There was nothing gruesome about listening to a diffident soldier explaining how he “bombed them out,” and you shared his amusement over the surprise of a German who stuck up his head from a dug-out within a foot of the face of a British soldier who was peeping inside to see if any more Germans were at home. You rejoiced with this battalion. Victory is sweet.
When on the way back to quarters you passed some of the new army men, “the Keetcheenaires,” as the French call them, you were reminded that although the war was old the British army was young. There was a “Watch our city grow!” atmosphere about it. Little by little, some great force seemed steadily pushing up from the rear. It made that business institution at G.H.Q. feel like bankers with an enormous, increasing surplus. In this the British is like no other army. One has watched it in the making.
These were “home folks” to the American. You might know all by their maple-leaf symbol; but even before you saw that, with its bronze none too prominent against the khaki, you knew those who were not recent emigrants from England to Canada by their accent and by certain slang phrases which pay no customs duty at the border.
When, on a dark February night cruising in a slough of a road, I heard out of a wall of blackness back of the trenches, “Gee! Get on to the bus!” which referred to our car, and also, “Cut out the noise!” I was certain that I might dispense with an interpreter. After I had remarked that I came from New York, which is only across the street from Montreal as distances go in our countries, the American batting about the front at midnight was welcomed with a “glad hand” across that imaginary line which has and ever shall have no fortresses.
What a strange place to find Canadians—at the front in Europe! I could never quite accommodate myself to the wonder of a man from Winnipeg, and perhaps a “neutral” from Wyoming in his company, fighting Germans in Flanders. A man used to a downy couch and an easy chair by the fire and steam-heated rooms, who had ten thousand a year in Toronto, when you found him in a chill, damp cellar of a peasant’s cottage in range of the enemy’s shells was getting something more than novel, if not more picturesque, than dog-mushing and prospecting on the Yukon; for we are quite used to that contrast.
All I asked of the Canadians was to allow a little of the glory they had won—they had such a lot—to rub off on their neighbours. If there must be war, and no Canadian believed in it as an institution, why, to my mind, the Canadians did a fine thing for civilization’s sake. It hurt sometimes to think that we also could not be in the fight for the good cause, particularly after the Lusitania was sunk, when my own feelings had lost all semblance of neutrality.