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.
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.
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.”