The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

Tag: War Page 2 of 6

Pageant of Mystery As Canadian Troops Cross to Old Land

January 13, 1940.

Two stories on the same day and subject…

Second Half of Dominion’s First Division of Fighting Men Convoyed by French and British Warships Over Black Atlantic Ocean Arrives in England Without Mishap, in Fine Spirits

Gregory Clark is now in England with the first Canadian division. He crossed in a troopship. The text of his New Year’s broadcast, prepared before he sailed with the second contingent, is on page two.

By Gregory Clark, LONDON

The Canadian first division’s second volley landed unerringly on its target – England. Men you saw in Canada a few days ago are now in historic old barracks where a century’s history has been made.

In gray ocean days they have been transfigured from the Canadians you knew, modest humdrum lads in hasty khaki, into figures of this vast dynamic pattern of Britain. Now your boys march with kings – now your sons march with the Black Prince and Marlborough and Wellington.

They are here, and how the old kind bones of Britain must quiver to feel their young step.

Transfiguration by convoy across the bleak Atlantic is as beautiful a ceremony as most mysteries. You take a man, the grandson or the great-grandson of a pioneer from Britain who went this lonely way to an unknown destiny in a far new land a hundred years ago, and you put him all rollicking with his comrades in a batch aboard a ship.

He and his comrades are still Canadians as realistic as you yourself. Then on a gray noon they feel the ship move. They rush on deck to find themselves only part of a string of ships slowly stumbling out of a strange harbor. On shore thin crowds cheer faintly. On their own deck their own band plays thinly.

It is not much of moment. They do not feel that they are looking their last upon their native land for long, perhaps forever. The gray air is sharp with strangeness and delight. They are moving at snail’s pace into the unknown. They do not sense the mystery.

Men on every ship are cheering as schoolboys cheer on their way to root at a game against a rival school.

Into a kind of stillness they go swiftly. Far more swiftly than they realize the harbor sweeps by and out the string of humble ships plod. Humble ships because outside await the gentry and the nobility of ships – the warships of convoy.

First Taste of War

Low lurching for all their gentility, the sea gray warships lie turrets deep sunk, their sinister turrets seeming to rise out of the sea itself. It is here your boy feels a lump in his throat, swallows it and hears the first far chanting of the mystery, for the gray trim gentry of the sea swing smoothly like trained players of some gigantic game out into the grand arc into which the humble ships shuffle and take their places, like clumsy dancers in an old and stately quadrille.

Just to see those warships, French and British, filled with incomparable power and speed, like javelins around the stodgy passenger liners, gives the first hint of beauty and of pageant.

Out to sea they swing, and oh, the envy of it. Not an eye is for the fading hills of Canada, but only for the leaping ships and the wide, lonely sea. I would not care to say where the moment of transfiguration comes in man, whether it be the first hour or the last hour of the journey of endless marching, wheeling, obliquing, angling as we thrust day and night in our weird convoy dance across the ocean.

Warships “Out There”

It might be at the very start, just out of the joy a horse lover feels at the grace and power of a horse. It might be in ghostly night, when all the ships are black as death, and not a cigarette winks on any deck, nor any tiny ray of light, and the stodgy ships in the middle of the ring see one another like shadowy islands, and half suspected, half seen, the lean low thoroughbreds plunging farther out.

That would be a good moment for transfiguration to come. To me it seemed as if I were on Georgian Bay in late fall and the shadows out yonder were islands passing, but to any young Canadian to stand on the dark deck and feel under him the great lift of the sea and to hear the deep and ancient sound of it and to see, like shadows, strange and ghostly yet dear and companionable, the bodies of other ships. soundlessly marching together in this grave dance of the convoy, must have been a moment of great beauty.

Strange Christmas

And in such moments of beauty all transfiguration comes.

Yet in the ships we played our familiar parts. Christmas came and went. Our ship was a Polish ship and its captain prepared us Christmas trees on all the decks and in the dining saloons.

On our ship Captain Mert Plunkett, warbound in search of a new Dumbells – a quarter of a century younger than his old ones. And he and other war service men made us programs and taught us to harmonize the carols, dividing us into tenors and bass. We gave one another silly gifts and each one sneaked away to some quiet place to re-read letters already worn, or to draw out and hold close snapshots or remembrances less manly.

But somewhere between the new and the old, somewhere on that queerest of all Christmas eves, or the loneliest of Christmas days, though we fell over one another in our ships, the transfiguration came. For the men who looked today upon England were not the boys who left you a few days ago. My authority for saying this is the fact that a man who is married is not the same man he was an instant before. The father of a son is not the same man from the moment he first looks with startled, anguished eyes on his first born. And a man who meets with at deep and moving experience is no longer what he was.

Big Moment in Life

These of the second volley of Canadians to strike England have passed through a deep and profound experience. No mishap marked it. No tragedy of any sort interrupted for one moment the stately quadrille of the ships wheeling and curving their way in a curious shifting form like a country dance across the wide ocean. Nothing odd or shaking touched any single life of us all, yet we are all changed. Because in these days we have in silence, patience, repose and thoughtfulness, realized all at once, in a grip like love at first sight our dedication.

We are for a fact off to war. All ties are cut. All roads home are lost. The one way is straight ahead.

Out of the sea in our plodding, stodgy ships ringed by war horses of ships, we came to a place in the sea where misty shapes rose dimly to meet us.

At incredible speed they streaked toward us, destroyers to fanfare us in.

Warplanes Salute

Out of the sky warplanes came flying to rock their wings in salute to us. And so with companions on the sea and in the sky we came with ever increasing numbers to a country of mist. And on one of our ships the pipers from Toronto played their regimental airs and all the ships cheered us and the destroyers who had brought us safe home raced past us to swing and stand to man ship and cheer us. And on the shores people heard the pipes and saw the wheeling destroyers and knew it was us. And they thronged out and cheered us too.

Our arrival was on a morning so bright and free for this land that it was a miracle and a portent. Then tenders to shore and trains and a fast race in the little rocketing coaches, and now as the Duke of Wellington said to Sam Small, “Let the battle commence.”

Star Weekly Writer To Chronicle Exploits Of Canada’s Soldiers

Gregory Clark Goes Overseas With Contingent and is Now in Motherland – Describes Scenes of Embarkation in Coast-to-Coast Broadcast

Gregory Clark, staff feature writer for The Star Weekly, has gone overseas with troops of the Canadian Active Service Force to chronicle the exploits of the men of the Maple Leaf on the battle front of Europe in articles which will appear in these columns and in The Daily Star. Through the medium of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Mr. Clark’s annual New Year’s talk was heard on a coast-to-coast network of forty stations. He dealt chiefly with incidents connected with the embarkation at a Canadian port of the contingent he accompanied in a transport, and his remarks were of compelling interest to the families and friends of Canada’s fighting men and to the general public. Following is the full text of Mr. Clark’s address:

“I am speaking to you from the Land of Somewhere into which lately some tens of thousands of Canadians have vanished. A few years ago there was a popular song about the ‘Beautiful Land of Somewhere’ – but this somewhere is not exactly beautiful. It is fascinating, it is filled with meaning and power, and to men that is more than beauty.

“Already in our country tens of thousands of families are concerned about those of us who have vanished, and I think a pleasant New Year’s message would be to tell you some of the characteristics and incidents of this curious Land of Somewhere insofar as I have seen it. I might say at the start that all’s well. In all the thousands upon thousands of faces I have seen. I have marked no unhappy face. No face of a young man that yearns for the wide bed you gave him in place of the narrow bed of duty he now lies in.

Contrast Beyond Belief

“Men love duty. The natural man loves to be part of an enterprise, with good men on his right and his left. May I say that of all the thousands I have seen in camps, on trains and in ships, your sons have good men on their right and on their left.

“I am an old soldier myself – a little too gone in the legs to be of use in this war, unless as a camp follower and teller of tales, but to me the contrast between this Canadian expedition and the old one is beyond belief. Where we went with banners and bands, these boys go like foxes in the night. I sometimes wonder if, in the old war, a lot of us were not borne upon a great wave of sound and bunting to the very edge of battle, and many of us not a little dismayed by the chilly silence of No Man’s Land.

Straight Aboard Ship

“In this war no artificial stimulus has been used. These magnificent young Canadians have not been drummed into war, no bugles have sirened them, no vaunting flags have dazzled them. They are here in the Land of Somewhere for reasons that would have been unbelievable to our leaders only 20 years ago. They are here by their will, and I do not believe I have ever seen a more inspiring gathering of men.

“Like foxes in the night… let me describe an embarkation. It is at one of the nameless ports where Canadians embark across the Atlantic. At 7 a.m., a train from somewhere in the wide Dominion comes 100 or 3,000 miles, backs silently into the dockyard. The people of the port are trained to take no part in the business. Not one woman, one child, awaits on the platform. No welcoming band is there – just three small officers and a dozen soldiers with white armbands, the guides.

“The train slows at the pierside. It is packed with men. They have travelled from prairie and forest, from city and town and farm, hundreds, thousands of miles. Now they smell the sea. Great ships loom beside them. In the offing wait the mighty battle wagons of Britain’s sea. Yet in silence the train slides to a halt.

“A voice in a loudspeaker calls. “Detrain all troops!” Out of the coaches the soldiers spill and form in their platoons on the guides who act as markers. The rolls are called by the sergeants. In their battle rompers, their packs and haversacks neat and new, the lines respond in the darkness of morning. A command rings. The regiments turn in file and with a sharp beat of feet march straight aboard ship. Before the sun rises they are aboard and away.

The Battle Rompers

“How different from the old wars, where a man had to take a hundred farewells and stifle his tears, if any, in songs and cheers and the waving and the bands and the old pomp. This war is not emotional. It is cold, cold as the heart of a man – or a million men – with a deadly purpose.

“As plain as their purpose, as plain as their leave taking, is this curious uniform, the battle rompers, the teddy bear suits, as they call them. It is a little hard for an old soldier to get used to the sight of these ski suits the boys wear, but the old soldiers who wear them, and there are plenty, say there is nothing like them for comfort and freedom.

“I have one comic story about a captain on the embarkation staff. He of course still wore the old war cap, the old war greatcoat with its flowing skirt, the breeches and the field boots. Maybe he even had spurs on at a dock. At any rate he was the standard captain, fraught with an important office. His eyes glued to his manifest, he was striding along the pier jammed with the serried ranks of Canadian regiments newly arrived, when he sensed a figure beside him requesting his attention. Out of the corner of his eye the captain saw battle rompers.

Figure Persistent

“‘Not now. Not now,’ said the captain. ‘I’m busy.’ But the figure stayed beside him and repeated his address. ‘Please go ‘way,’ said the captain sharply. ‘I’m busy. Can’t you see?’

“The man beside him in the homespun rompers took two lithe strides and placed himself in the path of the engrossed captain. The captain looked up fair in the face of one of Canada’s greatest heroes, a V.C., a man on whose new battle romper sleeve already gleam six gold bars for wounds and on the homely shoulders of whose blouse appeared the rank badges of a brigadier-general… and on whose face, I may say, for the captain himself told me, appeared a whimsical smile.

“The most enthralling of all the things I have been privileged to see in this Land of Somewhere was a captains’ meeting. We have heard all our lives of the sea might of Britain, but until I sat in at this captains’ meeting of the masters of merchant ships about to depart in convoy I did not understand what exactly is meant by that well known phrase.

“It was in an old room of an old building, the walls decorated with steel engravings of Nelson, and of ships aslant in battle or in breeze. At a long walnut table sat a number of middle-aged men in civilian clothes. They were curiously alike – alike in middle age, alike in all having faces and hands dark-tanned with wind and salt, alike in being heavy built, solid, with short stubby noses on which their spectacles sat half way down. There was not a lean man among them.

Aristocratic, Keen

“Scattered amidst them down the great shining table were officers of the British navy. These were lean men, younger by 10 years or more than the merchant captains. In their navy blue, close fitting uniforms, their smooth brushed black hair, their faces mostly dark and aquiline, their manners aristocratic and keen, they made an extraordinary contrast to these quiet, heavy-set grizzled men in gray and brown and black, with pipes in their teeth and spectacles out on their stubby noses.

“Then the meeting began. The chairman, a naval officer, rose and started to read the agenda. It was a typewritten sheet containing the orders for the convoy that would leave in a few hours. It detailed the position of every one of the merchant vessels, tankers, freighters composing the convoy. All the spectacled masters followed him on their typewritten copies. It detailed the signals, the rules

Air of Deference

“And suddenly the realization dawned upon those of us not of this meeting but only in it that there was an extraordinary air of deference in the manner of the naval officer reciting the items on the agenda. I thought of soldiers instructing civilians, but how different was this. With the most respectful air, this slim, trim naval officer of high rank deferred to every interruption from the company of masters -interruptions in speech of the Clyde and Tyne and the South Country and many a foreign accent – and then, as the meeting progressed and the spectacles went farther out on the stubby noses and the pipes blew smoke and the questions multiplied, we began to get a faint far sense of what the sea might of Britain is.

“At last up stands the commander of the fighting escort that is to cut figures round about the merchant convoy, and in the same, trim, polished naval manner he explains what he will do in the two or three eventualities, and in the respectful, level gaze over the tops of the spectacles this time from all the merchant captains, and in the deeply respectful air and tone the naval officer used to them, we see the story whole.

“‘Why,’ said one of the navy officers after the meeting, when we all adjourned to stand about another large room of the old house and meet and chat, ‘they are the sea might of Britain. All we do is guarantee the freedom of the sea to them.

“And he meant it. From his deep blue heart he meant it. And those, ladies and gentlemen, those middle-aged, ruggedly built, grizzled, tanned and bespectacled men in plain business suits, familiar with every sea and every channel and bight and bay of this old round earth, are the men to whom we Canadians are so deeply indebted this day. They make possible our brotherhood in the great empire. They are among the more honored in this fascinating Land of Somewhere.

“Land of Somewhere”

“One so splendid thing about this Land of Somewhere is – a man is never alone. In platoons, in battalions, in trainloads, shiploads, in camps, they are men in company.

“Already their brotherhood is sealed by the seals of contact and friendship around fires, around tables. Soon their brotherhood will submit to the greater seal. Think of them in these companies, these throngs. Think of them as having found, for their right hand and their left, a friend.

“So good-by, and instead of a happy New Year, may we wish one another today a happy new world.”

The broadcast was arranged by the talks department of the CBC’s national program office, the address being recorded just before Mr. Clark sailed.


Editor’s Notes: I decided to include these two stories together as they cover the same event, the first being Greg’s article on the first movement of Canadian troops to Britain, and the second being the same but a transcript of a radio address. Greg was restless by the start of the war and was even considering leaving the Star Weekly. It seems to me that him becoming a war correspondent was a sort of compromise. The troops would make it in time to witness the fall of France a few months later, with very few participating in that action. As a result of that disaster, and all of the lost equipment, the Canadians became the only fully armed contingent in Britain.

One to Get Ready

“Git him,” bellowed Jimmie on the fence. I threw the gun to my shoulder… instead of pushing the safety catch forward, I shoved the lever of the breech over with my thumb. The gun fell open. The two shells popped loudly out past my nose.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 6, 1945.

“Ah, that looks better,” approved Jimmie Frise.

“Do they still fit?” I inquired, looking down at my hunting togs. “It’s two years since I had them on.”

“They fit you a lot better than battle dress,” assured Jim. “Even as a war correspondent battle dress never really became you. It made you look dumpy. I mean, dumpier.”

“I nearly wore my battle dress today, Jim,” I informed him. “It would make an ideal hunting outfit.”

“Why didn’t you?” asked Jimmie. “Just to try it out.”

“Well, while the boys are still wearing theirs at war,” I submitted, “I thought it just little unbecoming of me to wear mine out rabbit shooting. But by next fall, when the hunting season comes round again, I bet there will be tens of thousands of battle dress being worn in the bush in Canada.”

“Not deer hunting,” warned Jim. “A dangerous color to wear deer hunting.”

“Yes. But duck shooting,” I said, “and partridge and pheasant and rabbit shooting. And fishing in the cooler months.”

“I suppose thousands of boys,” mused Jimmie, as he drew his shotgun from its case, “all over Holland and Italy are dreaming of doing what we are doing this minute. Going hunting.”

“Tens of thousands,” I corrected. “On the other hand, maybe tens of thousands of them will never want to see a gun again as long as they live.”

“H’m,” said Jim. “I never thought of that.”

“Tens of thousands of soldiers overseas,” I pointed out, “were men who had never spent a day or a night in the open in their lives, and never wanted to. For one soldier who is an outdoors man, who really gets a kick out of tenting and camping and roughing it, there are perhaps 10 soldiers who never experienced any discomfort before they enlisted. I don’t mean well-to-do men, but just ordinary guys from city, town and village who spent as much of their lives in comfortable houses, comfortable offices, shops and work benches, comfortable motor cars or street cars, as they could possibly secure. They owned raincoats and winter coats, rubbers or goloshes, umbrellas, gloves, mitts and scarves. When it rained or was stormy, they stayed indoors. They hated mud, slush, and wet.”

“That’s the average man, all right,” admitted Jim.

The Army Way

“For five, four, three years now,” I went on, “tens and hundreds of thousands of Canadian men have been living all their lives, their days, hours, minutes, in discomfort, exposure, damp and cold. For the rest of their lives they are going to demand comfort.”

“The wives and sweethearts ought to get wise,” agreed Jimmie, “and start studying cook books and household hints.”

“I have heard soldiers in Italy and Normandy,” I submitted, “that if their wives ever invited them on a picnic again, for the rest of their lives, they’d sock them.”

“Maybe that’s just the reaction to the conditions they are living under now,” said Jim. “After all, once a man has learned to be fairly comfortable in the out-of-doors it’s a freedom he never forgets. The natural man is a lover of the outdoors.”

“If he were,” I retorted, “why has mankind been struggling so long and desperately to get indoors, to build cities, to improve in every tiny detail the comfort and ease of indoor life? I think the only reason some men pretend to love the outdoors, fishing, hunting, and so forth, is just to enjoy, in contrast, all the more the pleasures of indoors.”

“It’s too cold to stand here philosophizing,” stamped Jimmie, who had his pump-gun together and had shoved three shells into the magazine. Then he noisily yanked the fore-end of the gun and pumped the first shell into the chamber.

“Hey,” I said sharply, “is your safety on?”

“Of course it is,” said Jim indignantly. But on glancing down, he saw that the small red button by the trigger guard was showing. The gun was ready to fire.

“Jim,” I lectured, “there is one thing that I have learned from being a war correspondent with the army. And that is, care of arms and safety.”

“Heck,” said Jim. “I’d have noticed it in a minute.”

“Maybe one minute too late,” I counselled. “You might have tossed that gun across your elbow, a fold of canvas from your coat might have caught the trigger and, blooie, I would have been blown in two.”

“Well, for Pete’s sake,” snorted Jim, “I would have thought you would have been less of a squawker after being at the front, instead of worse. You come home from months of war and buzz bombs and all sorts of hazards. And how you start yelling about one measly old shotgun.”

“Another thing, Jim, just before we start,” I asserted. “One of the great things we have learned from this war is field craft and commando training. The secret of good hunting, whether it is men or rabbits you are after, is secrecy, silence and cunning. The way you worked that pump action and clattered the first shell into your gun was enough to scare all the rabbits in this township.”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” cried Jim, starting off.

I followed him.

“There is nothing,” I stated, “like a good old-fashioned double-barrelled shotgun. From the point of view of safety and of noise….”

“Ah,” smiled Jimmie, slowing down and turning very friendly. “I forgot. You are still jealous of my pump gun. The last time we were out shooting together, two years back, you were talking exactly the same way. I should remember all your funny little ways….”

“I’m not jealous of any old gas pipe,” I retorted. “I was just pointing out that from the safety point of view a double-barrelled gun has all the merit. Every time you cock it, the safety goes on automatically. It is never ready to shoot, and never a danger to anybody, until you push the safety catch forward with your thumb, at the moment of firing.”

“What’s the difference?” demanded Jim, as we walked over the snowy hill. “My safety catch is a bright red button staring me in the face.”

“Not at all,” I said. “It is away down out of sight under the trigger guard. But in the second place. How about racket? I can load and unload my gun in perfect silence. Every time you load yours, it sounds like a freight elevator door slamming. It scares and warns all the game for half a mile. Especially on a clear crisp day like this.”

“Maybe you’d rather hunt by yourself,” suggested Jim. “Maybe if I go north up this fence and you go south and along the edge of that woodlot…?”

“Now, now, Jimmie,” I protested. “Our first hunt together. And you talk like that!”

“Well, if I can’t do anything right…,” muttered Jim.

A Matter of Safety

“I would think,” I submitted, “that seeing I am fresh home from overseas, you would be interested in some of the things I’ve learned, that’s all.”

“Okay,” agreed Jim. “I see your point. You lead. I’ll follow.”

“No, no, I don’t mean that,” I expostulated.

“You show me,” urged Jim. “You demonstrate safety and care of arms. And also field craft and commando tactics in hunting rabbits.”

“Aw, now, you don’t need to be sarcastic,” I pleaded.

“I’m not,” cried Jim. “I’m quite serious. I should have thought of it at first. Let’s see what new tricks you have learned from the army. I really mean it.”

“Well, the first thing,” I said, a little flattered, “is certainly field craft. Usually, we plow ahead, blundering this way and that across the fields. We cover a lot of ground. But we don’t see many rabbits. Field craft, such as the army teaches, is first to study the ground. We should take our time, examine the lay of the land ahead, figure where the rabbit would most likely be. And then, instead of charging full steam at that spot, we should sneak up on it as quietly as possible, as slowly as need be. Fifty per cent of all rabbits we ever see are already galloping away out of range because they heard or saw us approaching.”

“Granted,” said Jim.

“Safety,” I went further, “is an essential part of that same field craft. If we spend the time and patience in getting close to our quarry, there is no need to carry our guns loaded and ready to fire at an instant’s notice. In England, the true sportsman always breaks his gun, opens it at the breech and carries it so, with the breech open, so that there is not the slightest possibility of it going off.”,

“Hah,” interrupted Jim. “I see your scheme. You are going to suggest now that I don’t carry a shell in the chamber of my pump. You are going to say that if we get close enough to the rabbit, I have plenty of time to pump a shell in.”

“Precisely,” I said.

“And the clatter of me pumping a shell in,” cried Jim, “would scare the rabbit so bad he would put a spurt on so that I never could hit him.”

Jimmy and I were hunting the so-called “jack rabbit” of Ontario, which is nothing more or less than the European or English hare which has been introduced into Ontario and is spreading far and wide. A big, bold, brown hare that averages eight pounds and often goes to 15. And it can travel.

“Don’t let us waste time arguing,” I declared. “Let me demonstrate.”

So I walked in the lead, Jim following. We crossed a couple of barren snowy fields, towards where the tops of brush and small trees indicated a frozen creek bed or at least a gully. In such places the big jacks prefer to crouch in their “forms” in the snow, snug little cavities hollowed out just the size of the tenant, leaving his ears and eyes out to detect the approach of enemies.

As we came to each fence, I paused and opened the breech of my shotgun. This entails pushing over, with the right thumb, the small lever on the top of the breech, which lets the barrels open. You have to be smart, and hold the palm of one hand cupped over the opening barrels, or the ejector will pop the shells out and shoot them several feet away into the snow.

Jim watched this procedure with ill-concealed amusement. But too many men have been injured, often fatally, in the business of climbing a fence with a loaded gun. To show Jim the superiority of a double gun over a pump gun, I was able to climb the fence, holding my opened gun in one hand, and ready on the instant to snap the gun shut and fire, should any game appear.

After climbing the fence I turned and watched Jim.

“Put your gun through first,” I warned.

Jimmie slid his gun carefully through the fence and rested it against the fence post on my side. Then he climbed over.

“Ah,” I said. “You see? Your gun was out of reach for all of 10 seconds. Commando tactics would not agree with that.”

“I’ve got a shell in the chamber, and the safety’s on,” asserted Jim. “I don’t see why I can’t climb a fence with the gun in my hands.”

Very cautiously we approached the gully ahead. As we drew near enough to see the far bank of the gully, I paused and signalled Jim to pause, too. Stepping as carefully as possible so as not to make any sound in the snow, I crept ahead, slowly bringing more and more of the gully into view. I scanned it keenly. It was just an ordinary empty snow gully. There were no rabbits in it.

“Come on,” pleaded Jim. “Let’s get travelling. There are just so many jack rabbits in this township. And if we don’t kick one out pretty soon, it will be getting dark. I believe in covering ground.”

“Let’s Try It My Way”

“Let’s try it my way for once,” I said, with dignity.

“Mmmffff,” muttered Jim.

Assuming the lead again, I proceeded down the gully, crossing several fences. At each fence, I stopped, shoved the lever over, broke the gun at the breech, cupped the shells from being ejected, climbed the fence with open gun in hand, carefully scanned the country from the fence top, then on the far side quietly and carefully closed the breech of the gun.

Then I would turn and watch Jim slide his pump gun through the fence and rest it on the far side while he climbed over.

This became routine. We crossed 10 fields and 11 fences. At each fence, we went through the routine of safety. The farther we went, the slower and more cautiously we moved.

“Let’s get going,” muttered Jim.

“The farther we travel,” I whispered, “the better the law of averages is on our side. We’ll jump a jack any minute now.”

Ahead, the tops of brush and scrub trees indicated another sheltered gully. I signalled Jim to super caution. Stepping slowly and quietly, we drew across the snowy stubble to the depression.

A fence skirted its edge. After a long and commando-like survey, I moved down and crossed the fence. As usual, I broke the gun breech open and threw my leg over. Jim shoved his gun through and started to climb over. As I shut the breech, the little snick it gave was the final urge to a good fat jack who was snuggled in the snow not 30 feet from where I stood.

Up leaped the jack, his long ears laid back, and away he hared.

“Git him,” bellowed Jimmie on the fence.

I threw the gun to my shoulder. But force of habit, force of training, is too much for any man. On throwing the gun to my shoulder, instead of pushing the safety catch forward, I did what I had been doing over and over for the past hour or more.

I shoved the lever of the breech over with my thumb.

The gun fell open. The two shells popped loudly out past my nose and ear and fell in the snow some feet behind me.

By the time Jim had scrambled down off the fence and grabbed his pump gun, the jack was long out of sight up the shaggy gully.

So we stood there, while Jim laughed and leaned against the fence and while I pawed in the snow for my two shells. Shells are rationed.

“It goes to show,” sighed Jimmie, after he had got through his hysterics. “It goes to show that training is great stuff. But not if you are trained in the wrong thing to do.”

“Wait till the boys get home from overseas,” I muttered.

So we walked abreast for the rest of the short afternoon, each of us climbing fences the way we liked, and covering a lot of ground now that dusk was falling. But we saw no more jack rabbits. And at Jim’s suggestion, we stopped in at a farm house to see if the farmer, by any chance, was going anywhere in his car or a sleigh. If so, he could give us a lift down the road to our car, which was a good three miles back. And a cold night falling.

The farmer, as a matter of fact, was in for the night. But when I happened to notice on the wall of the kitchen a sort of plaque with the red patch of the First Division, the purple patch of the Fifth Division and the white and gold shield of the Eighth Army all prettily framed on the plaque, and asked the farmer if he had boys in Italy, and when he found out I was a war correspondent who had probably seen his boys in the Hasty Pees and in the Perth Regiment, why, we had to stay to supper.

And we had roast spareribs, beautifully done, and white turnips, the small sweet ones, smothered with fresh pepper, boiled potatoes and spareribs gravy, apple pie and mild Canadian cheese.

And about 10 p.m. the farmer drove us down to where our car was parked on the sideroad.

All of which goes to show you the kind of things you are likely to meet up with when the war is over and the boys come home.


Editor’s Notes: Battle dress was the standard field uniform of the Canadian army in World War 2.

Greg has a double-barreled gun, while Jim has a pump action gun.

British Commandos were newly created in World War 2 in 1942, and the word became popularized.

Jackrabbits in Ontario are actually introduced European hares.

Masters in Steel

83 TONS OF ENGINES and 70 tons of boilers produce the power to spin the three-bladed propellers of Canada’s new-born corvettes. Many of these power plants are made in the John Inglis plant, home of Canadian-made Bren guns. Large enough to dwarf two pretty young Canadian girls is one of these propellers in the Inglis plant.

By Gregory Clark, January 4, 1941.

Two years ago, when all right-thinking but wrongly informed people were sure there would be no war, the name of the John Inglis plant was in all the newspapers across the country in connection with a parliamentary investigation of the Bren gun contract.

An awful lot of water and a more awful flood of bullets has flowed under and over that small bridge of two years in our lives. The same Bren guns that were the subject of hot discussion are now scattered all over the ramparts of empire, their little Toronto-made barrels, hot with an ever-swelling fire. The same John Inglis plant is now one full year ahead of its promised schedule gun production; new, enormous branches of gun-making plant have sprung up; it is almost fantastic to stand amidst the John Inglis plant today and try to recall the shape and tone of that investigation of a few months ago.

But it is not about Bren guns we visit the John Inglis plant now. And, though the lesson of this story is a hearty one, it is not about the comic – or is it the pathetic? – turns in the affairs of men; not even about the fore-handed men. radio manufacturers if you please, who turned gunmakers and shouldered their way against investigation and world opinion and indifference and even hostility into the position they occupy today as vital factors of our very safety.

This is about ships’ engines. It is about the John Inglis plant, one year ahead on its Bren guns, who are also busy making boilers and engines for Canada’s corvettes. They got contracts for fifteen of these 83-ton engines, each complete with two 70-ton boilers. They undertook to deliver five of them this launching season that has just closed. They have delivered nine.

Our Canadian corvettes are sub-chasers. They are, you might say, little destroyers. Some of them are being made complete in Canadian shipyards that both build the hulls and manufacture the engines. Others are being built by hull builders who install engines made outside. The John Inglis plant has fifteen of those, with their thirty boilers. The balance of the order will be ready before the coming launching season.

Had to Raise Bridges

There are really two races of men who stream into the Inglis plant each shift. The alert, keen servants of machines. And the homely, inarticulate. speechless masters of metal.

The servants of the machines are the most modern. They are younger, smarter, better clothed. They are keen and lively and vivacious. They draw good money. They live zestfully. They are you and me. They don’t know they are servants. But you should see them eagerly attending the little furious machines, each of which contains, within its own glittering self, all the skill the job requires. In fact, the skill of the machine is locked in it. The human hand is not capable of intruding on the machine’s imprisoned brain. In the Bren plant, I saw these machines whittling out tiny steel parts so delicate, so immeasurably measured, they weighed only a fraction of an ounce. Bren gun firing pins, bolts, sears, pawls.

Only a few yards away, in adjoining plants, the masters of metal, in their rough clothes, their faces soiled, their hands rasped and smeared, were proving that in some branches of industry the machine is still the servant of the man. These are the boiler makers, the machinists, the engineers and their helpers. Every tool they use is merely the implement of their skill, their hands and their minds. In this section of the Inglis plant they are making many things besides corvette engines. Boilers for factories, pulp washers for the paper industry, transformers for electric plants. But it is these 83-ton engines for the corvettes and the two 70-ton boilers that accompany each engine which are the most spectacular job in hand.

During the past few months, if you live in the country, you may have seen a most extraordinary spectacle on the railway line. It was a boiler on its way to a corvette from the Inglis plant. To ship these huge iron lungs of a war vessel, the Canadian railroads had to heighten bridges, widen cuts, remove switch apparatus that would have been smashed by the sides of the boilers bulging off the special flat cars. Railroad men had to travel every foot of the right-of-way between Toronto and the point of delivery of these corvette boilers and measure each cut, each siding, each bridge and culvert to make certain the special train could get by. The boilers were shipped by special train consisting of an engine, two flat cars and a caboose. These specials went at special times, on Sundays or other off days, so as to be interfered with as little as possible in their travels.

Corvette Engines

Each boiler weighs 70 tons. Each engine weighs 83 tons. They come into the Inglis plant from the steel mills of the Niagara peninsula, and from the brass foundries of Owen Sound and various other cities in the east as masses of rough metal. Castings of 10 tons such as the bed plate of the engine. Castings of a ton down to a couple of hundred pounds, just great gobs of steel bearing an unsculptured resemblance to the engine part it is to become.

With machine tools the masters of metal set to work to convert the massive gobbets of steel into the parts which in a matter of days or weeks will conform, to the thousandth part of an inch, to the blue prints which lie on their banquet size steel work tables. And so will go together, when assembly starts, into an 83-ton mechanism no less matchlessly perfect than the little Bren guns next door; but monstrous in its power and weight; and all made by the human hand.

It is hard to see where the machine begins, and the human hand leaves off, in industry. But to see these middle-aged metal-masters shaving a 10-ton steel plate with a steel plane is one thing. And to see a crew of them heating the same giant plate over open coke fires, like gipsy bonfires, and then patiently beating it to the scientifically exact curve with tools as antique as the bronze ages, gives you a queer sense of pride that all the little jewelled mills of the Bren gun plant cannot inspire. In the boiler plant, they have pneumatic drills and rivetters; electric welders, torches, things to cut and scorch and bite. The planes they use are 50 feet long, great sliding beds on which the giant steel plates are laid as helpless as butter while the tool steel blades – also made in Canada – slice off the metal as you would whittle cedar, into long, sweet shavings.

But even these immense tools are only tools, and the grimey masters of metal use them in their hands, as men have used tools from time immemorial. The bed plate of the engine, the walls of boiler and condenser, are drilled, the plates shaped, the parts rivetted and secured all by human skill multiplied only as to the power of its blow. The blow is still aimed, gauged, directed and laid by the human hand. Part by part, the engine is machined out of the steel castings. The crankshaft alone, which consists of scores of pieces assembled, sweated and pinned with steel, weighs eight tons when it is lifted into its little place beneath the great cylinders. To start with just massive blocks of steel, vaguely shaped. To end with, a glorious gleaming engine, balanced like a fighter, ready to be dropped into a corvette to drive it bravely to sea.

The Inglis company makes the power plant of the corvette complete, from boiler and condenser to engine and shaft. The three-ton bronze propeller, over ten feet across, is sent to them from the brass foundry in Owen Sound to be fitted to the shaft. That enormous propeller is a magnificent combination of intricate mathematics and mass metal; and it, too, is the work of men’s hands guiding tools, cutting something as artistically perfect as a flower out of an ingot of bronze as big as the room you are sitting in.

It is not possible to go into the detail of the engine, how many revolutions per minute, number of horsepower, speed at which it will drive its ship. From such figures an enemy could calculate what he wants to know in case he meets a corvette at sea. But at every step of its construction, it fulfils the blue prints of the Canadian navy. The plans were supplied the Inglis company by the government. Canadian government men are present, away off at the distant steel mills, at every pouring of steel, to see what goes into it. Those same inspectors see it cooled, take samples of it to test with their chemicals and their instruments. They weigh it, bore it for bubbles, texture. Then they stamp the casting with their mark, and it comes to Toronto. At every stage of its progress, every piece of that engine is inspected and stamped by other Canadian government inspectors. If you look at an engine, you will see on all its pieces, stamped into the metal, a small square bearing the imprint of the technical experts employed by the Canadian navy and by the merchant marine of Canada. As the engine is assembled, each stage is further inspected, so that when the engine is finally given its last test before going to its ship, it bears an ultimate imprint that was tougher to get than any university degree in the world.

Of course what the Inglis plant is doing is only a flicker in the moving picture of Canada’s present war industry, but it is dramatic perhaps because of the element of resurrection. A great many of the men working on these engines have been Inglis men for a quarter century. The firm has been making engines for 80 years. In 1859, John Inglis of Guelph, Ontario, bought from a man in Dundas, Ontario, the right and title to a machine shop for making flour milling equipment. He moved it to Guelph and in 1860 started the manufacture of milling machinery and expanded it with the increasing use of steam engines into a big enterprise that moved, in 1885, to Toronto, on its present site. Engines and boilers were its output. Back in those days there was no electric power in industry, and steam engines provided all the power of factories. The Hamonic and Huronic are two of the ships that bear witness to the fact that ship’s engines were among the things the Inglis firm was master of before the turn of the century. But industrial machinery, power plants, steam plants for electric power, water works pumping machinery and stationary steam plants of all types were its contribution to Toronto’s thriving. From 1903 to 1913, as a steel plate works and milling machinery plant it was capitalized at only $100,000. In 1914 it was recapitalized at a million dollars and went into a wider field of engines. Between 1914 and 1925 the firm did $25,000,000 worth of business. 1935, Mr. William Inglis, who was sole owner, died and the company went into receivership as the family did not desire to continue its operation.

Engineering Enterprise

In due time the present directorate took hold of it as the basis of a program of engineering enterprise, one item of which was the Bren gun. Those who could not see around corners two years ago were stymied by the thought of making Bren guns in a boiler factory and machine shop. But the boiler factory fabricates the plate with which the machine shop busies itself to make the basic machines without which the little machines that make the Bren gun can do nothing. All the old Ross rifle machinery that lay in Canada’s arsenals and much of which today serves perfectly for certain primary steps in the Bren was rehabilitated and made modern in this machine shop. And you will see any amount of the new machinery for the new and ever-newer plants, being created right in the machine shop next door to the boiler plant. Major James Hahn, who served in the same division with me in the last war, only he was an intelligence officer who did the around-the-corner looking for the rest of us, also went to Varsity when I did, only he went to the School of Science while the rest of us took Arts. There were a great many of us who felt very distressed for our old friend the Major two years ago when the Bren subject was up – some of us fresh-water sailors, for the Major loves boats; some of us pistol shooters because the Major is nuts about precision shooting, and 20 years ago, after the old war, had the most incredible collection of hand guns in this part of the world; some of us just contacts who knew him, and knew full well he had learned, as an engineer and a soldier, to look at right angles around corners. We knew he was a manufacturer of radio, one of the early birds in the radio field. And there he was, in that musical merry world of two, three years ago, loaded up with a gun making contract. And everybody on his heels…

ARDENT FRESH-WATER SAILOR and expert on precision shooting, Major James Hahn, president of the John Inglis plant, takes great pride in his extraordinary collection of hand guns.

So it is nice now to see him, as mild-mannered as ever, with his hat over one eye as ever, the easier to scratch the back of your head when thinking, sitting all quiet in the midst of that pandemonium in his great plants in Toronto, and years and months ahead of his promises with guns and engines.

“You see,” he said amiably, “you don’t have to be a gunsmith to make guns. It is perhaps possible you don’t even have to be an engineer to operate an engineering plant. You just have to have common sense. The John Inglis plant has the Canadian rights to certain established engineering works in other parts of the world, a famous British boiler works, an outstanding American pump manufacturer, other American plate and machinery enterprises. Their specifications, experience, even their technical supervision in the person of their experts brought over here, are at the company’s disposal. Here we have the plant. the materials, the technical skill and the labor. Beyond that, what is there? Ordinary business enterprise and plain common-sense.”

And if we may say so, Major, a little foresight – as regards war, for instance.

But the lesson of the story is merely that, as each new week brings the clearer voice of Ottawa warning of the tightening belt of economy, the increasing hours of labor, the wider authority of government over the activity of all and sundry in industry, it is reassuring to be able to see, in this Inglis plant, a demonstration of the speed with which great enterprises can be brought into shape, and the almost limitless variety of ways human energy can be employed, from those furious small machines with all the brains locked up tight in their own insides down to 10-ton steel plates which, over gipsy fires, are beaten into faultless shape by the aimed blows of rugged men. Room, in a word, for everybody to take a grip on the war.


Editor’s Note: John Inglis and Company, as indicated in the article, was purchased by Major J. E. Hahn in 1937. After the war, Inglis entered the consumer products business, including home appliances such as washing machines, dryers, and dishwashers. Whirlpool Corporation acquired a majority interest of Inglis in 1987 and changed the company’s name to Whirlpool Canada in 2001.

The White Hand

…So gently did the white hand drop the curtain that for a long, unbreathing moment, the three within poised themselves in time and space as audiences poise after a song is ended

By Gregory Clark, December 23, 1939.

It is a perilous business for three wise men to get together Christmas Eve. Curious things are likely to happen, or so goes a very old legend.

Of course, in war time, strangeness is everywhere. It is as if we swallow our tears and they intoxicate us. In this tale, which most soldiers have heard in one form or another, the three wise men were in a concrete machine-gun pillbox. It was just east of the village of Feuchy, where there was a chapel dating back so far, that some of the stones were said to be 10th century. And that is half way back, isn’t it?

Whether some of those old stones were used in the construction of the concrete pillbox is not mentioned in the story. But the suggestion is offered now. If anything can carry the touch of bygone things, it is a stone.

Brown, the lance-jack on the Lewis gun, was the first wise man. He was, he asserted, the most expert chicken thief in Frontenac county. Abell, the Number One on the gun, was wise in a chuckling, slant-gazing fashion. But MacPhedran laid claim to no wisdom, and therefore was the wisest of them all.

“Well,” said the lance-jack, very authority, “it’s Christmas Eve.”

And he twitched the rubber sheet aside from the concrete doorway and glanced out as if to prove it.

“Modern war,” said Abell. “And they can’t even get the rations up. Did you see the sergeant?”

“The sergeant,” said L.-Cpl. Brown, “was very sympathetic. He said nobody had no rations. And if we preferred to come back into the ditch, he would gladly give our pillbox to three other guys.”

“We’re really cut off, aren’t we?” said MacPhedran.

“Everybody’s cut off,” said the L.-Cpl.

“Well, boys,” said Abell, “I’ve got a little surprise for you, if you can take it. You know that busted estaminet back here, at the corners? Where we had the gun yesterday? Well, sir, I found three bottles of vin blink in there.”

“Where are they?” hissed L.-Cpl. Brown.

“They’re still there, sweetie,” said Abell. “I shifted some of them blocks of chalk and in a cubby hole, there they was – three bottles, vin blink, shiny and yellow.”

“Why didn’t …” began the L.-Cpl. hotly.

“With a thousand guys looking?” said Abell. “Mind the house, and I’ll sneak back for them now.”

“Just a minute,” said the L.-Cpl. “Before you go, I might as well come clean. So you’ll take care and not get sniped off by some of our own gang. Look.”

Reaching into his packsack in the corner, the L.-Cpl. dug deep into the tangled depths and slowly drew out a package, a slightly bloody package wrapped in the French edition of the Daily Mail.

“A rabbit,” said Abell.

“A chicken,” sighed the L.-Cpl. softly. “It’s cackling kept me awake. I can hear a chicken cackle for two miles. So I just quietly….”

A Very Curious Face

“I could kick in my iron ration biscuits,” said MacPhedran rather timidly.

“As your superior officer,” stated the lance-corporal sternly, “I forbid you to employ your iron rations at this time.”

“There’s a fellow in B company owes me half a loaf of bread,” said MacPhedran.

“You eat on us tonight, Mac,” advised the L.-Cpl., rather magnificently. “It’s Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner combined. There always has to be a guest.”

“I’ll get some bread,” muttered MacPhedran earnestly.

By which time Abell was leaving and the L.-Cpl. ordered him to be careful and not to be long. You might wonder how these men could come and go. Well – armies dissolve at last into their least common denominator, which is the section. Once war really starts, generals hand over the command to the lance-corporals in charge of the sections of six men. These three were all that were left of a Lewis gun section. Ahead of them a front line company hid in battered trenches. Behind them, a support company had dug itself shelters of earth and planks from the vestiges of villages. Between the two lines, these three were stationed in the recently captured Germen concrete box. In 10 seconds, they could be outside, aiming their little chattering gun. So that was their job. In time of need, to leap outside and aim their gun.

Abell was gone less than 15 minutes. When he returned, he bore a heavy sandbag in which reposed three bottles of vin blink. Out into the candle light he drew their glossy greenish yellow forms, with the gestures of a magician.

Already the pillbox was rich with the odor of chicken. On the brazier, the L.-Cpl. had started to fry the skilfully dismembered chicken in fat army bacon. When Abell sat down, MacPhedran quietly departed and in five minutes was back through the concrete door, half a loaf of army bread in his fist.

“How did you do it?” cried the L.-Cpl.

“A fellow in B company owed it to me,” said MacPhedran simply.

“Will miracles never cease?” said the L.-Cpl., busy with his pan.

And at that moment, they heard someone’s step outside and the rubber sheet across the entrance was drawn aside. This was no hour for visitors. Especially hungry sergeants.

“Could you direct me to Feuchy-Chapelle?” asked a quiet voice.

“Feuchy-Chapelle?” said the L.-Cpl., who loved pronouncing French names. “Why, it’s just about 400 yards straight west. If you wait a minute until Fritzie fires a star shell, you can see the ruins….”

The rubber sheet was drawn further aside and a face looked in. Under the steel helmet, it was a very curious face to see in France. It was so different.

“Come in,” said MacPhedran.

The stranger entered and stood with his back to the entrance, smiling at the scene before him. Even the L.-Cpl. was in doubt as to whether the stranger was an officer or not. He wore a private’s coat, but lots of officers did in the line. He had no rank badges, but his air was more … more delicate, somehow, than a private’s.

“Feasting?” said the stranger.

“It’s Christmas Eve,” explained the L.-Cpl. “No rations came up. But we’re all wise guys. Even MacPhedran there was able to scrounge a half a loaf of bread. How about a touch of vin blink?”

“No, thanks,” said the stranger.

“Vin blink!” cried the L-Cpl. “Aw, come on. Imagine Christmas Eve and Abell here finds three bottles hidden in an old estaminet back on the pave. Just a touch?”

“No, thanks,” said the stranger. “I won’t have anything. It’s enough just to see the feast.”

“Have some chicken, it’s done in five minutes,” said Abell.

“Nothing, thanks,” said the stranger. “I have eaten and have drunk.”

In a Star Shell’s Light

MacPhedran was kneeling at the box cutting the bread with his clasp knife. When the stranger turned to smile at him in turn, Mac held up the bread. And the stranger shook his head.

“What’s your outfit?” asked the L.-Cpl.

“It’s a long way from here,” said the stranger.

“Engineers?” asked the L.-Cpl., sizing up the stranger, looking at his clean hands, his thin, untanned face.

“It is associated with the chaplain services,” said the stranger kindly.

“Ah,” said the L.-Cpl., setting the vin blink bottle back with its fellows in the shadows.

The chicken was hissing in the pan, Mac had the punk nearly all cut into six thick slabs, Abell was toying with the corkscrew of his army knife. Outside, in the night, far-off mutters of machine-guns and lonely moans of high shells quilted in all the silences.

“Sure you won’t join us?” said the L.-Cpl. conclusively.

“No thanks,” assured the stranger. “It was good to see you, though. Good luck.”

“Feuchy-Chapelle is about 400 yards straight that way,” said the L-Cpl., indicating with his knife.

Mac had not moved. With motionless face, fixed eyes, his lips open, he stared at the stranger, the bread held lifted in his hand.

“Good night,” said the stranger, thrusting aside the rubber sheet and bending out through the concrete. He paused an instant, his white hand holding back the sheet. “Ah,” came his voice, quietly, out there in the night, “a star shell.”

In the opening past the rubber sheet, the three wise men saw the pallid light of the star shell lobbing and fading.

“Did you see the ruins?” demanded the L.-Cpl.

“Yes,” said the stranger; and so slow and deep was that one word, and so gently did the white hand drop the curtain that for a long, unbreathing moment, the three within poised themselves in time and space as audiences poise after a song is ended.

It was MacPhedran spoke first, and he still held the bread out, as in the act of giving.

“Did you,” he said unsteadily, “notice his hands?”

“They were white,” muttered the L.-Cpl.

“They had a round scar in the back of each,” whispered MacPhedran.

“And when he shoved his helmet back,” said Abell, “there was a ring of white scars around his head…”

So all three rose to their feet, set down the pans and the bread and knives, and followed the L.-Cpl. out through the concrete entrance and stood in the night, watching off west and south to see any figure creeping amid the ruins towards Feuchy-Chapelle. But all they could see was the night and the stars, and hear the mutter of far-off machine guns and the lonely murmur of high shells going far back.

And when a star shell popped from the German trenches, to hang magically in sky for an instant, MacPhedran said, “God help us,” and they bent and crawled back into the pillbox and ate their Christmas supper without any conversation, but looking long and strangely into one another’s eyes.


Editor’s Notes: The Canadian Armed Forces abolished the rank of lance corporal on their creation as a unified force in 1968. It is the equivalent of a master corporal.

An estaminet is a small café in France that sells alcoholic drinks.

“Vin blink” is probably a corruption of “Vin blanc”, white wine.

A star shell is a shell that on bursting releases a shower of brilliant stars and is used for signaling.

Typewriter Commandos

Gregory Clark, who says “if you know how we war correspondents work, it may relieve your mind with regard to our shortcomings.”

By Gregory Clark, December 11, 1943.

By Airmail Courier to The Star Weekly from the Isle of Capri.

The greatest advantage of being a war correspondent is that in the midst of battle, when all the world holds its breath, you can send a cable home every day that lets your family know you are whole and safe. True these cables are disguised as news dispatches. But any war correspondent’s family can tell you that the coldest dispatch is a love letter in thin disguise.

This, however, is frankly a love letter because I am writing it in the fabulous Isle of Capri. I came across to Naples for a visit of two or three days to a city I know well, having visited it at the time of the Pope’s coronation in 1939, and in 1940, when I made a cautious retreat from poor bedevilled France and its Maginot line, I came out via Italy and had another meal at the famous restaurant in Naples called Zia Theresa. Now I wanted to see what imperial dreams had done to Naples.

And just across the bay I saw Capri. So I am here in surely the loveliest three square miles on earth (saving only perhaps Go Home Bay on Georgian Bay, Ont.) where not one bomb, not one shell, not one pistol shot has disturbed the incredible peace and beauty of this place. This place from the dreamy terraces of which the dreamy inhabitants have watched the war go by, the ships sunk, the swift, flaming sea battles, and last, the terrible pounding of Naples, across the bay.

But here I have a chance to write about war correspondenting with some reflection. No doubt a number of things about our war news has puzzled and confused you these past three months. And if you know how we work, it may relieve your mind with regard to the shortcomings.

If I were a German general I don’t know which of two things I would most like to know; the number and equipment of the enemy or their immediate plans. Both those secrets can be given away by war correspondents. In the most innocent fashion war correspondents can not merely ruin our own plans, but they can place a good many thousand lives in jeopardy, So a thing called “security” comes into play. What we write is rushed at all speed, by dispatch rider, by jeep, by airplane, to the nearest cable head or wireless station.

There sit a body of field censors, specially trained officers, working for nothing but security. They don’t care about you. They don’t care about us They care only about those tens and hundreds of thousands of lives. And for the plans of our generals. We see the battles. We know both the things the German generals would give their lives, almost, to know: our strength and equipment and also our plans. But we have to write our dispatches, to the best of our ability, revealing nothing of these things.

The censors, back there at the first cable or wireless head, make perfectly sure that the best of our ability is better than best. Some of my dispatches from, say, the battle for Potenza, took six days to get to The Star. Part of that was due to the dispatch riders’ bikes breaking down, the indomitable jeeps bogging in the ruined roads, and partly because the censors simply held the dispatches on the shelf for a couple of days until it was no longer news to the enemy. We correspondents are content. We hope you are.

The life of a war correspondent in this war is both better and worse than that of a soldier. It is better in that he can pretty well come and go as he likes. But it is worse in that a soldier is in the line for a few days or even hours at a time and then is relieved by fresh troops. The poor war correspondent has to see all he can of all battles and all actions, with the result that the great majority of them are in close contact with operations to a far greater extent than the majority of soldiers.

The army does not want a lot of footloose newspapermen wandering about the battle area. So there is set up in all armies what is called the public relations section, which is a small military department of the war office. Officers representing this department are attached to all lesser formations such as army, corps and division. And they take complete control of the correspondents.

We typewriter commandos are virtually sworn in. We have to sign documents placing ourselves under control of the army. We wear regulation officers’ uniform with shoulder badges “Canadian War Correspondent” on our tunics instead of rank badges. We are permitted a little more baggage than officers to allow for our typewriters, paper and other stationery supplies, but we have to be prepared to live, move and have our being as soldiers in the fullest sense of the word.

The major in charge of our detachment has a staff of junior officers, lieutenants and captains, called conducting officers whose duty is to shepherd us wherever we go. One conducting officer to two correspondents is the rule, and with a driver, the four of us move in a jeep wherever we wish. Our detachment is a compact little squad with a lorry and one lighter vehicle to transport our baggage and kits as we travel along in jeeps with the divisional headquarters and work out from there each day in our jeeps.

Whenever the officer commanding us can organize it, he finds a house in a town or village and sometimes we have such a house to come home to at night for a week or ten days on end. It is usually an abandoned house and in a war-stricken area without light, power or water. We set up our safari camp beds on the floor of the bare and often scruffy rooms, saving one good room for a workroom. The cooks of our section do wonders at preparing meals for us from army rations to which we are entitled, eked out by other food bought with our mess fees which we pay out of our own pockets. Early in the morning, we leave by jeep, with our conducting officers, for divisional headquarters where we are “briefed” by the divisional intelligence officer who tells us what the situation is up front, what has happened overnight and what is likely to happen today. We then choose where we wish to go, forward; and two by two with our conductor, we head for the particular sector in which we are interested.

We have our cans of rations, our tea pail, and are prepared to spend the day. We report in at brigade headquarters en route; then call at battalion headquarters to get permission to go ahead of that point. And if we wish to get right into the middle of the picture, we report to company headquarters which normally is far enough ahead for anybody.

But when action is lively, and the division is moving fast, there is no house to come home to at night to write. We camp in the open with the army. We leave in the morning not knowing where divisional headquarters will be the next time we see it. At such times, we often stay with the regiments for days on end, camping with them in open fields, in ruined houses or villages and not infrequently in slit trenches right with the platoons. We never go back to divisional headquarters where our section with its lorry, and cooks and little domestic outfit awaits us; but we do our writing behind walls or in candle-lit cellars, and send the stories back by our jeep driver to our senior officer at division, who forwards them on by whatever means available to cable head.

During the battle for Potenza I had the most memorable experience of my Italian journey when I stayed for eight days right with one outfit in a furious chase of over 60 miles in the closest contact with the retreating Germans. I carried my typewriter slung on my back and wrote whenever a rest presented itself.

All units, all branches look on us as part of the army setup and allow us into all order groups, briefings and roundups. At present there are 12 Canadian war correspondents with the division, not counting the official war photographers who are also part of our little family. Canadian Press, the news agency which gathers the news for all Canadian newspapers collectively, and C.B.C. which serves in the same capacity for the national network, have the largest representation among us; the rest of us being correspondents for independent newspapers.

As for the element of risk in our lives, modern war, with its planes, bombs, paratroops, risky manoeuvres, long-range cannon, furious traffic, offers risks to all mankind, soldier and civilian, man, woman and child, without any element of proportion. Fifty miles from the front, I had a bomb drop on the other side of a house, kill all the Italians in the house and leave me just a little dusty and dazed; whereas 12 hours later I was crawling around in the dark within sound of the coughs of Germans with no risk whatever either to the Germans or me.

One afternoon Bill Stewart of Canadian Press and I spent several hours in a spooky dead village watching through slits and cracks in walls and around the corners of window sills while a famous regiment passed through. German mortar shells crashed about and shellfire sizzled overhead, but we were safe as in church in heavy walled houses and deep narrow streets of stone. There was no sense of risk anywhere, any more than there would be in crossing the street, for in that whole village all that afternoon though 200 soldiers went about their affairs there, not a soul was injured.

Yet on the way home at dark back to our village six miles away where our sweating typewriters champed at their bits, we had to cross a diversion around a blasted bridge. The Germans were shelling this diversion, knowing full well that in the dark our traffic would be bunched up there.

When our turn came to cross the rocky, muddy new road around the bridge, we, like the rest, timed our journey very nicely. We waited until one of the big shells fired from 10 miles away, whistled in and burst around the bridge. Then we started our race across in our jeep. We had plenty of time before the next shell was to follow. But we failed to count on the fact that the Germans had two of those big guns, one of which had not yet started to fire; and which did fire its first just as we were passing the massive abutment of the wrecked stone bridge.

The shell hit the far side of the abutment, a few feet from us, showering us with debris and mud and scaring the stuffing out of us. Those are the chances everybody takes in this war, whether in uniform or out of it, regardless of time, place or anything else. You don’t even have to leave Canada to encounter a share, however small, of this worldwide risk.


Editor’s Note: Greg mentions Go Home Bay as one of the loveliest places on earth. This is where his family had a cottage.

“Fellophobia” Newest Disease Arising from War

A Few Typical Cases of Fellophobia

By Gregory Clark, December 6, 1919.

Discovery of British Scientists Is Confirmed by Toronto Observers of Returned Men.

May be Due to Bite of Mad Cootie

At Any Rate, It Is Contagious – Violent Outbreaks Followed by Elation.

British scientists have just discovered a new disease arising out of the war. It ranks with trench-feet. scabies, shell-shock, impetigo, profiteerosis, “p.u.o”, pes frigidus, “wind-up,” boils and cooties as medical discoveries of the war; subjects on which there was some little information prior to 1914, but which were really discovered, in the true sense of the word, only during the war, when medical science had for the first time a large body of men entirely at its mercy. The new disease is called Fellophobia, and means “hatred of one’s fellow men.”

British medical men define fellophobia as akin to hydrophobia which is caused by the bite of mad dog. Certain branches of the profession are trying to trace the new disease to the bite of a mad cootie while others are attempting to lay the blame on rats; and yet others on the biting remarks of mad company sergeant-majors.

Fellophobia is found among returned soldiers in varying degrees of malevolence. The reports from England cite the following cases.

A young man, formerly of very amiable disposition, who rose to the rank of sergeant in the war, has come home a changed man, with frequent periods of his old good humor, but with regular outbreaks of a very violent nature over the most trivial incidents, during which he shouts in an alarming manner, stamps his feet, and stands in corners, muttering unintelligible things to himself. This sad transformation is credited to the dread germ of fellophobia.

Violent Outbreaks

Another man, formerly a stock broker, clubman, and general good sport, enlisted cheerfully as a captain, and served for four years as an R.T.O., that is, Railway Transport Officer. On returning to civil life, he is a changed man. He is a cynic, a pessimist, and a crank. He, too, is given to those violent outbreaks, in which he shouts and roars, and orders everyone about, including his own family, in a most arbitrary manner. The doctors are at a loss to account for this patient’s trouble as he was never exposed to the dangers of lice, rats or sergeant-majors, he having been stationed throughout the war at Boulogne. From this case, it is suspected that fellophobia is contagious.

Has fellophobia raised its sinister head in Toronto yet?

While Colonel McVicker and other local military medical men have not yet encountered the disease by that name, symptoms that bear a suspicious resemblance to it have been observed.

Dr. A. H. Abbott, secretary of the Citizens’ Repatriation League, while stating as his opinion that the war has sweetened and broadened with humor the tempers of soldiers as a whole says that he has met individuals suffering from something very like fellophobia. An Irish soldier came repeatedly to the Citizens’ Repatriation League to demand a loan of money for a sick wife. Now, matter of fact, the officials of the League knew that this man’s wife not only was not sick but that, being separated from her husband, she was never better in her life. The officials therefore consistently refused the money. One day, without any warning this Irishman developed violent symptoms and struck one of Dr. Abbott’s assistants a fierce blow on the ear.

Major F. N. Kippen, D.S.O., M.C. of the Government Employment Bureau for professional and technical returned men, says he has encountered considerable numbers of men undoubtedly suffering from the new disease.

“The disease,” said he, “seems to be aggravated when the sufferer meets former adjutant or sergeant-major in civilian clothes. The germs seem to be deeply affected by these two types and create a fever in the victim. He glares at the former adjutant or sergeant-major, the fellophobia often causing him to abuse them in a most shocking manner.”

Followed by Elation

Mr. Arthur J. Monk, also of the Employment Bureau, adds to Major Kippen’s observations the following:

“Yes, but the outbreak of violence on meeting a former adjutant or sergeant-major is immediately followed by a period of great elation, amounting almost to hysteria. The patient seems seized with a paroxysm of delight. He smiles as if to split his face, and immediately rushes around in search of his friends. It is just as if he had got a weight off his chest.”

Another prominent military man expresses the alarming opinion that practically all soldiers are affected to some extent by fellophobia.

“I know five Colonels in Toronto for example,” says this gentleman. “During the war, while undoubtedly showing symptoms of some kind towards their subordinates, these Colonels were most devoted admirers of their Brigadiers and Divisional Commanders. Nothing pleased them more than to be invited to tea with the Brigadier or to be seen riding with him in the rear areas. And the opportunity of even a moment’s chat with the Divisional Commander was enough to put these Colonels in a good humor for a week.

“But, now, how different! On the slightest provocation and often without excuse, these Colonels will go into a frenzy over their Brigadiers and Divisional Commanders. They call their Brigadier a dud and their General an unmitigated fat-head. They swear the Brigadier couldn’t have held his job but for his battalion commanders. And as for the G.O.C., he was just a plain ass, kept in position by pull.”

True of All Ranks

“This,” says our military man, “is true of all ranks. Majors curse their colonels, captains their majors and lieutenants their captains, except in rare instances. And the rank and file curse the whole tribe of officer.

“If it is fellophobia, then the medical profession should lend every effort to isolating this terrible germ before it embitters our whole life.”

It is feared that fellophobia, being contagious, has already affected a number of men who have not been in the army at all. The manager of a well-known manufactory in Toronto is given to spasms of the disease whenever he sees an ex-soldier. The moment a returned man in search of work puts his nose in at this manager’s door, the manager is overcome by a peculiar sort of rage, and he leaps to his feet, shouting:

“No! No! To h— with returned soldiers!”

It is believed that this man contracted the disease from some of the many returned soldiers who have applied to him for work.

Other civilians closely affiliated with soldiers, such as the young men and women stenographers employed by the D.S.C.R., seem quite as susceptible to fellophobia as soldiers themselves. Simple questions, such as: “At what time does the director come in from lunch?” cause these originally genial and gentle people to fly into uncontrollable pets.

Personally, I am of the opinion that the cootie to responsible for fellophobia. To It has been traced trench fever, “p.u.o.”; impetigo, scabies and dugout-insomnia.

If the medical profession is interested, I may say that I have discovered an old comrade-in-arms who has brought back with him a very fine colony of these insects in good condition for scientific purposes.


Editor’s Note: Some of the real diseases mentioned that affected soldiers in World War One are “puo” (Pyrexia of Unknown Origin), Impetigo (a skin rash) and dugout insomnia (a general insomnia no doubt from the fear of being attacked).

War — And No Mama!

By Gregory Clark, October 11, 1924.

A boy of three is spared the Great War, even though the house which is his kingdom be filled with martial photographs, volumes in sets relating to every last detail of the mighty conflict, and mantel shelves littered with shell cases, grenades and fragments of Teutonic pomp.

Like the telephone, radio set, electric light and other marvels of this age of which we elders are proud, the little boy accepts the relics of war as accomplished facts, with equanimity. They are of less real and dramatic importance than a small chair turned upside down, or the furnace chains leading down into remote and reverberating regions below, or the chesterfield which under certain intellectual conditions is a ship at sea.

One evening, however, we were left for a time alone in the house. Whenever this occurs, we stick close together, for with the strong protective females absent from the den, they who feed us and bed us down and stand guard over us day and night, a small boy is justified in feeling that the cave is practically defenseless, and his daddy in need of support and counsel.

On the wall stands a vain photograph, taken one fine day by monsieur le photographe in the narrow town of Houdain, of daddy in his trench helmet, trench coat, gas mask at the alert, sheathed pistol to the fore, and gloved hand grasping a great stick.

“Is that Daddy?” asked the boy.

“Aye, aye, sir,” said I.

“Did I sit on your hat agin?”

“No. That’s the sort of hat Daddy wore in those days. Daddy was a soldier.”

“Where is your horn?”

“Oh, Daddy wasn’t that sort of a soldier.”

“Then where is your drum?”

“I had no drum either.”

He knelt on my lap and studied me with pity.

“Only a few soldiers,” I said anxiously, “are privileged to play horns and drums. Most soldiers have to carry guns and big bags and walk forever and forever.”

He examined the photograph on the wall.

“Where is your gun?”

“Well, that little thing there in front, on my belt, is a gun, a little gun. Daddy didn’t have a big gun, like most soldiers.”

Again the boy examined me narrowly. What sort of tale was this? No drum, no horn and only a little gun!

“Are you a soldier?”

“I was; but not now. The army is all broken up.”

“What is the army?”

“The army was all the soldiers and horses and guns and wagons, walking along forever and ever, and standing in the rain and shooting and thunder and snow and walking and walking and standing still.”

“And broken up?”

“Yes. The army was all broken up.”

“The soldiers broken up?” he asked with horror.

“Oh, yes. That too.”

“Was Daddy broken up?”

“Well, no. Daddy got away safely.”

“Did Grandma put Daddy on the shelf?”

“I beg your pardon!” I demanded in astonishment.

“Did Grandma put Daddy up on the shelf so he wouldn’t get broken? With the white soldier and the rooster?”

Ah, I understood. His grandma had rescued, amongst other things, a lead soldier from a great massacre one day and had hidden it upon the plate rail of the dining room.

“No, siree, Grandma was nowhere near. Daddy had to look out for himself. There are no ladies at a war.”

“What is a war?”

“Well-er-war is what soldiers do – fighting and walking and standing still and shooting and thunder and snow and rain….”

“Did Daddy shoot?”

“Well, yes, sometimes.”

“Did you shoot the bell?” (Once, I showed off at Sunnyside for him.)

“No. We shot Germans.”

“What is a German?”

“Well, let me see; It’s a sort of – sort of a thing!”

“Has it horns on?”

“No.”

“Does it say booooo?”

“Not exactly.”

“Then, why did you shoot it?”

“Well, it was trying to shoot Daddy.”

“Mamma would get after it!”

“But Mother wasn’t there.”

“Did you call for Mama? Wouldn’t she come?”

“But-er…”

“And poor Daddy had only a little gun?”

“Yes, but …”

“And no horn”

“I had a …”

“And no dwum?”

“Daddy was a …”

He climbed hurriedly down to the floor.

“Come on!” he exclaimed with concern, “let we sit at the winnow and watch for Mama!”

Which we did. And the subject of the great war was dropped by mutual consent.

How Tanks Fight

By Gregory Clark, August 3, 1940.

To understand the procedure of the German tank-dive bomber attack which brought disaster to the Allied armies in Flanders, we have to quit thinking of tanks as iron cavalry. We must think of them as land navy.

It is very much in our interests that we understand what happened in Flanders. The following details of that tank-dive bomber attack I got not only in the retreat itself from Brussels to the Channel, but on a return visit to France, via Brest, in which I talked, in all, to hundreds of officers and men, both British and French, who had survived these attacks and whose account of them tallied in general, so that I can outline the main type of attack. When you have read how simple and methodical the whole job was, the question in your mind will be – was there nobody in either the French or British armies who could have thought up a counter measure to deal with this type of attack?

The answer to that is that you cannot reorganize an army in a few days. The higher the efficiency of an army, the harder it is to change the system with which it is ingrained. The terrific speed with which the Germans pushed their attack was, you may be sure, to prevent that very thing – the discovery and organization of an adequate counter measure to the tank-dive bomber attack.

Just what we expected of German tanks I can’t say. This is, in the main, what they did.

A tank unit consisted of one big tank and two small tanks. A land battleship and two destroyers. The big tank was in wireless telephone communication with, as a rule, three Junker Stuka dive bombers. These planes waited, during an attack, either on the ground or possibly in the air.

The tank unit was given a piece of ground advance over. Its job was to seek out the resistance on that piece of ground. Not to try and get through by evading resistance, but to hunt the ground until it found the resistance, and then attack it.

Let us picture typical Flanders position, at the height of the battle. The Germans had broken through and were fanning out. Most positions therefore were not old-established trench or other defences, but new positions taken up to guard flanks, or new positions taken up in rear.

A battalion commander has a certain width of country to hold. Either a highway or one or more of the dirt roads that lace Flanders

A battalion commander has a certain width of country to hold. Either a highway or one or more of the dirt roads that lace Flanders everywhere, runs through his territory. He puts a company across the road, to build a barricade of elm trunks, farm wagons, rails, rocks, anything. They dig trenches for their machine-guns and anti-tank rifles. They fortify all the commanding ground. On their flanks, other companies, other battalions do likewise. Behind them, their support companies dig in and prepare positions of resistance. The air force reports that tanks are advancing.

Out of the dawn, instead of a long line of iron cavalry, come these tank units of three. Let us watch just one tank unit, as it comes cautiously up this road on which a point of resistance has been established. It is not Interested in its flanks. Not interested in any of its own infantry or motorcycle machine-gunners following an hour behind. It is interested only in locating the resistance in this piece of territory it has been assigned.

The System of Attack

Ahead of the tanks walk or cycle a few tank scouts. They are perhaps 300 yards ahead of the tanks. As they appear, the Allied garrison in the point of resistance open fire on them.

Instantly the scouts signal and the tanks halt. If necessary, they back up. They may even keep in constant slow motion, weaving this way or that or going to hide in a clump of bushes or behind a house. For it is when the tanks stop that the trouble begins.

The two small tanks immediately set out, one to the right, the other to the left, to feel along for the flanks or edges of the point of resistance. Out of the big tank emerges two mortar crews, each equipped with a five-inch mortar of the Stokes type. It fires a shell which blows a hole to bigger than a wash tub, but with a detonation that is terrific. It one of those noisy, demoralization bombs which the Germans put such faith in.

Now in the garrison of the point of resistance, all is tense. They know the tanks have arrived. Almost at once the mortar shells are falling at random all over their position. And from the flanks comes the sound of machine-gun and anti-tank rifle fire at the two smaller tanks furtively creeping along to feel and find the flanks of the position.

In the big tank, an officer is talking on the wireless telephone to his Junker dive bombers. He details his position to them. According to many of the soldiers I talked to, and especially case of a brigadier of a famous Scottish division, it was within five to 30 minutes that bombers arrived.

Bombing from the air is, of course, a new and incalculable item of modern war. The average soldier thinks of bombers as being impersonal. It comes with a very nasty shock to discover that three Junkers suddenly circling overhead are not casual wanderers of the sky, looking for what they may devour, but actually three bombers seeking for their target this particular position.

There overhead, the Junkers circle, amidst the hail of machine-gun fire which the position puts up, while they study the location of the three tanks, the big one and the two small ones defining the flanks of the position. Usually the tanks set out colored ground flares to show the bombers their location.

Then the bombers dive. They carried the same type of high intensity bomb as the mortars were throwing. Bombs of terrific blast but of no great destructive power. Follow my leader, the three Junkers dive, releasing only a couple of bombs at a time, but indiscriminately blasting the position as defined by the three tanks. This air attack lasted only a few minutes in most instances, but it put into effect exactly what all infantry are trained to do – take cover from air attack, all except, perhaps, the machine-gunners firing at the planes, and the minimum crews required on anti-tank rifles, mortars and so forth.

In the ideal attack, the effect of the dive bombing was to drive the majority of the garrison under cover. As the dive bombers finished their job, though still circling and diving furiously, there suddenly appeared in front the big tank in full charge, and at the same time, the two flank tanks came rolling in from the sides or even from the rear. The big tank destroyed the barricades, drove over the trench and strong points, dealt as rapidly as it could with all the resistance that was still organized after the bombing.

Not all these attacks were ideal. Sometimes the garrison put one or more of the tanks out of action, sometimes valiant machine-gunners got the Junkers as they dived. But so methodical and so completely unnerving and unique were these attacks that, as events show, the great majority of them succeeded to this extent – that resistance in this point was either driven to ground, forced to withdraw or scattered. Without a moment’s delay, in these cases, the tank unit went through, went on to seek further points of resistance.

The psychological power of this attack was profound. Troops from time immemorial have held the opinion that when the enemy has gone through, that is defeat. When the garrison of the point of resistance did emerge and assemble itself, they did so in the knowledge that the enemy had broken through and gone on. And that enemy infantry was soon following.

It was a very terrible position. If they stood fast and remanned the position, to meet the following infantry, the tanks could easily be recalled to take them in rear. If they moved to new positions they were caught in the act, as a rule, by the advanced units of motorcycle machine-gunners working from every hill and copse.

The natural instinct of junior commanders and in some cases higher commanders was to retreat, before the oncoming infantry could arrive, and try to get ahead of the tanks, to interpose themselves again, in fresh lines of resistance, between the tanks and the rear positions. This is, of course, precisely what the tank-dive bomber strategy hoped for. To remove these garrisons and make easy the advance of their following infantry. And nothing suited the plan better than the endless taking up of new and hasty points of resistance. In other words, set them up for the tank-Junker units to knock down.

Come From Behind, Too

After the evacuation from Dunkirk, one of the highest officers in the British army said to a specially assembled group of war correspondents who wanted to know what happened:

“You cannot fight armor without armor.”

In other words, if we had had as many armored divisions and big tanks as the Germans we could have gone tank hunting and a land naval battle would have ensued in which land battleships would seek each other all over the country, leaving the infantry and artillery to battle it out in their own terms.

As it was, the tanks broke through in this methodical, terrific, noisy. cautious and cooperative fashion, and once the tank units had done their job of seeking and shifting resistance, where the holes were made, the fast tanks went through and penetrated deep and got in behind and wrecked organization in plain guerrilla style, in rear areas where no organization had been set up to deal with them. And whenever it was set up, the same old tank-Junker set-up was promptly employed.

Here are a few of the comments of those who experienced the direct tank-dive bomber attacks.

A colonel of infantry: “In my case, I witnessed one of these attacks from a distance. And when my turn came, I had my battalion so arranged and so forewarned that we successfully beat off two separate attacks by two units, one after the other, complete with Junkers. The next thing I knew they were coming from behind. A unit that had broken through to the east of us simply turned and came along and caught us in the rear. My losses were extremely light, in view of three attacks, but since we were surrounded and apparently to be subjected to consecutive attacks until we were all wiped out, orders came for me to withdraw.”

A sergeant: “We were prepared to fight tanks. But the tanks stayed just out of sight and whistled up the dive bombers, who came and blasted us. There were six planes, not three, in our case. They roared around us for nearly an hour. Besides the mortar shells, they had field guns firing at us, too. Then from three sides came tanks, all firing rockets that stopped the artillery and sent the Junkers away, and shooting with cannons and machine-guns and weaving this way and that. What we ought to do is arm infantry with naval guns. Fifteen inchers.”

A chaplain: “I went through three of these assaults and saw several others from a distance They did not attack on a solid front. They merely punched holes. And where they punched a hole, other tank units came through and went right and left along the rear, attacking from behind.”

An artillery lieutenant: “I had two field guns. At first we were given conventional targets, firing on tanks advancing on roads. But once they broke through, they came from all angles. We did a great deal of open-sight shooting at tanks. One of my guns got three, a big one and two small ones. The other got two of the medium ones. We were constantly attacked by dive bombers. Sometimes we supported infantry in their positions. But later we just travelled the country, hunting tanks. Finally, we were going up a road when we came smack into six tanks in the fields on either side. We tried to run the gauntlet with our two dragons and their bouncing guns, but we were both in the ditch in less than 100 yards, under the concentrated machine-gun and light cannon fire of the tanks. Only six of us got away from that shemozzle. We learned later that we had blundered into a tank rendezvous where they were awaiting supplies of fuel. That is the way they were, in little flotillas all over the place, methodically going about their business.”


Editor’s Notes: The Stokes mortar was the British army’s standard mortar during World War 1. Greg was likely using it as a generic name for a type of mortar. The British replacement was the ML 3-inch mortar.

The term “Blitzkrieg” was not used in this early war article, but it was what he was describing. It was never a described German military tactic, but Greg got the general idea right, where there was constant communication between forces to move quickly. The overall tactics are much more complex, as can be read in the Wikipedia article.

Shooting Cowards

The adjutant, standing out in front of the parade with the accused abjectly facing them under guard, would read out that the accused had been sentenced to death by the court.
Cowardice merely causes that gust of pity or contempt which is the thing men fear from their comrades more than bullets.

By Gregory Clark, June 9, 1928.

Does Killing A Man Make His Comrades Brave?

What is a coward?

Where does cowardice begin or end?

These questions have recently been debated in the British House of Commons in connection with the matter of abolishing the death penalty for cowardice in time of war.

And some of the most interesting thoughts on cowardice that have ever been produced were advanced during this debate.

Are cowards born or made?

Isn’t a man who is cowardly born that way, with all the other miserable ingredients in him, part of him and his heritage, like the color of his hair and eyes, his size, his way of walking, or his ability to sing?

And if a man was made that way by God, why shoot him? Can the death penalty prevent cowards from enlisting?

Lord Hugh Cecil, speaking from the point of view of the born aristocrat, made the best plea for the death penalty.

“If,” said the noble lord, “you shoot a soldier for cowardice, that makes the whole army think that it is a shocking thing. The penalty of death has quite the unique quality of setting up a particular offence, and making people think that that is a thing which no one should do not mainly from the fear of the actual penalty but because It sets a stigma upon the offence which nothing else can do.”

Mr. Dutt Cooper, M.P., financial secretary to the War Office, if not an aristocrat himself, at least married to one, supported Lord Hugh Cecil’s view ingeniously:

“During the war,” said he, “at one time it was made a crime for which people could be sent to prison to take matches into a munitions factory. Some careless young employee, some girl perhaps under twenty, forgetting the importance of that rule, would take a box of matches into a munitions factory.

“No moral turpitude whatever was involved in it, and yet people were sent to prison for doing it, and rightly, because it was only by putting upon them some terrible penalty that you could make people realize the seriousness of the act they were carrying out.

“In the same way, in time of war, when one man’s action may betray so many others and may lead to such great disaster, you attach a penalty to it such as we are asking the committee to pass to-day.”

Whether for these or other reasons, and in spite of very strong objections expressed against the death penalty for cowardice and desertion – which is merely the effect of cowardice – the old fashioned and time-honored institution of death for the coward was preserved in the British army.

Opposing the Death Penalty

Australia went on record, at the outset of the last war, against the death penalty, and sent her contingent to the war on the understanding that the death penalty would not be inflicted – at least without reference to the government of Australia. But Canada abides by the king’s regulations and orders – therefore Canada still employs the death penalty for cowardice.

But since the war, nine other army crimes that were during the war punishable with death before a firing squad – looting, striking a sentry, sleeping on sentry post and so forth – have been deleted from the army regulations. Only two – cowardice and desertion, are left of the laws that have prevailed in the armies of the world since, you might say, Caesar’s time.

Those who were opposed to the death penalty for cowardice in the House of Commons were soldiers -not Labor members.

General Sir Frederick Hall was one.

“I do not know where cowardice starts or where it finishes,” said the general, “but I remember that during the war this point was brought home to me most vividly in the case of a schoolmaster upon whom devolved a rather difficult duty which required a certain amount of courage to be shown. I believe that that man had as much courage as many of those who did not show any fear under similar circumstances.

“I have yet to learn that there is any man, from the highest to the lowest degree, who served in the important danger zones during the war who did not experience some fear come upon him, not once or twice or thrice, but very often. It was not a question of the death penalty that kept men from showing fear. The men felt that they had a job to carry out. I do not think that fear of the death penalty affects the soldier at all; he does his job because he thinks it is his job, and I do not think any fear of the death penalty enters his head.

“When the schoolmaster I have alluded to came to me and told me the condition he was in, I saw the medical officer, and I got him sent back to the base. A week or two after he came back, and I am sure that man was no more desirous of showing cowardice than any other soldier, but fear was in his nervous system.

“He had been brought up in quite a different life, and he possessed the scholastic mind. I told this man what it meant if he acted nervously, and I pointed out to him that his actions might place others in a most difficult position. I want hon. members to realize that this kind of thing deflects upon the men themselves, although I cannot say where cowardice starts or where it finishes.”

There is a curious punch to the ideas Major Hills submitted to the debate. He said:

“You shoot a man for cowardice, but you do not make that man any braver, for he is dead. Do you make his comrades any braver?

“Many members of this House know what it is just before the zero hour – just before going over the top. I am perfectly certain that no man said to himself, ‘I must go forward, or else I shall be shot,’ and I rather mistrust the argument that you make men brave by that threat. … My experience of life, and such experience as I had in the war, have shown me that the greatest men are afraid of something, and that the greatest cowards are brave under some conditions.

“Cowardice is a matter of the greatest difficulty. Some people, fortunately, were not afraid of shells, but they might have been afraid of something else; and a man might be shot just because the special sort of danger of which he was afraid was one which he could not resist. Perhaps the greatest argument which I have against it is this:

“It is all very well to have a death penalty when you have a professional army, and men enlist on terms which they know, but if we were, unfortunately, at war again, our army would not be a professional army, but an army of all the manhood of the nation. What right have we to take a man from the shop or the office and, if his nerves failed under the strain of war, to shoot him? I do not think that we have that right, and I do not think that it would do any good, or make the army braver.

“Courage is something in the man himself, and is not put into him by the idea of any punishment such as death.”

Comically Amended Sentences

As far as Canadians are concerned, there is a point of view that was entirely overlooked by the Scotsmen and Englishmen who were arguing.

And that point is that not only does the death penalty or, as it might be called, the threat of execution, not deter men from being cowards, but it offends and hurts them in a curious way that has its reaction in the psychology of discipline.

Fortunately, I never had anything to do with an execution nor was any man I was ever acquainted with executed for any cause. But it has been my duty, more than once, as an adjutant of infantry, to call a parade and read out the sentence of the court martial on a man. We would muster a parade -deliberately. I would have it made as flimsy and weak a parade as the regulations permitted – the accused soldier would be paraded before the assembled companies, and in a voice about as clear and audible as a shy curate’s, I would mumble over the business of the court martial, reading the charge, the conviction, the sentence of the court.

It would go like this: automatically, a man found guilty of desertion – not an uncommon crime amongst the wilder Canadians – has to be sentenced by the ordinary field general’s court martial to death. But that was merely because the king’s regulations – dating back to hard-boiled days when soldiers were enlisted by the press gang for instance – demanded death as the penalty for desertion. But none of the officers of the court who made the conviction had the slightest expectation that the poor devil would be executed. The case would be passed from brigade to division and from division to corps, each general in turn taking a whack at paring the sentence, until after it had gone through the hands of Sir Arthur Currie, the thing would come back vastly, almost comically amended.

So that the adjutant; standing out in front of the parade, with the accused abjectly facing them under guard, would read out that the accused had been sentenced to death by the court, which sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the brigade commander, which sentence was reduced to ten years penal servitude by the divisional commander, which sentence was reduced and confirmed by the corps commander to two years hard labor.

Aside from the fact that the accused, after spending a more or less hard-worked period of three or four months at some military prison down near the base, In total security and bomb-proofedness, would be restored to his regiment, looking hale and hearty and ready for another desertion if it offered enough excitement, the interesting feature of all this pomp and circumstance is this: that if the adjutant read the charges out loud enough for all the men to hear, there would be a most decided sense of embarrassment and resentment on the part of the men.

What had all this to do with them?

Were we trying to scare them? Them?

If so, we were a pretty poor lot. For was not the officer reading the papers himself a bomb-proof dug-out king? And were any of the officers on parade a bit better than the men, as far as courage went?

That sense of resentment and affront which manifested itself whenever occasion demanded what you might call an “example” being made was most apparent to myself, since my profession as a newspaper man calls for sensitiveness to public feeling of this sort.

Brave Men Experience Fear

It is perfectly safe to say that the death penalty, as far as the Canadians were concerned, created only pathos and bitterness wherever it appeared, and that as far as deterring men from being cowards, it had no effect whatever.

For we had our cowards like all other armies. And those of us who were cowardly were so despite deterrents far more powerful than the fear of death by firing squad.

What is cowardice?

Is it fear? It is not, because ninety-nine per cent of soldiers in the last war experienced fear, and they were not cowards.

Is it submitting to fear, surrendering to fear, so that one fails in one’s duty because of fear?

That is about it. One of the bravest officers I ever knew was walking across a grain field during the battle of Amiens when an unexpected machine gun opened on him. He was in full view of three or four hundred of his comrades. He ducked and lay down, ran and crawled in the most comic fashion that you could imagine. He slithered down banks, lay flattened to earth with his expression clearly visible as he glared back at us and used, we doubt not, profane language at this public reduction of himself to the absurd. At last he got out of range of the enemy gun and rejoined us, shaken and outraged and very crestfallen.

He was no coward. He was performing no duty when this occurred. He was merely strolling across what looked like an innocent field to get a look at some ground we were expecting to attack in an hour or two.

An hour later, that same officer, in the performance of his duty leading his men in battle, executed simple marvels of bravery and courage, exposing himself to fire, attacking strong points and hedges fearlessly, a very demon of courage, who, a short hour before, had been sliding like a scared rabbit from machine gun fire.

And both times he was doing his duty; first, in not getting needlessly killed; second, in risking his life in order to ensure dash and valor to the attack, which called for those very qualities first and above everything.

There are a great many of us who often think that, were it not for a certain occasion when we were cowardly for a moment, we would not be here.

It is that fact which makes us very careful about the use of the word coward even now long after the war. And certainly, during the war, I never heard the word coward used, nor the word cowardice, by any man, though something like two hundred officers and three thousand men passed through my regiment while I was with it. There were poor fellows, timid by nature, whose very shape and physical condition we that of rickety and nervous men, who were spared everything possible by their comrades, because, simply, they were “no good”. They were cowards. In the old meaning of the word, that’s what they were. They swung the lead: that is, they pretended they were sick on every occasion; they had sore feet, pains, they would malinger, which means that they would take steps to make themselves sick, by eating mildly poisonous matter, or by starving themselves, or by the reversal of Christian Science, deliberately thinking and willing themselves to be ill.

They did all duties badly. They were always complaining, grousing.

Cracking Up Under Strain

If you found anybody crouching down in the trenches during a strafe it would be one of them. They were well known in practically every platoon. Nobody minded them. They came in for a lot of unmerciful kidding from the rest of the platoon. And the worst part of their lives was the fact that they knew themselves that they were cowards. But they had reached that state of nerves, or they were naturally born with that state of mind, that they did not care, so long as they were spared.

The others did not revenge themselves on these chaps. In fact, they were rewarded. For they escaped all patrols and dirty Jobs. No officer or n.c.o. wanted them with them. And if any soft bombproof jobs came along, such as working at a divisional dump or helping at a laundry or bath house, or turning the crank at a movie tent, these abject, timid fellows and not the good brave men were rewarded. Not only could we not spare the good men, but there was more or less feeling about taking bombproof jobs. I have known men to refuse them indignantly.

I had a sergeant who had come in June, 1916, and who, after the Somme, Vimy and Passchendaele, was getting old at the game. Perfectly natural. He had seen much war, close up. He had seen scores of his men killed and mangled in every conceivable fashion. He had had dozens of his comrades and chums pass on to their doubtful reward. He had had his own hair breadth escapes from that indescribable destruction that modern machine warfare dishes up. He could recall them easily enough, I suppose, in those long night watches, where we drifted, lonely and alone, in a world of ghostly light and shadow. He began to crack up a little. He became irritable and his hair began to grow gray at the sides. He was in his late thirties. At home he had a wife and four little boys. One night we had a patrol. Before going out, the darkness did not conceal from me that he was nervous and trembling and that he had a little trouble with his voice. It was husky – ah, what a familiar symptom!

He was not, I venture to say, one-half as frightened as I was at that moment. But I was younger, greener and had a little more of what might either be intelligence or low cunning – I could hide my feelings better for those several reasons. We had a rotten time of it. No enemy was met. No shot was fired. But of all patrols I ever remember, that was the jumpiest, most nerve-racking, for I knew the sergeant was windy, which made me windy, and the sergeant sensed my condition and the men caught it, like a yawning fit, froze us. I was a rag when we re-entered the trench.

Two days later I had a chat with my old sergeant and put it up to him: would I try to wangle him a job somewhere? There were some splendid jobs to be had as an instructor at the divisional school, and I was sure the colonel would admit the sergeant had had a long siege and would appoint him to the next vacancy.

What do you suppose that sergeant did?

He flew into a rage.

What did I think he was? A shell-shock? Who was I to accuse him of being jumpy? Was there a man or officer in the regiment who had done more real fighting? He always thought I was his friend, and then I go and suggest a thing like this! Instructor at a school! Refuge for broken-down old women!

He stayed on a few weeks, getting rockier and rockier, until the men began to feel it, and all the splendid two years’ reputation of this valiant sergeant began to count for naught.

Where does cowardice enter in here? Not by a thousand miles was this man a coward. Yet if we had had a jam of some kind about that time, I am perfectly sure the old sergeant would have failed, not from cowardice, but from nervous exhaustion. For he ended up in tears, asking to be relieved, and sent to some place to recover his old fire.

Oh, it has a thousand aspects. I have known timid, nervous men who were the scariest mortals imaginable at the start, but who, as time went on, and experience stiffened them, became bolder and gamer every month. It is a fact.

We had an officer join us and the minute he came in we smiled secretly at one another. For he was so obviously the raw material of shell-shock, as we termed all limitations as to courage. He was a mamma’s boy, by the look of him. He was assigned to one of the companies and plans were made to get rid of him at the first opportunity to some command job away from the regiment where he wouldn’t have much rough work to do. Yes, that’s the way it worked. For we were hanged if we wanted our jobs made more difficult by the shortcomings of junior officers.

For month or two he was the perspiring image of alarm and fear. He could change color from red to white and red again quicker than any man I knew, to the sound of an incoming shell.

One night there was a rumpus on our left front, a German patrol unquestionably came close to our front, either to raid us or to bring us gifts of some kind, we didn’t know. But a Lewis gun that mysteriously and unexpectedly appeared some distance out in No Man’s Land and raked flank-wise along the raiding party’s course, put it all to an end.

A Hero of Fiction Type

When the hero was sought, he was found in very perspiring and nervously giggling lieutenant, who said:

“My sergeant and I distinctly saw, from the side, against a distant flare a mile or so north of us, a group of Germans walking about in No Man’s Land, up opposite the next company. So I ordered out a Lewis gun and just as we got into a position to fire, their barrage came down. So we caught them, curiously enough, exactly at the moment their raid started.”

“Did you take the sergeant with you?” we demanded, expecting to get at the secret of this dandy stunt.

“How could I?” cried the nervous lieutenant. “I could not leave the trench without one of us in charge, could I?”

No. He did it alone. And when we cautiously inquired of the number one of the gun crew, it transpired that the lieutenant, from his superior position, had insisted on firing the gun himself.

“I took quite a good mark in machine gunnery at school in England,” blushed the lieutenant unhappily when the accusation was made in the mess, later.

That was the start of the most curious evolution I encountered overseas: a man who actually got better and bolder as time and experience went on. This chap ended up with a reputation for daring – soft, polite daring, that belongs in fiction rather than in fact.

“Once you get the hang of the thing …” he used to say.

There were some of us who were what civilians call cowards all the time; and all of us were cowards upon occasion, except, of course, those blood-in-the-eye lads who worked back of the line, or at the bakeries at the base. For it was curious how bloodthirsty people got as the distance increased from the front line. Why, we poor fellows in the front line were nambly-pamby compared to the gallant bayonet instructors over on the far side of England.

No official facts have ever been produced respecting the number of Canadians who were executed during the great war. It has been a carefully guarded secret, to spare the kin of those few who were victims of a quite meaningless institution. But it is supposed that there were twenty-two executions amongst Canadians, most of them in the early part of the war, before there had crystallized that quite distinct and characteristic Canadian discipline which was as noble a thing as any other kind of discipline history recounts. Most of these executions would have been for desertion. A few were certainly for looting. Outrageous cases of looting, where men simply went amuck and neglected important duties to loot – cases where example would really count, since the men appeared to be getting something out of it.

But as for the example of a coward – in modern warfare, so slowly does it move, and on such machine made scale, the example of a coward can rarely be seen.

And when seen, it merely causes that twinge or gust of pity or contempt which is the thing men fear from their comrades more than bullets –

Bullets fired at twenty paces, at a white sheet, on which is marked a round, red circle.

There are a great many of us who often think that were it not for a certain occasion when we were cowardly for a moment we would not be here now.
It was curious how bloodthirsty people got as the distance increased from the front line.

Editor’s Note: This was a very controversial aspect of the First World War in Canada, as can been seen by the content of the article at the time, as well as subsequent debates in the decades since. A total of 25 Canadians were executed during World War One, 22 for desertion, 1 for cowardice, and 2 for murder. The ones not charged with murder were posthumously pardoned on 16 August 2006. The concept of PTSD (“shell-shock” in WW1, and “battle fatigue” in WW2) was not understood at the time.

Coupons Required

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

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

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

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

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

“What a horrible philosophy!” I protested.

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

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

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

“What revolution?” I demanded indignantly.

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

“Puh!” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A just reward,” I said.

Not Gold, But What?

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

“Hmmmmm,” I mused.

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

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

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

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

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

“In about 1,000 years,” I growled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Back there, eh?” I muttered bitterly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Essence of Spring

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

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

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

“Only two gallons?” I inquired.

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

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

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

“Yah, lumbago,” I interjected.

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

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

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

“Aaaahhhh,” I remembered

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Any in the tank?” I inquired.

“A little,” said Jim cautiously.

“Let’s go by train,” I offered.

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

“We could hitch-hike,” I hoped.

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

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

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

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

A Buck and a Kick

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

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

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

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

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

“I got the gas last night,” said Jim.

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

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

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

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

“How far did you …?” I began.

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

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

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

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

It ran a few yards, then bucked again.

“Dirty spark plug,” exclaimed Jimmie eagerly.

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

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

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

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

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

He put the ruler into the tank.

He held it up.

Dry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“By law, you do,” I enunciated.

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

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

And there she stays until the first of April.

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

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

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

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

The microfilm image is reproduced at the end.

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