The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

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Aw, Rats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rather nasty,” muttered Jim.

“What were sanitary corporals for?” I retorted.

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

A Major Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plan of Battle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Look What You Did!”

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

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

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

“Look what you did,” shouted Jim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I certainly didn’t,” said Jim.

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

“A fine mess,” said Jim.

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

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

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

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

And Jimmie is rid of rats.

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

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

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

Little Armistice

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

By Gregory Clark, November 6, 1937

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not an Ordinary Battle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Astonishing Silence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aye, they were. In a funny way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Order All to Himself

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

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

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

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

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

“From the O.C.

4th C.M.R.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Orders is orders.”

Whose orders?


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

Miracle Year for Salmon!

Leo Briar, 16-year-old student at Magee high school, Vancouver, is one of hundreds of volunteer workers who are helping to haul in this year’s record salmon catch and pack it for shipment overseas.

Like an answer to prayer Canada is hauling in its greatest catch in history, packing it all for Britain and starving Europe…

By Gregory Clark, October 17, 1942.

VANCOUVER

Captain Joe Katnich is 40. He is master and owner of the 63-foot fishing boat Westview, home port, Vancouver. In 10 days, Captain Joe and his six chosen crew netted 50,000 sockeye salmon averaging seven pounds apiece, in this greatest salmon run, this most miraculous salmon run, in Canada’s history.

Captain Joe owns the boat, but, for the salmon season, charters it to the big canning company which takes his fish, so as to put himself and his crew on the old-established co-operative basis with the cannery.

The catch is divided into 11 shares. That is tradition. To the boat, 2 1/2 shares. To the net, a vast, complicated seine, 1 1/2 shares, making 4 shares. The remaining 7 shares are divided equally among the seven aboard, master and six of crew.

50,000 fish at 6 1/2 lbs.

325,000 lbs. at 13 1/2 cents.

$43,875 or, with “scrap fish” added, $44,000. Each share, $4,000.

For 10 days’ work, each of the crew gets $4,000. The net belongs to Captain Joe, so he gets another 1 1/2 shares, or $6,000 more.

For 10 days work, in this miracle subterranean blizzard of precious sockeye storming up from the Pacific, Captain Joe gets $10,000.

From the 2 1/2 shares belonging to the boat, he gets a rebate, for chartering it to the company, of another three or four thousand.

High Man of the Run

For 10 days, then, of this incredible gift of the sea to us poor, food-rationed, anxious and bedevilled humanity, Captain Joe Katnich is somewhere near $15,000 richer; his crew of six, plain, strong, brave men of the sea, Slavs, Swedes, Natives, walk up the catwalk to the cannery offices and draw a yellow cheque each for $4,000. And, in the day and night humming cannery, vast and white by the teeming. stupendously generous, life-giving river, by the action of these seven men from the 325,000 pounds of fish they caught, stream out more than half a million cans of salmon, one pound, half pound and quarter pound.

To go to Britain! To go into food reserves on our coast, and in Britain. Food reserves for a starving Europe. One of the mightiest weapons of war. The promise to France, Belgium, Holland, Russia – them all.

“But,” said Captain Joe with one of those permanent Slav grins, “don’t think I’m rich. When the government gets through with that $15,000 – poof! – taxes!”

“Where do you come from, captain?”

“Yugoslavia.”

“When?”

“1925. I take one look. I made a couple hundred. I go right back and get my wife and baby.”

“Did you learn fishing here on the Pacific coast?”

“No, SIR! My family have fished the Adriatic since olden time; since the Romans.”

“You glad to be a Canadian!”

“Ohoho yes!!! Who isn’t? And it was not hard to be. In 1930, five years here, the company (packing company) think I am safe man, so they choose me for master of one of their boats. In 1936, I got enough money to buy my own boat. This is her. The Westview – 63-foot. The best.”

And best she is. For, unless the incomparable storm of salmon runs far longer than any one dreams, Captain Joe Katnich is high man of the great 1942 run, with his 50,000 big fish.

The Canneries Glutted

There were any number of other boats that made over 30,000 fish catches, some over 40,000. A few boats landed square into the middle of the run, even though it had passed up the gulf past the hordes of State of Washington seiners, and made one-day hauls of 12,000 fish. One captain got 15,000, had his boat filled to the point of sinking and then threw his seine again and filled it and had to wait until the “packer,” the company boat that comes around and takes some of the fish off the seiners, arrived. He had nearly 3,000 corralled in that net, overflow.

Of course, it is silly to try to depict this great miracle of the fishes in terms of one boat, one master, a few men.

Over 45,000,000 pounds of sockeye salmon were caught in this one swift run of only a few days. The canneries of the B.C. coast were glutted. Day after day the government had to order “cease fishing” to the seiners so that the fish would not be wasted, so terrific was the catch and so hopelessly swamped were the canneries.

All this miracle came following the dedication of the whole catch to Britain. Was it a miracle? Was it answer to a prayer? And what these Canadians have done, the Americans have done equally, in the lower American waters through which the mighty Fraser salmon run has to pass.

Well, to a stranger like myself, this spectacle at the Fraser’s mighty mouth looked more like some Wagnerian regatta of the gods than a mere industrial scene. When we speak of the large seiners like Captain Joe Katnich’s, it is nothing. There are only 100 of them. When we speak of the gill netters, in their little 30 and 40-footers, who do not go out in the treacherous gulf but labor in the more or less sheltered mouth of the Fraser, it is nothing: although there are literally hundreds of them.

They’re “Dollar Fish”

There were rowboats in this miracle. Little one-man dories. As we cruised with camera up and down the miles of river mouth in a speed boat, we saw and talked to kids, two in a boat, with a gill net 100 feet long, which they laid out over the stern of their skiff, who had got 160 salmon yesterday and had 60 more, at noon, as we passed; and they, like kids, hauling in their net into the silly little boat, with the high waves running, and taking the big seven-pound sockeyes out of the meshes and the 10 and 15-pound chums and an odd cohoe (“scraps,” says the cannery man, not meaning any insult to the fish) and one loner, a shy lad of about 20, toiling alone with a big net over the stern of a rowboat I wouldn’t go out on Toronto bay with! The sea running, the crazy little craft bouncing and rearing, with 20 sockeyes all over the floor of her, sliding; and 60 the day before.

At a dollar a fish. “Dollar fish is what they were called along the coast; although, at an average of 6 1/2 pounds, they came to 80 some cents.

“There goes a dollar,” yelled one gill netter indignantly, as our speedboat hove near and he, in paying attention to us, allowed one writhing, sea-bred seven-pounder to struggle out of his grasp from the net and back into the sea.

That sockeye, released from the mysterious net and from the hands of man, put on an incredible performance. In a vast arc, three hundred yards, at intervals of about 20 yards, it leaped along the surface, in terrific muscular leaps of 20 feet, a living torpedo, plunging, careering madly over the surface, either in terror or ecstasy; until it finally went deeper and leaped no more.

The seiners, the big boats, left at 4 a.m. from the Fraser and went as far out and down the Gulf of Georgia as they needed to meet the incoming miracle. Early in the run they went far down, near where the Americans were making their first, their choice skimming of the mighty crop. As the 10-15 day stampede drew northward to the great Fraser, home of them all, the seiners backed up, day by day. The seiners go forth in as much of a flotilla as they can, because the channels and the tides which the sockeye ride are well known to the captains, and the best captains are watched narrowly by all the rest of the flotilla.

Overside goes the dory: grabs a rope attached to the outer end of the piled seine net, with its thick corks to float it, and its big fat lead weights to sink it. And its brass rings, big around as a tea plate, to purse it when the fish are in the bag.

Past the American seiners, far more numerous, has come the silver tide. Past the seiners out of the Fraser it surges. And then the gill netters get their chance.

Besides several days of the run on which the government called a closure by reason of the glutted canneries, Saturdays and Sundays are also closed. This lets a share of the sockeye get safely past the perils of man and up into the Fraser to go through Hell’s Gate and hundreds of miles up into the rivers and lakes where they spawn and make their promise of another record run four years from now.

The gill netters are the little people of the miracle. But they have the most fun. The average gill-net boat is a chunky little craft of 32 feet, with a small cabin forward, a round drum amidships for helping haul in the net and a sort of slide or pulley at the stern over which the 150-fathom – or 300 yards long – net, with its floats and sinkers, comes, hand fed, but engine-drum hauled.

You will see little boats like them all over the waterfront of the world, in Muskoka, on the St. Lawrence, even up on the lumberjack lakes.

The reason we pick the Geddes boat, which is only a 28-footer, is because Mr. and Mrs. Lawrie Geddes were the captain and crew, man and wife, and mighty pleasant young people, too. Geddes and his wife come over to the Fraser mouth, 15 miles from Vancouver, for six months of the year. Then tie up their boat and come home to Vancouver for the other six months, where he works in the shipyards.

How the Gill Netters Work

We came alongside and talked to them, all bobbing up and down on the windblown Fraser fresh off the gulf. They had 165 fish in the boat at the moment. No. 167, because there were two threshing about in the net, half up over the stern, right where Mrs. Geddes had slipped the clutch as we hove alongside. Yesterday they took 300.

Mrs. Geddes was about 27. Lawrie Geddes about 30 or 32. Six of the spring, summer and autumn months, they fish together for a living, with gill nets, as now, in the great sockeye run; with plain trolling when the huge spring salmon or tyee are on the move, 20 to 80-pounders. They have a happy and amusing life. When we took our picture of them. Mrs. Geddes said, “Goodness, I haven’t even had a chance to redd the place up.” The place being this little boat which, with its cabin, is their home for months of every year.

Beaming at the whoppers in their fishing smack are Mr. and Mrs. Lawrie Geddes.

Nothing like this 1942 sockeye run of the dollar fish have the Geddeses ever seen; for it was 1913 when the last great sockeye run was recorded. They make enough, in ordinary seasons, to keep them happy and paid for their time. This year, they will probably pay off all the family debt.

They feed out their net both day and night. Picking a clear spot in the crowded river, they start feeding their gill net, 900 feet long, over the stern. Mrs. Geddes lets the engine slowly pull ahead while her husband feeds its neatly folded length over the roller at the stern. Once they get a few yards of it out, it is easy to feed the rest off. They may lay it straight out, in a line; or curve it; or make a letter S of it. For this net does not enclose the salmon. The salmon, running this and that up the river, now fresh water, hit the net, shove their heads through, are caught by their shoulders. And if they try to back up, are trapped by the gills.

On the end of their net is a small wooden buoy with a bright cloth flag on it. At night, they put a lantern on it. This to warn the fishermen not to foul their net, although most of the fishing boats have a guard or skeg around their propellers, so they can ride right over a net. And if they do, okay, for sooner or later, in a madhouse like this, somebody is going to run over somebody else’s net,

The net is fed out to its full length. With its corks holding its top edge up and the weights holding its lower edge down, there it rides, 12 feet deep in the river.

Some of the gill netters leave it only half an hour. Others leave it two or three hours and have a nap in the little cabin of their craft, or eat a meal. It is all a matter hunch.

Just When They’re Needed

Of the little rowboats and skiffs we were able to get little information beyond the number of their catch which they could shout to us, because we dared not run to close in on them, due to the rough sea in the river mouth. They were all being run by boys, some of them appearing to be under 18.

They did not bring their catch into the big canneries, and we were unable to locate them along the shore. But they were having the most fun of all, their feet braced on the gunwales, as the crazy little craft bucked and leaped. If they got as much each day of the run as they had when we passed, they would make several hundred dollars; their license costs them a dollar; and their net, new, $300 from the company; or a second year net, $150. One young fellow in the Western Leckie Co. which makes nets, took his holidays in the upswing of the run, bought a fishing boat for $350, got a net for $150, caught $900 worth of fish, sold the boat for $450, and came back to work much refreshed by his vacation. And besides, he will sell nets much more efficiently from now on!

It would be nice to take another couple of pages of The Star Weekly to tell the why and wherefore of this miracle of the salmon run of 1942. For there is a why and wherefore. Twenty years ago, the salmon industry in B.C. was a $20,000,000 producer. Ten year ago, it had fallen to a mere $3,000,000. The scientists and the business men got busy. They are finding out new things about salmon every year. Why, when they dwindled to the vanishing point, this colossal resurgence of the sockeye in 1942, this year of crisis and of need?

Well, maybe the editors will let Norman James, the photographer, and me go rampaging around, at their expense, to view more miracles. This is a miracle at Hell’s Gate, on the Fraser. There, 130 miles up from the mouth, these billions of sockeye have to negotiate a terrible door. Some years it is closed. Some years it is open. Sometimes, the day, the week it is open the sockeye are not there. They are miles away, hundreds of miles, at sea. Or strewn downstream dead, from having assailed Hell’s Gate a week too soon, or too late. Then, one year, they arrive and find it open. And they are in plenty. And they go through. And then the miracle blooms. For down, the next year, come their billions of babies. And on the fourth year, return again in the marching myriads.

Then we get the miracle, like 1942.

And in 1942, it is miracles we need.


Editor’s Notes: This story was published in the middle of World War Two.

A seiner is a boat that fishes with a seine, a large net with sinkers on one edge and floats on the other that hangs vertically in the water and is used to enclose and catch fish when its ends are pulled together or are drawn ashore.

To “redd up” means to tidy up.

H.M.S. Noazark

September 23, 1939

The Noazark has been painted with dazzle camouflage, which was used extensively in World War I. Unlike other forms of camouflage, the intention of dazzle is not to conceal but to make it difficult to estimate a target’s range, speed, and heading. It’s effectiveness was unknown. Many people (presumably, Jim included) thought early on in the Second World War that is would be similar to the First. Dazzle was rarely used in the Second World War as radar largely made it useless.

Old Soldiers Never Die

By Greg Clark, July 30, 1938.

For twenty years three men have been waiting to talk back to their sergeant-major. At the Canadian Corps Reunion they get their chance

“What’s he mean, dumb insolence?” demanded Pte. Billings. “The old buzzard.”

“Dumb insolence,” explained Pte. Budd, this being in an estaminet near the village of Gouy-Servins in the year 1918, “dumb insolence is a sergeant-major’s pet crime. It means, you give him a dirty look. You didn’t say anything. You just looked it. So he crimes you. He has you up before the colonel for dumb insolence.”

“He can’t prove it, though,” interjected the third gravel crusher, Pte. Andrews. “He can’t have you up before the colonel and say, he had a dirty look on his face. He can’t do that.”

“Oh, yes he can,” said Pte. Billings, bitterly. “A sergeant-major can do anything.”

“I can’t go on,” said Pte. Budd darkly. “It can’t go on, boys. If the people back home knew what we were being subjected to over here. It isn’t the shell fire. It isn’t the mud and the lice. isn’t the lousy food. It’s the way we’re bullied and humiliated and shamed. Think of it. Three guys like us, three free-born Canadian citizens. And that blankety-blank old sergeant-major with his airs. You’d think we were dirt.”

“Why can’t we go before the colonel,” demanded Pte. Andrews, “and state our case? Why can’t we ask to be paraded before the colonel and tell him straight. Tell him, colonel, our lives are being ruined by this bloody old sergeant-major. He ought to be sent back to England, where he belongs. Around some parade ground in Shorncliffe, puffing and swelling, that’s where he belongs, not out here in France, with men.”

“We could ask the colonel,” expanded Pte. Budd, “how he expects to have any morale in this regiment, if he is going to let loose a vicious old rooster like the sergeant-major on us. Here we come out of the line, and right away, our lives are made hell.”

“The one reason I prefer being in the trenches,” contributed Pte. Billings, “is that you never lay eyes on that old buzzard. He sticks deep in the headquarters dugout for the whole trip. You never hear his voice, roaring like a bull. There he hides, sweet and soft and never making a sound for fear somebody will notice him and send him up the communication trenches.”

“And then,” took up Pte. Andrews, “the minute we come out of the line, oh, boy.”

“Yeah,” joined in Pte. Budd, “the night of the relief, when we are about three miles back, you begin to hear him. Faintly. Just a little bellow or two. Then, at four miles, he begins to really tune up. Hear him bellow. Hear him roar. And when we come into the village, there he is, standing at the crossroads, swollen up like an inner tube, roaring like a fog horn, pick ’em up, pick ’em up, make it lively there, you tramps.”

“Do you know what he called me, once?” asked Pte. Billings, pitifully. “He called me a hooligan.”

“He once said I looked like something,” chimed Pte. Budd, “that had been dug up by accident.”

“Hmmm,” said Pte. Andrews bitterly, gazing around the crowded estaminet where nine men were sitting at each of the tables for four, and a shabby mamselle was hurrying with glass pitchers of watery French beer. “I wonder we put up with it. Maybe the reason he never shows up, in the line, is that he is afraid he might get a shot in the back. There isn’t a man in this regiment that wouldn’t take a shot at him if he got the chance.”

“No shooting,” said Pte. Billings. There is enough shooting around here without any body having to shoot anybody in the back. He’ll get it one of these days. Mark my words. Things like that can’t go on forever. There is justice. He’ll get it. When he least expects it. Some day, in the deepest dugout, one of those rubber-tired shells with the long noses is going to go right through and hit him. Or maybe, when he’s standing as usual so big and important back in some safe village, some airplane is going to come over and drop a bomb square on top of him, right in the middle of one of his roars.”

“Couldn’t we send an anonymous letter to the colonel?” begged Pte. Andrews. “They’d never know who sent it. Just itemize a few of his worst deeds.”

“Today was the worst,” moaned Billings. “Us just walking along the street to this estaminet, and him standing there, with his stick under his arm, all pulled up like a telegraph pole, his mustache sticking out and that horrible grin on his face.”

“‘Well, my pretty soldiers, he says,'” recounted Pte. Andrews, “‘and where might you be going with no belts on and your tunics unbuttoned and your puttees put on like the wrappings on an Egyptian corpse?’ he says.”

“‘You’re filthy,’ he says,” remembered Pte. Budd. “‘You’re foul and you’re unclean.’ he says. ‘Your hair looks like a goat we once captured from the Afridis in the campaign of 1897. And you smell.'”

“Why shouldn’t we smell?” enquired Andrews. “Eighteen days in the line. Him, he had his nice little bath every morning in his deep dugout.”

“With water that should have been sent up for us, drinking water,” cried Budd.

“Goats,” grated Billings.

“And when we so much as looked at him,” said Andrews. “he roars, ‘Don’t look at me like that, my lads, or I’ll have you up for dumb insolence,’ he says.”

“Smell,” muttered Budd. “Wait till this war’s over. I’ve got it all worked out in my mind. I know what I’m going to do, after the war. I’m going to find that old buzzard, if it takes me years.”

“I’m going to lay for him,” echoed Andrews, “if I have to travel from Halifax to Vancouver.”

“Let’s form a pact,” said Billings. “Let’s form a secret society. The minute we’re out of uniform, we’ll start hunting for the old vulture. We’ll catch him and set him down on a chair. Then we take turns, like Heinies diving on an R.E.8, at telling him off. We’ll call him all the things he called us and all the things we have called him behind his back. We’ll tell him what the troops really thought of him, the big yellow belly. Taking advantage of his rank.”

“We’ll probably find him cleaning spittoons in some dirty little Montreal joint,” mused Buddy happily.

Planning Revenge

“Wherever we find him,” said Andrews, “we’ll take him and we’ll crucify him and we’ll call him down for hours until we can’t think of anything more to say and then we’ll beat him up.”

“That’s it,” agreed Budd, furiously. “We’ll just slap the starch right out of that silly mustache, and we’ll make him get down on his knees and beg our pardon. We’ll beat the tar out of him.”

“We’ll clip off his mustache,” said Billings.

And in the hum and din of the estaminet, the three sat, heads close together, a faraway and happy expression on their stubbled countenances.

“He pinches our rum,” muttered Andrews. “Every night in the line, each company, in rotation, loses one jar of rum, mysteriously.”

“It’s the only duty roster the old beggar keeps,” said Budd. “Which company’s turn is it tonight to lose one jar of rum out of their rations?”

“Don’t let’s forget.” said Billings, as a party of half a dozen newcomers burst in the estaminet door and started rowdily towards their table. “Don’t let us forget about after the war. If only one of us gets out, he promises the others that he’ll hound that old devil and get him and get him good.”

“It’s a promise,” agreed Andrews and Budd, reaching out dirty rough hands and clasping them across the stained table.

And then the newcomers dragged up chairs around the crowded little table and somebody started a new line of conversation. It was about that lousy old yellow belly, the sergeant-major.

Twenty years later, almost to the week, the day and the hour, Billings, Andrews and Budd are standing flushed and happy near the Prince of Wales gate of the Toronto Exhibition grounds. Age has not withered them, nor custom staled. Except for their bright blue berets and their clean though sweaty clothes, and a certain ripeness of feature that has developed, they are easily recognizable, here in their late 40’s, as the three lads that sat in the estaminet in Gouy-Servins, long ago in their middle 20’s.

Andrews has come from Edmonton, Budd from Newmarket and Billings is a Toronto boy, born, bred and bound. He has the Toronto look.

They have met by long appointment. They have been exchanging letters now for six months, ever since last January, when the big corps reunion was first mooted. They have been together now since Wednesday night, when Andrews arrived from the west and was met at the station by his two cronies.

They have been up to visit the two families, Budd’s and Billings’, where they stopped briefly and awkwardly and withstood the ironic stare of several children in their teens, and drank a lot of tea and ate a lot of pie. But they hurried back down town, where they sought out tables in dim places where they could lean far out on their elbows and set their berets at silly angles and unbutton the top button of their trouser bands, and tangle their feet, in an old fashioned way around the legs of their chairs.

“Somebody saw him yesterday,” said Billings, “right here. They said he came marching along him, with his beret and looking as sergeant-majory as ever, with his stick under his arm, pacing 120 to the minute and glaring fiercely at everybody, as if he was trying to recognize some of his old battalion.”

“Has he got nerve?” said Budd.

“He must be near 70 now,” said Andrews.

“Boy,” breathed Billings, “will it be a treat to see him.”

“Remember, now,” cautioned Budd. “Polite. No rough stuff. We’ll just gang up around him, very politely. We’ll be so glad to see him. And when we get him off by ourselves, we’ll let go.”

“Huh, huh, huh,” chortled Budd.

As If Old Muscles Stirred

They stood in the throng, now and then darting out to grab a passer-by and draw him into the group for a few minutes of pawing and back-slapping and laughter and bending over with glee. But the three never relaxed for an instant their watchful survey of the multitude in the colorful berets and the badges and medals and canes and pennants, milling in for the afternoon ceremonies.

“It’s him,” shouted Budd, suddenly, and all three leaped to tip-toe. “Look. On the grass over there, walking with his arm swinging away up.”

“Old Hatchet Puss,” breathed Andrews, as in prayer.

And the three, elbowing and tip-toe, thrust their way across the pavement in a wild scurry.

They reached the grass sward and curved, like hunting harriers, around ahead of their prey.

“Hello, sergeant-major,” said Billings, heartily.

The sergeant-major halted, clicked his heels, snapped his stick up under his armpit, and glared at the three.

“Let’s see,” he roared. “Who is this?”

“You remember me, Billings, B company?” said Billings.

“Billings?” bellowed the sergeant-major fiercely. “And who’s this?”

He threw his stick from under his armpit and pointed it scornfully at Andrews and Budd.

“Budd, sir,” said Budd.

“Andrews, major,” said Andrews.

They stood at attention, as if they couldn’t help it. As if old muscles stirred within them, forgotten muscles of the back, the thighs, the neck.

“Well, I’m damned,” barked the sergeant-major. “Billings, Budd and Andrews. Well, well. well. I’m delighted to see you.”

He snapped the stick up under his armpit again, and taking a smart pace forward, shoved his hand out at them as if it were a salute halted midway to the cap brim, fingers extended, palm turned out, tip of the middle finger….

The three stepped one pace forward, clicked and shook hands violently.

“Where have you come from? Where do you live?” roared old Hatchet Puss, in a voice like a ship’s whistle. “Are you married? Are you all working? Have you any children? Tell me all about yourselves!”

They started, but old Hatchet Puss interrupted them violently with a wave of his stick.

“What are you doing now?” he barked. “You look a little seedy. Have you been hanging about in beer parlors? What’s the matter with you? Straighten your beret, What’s Your Name. A little less on the back of your head. You wear it the way an old lady wears a bonnet. Are you enjoying yourselves?”

They were all in the midst of admitting they were enjoying themselves immensely when the sergeant-major roared:

“You’re coming up to tea. I brought my old lady down with me to visit my son during the reunion and I promised to bring her up some of the old battalion for tea. Fall in.”

There was a moment of indecision, a sort of flicker, as when a flock of blackbirds seems to lose direction for an instant, but then catches itself again.

“We’ll march to my son’s car,” barked the sergeant-major heartily. “I’ve got him waiting over here.”

“By the left,” roared the sergeant-major, dressing him, as of old.

The old boy got to the side and extended his stick to tap Andrews back into line, “queeeeeeek march!”

And he marking, they marched across the grass, left inclined, right inclined, marked time, wheeled, and then in column of threes advanced upon a motor car in which a huge young man, looking very much like the old man, sat grinning at the wheel.

“Halt,” roared the sergeant-major. “Left turn.”

Andrews and Budd and Billings filed into the back seat.

“Meet my son,” shouted the sergeant-major.

In the car, as they drove rapidly out of the multitude, the sergeant-major gave a brief account of himself.

“Returned to my old job,” he stated, loudly. “Bank messenger. Pensioned off three years ago. Live in a nice little cottage 20 miles out of town.”

One by one, with shouted questions, brief and businesslike, he queried the boys as to where they lived, how many children, what kind of jobs.

“Ah,” he roared, “it’s great to see my old boys a success.”

They pulled up in front of a pleasant little house. They marched in the side drive and into a garden where an old lady sat in a chair, a gentle little old lady.

They were paraded before her, column of threes, wheeled, halted, dressed by the right and then the nominal roll was called.

Tea was brought. Tea and tea biscuits and jam and white cheese.

“These were the men,” roared the old sergeant-major, “these were the men, mother, that made the victory possible.”

He slapped them on the shoulders. He got up and marched into the house for the cigars and cigarettes.

Andrews leaned one shoulder against a tree while Budd and Billings sat forward in their chairs.

“He’s a grand old man,” said Andrews confidentially to the old lady. “He was a father to us, in the war.”

“If it hadn’t been for him,” said Budd, “we’d have been like a lot of hoboes, I’m afraid.”

And when Billings saw the old sergeant-major coming out the back door balancing a tray of cigar and cigarette boxes, he leaped up:

“Let me give you a hand, major.”

And until the old man got his fill of them, they sat recounting the old days, while the old lady swung her gaze ever back, with pride and tenderness to her man; and finally he jumped up and barked:

“All right, lads, be off with you. Don’t get slack. Watch those berets. Wear them as I wear mine. Look! And listen to me: Square your shoulders. Try to look like men, not sandbags.”

And he allowed them the luxury of marching at ease out of the garden and even permitted them to slump into the son’s car, who drove them back down to the Exhibition grounds where they wandered easy in their minds amidst the multitude, having buried an enemy.


Editor’s Notes: On July 30, 31, and August 1, a reunion of the Canadian Corps was held in Toronto, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the end of the First World War. It was estimated that 100,000 people would participate in the three-day celebration.

Dumb insolence is an offence against military discipline in which a subordinate displays an attitude of defiance towards a superior without open disagreement.

An estaminet is a French cafe that sells alcoholic drinks.

The Afridi are a Pashtun tribe in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The old sergeant-major must have been in the army during the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–1880)

The Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8 was a British two-seat biplane in the war. Heinies were a slang term for Germans.

Room for Rent

By Greg Clark, June 5, 1943

“If you’ve nothing to do,” bitterly came Jimmie Frise’s voice over the telephone, “walk down here and lend me a hand.”

“What’s gone wrong now?” I inquired.

“By a typographical error in the want ads,” said Jim, “my house is supposed to have a room for rent.”

“What can I do about that?” I asked. “I’m hoeing the potatoes right now.”

“Listen,” said Jim, “I’ve warned you before. Leave those poor potatoes alone. They’ll never grow if you keep niggling at them. Come on down and help me sit on the front steps and steer the crowd to the right house.”

“Crowd?” I inquired.

“Ever since three o’clock,” declared Jim, “an endless procession of excited house hunters have been swarming up our walk. You never saw such a mob. Young, old, male, female, rich, poor. By the time I got home for supper, my family was exhausted answering the door bell. So I’ve taken over. I’m sitting on the front steps. Before they get out of their cars, I just yell at them that it’s a mistake. It isn’t Humbercrest. It’s Humbergarden avenue they’re looking for.”

“Aw, well, Jim,” I said, “you don’t need me for that. I’ve got one row of potatoes hoed. I’m just starting …”

“Look, I was born and raised on the farm,” said Jimmie. “I have hoed enough rows of potatoes in my life to reach from here to Duisburg. And I tell you that silly little patch of potatoes you have planted, about the size of a dinner table, will die of worry if you don’t leave it alone to grow …”

“I beg your pardon, Jim,” I informed him. “It is 18 by 11 feet. I expect two bags of potatoes …”

“I’m telling you,” stated Jim. “you want to come down here and see this phenomenon. Dozens, scores, hundreds of people trying to rent a room that doesn’t exist. I yell at them as they stop their cars out in front. I call to them as they start up the front walk on the run. Poor old ladies, utterly exhausted and perspiring. Young men newly married or just about to be married. Kids of 15. Old men of 90. All streaming down the street on a vain quest. And even when I warn them that there is a mistake and it’s Humbergarden, they keep coming right on up the walk. They won’t give in even when I explain that there is a mistake. They insist on seeing the room. So now I am simply yelling out that the room is rented. Even if there isn’t a room.”

“I’ll come down,” I said, “I’d like to see this.”

“You’re Holding Out!”

So I went and gave the potato patch a few farewell and loving pats with the hoe and then walked down to Jim’s.

As I hove in sight, I could see Jimmie sitting on his steps arguing with couple of ladies.

As I drew near, a car rushed up and drew to a stop with a man leaping out waving a newspaper.

“Hey,” he shouted, as he ran up the walk, “I’ll pay 50 bucks for the key!”

“Sorry,” said Jim, “the place you are looking for is on Humbergarden avenue. It’s a typographical error in the ad…”

“Come off that stuff,” said the man, placing himself in front of the two women who were also loath to depart. “Let’s see the room, mister. I’ll pay 50 bucks for the key, see?”

“Look, stated Jim angrily. “I tell you there is no room for rent here. It is a mistake in the paper, see? You’re wasting your time.”

“Seventy-five bucks for the key!” said the stranger insinuatingly. “Seventy-five. I like this district, see? I’ll pay a hundred bucks for the key. Come on, show us the room.”

“I tell you,” announced Jim, standing up and bristling, “there is no room for rent here. It is on another street, about a mile from here. It’s a mistake.”

“Aw, I know you guys,” the stronger snarled. “Holding out. I’m on to you. Holding out. How much do you want for the key? Name your price.”

“There is no room,” shouted Jim.

“Oh,” said the stranger. “Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place?”

And he rushed down the walk and leaped into the car.

“Humbergarden, did you say?” he yelled. And away he raced.

“You’re quite sure, sir,” said one of the two ladies, softly, that there isn’t a room for rent here? You live here, do you? This is your residence?”

“Ladies,” said Jim, raising his hand in a kind of Nazi salute, “so help me, Hanna, there is no room for rent here.”

Sadly, reluctantly, the two ladies turned and walked away.

“Can you beat it?” Jim whispered jubilantly.

“What’s all that stuff about seventy-five bucks for the key?” I inquired.

“The law says you can’t raise the rent of a room from what it has been,” explained Jim. “So they try to get around that by offering a bonus, a cash bonus. They buy the key.”

“Aha,” I saw. “But isn’t that illegal?

“There are loopholes in most laws,” said Jim. “But the government is now plugging loopholes in wartime laws by sticking its finger not in the loophole but in the offender’s eye.”

Wham came another car to a violent stop and out jumped three men.

Up the walk they ran.

“Room for rent here?” panted the leader. “I’ll take it.”

“It’s gone,” said Jim.

“Who took it?” panted the leader. “What’s his name? Is he in? I want to speak to him.”

He started to push past Jim up the steps.

“Look,” said Jim, “it’s gone. The guy who took it wouldn’t let it go for anything.”

“Who are you?” demanded the leader darkly. “What business is it of yours?”

“If you want to know,” said Jim. “I’m the householder here.”

“Okay, then it’s none of your business,” said the stranger. “How do you know the guy doesn’t want to rent? I want to see the guy that rented it?”

He marched past Jim and rang the door bell.

“Look,” said Jim, “he’s not in.”

“What’s his name?” inquired the stranger.

“I don’t know his name,” stated Jim. “He just rented the place and said he would be back later.”

“Okay, Bill,” said the stranger to one of his friends. “You sit here while I go on around the other numbers. If the guy turns up, make him an offer. Any offer. But get the room!”

“Suppose,” said Jim. “I don’t want you for a tenant?”

“Oh, is that so?” sneered the stranger. “Since when are you offering a room for rent and then choosing who’ll take it?”

‘Well,” said Jim. “I can tell you one thing, I won’t have you for a tenant, at any price.”

“Aha,” cried the stranger, to his companions, “You hear that? The guy don’t even know he can’t raise the ceiling! Listen, mister, I get the room and I get it for the same rent you was charging before, see?”

Jim took a deep breath.

“Listen, you, mister,” he said. “There is no room for rent here. This is a private home. Due to a typographical error in the paper, a room for rent on Humbergarden avenue was mistakenly represented as my house. To save time explaining to a lot of lunkheads who wouldn’t believe me when I tried to tell them it was a mistake, I have merely been telling the stupidest ones that the room is gone.”

The stranger listened intently to Jim.

“Now,” he said, “I don’t believe you even rented the room. Come on, mister, show us up to the room.”

“Will you get out of here,” demanded Jim, or will I call the cops? One, two, three, four …”

“Oh, well, if you want to get tough,” said the stranger.

They went and sat in their car, discussing the matter for a moment.

“Humbergarden, did you say, mister?” called out the leader.

“That’s right,” said Jim.

It’s a Parade

But just as they were about to drive off, another car pulled up and two girls got out and hurried up. So the first car paused and waited to see whether the girls got any farther than they did.

Jim showed the girls the paper and explained the error. They accepted the facts at once and hurried back to their car. And the car with the three fatheads rushed off to beat them to the next stop.

“The world, Jim,” I submitted, “is coming to a pretty pass when a man can scarcely keep strangers from invading the sanctity of his home.”

“Look who’s next,” muttered Jim.

Up the walk came a short, thick-set woman of extremely foreign appearance.

“Room?” she demanded, holding up the newspaper.

“Gone,” said Jim, shaking his head.

“How much?” said the lady.

“Gone,” said Jim, emphatically. “Taken.”

“Aw,” said the woman bitterly. “I know. You don’t like foreigners. You don’t want me, eh? Well, I show you some day.”

And she turned and strode with excessive stiffness down the walk.

Two more cars pulled up and then drove on as soon as Jim called the news to them. Then came, on foot, slowly down the block, an elderly and charming lady.

“Pardon me,” she called from the street, “but is this the house that has the room for rent?”

Jimmie and I both hurried down to explain the situation to her. She was the sweetest old thing.

“Oh, dear,” she said wearily. “I have been to so many places today. When I turned down your lovely street, something told me I had come to the end of my search…”

“Come and rest on the veranda,” suggested Jimmie. “I’ll get a chair…”

“Oh, no, thank you,” said the old lady, pleasantly. “I must keep on. If I don’t get a place by tomorrow night, I will have no home at all.”

“But surely,” I suggested, “your family …?”

“My only son,” smiled the old lady, “a bachelor, not young either, has gone to war. He is in Halifax. On his way over. When he left, I gave up our apartment, thinking it was selfish for only one person to keep a big apartment of five rooms. I thought I could pick up a room, very easily…”

“My, this is bad,” said Jim. “Surely, your friends …?”

“I am afraid,” said the old lady sweetly, “we have been the kind of people who didn’t bother about making friends… I guess people should always go to church, shouldn’t they? But my son did not care for church. He preferred to take me into the country on Sundays. Dear, dear. Now he is gone to war. And I am so anxious to have a nice little place for him to come home to. I had the notion that if you let me have the one room, I could become friends with you, as time went on, and when he returns, you might let me have an adjoining room . . .?”

“But, I’m sorry,” said Jim.

“Oh, yes, yes,” she sighed. “You have not even the one room. Of course. Well, gentlemen, I must keep on.”

And she walked slowly up the street, heading back for the bus stop.

“Hang it,” muttered Jim. “We can’t even offer her a lift in the car.”

A screech of tires rounding the corner drew our attention as we returned to Jim’s front steps. Two cars, one almost touching the tail of the other, raced down and drew up with a rush and a bump. And out leaped a man from each.

Neck and neck they raced up the walk.

“Hey,” began one.

“No, you don’t!” grunted the other, giving the first a shove.

And before another word was said, they were swinging.

Haymakers, clinches, short swings and jabs, they batted each other furiously and wordlessly. One tried to get his foot on the lower step of Jim’s veranda and the other grabbed him and dragged him down.

“Here,” I shouted, stepping in to part them.

“Look out,” warned Jim.

“Keep out of this, you little rat,” muttered one of the battlers, giving me the fairest punch so far in the fight – an elbow to the chin.

“Gentlemen,” chanted Jim, from the top step, “gentlemen, I don’t know what’s the matter, but if it is the room for rent you have come about, I want to tell you there is no room. Owing to a mistake…”

And while the two grunted and punched and swung and sweated, Jimmie slowly and loudly outlined the whole circumstances surrounding the typographical error.

Finally, in a clinch, the two exhausted fighters paused and looked up at Jim.

“What’s that you say?” panted one.

Good Luck Omen

So Jim repeated the whole speech. The two still clung firmly to each other until Jim had finished. Then they let go of each other and dusted themselves off and straightened their ties.

“I’m sorry, brother,” said the one who had clipped me on the pin.

“My own fault,” I assured him. “You should never try to stop a fight.

They glared at each other and then grinned sulkily.

“What’s the matter?” inquired Jimmie.

“Well, we apparently have the same list,” said one. “We’ve been running neck and neck for the past five places. I guess we got excited.”

They wiped their brows and necks with their hankies and turned slightly aside and each drew a list from his pocket and consulted it furtively.

“Look, boys,” said Jim, “just up the street, see, is that elderly woman. She’s on foot. She has been all over the city, at her age, trying to get a room. I tell you what. I’ll give good luck to whichever of you gets to her first and gives her a lift.”

“How do you mean?” muttered one.

“Well, getting a room is a case of luck, isn’t it?” said Jim. “And anybody that helps that old lady find a room first is going to have luck…”

The two turned. One leaped in his car and took a short turn into Jim’s side drive to get faced the other way.

But the other just backed. At about 40 miles an hour, he backed up the street and flung the car door open before a very astonished old lady.

And just as the other car came racing, with horn blowing, the old lady stepped into the first car, very gratefully.

“Okay,” said Jimmie, “wish them all luck.”

So we went in and got a large piece of cardboard and Jim lettered boldly on it –

“Sorry. Room rented.”

Which he put on the front steps.


Editor’s Notes: During World War Two, as housing construction was reduced considerably, and there was less construction in the Great Depression that preceded it. As demand increased because of War work, there was considerable housing shortages in major cities and other locations of wartime factories or activity. Renting rooms in private houses, and the creation of boarding houses was common. The story outlined above could have really happened given the situation.

There really is a Humbercrest Boulevard in Toronto near the Humber River, but no Humbergarden now. It may never have existed as I don’t see it on old maps in the area, and I could believe that an editor at the time insisting on a fake street to avoid the slight chance that someone took the story seriously and ended up looking for a room for rent. Many of the Greg-Jim stories implied that they lived near each other (at least a short walk away), and for a time, they really did. Greg lived on Baby Point Road in two different houses during this time. As mentioned in other stories, Greg was a renter while Jim was an owner, so it is possible Jim really lived on Humbercrest at the time of the story.

The Light of Other Days Shines on The Dumbells

By Greg Clark, June 6, 1925

It was a full house.

The curtain was up. The theatre was filled with the music of a clever orchestra. It was a performance of the “Dumbells,” in their sixty-second week in Toronto.

A smartly-dressed chorus came out and then Marjorie appeared, long, lissome, with the old

remembered stride, so queenly, so graceful. And all of a sudden the scene faded. The solid walls of the Royal Alexandra melted away. The strains to orchestra grew fainter, fainter.

And by all that is queer we were all at once in a dirty old grey marquee, its side walls drooping sadly, and tall poles staggering into the gloom above, and a stage before us lighted with oil lamps shaded with home-made tin reflectors.

We were in the midst of a strange audience. It smelt strongly of wool and sweat and tobacco. It was bent forward tensely on its benches. It made not a sound.

Yet on this little ill-lighted stage before us, as on that Royal Alex stage which had so mysteriously disappeared a moment ago, on this narrow, shallow stage, there stood Marjorie!

In the shadows of one corner of the stage was a piano, and the pianist’s back was to us. A candle in a whiskey bottle gave light to his fingers.

What was he playing? “Hello, My Dearie!”

And there was Marjorie, swaying and leaning towards us, singing,

“… I’m lonesome for you;

I want you near me –

 Yes, honest, I do…”

Not as gorgeous a Marjorie as we had a moment before on the stage that faded. Not such stylish clothes. Not so lighted up with footlights to show the delicate blossom on her cheeks and the lovely red bow of her lips. A big picture hat, a pink dress to set off her blonde beauty. And a parasol.

But a lovelier Marjorie than the one that the Royal Alexandra had been showing. Look how this audience cats her up, drinks her in! Did ever an artist have such an audience? Pipes and cigarets are held suspended. Heads are hunched forward. Eyes stare hungrily at this vision in the half light. She sings to the end in a clear soprano with a delicious break in it. She backs bowing to the burlap wings. The grey old tent trembles and bellies to the tumult of applause that crashes out. The khaki audience yells and claps and whistles and stands up.

Beauty They Craved For

The soldier at the piano strikes a chord. Strikes it again for silence. And from the wings steps jaunty Al Plunkett, wearing an opera hat and a stylish mackintosh. He is the picture of civil elegance. Ah, how sweet to the byes of men doomed forever, it seems to sweating brown wool! Al is smiling his ineffable smile. He twirls his cane at us. He raises his voice in an odd, laughing, suggestive tone and commences his song, “The Wild, Wild Women.”

The audience in lilting and chuckling with him on their benches of hard, narrow wood. The chuckle in Al’s voice increases. The words of the song have the boys leaning forward and nudging their neighbors.

” … ferocious women,

Are making a wild man of me!”

The troops shout and laugh. “Encore! Encore!” Al obliges. Ho sing the last verse and the chorus. He is more elegant and urbane than ever. He is the spirit of all that is free and Independent, and never a bugle nor voice can make a difference in his life, this dark, opera-coated swell.

A brass band hunched down under the front of the tiny little creaky stage plays an entr’acte and the audience lights up and smokes and chatters. Out in the night, far, far away, sounds the bumble and mutter of the distant guns. But in this marquee, the “Dumbells” are making pretense, for a regiment down from the line for a few days, that there is no war, that there is a world of reality, full of beautiful, attractive women and dark, alluring men in high hats, somewhere only around the corner. And the audience talks loud and laughs for fear they might not believe that that far rumble is only the traffic of the streets.

Marjorie comes on again. Amid a riotous cheer. Who could believe that the hard integuments of Ross Hamilton are concealed under those fair garments? Marjorie is not a female impersonator in this old marquee. She is a very real and very great artist. An artist depends so much on his environment, on his locale. Well, this Marjorie, I assure you, this Marjorie, posing and swaying before the starved eyes of a thousand soldiers who have seen nothing beautiful, but only mud and destruction and death for months on end – this tall, beautiful girl parading before them in the lamplight, is a very true artist indeed. For she is touching those nerves in the spirits of men which only artists can touch. She is making them live outside themselves. They are not amused by a female impersonator. They are looking at a beautiful girl with eyes that have seen no beauty in many day.

“Songs My Mother Sang”

Marjorie departs amidst a tumult. A singer whose name we have forgotten, which is a deep shame, comes forth clad in a quaint old-fashioned costume, with a tall wand, and sings for us “The Cornish Floral Dance.” A delicate, fine, artistic song, but the brown, tangled audience drinks it in. It is beautifully rendered. And the hard-boiled audience knows it. They demand an encore. With greater fervor, the fine baritone pictures again the little street and the dancing figures that kiss as they dance along.

Lay figures come out from the drab wings of the stage and set up a sentry box and a brazier. It is not a fake brazier, a stage effect. It is a real brazier, And the coke in it stinks through the marquee. And Al Plunkett, not in his stage clothes, but in his real, everyday clothes, his khaki uniform, comes out in the gloom, with only the brazier fire glowing on his downcast face, and he brings that big marquee full of soldiers to tears. For he sings a sad song: “The Songs My Mother Sang To Me.”

You may have heard sad songs in your life and shed furtive tears. But Al Plunkett, in his homely uniform, bent lonely over that brazier in so familiar an attitude, with his mobile voice breaking pathetically as he hums such old sweet songs as all our mothers sang – the songs of the southland, Alice Ben Bolt, the lullabies, the baby songs – oh, soldiers in the gloom, so still, so still, what Mills bombs are these stuck in your throats, what unmanly wet is this smearing your cheeks, while Al Plunkett wrings your heart to shreds with his tender and crooning voice?

These were mighty artists, I tell you, who could fill a night with such tears and such laughter. For there is a black face comedian, and Mert Plunkett, Captain Plunkett, the stout manager of all this fun in a dirty old tent out in some turnip field of Flanders, Captain Plunkett is the interlocutor of the black men. Then there is an orderly room scene in which ridiculous officers strut and comic lead-swingers cringe in cartoon of the real thing this audience will be facing on the morrow. The pianist with the candle in the bottle shows what he can do besides accompany. He plays a bit of Chopin and the latest hit from London. The fine baritone sings “Roses Are Shining in Picardy,” and here we are in Picardy, and such roses as shine are red, red.

The grand finale: Marjorie and Al, a chorus of girls and men, and that was the “Dumbells” as they were in the beginning, away back in grey, dirty old villages of northern France, before they had the money or the artists of other concert parties to make up the show of today. A night full of tears and laughter, of dim lights and such incense as a soldier can send up to his high gods.

They were all great artists those days. They will have to toil hard ever to be a great again.


Editor’s Notes: The “Dumbells” were a vaudeville group formed by soldiers during the first World War. Since it was made up of soldiers, all female roles had to be played by men in drag. They were extremely popular, and launched a Canadian show-business phenomenon that was to last through 12 cross-Canada tours until 1932. As indicated in the article, they engaged in standard vaudeville acts of skits, comedy, singing, and dancing, which also included minstrel black-face acts since those were still acceptable in the early 20th century. Their popularity could also be the result of nostalgia on the part of old soldiers, such as Greg. Their act fizzled out as people grew tired of old war acts, the advent of “talkies” (movies with sound), and the Depression.

The Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto was built in 1907, and still exists today.

A Mere Matter of Clothes

By Greg Clark, May 23, 1941

In which Greg and Jimmie confirm the old adage that one good turn deserves another good turn

“Guess who’s in the army?” cried Jimmie Frise.

“Goodness knows,” I guessed.

“Wesley,” shouted Jim.

“Not old Wes?” I protested. “Why, he’s older than we are.”

“He’s in,” declared Jimmie excitedly. And he’s coming over to the house tonight. In his uniform. And I said you’d be there for sure.”

“I’ll be there. I stated. “If only to find out how he did it.”

“Well, he did it by persistence, of course, said Jim. “He hasn’t drawn a happy breath since this war started. Now he’s in heaven.”

“But he’s away over 50,” I protested. “Wes is just about the Methuselah of the army, I’d say.”

“You’re jealous,” smiled Jimmie. “Just jealous.”

“Not me,” I assured him. “I’ve seen a lot more of this war than old Wes will ever see. I’ve seen more of it than most of our army has seen yet.”

“Yeah, but a war correspondent isn’t a soldier,” submitted Jim, “even if you have a uniform.”

“This country has come to a pretty pass,” I insisted, “if they have to take men as old as Wes.”

“I think they took him,” said Jim, “to get rid of him. He has been public nuisance Number One at all the military headquarters in the country, including Ottawa. He has a file nearly a half a foot thick from Ottawa alone.”

“What’s he going to do?” I inquired. “What branch is he with?”

“Oh, some supply department,” said Jim. “He’s too old to fight.”

“Why, he was in the old First Division, a quarter of a century ago,” I scoffed. “He enlisted on August 5, 1914. I remember thinking he was rather oldish for a lieutenant in that old war.”

“He was a great fighter,” declared Jim. “He won two decorations.”

“Maybe it is just to show off his ribbons that he’s been so crazy to get back in,” I suggested.

“Now, that’s a lousy thing to say,” declared Jim. “Even if your jealousy does hurt you, you shouldn’t say a thing like that. Wes deserves great credit and honor. If there had been more men like Wes in this country we’d have been better off.”

“I’m sorry,” I apologized. “You’re quite right. Wes is a real patriot, even if he hasn’t done so good these past 20 years.”

“He’s just had bad luck,” said Jim.

“Bad luck?” I laughed. “The last war ruined Wes. He came back from the old war a hero. And there was no more call for heroes. So instead of forgetting about the old war and settling down to business like the rest of us, he tried to travel through life on his reputation as a soldier. There were plenty like him.”

Solver of All Problems

“I didn’t know you felt like this about Wes,” said Jimmie. “I thought you liked him a lot.”

“I do like him,” I explained. “But I think it is silly for an old guy like him…”

“Heh, heh, heh,” laughed Jimmie. “I’d like to see the standing broad jump you’d take if you got the same chance Wes got.”

“I know my age,” I declared, “and my capacity.”

“Ah, the army,” sighed Jim dreamily. “No more worry. No more fretting. You get up to a bugle and you go to bed by a bugle. You eat to a bugle call and you go to work to a bugle call. Your pay goes on, whether you work or not. The more dependants you have, the larger your allowance. No cares in the world.”

“It sure must be heaven to old Wes,” I agreed. “He hasn’t had a steady job for 22 years until now. He first tried selling insurance to all his old army friends. Then he went into the stock brokerage business. Then he got a job as sales manager of a novelty furniture company. He came in to see me one day with some crazy kind of collapsible shell he tried to sell me. His life, ever since the last war, has been one long worry. No wonder he was frantic to get back into the good old, safe old, cosy old army.”

“Well, the way things are going,” said Jim, “with taxes and everything, it seems to me the boys in the army are the wise guys.”

“Maybe that’s why I feel a little envious,” I confessed. “The army sure was wonderful wasn’t it? When I first enlisted, I thought with a kind of horror about the surrender of my personal liberty to an institution like the army. But suddenly I found all my personal cares had been lifted from me. All the little, petty carping worries and anxieties of my daily life vanished. I had nothing any more to decide. Everything was decided for me. Always somebody to tell me what to do. I did not even have to decide how to dress for the day. It was all laid down in orders. I did not have to make any decisions as to how I would spend the day or even my spare time in the evenings. There it all was, laid down in the syllabus.”

“It’s freedom, that’s what it is,” declared Jim. “Army life is not the surrender of freedom. It is the sudden liberation from a thousand little, unrealized cares that like a swarm of bees follow a man in civilian life wherever he goes.”

“We never understand how enmeshed like fish we are in little bonds and shackles,” I agreed, “until we go into the army and discover the nearest approach to freedom there is in the world.”

“A monk in holy orders,” said Jim, “escapes from the cares of the world.”

“And a soldier can do what he likes in the evening,” I added.

“The army is the solver of all problems,” declared Jim.

“It is the only way I know,” I concluded, “in which you can chuck your troubles and tribulations on the nation’s back and get credit for it.”

“Maybe Wes can give us some tips on how to get back in,” suggested Jim.

Back in Uniform

“What rank has he got?” I inquired.

“Lieutenant,” said Jim.

“Well, I couldn’t get along on lieutenant’s pay,” I pointed out. “I was a major in the last war. If I could get a colonel’s job…”

“You’re a lot wiser than you were in the old war,” agreed Jim.

“And there are a lot of jobs on organization and so forth,” I submitted, “where I could fit in without losing my wind at all the hills.”

So after supper I went down to Jim’s and we sat on the steps until Wes arrived. We saw him coming halfway up the block. He was magnificent. The old Wes I had seen many a time bowed and shrunken with his worries and disappointments of the past 10 years had left not a vestige of its mark upon the fine upstanding soldier coming down the street, his back as straight as ever it was, his head up, his chin out, and carrying his little swagger-stick as carelessly as though he had held a swagger-stick all his life. His stride was long and lithe. He was like a parade all in himself.

“Let’s give him a cheer,” I said.

“Don’t embarrass him,” cautioned Jim.

So we rose to our feet and stood forth to meet him in honor.

“Wes,” I said, wringing his hand, “this is a great treat for us all.”

“It’s nothing, boys,” he said happily. “It’s where I should have been 18 months ago …”

Even his manner was altered. Wes, of recent years, had got a tired sort of voice, with a little tinge of complaint in it. Not now. His voice was vigorous and it rang. And there was just the trace of an English accent in it, such as many of us affected in the old war.

So we went inside and got settled in the living-room and all gloated.

“When did you put it on, Wes?” we asked.

“I didn’t get the uniform until 5 o’clock,” laughed Wes. “I haven’t had it on three hours.”

“And yet you look as if you had never had it off,” said Jim heartily. “Sit down, Wes.”

But Wes would not sit down. He preferred to stand. He stood against the mantel. He stood over by the windows, his hands behind his back. He walked back and forth in the living room. In a new uniform, you hate to sit down.

His ribbons glowed on his chest. Men of 50 are pretty crafty at noting the age of their peers. A man of 50 who can carry his years is an ever-pressing reproach to all his fellows.

“My first parade,” said Wes, “tomorrow morning.”

“Are you going to have to drill again?” I exclaimed

“Ah, no,” said Wes. “This is just an office parade. I mean that I must present myself to my new C.O. at 8.30 am. He’s quite a stickler. I want to make a good impression.”

A Bit of Spit and Polish

You could see the old Wes feebly trying to assert himself amidst the force and splendor of the new Wes.

“May I suggest,” I ventured kindly, “that you could put a bit of the old spit and polish on those buttons?”

“They’re lacquered,” said Wes. “I haven’t got a batman yet. I may not have one for some time, they told me. So I thought I would leave that lacquer as long as I could to protect the shine.”

“Aw, Wes,” I protested. “An old soldier like you? With dull buttons?”

“They’re not dull,” said Jim.

“I agree they’re not what they should be,” said Wes, looking down appreciatively at his handsome frontal expanse. “But I have no button stick, yet, and no polish. It takes a little time to get things organized again, after all the years…”

And he gazed at space with a strange, joyous, exalted expression on his face.

“After all the years,” he said quietly.

“What chance,” began Jimmie, “do you think we might have, Wes, of getting back into the game?”

“I’m shocked, Wes,” I cut in, “to think that an old soldier like you would be stumped by the want of a button stick. Haven’t you made hundreds of them, in your younger days, out of cardboard?”

“Where’s some cardboard?” laughed Wes, promptly. “Jimmie, find us a bit of stiff cardboard. And have you any metal polish in the house?”

“Down cellar there’s sure to be polish,” said Jim, rising.

So we followed him. And down cellar on the shelves we found three kinds of metal polish. And Jim got a piece of heavy card board, from which we fashioned a button stick. In the army, it is usually of brass. It is a small panel of brass with a slot cut in it which you slide under your buttons to polish them and keep the cleaning fluid off your tunic. We made one, as most soldiers do, out of the cardboard.

“Have you got a good polish,” asked Wes. “that will cut the lacquer?”

From the three assorted polishes, we chose the one that seemed likely to have the most bite.

“Wes,” I said, “take off your tunic and let me have the honor of being your first batman in the great world war.”

And Jim gave me a friendly look, as much as to say that I was making decent amends for some of the things I had said behind Wes’ back. But I am a great believer in acts of humility. I sometimes think they are about the only ones that God happens to notice.

Wes took off his tunic and handed it to me. I slid on the button stick under the buttons and proceeded to wet them up. The lacquer was very hard. I had only rags, but Jim dug up an old brush and with that I scrubbed the buttons. And under Wes’ anxious eye, I began to get results. The lacquer certainly began to dissolve.

“Now,” said Wes, “lay on the flannelette.”

And you should have seen those buttons gleam.

“To think,” said Wes, ashamed, “I came through the streets with those dull buttons.”

A Great and Broken Cry

Long and tenderly we buffed and fluffed the brass buttons until they shone like liquid jewels.

“You know,” I submitted, “a batman’s life isn’t so bad.”

But when we removed the cardboard button stick to attack the smaller buttons on the pockets of the tunic, Wes let out a great and broken cry.

For around each button was a nasty yellowish stain from the brass polish seeping through the cardboard.

“Quick, quick,” shouted Wes in an agonized voice. “Get something.”

“Water, Jim,” I shouted.

“No, no,” bellowed Wes, “some kind of cleaning fluid.”

“Cleaning fluid,” said Jim, promptly diving into the cupboard. “I saw it here.”

And he came out with a large glass jug labelled “Cleaning fluid.”

“Douse it on,” I commanded.

“Easy now, easy,” begged Wes, his voice cracking with anguish.

Jim got a fresh rag and we dipped it in the cleaning fluid and wiped it over the stains around the buttons. Instantly the nasty yellowish stains turned white, as if the very dye out of the khaki cloth had been removed.

“Oh, oh, oh,” roared Wes, snatching the tunic from us.

Jimmie found out later, from the family, that this cleaning fluid was for cleaning floors and sinks and things like that.

“Wes,” I said, as he stood staring in rage at the beautiful new tunic with the horrid ghastly stains all down the front, as neatly spaced as the buttons themselves, “I hope you don’t think I did this on purpose.”

“On purpose?” cried Wes, too confused and amazed to try to understand.

“I’m an artist,” said Jim, resolutely, “I think I can mix up some color in some kind of medium that will touch out those spots temporarily.”

“My first parade,” said Wes, “tomorrow at 8.30.”

“The tunic is ruined,” I said bitterly.

“Come upstairs,” commanded Jim firmly. “I’ll see what can be done.”

So while Wes sat, all hunched up and broken in heart in the living-room, Jim worked in his study, where he keeps his amateur artist stuff – he is in artist by profession, but is a pretty fair amateur artist on the side tinkers at landscapes and things – and taking a tiny patch of cloth from the inside of one of the tunic pockets he worked with colors in ink and alcohol until he got a reasonable match for khaki.

But when he picked up the tunic to start applying the color, he found, with a great yell, that the nasty spots had almost disappeared from the cloth. Only a vague circle of paler color surrounded the buttons.

So we took a damp cloth and sponged around some more until we had abstracted still more of the offending polish and cleaner. And by the time the cloth dried, you could barely see the stains, even in bright 100-watt light.

Wes donned the tunic and stood a little way off.

“Why,” cried Jimmie, “all it looks like that the shine of the buttons has lit up the surrounding cloth.”

So Wes ceased muttering and went off home and we have no doubt his first parade was a complete success.


Editor’s Notes: As indicated in the story, Greg was already a war correspondent at this point in World War Two, and was in Europe during the fall of France.

A swagger-stick was a short stick like a riding crop that officers would carry as a symbol of authority.

A batman was a servant to an officer. This was much more common in the First World War, when class hierarchies were much more prominent in the British Army, and to a lesser extent, in Canada.

As described in the story, a button stick was used as an aid to polishing buttons.

Smokes Screen Battles Gloom

By Greg Clark, May 10, 1941

In a fighting man’s life, there are never enough cigarettes.

There may not be enough ammunition, or enough bombs or even enough food. But if there are enough smokes, everything is jake.

In fact, every old soldier will agree with this: that though there be boxes of ammunition enough to build a barricade and bombs and shells and food enough to stand a siege, if there are no smokes, the battle looks gloomy indeed.

Every soldier’s family knows this. If you listen to the troop broadcasts from Britain, you will hear about every fifth man laughingly but not too laughingly exclaim…”and don’t forget the cigarettes.”

But there are thousands of our men in the army, the air force. the merchant marine who either have no family contacts to keep them supplied with smokes or whose families are living so strictly within the narrow confines of a soldier’s pay and allowances that a dollar for cigarettes is not a little gay gift but a sacrifice, even a heavy sacrifice.

And since there are so many millions of us in Canada with no warmer wish in our hearts than to do some little gracious act towards some unknown man in army, navy, air force or merchant marine, here is the way.

Send a donation of a dollar up – or a dollar down if you like – to the Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund, 225 Bay St., Toronto.

For every dollar you send, 400 cigarettes go to a Canadian fighting man in Britain, on the sea, in the air in Newfoundland, West Indies, Iceland, and wherever Canadians are these days.

His majesty the King is patron of the Overseas League, also the Earl of Athlone, representing his majesty in Canada. Every lieutenant-governor in Canada is a patron. Hon. Ernest Lapointe, Air Marshal Bishop, and Sir William Mulock are patrons. Chief justices of provinces, presidents of universities and namely men all over Canada are patrons. The Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund is a reputable organization if ever there was one.

You personally can send 300 cigarettes to a friend in the army for a dollar. The Overseas League sends 400. Because of their mass purchases. They have so far sent 4,000,000 cigarettes. They have, in past months, on an income that never yet exceeded $2,000 a month, tried to give one package of cigarettes per man per week to 80,000 Canadians. They need $20,000 a month to supply every Canadian soldier, airman, sailor or merchant marine a packet of cigarettes a week. And they think that if The Star Weekly tells all those people who have the warm wish in their hearts about their program, the $20,000 will roll in. And the league will then give at least one packet a week to every one of the 80,000 Canadians, and in each package will be a postcard bearing the giver’s name and address for the soldier or the sailor or the airman to send his thanks.

The league will also personally acknowledge your donation.

Never Enough Smokes

Now that is the simple and direct process by which you can touch with your own hand some Canadian fighting man somewhere in the far, battled world.

Simply mail your money to the Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund, 225 Bay St., Toronto.

By return you will get an acknowledgment from the league.

Supplies from home are of tremendous value to the boys. Under the present system, you can go to any reputable tobacco dealer and send 1,000 cigarettes to your soldier overseas for only $2.50. Imagine 1,000 cigarettes arriving in one gob to your lad sitting in some stuffy hut in a coastal village in England!

Besides, in these perilous times, so many plans go agley.

Ships go down, and with them cigarettes and socks and many a treasured gift. So the more we keep flowing across, the more will get there.

Speaking of ships going down. Our main supply of cigarettes in the old war came via the Expeditionary Force Canteen. The supplies were brought over from England and distributed to our battalion canteens via the big wholesale canteen. But a channel boat loaded with a week’s supply of smokes was sunk. And before another boat could be loaded, a tobacco famine had struck.

And were we ever conscious of what a smoke means to a man! What little stores of smokes we had each treasured up, from our parcels from home, were soon exhausted. And there, mile after mile along the front, were some millions of men all going through the business of “giving up smoking” at the same time. And we got a little on each other’s nerves.

In the dugout in which I lived there was a small wooden box which had come up with the rations. It was a familiar little box. It came to each company of our battalion once a month from a ladies’ auxiliary of our unit back here in Toronto. One month it would contain tooth brushes. The next month, washcloths. Another month, dear little icky-dicky tubes of toothpaste or fairies’ own soap. Now, mind you, these little gifts are welcome. They marked the fact that we were remembered back home by somebody else.

But we never opened these boxes up the line. We carried them back out of the mud and filth, and opened them and distributed their contents when we got back to billets.

However, I adopted this box as my chair or stool in the dugout. And there I sat, during the six-day tobacco famine, on that small box. And such was the state of my nerves that while the company commander just drummed his fingers on the table and the other lieutenants acted queerly according to their natures, I took the old three-cornered French bayonet that we used as a poker for our brazier, and with it sat moodily picking at the small box which protruded between my shins.

And I accidentally split off a bit of the wood. I looked within. I saw a sheet of thick, dark brown waxed paper.

H’m, said I; funny packing for bath salts or something. And I stood up and picked up the box and let out a great and mighty yell. For the box contained one gross of plugs of vicious black chewing tobacco.

Chewing tobacco. As black and fat and pungent as tar. But the note inside explained that the ladies’ auxiliary had been too busy to pack the gifts this month and had left it to a committee of three husbands. And the three husbands had secretly agreed together to be rid of this icky-dicky soap and paste stuff, and send us, for once, the he-mannest thing they could think of – eatin’ tobacco!

God bless those three husbands. It was awful stuff. We cut it up into finest dust and rolled cigarettes with it. We used it in pipes. The bravest of us chewed it. But it broke the famine. And cheered us beyond all belief.

I have seen men in the last outposts of despair, cut off from all help, no food, no water, no ammunition – and because they could steal a smoke, they looked one another in the eye and grinned. And came through.

I have seen men deathly wounded, who, when the stretcher bearer stuck a cigarette in their lips, seemed, at any rate, to lose their pain for a time. Seen men dying who, by the grace of a cigarette, could relax and smile.

There be grim-hearted people who will look askance at this panegyric of tobacco. They think it mean of a human being to bear so heavy upon a wisp of paper and twist of a weed. But on the sea, in far seas, on land, in remote worlds far beyond anything our lads ever dreamed to see, are tens of thousands of our boys who give the lie to the grim-hearted who think of mankind as something to be improved upon what it is, by denial.

Send your dollar, your less than a dollar, your five or your collected $50 to the Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund. 225 Bay street, Toronto.

Readers who wish to contribute to the fund are requested NOT to send money to The Star Weekly. Donations should be addressed to: The Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund, 225 Bay St., Toronto. This is the Canadian headquarters. Your gift will be acknowledged by return mail – and later, some grateful soldier in Britain will doubtless write you a note of thanks.


Editor’s Notes: I’ve labelled this article as an advertisement, for understandable reasons. 225 Bay Street no longer exists in Toronto, it is now just part of a block containing the Commerce Court West Office tower.

The Earl of Athlone was the Governor-General of Canada at the time of the article. Ernest Lapointe was Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s “Quebec Lieutenant” in Cabinet, Billy Bishop was a World War One Flying Ace, and Air Marshal in World War Two, and Sir William Mulock was involved in so many things, you will have to read his Wikipedia article to see why he was referred to as the “Grand Old Man” of Canada. At the time of the article, he was the Chair of the Canadian Committee of the International YMCA, and 98 years old.

Greg so liked the story about the unexpected tobacco received during the First World War, he would repeat it on many other occasions with various embellishments.

Blackout

By Greg Clark, April 3, 1943

“Certainly we go sucker fishing,” cried Jimmie Frise.

“Aw,” I begrudged, “what happens? We catch cold. We get wet. We strain our aging muscles. And, if we are lucky, we hoist out two, or maybe three, measly pink suckers.”

“Measly!” protested Jimmie indignantly. “Pink! I tell you, in the spring, just after the ice goes out, suckers are the most delicious fish you can eat.”

“Puh,” I said. “Bones, millions of Y-shaped bones to catch in your gullet.”

“A chicken has bones,” retorted Jim, “but you don’t get chicken bones stuck in your throat; why? Because you take care to eat the chicken in a gentlemanly fashion. You don’t wolf a chicken the way you do a fish. Eat fish as intelligently and genteelly as you eat a chicken, and there won’t be any bone problem.”

“Pooh,” I determined. “Suckers. The very name is nasty.”

“Back in the old days,” said Jim, “when men were going around giving things names, they were just plain common men who named things in the beginning. And if a thing looked like a sucker, they called it a sucker. The scholars and gentlemen came along later and gave everything a much prettier name. But nobody uses those pretty names. They named the sucker Catostomus. Pretty, isn’t it? Catostomus. But we don’t call a sucker catostomus. We call it a sucker.”

“A catostomus by any other name,” I said, “would be as bony.”

“Listen,” protested Jimmie. “I tell you, in the early days, the settlers around here used to put down barrels full of suckers in brine for their spring and summer food, before the harvest gave them all the food they wanted in pork and eggs and vegetables. The spring of the year was a pretty hungry time of it, for the pioneers. This annual swarm of suckers up every creek and river was a godsend.”

“We do things better now,” I pointed out. “We maintain an all-year-round food supply. I can understand the early settlers doing down a barrel full of suckers in brine. But that is no reason why a couple of respectable and comfortable citizens like us have to go wading in the icy rivers.”

“Listen, Shorty,” uttered Jim grimly, “let was never get into the habit of thinking of ourselves as respectable and comfortable. Let us never forget the things our early settlers knew. Because there might come a day when a good many citizens, as respectable and comfortable as we, would go mighty hungry if they had forgotten what their grandfathers knew about sucker fishing.”

“Can you see our wives doing down a barrel full of suckers in brine?” I scoffed. “Why, the smell of fish in brine would cause the neighbors to telephone the health department.”

“Probably the pioneer home,” admitted Jim, “didn’t smell as sweet as the modern band-box we call home does. But the pioneer home was a lot more substantial than the band-boxes we dwell in today. All I say is, we ought to go sucker fishing this year, if only for sentiment’s sake.”

“I never feel very sentimental,” I submitted, “when a gulp of muddy ice water goes over the top of my hip waders.”

“By sentiment,” stated Jim, “I mean – here we are at war. Our food supply is becoming more and more rationed. A faint suspicion is dawning in all our minds that we really are at war. Isn’t it about time that those of us who can’t fight were planning to look out for ourselves? Suppose the government got really involved in the war, so that they had no more time to devote to rationing and controlling and petting the civilian populace. Suppose they had to give all their time and attention to war. Where would the mass of us get off then, my fine feathered friend?”

“We’d manage,” I assured him.

Courses In Woodcraft

At Cornell University, in the States, informed Jim, “and in Buffalo, at the Museum of Natural History, they are conducting public courses in woodcraft. Specialists, sportsmen, mining men and others who have lived part of their lives in the open, with nothing more than they could carry on their backs, are teaching classes of hundreds of city slickers how to live without cities, towns or even villages. How to carry a pack, how to make a camp out of brushwood, how to use an axe, how to cook, how to live off the country …”

“My dear man,” I snorted, “you don’t expect we’ll ever be refugees …!”

“The Russians never expected to be refugees,” said Jim. “The French never expected to be; and I bet there are millions of Frenchmen now who wish they had known how to camp out. It was because they were helpless denizens of cities and towns that they had to surrender when the Germans took their cities and towns. Free men should know how to be free, even in the wilderness.”

“Are you trying to scare me?” I inquired. “I was in France. I saw what happened. I didn’t leave France until the day France fell, mister.”

“Then,” declared Jim hotly, “you above all men should be going up and down the land, teaching people how to live in the bush, how to make a packsack, how to sleep dry in a brush lean-to in the rain …”

“Do you think the Germans,” I scoffed, “or the Japs, are going to attempt to conquer Canada?”

“If it was a question of trying to conquer us,” said Jim, “it wouldn’t be so bad. We know that is a big, tough job they could hardly tackle now.”

“Ah,” I said, resting easy.

“But,” said Jim, “the danger of their making an attack of desperation on us, a bad, violent, inspired raid on some part of North America, grows with every month that they realize they are in danger of losing.”

“But,” I cried, “to what purpose?”

“To grab a base,” said Jim, “to make a bridge-head, however temporary, from which they could bomb our great power plants, our industrial centres, our key factories, the nerve centres of our vast war production.”

“Oh, they couldn’t!” I declared.

“Just a minute,” stated Jim. “What has German aircraft production been doing, this past year, besides producing one new model of the Fokke-Wulfe? What have they been up to? They haven’t raided Britain much. They haven’t used much aircraft elsewhere. They quit trying to smother the Russians with aircraft over a year ago now. They have eased off on Malta. What are they up to?”

“Okay, what?” I demanded.

“Might they,” inquired Jim softly, “have been concentrating on the production of some novel, unforeseen giant new long-range troop carriers and long-range fighter-bombers? Something new-as new and surprising as the tank units they smashed France with?”

“H’m,” I muttered.

“If the Germans can build a 300-foot submarine,” went on Jim, “that can stay months at sea, thousands of miles from a base, they can easily build 600-foot submarines easily capable of each transporting a whole regiment of specialized and light armored troops to America.”

“Oh, yeah,” I cried. “To land where?”

“To land,” submitted Jim, “anywhere along hundreds and hundreds of miles of uninhabited Atlantic coastline, where German submarines, for over two years, have been coasting to our certain knowledge. Look: if we think nothing of landing army and navy reconnaissance officers along the coast of Norway and Africa, why do we imagine the Germans won’t do the same?”

“Do you mean to say,” I grumbled, “that there have been German soldiers ashore in Canada?”

“Why not?” demanded Jim. “Then don’t forget the long range air transports full of paratroopers. Those Germans have had two winters of experience in Russia, of fighting in wild and rugged terrain. Who can tell what new and ingenious machines and devices they have thought up in Russia for use in the wildernesses of North America, from Baffin Land to Florida or Mexico?”

“You’re an alarmist,” I accused.

“Every living Canadian,” stated Jim, “man, woman and child, should have thought these things over months and months ago. It is our common duty to foresee every contingency.”

“Okay,” I said, “suppose they do make some foolhardy landing in the uninhabited wilderness?”

“They seize an airfield,” Jim said insidiously. “It isn’t to conquer America they have come. It is just, in desperation and fury at the way they are losing the war abroad, to come for a few fierce days and destroy and disrupt our war industry, to smash our great power centres, to wreck our nerve centres of war production, our essential factories, and to exploit the panic potential of Canada and the United States.”

“And then what?” I begged.

“And then start talking of a negotiated peace,” rounded up Jim.

“Why, it could happen!” I exclaimed.

“Anything can happen,” declared Jim, “once the Germans and Japs get really aware that they have lost the war. They will attempt anything. And do you think the big German industrialists, who have a lot to do with planning their war, like to sit home at night, in their deep dugouts, thinking of America and all its great cities and mighty industries, all undamaged …?”

“You make my flesh creep,” I stated.

“Good,” said Jim. “Your flesh creeps at the thought of a jugful of muddy ice water slopping over the tops of your hip waders, as you dipnet suckers out of the Humber. Your flesh creeps at the thought of the enemy doing what we might naturally expect them to do. Your flesh creeps easy, doesn’t it?”

“Jim,” I announced anxiously, “I’ll go sucker fishing with you. Not merely to catch suckers. Not merely to add even a few pounds to the food supply of the country, but for the sake of hardness, for the sake of doing something to remind me that I come of pioneer stock, and that like my ancestors before me I can be counted upon, in an emergency, to get tough again and tackle anything, in the wilderness, in the cold, in the discomfort …”

Jim, who has done a great deal more sucker fishing than I, was able to borrow a good big sound dip net. The Humber river runs through the suburbs of the city, and in past years, when we were younger and looking for idle amusement, we have often gone down to the river, in the first flush of spring, after the ice goes out, to dip a few suckers out and distribute them among any of our humbler friends who liked fish; even suckers.

Jim also decided that night was the best time to dip for suckers.

“When I was a kid, back in the country,” he said, “we never dreamed of going sucker fishing in daylight. The big swarms of suckers move upstream from the lake at night. When I was a kid, we used to make torches and stand in the riffles and shallows, and spear the suckers by the light of the torches with pitchforks. We’d get potato sacks full.”

“Besides,” I suggested, “if we light a good big bonfire, we can wade out of the water whenever we like and warm ourselves.”

“Let’s do this in the good old pioneer tradition,” agreed Jim. “We’ll go to that pool we used to fish in, you know the one …?”

So just before dark, we scrambled down the Humber banks, high banks they are and uninhabited, even in the outskirts of the city, and found a couple of lone sucker netters just packing up, at our favorite pool, to quit for the night. We did not advise them of our plans. They were city dwellers, who did not know that the best way to net suckers is by the light of a fire.

When all was quiet, save for the soft rush and chatter of the swollen river, in its full spring spate, Jim and I gathered driftwood and sticks for a rousing big fire.

Long Night Before Us

We got the fire going in a modest way, and enjoyed sitting beside it, in no hurry, since we had the long night before us. In the dancing rays of the fire, we sat with that happy feeling of campers, even though, a couple of hundred yards away, the great city roared about its nightly business.

Along about 9 p.m., we heaped the fire up big and hearty and got the net unrolled and strung on its hoop. And into the river we waded cautiously for our first dip.

Down we sank the net and waited. Up we hoisted. Down we pressed. Up we hoisted. But neither on the first nor the tenth nor the twentieth dip did we raise a sucker.

“Maybe,” said Jim, “the run starts a little later.”

And we waded ashore from time to time, to replenish the bonfire with fresh driftwood and stumps and logs. And a fine leaping fire we had; and the river sang its song into the night.

About 10 p.m., as we stood in the pool triumphantly hoisting out our very first sucker into the air, we heard shouts above the noise of the river and turned to see two men coming out of the brush beside our fire.

“Put this fire out,” shouted the foremost, “instantly!”

We waded in.

On their arms, the men were wearing air raid warden armbands.

“Come on, you,” cried the leader hotly. “Get this fire out!”

“What’s up?” inquired Jim, depositing our fish on the stones flopping.

“Surprise air raid warning,” said the warden crisply. “Come on now, make it snappy, get this fire out as fast as you know how.”

He and his partner were already hauling out the larger chunks and flinging them into the river.

“Jimmie,” I hissed, “maybe–!”

Embers Of Fire Gone

We exchanged a glance in the already dying light of our fire, and set to with a will to kicking and flinging the burning sticks into the darkening stream. With our hats, we dipped up water and poured it on the coals. In less than 30 seconds, our fire was all but out.

“It was only by chance,” said the warden, “that we happened along the crest, there, and saw the glow of the fire. A fine thing that would be, for our section, if this fire was reported. We’d look like fools. Why, you cast a glare all over the country. You could see the river, the banks, and even a faint outline of some of the houses above …”

“It’s dark enough now,” I said hollowly.

Because, with the glare of the fire still in our eyes, an excessive darkness engulfed us, there by the hissing and tumbling river.

With the last embers of the fire gone, we stood in complete and stony blackness.

Gone were the twinkling street lights from along the high banks. Gone, even, were the faint shadows and outlines of the steep cliffs and declivities of the Humber.

“We’ve got to get back up,” said the warden, “to our beat. Do you know the path up?”

“We’ve been here dozens of times,” assured Jim. “Just wait a few seconds until our eyes get used …”

We stood for a few minutes.

“Okay, come on,” said the warden impatiently. “Lead on.”

Jim, a shadowy and ghostly figure, the net over his shoulder, started into the brush.

I got right behind him. The wardens came on my heels. But it was dark, oh so dark. Jim stumbled and cussed. He announced he was leaving the net until morning, when he could return for it.

But with the street lights on the hills gone, with the bridge, a few hundred yards south, also gone, with its kindly lights, with the whole friendly familiar world suddenly blotted out, it was an eerie and alarming world we found ourselves in. Not a landmark remained.

We followed Jim a little way, with many a stumble. When outside the range of the river’s sound, we stood and listened. All was a ghastly silence. Not a car, not a street car, not a voice. Faintly now, we could make out the shape of the hills, but they looked strange. They did not seem at all familiar.

“I think it’s this way,” I suggested.

“Don’t be crazy; we bear right,” asserted Jim.

“We came down over that way,” said the wardens anxiously.

We stumbled on a few yards through brush, over stones, brambles scratched us. We reached the foot of a high bank. It was as steep as a wall.

We wandered along it, finally finding a slope we thought we could climb. But after a few tries, in which all four of us failed to get 10 feet up, and all of us very muddy and scratched, we gave up.

“You’ll hear about this,” warned the head warden angrily. “Taking us down here into this wilderness …”

But by heading southward, to where we knew the bridge was, and after much climbing over boulders and falling over sticks and thrusting through tangled brushwood, we saw, at last, ahead the unmistakable and dear outline of the bridge just as the silent heavens were filled with the baleful yell of the all-clear signal, and the kindly lights leaped on all over the world.

But it just goes to show you. Even right near home.


Editor’s Notes: Sucker fishing seemed to be a common practice in the spring in the country. Jim would often have it featured in Birdseye Center. A dip-net was a long pole with a net on one end that could be used as a lever to dip into the water and raise up with migrating suckers.

Jim referred to “modern” houses as band-boxes, a term used for very flimsy cardboard boxes, often for holding hats.

Focke-Wulf was the name of the German manufacturer of the most common German fighter plane, the Fw-190. It was only around this point, in early 1943, did allied countries feel more confident that the war would be won.

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