Monthly Archives: February 2015

Rufus’s March 1 – Prince Arthur, and Lieutenant Governors Walter Nichol and Randolph Bruce

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 9 Prince Arthur of Connaught and his missus 1918

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.

E 5 Walter Cameron Nichol

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!”

Six weeks before Vimy Ridge, on 19 February 1917, Rufus arranged baths for soldiers.

On subsequent 19ths of February, he hit the Vancouver Sun’s social column, walked to Point Grey, paid $1,900 for a Shaughnessy lot , and saw Beau Geste.

My, that’s quite a list, and I guess we’ll get to them. But what about these baths for soldiers – why was that Rufus’s job?

Because he was Staff Captain ‘Q’ at 2nd Brigade, in charge of all supplies for 5,000 men – from bullets to baths, coal to clean clothes, spades to spuds, if the guys needed ’em, he supplied ’em! Here they are scrubbing up.


So where did the hot water come from?

Well, sometimes the unit built themselves a bath house with a boiler – and the guys took turns in the tubs, refilling when needed. Or they had a mobile unit like the one in the picture.


Well, well, something about trench warfare I didn’t know about. So what about this social  column thing – doesn’t sound much like Rufus and Bee to me.

That’s just the point. On 19 Feb 1923 his diary reads:Very angry that our party on Saturday was in the Sun social columns.”

What had they been up to, I wonder?

Very little as it turns out – a bridge party for a dozen people, amongst whom had been Harwood Steele, Lady Steele and Miss Steele. The problem was that Lady Steele was the widow of a national hero, Sir Sam Steele  – here are the Steeles on their wedding day in 1890


Why was he a national hero?

Because he was a tough Mountie who’d been in the thick of every Mountie action from the March West in 1873 to the Klondike goldrush in 1896, where Sam, with a few policemen, famously restored order among 100,000 unruly goldrushers. He went on to further fame in the South African war and World War 1. After all that, he died in January 1919, a victim of influenza!

So, why was Rufus mad about the Sun‘s column?

I suppose because it was done without his knowledge – and it made his own paper, the Province, look slow off the mark. He and Bee knew Lady Steele and her adult children as neighbours. She had a title, but not much money, I’m sure – Sam had been honest.

Okay – now, what about this walk to Point Grey? Why is that a big deal?

Rufus’s diary for 19 February 1922 reads: “Long walk to Pt Grey in pm – home about 3.30.”It was a big deal because he and Bee lived at 1337 Maple Street in Kitsilano, and Point Grey is nine kilometres away – that’s a walk of 18 kilometres, most of it through forest. The Endowment Lands were still used for hunting by the Musqueam band, and the future UBC campus, although planned, was still part of the forest. And another reason it was a big deal is that it’s the first time that Rufus seems concerned about his waistline!

And his lot in Shaughnessy?

His diary read: Feb 19 1926: Bee and I up to see Third Shaughnessy and decided on 1 of 3 lots – if we can get them.”

And did they get one of them?

They did. The next day the diary reads:Sent CPR Land Agent cheque for $190 – 1/10th price of lot. After seeing him in a.m.”

So the lot, when they paid for it, cost them $1,900! Where is it?

At Marguerite and 52nd.

And did they build a house on it?

. N 14 The house Rufus and Bee built in 1928 but never lived in -

Yes, and a pretty nice one, too, that still looks good. Sadly, they never lived in it and had to sell it in 1928 – when Rufus accepted the job in London, England. This photo was taken by Bee in 1930, when they came back to BC for a holiday.

And Beau Geste?

For his 19 February entry in 1927 Rufus wrote: To Beau Geste film in p.m. with Bee at the Strand.”

Is that a famous movie?

It was, but silent, of course, very stylised and would seem artificial to modern eyes. It was a melodrama, but I’m sure they enjoyed it. It was certainly better than staring at the rain – this was Vancouver, after all. Here are some posters and stills – Ronald Colman was the star:

BeauGeste'26 images

zinderneuf 3553431212_52005c7464

I saw it as a little boy and remember being thrilled by that lonely Foreign Legion fort in the Sahara.

Rufus’s day, 15 February 1917, 98 years ago today.

Where was Rufus on that day?

He was beginning his Staff Officer training and was attached to 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade headquarters. His diary entry was difficult to read:  “To Bethune in afternoon in sidecar. Lovely day, lovely old town with wonderful glass in church. Aeroplane came down behind …???… quad at 1530. GOC sent me up with Captain Powell of RFC about 1830. They got(?) it away OK. Back for Sills to lecture at Army HQ.”

Even though you can’t make out everything he wrote, he seems to have had quite a day. I’d like to have seen him in that motorcycle sidecar – that would have made him put his pipe away!


Yes, they were pretty miserable things to travel in, especially in February. But it was a lot quicker that walking, or cycling, or riding a horse, so he would find himself travelling that way quite often after that.

It was nice that he had enough time in Bethune to have a look at the church. Did the ‘wonderful glass’ – stained glass windows, presumably – did they survive the war?

No, sadly, they didn’t. Rufus had spent much of his boyhood in Canterbury Cathedral and the glass he admired was probably similar to Canterbury’s – something like this:


I imagine churches as being quite dark in the middle ages and the only light would have been coming through windows like that! It would have been wonderful!

Some French churches still have their ancient glass – Chartres cathedral for example. And their interiors are just as you describe. You’ll have to go and see it for yourself  one day. The windows at Bethune were okay until the German spring offensive in 1918 – but by the time they’d been sent packing, the church in Bethune looked like this – and most of the windows were shattered. You can see one of them in the photo:


What a waste!

It was indeed, like everything else to do with that particular war. But that day, 15 February 1917, Rufus had another memorable experience waiting for him – the GOC (the general commanding 3rd Brigade) sent him up in an aeroplane. It was his first flight, of course.

Why would the general do that, do you think?

Because Rufus was training to be – among other things – an Intelligence Officer. And Intelligence Officers have to know everything about the positions of the enemy. One way to find out is by taking air photographs over enemy lines, and then learning how to interpret them. That’s probably what they were doing. it would have been getting dark – a good time to fly when you can’t be so clearly seen . Rufus would have been in the rear seat of an aircraft like this:


What kind of aircraft is that?

A BE2 reconnaissance aircraft – the ‘2’ is for two-seater, one behind the other.

So Captain Powell would have been in front?

That’s right. And to communicate they had to shout at each other into the wind – they were probably flying at about 120 kph

Well, that was  quite a day. You have to admire those guys – they were nothing if not tough. Good for Rufus!

12 February saw Rufus nominated a soldiers’ delegate, act in the Devil’s Disciple, hear Winston Churchill, anti-socialist, and Maxim Litvinov, Soviet commissar.

These things must have happened in different years, surely.

Oh, yes, of course – 1920, 1925, 1929 and 1932. It was 12 February 1920, in Vancouver, when his diary read:GWVA at night – I spoke suggesting a compromise on the political party issue and my view eventually carried. I am nominated for GWVA convention in Montreal in March.” The GWVA was the Great War Veterans’ Association, forerunner of the Legion.

What was the ‘political party issue’?

The vets were mad because the Tory government was stalling over their resettlement bonus – so they wanted to start their own Party.

Sounds like a good idea – why did Rufus oppose it?

Because it sounded revolutionary – t was only 3 years since the Russian Revolution and 6 months since the Winnipeg General Strike! Communists ruled Russia and the very thought of a Soldiers’ Party made the government fear ‘Bolsheviks under the bed’! After he’d explained this, the Vancouver vets voted against the idea. And they made Rufus one of their delegates to the all-Canada GWVA pow-wow in Montreal. He was right – the government got the message that soldiers were mad. So they did get their bonus and there was no trouble.

And the Devil’s Disciple? He acted in that in 1925? Is that the play written by George Bernard Shaw?

That’s right, although you’d never know from his diary entry:Show A1 – v good house.”

Earlier entries tell us that Rufus was cast as General Johnny Burgoyne, a charming British officer in the American Revolutionary War. It isn’t a big part, but an important one. Rufus could certainly be charming and, thanks to having worked with generals during the war, had good insight into the character he had to play.

VLTA programme - Devil's Disciple ii VLTA programme - Devil's Disciple

But he wasn’t paid for his acting, was he?

Oh no, it was amateur theatre, alright – the Vancouver Little Theatre, in fact, of which he and Bee had been founding members and he was Vice President. At the time, apart from vaudeville and the movies, the Little Theatre was about the only show in town.  The play ran for 5 nights and they had full houses for four of them – in fact, they sold 2,950 tickets!

Wow, that’s a lot for amateur theatre – they must have been good.

They were.

So tell me about Winston Churchill – did he get to interview him?

We just don’t know. 1929 was his first year in London and his diary just tells us, among other things:7.30pm Queen’s Hall – Winston Churchill, anti-socialist.”  At the time Winston was Chancellor of the Exchequer (i.e., Finance Minister), an important figure. I’m sure Rufus would have tried to ask questions afterwards and Churchill might well have remembered him from their meeting in France.

When was that?

In 1917, just after Vimy Ridge. When Churchill visited the Canadian Corps, Rufus was told to take him up to the battlefield and “show him the sights.” Anyway, Rufus was then, or soon became, a Churchill fan – so it’s likely that they met again. Rufus was good at meeting famous people!

Why did he like Churchill so much?

At first, because Churchill was “anti-socialist”, as he mentioned in his diary. Rufus was a pretty right-wing fellow. So he would have enjoyed covering Churchill in an election  year when the opposition was Ramsay MacDonald’s socialists, the Labour Party. But later, it was because of Churchill’s warnings about Hitler and the Nazis.

In that case, why was Rufus covering a speech by Maxim Litvinov – wasn’t he the Soviet Union’s Foreign Minister?

On 12 February 1932 Rufus was on his way back to England after covering the League of Nations’ Disarmament Conference in Geneva, upon whose outcome western nations like Canada had pinned their hopes for world peace. He’d been dismayed that Britain and France had offered no plan  – without one, all agreed, there was no chance of an agreement. But no delegate would point this out – until, on the 9th day, Litvinov did so. In Rufus’s dispatch to Southam newspapers, he wrote:  “He packed more home truths into his half-hour speech than the Disarmament Conference has yet heard. Moderate in tone, expressing Russian willingness to co-operate in reduction — if total abolition of
armaments is considered impossible — he was listened to with rapt attention.”