The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

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Women and Children First

“EVERY STEP ON THE WAY in this awful flight was blazing with terror. The path before these refugees was filled with menace… They fled from one in the full knowledge that they were heading into unremitting horror…”

Writing from London after returning there from France and Belgium, Gregory Clark tells the tragic story of the millions of refugees who have been forced to flee from their native lands, from their homes-into an unknown filled with ever-present horror and peril

By Gregory Clark, June 8, 1940.


Neither Attila the Hun nor Genghis Khan, who mercilessly exterminated all humanity they met in their paths for the same reason that we might exterminate grasshoppers in the west, ever had pleasure of seeing more human tragedy and disaster than we have seen in Belgium and France in the past few weeks.

The tragedy of the refugees was not fully told at its full tide because of the staggering character of other news. The speed of the German mechanized attack and unexpected twists of events stole the spotlight from what was after all a far greater tragedy–the bloody pilgrimage of several millions of people from their native lands, from their kind homes, into an unknown filled with ever present horror and peril. In what used to be called the Great War there also was tragic pilgrimage of Belgians, but at least they fled with the path fairly open before them.

In this awful flight every step of the way was blazing with terror. The path before them was filled with menace. They fled from the one horror in the full knowledge that they were heading into unremitting horror of the millions who took part, and are still taking part in that awful pilgrimage I feel sure I saw nearly 200,000 of them in the seven days I toiled my way from Brussels to the coast ahead of the rapidly advancing enemy. And this article will detail with such detachment as possible to an emotional man the main features of the picture that now must hang on the walls of humanity’s grand gallery along with the tragic murals of Caesar, Attila, Genghis Khan, Napoleon and all the great names of pride.

Like a Forest Fire

But do not console yourselves as you read this in thinking all this is over. It goes on. Where could these rivers of humanity go? Could they just sink into the ground? At the time of writing, the estimate is that 150,000 of them have perished and so sunk into the ground. But poor splendid France has taken them in their millions and is spreading them somehow all over her already crowded campagne. In my time I have heard my fellow countrymen speak critically of the French, saying they were too canny, too parsimonious, too greedy for money. Never again can I be silent before so vicious an opinion. For I have seen France with absolutely wide arms welcoming to her soil these tortured, laboring, penniless millions. Not with canniness, but with generosity sublime from the highest to the lowest, France has to her great military peril welcomed and made safe the path of these refugees. If France is canny about money it is because so many times each century France has to mother another million of the earth’s forsaken. To be so great a mother France must indeed be thrifty.

Many years ago when I was a boy camping on the Muskosh river in the Georgian bay, I saw a great forest fire. I witnessed that never-to-be-forgotten spectacle of the forest’s secret people, the deer, the birds, the squirrels, the fox, the slow, struggling porcupine fleeing before the crackling horror of fire.

When I stood on the road between Tournai and Brussels and watched the full tide of refugee columns I saw the gentle creatures of the wilds once more.

Here before me on the wide highway was an endless throng, in cars, in huge farm wagons, on bicycles, but far the greatest number just on foot, toiling, not fast but with exhaustion already two or three days old in terrible forward-bending agony. In a forest fire creatures do not race, they flee in little exhausted, bewildered spurts. So with these women and children and men in a never ending flood to the number of millions on all roads.

Allies Show Humanity

I first contacted the tragedy at Arras, where I arrived in the war area by train. The advance guard of the refugees were there–the fairly well off, who had good cars and experience of travel to enable them to make time. These were citizens of Holland and Belgium who had already experience of bombing in the larger cities of their native lands. The night I arrived Arras was bombed for the first time. It was set on fire, and hardly had flames started to leap, before out from hotels, private homes, sheds and shelters where they had taken refuge, emerged the tide of refugees to continue their tragic way.

“We cannot remain,” they told me. “We have already been bombed every place we have stopped since we left our homes. We must be on our way.”

“Where to?” I always asked and without one exception to that question the answer was ever the same. They did not know.

From the moment of my arrival until, along with all the rest of the war correspondents, I was marched by the officers in charge of us aboard a ship at Boulogne, already under intense bomb fire, there was no yard of road, no village however tiny, no field that was not filled with this awful tide of humble humanity. You must realize now, of course, that this refugee flood was a German weapon as coldly calculated and as viciously employed as any fifth column. In despatches to The Daily Star I called it the sixth column, and that describes it. The reason for the random bombing of cities and towns was merely to drive out of those places onto the roads again the pilgrim hordes to block and embarrass the roads for French and British armies. With heart in mouth, I watched from day to day for any sign that our armies might face the problem with an almost lawful necessity and drive the refugees from the roads. God be praised, whatever the net results of this first battle may be, both French and British treated these hopeless people with humanity that never lapsed.

Look at Your Canada

So much for argument of the case. Now for the evidence. If these be too cruel throw the paper aside, get to your feet and look out the window at your beloved Canada, and dedicate yourself to it anew. For there are no non-military objectives any more. Your sweetest child is today a military objective of first rank. For if that tender child be blasted before your eyes so rendering you and all who see it helpless, then surely is not that a military objective of greatest importance?

Near Enghien while watching Junker dive bombers methodically and very technically blasting that little town to radiant hell, I stood on the roadside while the refugee throng, hurried by this fury, went bending by. Two children, possibly three and four years old, hand in hand, their heads wobbling on necks so weary were they, struggled along behind their parents. The father pushed a barrow, the mother carried a great sheet bag of treasures. They got ahead of the toddlers following, when one Junker, having dropped its bombs on Enghien, banked around and followed the road, emptying machine-guns into the crowds. Three great Belgian horses drawing a heavy cart stampeded. Nobody had time to reach the children. They were trampled as little moths and crushed under foot.

I carne through Tournai in the morning and saw in the sunlit old Belgian town dense mobs of refugees trying to buy bread massed in the park and all along the curbs in family and village groups, while old men went foraging in vain. It was like a fair day. But on every face were terror and exhaustion. Eyes were glazed in the fight with sleep, for sleep was too deadly for a mother with their children lying in attitudes of endless weariness across their laps or clasped in their arms. There could be no sleep in this funeral march of a nation for at any minute out of blue summer sky might come howling death.

Seeing a City Die

On my way back through Tournai five hours later, after witnessing the death and destruction of cities and towns, I found that 29 bombers in precise formation had come over at 4.30 in the afternoon and dropped 200 high-explosive bombs at random into the fair-day-thronged town. No place of military importance had been hit; not the station, not the main road junctions in or around the town, no barracks, no defences. Just the streets, the parks, two churches, a convent. And how many died in that carnage of a summer afternoon has not been known.

With heart shut tight and eyes half closed against the horror, we went through Tournai, its flames rising in four great pillars of smoke for the spectacled professors on high in their planes to note and check. In the streets and alleys and doorways the dead had been already laid aside by the doggedly toiling Belgian police, firemen and emergency crews. In one convent four nuns at prayer were killed and 20 wounded and their mother superior, a princess of Belgium 67 years of age, was marshalling what was left of her Benedictine daughters to flee and join the sleepless army on the road.

In Amiens we arrived to find a city with street cars and traffic and busy shops not unlike a decent residential area of Paris. The following morning bombs were falling, and the city was dying under our eyes, with shops and homes deserted. Amiens, crammed with refugees at nightfall, was by morning light a city of the dead, with all its people and all its refugees joined in that strange, slow toiling flood, that slow stampede if such a thing is imaginable. Near Amiens I saw a car laden on the roof with mattresses packed with family and bags and with a dead child tied on a running board seeking a burial place and an hour’s respite for the last rites. Hundreds of young people had bandaged heads and bodies. Older people injured simply gave up and quit the flight.

I saw a company of Belgian boy scouts on bicycles in scout uniform, three of them with bandaged wounds pull up where a bomb had fallen near the road to render first aid to 10 or 15 people laid out in fields. A scoutmaster about 20, who was superintending work of his refugee scouts, said rather hopelessly to me, “The trouble is these poor souls want to die. We haven’t been able to do much good this past week because the minute they get hit they take it for an excuse to go and die under a hedge. Maybe I will be the same when my turn comes.”

I saw this same scoutmaster in Boulogne later and three of his boys were killed in bombing at Arras while working in the inferno there, rescuing wounded. Three boys I had seen stacking bicycles on the roadside to leap to the help of others.

Use Refugees as Screen

The thing to remember amidst all this of which I only give most terribly sketchy glimpses of what I, one man, was able to see at any tiny given instant at one tiny spot in wide France, is that amidst it all, the British and French armies had to try to organize defence against the on-rushing enemy. All savage tribes shove a screen of prisoners ahead of them in attacking. Nobody who witnessed that first terrible week in Belgium and Northern France can ever be persuaded that the Germans did not use with complete heartlessness the screen of millions of refugees behind which to make their attack.

But do not think of the refugees as having found rest now at last. Millions of them are in France and a haven has to be found for them. Millions with only what they could carry of their earthly goods. Few of them without some member of their little flock lost.

They are members now of that ancient and noble brotherhood embracing all races and all ages of the martyrs of innocent and trampled humanity.

Editor’s Note: Greg arrived as a war correspondent just in time to see the early retreats and fall of France during World War 2.

This Way to the Door!

But the sailor just put his knee under me and lifted me loose from the hold I had on the upright bars.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, May 12, 1945.

“War,” remarked Jimmie Frise, is always followed by a sissy period.”

“Ridiculous,” I asserted.

“The last war,” recalled Jim, “if you remember, was immediately followed by the jazz age. Every war in history has been followed by a sort of reaction, a sort of let-down. You would think the return of the soldiers would result in the whole country being revitalized and masculinized by the reception of so many tough old soldiers back into the community. But it isn’t the fact.”

“I don’t believe it,” I protested.

“Just cast your memory back to the last war,” said Jim. “Don’t you recollect how we slid almost without a ripple back into civilian life? It stands to reason. After five years of army life the boys can’t get too much of the soft things of civilian life. Besides, their womenfolk pamper them. The government, the city fathers, the big business organizations, everybody is making a big fuss about reestablishment. The first thing you know our big, rough, tough soldiers are cuddled right down into civilian life. And you’d never know they had ever left off a firecracker in their lives.

“It won’t be that way this time,” I asserted firmly. “This has been a different war from all others…”1

“Wait and see,” smiled Jim. “Everything is being planned. The skids are being greased. The downy beds are being prepared. The fullest preparations are being made to smother the returning soldier in comfort.”

“After the last war,” I cried, “it was a scandal the way the veteran was treated. Why, don’t you remember the Great War Veterans’ associations2 and the mass meetings to protest the way the poor devils were being mistreated…”

“That was only a handful,” stated Jim. “The vast majority of returned men were skillfully snuggled away, so that the veterans’ associations never could get enough strength to make any real disturbance.”

“The boys will be wiser this time,” I insisted.

“Wait and see,” repeated Jim darkly. “If there is one thing governments fear – and I mean all governments, including city and county councils and provincial governments – it is the return of a solid body of soldiers from a war. Caesar said it was easy to raise an army, but an awful job to disband one. It has been true throughout the centuries. Not only do governments fear the return of a solid block of troops, but business and industry and finance also fear it. Trade unions fear it. Bankers fear it. The whole civilian organization of a nation gets into a panic at the thought of the majority of its first-class manhood returning from war in a solid mass. After a big war, Caesar always used to contrive a series of little wars so that he could disband his army little by little and scatter it to various parts of the empire rather than let it, come home to Rome en masse.”

“Why should they fear the return of the nation’s best manhood?” I demanded indignantly.

“Look,” said Jim. “If you had spent your whole life and a vast amount of money fixing the world up the way you like it, how would you like to see a tidal wave of strong, healthy, hungry, ambitious young men coming sweeping your way? Especially if you felt a sense of immense obligation to those same healthy, hungry, ambitious young men?”

“I think,” I submitted, “that the end of a war ought to be celebrated by a nation-wide epidemic of resignations. There should be set aside, three months after Victory Day, a special day of national resignation, on which all presidents, managers, superintendents and foremen should publicly hand in their resignations to their various businesses. All public men should resign. All mayors, ministers of government, members of parliaments. All directors of businesses. And all these jobs would automatically be given to the logical choice among the returning veterans of the victorious war. Among the generals, brigadiers, colonels and senior officers of the army are men qualified in almost every line of business and every profession to take over. Among the junior officers, sergeant-majors and non-commissioned officers of the three services are young men from practically every kind of business and industry who could step right into the jobs of foreman and superintendent.”

A Conspiracy Afoot

“A fat chance of that,” laughed Jim. “That’s just what I am trying to tell you. It is the fear of all these well-placed and comfortably situated people all over the nation, that constitutes this widespread conspiracy now afoot to bring the soldiers home in dribs and drabs and smother them in kindness and comfort. Not only does nobody want to resign. They want to see 500,000 ex-servicemen come back home and sink into the scheme of things-as-they-are without so much as a ripple.”

“What do you mean by conspiracy?” I inquired sharply.

“Well, all this stuff you read in the papers and hear on the radio,” said Jimmie, “advising people how to handle their boys when they get home. You would think, to listen to these lectures, that all our boys are going to be a little wacky when they get home. Unbalanced. Suffering from their terrible experiences, they are likely to be quite irrational.”

“Well?” I said.

“Don’t you see,” cried Jimmie, “what a lovely scheme that is to discredit the boys when they get home? If they have any disturbing ideas, their families will think they are just a little shell-wacky and soothe them and pay no attention. The madder the boys get, the more their families will try to smother them with kindness and comfort, thinking they are unbalanced.”

“Oho,” I said.

“Suppose the boys,” went on Jim, “have worked out some pretty sound and advanced ideas about what is wrong with the world. They’ve seen Europe. They’ve learned at first hand what a lot of the things that are wrong with the world really consist of. But the minute they try to express these ideas, their families and friends will have been advised to pay no attention – the dear boys are just a little bomb-biffy.”

“What a dirty scheme!” I snorted.

“Just wait,” gloated Jim, “and see the jazz age the real owners of this world will stage for the boys on their return this time. Last war there were no subversive beliefs rampant in the world. You couldn’t call the leaders of the Great War Veterans of the last war bolsheviks. That word hadn’t been popularly introduced in those days. This time there are a lot of subversive ideas loose in the world. So the champions of Things-As-They-Were are pretty worried. They are looking around for names to call the agitators of tomorrow. Bolshevik is all worn out.”

“Jim,” I cried, “we old veterans ought to reorganize and get a big strong association ready to help the boys on their return!”

“Alas,” said Jim, “90 per cent. of us old veterans are long since dug in on the side of Things-As-They-Were. We’re just as worried over the return of all those 500,000 healthy, ambitious young men as anybody else. Rather, than us rebuilding big, powerful, last-war veteran associations, I expect the new returning veterans will simply take over the old associations lock, stock and barrel.”

“Then,” I pointed out, “the boys will have a solid body…”

“Yeah,” sighed Jim, “90 per cent. of them will be snuggled back into civilian life and couldn’t be persuaded to attend a veterans meeting for love or money.”

“What time is it?” I inquired.

“It’s time we were back at the office,” said Jim, glancing at his watch.

So we hustled down the street and boarded the street car.

As has been noticeable lately, there is an ever-increasing number of real soldiers scattered among us. In the downtown streets and in the street cars and buses you can pick out the returned veterans from among the uninitiated soldiers we have been familiar with all these past years.

The veteran soldier has a look all his own. He doesn’t need that colored square patch on his shoulder to identify him. There is all the difference between him and the home-front soldier that there is between a new book and an old book. Or between a brand new squeaky pair of shoes and a lovely old pair of shoes with a sort of deep shine on them. Or between a new hat and an old hat. They are tender to look upon.

Jimmie and I got seats, though the car was crowded. A couple of wounded soldiers got on at Bloor St. coming from the hospital, but we had no chance to give up our seats to them. Ten people were ahead of us. Eight of them were soldiers.

Generous and Gallant

Now, you don’t go offering your seat to a strapping big soldier in apparent perfect health.

But the sight of those other soldiers so promptly jumping up to give their seats to two of the boys with stiff legs sort of warmed us up. We felt generous and gallant.

Down the car aisle came two ladies. They were neither young ladies nor elderly ladies. They were Mrs. In-betweens.

They were all dressed up very smartly, and had those dizzy little handbags that women carry when they are going to a movie rather than shopping. They were obviously out for a time.

And they looked very self-conscious, as only Mrs. In-between can, as they sidled past the several soldiers. For the newly returned soldier can’t seem ever to get enough of an eyeful of his own fair sex here back home.

As the ladies came level with Jimmie and me, they paused in their airy flight. And nobody can float through space quite so noticeably airy as these Mrs. In-betweens, neither young, nor elderly.

I was on the outside. I worked out and stood up. Lifting my hat gallantly, I said:

“Have a seat, lady.”

Jimmie was also squirming out.

The two ladies drew back and stared indignantly at us.

Jimmie and I stood back, to allow the ladies our seat.

They haughtily lifted their shoulders, turned their backs and moved slightly away.

They exchanged a withering glance and their lips curled.

So rather crestfallen, Jimmie and I resumed our seats.

A titter ran through the back end of the car from our fellow-passengers who had seen the incident. And among those in front who turned around to see what was cooking were a big sailor and a large soldier, both of them salty.

At, which moment, one of the two ladies said audibly above the noise of the car:

“I’ve never been so insulted. Two old drips like them…”

The sailor looked back along the car and saw Jimmie and me both blushing. And all our neighbors eyeing us with amusement.

The sailor heaved ho.

“Which done it?” he inquired jovially of the two ladies.

Both ladies flashed a hot and indignant glance down at us.

The sailor winked at the soldier. The two rose up very tall.

The sailor reached over and pushed the stop button on the window frame.

“So,” he said, genially, taking hold of the whole front of my coat, my necktie, collar, Adam’s apple and lapels. “So, this is what goes on while us boys are away to the wars, huh?”

He lifted me up.

There were scattered exclamations from the other passengers around. “What do you mean… how dare…” I said, as I felt myself airborne.

The sailor set me down in front of him and began propelling me towards the door.

“Look here,” I shouted, “what is the meaning…”

But the sailor just put his knee under me and lifted me loose from the hold I had on the upright bars.

I glanced back in dismay, to see if none of the passengers would speak up in my behalf. And I saw the soldier hoisting Jimmie by the necktie.

Ready For the Heave

“A fine state of affairs,” boomed the sailor genially, addressing the car at large, “when two old grandpappies like this can ride around in public insulting ladies.”

“And good-looking bims, too,” said the soldier, cheerily, holding Jimmie at arm’s length.

The car came to a stop. But the sailor was so strange to landlubber’s ways that he did not know you have to stand down on the step to open the door.

He just held me ready, and waited for the door to open.

The soldier right behind had Jim ready, too.

“Listen, sailor,” I said huskily through my neckband up around my ears. “Would you be sport enough to ask those ladies how we insulted them?”

“Get ready, grandpappy,” replied the sailor, waiting for the doors to open.

“Hey,” came a stranger shoving from the rear of the car, “wait a second, boys. These gentlemen didn’t insult anybody….”

At which moment, the motorman, seeing nobody wanted off, started the car.

“Just a minute,” shouted the sailor.

But the car proceeded.

“What’s this?” asked the soldier of the agitated citizen who had come to our aid.

“Listen, all these gentlemen did was offer those ladies their seat,” insisted our champion.

“Go and ask them,” I strangled. “Go on and ask them how we insulted them…”

The sailor let go of me and went back towards the ladies who were the thrilled object of the whole car’s attention.

“You said these birds insulted you, lady,” said the sailor.

“They certainly did,” said they together emphatically.

“What did they say?” asked the sailor grimly.

“They didn’t say anything,” said they. “They offered us their seats. Two old drips like them! Offering us their seats. Us! What do they think we are, taking seats from two old drips old enough to be our grandfathers.”

They perked up their chins and waggled their eyelashes around at the other customers.

“They…. er…. ah….” said the sailor.

The soldier let go of Jimmie.

“Maybe some of you soldiers,” called the sailor generally, “would like to give up your seats to these two ladies?”

Nobody moved. A lot of people laughed.

“Dad,” said the sailor, taking my arm and patting my tie straight and dusting me off, “allow me to return you to your pew.”

He was redder in the face than I. The soldier practically picked Jimmie up in his arms and carried him back to our seat.

Everybody was happy except the two ladies who, after a moment, moved up to the middle door and at the next stop got off, after favoring the whole carload, especially all the soldiers, with haughty and withering glances.

“Dad,” said the big sailor, lingering, “I’m sorry about this. You see, us guys come home full of high ideals. We’re ready to jump right in and do the Lord Galahad act at the first opportunity. When I heard that dame say she was being insulted….”

“It’s okay, son,” I said, “those ladies were at the easy insulted age…”

So for the rest of the run to the office, the sailor and the soldier hung on to the rail of our seat and we talked about this war and the last one, and everybody around leaned and listened with interest.

Editor’s Notes:

  1. Post-War Veteran Re-Establishment was organized in World War 2, as the Department of Veteran’s Affairs was created in 1944, among other activities to avoid the issues after World War 1. ↩︎
  2. More information on the Great War Veterans’ Association can be found here. ↩︎

One Keg of Rum

He hoisted one keg on his shoulder and fled by a roundabout overland route back to the horse lines where the pipers were waiting.
“It must be gas,” cried the major excitedly. “Don’t stand there, sergeant. Get four men at once and rush him back to the dressing station.”

By Gregory Clark, January 31, 1931.

In every regiment there are wheels within wheels. The colonel, the adjutant and the regimental sergeant-major are supposed to be the three paramount powers in whose hands separately and collectively the fate of thousand men lies.

But it is not so. Underneath the polished exterior of a regiment of infantry, shunting and wheeling and sloping arms so magnificently to the barked commands of one lone voice, there revolve wheels within wheels. Cliques, intrigues, parties grow and flourish. Some are founded on social distinctions, whereby men who were clerks and schoolmasters separate themselves from those of rougher hand. Others divided themselves on the substantial basis of county, so that men of Grey and Bruce held themselves in league against the men of Frontenac or the Maritimes.

But the greatest wheel of all, the mainspring of the works, was a sort of shabby Masonic brotherhood that scorned all pride of place or social position, and leaped the bounds of company or even the greater bounds of period of service, and consisted of those in the regiment who were ultra hard-boiled1. This secret society existed in every battalion of a thousand men. It was officered by a few old-timers, some of whom ranked as corporals or even as sergeants. Its membership was recruited from all companies, and even the signallers and scouts and the transport section contributed their little quota. If you were tough, you needed not to be a year or even six months with the battalion to be made welcome within the sanctuary of this old-soldiers’ lodge.

Most of the mysteries in any regiment’s history can be attributed to this ancient brotherhood. They held no meeting, they possessed no lodge room. Any estaminet2, any dugout, where two or three of them gathered together, was the holies of holies. These knights errant, who pitted their wits against highly technical fortifications of modern military organization were the heirs to the soldiers of fortune who, until a hundred years ago, roved the world in search of payment for their swords. It stands to reason that soldiers of fortune, like singers and dancers and horsemen born to a saddle, should still survive in this age.

I knew that my Corporal Jimmie Post was one of the high-ups within this secret sodality. Post was dusky, with mocking eyes and a scornful mouth, who sang courage back into his platoon with unspeakable songs, and who was to be found in time of disaster not with the little cliques of the brave, but lending his arrogant voice to comfort the weakest sister in the sector. He was aware of his gift of courage. He could throw it, a sort of blanket, around those of us who needed warmth in the cold gulf of fear. And he employed that mantle, and gloried in it.

Brotherhood’s Senior Warden

Court martials went astray, punishments were deflected, plans went amiss in that clean cold region where colonels, adjutants and regimental sergeant-majors live. And Corporal Jimmie Post knew all about it in advance. If any of my men got into serious trouble, Post would tell me, it would be all right. And it would be. Hard-looking strangers from other companies used to come into my trench and talk with Post. And he would be absent occasionally visiting abroad in the regiment in the line. Whenever I would be orderly officer, I would sometimes come on an estaminet being emptied at last post, where the gathering would adjourn with all the earmarks of a lodge meeting coming to an end; and Post was always in these companies. Post was senior warden, if not better, in some indefinable brotherhood of warriors.

Contrasted with Post, Sergeant Buster Parker had a saintly look. He was only a boy, but he had and still has, though one of his legs is gone, a mouthful of the most wholesome flashing teeth I ever saw in a human head. And, like many other men who had that flashing smile, he was gifted with power over his fellows. Despite the fact that he was a boy, Buster Parker was a sergeant and a crackerjack. And it was hard for me to believe now that if Corporal Jimmie Post was senior warden of that secret society in our regiment, Sergeant Buster Parker was worshipful master.

Captain Hal Franks, quartermaster, Lieutenant Seth Norton, transport officer and I as assistant or rear adjutant, were the officers of the horse lines who at that time were dwelling in comfort and security amidst the mud of Neuville St. Vaast while our regiment was up in the reaches beyond Vimy Ridge. Around us were uncamped the rear details, the drivers, the wagons, the orderly room and record clerks, the brass band and the pipe band, the provost sergeant and the artificers3 who are the tailors, horseshoers, carpenters and so forth; all of us the commissariat details of a regiment in the line, who take up their feed each night, and to whom the regiment comes back for rest when relieved.

We were a bomb-proof lot. Mostly old soldiers, retired to his ignominious region by reason of long service or weak backs. And we understood one another perfectly and got along like a lot of creatures in a barnyard.

There was an outbreak of impetigo4 in the regiment. Nasty skin disease that broke out all over, on the legs, body, hands and face. A few of the more valuable non-commissioned officers were sent out of the line to get themselves doctored up. But for most of the troops, it just meant salve and bandages.

Amongst those sent down to the horse-lines, I was delighted to find my old platoon corporal, Post, from whom I had been separated when I was promoted to the eminence and absurdity of assistant adjutant at the rear.

And a day or two later came down Sergeant Buster Parker, with sores like pennies all over his legs.

We spent some pleasant afternoons together in the thin March sunlight of Neuville St. Vaast and Aux Rietz Corners, talking of old-timers and how soft the war had been in my time as compared with now.

There would be, in all, counting these sick, lame and lazy and all the drivers and bandsmen, about a hundred and fifteen dwelling in the huts and tents of our rear camp.

A Memorable Saturday Night

It was a Saturday night that trouble came.

Out in the March night the wind howled and a chill rain lashed our hut. Captain Franks, Norton and I sat about our table, reading and writing and chatting in the desultory fashion known to rear headquarters. The batmen5 had retired. Our bedrooms were laid out. Captain Franks undressed and was preparing to insert himself into his blankets when, on the wild night air, there sounded a snatch of song.

Captain Franks, the senior, nodded to the door and I went and opened and listened. Through the storm and rain and across the mud I could see the lights burned in the scattered huts, and from them came the murmur of many voices.

And in a rift of the wind there came to us the loud skirl of bagpipes.

“Take a look around,” said Captain Franks. “It’s going on for eleven o’clock.”

I pulled on my rubber boots and raincoat and sloshed out into the night. The nearest hut was the guard-room where the provost sergeant lived in charge of whatever prisoners might be awaiting judgment. There were two men in confinement at that time.

A lone candle guttered in the guard hut, and it was empty. I called the sergeant. I called the guard. And no answer came, save the increasing murmur of song and bagpipes from the huts across the muddy field.

I circled round past the horse lines, where the horses drooped beneath their canvas shelters. I called for the piquet and got no answer. I walked around past the artificers’ shanties past the stores, rapping and calling, and got no reply.

And then I headed for the big huts, all glowing in the storm.

From a discreet distance I stood and looked in an open door. There was a sound of revelry. Some were playing cards. Some were lying and singing. Bagpipes skirled, and someone of the band was mournfully blowing a constantly interrupted solo on a trombone. Presently a drum came into action, and the laughter and tumult grew.

Without disturbing the scene, I returned and informed my senior officer that it was apparently somebody’s birthday. Beyond our hut lay the senior n.c.o.’s hut, where dwelt the quartermaster sergeant and transport sergeant and other nabobs in an isolation almost as grand as our own. I went to their door, and they dressed in hasty garments and went to investigate.

They returned in a few minutes, greatly disturbed.

“The whole outfit is tight6,” said they, standing across the table in the candle light. “Tight as owls. They must have got an awful lot of liquor.”

“Tight!” we cried.

“Everybody, the batmen, the clerks, the bandsmen, everybody,” said the quartermaster sergeant. “The provost sergeant is sitting in there singing with his two prisoners. The pipe band is putting on a concert. They are all jammed in there, and by the look of them it would be crazy to interfere. That Corporal Post and Sergeant Buster Parker and a bunch of others from up the line are raising hell.”

“Go and order the lights out,” said Captain Franks. “Get those men back in the guard room. Have everybody go to their quarters.”

The senior n.c.o.’s retired into the storm.

“There will hell to pay over this,” said the senior officer.

And we sat in silence waiting for the n.c.o.’s to return.

After a long wait they returned.

“The only thing you can do,” said they, “is send a riot call up to the battalion in the line and have them come back. Nothing else will stop them now. They’ve got rum. And I think they must have about ten gallons of it.”

“Are we to sit here and let it go on?” demanded the captain.

“I will crime the whole lot,” said the quarter-master sergeant, “but I think it would only aggravate matters it we tried to interfere now, with no men to back us up.”

We agreed with the n.c.o.’s, and we sat far into the night, listening to the rising and falling hubbub from the huts, in which no man came near us. And sometime in the stilly watches we retired, with maudlin snatches of music and yells faintly in our ears.

“Just a Little Party”

The first batman to rouse us was Bertrand, who supervised me. He wore a grin on his face and he looked much the worse of wear.

“I wouldn’t be in a hurry getting up if I was you,” he said to me, as he started laying out my razor kit.

“Why not?”

“The boys,” said Bertrand, “are in kind of bad shape this morning.”

“We thought we heard some noises last night,” said l. “What was up?”

“A little party,” said Bertrand. “Just a little party.”

“Were Post and Parker in it?”

Bertrand laughed, and withdrew apologetically.

We dressed and went forth to look at the wreckage. It was terrible. Many of the men were still sleeping, though buglers sounded the call to rouse and breakfast right into the hut doors. It was Sunday morning, and no parades until eleven o’clock to the church hut down on the Arras-Bethune road a few hundred yards away7.

Everyone ducked as we appeared. A few who still had a little in them brazenly appeared and it became a sort of duel whether we would approach them or they would approach us. Finally, the provost sergeant, looking extremely seedy, could stand the strain no longer, and he marched across the mud, quite unsteadily, and saluting with extreme care, said to us:

“Everything present and correct, shir.”

Saluted again and snapping about unsteadily, marched back to his guard hut.

We retired into our hut for breakfast.

“We can’t crime the whole camp,” said the captain. “We can only seek out the ringleaders. In any event, it is a scandal, and we are going to look very badly, however we handle it.”

The church parade was terrible. It was a travesty. But with a hundred sullen men still bleary from too much rum, it more than useless, it was unfair to attempt to goad them into resistance which would get them and us into deeper trouble.

After the church parade we held an investigation. My share was to sound out Sergeant Parker and Corporal Post, while the others dealt with the transport and quarters personnel.

“We got a little rum,” admitted Sergeant Parker. Post corroborated this statement.

“Where did get it?”

“Nobody knows where it came from,” they said, with deep interest in the subject. “It just appeared, and then everybody was singing.”

And then suddenly I realized I was up against that secret society within the regiment, as far these two were concerned, and I passed it up. At the hut, I found the captain and Norton. They had got nowhere. They had demanded, wheedled, threatened. But it appeared that the rum just came from nowhere, and nobody could remember who had had it first.

But Captain Franks that afternoon ordered Sergeant Parker and Corporal Post to return to the line for duty with their companies.

And he was right.

The Rum Story Spills Over

The story came in the door with Buster Parker the other day, as he tried to sell me a new car. He is a one-legged, two fisted salesman of Fords now, with his flashing smile undimmed.

Something recalled to mind that far-off March night, and in a minute the story was spilling over us with laughter.

“That episode,” said Buster Parker, sitting here fourteen years after in The Star Weekly office, “is remembered by you as one time you really felt the loss of authority. Some day I must write a book about all the times the officers thought they were in command and weren’t. But now I’ll tell you how we got the rum.”

Parker, with his infected legs, arrived out at the horse lines Saturday afternoon and immediately looked up Corporal Jimmie Post re the matter of the most comfortable flop. Post was living with the pipe band, a little group of ten Scotties, some of could not speak English at all; a distinct and isolated little band of superior beings, a sort of Scottish rite within that brotherhood I speak of, who were very particular who so much as sat down in their midst.

So Parker joined Post as a partner in the pipers’ hospitality.

“Now how about a little drink?” asked Parker, after his kit was settled away.

“None to be had,” said Post.

“How about Clarkie?” asked Buster.

“He’s gone mean since he joined the orderly room,” said Post. “I haven’t had a bottle from him for months.”

Then up spoke Brother Fluellen, who was a bugler by rights, but who had achieved by some devious route a position on the staff of the rear headquarters cook kitchen.

“You know this big ration dump down here below Aux Rietz Corners?” asked Fluellen.

“Yes,” said Sergeant Parker, sharply.

“It’s guarded,” said Cook Fluellen, “by a regular guard of crocks. They march sentry on it, one to each side of the dump. It’s about three hundred yards to a side. Well, the last time I was strolling along I had a look into the dump. It has sort of lanes running all through it. In one the lanes I seen some little six-gallon kegs.”

“Yes,” whispered Sergeant Parker, Corporal Post and all the ten pipers.

“So I says to the sentry, I says, what is in them little kegs back there, brother? And he says you would be surprised. I says, is it vinegar? And he says you would be surprised. And by the way he kept halting on his beat and looking back at me, boys, I know there is rum in them six gallon kegs.”

A great silence fell on the pipers’ hut.

Everybody knew the one-gallon rum jars in which the rum came up to the infantry. But a six-gallon keg!

Sergeant Parker rose to his feet. He looked out the door of the hut. Evening was falling and the March wind and rain made all the world a desolation.

“Corporal Post,” said the sergeant, “and Fluellen, you will parade in proper guard mounting order at eight o’clock to-night. You, corporal, will borrow from somebody a great coat with no stripes on it. Have your buttons shined to the nines, your pouches clean, and wear your tin hats.”

A New Guard for the Dump

Thus, at eight o’clock, after all the world of the horse lines had settled down for the night, there formed up discreetly out of the way of officers, a small parade consisting of a sergeant, corporal and a cook. Post and Fluellen, the pictures of soldiery smartness, stood side by side with rifles at the slope and bayonets fixed. Behind them stood Sergeant Buster Parker, dressed for guard mounting.

Down the deserted La Targette road they marched, in the wind and rain, the sergeant’s voice picking them up, hup, hup, until, half way down the road along the dump they overtook the sentry on duty on that side, who and turned outwards.

“Party, halt,” commanded Sergeant Parker, level with the sentry.

“Right turn,” said the sergeant in the business-like tone of the guard.

“What’s this?” asked the surprised sentry on the dump.

“Relief,” said Parker, surily. “All right, Smith,” to Post, “take post. Fall in, sentry.”

And with alacrity, the honest sentry stepped smartly out and fell in beside Fluellen. What a swell night to get relieved!

And without the slightest hesitation, Parker commanded the party to turn, quick march, and down the road in the rain and the darkness they proceeded.

After marching about hundred yards, and nearing the end of the dump, where another sentry might be standing, Parker halted his party.

He reached over and firmly took the rifle from the sentry.

“Boy,” he said, though the man could have been his father, “you are in bad trouble. You can take your choice, but I think you ought to submit to a beating up, because you will never be to tell your officer that you were relieved.”

“What’s this?” stammered the C3 sentry, suddenly filled with an awful fear that all was not well.

Parker chucked the rifle away in the dark and swung on the sentry. There was a moment’s scuffle while the sergeant and Fluellen mussed and muddied up a figure that struggled frantically on the road.

“There,” said the sergeant, “you look as if you had been assaulted. Now run and call your guard.”

And like rabbits, Parker and Fluellen dashed into the hedges, doubled back and forward, and in a moment were lost in the stormy March night. Meanwhile a bedraggled sentry was on the dead tear to his guard room, desperately trying to make up his mind what to tell the sergeant of the guard as to being relieved or assaulted. And whichever way, it would need a lot of explaining.

Post was like a cat in the dark, anyway. When the sentry party left him standing smartly in the rain, he waited until they got out of earshot and then he quietly walked into the dump, found the kegs exactly where Fluellen had described them, hoisted one to his shoulder, retrieved his rifle and fled by a roundabout overland route back to the horse lines, where the pipers were waiting.

Some New, Terrible Epidemic

The question was: Did the keg really contain rum. It did. They first of all poured the rum into two of Fluellen’s big cooking dixies8, then burned the barrel and inside of a few minutes, the free invitation party to all ranks at the regimental horse lines was under way.

“I,” said Parker, “as chief steward of the party, decanted off two full waterbottles of rum before the party started, and these I buried in the earth in a secret place. So that when Captain Franks ordered me to return to my company up the line, as I thought might happen, I was quite content. I went up that night with the ration wagon. I dug up my two bottles, and then clinging to the back of D company limber I fortified myself from time to time during the journey up, so that by the time I met the D company ration party, I needed help, which was gladly given, for a consideration.

“Among those to whom I confided a share of my rum were my fellow sergeants of D company. And only one of them took too much. Because he is probably by now an elder in the kirk9, I will not mention his true name. We will call him Tram. Anyway, Tram by morning was in bad shape. Rum cannot be trifled with like whiskey or brandy. And he trifled with it. So we lay Tram out on the firestep in the sunlight to boil out.

“He was still there, breathing heavily and noisily, when word came that Major Victor Sifton was on his way round the trenches, making his morning inspection. He would be in D company lines any minute.

“And there was Tram lying, unconscious on the fire step. We tried to lift him to hide him in a dugout, but he fought us fiercely and started to shout.

“‘Get a stretcher,’ said I to Tram’s boys. We laid Tram softly on a stretcher. Then I opened my first aid bandage, broke the iodine ampoule and poured the iodine all over the bandage.

“With this swab, I delicately painted Tram all over his face, neck, hands and wrists, so that he was the most terrible pale yellow-brown color you ever saw. It was the most awful case of jaundice imaginable.

“And I just had the job neatly finished and the swab pitched over the parapet, when around the traverse walked Major Sifton.

“”What’s this!’ cried Major Sifton. ‘It’s poor Tram.’ He was rather fond of Tram.

“I told him Tram had just been suddenly took this way.

“‘It must be gas,’ cried the major, excitedly. ‘Don’t stand there, sergeant. Get four men at once and rush him back to the dressing station.’

“So very smartly,” says Buster Parker, “I rustled out four men, and away went Sergeant Tram, breathing noisily and turned a terrible color.

“At the dressing station they just took one look at him and rushed him for the ambulance. I suppose there they just took one look and rushed him back to the clearing station. And there, if he had not recovered consciousness, they probably put a red ticket on him and made a special flying trip to the base with him.

“Anyway, it was three months before Tram came back to D company. Nobody ever found out about the run and iodine. Tram woke up and wondered where the dickens he was. He felt awful bad, and he was able to wash off some of the iodine. His pulse was bad, his heart and lungs were bad. The doctors were sorry he had lost his bad color, but they put him under special observation for a few days, for fear of some new and terrible epidemic.

“Then he was returned, but Tram was so good a soldier, all the divisional schools and reinforcement depots held him for a few weeks as instructor. So that it was nearly three months before Tram got back to us and heard the full story of his holiday.

“So that,” says Buster Parker, “is the story of one keg of rum, and I tell it to you just to show there was a lot of going on all around us in the war that we knew nothing about.”

Editor’s Notes:

  1. Some one who is hard-boiled is tough and does not show much emotion ↩︎
  2. An estaminet is French for a small café, bar, or bistro, especially a shabby one. ↩︎
  3. An artificer is an appointment held by a member of an armed forces service who is skilled at working on electronic, electrical, electro-mechanical and/or mechanical devices. ↩︎
  4. Impetigo is a common and highly contagious skin infection. ↩︎
  5. A batman in the military is a servant to an officer. This was phased out between the wars. ↩︎
  6. Slang for drunk. ↩︎
  7. A church parade in the military is a parade by service personnel for the purposes of attending religious services. This was mandatory at the time. ↩︎
  8. A dixie comes from the Hindi word ‘degchi’ meaning a small pot. It consists of two parts, a large lower pan and a top lid that could be used as a frying pan or a serving platter. ↩︎
  9. This would be an elder in the Scottish (Presbyterian) Church. ↩︎

‘Twas Put to Good Use’

A greenish flare lighted up the whole scene.

“What can you do alone?”

 “I’ve got a secret,” said Fannah.

“This is crazy,” cried the sergeant-major. “You’ll be plunked the minute you move.”

“No, I won’t. They won’t see me.”

“They won’t see a balloon!”

By Gregory Clark, December 21, 1929.


The sergeant-major made it sound like a curse.

To the Canadian corps as a whole, burrowed in for the winter along the Lens front, the snow, fine and crisp, and comforting the ghastly ground swiftly, had a merry touch of home. The sentries, staring out over No Man’s Land, felt the strain relaxing as the white blanket grew. But the sergeant-major of C company of the Central Ontario regiment sensed a panic rising in his bosom.

“Now what the hell’re we going to do!” he groaned, as he thrust his way along the trench to the company officer’s dugout.

At the entrance, fat Captain Fannah was standing in the dark listening to the crisp pellets tinkling on his steel hat.

“Merry Christmas, sawm-major!” he squeaked.

“Sir, this jiggers the works,” said the sergeant-major, jabbing his heels into the bathmat1 by way of salute. “This snow is going to last. No Man’s Land is already white with it. The raid will be impossible.”

“What’s time?” demanded, the pudgy captain. Offhand, Captain Fannah was a type of man you would not like. It took a week to like him. And then you gave him your shirt.

“Nine-fifteen, sir.”

“Raid’s at one ack emma2,” said Captain Fannah. “Plenty of time to dope it out. Reduce the party from the full platoon to ten men. And inform Lieutenant Beaurien that I will take the raid instead of him.”

“Very good, sir. Will I report back to you or stay in the trench?”

“Tell Lieutenant Beaurien to take over trench duty. You come back. I want you tonight, sawm-major.”

The little fat captain spoke querulously3, like a head-waiter busy with a banquet. He struggled, grunting, into the dugout entrance.

The sergeant-major hurried to the left where Eleven Platoon stood, and picking up its sergeant, went on to where the platoon officer, Beaurien, was sitting on the firestep4 discussing the impending raid with a few of his toughest men.

“Sir,” said the sergeant-major, stamping his salute on the frosty bathmats, “here’s good news for most of your platoon. Captain Fannah has ordered plans changed in view of the snow. He will lead the raid himself, and will take only ten men instead of the whole platoon. With his compliments, will you please take command of the trench and act for him until further orders.”

Beaurien was visibly relieved. The good word spread along the trench and down into dugouts where Eleven Platoon lay worrying about the raid and the snow. But the handful of choice spirits who had been gathered round Beaurien gave no sign of joy. A raid is a jumpy business. A battle is one thing, with its tumult and vasty compass. In a battle you feel as if all the world is with you in disaster. But a little raid has a lonesomeness that eats into the core of a man. From the length of a brigade front away, a raid, with its two battery barrage, sounds like a drunken celebration with giant fire crackers. And you wonder about the little handful of lads that are scurrying about in the night beneath that angry vortex of shellfire in the heart of the great tropic stillness of the long No Man’s Land.

In every platoon were a half-dozen hard-boiled characters who invariably found themselves selected for raids, battle patrols, wire-cutting and the more desperate adventures of trench warfare. Five of these, standing about their relieved lieutenant, knew that no matter how the raiding party might be reduced, from thirty-five men to ten, they would be amongst the ten. And they were right.

“Well, troops,” said Beaurien, rising. “I don’t mind telling you I have been glad to sit down ever since this snow started falling. My legs is bad.”

“I’ve Got a Secret”, Said Fannah

Beaurien, with a white and purple ribbon on his tunic and enough bloody exploits to his credit to permit him the luxury of confessing fear, produced his little platoon roster from his pocket.

“You five will go,” he said. “Each of you pick one other man. How’s that? Then there can be no belly-aching about the wrong man being sent.”

The five departed along the trench to select their voluntary partners in desperation.

Raids were the peculiar pride of the Canadians. They had, in a sense, originated them. At any rate, back in Fifteen, they had become aware of a higher rate of individual initiative which existed amongst Canadians and had developed various forms of raids, some with the famous “box” barrage, three walls of shell-fire, the fourth or near wall being left open for the entry of the raiders. Then they went on to the stealth raid in its many forms, where no gunfire disturbed the silence of night, but only the sudden whang of bombs bursting and the muffled crack of pistols held close to the stomachs of surprised sentries in the violated trench. It was a stealth raid that Eleven Platoon was about to pull.

“And how,” Captain Fannah was saying into the little field telephone deep in his candle-lit, coke-gassey dugout, “can we make a stealth raid across a blanket of virgin snow?”

“Fannah,” came back the colonel’s Royal Military College voice, “brigade says we have got to – got to – get a prisoner for identification. I have put it up to you. This snow may last a week. I realize the mess this makes, but, my dear Fannah, you’ve got to figure it out. You can shift the time if you like.”

“One ack emma,” said Captain Fannah, in his pained voice. “They will go at one ack emma, colonel, but I am reducing the party to ten.”

“And Beaurien taking them?”

“Mmmm,” said Fannah, knowing that the crackling telephone, with its lines laid across the waste of mud between his and the colonel’s dugout, six hundred yards back, would convert this sound into an affirmative.

The sergeant-major, sitting on a cartridge-box beside the captain, filched a cigarette out of the captain’s leather case. These two, off parade and when no other ranks were looking, were more than comrades.

“What’s the dope?” asked the sergeant-major, as the phone was laid down.

“The Stokes guns5,” said Fannah, “are going to start right away and make a lot of dark holes out in that white No Man’s Land. They will fire at random around the open and over towards the German trench. Tell Beaurien to get as many of our men as he can risk out of the front line, so that some of the Stokes can fall short, close to our trench. It will look like a warming-up from a new bunch of Stokes just come in.”

“Won’t Fritz be on the lookout?”

“The Stokes will stop at twelve midnight. Starting at one o’clock, I want you to get the boys, one by one, out into the best Stokes holes that occur. Scatter them out from Tivvy Sap.”

“Then what?”

“Then,” said Fannah, sighing deeply and looking guiltily away from his sergeant-major, “when they are in position I go over and go in.”


“You know there is a gap in their wire?”

“I found it. But they may have closed it since last night. But what the devil can you do alone?”

“I’ve got a secret,” said Fannah.

“This is crazy,” cried the sergeant-major. “You will be plunked the minute you move.”

“No I won’t. They won’t see me.”

“They won’t see a balloon!”

“It will have to be done as slyly as possible. All I want them for is to cover me coming back. Just plain rifle fire. Some of us are going to get hurt, but I can’t see that can be helped.”

The first faint thump of the Stokes shells vibrated in the dugout and made the candles flicker.

“Get out and watch that Stokes stuff and pick a nice bunch of dark spots for the boys to lie on.”

“I don’t like your scheme,” said the sergeant-major, standing up and looking at his officer grimly. “I think you have gone nuts.”

“They won’t be able to see me,” said Captain Fannah. “I will be all white.”

Disappearing in the Snow

A random fire from Stokes mortars disturbed the night. These softly belching little cannon hurled their whiskey-bottle shells high in the air, to fall and lie a horrid moment on the ground before they went off with a terrific crash. They blew shallow, five-foot-broad patches of darkness on the snow-covered ground. A steady, thickening whirl of snow continued to fall. Machine guns woke up on the German side and chattered about nervously. Flares went up more frequently, to dazzle the new fallen snow. Fritz was on the alert. But the Stokes fire neither increased nor seemed to concentrate. It gave a lazy, casual and poorly-aimed battering to a strip of No Man’s Land for a three-hundred-yard stretch. About eleven o’clock, puzzled by this desultory crashing, the Germans ordered their field guns to fire some retaliation, which cheerfully increased the number of dark spots out in the snow.

As if quelled by this come-back, the Stokes died away at midnight. And peace, oddly spiritualized by the snow, settled over the line. The one point of discord in miles of silence was stilled.

About twelve-thirty the first of the covering party, crouched and swift, skipped out an opening in the Canadian wire and flung himself into one of the shell holes. There was a breathless moment of waiting, but no hint that the figure had been noticed came from the German trench. The bank of barbed wire, which was a filigree of rust and silver, acted as a dark screen for the raiders’ movements. Another figure made the dash, then another. Obviously the German sentries were lulled by the same feeling of security the new fallen snow gave the Canadians. One by one the ten men of Eleven Platoon got into the dark splashes on No Man’s Land where the Stokes and the German field guns had left their scars.

Then appeared queer and ghostly little figure in Eleven Platoon’s trench. His head was swathed in white field bandages. His legs and feet were likewise wrapped tightly in white. Over his arm he carried a large white garment. And from amongst the bandages emerged Captain Fannah’s plaintive voice:

“If any man fires from this trench until I return I will personally lame him!”

Beaurien and the other two lieutenants of C Company were with the captain to see him off. The sergeant-major was the last to go out before Fannah, and he was to go furthest and be closest to the lone white raider when the entry into the German trench was attempted. Shaking hands with the captain, the sergeant-major himself wrapped in bandages in different spots so that he appeared raggedly camouflaged, climbed over the parados6 and disappeared into the silence.

Not a Shot was Fired

Then Captain Fannah shook out the garment he was carrying and drew it over his head. He stood forth absolutely white, save for pencil-wide strip across his eyes.

“No shooting from the trench,” he said again. “The boys in front will do any shooting required.”

And helped by his lieutenants from behind the pudgy captain grunted his way over the parapet. The thick snow fell like feathers.

“I can’t see him already,” said one of the sentries.

Beaurien stood up on the fire-step. Through the haze of falling snow could faintly be seen the scattered dark splotches where the shells had cleared a space. But no movement disclosed the fact that in eleven of them, staggered across towards the German lines, lay eleven men with their rifles cocked and pointed to answer any flash from the enemy trench. And not a trace could be seen of Fannah, though Beaurien knew his stout little officer could not have got far on his dangerous mission.

A long time passed. Suspense during a stealth raid is a sensation never otherwise experienced. The burst of a bomb, the crack of a shot comes like a note of joy to break the tension. But no sound came from white-shrouded No Man’s Land. The usual night silence lay like a desert stillness, and you would never have guessed that within a square mile ten thousand men were standing with their wits wide awake. Only occasionally the German flares mounted and lobbed vividly through the glistening night. But there was no flare-thrower on duty closer than three hundred yards from Eleven Platoon’s front. Beaurien watched for a telltale moving shadow when the flares were falling, but on the shining shadows of No Man’s Land nothing stirred.

After twenty minutes that had seemed hours there was a quiet movement at the German trench, a hundred yards away. Shadows in the misty snowfall, dark figures moving fitfully against the white.

“Psst!” hissed the sentry beside Beaurien. A sergeant came running.

“Figures moving over against the German wire!” he cried in a low voice to Beaurien.

“I see them. Get back to your duty.”

Yet not a shot was fired, no flick of orange pecked in the darkness.

Then quite distinctly, moving slowly towards the Canadian lines, came two figures looming black against the snow. On they came, stumbling, hesitating. After a moment’s intent staring it appeared that they walked with their arms in the air over their heads.

“My God!” said the sentry, removing his safety-catch.

“Keep still, you…”

“They Thought I was a Fairy”

A greenish flare popped into the air opposite, burst and lighted the whole scene in dazzling splendor. The two figures stopped dead still in their tracks, their arms on high, lividly silhouetted against the snow. Beaurien, watching the shadows, not the objects themselves, as an old-timer should, saw what he was looking for, a small, round shadow in rear of the long shadows of the two standing Germans.

A shout came from the German trench. The flare lobbed to the ground and went out with a loud hiss. A shot was fired from the enemy. Instantly two shots from the dark shell holes spat back. The two dark figures against the snow began to run, hands held appealingly high. A machine gun opened from the German side. The shell holes began to spit, spit, redly. The way a typhoon could spring in an instant out of the solitude of No Man’s Land was a miracle not comparable to anything in the temperate zone. A very gale of machine gun fire rose out of the German front and support lines. White flares and red signal flares zipped and lobbed into the sky. The German artillery opened up with its usual smartness. But not a sign or sound came from the Canadian trench. The two tall Germans, guided by some unseen force in rear of them, wriggled and scrambled unhurt into the Canadian trench. A white-robed figure slid pantingly in on their heels. One by one the men in the shell holes leaped and crouched back through their wire gap. Two were wounded in the rush. The sergeant-major was last, a wounded man clinging to him.

In Captain Fannah’s dugout, ten minutes later, while his batman unwound the bandage from his head and legs, the purple-faced company commander stared up sulkily into the face of his colonel.

“I understood,” said the colonel, breathless after his dash up from his headquarters, “that Beaurien was doing this show?”

“No, sir,” said Captain Fannah. “I distinctly told you that I was going.”

“I didn’t hear you. Damn it, Fannah, you have no right to be fooling about on operations of this sort. We need you. You keep out of these things. Let the young fellows do it.”.

“Now tell me,” said the colonel, “how did this thing come off?”

“Very simply. I dressed all in white. I had a covering party in the Stokes holes. When I got close to their wire I heard voices singing softly. I had found the gap they had in their wire for working parties and patrols, and the voices were coming from the trench directly in front of the gap.

“So I crawled in the gap, got my pinnie7 caught in the wire a couple of times and finally going barely an inch at a time, got to where could see these two men here.

“They were singing what seemed to be Christmas carols. I guess the snow affects Germans the way it does us. Anyway, instead of watching the gap as was their duty they were facing each other, revelling in close harmony. They would brake off, argue quietly and then try the passage again, to get it just right. So while they were working out their harmonies I got within a few feet of them. Then I held up my pistol and said distinctly – ‘Bleib still8!'”

“They blibed. All they could see was the pistol about two feet from their heads, suspended in space. I told them, in my good high school German, to put their hands high and with me to come. They thought I was a fairy or a ghost of something. German folklore has other winter characters besides Santa Claus.

“So I digged them in the ribs to show them the visible gun was real. And here they are.”

“But where,” said the colonel, picking up the garment which Fannah had over his head, “did you get this? Why Fannah, it is a flannel nightshirt!”

“That,” said Fannah, “is my dear old mother’s Christmas present to her boy in the trenches, received in the mail.”

Editor’s Notes:

  1. In World War 1, a bathmat is another name for a duckboard. Wooden planking were placed at the bottom of trenches and across other areas of muddy or waterlogged ground to avoid sinking into them. ↩︎
  2. Ack Emma is a British signalmen’s telephone pronunciation of A.M., before noon. So one ack emma is 1 a.m. ↩︎
  3. Querulously means in a complaining way, especially using a weak high voice. ↩︎
  4. A firestep is narrow ledge, located inside a trench, that allows soldiers to see over the parapet. ↩︎
  5. In World War 1, Stokes mortars were 3 inch mortars. ↩︎
  6. Parados were an elevation of earth behind a fortified place as a protection against attack from the rear, especially a mound along the back of a trench. ↩︎
  7. A pinnie is short for the British word “pinafore,” a term that originally meant “an apron or sleeveless garment”. ↩︎
  8. German for “Stay still”. ↩︎

Hello to Arms

All the time the doctor kept shaking his head more and more

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, November 18, 1933.

“I suppose,” said Jimmie Frise, “you have had your old tin hat and uniform out of the moth balls?”

“As a matter of fact, I have,” I confessed. “The world is very uneasy.”

“If they are going to have a war,” said Jim, “I wish they would pull it off soon, while us old birds are still eligible, instead of waiting until our kids are grown up.”

“That’s just what I felt,” I said, “when I went up to the attic and got out the old tunic and Sam Browne belt.”

“How did they fit?” asked Jim.

“Terrible,” I said. “The tunic won’t come within five inches of meeting across my stomach. My breeches don’t fit at all. Anywhere. I’ve used up all my old khaki shirts long ago, of course, fishing and hunting. But I’d have to get a whole new outfit.”

“The tin hat still fits, though,” suggested Jimmie.

“Even the tin hat felt funny,” I admitted.

“Well,” said Jim, “I tried on my old uniform the other night, and I must say I used to be a far better man than I am now.”

“Jimmie,” I reminded him, “you must remember it’s nearly twenty years ago!”

“Oh, no!” cried Jimmie. “Not twenty!”

“In less than one year,” I said, “it will be twenty years since the night you and I stood out in front of the old Star office looking at the bulletin boards, with the crowd jammed right across the road to the old red brick Bank of Commerce building, and out to Yonge St.”

“Twenty years,” breathed Jimmie. “It seems like the year before last.”

“There are young men,” I went on, “who are to-day just the age you and I were that night when we were watching the bulletins announce the declaration of war, who weren’t even born that night!”

“My goodness,” whispered Jim.

“And they’d be the ones to go tearing up University Ave. to enlist,” I said. “And they don’t know a bayonet stud1 from a breech bolt2.”

“Or a bridoon3 from a snaffle,” cut in Jimmie, always butting in with some artillery stuff.

“Imagine them having to learn all over again what we learned,” I said. “And this modern young crowd so cool and sarcastic and nice. They’d hate it.”

“We were kind of innocent at that age,” mused Jimmie.

“And sort of yessir, nossir,” I said. “It was easy to make soldiers out of us. They wouldn’t find it so easy with the twenty-year-olds of to-day.

Getting Ready For the Next War

“If they’re going to have a war,” said Jim, angrily, “let them have it now while we’re still good. It takes two years to learn how to pull on a drag rope4. Why put it up to our kids to have to go through all of that again?”

“Or how to work a patrol in No Man’s Land,” I cut in. “Or how to sleep in a barn, without even straw. Or how to carry a man with his leg off.”

“Or how to build a funk hole5,” came Jimmie, “or make a gun platform on soggy mud, with nothing solid for miles around.”

“Or how close to walk behind a rolling barrage,” I said. “There’s a thing! It takes years to teach the boys how close to walk behind their own barrage, and it costs thousands of lives just to learn that one thing.”

“They ought to have their war now, if they are going to have it,” cried Jimmie, “so that those of us who know the tricks can use them.”

“Jimmie,” I said, “let’s get going. Let’s rejoin the militia and get in shape.”

“What will we join?” demanded Jim. “You were an officer in the infantry and I was only a gunner in the artillery. Let’s go together to this next one.”

“Right!” I cried. “We’ll both join the infantry.”

“We will like the dickens!” exclaimed Jim. “Why should a man want to spend his life sitting in the mud? The artillery’s the thing, with horses to ride, and great big shiny guns slamming in the dark, and interesting things to do every minute of the day and night. I’d die of inaction in the infantry, just sitting around.”

“Where do you get that stuff about sitting around!” I demanded heatedly. “Boy, if it’s action you want….”

“Now listen,” pleaded Jimmie. “If we go back to the infantry, you will be a major or colonel, and I’d have to start at the bottom as a buck private.”

“I’ve got it,” I cried. “You be my batman6!”

“If you are honest about wanting to take part in a war to end war,” said Jim, levelly, “if you wish to make the world safe for democracy, a world fit for heroes to live in, just to use a few phrases of a former and almost forgotten nobility, then you will be willing to start at bottom again. And you’ll join the artillery with me as a gunner.”

“I suppose it would be only fair,” I confessed. “But I’ll be surrendering a lot of ground I gained in the last war.”

“The last war,” snorted Jimmie. “What a fizzle you made of that! I should think you would be glad to start at the bottom again.”

“All right,” I said, “I’ll join the artillery with you, and you can teach me how to polish a horse.”

“There’ll be a lot of things I can teach you,” said Jimmie, darkly.

For the Good of the Corps

So Jim found out what night the local artillery units would be parading, and taking on men if any.

And about 8 p.m. we went down to the armories on University Ave. One or two infantry regiments were also holding parades that night, and I held Jimmie back while we stood inside the huge wooden paved drill hall and watched the boys forming up.

“Aren’t they splendid, Jimmie?” I cried. “Oh, it’s a shame we are not going into the infantry.”

We watched a company form up. We saw the sergeants and then the lieutenants inspecting.

“There is a slight sort of I-don’t-know-what missing,” I said to Jim. “They haven’t quite got a sort of something that my boys used to have. I can’t say what it is.”

“Wait till you see us gunners,” said Jim.

The officer commanding the company took over and gave a few drill commands.

“Ah,” I said, “now if I were out there in his place, you would hear commands. You would hear a voice. Like a bomb. It would make this place ring.”

“Come on,” said Jimmie, “let’s get on down to the artillery barracks if it’s style you want.”

We walked around the corridors and came to a room with some mystical numbers on the door which Jimmie said meant Field Artillery. Two young men in uniform were sitting at a desk reading some documents. They did not look like infantry. They had a clean, tidy look, and they had white cords over their shoulders that gave them an appearance of chastity, nobility, which is not part of the disposition of infantry. You could not imagine either of these gentlemanly young men charging a stuffed sack with a bayonet and the proper facial expression.

“Good evening,” said Jim.

The two lads looked up at us pleasantly.

“My friend here and I,” said Jim, “are a couple of old soldiers and we thought we would like to join up again. Are you taking any men on?”

“Were you artillery?” asked one of them.

“I was,” said Jim, proudly. “My friend here was infantry, but he is anxious to switch.”

The two high school boys smiled at us and at each other.

“Well,” said the better looking youth, “as a matter of fact, we are fairly well up to strength just now.”

“What we were thinking,” said Jim, sitting down on the corner of their desk, “was that the militia would be rather keen on getting some of us old timers back into harness. For the good of the corps. We know the ropes. It wouldn’t be like taking on new recruits.”

Everything To Unlearn

The two lads looked at us solemnly.

“For instance,” went on Jimmie, earnestly, “you chaps are no doubt thoroughly trained on theory and gunnery. But what do you know about active service conditions? Did either of you ever haul on a drag rope?”

“Which war were you in?” asked one of the slim young men. “The South African or the 1914-1918 affair?”

Jim and I were both astonished.

“The great war,” we said.

“Ah, things have changed a lot since those days,” said the first youth. “You would have to unlearn everything you learned in that old war. Nothing is the same. For example, I suppose you used to fool around with horses?”

Jim nodded speechlessly.

“Of course nowadays,” went on the young man, “everything is mechanized. Guns are drawn by tractors. The personnel travel in fast trucks. Are you a good mechanic?”

Jimmie slid off the corner of the desk.

“Well, well!” he breathed.

I felt extremely sorry for Jim.

“I can’t imagine artillery,” said he, “without horses. Without the stables, the trumpets sounding. Now I suppose you toot the horn on the truck for the boys to fall in. No more ‘stables,’ no more trumpets sounding hoarsely, no more horse lines, pickets, all the romance gone, all the thrill of driving the guns into action, the night roads, the pack trains of ammunition going up the line.”

The two lads smiled pityingly.

“Oh, there’s romance in the guns,” they said. “I suppose you old boys who did your courting in a buggy can’t imagine a modern youth doing any courting worth while in a fast roadster, huh?”

“Jim,” I said quietly, “I told you before you should come into the infantry. Nothing changes there. It is the same to-day as it was in Caesar’s time, or the Duke of Marlborough’s.”

“How fast,” asked one of the bright youths, “did your machine gun shoot in that 1914-1918 show?”

“Sir,” I said, with dignity, taking Jim by the arm, “our Vickers guns fired upwards of four hundred a minute!”

“Well,” laughed the first youth, “even the Vickers is stepped up to 800 a minute now, but modern infantry will be using the new Farquhar-Robertson gun that fires 2,400 shots a minute, air cooled, and you can change a barrel in three seconds!”

“I don’t believe you!” I said.

“Fact,” said both the young soldiers.

“I don’t believe it,” I shouted.

Jim and I stalked from the room.

“Which infantry units will we join?” I asked, as we strode along the corridors filled with striplings.

“Any one at all,” said Jim. “My gosh, going into action in a motor truck in low gear! You can tell an artilleryman in the dark by the smell of gasoline instead of horse!”

“Jimmie,” I said, “it is a soulless machine age, and it was foolish of us not to foresee that in twenty years there would be dynamic chances in such a thing as artillery. But infantry, now! No matter what new inventions they may make in the art of war, they still have to have the foundation, the infantry! The good old gravel crushers. Come on!” From the corridor we emerged into the huge echoing drill shed.

There was the good old infantry!

In mass!

“Shun!” shouted an officer.

“Standat-ICE!” he yelped. “Shun!”

“Slow-ope-UPPS!” he barked.

“Come on, Jimmie,” I cried breathlessly, “the same old stuff! Duke of Wellington! King Canute! Nothing changes. Let’s get into it, the changeless and unchanging…”

We hastened around the walls of the echoing vasty drill hall. We went into an open door.

There were two or three young lieutenants standing, in the room.

“Is this an infantry unit?” I cried.

“Yes,” said they, poising their cigarettes.

“All right,” I exclaimed. “Show us where to sign up. Where’s the orderly room7?”

“I’m in charge of the orderly room,” said the tallest of the lieutenants coolly. “What is it you want?”

“We want to sign on,” I said. “We’re going to get into the game again. We’re two old soldiers and we think it high time we were back in uniform. Give us a couple of attestation blanks8.”

“Hold on,” said the tall lad. “How old are you boys?”

“Pardon me,” said Jim, standing stiffly. “You are talking to an ex-major!”

He indicated me. I stood at attention, but my stomach seemed to be in a different place from where it was the last time I stood at attention. I shifted it around here and there, but I realized the effect was not good.

The three lieutenants put their heads together. They were mere cadets.

“So you want to join up,” said the tall one. “Aren’t you on the reserve?”

“I wish to go in with my friend here,” I said. “And I am going to start at the bottom, again. With him.”

“We will rise together,” said Jim.

Just Two Decrepit Old Men

They put their heads together again. “I think,” said the tall one, “a medical examination might be arranged to-night. If you will just wait, I will go and see if I can locate the medical officer.”

He left us with the two young lieutenants and they chatted with us pleasantly, asking us about the Great War, and we told them various stories that would show how important it is that an army should be filled with old veterans. They seemed very impressed with us, and they both said it would certainly be a comfort to have men of our experience in their regiment.

The tall young officer returned with a fat officer who told us to follow him. The other three lieutenants followed, too.

We went into a small bare room and the medical officer ordered us to strip. It was a chilly little room and we both had the goose flesh by the time we got our shirts off, and I am afraid we made a poor impression on these younger men who had youth on their side. The doctor measured us longways and across, he listened to our hearts, lungs; asked us to cough, made us read printing at ten feet; and all the time he kept shaking his head more and more.

“Both of you have flat feet,” he said, at last. “Your hearts are full of murmurs, your chest expansion is practically gone, your eyesight is defective, you have got fallen diaphragms, one of you is overweight, and the other is underweight, I can see every sign of high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries. Your King and country may want you, boys, but they don’t want you bad.”

They all helped us dress. They assisted us out the door. They saluted us ceremoniously as we staggered out into the drill hall heading for the main exit.

They saluted us ceremoniously as we stalked out into the drill hall heading for the main exit

Down University Ave. we moved, with leaden feet, Jimmie helping to hold me up by my elbow. By the time we got to Queen St. we were just two decrepit old men, with our backs bowed, our cheeks fallen in and our legs bent at the knee so that our poor old feet slid along the pavement, instead of lifting.

“Jimmie,” I said, and my voice was thin and quavering, “even if we could go to war, I don’t think we would enjoy it any more.”

“Not with caterpillars pulling the guns,” said Jim, in a cracked old voice.

“And machine guns,” I whined, “shooting at the rate of 2,400 a minute, not for me!”

“It sounds like a game for younger men,” said Jim.

“They’ve taken all the pleasure out of it,” I yammered.

“Let these young squirts find out about war for themselves,” squeaked Jimmie.

And two old veterans, holding themselves very stiff and marching in step, held a parade all by themselves along Queen St. to the City Hall, where our car was parked.

Editor’s Notes: There were a few of these types of stories, just before the Second World War, where they spoke of signing up again. This is very early, from 1933 rather than others that appeared in 1939 or 1940.

  1. A Bayonet stud is the metal mount that either locks the bayonet onto the weapon or provides a base for the bayonet to rest against, so that when a bayonet cut or thrust is made, the bayonet does not move or slip backwards. ↩︎
  2. A Breech bolt or breech block is the part of the firearm action that closes the breech of a breech loading weapon before or at the moment of firing. ↩︎
  3. A bridoon is a bit (for horses) designed specifically for use in the double bridle, while a snaffle is a simple bit used with a single set of reins. ↩︎
  4. A drag rope is a rope with a short chain and a hook that is attached to an artillery carriage and used in emergencies in dragging it or locking its wheels. ↩︎
  5. A funk hole is another name for a dugout, a concealed place where one can hide in safety. ↩︎
  6. A batman was a soldier assigned to a commissioned officer as a personal servant. These disappeared before World War 2, except for only the most senior officers (so Greg is out of touch here as well). ↩︎
  7. The orderly room is a room used for regimental or company business. ↩︎
  8. Attestation blanks are the forms used to give personal details when signing up. ↩︎

War Nerves

Without warning a terrific loud bang exploded right behind our heels…

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 14, 1939.

“This war,” said Jimmie Frise, “is still the Great War. Don’t forget it was just an armistice we signed, 21 years ago.”

“I suppose,” I admitted, “that a hundred years from now, historians will really look upon this whole period, from 1914 to goodness knows when, as one long conflict.”

“We signed the armistice,” said Jim, “so as to allow us all to grow a fresh crop of men. Twenty-one years are up. The new crop of men is ready.”

“In some respects,” I stated, “they are a better crop than we were. And in other respects, they’re not as good a crop as we were.”

“In all respects,” declared Jim firmly, “the young men of today are a better crop than we were. My dear sir, don’t you realize that this generation today is a war-born, war-prepared, war-conscious generation?”

“Not one in 10,000 of them has played soldier in the militia, these past few years,” I protested.

“You’ve got it wrong,” insisted Jimmie. “Our boyhood was passed in the golden glow of the dying Victorian age. We played Indian or cowboy, for a little romantic release. But our true interests, even as little kids, were saturated with the spirit of the Victorian and Edwardian era; we were little business men, little lounge lizards, little athletes and aesthetes. When war came, it came as a profound surprise. All we had to go on was the Boer war and the Russo-Japanese war. To us, war was an adventure, a romance. We thought in terms of masses of men marching: and then charging; and battles won. We had no sense of bitter sacrifice, personal, fatal.”

“There were casualty lists a foot long in the papers when I enlisted,” I informed him.

“But those lists,” pointed out Jim, “were not reinforced with all the power of press and radio and movies. You had not been going to movies ever since your childhood seeing pictures that realistically portrayed war with death in the air, and hell on earth, and men thrown, away as weeds are cut. This generation, my boy, has been steeped, body and soul, in war.”

“We were pretty good,” I reminded him.

Remote Control Justice

“We weren’t good enough,” retorted Jim. “If we had been, this outbreak would never have occurred. We all got tired, all sides, and seized the first opportunity to end it. We should have marched into Germany. into every city, town and village. All the farmers should have seen us passing by, in our terrible might. Without harming a hair of their heads, we should have passed before them, our guns, our machines, our men, like dark angels of justice, moving harmlessly among them, an unforgettable lesson. But instead, from afar, we wrought justice, taxed and fined, took their goods, punished them, by mail order. From afar, we meted justice, and at home, their own old soldiers proceeded to do what all the defeated do; they put on bitter airs, passed the buck, explained, wept and were figures of grim sympathy among the old and the young in the towns and the villages. Instead of leaving colored troops1 and missions of staff officers among them, we should have left teachers.”

“Teachers?” I protested.

“Yes, teachers, who would answer their questions about us, and give lectures on what we thought and believed,” explained Jim. “And from them, we would have brought teachers to explain to us what the Germans thought and believed. But instead, we all retired to our own towns and villages, and hated each other by remote control.”

“Our hate faded, about 1925,” I agreed. “But theirs took root.”

“The one thing that makes me confident,” said Jim, “is that the Germans have been taught to love war, while our new generation has been taught to hate war. I think men who hate war will always fight harder and longer than men who have been taught to love it, and sooner or later are disillusioned.”

“That was true in our war,” I agreed. “I never saw a Canadian or a Britisher weeping, but I saw lots of German soldiers weeping and carrying on.”

“They’re an emotional race,” explained Jim. “We imagine them a stolid and phlegmatic people. But they are nothing of the kind. They are intensely emotional, and only emotional people would think that by putting on a fierce air, they could scare others. That is the way a child thinks, until he grows up and his emotions come under control.”

The Men in Charge

“I know a lot of Canadians of German descent,” I submitted. “And they’re not in the least like the Germans that we know through history, past and present.”

“Why do you suppose,” asked Jim, “that the grandparents and great-grandparents of these Canadian Germans came to this country? To escape from the rest of the Germans, most likely. They were unhappy, they did not fit into the German scheme of things. Men don’t come to a new and hard country, and a foreign country at that, without very good and very deep reasons.”

“Well,” I sighed, “I wish we had done something a little more permanent while we were at it.”

“You and I weren’t to blame anyway,” said Jim.

“Then who was?” I inquired bitterly.

“The men in charge of us,” said Jim.

“And who put them in charge of us?” I retorted.

“They just took charge,” explained Jim. “That’s always the way. We talk about placing men in charge. It’s not that way at all. The ones in charge just step up and take charge.”

“They’re chosen,” I corrected.

“Listen,” pleaded Jimmie, “how does a guy get to be the manager of a business? Is he elected? No chance. He works up to it. He schemes and he contrives, he works, he plans, he sacrifices and plots. And every chance he gets, he takes charge. And when his big chance comes, he is all ready. He just takes charge.”

“It sure was like that in our old army,” I admitted, “that is, after we got to the front. Once we got into action, all the officers and sergeants that weren’t equal to the real job soon shook loose. I suppose it’s the same in business and politics and soldiering. In a jam, the real men shove naturally to the front.”

“Let’s go home,” said Jim, “along the Lake Shore and on the way, we’ll stop at the armories and watch these new-fangled mechanized soldiers.”

“To tell you the truth, Jim,” I stated, “I can’t see the slightest difference between these new soldiers and what we were in our time. Every time I get near enough to a platoon of them. I can almost imagine it’s my old platoon, and I want to step out and take charge of them.”

“They’re far different,” said Jim. “They’re a new breed.”

“They’re making a sad mistake,” I differed, “not including a lot of us old soldiers in their ranks, to steady them.”

“We could never keep up with them,” said Jim. “We’d be a drag.”

“Haw,” I laughed, “just wait until the first big shell comes whooping in. A five-nine or an eight-inch. Or one of those drum-busting big trench mortar pigs.”

Left Countrified Town

“They no doubt scared you,” said Jim, “but they won’t have much effect on these kids. Don’t forget, when you went to war to face five-nines, you came fresh from a peaceful, quiet, almost countrified town called Toronto.”

“Countrified?” I demanded.

“About the only motor car in Toronto,” said Jim, “was Sir John Eaton’s2. The street cars were run by a guy in the front with a big brass handle he wound up, while he banged his bell with his foot, the car raging along at all of 18 miles an hour. About the only time you had to move at anything faster than a crawl was to step out of the way of the butcher cart. All the rest of the wagons went at a walk.”

“Wagons,” I snorted.

“Have you completely forgotten your generation?” demanded Jim. “Don’t you recall that one of the most exciting things of your young manhood was to go down to the old Union Station and see a train come in? There was no stress or strain in the world you left to go to war. The street cars rocked and bumped and dawdled along the streets. Cars were few and far between, and an airplane was like television. Lou Marsh created a tremendous sensation, at the outbreak of the war, by going for a ride in an airplane and reporting it for The Star.”

“You exaggerate,” I submitted. “Life was lively enough in those days.”

“From a quiet, unruffled world,” said Jim, “you, the heir of languid centuries of slow progress, went to a war that grew into an inferno of noise, explosion, traffic on the ground and in the air, of speed, of wireless, of fury and strain. But these new lads of the army are entering war from a world that is already a riot. In fact, many of the young soldiers are already bored with the country peace and quiet of army life.”

“I bet they will duck just as quick when a shell comes over,” I sneered.

“They’ll duck quicker,” said Jim. “That’s the point. They are used to the fury of modern civilization, as we speeded it up in the war. They have been born and raised amid the stress and strain of modern traffic, of cars, radio, planes, racket, rumpus and panjandrum. Their nerves are attuned to war. We were a jumpy, startled generation, because we left a quiet, peaceful world. These boys leave a madhouse world to enter into the order and law of modern warfare.”

A Generation of Action

“I held the championship of the Eighth Brigade,” I stated, “for being able to jump higher, dive deeper and lie flatter than any other officer in the brigade.”

“These boys won’t have to do any jumping.” said Jim. “They’ll lean to one side, as cool and easy as they cross street traffic today. That is why they don’t want any mid-Victorians running amok in their ranks nowadays.”

“They’re just like us,” I grumbled. “I can’t see the slightest difference between them and the old platoons I used to know. They look the same. They stand the same. They have all the little old tricks. Every guy that used to be there is there still. The one who traded his rum for cheese. The one who was always tying his puttee when he should have been going over the top. The one who always wanted to be paraded to the officer. The one who could have been an officer if he wanted to. The one who joined the army to play cards.”

“We’ll see,” said Jim, as we got into the car and headed through downtown streets and steered for the Lake Shore.

Out at the armories, the fading lawns were crowded with drilling troops. Some were clustered around machine-guns, taking lessons. Others were playing soccer, others lying prone practising the sighting of rifles. But always, some were drilling.

“And look you, Jim,” I exclaimed. “The same as ever, old drill sergeant in front of young soldiers. It never changes.”

“And as usual,” remarked Jim, “the old soldier looks us if he didn’t belong….”

“Why, listen, Jim,” I cried, “he even sounds the very same.”

The sergeant was “hup, hup-hupping,” as the boys wheeled and turned and marked time. His voice had the same old authority, the same sharp bite to it.

“Caesar had drill sergeants, Jim,” I said as we got out of the car and strolled along the pavement for a closer look. “Caesar’s men looked exactly the same as those men. It never changes, because men never change.”

“Young men never change,” sighed Jim, “until they start to get a little old.”

“I bet in six weeks,” I declared, “we could be just as good as that old drill sergeant.”

Without a warning, a terrific loud bang exploded right behind our heels. It was probably the nature of our conversation that really upset us, not the bang. For it was only a tire on an old truck that had been delivering packages at the armories. But the effect of so untimely an explosion, and so nearly under our feet, made Jimmie leap about a foot in the air and I very nearly lost my balance entirely, owing to leaping both upward and forward. My old infantry muscles and nerves naturally looked for a shell hole.

The squad of lads that was nearest us laughed outright. But the grim old drill sergeant, who had done a bit of a jump himself, turned on them and roared and bellowed and had them at the double.

We covered our confusion by helping the driver of the truck, himself an old soldier, to unfasten the rusted spare tire off the back of his jalopy, and while we were at it, the drill sergeant strolled over the lawn toward us.

“Old soldiers?” he inquired confidentially.

“Yes,” we admitted, variously confiding the names of our old units.

“I noticed you,” he said, “when that tire went off.”

“We were just talking about shells when it happened,” apologized Jim. “We kind of had shells on the brain at the moment.”

“Did you… ah… notice me?” asked the sergeant.

“We were too busy,” I explained.

“I was just wondering,” said the old sergeant, “if I jumped too. I just wanted to know if those young squirts were laughing at you two birds or at me.”

“When I looked,” I admitted, “you seemed to be quite calm.”

“I just went kind of numb,” said the old sergeant. “I don’t remember what happened there for a minute. When you put the uniform on again, after all these years, a loud bang is very upsetting.”

“I don’t believe you turned a hair,” said Jim stoutly.

“I hope I didn’t,” said the old sergeant. “It means a lot whether those young kids were laughing at me or not. The young devils.”

“Are they hard to handle?” I inquired.

“They have no nerves at all,” groaned the drill sergeant. “The worse I roar, the cooler they get. Back when I was a drill sergeant in the old war, all I had to do was let ‘er out a little, and boy, they wilted. These kids are sound proof.”

“They look good,” agreed Jim.

“They haven’t any nerves,” sighed the drill sergeant. “They don’t know what a drill sergeant is. They’re as cold as ice. They’re all business. They do exactly what you tell them, faster than you can think up what to tell them to do next. They’re getting on my nerves.”

“It’s a new generation,” suggested Jim.

“It’s a mechanized army,” said the old sergeant, looking furtively over his shoulder at the squad which stood silently waiting, almost eagerly waiting, for him to return. “Even the men are mechanized.”

So with further assurances that he stood like a rock, and looked ten years younger than his age, and that all we old soldiers envied him, the drill sergeant turned and marched stiffly back onto the lawn and began barking fiercely again. And the young men, like joyous panthers, leaped into their drill.

Editor’s Notes:

  1. Jim’s reference to “colored troops” was related to the Occupation of the Rhineland after World War One. That France used some “non-white” French colonial soldiers in the occupation was considered disgraceful by some. ↩︎
  2. Sir John Eaton was the youngest son of department store magnate Timothy Eaton. ↩︎

Father and Son

In a bay by themselves huddled down on the firestep in excited conversation were Dad and Babe Kinzie.

By Gregory Clark, October 4, 1930.

Two brothers in the same unit was bad enough. But father and son! Let me tell that story.

Whenever a lieutenant was wanted to go back to the wagon lines to fetch up a new draft, I was always willing. It meant I lost the day’s sleep. It meant giving up the comfortable surety of the front line or support for a long walk down communications and over roads that might be strange to me and might have a little shelling, especially on the trip in with new men. But the officer who went out to get the draft of recruits had the pick of the men. And I had enough love of D company to desire the pick of the recruits for her.

And I picked them a funny way. I never heard of anybody picking men by their Adam’s apples. But that’s the way I did it. A man with a prominent Adam’s apple may not always be the bravest man, or the smartest. But he nearly always has one striking characteristic. And that is, when you say to bunch of fellows, “Let’s go and push that outhouse over,” or “Who’s game to come down to the divisional dump and snitch a case of rum to-night?” the first man to jump to you is the man with the biggest Adam’s apple in the bunch. I put this theory up to Lou Marsh1 one time, and he recalled that nearly every outstanding loose puck artist, practically all the most reckless plungers and tacklers in rugby, were men with Adam’s apples, as Lou put it, that were bigger than their chins.

So when I arrived at the wagon lines, and after I had paid the proper respects to the quartermaster, paymaster and transport officer, all round, both ways, I would order the new drafts paraded in full marching order. They usually had a conducting sergeant with them who was most likely one of our old n.c.o’s returning from hospital.

“Sergeant,” I would say, “have these men stand easy and undo their tunic collars, please.”

There they would stand, clutching their rifles between their knees, undoing their tunic collars and wondering what sort of a war they had arrived at, with pint-sized lieutenants with shaved heads asking them to undo their collars.

“Open them up!”

And down the parade I would go, falling out to the left all the boys with Adam’s apples that croaked up and down nervously as I walked past staring intently at them.

That would put all the Adam’s apples at the D Company end. For after the inspection, I would number them. Say they numbered to thirty-five. That made seventy men, front and your rank.

One to eight, A company,” I would say, “nine to seventeen, B company, eighteen to twenty-six, C company, and God bless you, twenty-seven to thirty-five, D company.”

And there, front and rear, from twenty-seven to thirty-five, I had the greatest collection of knee joints in the neck you ever could see.

That was how I got the Kinzies, father and son.

The elder Kinzie must have been over forty-five if he was a day. There he stood in the rank, such a heap of kit, khaki, bulging packsack and pendulous limbs as would send a drill sergeant crazy. He had a large untrimmed moustache hiding a small, weathered face. Gentle, timid eyes peeped at me questioningly as I came abreast of him. He was not much taller than I. His shoulders were thick and oversize. His hands were knuckly and awkward. He toed in a little, even when standing with feet turned out at an angle of forty-five degrees. Even if I hadn’t seen that great corded knot of an Adam’s apple projecting out of his open collar, I think I would have picked Kinzie for D company. For if ever I saw a backwoodsman, a guide, a real old settler from up north of Kingston or Belleville, it was Kinzie. I could almost smell the bacon frying over the campfire as I stood before him with his equipment on him like so many bundles. I must have paused a long moment in front of Kinzie, for I was lost to the war as my mind looked hungrily back to memories of little lakes and reed beds and big splashing bass.

Dad Kinzie and Babe Kinzie

“Fall out to the left,” said I huskily, and old Kinzie, with an anxious look in his eyes, which I did not understand at the moment, assembled with all his junk on him, down to the left.

For young Kinzie, his son, age about twenty, was standing as rear file to his old man. And not until I had inspected all the front rank and came down to the middle of the rear rank did I come to the boy. But they need not have worried about being separated. I did another long look in front of Babe Kinzie. Dad Kinzie and Babe Kinzie is what they came to be called in the company.

Young Kinzie was taller than his old man, and had that boyish, almost childish look that twenty year olds born and raised on a remote, backwoods clearing may wear. But he had the heavy shoulders, the long arms, the innocent blue eyes and leathery face of his old man. And he also wore his equipment and pack in that way which made me think he was portaging. And Adam’s apple! I hope my memory is bad and deceiving me over the years when I say it was, despite his youth, as big as a billiard ball.

“Fall out to the left,” said I to Babe Kinzie.

I think the leap of joy that came into his face when I ordered him to the left was only equaled behind my back, by the look in his old man’s face. For I heard a gruff exclamation behind me. And I turned around to see the boy trying to push in as rear file to his father, though it was not his place.

“Here,” said I. “Fall in to the left, I said.”

But the two faces, forty-five and twenty, turned appealingly to me.

“They’re father and son,” said the sergeant.

“Heaven help us,” said I. And right there I lost all interest in the inspection. For if you are superstitious about brothers, what could you help feeling about a father and son in the same company?

Before we went up the line, towards evening, I had a chat with the transport officer and tried to wrangle the elder Kinzie into some jobs around the lines. We sent for the old man, and asked him there in the tent:

“What do you know about horses?”

He thought a full five seconds, his questioning eyes looking from transport back to me.

“I’m afraid I don’t know nothing about horses, sir.”

“No good to me,” said Transport.

“What’s your trade?” I asked desperately. Do you know anything about blacksmithing? Tailoring?

“I been lumbering,” said old Kinzie, helpfully. But farming is my line. I got a small farm up in Frontenac county.”

“Kinzie,” said I, “I would like to get you a job here at the horse lines. How old are you?”

“Forty-one,” said the old liar, looking around at nobody.

“I hate this idea of you and your boy going up the line to the same company. How would you like me to assign your boy to some other company? Or maybe I could get the colonel to put him on as a battalion runner?”

The old man’s face and figure were pathetic. He seemed to go to pieces all in a dump.

“Please, sir,” he begged, “we got to be together, because he don’t know much, and it was me brought him here. I got to keep him by me, please, sir.”

The please sir from this old bushwhacker was as incongruous as a song from a porcupine.

“All right,” said I.

But it wasn’t all right with me, and because the thing stuck out in my mind as little things did in those days with nothing much to think of, I made sure the two Kinzies came to my platoon when we got up to the company.

“Rifles Aren’t for Shooting With”

I told the n.c.o.’s about them and instructed that the Kinzies were not to be detailed to any jobs such as patrols or wiring without consulting me.

“You’ve got so many pets in this platoon now,” complained old Tommie Depper, the senior sergeant, “that I can’t get a ration party together without consulting teacher.”

“Sergeant!” said I, severely.

“Hell,” said Tommie, “excuse me, is this a parade?”

I am afraid D company was almost as bad, as far as discipline was concerned, as the colonel said it was.

So the Kinzies, along with six or seven other new men, were scattered through the platoon and did their first eerie night in the trenches, amid the stealth, the silence and the moonlight.

There was a company conference next morning in D company dugout, after breakfast, and the officers and sergeants sat chewing the fat until nearly eight o’clock. And at that late hour, with the sun up in the sky, when all good soldiers save a couple of gas sentries per platoon, should have been down underground asleep, I came up for a listen at the skylarks and maybe the sight of a rabbit or a partridge.

And to my right, nearby, I heard a shot crash out.

Now who in blazes would be firing his rifle on a peaceful morning like this? It was an outrage. Nothing could upset a company officer more than to hear a vagrant rifle shot bang out on a nice quiet sector, day or night. It was unheard of!

Around the traverses I charged, my indignation rising.

And in a bay all by themselves, huddled down on the firestep2 in excited conversation, were Dad and Babe Kinzie. And in the old man’s hands, a guilty-looking rifle.

A very guilty looking rifle. I may say I never saw, even in Buckingham Palace yard, a Lee Enfield that looked as smart, as oilily gleaming, as babied and cared for as the rifle that was clutched in Dad Kinzie’s hand.

“Who the devil fired that shot?” I demanded.

“I did,” said Kinzie, standing up very surprised.

“Well, hang it all, Kinzie, you ought to know better than go shooting off around here like a boy scout! Rifles aren’t for shooting with,” I said, “they’re a drill weapon. Any shooting around here will be done by the snipers, and they’re pets of the colonel. No common company bum is allowed to play with his rifle except at the ranges back in rest. What were you shooting at? Rabbit or partridge?”

“A German,” said old Kinzie.

“And got him,” said Babe Kinzie proudly. “Right on the nose.”

“Do you mean to say you two rookies had your heads sticking up over that parapet!” I yelled.

And anxiously, the two showed me the parapet, all decorated up with rubbish, through which was gouged a narrow tunnel or ditch which gave a view of the further German support trenches but screened from the German front line.

“It won’t do,” said I firmly. “You will get a Mauser bullet right through your bean if you start monkeying with things like this. A nice, bronze Spitzer bullet from some Heinie sniper’s rifle with telescope sights on it.”

They were abashed.

“I rigged up this hole before dawn,” said the old man, ruefully, “just so’s I could see that spot about a hundred and sixty yards back. The boys told me they was some kind of a shovel dump or something there and they often seen Germans’ heads at that place.”

A Little Sniping on Our Own

“How do you know you got him?” I asked the younger Kinzie.

“You got to prove you ain’t got him when Dad shoots,” said the boy.

“Is that so?” said I. “Well, until you men are appointed to the select company of snipers on battalion headquarters, you’ve got to curb your shooting. Now get off to the dugout and get your sleep.”

And very meekly the Kinzies trailed their long arms around the traverse and off to bed underground.

Before the tour was over, I got used to the Kinzies. They even did a wiring party out in front one night. This test of fate I watched with nervous breath. And nothing happened. They did as smart a job as any of the older men on the party. They seemed to be able to see in the dark.

“Good men, those Kinzies,” said Tommie Depper. “I bet they come from somewhere near Windsor.”

Depper came from Windsor.

Out of the line, resting, we did some musketry practice, and I said to Dad Kinzie:

“Now let’s see what you can do with your pretty rifle?”

He made a string of ten bulls at the rickety hundred-yard target.

“That’s shooting,” said I, really impressed (I suppose you know what army shooting was like?)

“Pah,” said the old man.

We had no longer ranges. But with my permission, old Kinzie was allowed to fire one shot at the white-washed mud wall of a broken cow stable against a hill all of six hundred yards away. Old Kinzie said it was a little over four hundred yards. I thought it would have been good shooting to hit the wall. Dad Kinzie asked me if I could see a narrow plank bordering one edge of the wall. I couldn’t.

He knelt. He aimed snugly. He fired. With Depper and the Kinzie boy, we walked across the fields to the ruined stable. There in a six inch plank bordering the white wall was a neat round hole.

“How often can you do that?” I asked.

In reply, he fired four more shots from back in the same place, and the five holes in the plank, when we walked forward, were easily covered by my cap.

I told the colonel about it. But the sniping section was full. We went back up the line, in by Merincourt. One afternoon, I saw some sort of small hawk soaring low above the field where most of the larks sprang from. I sent for Dad Kinzie. Dad allowed it was a tough shot. We edged along on to C company’s front. The hawk poised an instant as it made a turn. It was perhaps eighty yards off. Dad Kinzie’s pointed bullet flipped the hawk, a wrecked bunch of feathers four feet in the air.

“A little low on the side,” said he.

That was about the time Dad Kinzie and I began to chum around.

“Why can’t the boy shoot?” I asked the old man one day.

“He can shoot good as I could at his age. But,” said Dad Kinzie, “it takes about twenty years to get real good. Your rifle kind of grows out of you in that time like your finger or your eyesight. It’s like part of you.”

I could well believe it.

We did a little sniping on our own. Especially when the company was in close support trenches. We would lie out in the turnips or hide in old ruins. The boy was always along with us, because he could see movement where certainly I couldn’t, and often the old man couldn’t.

We got meat too. From the support trench north of the electric power station at Avion, we could look down into Lens. We saw a party of what were likely officers moving discreetly in amongst the ruins all of six hundred yards away. Really six hundred, estimated by old Kinzie. When he fired, one of the four Germans lay on the ground. Old Kinzie waited. One of the others ran out from behind a wall and knelt by the down one. Kinzie hit him, though he staggered out of sight.

In one afternoon, in one place, just east of Avion, where the railway embankment passed through our lines, we got three, about half an hour apart. It must have been one of those places men like to stand and gaze on, like mountain sheep.

Another day, Babe Kinzie spotted a German chopping. You could see the axe head rise and fall. Now and again you could catch a glimpse of the German.

“I wish I had my binoculars,” I said. Old Kinzie would not let me bring glasses. He said the flash of field glasses would scare deer and they would scare Germans, too.

So Kinzie got the chopper too.

Late one afternoon, with the sun behind us streaming down on the German lines, Babe Kinzie saw something that he took to be a pump handle sticking up in the German support trench. He finally made his Dad see it, and the old man laid his rifle on the mark, very delicately aiming it and then securing it in position with sticks, stones and string.

A Gorgeous Outburst of Pyrotechnics

About eleven o’clock that night, we went out in the turnips and without the aid of any light, Dad Kinzie fired. It was not a pump handle but some kind of a rack or store of German skyrockets and signal flares. Whether Dad’s bullet hit a friction lighter or exploded something else in the store, there was the most gorgeous outburst of pyrotechnics back there in the German supports that I ever saw that side of the Toronto exhibition. It lasted all of ten minutes and the riot caused the German artillery to open up. Ours replied. And as we lay in the turnips, we snorted with guilty laughter until our diaphragms hurt us.

But all wars come to an end. And all those days spent in fun around sun-bathed trenches with not a thing in the world to worry about come to an end too. For about every six months, the higher command thinks up a battle. It is like being at Varsity and then exams come along.

So came Amiens. After the winter of licking Passchendaele’s scars, and a happy spring and summer spent around Vimy listening to the ominous thunder to the south and the north, or out in distant rear areas training for open warfare, the lucky Canadian corps prepared in stealth and rather breathlessly for the great Hundred Days.

The Kinzies withdrew from my immediate life and became two chessmen in the backdrop of the company against which we officers, as in the days of our earliest training, began to strut once again in the guise of officers and gentlemen rather than as section foremen in the trenches. I felt easy about the Kinzies. Fate was kind to them. My superstitions were lulled. Father and son could team together, even in that unearthly sphere where Fate seemed more a humorist at heart than a vengeful fury.

They had no chums. They chummed together. Always together on the line of march. Always eating out of the same mess-tin, sharing their blankets, their heads peering side by side whenever you paid a night visit to the billets. I was sorry our days and nights together were ended. It had been like a touch of the Rideaus again.

At Amiens we did not go over the first day. Close on the heels of our division, we advanced three incredible miles up the Roy road, the sounds of triumph just over every rise. What a gay, reckless day that August 8 was!

We slept under our tarpaulins that night, like Napoleon’s soldiers or Caesar’s. I thought of Waterloo, as I walked about the misty field, amongst the bivvies3, at dusk, asking them how they liked open warfare. The Kinzies were as usual under the same bivvy, all dry and comfortable, as woodsmen and trappers should be. I planned, the next rest, to have the Kinzies demonstrate to the company just how to make a comfortable shelter out of a bit of canvas.

“There’ll be moving targets to-morrow, Kinzie,” I said to them. “Like deer across the open.”

“I’m all oiled up and ready,” said the old man. “But this is my first battle.”

“It’s my first, this kind,” said I. “I hope I get stage fright out here in these open fields.”

“I suppose I can keep the boy by me?”

“Nothing to prevent it,” said I.

“If anything happens to me,” said Dad Kinzie “I don’t suppose the boy could come with me?”

“Oh, no. But nothing will happen, Kinzie.”

“Yes, but something might, and I was wondering if I got wounded maybe the boy could be a stretcher bearer and come down with me.”

“Nobody is allowed to fall out to help a wounded comrade, and that’s so of even father and son,  I’m afraid.”

“Well,” said Kinzie, “I’d hate to go out wounded and leave this boy here alone. I’d rather him get wounded and me stay, though that would be bad enough.”

“Greatest Shot I Ever Knew”

“I guess the boy knows enough to look after himself, Dad,” said I. “But you don’t plan things so far ahead.”

“I plan everything ahead,” said Kinzie, with a worried air.

Well, turn in boys, and ready for dawn.”

And dawn saw us on the march, like olden wars, up roads in column of fours, and the sun came up and found us marching steadily eastward, while ahead of us the sounds of victory grew louder, and we passed field guns in the open meadows firing like in the picture books. An incredible sight. Few of us had ever seen a cannon. All we knew, in three years, was the sound of their shells.

And thus, before noon, on that brilliant August day, across fields of waving grain, we suddenly found ourselves in front and the attack to carry on, like a tide.

As we emerged out of Quesnel, where, the Six Bits4 had made their glorious dash, a storm of shellfire met us. But across the green fields, we saw the little gray buglike figures retreating before us.

More shells howled amongst us and kicked up their fountains.

“Old Kinzie’s got it!” suddenly shouted my batman5.

And there, limp on the ground, a few yards lay old Kinzie, while the shell dust settled on him.

“Where’s the boy?” I cried.

“Ahead there! He hasn’t noticed the old man,” said the batman.

And Babe Kinzie, along with the rest of the section, was doubling forward waist deep in the grain, all eyes to the front, wild with the excitement of his first show: and what a show!

I let them go. I walked across to Old Kinzie. He flopped over on his back as I approached, and I hurried to kneel by him.

“My leg, my leg,” he murmured, as I got his head up.

The shell had flung a heavy splinter into the thick of his calf and torn it badly.

He blinked at me. The stunning concussion of the shell was leaving him.

“The boy!” he gasped, as he realized he was missing. “Where’s the kid?”

“He’s gone on,” said I. “He’ll be all right now. I’ll take good care of him.”

“Where is he?” cried Dad Kinzie, struggling to kneel up on that bloody leg.

“There here he goes, just to the left of that shed,” said I. “Now lie down and I’ll send one of the stretcher bearers.”

He was still sitting when I ran ahead.

A few yards out, I met Courtney, one of the stretcher men, working on a chap in the wheat.

“As soon as you can, look after old Kinzie back there by the brick wall.”

“Yes sir.”

I had not taken more than six steps when I heard a rifle shot behind me. Turning, I beheld old Kinzie just lowering his rifle from his shoulder. He was kneeling.

“What the devil!” I shouted. “Can’t you quit even with a leg-off?”

“Got him!” shouted old Kinzie, and dropped out of my sight.

Then I overtook the boys, weaving through the grain. And just beyond the little shed, I found two or three of the boys bending over young Kinzie who was sitting on the ground among wry faces.

“Where’s he hit?”

“In the leg, sir. He was just lifting his leg over this picket, here, when he got this. But,” said the lance corporal, “by gosh, he got it from behind. I swear he did. Look.”

“Nonsense,” said I, but the wound unquestionably entered from the side of his leg that would have been to the rear as he got over the picket.

“Get him back there to Courtney, near the brick wall,” said I. “One of you lend him your shoulder that far and then get right back here.”

And we got young Kinzie to his feet, arm around the other’s shoulder, I looked back and there knelt old Dad Kinzie, beckoning excitedly to his boy.

“Good-by, Babe,” said I. “And tell your Dad for me that he is the greatest shot I ever knew. He didn’t even touch the bone.”

That was the afternoon he had tea in the rear at Folies.

Editor’s Notes:

  1. Lou Marsh was an athlete, and later sports reporter and editor at the Toronto Star. ↩︎
  2. A firestep is a step dug into the front side of a trench allowing soldiers to stand on it in order to fire over the parapet. ↩︎
  3. Bivvies is short for Bivouac, which can describe any improvised shelter that is usually of a temporary nature. ↩︎
  4. “Six Bits” was the nickname of the 75th Battalion (Mississauga), CEF. ↩︎
  5. A batman was a soldier assigned to a commissioned officer as a personal servant. This practice diminished greatly by World War 2, and was later phased out. ↩︎

Time Out From War

U.S. soldier takes his turn receiving a cup of milk given by an elderly French woman in Normandy.

“Behind their laughter is the dark curtain of sound, the guns miles away where our comrades labor at the day that never ends”

By Gregory Clark, August 5, 1944.


One of our little jokes over here is that we go racing all over Normandy looking for war while watching the time carefully so as not to miss the war news on our portable army radio back in our tent. It reminds us how insignificant after all is one man’s view of the war. I envy you the front page of your newspaper where, in a few bold strokes of black ink, the sum and the total for the day is set forth, while I, in Normandy, are only the little digits which often add up to nothing at all. Therefore, with your kind indulgence, I will set down a few digits and no longer pretend to be a chartered accountant. From our station a few days ago, a pilot did not come home in his Mustang, though his friends came away from the supper tent and stood at the landing strip’s edge, pretending they were looking at the fine sunset. But night came.

A few days later a flight lieutenant took his bicycle and in his battledress went, for a wander across these curiously Ontario-like byways of Normandy. He took the little roads to avoid the traffic and the eternal brown of the thrusting, shoving army. He saw fat cattle and great French farm horses as gentle as fawns. Then he came to a solitary traffic control soldier who looked lonely and the flight lieutenant slacked the pedal and let his leg down.

“Air force?” asked the traffic man. “One of your boys is lying up on the hill there.” The flight lieutenant pedalled up the hill and beside a Normandy cottage found a new heaped grave. There were five different sets of flowers on it, five different stages of withering revealing five friends, though the pilot, like a meteor, had come to earth amid this lovely verdant land. On the crude cross were the particulars. Atop the cross was a flying leather helmet. As the. flight lieutenant stood with his bicycle, looking down, out of the cottage came the woman of the house.

“I would like to take his helmet,” said the flight lieutenant.

“No,” said the woman of Normandy.

And there in the sun and the rain sits the pilot’s helmet, jauntily.

Rev. Father Norman Gallagher of Swift Current is our Roman Catholic padre, a young man of only 27. I have an awful time in argument with him, though I have been to Rome and he has not. Capt. Freddie Boyle is the auxiliary services’ officer and also a Catholic. Freddie’s large marquee tent is usurped by Father Gallagher for mass every day at 5.30 in the afternoon.

On the road, this being the Sabbath, Padre Gallagher, all full of saintliness, encountered Mme. Le Grand, who owns the big farm where our tents are laid. She asked the chaplain where he said mass and the padre indicated the large Knights of Columbus marquee and in his excellent Canadian-French foretold the hour. At mass that night were 15 of Mme. Le Grand’s family and friends whom she had gathered together, four of the party being very pretty young ladies. Padre Gallagher had one of the largest congregations of his R.C.A.F. experience.

Mme. Le Grand has many curious impressions. For example, she refers to the Germans and the Gestapo as though they were separate enemies. The Germans were nice boys who helped about the farm – the Gestapo were very bad men. She also has a perfectly clear impression of Dieppe as a reconnaissance in force, though the Germans drilled into all her people the idea that it was an invasion thrown back into the sea. We dropped leaflets from the sky a few minutes before our invasion this time. But the wind carried them back to the Caen area. None fell around here. And so the German boys, encamped on Mme. Le Grand’s farm, laughingly told her it was just another Dieppe and their officer loaded them into trucks and took them off toward Caen, where they would be in reserve.

“I was very proud,” said Mme. Le Grand, “that it was Canadians who came through my farm. My late husband always spoke very highly of Canadians beside whom he fought, at Amiens in the last war. He had always hoped that if any rich relative died he could visit Canada. No Germans being on my farm, the Canadians came through without any damage to my property whatsoever.”

P.O. H. T. Weenie is only three months old – but he has one hour’s operational flying to his credit already. He is a small, bad-tempered, brown dog belonging to Flt.-Lieut. Malcolm Brown of the City of Toronto squadron, though 23 other pilots of the squadron lay equal claim to him. It was in Mac Brown’s Spitfire, however, in contravention of K.R. air, not to mention the public health and quarantine laws of the Republic of France, that Ben – which is P.O. Weenie’s name for short – came to France. Right now he is chewing my artistically bagged, blue battledress pants and I am too old to be patient with pups.

Into our mess a moment ago, very pale and quiet, came F.O. Ron Knewstub of Winnipeg and F.O. J. L. C. Brown of Vancouver, who, none the less, have the honor to belong to the City of Toronto squadron. I angled up to them and asked them what was amiss.

“We have just been flown over from England in a Dakota,” said Ron Knewstub, a gaunt flier. “It was pretty grim.”

“Why, what happened?” I demanded.

“Oh nothing,” said Ron, “but I hate flying. I always get sick.”

I should mention that Ron and his pale, quiet friend Brown are two of the pilots of the City of Toronto squadron who, for months past, have gone out in their high altitude Spitfires that come off the ground like a bullet and whistle up to a height of seven or eight miles. There were not enough Spits for all the squadron pilots to fly their tooth brushes over to France so some of them had to be ferried over in that loveliest of passenger planes, the Dakota. No fighter pilot can travel with any degree of comfort behind another pilot.

“I felt I was going to be sick, said both Brown and Knewstub. “So I just looked out the window all the way over.”

After their harrowing experience of flying the channel in a Dakota along with 20 other passengers, they will take off joyously to seven miles high in their little canoes.

Well, there are the digits. In the tent under an apple tree in Normandy, so like an apple tree I know on Indian Grove in Toronto, I set them down, while the radio roars Charlie McCarthy and the front of the tent is crowded with my R.C.A.F. friends. Pilots, mess waiters, dispatch riders and lorry drivers at the long day’s end laugh uproariously at the little wooden bad boy, and behind their laughter is the dark curtain of sound, the guns miles away where our brown comrades labor at the day that never ends.

Editor’s Notes: Some of the abbreviated ranks are: P.O. = Pilot Officer, Flt.-Lieut. = Flight Lieutenant, F.O. = Flying Officer.

“K.R. Air” refers to King’s Regulation’s that were issued with regards to all R.C.A.F. regulations. These were regularly updated and were likely last issued in 1940 at the time of this wiring.

Canada’s Vanished Legion

No Politician Need Fear The Soldier Vote, For The Veterans of The Great War Are Scattered to The Four Corners of the Dominion – Disunion Is Evident – Lack of a Soldiers’ Organization That Represents The Old Corps of War Days – What Chance of a Canadian Legion?

By Gregory Clark, July 18, 1925.

Canada has succeeded magnificently in disbanding her army.

One of the oldest problems in the history of the world is how to disband an army.

Raising an army is a joke. Any country can raise an army overnight. The late war proves it. A few drums, a few flags, a few promises. But it is getting rid of that dangerous mustering of men that is the mischief of a job. The world’s history is full of jagged holes torn by armies that wouldn’t disband. Caesar’s to Napoleon’s, great, rearing political and social factors that the statesmen had not counted on when they planned and executed a “good war.”

Caesar set out to make the world safe for democracy: and, after he had done all he intended, here were legions unnumbered cluttering up the streets of Rome, who wouldn’t go back to the plow, but, professional veterans, began agitating for democracy. Napoleon set out to make the world safe for democracy, against the kings of the world; and before he finally got his army disbanded he was an emperor, an exile, and his old army disbanded itself in the cafes of Paris under a king.

It isn’t an army in the field that is a dangerous thing. It is an army back home.

Canada’s army is utterly disbanded. It was probably not by design that our regiments were recruited from different parts of the dominion. Yet there is the secret of disbanding. To hold a reunion of one Toronto regiment, for example, you would have to get its old members from Owen Sound, Ottawa, Quebec, New Brunswick, North Bay, Alberta and Kingston.

That regiment cannot hold a reunion. It has never held a reunion. It disbanded in Toronto Exhibition grounds. And its members scattered to the four winds of the vast dominion. As a whole, it will never be again. A thousand old familiar faces are gone forever. This is the fact about practically every regiment in the Canadian corps.

No politician has anything to fear from the soldier vote. Nor need anything great ever be expected, by way of splendid constructive and organized effort from that magnificent body of Canadians who stood together, say in 1917 and 1918.

The recent gathering of veterans at Ottawa to meet Lord Haig and to hear his inspiring appeal for the union of all Canada’s veterans and to join Canada’s veterans with the British Legion in an imperial association of all the ex-soldiers of the war has merely brought to the front the fact of the disunion of Canada’s veterans.

That Canada’s veterans have tried to get together is proved by the fact that there have been and are in existence at least twenty and perhaps more distinct veterans’ organizations in Canada. There is one strong one – strong, in comparison with the others – one that was strong in the hectic days of 1921, but now of unknown strength, and then a large number that trail away to mere regimental societies, looking after the dependent members of the units they commemorate.

Each Claimed the Honor

That any or all of these veterans’ associations actually represent the ex-service men of Canada as a whole is claimed by all, but stands in need of proof.

Five offices of five separate and distinct veterans’ associations were visited in Toronto. In each office a paid official stated in unqualified terms that there was only one real, strong, representative soldiers’ organization in the country.

This emphatic statement by five paid officials does not mean that the union inspired by Lord Haig has suddenly come into being. Nor does it mean that all five are agreed that one of their number is really the one effective, powerful agency for the service of the ex-soldier.

No. Each official claimed the honor and distinction for his own association! And the words that each used regarding all the others, only a few hours after the meeting with Lord Haig, were hard words.

The reunion of old regiments is physically impossible. The effort to enroll the veterans in a civil organization has failed in the upspringing of a score of separate and opposed associations. The union of these associations, without the leadership of a mighty man, and the co-operation of tens of thousands of Canadian ex-service men who have never joined any organization, is most unlikely.

Yet every one of these societies of veterans has had as its first principle the assisting of ex-soldiers or soldiers’ widows in the winning from the government their just dues in pensions, allowances, and medical treatment. All of them have done something in this direction; some of them have done much. The millions of dollars that have been awarded by official departments in the last eight years on the representation of these veteran societies is proof enough that they have been of value to the country. That such service bureaus would have emerged at the end of the war was perfectly natural, of course.

But to what extent are the veterans’ associations now active representative of that Canadian corps which enlisted, from its start to its finish, over half a million men in Canada?

This has become more than a little question. Because, at the meeting with Lord Haig in Ottawa, the various associations, with a decisive gesture, appeared to hand over to Lord Haig not merely the associations or clubs of veterans which were represented there, but the veterans of Canada as a whole.

When, for example, a veterans’ organization of all of them for that matter makes a public pronouncement on some public question can this be accepted as the opinion of the old Canadian corps?

Descending Order of Figures

To our representative in Ottawa C. Grant MacNeil, general secretary of the G.W.V.A., Nell gave the following figures. He stated that the active and paid-up membership of the G.W.V.A. throughout Canada is now 99,900. He gives as the Ontario membership 42,000.

Mr. A. Shields, secretary of the Ontario district command, stated that the active and paid-up membership of Ontario would be about 30,000, and of Toronto about 5,000.

Mr. Harry Bray, president of the Toronto district, said that 5,000 would be about the paid-up strength of Toronto, and that the Riverdale branch, probably the strongest in the city, would be 600.

The secretary of the Riverdale branch stated that his active paid-up strength was 480.

This downward discrepancy of figures throughout would probably seriously affect Mr. MacNeil’s estimate that there were 99,900 active members in his organization, the strongest of all the associations.

In the audit of the G.W.V.A. dominion headquarters at Ottawa an order of the senate committee which was investigating the payment of trust moneys made to Mr. MacNeil, it showed that money received by the headquarters of the G.W.V.A. over the whole period of eight years of its existence as per capita tax of 60 cents per member per year, totalled for the whole period only $121,000. Divided by eight, this would give some $15,000 a year, the per capita tax of some 25,000 members over the whole dominion. However, some years, the per capita tax receipts were bigger than others, the largest being for ten months ending February, 1920, when over $30,000 was received, the tax on about 50,000 members.

But the last record, the tax received from May, 1923, to April, 1925, when the audit was made, shows only $13,197 over a period of two years, which would indicate a membership, active, during the past couple of years of something around 11,000 members in good standing – not 99,900!

Mr. Shields, the Ontario secretary, explained this extraordinary discrepancy by pointing out that in the case of a returned soldier organization it was hardly fair to demand the paid-up and active membership as being the strength of the organization. The enrolment was much greater than the paid-up strength.

But in searching for the right of representation of Canada’s ex-service men can anything but paid-up figures be allowed? And, of course, the G.W.V.A. is unquestionably the strongest of all the organizations.

“What percentage of your membership is Canadian born?” we asked Mr. Shields.

“Not a very large percentage,” he replied.

“Why is that?”

“Well, for the main thing, because the majority of the troops in the Canadians were Old Country men.” stated Mr. Shields.

This was received with some astonishment, and we were able to supply Mr. Shields with the official figures of the Doomsday Book, showing the records of total enlistments in the Canadian corps to be divided as follows:

Born in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales  221,495

Born in Canada  317,705

Born in the United States   37,391

Elsewhere, some 13,000.

This shows a majority of nearly a hundred thousand Canadian born over Old Country men in the corps. And it shows one-sixth as many Americans as Old Country men, which is an arresting thought, since surely the United States had no particular call to arms until at last she entered on her own behalf.

Absence of Native Born Puzzle

In the same building in which Mr. Shields was being interviewed, as a matter of fact, there had been held a mass meeting of veterans during the recent excitement over the establishing of a Canadian flag, at which all veterans present passed a unanimous resolution that the Union Jack was Canada’s flag. The hall in which the meeting was held was the G.W.V.A. hall.

“How many of the veterans present at that meeting were Canadian born?” we asked Mr. Shields.

“There would not be a great many,” he admitted.

“Would there be ten?”

Mr. Shields thought there would be more than ten. But he would not say precisely how many. He makes no bones about the fact that the Canadian born, who were in the majority in the corps, are by no means in the majority in the G.W.V.A.

So, admitting, for example, the perfect right of every man to express the love of his native land in any way he likes, the mass meeting of veterans that passed the unanimous resolution that the Union Jack be in no way added to by a symbol of Canada, these veterans – Canadian no less than any man who lives and loves and toils in Canada – were none the less British-born veterans expressing their love of their own land above all else.

This is merely one case that makes it interesting and necessary that the relation of such veteran societies as exist to the ex-members of the Canadian corps as a whole be looked into.

The absence of Canadian born from the various veterans’ societies other than those special ones referring to some particular disability is one of the puzzles and problems of the whole situation.

“It is admitted,” says Mr. Harry Bray, the Toronto president, who is, Canadian born himself, “that the majority of veterans are not enlisted in any association, which, from the point of view of the service they might render, alone is a great pity. And it is also clear that those principally absent from the associations are the Canadian born.”

Mr. Bray stated that not one per cent. of the cases that come into his hands as an officer of the Soldiers Aid Commission for relief of various kinds are members of any veterans’ organizations.

How utterly the old corps is disbanded! The regiments but memories. The veterans in conflicting societies of undemonstrable strength, though doing good work. And these societies not representative of the Canadian born, who, though not in the first contingents, the statistics of which are a glorious tribute to the love of Old Country men for their homeland, nevertheless made the Canadian corps predominantly Canadian as a whole.

Who can bring all the veterans of Canada into a union? Can Sir Arthur Currie, commander of the corps, do what Lord Haig, commander of all the British forces, did with the British veterans?

If he could and does – and indications are not wanting that the duty is inevitably moving his way – would it be a good thing or a bad thing for Canada?

History tells that disbanded armies have been mighty social and political factors, most of them very much for the good of the nation. They served to check the ambitions of victorious tyrants. But they have also played tool to politicians.

One little organization with headquarters in Toronto, little in the sense that it has only a small office with three paid officials and no membership of its own, though representing nine different Ontario veteran bodies of various sizes down to regimental veteran associations, is known as the Veterans’ Alliance. It was formed in 1923 as a protest against the inactivity of the Dominion Veterans’ Alliance.

Canada as a Motherland

This independent alliance, with a staff of three, in the seventeen months it had functioned up to the time of making this return to the government secured for veterans from the pensions board and other official sources the sum of $109,080 in cash. These were just and honest claims that the government was not paying until brought to their notice by a society that secures the services of the city’s foremost medical specialists, without cost to the pensioner, and spares no pains to make a true and faithful presentation of claims. The pensions this represents over a period of years could be shown in millions. But the $109,080 is cash already received by ex-service men.

That is an indication of what the need of some independent representation for the ex-service man amounts to. It is very real and, urgent.

What a great union of all veterans, a Canadian Legion, like the British Legion or the American Legion, could do in the wider field of service to Canada as a whole demands vision.

The commander of that legion when it was a corps serving Canada on the field of battle is known to be a man of vision.

With him at the leash the corps did Hill 70, Passchendaele, Amiens, Arras, Cambrai to what we all thought was the finish.

Some want to call the proposed union of veterans the British Legion. Another group want to call it the Canadian Legion.

If the union consists simply of those associations now existing, it should be called the British Legion in Canada, unquestionably, because it would very largely consist of British-born veterans of the corps.

If a union under a great leader can be devised that will include also a just proportion of the Canadian born, then it should be called the Canadian Legion, in memory of that great corps which consisted of British born and the sons and grandsons and great-grandsons of British born and of French-Canadians, Americans and sons of many lands. Yet any organization which denies to the Canadian born the divine right to love the land they were born in more than any other and whatsoever will not much appeal to Canadians as a whole.

To the British born in Canada the last vision vouchsafed to them on this earth will probably be some bit of Surrey, some little street in Scotland, some green hill of Erin. The spirit turns again home.

Yet to their very sons, as to the sons of their predecessors in the building of the empire, the last vision will surely be of some sweet, familiar glimpse of this beloved motherland that is Canada.

Editor’s Notes: As indicated in the article, after world War One, there were a number of veteran organizations, with the largest being the Great War Veterans’ Association. These organizations were needed as the government was not very good at looking after veterans. By November of 1925, the appeal for unity lead to the creation of the Royal Canadian Legion.

That Perennial Badminton Match

March 26, 1927.

This image went with an article by Merrill Denison that covered the regular argument of whether the Americans showing up at the end caused the allies to win the First World War.

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