coke gas and wood smoke. I can see again the dimness, the quietness, the men lying in their matted gray blankets and greatcoats on the muddy plank floors, see the two or three sitting up awake, in dim candlelight, writing letters; but most of all I can feel the silence, amidst which, ever and always, goes on the quiet scuffling and scratching of the rats behind the plank walls and ceilings, a sound that went on day and night.”

“I woke up one night,” I said, “with two rats fighting furiously on my chest.”

“I have had a rat,” countered Jim, “exploring in the dark come to me, lying on the ground, and place his two hands on the bridge of my nose to look over.”

“Ugh,” I surrendered. “What puzzles me is, if men hate rats so badly, how is it we haven’t exterminated them ages ago, like all the other animals we hated and killed off?”

“I figure,” said Jim, “there is a family of six rats under my garage.”

“Right,” I agreed. “The problem is, how can we deal with the present situation. I suggest poison.”

“Too many dogs in the neighborhood,” said Jimmie. “I would sooner put up with rats than poison a dog.”

“We can pump gas down the hole,” I suggested. “Put a tube from the exhaust pipe of your car and carbon monoxide them.”

Plan of Battle

“Wouldn’t you kind of like to sit up tonight, with .22 rifles, and do a little shooting?” wheedled Jim.

“It’s too risky,” I declared. “And too cold.”

“Very well, a ferret then,” said Jim. “Let’s get some fun out of this. I don’t like the idea of putting poison or fumes down the hole and letting them quietly die down under the concrete floor of the garage. They might smell. I’d like to get a whack at them. And a ferret would chase them out and we could stand at the hole with clubs.”

“Where would we get a ferret?” I demanded. “And besides, we’d have to have somebody handle the ferret. I don’t want to be partly responsible for a ferret getting loose in our neighborhood.”

“Well, I’ve got some rats,” said Jim, with pride, “and I want to find some sporty way of dealing with them.”

“I tell you,” I cried, “we’ll drown them out. Why didn’t I think of it sooner? Of course, drown them out. How many holes have they got?”

“Two,” said Jim. “One under the corner of the garage and another at the back. We can block one hole up and turn the hose into the other and they’ve got to come out.”

“You’ve got it,” I agreed. “I’ve often drowned rats out. They hate water.”

And we went home a little early so as to deal with the rats before darkness came to their aid. Jimmie got his son’s baseball bat and we brought the hose up from the cellar, where it had been stored for the winter. We turned on the water at the outside tap that had been turned off for fear of frost, and we proceeded to study the terrain.

Just under the south corner of the garage a hole about the size of a milk bottle led downward steeply. At the back of the garage a much smaller hole served as an emergency exit. Trust a rat for emergencies.

“It looks as if a whole army of rats used this front entrance,” I said, as we examined the larger hole. “They probably hold meetings here. Maybe this is a public hall.”

“They’ve got a great cave under there,” said Jim. “I bet it’s tunnelled into a regular apartment. An apartment with a concrete roof. The floor of the garage gives them an ideal bombproof shelter.”

So we took sticks and gravel and cinders and filled up the smaller emergency exit at the back. We shoved all the stuff deep down, packing it in, so as to prevent any possibility of the rats digging out by that route.

Then we turned the hose on and into the larger hole I directed the stream while Jim limbered up with the baseball bat, in readiness.

“You’ve got to be ready for fast work, Jim,” I cautioned him, “because when they come they may come all in a bunch.”

“Don’t fret,” said Jim, “I can hit with this bat faster than they can fight their way past that stream.”

And indeed it was a dandy stream, because in winter the water pressure is good. No other hose owners are watering any lawns. A powerful jet of water bored into the hole and we could hear it gurgling and swishing deep in the dark cavern of the rats.

“They may come any minute,” I warned. And Jimmie stood poised and tense.

“What do you suppose is going on down there?” I chuckled, as the water gushed. “I bet there’s a commotion.”

“They were likely asleep,” said Jim, “and about now they are getting anxious. This is no ordinary rainstorm.”

“Heh, heh, heh,” I laughed, and squatted down to aim the icy water deeper and more vicious.

“They probably have galleries and upper levels,” said Jim, “into which they are already fighting their way. How long do you suppose it will take to flood ’em?”

“Well, there’s probably quite a large space,” I submitted, “counting all the rooms and galleries. It may take several minutes. The earth is soft under there and will naturally soak up quite a lot of water.”

“It’s sand under there,” said Jim. “It sure will soak it up. This may take half an hour or more.”

“Relax,” I said, seeing Jim still poised with the bat. “Take a look around the back at that escape hole and see there is no sign of anything being tampered with.”

Jim skipped around to the back and returned eagerly to report that the hole was thoroughly stopped.

Still the water from the hose hissed and bored into the hole, which consumed it without any sign of filling. No sound of gurgling came from below any more though I put my ear down.

Jim made several trips around to the rear to see that the exit was properly secure. It was chilly work holding the hose, and when I suggested Jimmie take a turn at running the water in, he said I would be too cramped to do a proper job of execution in case the rats came out.

“Look What You Did!”

And suddenly there was a most extraordinary result. With a loud crash, something inside the garage fell. We could hear the car inside bump heavily against the front doors of the garage, and bulge them outward.

“The floor,” bellowed Jimmie, “the cement floor, you sap!”

I ceased firing with the hose and ran around to the front of the garage with Jimmie. Very carefully, Jim unlatched the bulging doors, and when he opened them, there was his car sunk down on its left rear wheel, its front end high in the air, one-half of the cement floor of the garage having collapsed into a huge dark hole in the ground.

“Look what you did,” shouted Jim.

“The rats did it, not me,” I retorted hotly.

“That water ate away the sand,” accused Jim.

“The rats had dug the hole,” I countered. “The whole foundation of your garage was honeycombed with rat tunnels.”

“It would have held forever, if you hadn’t bored in there with that hose,” concluded Jim. “You and your drowning out methods.”

It was a mess, all right. The car was tipped down at least three feet on its rear end, and securely wedged into the hole.

“Did you see any rats?” I inquired, incidentally.

“I certainly didn’t,” said Jim.

“Well,” I assured, “I bet you’re rid of them. That’s what I undertook to do, at your own request – rid you of the rats.”

“A fine mess,” said Jim.

“Now you can put a proper foundation under your garage,” I pointed out, “and never be troubled with rats again.”

“Any child would have known,” muttered Jim, “that you can’t run a hose for 20 minutes into sand…”

“Look, Jim,” I interrupted, “did you or did you not wish to be rid of the rats? Well, you’re rid of them.”

So Jim phoned for the garage man come with his derrick and hoist out the car. And the garage man’s brother-in-law was the cement business; and before supper, whole situation was well in hand.

And Jimmie is rid of rats.

We turned the hose on and into the larger hole I directed the stream while Jim limbered up with a baseball bat in readiness.

Editor’s Notes: This story was repeated on November 20, 1943, under the title “Rat Catchers“. The illustration for that story appears at the end, and you can see that the microfilmed copy was very poor. There was no difference in the story, except that references to the war were changed to the “old war”.

This story also appeared in Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Go Fishing (1980).

Little Armistice

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

By Gregory Clark, November 6, 1937

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not an Ordinary Battle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Astonishing Silence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aye, they were. In a funny way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Order All to Himself

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

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

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

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

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

“From the O.C.

4th C.M.R.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Orders is orders.”

Whose orders?


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

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