On 1 March 1917 Rufus wrote: “4th Division in attack with gas. Gas did not prove effective. Our losses heavy indeed, show a bad failure.”
Golly, he sounds quite shocked. Was he actually there?
Probably not – he was a staff officer ‘learner’ at Canadian Corps HQ at the time, though it’s possible they sent him to see the action. His next wartime 1 March, in 1918, was much more upbeat: “To see tank demonstration at Noulette Wood. All the usual crowd there – P.A., Radcliffe, etc.”
This time he sounds laid back – like he’d seen it all before. Who do you think P.A. and Radcliffe were?
He may have been laid back about tanks – but he’d been really enthusiastic when he first worked with them in 1917. “All the usual crowd” was referring to 1917 staff officers at Corps HQ – ‘Radcliffe‘ was a British General who’d been Byng’s Chief of Staff; and ‘P.A.’ was Rufus’s shorthand for Prince Arthur of Connaught, a grandson of Queen Victoria, who’d also been on the staff at Corps. Rufus had liked them both during his time there. They were replaced by Canadians after Currie took over, of course, but Rufus stayed in touch – that was his magic. Here’s ‘P.A.’ with his bride in 1913.
I imagine subsequent March firsts were a bit of a comedown after that.
Not really – his life was never dull. The war played havoc with his health, and it took three years at least until he was fully healthy. On 1 March 1919, and again in 1921, he was in bed with an inflamed bowel and a high temperature, though 1921 would be the last time it put him in hospital. Otherwise, there was only one other notable event on a 1 March – when he went to meet the new Lieutenant Governor in 1926. His diary read: “To Revelstoke by 9pm train to meet Randolph Bruce, new Lieut. Gov. (pictured below). Poor night as usual on the train.”
Why would Rufus be going to meet him, I wonder?
Because that was how he usually scooped the competition on an incoming bigwig! From Revelstoke he’d travel back to Vancouver on the train carrying the great man. There’d be plenty of time to get an interview, write his piece, and file it from Kamloops. Then, when other journalists were asking their questions at the Vancouver terminal next morning, Rufus’s piece would already be in the morning paper. At least, that was the plan
Why would he bother about a Lieutenant Governor, anyway?
Because, in the 1920s, Lieutenant Governors were still appointed in Britain and had considerable power. Rufus had benefited greatly from his easy relationship with Walter Nichol, the former Lieutenant Governor (pictured below), and hoped to continue this with his replacement.
Of course, I remember now: Walter Nichol owned the Province, didn’t he, and was the guy who first hired Rufus back in 1910. So when Nichol became Lieutenant Governor Rufus had an inside track. So, did it all work out, and did he manage to remain in Mr Bruce’s good books in the same way?
Absolutely not, I’m afraid. His entry for 3 March read: “Saw Gov. at Kamloops and after in his private (railway) car. Just a close-fisted old Scotsman in my opinion – no magnetism and little originality of thought.”
He doesn’t mince his words, does he. What went wrong?
The CPR line was blocked by an avalanche and the train was running late – ten hours late, eventually. So, after hanging about all day in Revelstoke waiting for it, he boarded Bruce’s train in the middle of the night. And by the time he met the man, briefly, at Kamloops, he hadn’t time to file his dispatch before the train left again. The amazing thing is that he hadn’t wasted his time – he still managed to file an interesting story!
How was that?
His diary for 2 March reads: “I stowed away on snowplough to see the big rotaries at work on the snowslide – but got hauled off ignominiously.” So he wrote an article about this experience, and about the rotary plows at work on the slide blocking the line.
I expect his readers preferred reading that to reading about the “close-fisted old Scotsman!”