Category Archives: Rufus

On 9 April 1917, 98 years ago today, Vimy Ridge was taken by the Canadian Corps.

Rufus was there, wasn’t he?

G 7  Rufus 1916, with 88th Bn. insignia

He was – his war-diary reads: April 9:  Cdn Corps attacked at 5.30 a.m. in snowstorm. Whole of Vimy Ridge taken – 14,000 prisoners, 36 guns and 83 MGs. 16th (Battalion) losses heavy – killed: Campbell, McGowan, Cornell; died of wounds: Rowan, Johnson; wounded: Scroggie, Rutchel, Kirkham, Hope, Floyd, Joe Mason, Clelland. Also Mason, Elliott (72nd). 4th Div is hung up. 9th Div (Br) did splendidly.”

Rufus doesn’t say much about capturing the ridge, does he? Most of this is about guys who were killed or wounded – isn’t that strange?

Strange? Why, no, not a bit! He’d only been at the front a few months – Vimy was his first battle and the horror had hit him like a punch in the face. He’d been in the 16th himself until 6 weeks before. He knew those guys – junior officers like himself – and some, McGowan and Cornell for example, were his best friends, while Joe Mason had been a surveyor friend of his dead brother Lyonel. When he wrote that, he was feeling devastated, in spite of the great victory.

But Rufus wasn’t with 16th Battalion that day, was he? He was at Corps HQ. So how did he know about 16th Battalion casualties?

Because his job was to collect reports from battalions as they came in, and to pass them on to General Byng, the GOC.

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I see. I’ve got another question – why did he mention 9th Division, which wasn’t even Canadian?

Because GOC 9th Division was Major General Harry Lukin, who happened to be his uncle, his mother’s brother.

I 9  Major General Sir Harry Lukin KCB, CMG, DSO, Rufus's uncle and GOC British 9th Division

Oh, I remember – in the book he’s called ‘Uncle Harry’, and Rufus didn’t get to know him properly until Christmas 1916, when he was the general ‘s guest at 9 Div. And, while they were touring 9th Div trenches, they had a lucky escape when a shell splinter landed between them – that’s a good story. But I have another question – what does Rufus mean by 4th Div being ‘hung up?’

Well, he explains in the following day’s entry: “April 10:  4th Can Division took the Pimple – 10th Brigade (Gen Hillman) took it, with 300 prisoners. Roads appalling. Over ridge in blinding snowstorm with O’Neill as far as commandant’s house.” The ‘Pimple’ was the part of the crest that 4th Div couldn’t take on the previous day – hence Rufus saying they were ‘hung up’.

Where was Rufus a year later, on 9 April 1918?

He was near Ecoivres – still in France but about 50 km further west. This was his diary for the day: “April 9, 1918: Brigade forward HQ moved back to Blangy. Busy about trains for rations, etc., but at Division, I got word of moving to Ecoivres tomorrow. ACQ ‘Y’ hutments at Ecoivres heavily shelled all day – many casualties to Australian transport convoy, 2nd (Imp) Div transport and civilians. Saw tanks going south across Arras-St Pol road. New Whippets, 14 mph.”

Sounds like they were on the move – what was going on?

The famous German March offensive was ‘going on’, Ludendorff’s last hope of winning the war. He’d withdrawn all German troops from Russia to try to break the Western Front – before the Americans could arrive in numbers. The Canadian Corps was in reserve and had to be ready to move at any time. And Rufus was no longer at Corps HQ – he was now Staff Captain ‘Q’ at 2nd Brigade, part of 1st Canadian Division. And his job was totally different.

It sounds like he was in charge of bringing up the brigade’s rations.

That’s right, he was, and also of providing the brigade with everything it needed, from baths to bullets!

Sounds like quite a job! No wonder he says “busy about trains.” What were these Whippet tanks  that he saw?

whippet 4

Here’s one of them. Rufus claims they could do 14 mph, but I doubt that – more likely half that speed. They usually carried a heavy machine gun in the turret – hardly a formidable vehicle, though it could drive through shellfire on a battlefield. It was exciting to see them because he’d worked with tanks before and knew they could break the stalemate of the trenches.

Did they move to Ecoivres on the 10th?

They did – this is his 10 April entry: “Up the line in Div. car at 8.30 am. Round to baths at Stirling camp, and Arras and St Nicholas. To Div. for lunch, thence to chateau Maurice at Ecoivres. Ecoivres and ACQ again heavily shelled but move made without casualties. GOC had bad liver or something today – and I am, consequently, fed up.”

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So the soldiers still took their baths even though the brigade was moving?

It seems so, doesn’t it – must have been an organisational miracle – there were 5,000 men in a Brigade!

Who was the GOC and what does the ‘bad liver’ reference mean?

J 10 Loomis in Colour

Their GOC was this man, Brigadier General F.O.W. Loomis from Montreal. He was tactically a brilliant general, but also a bad tempered bully with who sometimes abused and humiliated officers in front of their subordinates. The ‘bad liver’ means that he was in  a foul mood and that Rufus had been the victim of it. Here’s another picture, with Loomis, in the centre, looking bad-tempered.

J 10  2nd Bde HQ staff at Etrun, June 1918. Loomis centre, Sandy McMillan behind him, Rufus to his left

It looks as if he had red hair like Rufus. Maybe they struck sparks off each other.

That may be true, but poor Rufus could’nt answer back – this being the army, after all. Nevertheless, Loomis learned to appreciate his Staff Captain ‘Q’ – in fact, came to rely upon him, especially in the mobile battles in August 1918, when Rufus managed to keep the troops supplied with food and ammo, in spite of 10 km daily advances. After the war, Rufus would drop in on the old buzzard for a chat whenever he was in Montreal.

Rufus’s March 8 – first leave, taking on William Bowser, and Lady Steele survived crash on Vancouver’s Trimble St hill.

Rufus’s diary for 8 March 1917 read: “Left for Boulogne at 7.30 am with Colonel Murray.  Blizzard all the way and missed morning boat by 5 minutes. Lunch at Hotel Leonel.

leaveboat leaving Boulogne

A leave-boat sailing from Boulogne.

“Reached Victoria at 8 pm. Bee met me and we stayed at the Wilton Hotel.”

What a day that must have been! Driving 90 miles to Boulogne on primitive tires in a blizzard, crossing the Channel in a crowded ship that might be torpedoed at any time, enduring a crowded train ride to London – then, seeing Bee for the first time in 6 months, eating a normal meal and sleeping in a real bed! All in one day. It must have been a journey from hell to heaven.

And while in England on leave everything seemed so normal and civilised. Here he is with

I 9  First leave 1917, Rufus, Bee, Derek

Bee and Derek at the house where Bee was staying in Sidcup. But ten days passed quickly and then he had to commute back to the war, along with a boatload of miserable other fellows.

So who was this William Bowser that Rufus ‘took on’?

William_John_Bowser

He’d been premier of BC for a year during the war, after McBride resigned. In 1922 he was the Conservative Leader of the Opposition. But in Rufus’s opinion, and that of like-minded Conservatives, he was doing a lousy job of opposing the Liberal Premier, John Oliver.

What did they do?

His diary for 8 March 1922 tells us: “Meeting of Young Conservatives at night. Decision taken not to ask Bowser to resign at once, but a committee appointed to go and discuss things with him.”

And how did Bowser receive their delegation?

He seems to have ignored them, as he did their later demand that he resign. They were naive even to imagine he would listen to them. Meanwhile, the Liberal premier John Oliver continued to brush off Bowser’s feeble opposition – much to Rufus’s fury – so Rufus got involved in another naive project, the formation of the Progressive Party.

I didn’t know he got involved in politics – wasn’t that a conflict of interests?

It certainly was, as he himself quickly realised. After attending the formation of the Progressives in Vernon, he stuck to reporting about politics – no more dabbling for him!

So, what was so exciting about Lady Steele’s car crash?

We only know what Rufus tells us, and what we might surmise. His diary for Sunday, 8 March 1924 reads, in part: “Dr Harwood, driving Lady Steele et al, had smash-up on Trimble Street hill.” Trimble St runs north from 16th Ave to Burrard Inlet between Locarno and Jericho parks. It has a very steep hill on it, even for today’s cars.

How bad was the crash – any injuries?

Annoyingly, Rufus doesn’t say. But if they were hurt at all, it was not badly – Dr Harwood came to attend to Derek two days later; and Lady Steele (Sam Steele’s widow) would live well into her nineties! They must have been coming downhill – nobody would ‘smash-up’ going uphill! – the brakes wouldn’t hold, so Harwood steered into a tree or fence. His car would have been similar to this one – Rufus’s 1920 Chevy:

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

Good grief! I wouldn’t fancy hitting something in that!

No, and especially not on Trimble St hill – it has one of the steepest grades in the city.

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.”

bruce_r

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.

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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.

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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

WeddingPhoto

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

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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!

side-car

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:

Becket-Aug07-DE2781sAR900

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:

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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:

RFC-2-seater-reconnaissance-aircraft-BE2c

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.”

When Rufus and Bee tried to write a Christmas Letter

 

N 14 - on board Aorangi to Hawaii1926 ii

Rufus, typing with two fingers: “It’s the time of year when Bee and I like to think of our friends and family around the world.  We wish you all aHappy Christmas and hope to see Vancouver friends at the midnight mass at the cathedral…”

No, Rufus, you can’t write that – we’re playing bridge that night, remember?

Really, Bee, I thought we’d agreed to stay home – to stuff Derek’s stocking, and then pop over to the cathedral when he’s asleep?

No, no. we’re both wrong. I remember now – we’re doing our Christmas shopping in town, catching the ferry to North Van, decorating Muriel’s tree before she gets home and THEN doing Derek’s stocking. You could write “We wish you all a Happy Christmas and hope you’ll all be as busy as we’ll be with our Vancouver friends.”

I don’t have time for friends over  Christmas, Bee. I think I’ll pop into the office on Boxing Day – there’ll be nobody around so I can get things done. Maybe we should leave that bit out about Vancouver friends.

Next sentence, Rufus – write: “May you all enjoy the peace of the season among friends by the fireside.”

What do you mean, Bee? there’s no time for that – I need exercise. After breakfast I’ll take a walk up Mosquito Creek; then we’ll all catch the ferry back to town to the service at the cathedral; back here for lunch, and after lunch we could play bridge for an hour or two with Muriel and Hal while the children play with their toys.

Maybe  then we could enjoy the peace of the season with friends by the fireside?

Why, no Bee – have you forgotten? Roy and Marjorie are coming to tea and we’re getting into the car and driving all round the north shore to see the lights on the houses.

I see. Then we should  change that sentence to: “May you all enjoy the peace of the season while playing bridge and driving round the north shore?”

Bee, you’re cross with me, aren’t you! And that sentence  sounds silly, doesn’t it – maybe this Christmas letter idea isn’t such a good one after all. I know – let’s go out and buy some Christmas cards.

Good idea, Rufus. Then we can sit by the fire, beavering away at writing them!

 I don’t know what I’d do without you!

N 14  on board S S Chelohsin 1925

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review of Rufus by Bruce Hodding in B.C. Studies

Was this review in the Winter issue of BC Studies?

I think so – BC Studies sent this file to Granville Island, who passed it on to me. But the BC Studies website was not cooperating last time I looked. Anyway, here it it is: Rufus has finally entered the consciousness of historians! A great achievement.

Rufus - original design for book-cover

Colin Castle

Rufus: The Life of the Canadian Journalist who Interviewed Hitler

Vancouver: Granville Island Publishing, 2014. 304 pp. $19.95 paper

Bruce Hodding

Victoria

Colin Castle has undertaken a labour of love. The retired schoolteacher spent four years researching, transcribing, and writing the story of newspaperman Lukin “Rufus” Johnston. The self-described “history buff” (xvii) married Val Johnston, the granddaughter of Rufus, and inherited the family treasures: thirty years of family letters, seventeen years of Rufus’s personal diaries, and a reminiscence by Rufus’s son Derek Johnston. The result is a thick tome that commemorates this remarkable man, Rufus: The Life of the Canadian Journalist Who Interviewed Hitler.

Red-haired Rufus adopted his nickname after the ancient Anglo-Saxon King. He came to Canada from England in 1905, working his way across the country. In 1910 he engineered himself a job with the Vancouver Daily Province before moving on to the Cowichan Leader and subsequently to the Victoria Colonist. During this time he crossed paths with many influential people, including fellow newspaperman Hugh Savage, Premier Richard McBride, and writer and hunter Clive Phillipps-Wolley, who became one of three godparents to his son.

When the Great War broke out, Rufus did not immediately enlist because his wife was recovering from a serious operation. The next year he volunteered and was soon involved in many of the major battles fought by the Canadian Corps, including Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, and Amiens. For a time he was in turn aide-de-camp to both General Arthur William Currie and General Sir Julian Byng, who later became Governor General of Canada. Rufus was also tasked with taking future prime minister Winston Churchill out to “show him the sights” at Vimy Ridge (93). Castle has successfully captured in this work the extraordinary talent Rufus had for meeting and befriending important people.

After the war, Rufus returned to both Vancouver and work as a journalist, where he helped secure the early careers of two important British Columbian writers: Bruce A. McKelvie and Bruce Hutchison. He also wrote a book about his home province, Beyond the Rockies: 3000 Miles by Trail and Canoe through Little Known British Columbia (1929),

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(the well-thumbed and much-treasured copy given by Rufus to his son Derek for his sixteenth birthday, 8 Feb 1929)

which is still used by British Columbian historians. In the 1930s, Rufus went to work in Europe as a foreign correspondent for the Canadian Southam News Agency. In Germany he began to write articles about the dangers of the Nazis and was working on a book to be called Germany Today when his life was cut short in 1933. Following many attempts, he had finally arranged a meeting with Adolf Hitler. Rufus pressed the German Chancellor on many tough issues, but as he was leaving, Gestapo founder Hermann Göring hissed at him: “You’re damned lucky to get out” (279). His words were portentous as Rufus filed his last report by phone but never made it back to England. He disappeared suspiciously while aboard ship and his body was never found.

Ultimately, Castle needs to be credited with preserving the story of this extraordinary character, whose depths will surely be further plumbed. For example, a search of the archival collections of the famous people Rufus befriended could reveal additional information on his influential career. In addition, scholars will certainly want to put Rufus into some sort of larger historical context. Patrick A. Dunae, Gentleman Emigrants: From the British Public Schools to the Canadian Frontier (1981), and J. F. Bosher, Vancouver Island in the Empire (2012) are two such sources that could frame Rufus’s life and provide a greater interpretive perspective. In fact, Bosher even references Rufus (211). Nonetheless, while further context would greatly augment Castle’s labours, this book stands as a valuable asset for anyone interested in the military, newspaper, or general history of British Columbia in the early twentieth century.

Kelowna Daily Courier remembers Rufus

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I wonder why the Courier didn’t use a picture of Rufus in uniform – you’d think that would be more suitable for the occasion.

I think Dorothy Brotherton’s point is that Rufus, a Great War vet, was a war casualty because of who is suspected of having killed him.

I see – we remember other Canadians killed by the Nazis, so why not Rufus?

That’s right – he was possibly the first Canadian casualty of World War II

Do you think he would agree?

Probably not! In spite of what he’d seen and heard in Germany in the weeks before meeting Hitler, he was still looking for an acceptable explanation for what the Nazis were doing. Goering and Goebbels didn’t yet seem sinister to him.

Rufus was too nice a guy, that was his trouble. I’m going to the ceremony tomorrow and I’m going to remember him especially, along with all the others.

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Read Dorothy Brotherton’s articles in the Westside Weekly

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Here is the first article. Dorothy Brotherton, whose remit, I imagine, was to  produce a remembrance-related piece, manages to turn that into a pretty decent review of Rufus. And here’s the second one, advertising and all.

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Well, I think she’s done you and Rufus proud – you should be grateful.

I am indeed. Thank you Dorothy, this is exactly what Rufus needs to reach the 32,000 residents of West Kelowna.