Inside the Tank

An Allegory for the New Year

Stephen Leacock January 1 1918

Inside the Tank

An Allegory for the New Year

Stephen Leacock January 1 1918

Inside the Tank

An Allegory for the New Year

Stephen Leacock

Author of “Further Foolishness," “Nonsense Novels," etc.

DON’T ask me how I recognized it as a tank when I was myself inside it. I really do not know. I admit that I was never inside a tank before, and yet somehow I was certain, the moment I looked about me, that a tank it was.

To begin with, it was dark and gloomy, only lighted with a dim electric bulb here and there. It seemed, moreover, filled with complicated machinery, like the mental picture that we all have of the inside of a submarine.

I confess that I was amazed at the size of it. It seemed five times as large, ten times as large, as any tank that I had ever imagined. And apparently it held more people and of more diverse kinds than I had ever supposed to congregate in such a war machine. But all this may have been merely the effect of the gloom, and the little moving lights, and of the perpetual clatter of machinery.

Nor could 1 give an intelligent answer if I were asked how I came to get inside the tank. Perhaps it was that the Familiar Spirit who attends upon our dreams had beckoned to me in the watches of the night. Or it may have been that the

Oriental rug which adorns the study where I sit working of an evening had converted itself, as it is apt to do, into the flying carpet of Bagdad, and had borne me with it to Flanders. Or it may have been by sheer force of ink and imagination that I had made my way there. But never mind how I got into the tank. There I was.

AT first sight the entire aspect of the gloomy machine puzzled and perplexed me. To begin with, it was possessed with such a trembling vibration, and consumed with such a puffing of its machinery, and with such an apparent activity of its inhabitants, that it seemed at first impression to be moving with extraordinary rapidity, but, whether backwards or forwards, it would have been impossible to say.

The people in the tank, too, seemed, as I said, of the most diverse character and occupation. Some in a soldierly uniform of khaki were quietly busied with the machinery and the armament and paid no heed to those about them. Others in civilian dress, some even in frock coats and tall silk hats, appeared to move restlessly up and down in the gloom, with a perpetual babel of talk, the greater part of which, however, was lost in the surrounding din.

I was staring about in the darkness, endeavoring to interpret the scene around me when I was accosted by a quiet-looking man in uniform who emerged, as it were, out of the darkness.

“You seem puzzled,” he said.

“I am,” I answered. "Surely this place is a tank, is it not? Though it seems perfectly enormous. What tank is it?” “It is The Cunada, or if you prefer it. Le Canada,” said the officer.

“Has it two names?” I asked.

“Yes, it has to have. It’s a bilingual tank. Everything has to be in the two languages. That’s the rule. C'est un tank bi-lingual. Tont esL dans les deux langues. . . .’’

“Ah!” I answered. “That must be why

it’s so hard to understand what all these people are shouting out to one another,” “Exactly. It is hard. In fact it is particularly hard when we go into action as we have to fire first in English from one side, and then in French from the other. But, of course, without it there’d be an end of all brotherhood in the tank.”

The clatter of the machinery and the babel of voices grew, so loud at this moment that I could scarcely hear what my companion said.

“Brotherhood?” I shouted. •

“Yes,” he yelled back. “Brotherhood! Internal harmony! Using two languages unites the whole tank in a single confederation of brothers.”

I waited till the noise seemed to subside a little.

“I suppose you mean brotherhood and harmony among the soldiers there. . .” I pointed as I spoke to the little group of uniformed men that were seen in the dim distances of the great tank, working quietly at their tasks.

“Oh, no,” said the officer, “not them. They don’t seem to need it. I mean among the crowd here.” He indicated the motley groups of civilians running to and fro.

“Aren’t they frightfully in the way?” I asked.

My companion laughed. “You must hardly ask me that,” he said. “You see I'm a soldier myself and not allowed to express opinions. But I understand that according to the regulations, these civilians supply the driving power, or the inspiration or something or other, that keeps us all going.”

AT this moment the whole tank was shaken with a fearful concussion. A blinding flash of light seemed to come through an opening in the top. Then all was darkness again and hubbub.

“Great Heavens!” I exclaimed. “Was that a German shell that struck us?”

"No fear!” laughed my companion. “We are still three miles behind the lines. No, they merely opened the top of the tank and threw in a barrelful of election pamphlets. The civilians are scrambling for them. They’ll begin making speeches in a moment.”

“Is that all?” I said. “And you say we are still three miles behind the lines?” “Come,” said my companion, “I can give you a look out.”

We made our way as best we could towards the side of the great machine. The civilians, jostling for the pamphlets^ shouldered rudely against us. One or two, seeing me in civilian dress, even plucked me by the arm. “Have you eaten anything to-day?” asked one in a nervous, hysterical manner. “Are you controlling your food? Let me beg, sir, let me exhort you, let me adjure you, to control your food!” Another took me by the sleeve on the other side. “Are you sub-

scribing any money towards the cost of this tank?” he pleaded, fawning upon me in a sort of ingratiating, subservient way. “Let me beg you, sir, let me exhort you! It will be so noble of you if you do.” “Never mind them,” whispered my companion in my ear, “they’re only the Exporters. They’re paid to run round and do that. Come along through here.”

We passed down a dark passageway, between gun carriages and piles of munitions, towards the side of the tank. I noticed that the soldiers as we passed merely fell back with a salute to my companion, but without a word.

“Don’t they exhort, too?” I asked. “They can’t; they’re too busy,” he an-

swered. “But, here we are. Now look through this hole.”

AS he spoke he opened a sort of trap or slot in the side of the huge structure. The sunlight streamed brightly through. We put our faces to the little aperture and looked out. There beside us lay the wide and deeply trodden fields of Flanders, mile upon mile of trampled mud flecked with snow, of scattered bushes and thick grass beaten down by the tramp of countless regiments. Over it all lay the still illumination of early dawn. But what held my eye most was the long line of tanks, of which our huge machine must evidently form a part, drawn up, side by side, at spaces of about fifty yards,

and reaching miles away till lost on rhe horizon.

“Great sight, isn't it!” said the officer at my side. “They’re waiting the word to go into action. Notice the little bannerets astern of each tank that mark them. That is New Zealand’s next to us. The one beyond is full of Irish—listen and you’ll hear them arguing inside. But you notice they’re moving off first all the same. That next is from Aberdeen. See the crew walking alongside! They do that for the first two miles (the enemy is about three miles away) to save coal. There further yet, is a whole row of London tanks—hear tPe racket inside? They’re holding a music hall show as they go. And there away down the line,

Cornishmen, Welshmen, Australians, South Africans—the whole British Empire . . . miles and miles of them.”

“They’re all starting to move!” I exclaimed.

“So they are,” said my companion. “The word of command must have come. That means that we must close up this trap. It’s forbidden to open it in action.”

“Then are we starting, too?” I asked, with a thrill of excitement.

“Not yet,” said the officer with a grim smile. “They’re going to take a vote first. Listen!”

As he spoke a great shouting arose from the civilians gathered in the central aisles and passages of the tank.

“Are they cheering for the battle?” I shouted into the officer’s ear.

“No,” he called back, “they’re cheering

for Sir Gil-, the great leader; he’s

passing down the tank.”

“Sir who?” I called.

He shouted the name again. But the din was too great to permit of my hearing. At any rate, as my guide spoke, I caught sight of a statesmanlike figure, moving down the centre of the tank, amid the shouts of the Exhorters, and the civilians. His noble features seemed, even in the half darkness, strangely familiar.

“Wonderful, isn’t he?” said my companion, raising his hand in a salute to the passing figure of the leader. “He goes up and down the tank like that ten times every day.”

“What good does it do?” I asked.

“None. But think of the marvellous energy and vitality that he must have to do it.”

“Has he any work to do here?” I inquired.

“Oh, rather. Notice that wheel and crank right at the back of the machine (see he’s walking towards it) ? It's his business to turn that round, or at least to try to. It makes the tank go backward. There’s other machinery away up in front that makes it go forward. The idea is (I’m only quoting the civilians—• it’s not my business to know anything about it) that if we can move the tank backwards and forwards at the same time we shall get a perfect equilibrium— an absolute harmony. But stop, listen, listen !”

[SEEMED to hear, as it were, in the far distance, a reverberatory sound, distant and dull, but reaching us in spite of the noisy babel around Sir Gilbert.

“It’s the tanks,” said my companion, and I could see his feature? brighten with excitement. “Listen! They’re going in. They’re at the first line trenches. Hear that? That sort of sputtering it’s the machine guns. Those must be the New Zealanders. And that . . listen

. . . it’s the whole battery of the Lon-

don men.” As he spoke a sudden passion of anger seemed to sweep over his face, and to change his voice. “My God!” he exclaimed. “They’re in it. Why can't we hurry? This cursed talking—talking. They’re fighting now for life or death out there, and we stand here, stuck like this.” He gripped a little iron railing beside him, forcing himself to self-control. But as he still spoke I could hear from the dark corners and sides of the tank where the soldiers were, low angry mutterings and growls of protest.

“Steady, men, steady,” the officer called into the dark. “Remember it’s our first duty to obey.”

“But if he’s the leader,” I said, making

myself heard as best I could, “why doesn’t he order the tank forward with the rest?”

“Leader of nothing!” exclaimed my companion, in disgust. “That’s only a nickname. The real leaders are up in front, working like the soldiers, too busy for this silly babel of talking and voting. But they’ve got some kind of fool compact with him. . . It’s more than I


Here a renewed shouting interrupted us. I turned and looked toward the leader, and saw that he had now mounted upon a little iron platform, beside which a few dim electric lights illuminated his handsome, statesmanlike face. About him there seemed to be formed a special group of civilians, dressed in frock coats and evidently, themselves, persons of importance.

“Who are they?” I asked.

The officer shrugged his shoulders. “Search me!” he said. “They’re only politicians. I’ve been away from Canada three years now and have forgotten the names of them. We ran this show ourselves, you know, we soldiers, till last autumn. Then this bunch came butting in, and the orders were to take them all into the tank. But listen to this!”

A BURLY-LOOKING man with a megaphone in his hand had mounted on to the platform beside Sir Gilbert. He began calling out into the crowd. But such was the general hubbub and so loud and audible had become the detonation of great guns out on the plain beyond us, that it was almost impossible to hear what he said. But the discourse, as far as I could catch it, ran something like

“Gentlemen and citizens of Canada” (loud cheering from the civilians) “we are now about to go into action. . , But before doing so, it is necessary and proper that we should take a vote. Ballot papers will be handed round among you, and you will kindly mark them with a cross in order to indicate whether you wish to go into action forwards or backwards . . .” (prolonged shouting).

The tumult became greater at every moment. I could see groups of angrylooking men in khaki turning towards the platform and shaking their clenched fists

as they called out: “What in - are

we waiting for? Turn her loose! Let’s get at them.” Meantime the Exhorters and Persuaders ran to and fro distributing little papers, and saying, “Gentlemen, may we beg you, may we exhort you, let us adjure you; will you please kindly, mark your ballots.”

The din and hubbub grew at every moment, the angry voices of the soldiers, the cries of the Exhorters, and the bellowing of the megaphones.

How long it lasted or how it would have ended, I cannot say. But all of

a sudden a wide trap door in the ceiling of the tank opened and admitted a great flood of sunshine that penetrated to the darkest recesses of the huge machine. Round the rim of the opening appeared a circle of merry-looking Cockney faces, under steel caps, all grimy with powder, but joyous as the faces of boys on a big holiday.

“I say, you chaps down there,” called an unmistakably London voice, “where the blooming Hydes have you been? The whole bally show’s over. Come out and

There was a rush towards the sides and openings of the tank. I could see the soldiers everywhere opening up the little apertures and peering out. My companion and I raised again the slot through which we had looked before.

The whole plain lay before us, a mass of moving and cheering men, among which the great tanks, now decked with flags and surrounded by their shouting crews, crunched their way homeward. Here and there one could see long lines of German prisoners tramping through the mud, dull and dispirited. From the moving fiTe of the London tanks went up the gay songs of the music hall and the merry music of the accordion. Even the Aberdonians were singing solemnly and rhythmically “Auld Lang Syne” and wiping the mud off their tank as they went along.

“Great Heavens!” gasped my companion. “It’s all over. The trenches are taken and the thing is done while we were held up here with our silly voting. By the Lord,” he continued, as our ears caught an angry shouting that arose all around us, “watch out for trouble now!”

We turned from the window. The soldiers of our tank had left their places. With angry cries and with upraised fists and some with iron bars or bayoneted rifles, they were moving on to the civil-

“Clean them out!” they shouted. “Out with them ! We’ve had enough of them!”

All was confusion.

I could see the Exhorters in frock coats making impossible leaps through the narrow windows. One was calling out: “In the interests of harmony, gentlemen, in the general interest of harmony,” as they heaved him out through the top.

My companion turned to me. “I don’t know how you got in here,” he said, quietly, “but I have just one piece of advice to give you. Beat it! And when you get to Canada tell them to let us run this tank ourselves.”

I shook his hand, seated myself upon my flying carpet, and was back again in Canada in less than nothing ... in fact in lots of time to read the morning papers of the same day, explaining precisely how the war could be won, but omitting to state how it could be lost.

The Coming of a Canadian War Bread

THI'.RK are other (/ruins than mitral which give very satisfactory flours to use with a certain amount n/ wheat flour. Last year Canada produced 51,684,000 bushels of barley, 39.1,570,000 bushels of oats, with a considerably smaller amount, of buckwheat, rye and corn. Any of these can be substituted for wheat flour to the amount of ten or twelve per cent., so the bakers agree, giving a wholesome and palatable loaf. The barley loaf set ms to come nearest to the standard white bread for color and texture and flavor, which is fortunate since the price of barley is about three-fifths the price of wheat, and barley is not largely used for food in other ways as arc oats and. corn. Uy this plan of substitution the people of the United States aim to save 100,000,000 bushels of wheat out of the 500,000,000 bushels ordinarily used for home consumption. The outlook is just as hopeful in Canada, for from the investigations and negotiations between the Food Controller and the bakers and millers of the provinces we have every indication that we will all be eating war bread before many weeks.