Monthly Archives: November 2013

Rufus’s 1920 Chevrolet

M 13  Rufus, Bee in their 1920 Chevrolet, bought July 1921

There she is, a 1920 Chevy in all her glory.

How much did Rufus pay for it?

I think it was $700 – but it was in 1921, so it may have been second-hand.

Is that Bee in the car?

Yes it  is –  she was thrilled to have a car. To start with, she couldn’t have enough of driving about Vancouver. And here’s  Derek with Rufus. By 1921 Derek was eight and a big kid – and that’s his dad, peering round the windshield behind him.

16 M 13  Derek, Rufus in their 1920 Chevrolet, bought July 1921

Was the car hard to drive?

Well, you would think so – a steering wheel like a tractor’s and no synchro-mesh in the gearbox – meaning the driver had to judge the engine revs exactly right when he changed gear – or else.

Or else what?

Or else there was an awful grinding noise and he could miss the gear – the car would be still in neutral – dangerous on a hill.

I suppose driving schools did good business.

I doubt there were any. New drivers just got the salesman to show them the ropes and they were ‘good to go’.

You mean, they had no other instruction?

That’s right. Rufus bought the car one Saturday. He got the salesman to drive him round Stanley Park; then he went round again on his own – “I got stuck once!’ he boasted. He spent Sunday morning being instructed at the dealership – probably about how to look after the car. On Monday morning he drove to the office. That went okay, but he got stuck three times on his way to his club at lunchtime.

It looks pretty drafty – what did he do when it was rainy and cold?


He clipped on those removable canvas sides with windows in them – made of glass or mica. This picture is not of their car, but it was just the same.

Not very convenient.

But it was! It seemed marvellous to people who had never had their own means of getting about. They would put up with anything, just so long as they were free to go wherever they pleased. It was the Lure of the Open Road – and Rufus found it intoxicating.

And Bee, did she think so too?

Oh yes. She loved being able to go to the races at Brighouse Park in Richmond – she enjoyed betting on the horses. And she used to win – much more often than Rufus did. But I think she also liked being able to give rides to friends – instead of always having to accept rides. It made her feel really comfortable socially.

Did Bee drive herself?

She never learned – not many women did in those days. Driving was heavy duty, steering and brakes weren’t power-assisted as they are nowadays, and you started the car by manually cranking the engine with a starting handle!

I suppose they had plenty of breakdowns.

Actually, not many – that old Chevy was primitive but reliable. It had to be, to compete with the Model T. Once Rufus broke down in the middle of the Granville Street bridge at night, but usually, when they had trouble, they’d just run out of gas.

Was the Chevy fast?

Relatively so – it could do 30 or 40 mph. It was the state of the roads that kept speeds down  – they were mostly dirt outside city limits. Once it took them five hours to drive the 80 miles from Vancouver to Vedder Crossing in the Fraser valley.

I’m looking forward to reading about it all in the book – it should be out really soon now.

That’s right – keep the faith and watch this space!

Names of the officers of the 88th Battalion, the Victoria Fusiliers, May 1916

G 7  88th Bn officers May 1916, Rufus 2nd left, back.

That’s a different photograph of the officers of the 88th.

It’s different photo but the same guys. And this time we have their names! From left to right, this is the back row: Lt H.B. Greaves (Training Officer), Lt Lukin Johnston, Lt T. Barclay, Lt R. Horton, Lt R.M. Finlayson, Lt J. Bridgman, Lt R.P.M. Baird, Lt V. Elliot, Capt H.D. Twigg, Lt H.G.E. Pocock, Lt R.W. Richards, Lt A. Morkill, Capt V. Low, Lt R. Day, Lt A.V. Macan, Lt D. James, Lt A.D. Crease, Lt G. Kilpatrick, Lt E.B. Hart.

The middle row: Capt C.I. McKenzie, Capt R. Houghton (Medical Officer), Capt Horton (Quartermaster), Capt E.O.C. Martin, Major E.A.I Pym, Major B.H. Harrison (2 i/c), Lt Col H.J.R. Cullin (CO), Capt R.H. Ley (Adjutant), Col G.H. Andrews (Chaplain), Capt H.B. Andrews, Capt T.B. Pemberton, Capt F.J. Marshall (Paymaster), Capt A. Gray.

Front row: Lt J.M. McKenzie, Lt V. Taylor (Signals Officer), Lt G. Benson, Lt V. Duke.

There are 36 of them, the same number there were in the picture you posted on 28 September – but in that picture they were in different places. Let’s see it again

G 7  Rufus 1916, top left, with 88th Bn officers.

Here it is again – see if you can match them up. And here’s a picture of the battalion marching past the legislature on their way to the ship

88th officers 1916 - marching

Well, at least the sun was shining. Poor guys – I wonder how much they knew about what they would have to face.

By 1916, they knew the worst – it wasn’t like 1914, when they all thought they’d be home for Christmas. Look at their faces; none of them are looking cheerful. This was before the Battle of the Somme, but the awful battles near Ypres, where the Germans first used gas, had happened in 1915.

In 1920 Rufus interviewed Elsie Ferguson, Samuel Gompers, Howard Taft and Paul Painlevé.

In the years just after World War 1 Rufus was a beat journalist in Vancouver – and that meant he had to cover whatever he was assigned to cover – at one time, high-profile guests at the Hotel Vancouver.


That doesn’t look like the Hotel Vancouver to me.

It’s not the one you know today. But when this hotel was built in 1916  it was one of the finest in the British Empire.

And Rufus had to patrol the lobby, looking for famous people?

Oh no, not Rufus! He had a deal with the head porter – who tipped him off when a celebrity was due at the Hotel. That happened all the time – in those days before transatlantic air travel, Vancouver was the end of the line for anybody from Europe – or from back east – who was travelling to Japan, China or Australia. They stayed at the Hotel while waiting for their ship – and Rufus would meet their train and interview them before anybody else could.

Is that how he met all these guys?

It was certainly how he met Samuel Gompers.

Sam Gompers

Gompers was famous as the only man who could ensure Labor peace in the States – he was head of the AFL/CIO, the American equivalent of the Canadian Federation of Labour, and was courted by presidents.

He looks pretty old.

Yes, he was – a busy old guy in a hurry, on his way to the Democratic Party convention in San Francisco. When his train came in, the old man’s ship was about to sail and he wouldn’t stop to talk. While the old man strode out of the train-station and down the street to the dock, Rufus had to interview him on the run – firing questions and trying to scribble down notes as he trotted along beside him. But Elsie Ferguson was a much bigger scoop.


She was the hottest actress on the American stage and Rufus only discovered her by combing through the hotel register and realising who a certain Mrs T. B. Clarke Jr”really was! It was a sensation and he wrote “Scooped the world on this” in his diary.

What did Bee think of him chatting up pretty actresses?

Pretty! She was said to be the most beautiful woman in America! here she is again –Elsie_Ferguson_DR-813x620

she was stunning even though three years older than Rufus. But to answer your question, I think both Bee and Rufus thought of Elsie as an ‘older woman’!

I think you’re a bit smitten yourself! How about President Taft – how did Rufus meet him?W.H. Taft

He would be hard to miss, you must admit. But Rufus got the tip-off on his arrival and met him on board his ship when it docked. He was really a much more substantial scoop because he’d not only been US president before WW1, but he was also about to become Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.

I wonder what he was doing in BC.

Believe it or not, earning his living, with other high-powered lawyers, on an arbitration panel on the future of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. And then there was Paul Painlevé, ex- Prime Minister of France.

Paul Painleve

That’s a nice drawing – he looks like a ‘savant’ at least. What brought him to Vancouver?

He was on his way to China, to head up a French educational and technical mission to Sun Yat Sen’s government. Even though he’d come via New York, Rufus was the only North American journalist to interview him.

Why was that?

Because Painlevé didn’t speak English and only Rufus could interview him in French! One benefit, at least, from those wasted years in France.


Rufus and Richard Bedford Bennett, Prime Minister of Canada


So this is Prime Minister R.B. Bennett?

Yes, and the picture was taken about 1930, when he first took office.

How did Rufus get to know him?

It wasn’t easy for Vancouver journalists to meet federal leaders before air travel. Rufus had to seize his opportunities, and one came along in 1928 on the way to his new London job.

He went via Ottawa?

He did – he had to see Wilson Southam at the Ottawa Citizen, a paper he’d be writing for. But having done that,  he hied himself over to the Commons press gallery  and within 24 hours had arranged meetings with Prime Minister King and with Bennett, then Leader of the Opposition.

How did that work out?

He talked to King but neither man liked the other – King was a Liberal, after all, was suspicious of him, while Rufus saw King as ‘the problem’ – he’d never been a fan of Liberals.

And Bennett?

He and Rufus got along ‘like smoke’, as Rufus liked to say. Bennett saw Rufus as the sort of journalist he could trust – his type of guy. He couldn’t do enough for him – took him to lunch at the Rideau Club, and another day came looking for him  in the press gallery.

What did Rufus make of Bennett?

He thought he was the kind of leader Canada needed.  Whenever Bennett came to London, he would look Rufus up. He really liked Rufus’s dispatches. In a 1929 Christmas letter he told Rufus “I think you are doing good work. I read your dispatches with interest. The service is excellent and productive of much good, of that I am sure.” He ended with “Drop me a line sometime when you are free to do so. I will be glad always to answer any inquiry you may have to make.”

With access like that, Rufus would have been well set up if and when he came back to Canada.

Rufus knew that and was looking forward to it – but it was not to be. As it turned out, poor old R.B. became prime minister in 1930, the start  of the Great Depression. His prime ministership was not a success – he was defeated in 1935, then did a Conrad – went off to Britain and became a Lord. His was a lonely life and he drowned in his bath, poor man, at the age of 77.

Rufus and Premier Richard McBride were not friends!

Rufus arrived in Vancouver in the spring of 1910 and immediately persuaded the Province to hire him. He was not your average ‘cub reporter’ – a 22-year-old who’d spent the past five years roughing it in countless jobs across the country – he had experience in spades. He’d done, and seen, most of what was going on in Canada. So, here he was, not six months later, lining up at the Legislature to interview the premier, the Tory Richard McBride.


Whew! That took a bit of nerve, I’m sure. He looks a tricky customer.

And to make it more nerve-wracking, he was interviewing him about the financial scandal of the day, the launch of the Dominion Sawmill Co. on the London stock exchange, where the share offering had sold at vastly inflated prices.

Was McBride involved?

That’s what Rufus was hoping to find out – in a roundabout sort of way. Also, what the government doing about the stock’s promoters.

Did McBride give him the answers?

He did not – just politician’s double-speak. Henceforth Rufus suspected McBride of ‘feathering his nest’ and McBride was wary of Rufus. It was not a great beginning. But it changed slightly for the better in 1912.

What happened?

Rufus had just started a new job – Editor of the Cowichan Leader in Duncan – when  prime minister Laurier called a federal election. Suddenly, Rufus had McBride in his office, all smiles, trying to persuade him to write nice things about the local Tory candidate.

And did he agree to do it?

He did not – he was determined not to take sides, but for a while he suspended judgment on the premier. But, soon, he realised he’d been right about McBride – as editor, he was hearing all sorts of scuttle-butt on the Victoria rumour mill.

What did he do about it?

Well, like the foolish young man that he was, he started taking him on in his editorials! McBride’s most useful ‘fixer’ was Sam Matson, editor of the Victoria Daily Colonist. And when McBride paid Matson $75,000 of public money “for services rendered” – he had persuaded the Songhees to move their village from Victoria Harbour to Esquimalt – Rufus heaped on the sarcasm and made both men a laughing stock.

What did he write?

He said that, as Matson was already rich, he was sure that he’d be dividing the money. We are therefore anxiously awaiting official announcement concerning these divisions of the booty because we confidently expect that the government.. will recognise .. the yeoman service which the Cowichan Leader has at all times rendered to the present administration. If we could afford it we should publish a full page portrait of Sir Richard McBride and his colleagues, but pending definite information as to the disposal of their $75,000 we have not yet given the order for the cuts.”

F6  Sam Matson, Editor of the Colonist

If that’s Sam Matson, he looks a pretty mean dude, if you ask me.

He was mean and he was tricky and he ended up getting the better of innocent young Rufus. And when both McBride and Matson wanted to silence Rufus, Matson did what he had to do.

Why did Matson care – he had the Colonist, a much richer newspaper, at his disposal? He could answer in kind, surely.

He could, but Rufus had also threatened one of his investments. Matson and a group of Victoria investors – possibly including McBride – had bought the land around Cowichan Lake. They stood to make a fortune whenever a decent road to the lake was put in and when the Colonist started a campaign to get the government to build it, Rufus cried foul – ‘taxpayers’ money being used to benefit the rich,’ etc., that sort of thing. Now a lot of people wanted to silence him.

How did Matson do it?

Oh, he was a clever beggar. He found out that Rufus needed money desperately – he owed a big chunk on his house and he also wanted to buy Leader shares. So he lent him $1000 – and Rufus , suspecting nothing, accepted it. Too late, he realised he was on the hook – if Matson went public about the loan, Rufus would be exposed as a hypocrite. He’d publicly scorned Matson as a low-life and was now accepting his money! So when Matson offered him the job of News Editor at the Colonistin Victoria – Rufus had to accept or risk being exposed.

I see – that was clever. In one move he’d silenced the Cowichan Leader, and he now had Rufus – his most damaging critic –  under his thumb!

And what’s more, because Rufus was a darned good journalist, with plenty of skills and enthusiasm, he’d also made a pretty good hire.

I can just see the high fives all round when Matson and McBride next got together!


17 November 1933 – 80 years ago today – Rufus died.

Rufus died on 17 November 1933. He was 46 years young, in the prime of life and at the top of his career. His death was a devastating surprise to his family – and to the growing number of his devoted readers, who  felt as if they had lost a friend. 700 of them felt moved to write a letter of condolence to Bee, and in spite of her own grief, she and Derek replied to every letter. One of these letters contained this poem:

Lukin Johnston

He brought us news of home,

quaint tales of old-world village scenes;

’tis hard to think that he no more will roam

in stately mansions fair, or under cottage beams.

Much joy to exiled hearts he brought

with views of English hearth and lanes,

queer wayside inns, and London when it rains.

The twinkling city lights, the duke or statesman passing by,

were not alone the things he knew in life’s great race –

a wee thatched house and children by the sea;

a ragged urchin small, or country folk at tea.

His spirit fares now forth upon the higher quest,

a soul set free to find a greater happiness.

The poet was a reader of Rufus’s column ‘In England Today’, that had been running in Southam newspapers since 1928. Encouraged by the success of his earlier Beyond the Rockies (1928), Rufus published two books compiled from articles in this column – In England Today (1930) and Down English Lanes (1933).

However, there was another, more substantial, part to his legacy. In the words of the Edmonton Journal.

“Lukin Johnston performed a really great service in giving Canadians a clear understanding of what was happening in Britain and on the European continent. We constantly learned for the first time of developments of the utmost importance from his dispatches.”

Fred Kerr of the Hamilton Spectator, went further, claiming that

“…he has contributed greatly to the creation of an informed public opinion in this Dominion in matters of primary importance to the Empire and the world.”

While we are dealing with poetic eulogies, here is another poem, this one part of a friendly ‘roasting’ of Rufus at the Province’s goodbye stag party for him in 1928, just before he left for London. It was in the form of a song, that everybody sang, to the tune of ‘Bye-bye Blackbird.’

Bye-bye Lukin

Let us sing a song of woe, not too slow, ‘fore you go,

Bye-Bye Lukin.

When you’re far across the sea, think of me, in BC,

Bye-Bye Lukin.

We will miss your red top in the morning

And that rank cigar smoke in the dawning.

When they say “Here comes a duke,” we’ll shout “NO, it’s just Luke.”

Lukin, goodbye.

16 – 17 November 1933, Rufus’s goodbye to Berlin.

R 18 Bob Kalir, Del Parsons, Rufus, Mr Kalir, Bee, Mrs Kalir at their Geneva villa 1933

The last picture taken of Rufus – with Bee and the Kalir family at the Kalirs’ lakeside villa in Geneva, in the fall of 1933


Thursday, 16 November 1933 was an ordinary morning. Rufus was late getting up – he’d been at Die Taverne, the journalists’ hangout,  until the wee hours, and may have had a ‘wee’ hangover.

Did he go straight to the railway station?

Oh no, he planned to come back to Berlin often, and he had courtesy calls to make.

Such as?

Well, first to the UPI office, to thank Bob Keyserlingk again for his help. Also to thank the UPI staff – they’d made copies of his article for him, the one on the Hitler interview.

Why did he need those, I wonder?

Well, for example, so he could drop one off at the Chancellery as a courtesy. He and Keyserlingk went there together. And while there, Rufus thanked Hans Thomsen for his efforts – and maybe Putzi too, though he’d had a chat with him the night before at Die Taverne .

And from there they went to the station?

Not right away. First they went to the Kaiserhof – for Rufus to pay his bill and pack his ‘grip’, as he called it. They grabbed some lunch while they were there, and only then went to the station – probably Charlottenburg.  Keyserlingk stayed to see him off and he remembered Rufus frantically searching for a necklace that he’d bought for Bee.

Did he find it?

He did, eventually – stuffed into his overcoat pocket!

And the train was crowded?

Not the First Class section, which was how Rufus was travelling. His ticket was right through to London, and that included reserved seats on the train at either end and a cabin on the ferry. He had the train compartment to himself until the very last minute – and then two guys scrambled in just as the train was starting to move. Keyserlingk last saw Rufus, waving cheerily from the open window, as the train picked up speed.

He didn’t see him again?

I’m afraid not. But if you want to find out why that was, I recommend that you – and anybody else who may have followed the story to this point – buy the book.

T 20 Hitler interview heading

And this was how the people of Ottawa learned of Rufus’s interview with Hitler. It ran in the Ottawa Evening Citizen that very same day.

15 November 1933, Rufus asks Hitler when he will close the Concentration Camps.

So this was Rufus’s big day, the event he’d been planning for nearly two years.

You’re right – it was a triumph for him, a Canadian, to be granted an interview at all.

Where did he and Hitler meet?

In the magnificent Chancellor’s office in the Chancellery. This is what it looked like

Hitler's office

It’s much grander than he made it sound in his article – when he was there, there were no pictures, for example. He and Hitler, with the interpreter, sat in armchairs around a small table – probably the ones at the far end. Here’s a picture, taken 7 years later, when Hitler met Molotov in the same place – you just have to imagine Rufus in Molotov’s chair!

Molotov & Hitler

And maybe – for this picture – the chairs had been moved closer together?

Oh yes, probably. And notice that Hitler is wearing the same brown jacket and black pants that Rufus described him as wearing.

Did Rufus ask him any hard questions?

He asked him about two things that got Hitler pretty worked up – once he thumped his fist on the table! That was when Rufus said that Canadians were alarmed by the military training being given to children, that they thought his racial supremacy theories a danger to world peace, and that some nations found them “retrograde and even savage”!

No wonder he got a little worked up! What did he have to say for himself?

He ignored the racial thing, and he claimed that the military training was totally peaceful, just intended to instil discipline after the chaotic years of the Weimar republic.

What was the other thing that got him going?

When Rufus asked him when he would be closing the Concentration Camps “which had aroused so much criticism abroad”. He rattled on about the “6 million organized Communists” and even offered to ship them to Canada, saying Canadians would be rather astonished at the sort of people they would have to welcome.

When the interview was over, was Hitler upset – or had he taken the questions in stride?

Rufus and he shook hands, both before and after the interview, which was quite informal. Hitler gave him a signed portrait and seemed to have enjoyed their half hour together – they’d also chatted about where they might have been opposite each other in the trenches during the war. But on his way out Rufus met Herman Goring and that was a different story.

What do you mean?


Goring was by the door as he left. When Rufus offered to shake his hand, Goring refused.  Instead, he hissed in Rufus’s ear – in English – “You’re damned lucky to get out!”

Wow, that was creepy. What did Rufus make of that?

It shook him quite a bit. After he’d finished his article and had telephoned it to London, he went round to meet the journalistic crew at Die Taverne, the cafe where they all hung out. He was pretty happy that evening but he told Keyserlingk and the Reeds that he was worried by Goring’s threat. Goring wasn’t just anybody – he was head of the Gestapo at the time!

And the next day Rufus was going home?

Yes, at last, he was going home. But we’ll leave that for tomorrow.

Tuesday 14 November 1933, Rufus’s interview with Hitler is finally arranged!

What did Rufus write in his diary today?

It was short and sweet – “Saw Dr Thomsen at noon – interview with “Der Fuhrer” arranged for 6pm tomorrow. With Keyserlingk for 5-mile walk in Grunewald – and felt all the better for it.”

So the great dictator accepted Rufus’s ultimatum! I can’t believe it

In fact, Hitler probably never even heard about it . But Thomsen must have made a real effort to get his boss to agree to see Rufus before Rufus left Berlin.

How did Rufus get to hear about it?

Well, he phoned Thomsen Tuesday morning – probably at ten, as he’d done the day before. Thomsen told him, in English, “I have good news for you, Herr Johnston. Come and see me at noon and I’ll give you the details.”

My, that was unexpected, wasn’t it. When do you think this was arranged?

Hitler was a night owl – he never got up early. So it must have been arranged on Monday, some time after Rufus’s 5 o’clock call with Thomsen. Thomsen would have had to pick his moment; or it’s possible that Putzi was in the chancellery and got Hitler to agree – he was a pretty persuasive dude – he’d got him to agree to meet Martha Dodd, the flirtatious daughter of the US ambassador – in the restaurant at the Kaiserhof! Putzi thought Hitler needed a woman! Here she is.

martha dodd

Hmm.. What did Thomsen have to say when Rufus came round?

Well, he told him to come to the chancellery the following day, Wednesday the 15th – in good time for a 6 pm appointment.  Then he would have given him a few hints about how to talk to Hitler. For instance, ask your important questions early in the interview – because Hitler tended to get carried away. And, of course, NEVER interrupt him!

Did Hitler speak English?

No, and that was another thing – Thomsen would have told Rufus about the interpreter, to let him finish and to give him time.

Hans Thomsen sounds like a reasonable fellow.

He was. He got on really well with US ambassador Dodd – and with his daughter Martha. He often came to the US embassy and the Dodds called him Tommy. A few years later he was sent as ‘chargé d’affaires’ to the German embassy in Washington. Here he is – in the white suit at the top of the stairs – with the German embassy families being repatriated in 1941 – after Hitler declared war on the USA.

Hans Thomsen (white suit) with interned diplomats and families, in US 1941

What happened to him after that?

He was the ambassador in Stockholm for the rest of the war.  And after the war he was chief of the Red Cross in Hamburg. He died at 77 in 1968. Here he is after the war, aged about 55.

Dr Hans Thomsen

And what was the Grunewald, where Rufus went with Keyserlingk.

A huge park in the middle of Berlin – much bigger than Stanley Park. It makes Berlin liveable. Here’s a small part of it.


I can just imagine Rufus – pipe in teeth, striding along that trail with Keyserlingk, talking furiously about the upcoming interview.

Monday 13 November 1933, Rufus’s ultimatum to Hitler!

What do you mean ‘ultimatum’? Nobody delivers ultimatums to dictators!

Nobody except Rufus, maybe.

What could he have been thinking?

I don’t think he did think about it very much. You see, he’d been hanging around for sixteen days, waiting for an interview,  and by then was feeling pretty grumpy. When he was asked to phone the Chancellery on Monday morning, he thought, finally, he would get his appointment.

But he didn’t?

No, he did not. Instead Hitler’s appointments guy, a bright young fellow called Dr Hans Thomsen, asked him to call back at five.

Berlin, Empfang im Hotel "Esplanade"

That’s him, in the middle. So Rufus spent another day cooling his heels, then called Thomsen at five, as requested.

And got his appointment?

Did he heck! No, Thomsen – who was actually trying to make it work for him – asked him to call back Tuesday! And then he asked whether, if necessary, Rufus could stick around until the end of the week!

Poor old Rufus – he must have had a bird.

That’s one way of putting it. He told Thomsen, “NO, I CAN’T  WAIT UNTIL THE END OF THE WEEK! I’ve waited seventeen days already. If Herr Hitler can’t see me tomorrow or Wednesday, I’m out of here!”

Did he use those words?

No, I’m sure he was more polite – but that was the gist. He was as mad as hell, though, and probably not as polite as he should have been. But he did agree to call back in the morning.

And did he call back?

You’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find that out – just like Rufus had to. But that evening he told Charlie Woodsworth the Nazis were wasting his time – and Woodsworth, who’d been hoping Rufus would get to see Hitler, gave up and left town that night. Later, when Rufus wrote to Bee he said “It’s maddening to be kept hanging on, just as it was in Munich two years ago.” He told her he’d be coming home Wednesday, unless he got an interview first.