Zero Day

Victor Leese May 1 1918

Zero Day

Victor Leese May 1 1918

Zero Day


"On zero day, at zero hour, the Canadian Corps will take Vimy Ridge.”—Army Orders.

Victor Leese

Who wrote “Monsieur Bill Foster,” “Second in Command,” etc.


THE Canadian Corps carried out its orders. Afterward the corps commander wiped clean the slate which carried the long tale of meticulously careful preparation, to write thereon a victory. And the young infantrymen cleaned their slates, separating themselves from the tale of longer training than the older men had known, with the involved reproach of never having seen a battle, and wrote themselves comrades of the veterans, soldiers in their own eyes and before the world.

war young It confuses him. Among other things, it discourages, tempts, annoys and humiliates him: and finally, if he permits, it educates him. But above all it confuses. It is not what, even in his tnost sceptical mood, he expected. He is compelled to do things for which he finds no reason. Actions amply sanctioned by his private logic are forbidden. The less his logic, as a rule, the more it feels affronted.

A trench is the narrowest way through life, and one of the simplest. To follow a trench past two cross trenches and take the second branch to the right beyond is no great feat. But the young soldier will explore half-a-dozen blind alleys; will discover (when he gets back) that one óf the cross-trenches coincides with his way for a hundred yards; will circulate from three to seven times round a detour that the sergeant forgot to mention; and the simple, narrow way will turn into a clueless maze.

After that he may do desperate things, such as seeking guidance of artillerymen. Or he may cynically accept that hopeless trench as the fitting symbol of all things military. But if he is a good man he will merely get over it.

And when he has finished getting over it? Oh! then he is a formidable, splendid thing. He ceases to wonder whether he is a hero or a coward; he knows that he is akin to both, and follows from choice the middle way of duty. War is confusion still; but always there is some simple thing to do. He trusts himself in the face of all that remains unknown, with a blind, modest faith. He knows that his neighbor will not betray him. He freely recognizes that neighbor’s inalienable right to drink while his mouth is full and honestly to mistake a perfectly new blanket for his

Under the superficial laxity of British —and still more Catuidian—discipline he finds the steel of a code, elastic, but with the elasticity of a well-tempered sword. And though this is a sharp thing that may any day demand his life as ruthlessly as though it were a militaristic bludgeon, still he will cherish it—a sword of honor, which the most un-German optimism of our army counts him fit to bear.

Chivalry is not dead. At zero hour, on recurrent zero days, it is abundantly reborn—in the man-at-arms, the common soldier. Let the world be glad to find him zo magnificently common!


A SERGEANT, a corporal and ten men of the section occupied a dugout meant for eight. There were old soldiers and young soldiers together; but they were beginning to forget the distinction. The dug-out? No two dug-outs are alike. Every dug-out is a home, with a ceiling that continually bumps one’s head. Its structure matters little. As a home, a fundamental institution of this war, it is made and evermore remade by the different groups of men who live in it without privacy enough to hide a head“Whose turn for water?” asked the sergeant.

Telford crashed his entrenching tool through the bottom of a misappropriated bomb box and proceeded to replenish the sinking fire. Birkett sighed contentedly and turned the wetter sides of his boots to the embers. No one else moved. The corporal snored ostentatiously from the wire bunk beneath the sergeant. As the hero of four long trips through the heavy, filthy mud, he could afford to indulge his humor. The sergeant was ill and irritable. His lungs had recently been damaged by the fumes of a coke fire. “Suit yourselves !” he grumbled. “We’ve got to have water.” “What day is it?” Sleepy-eyed Pod-

more’s irrelevance jarred a little. It called to mind his superstitious avoidance of all voluntary labor.

Private “Spokeshave,” fat, self-possessed and whimsical, announced that he was about to speak by taking his pipe from his mouth.

“Why trouble, Pod, to advertise the well-known thickness of your hide?” “Easy, boys!” Little Tonal’ counseled. “It’s over the top in the morning; and we should go like brothers.”

And because the section was the section and secretly proud of mild, competent Little Tonal’ and all his works, Spoke-» shave simply went on smoking.

“It is Easter Sunday. My boots are wet. I’ll go for water.” Thus spoke Cross Rhodes, who would quarrel even with Tonal’, a fearless, dour, ungraceful man, but Tonal’s counterpart and ally.

Five others began to speak at once. A heavy shock silenced them. The candles went out. They heard the loud hum of a shell fragment and the “plop” that ended its career. Then a man breathing heavily stumbled down the stairs.

THE candles were relit. The corporal reached for his field dressing. Every eye scanned critically the man who pushed aside the sodden blanket screening the stairway.

“God Almighty!” said Gregor, the new comer, “but that was close.”

The corporal quietly put back his dressing. Those who had risen sat down again.

“Where’s your tin hat?” growled Spokeshave.

“Hit, I think. I’ll look for it presently.” The sibilant crescendo of a falling howitzer shell, ending in a duller shock, was heard.

“A dud !” Gregor commented. “There’s a lot of duds.” He shook himself nervously. “All the same Andersen looks like having a bad time on post. Two hundred and four shells in the last hour; and he’s just turning his attention to this trench. I guess Fritz knows what’s coming off, all right.”

“Why wouldn’t he?” O’Neill demanded,

“Why petulantly. “Wid all them new huts over the country everywhere and troops and lorries on every road and ammunition dumps like mushrooms in an old corral; and his planes going everywhere.

“Where’s our supremacy in the air?

That’s what I want to know. Twenty of your fancy triplanes looking for a scrap wid the man in the moon, and half a dozen buses takin’ photographs and getting it in the neck;

and Fritz wid his red devils and yellow devils and blue devils raisin’ hell and going wherever they like, at all. Tell me that!”

Shells were still falling close, but they did not put out the candles. No one seemed to notice them but Podmore, who blinked his sleepy eyes comically and sometimes looked round with a slow smile.

‘Two German planes and one of ours down yesterday,” said the sergeant, sociably, “and you don’t notice him going out of his way ever to tackle a triplane, do you? I guess our men will do what’s wanted of them.”

“I never see anything tackle anything,” answered the Irishman, with gloom. “If yez tell me there’s a fight and I come up widout my boots, there’s nothing at all of it left but a long tail of smoke in the air. And you tell me a Fritz came down and think it will pay me for the good pair of socks I’ve lost under two feet of mud. I want to see it raining Fritzes, wid my own eyes, so I can believe it.”

“I take off my hat to the men who run the buses” (slow, low-flying observation machines), said Spokeshave. “That chap yesterday, for instance. Toppled down a thousand feet from three Fritzes, flatened out, opened up over his tail on the one that followed him down, beat him off and went on with his work. It may not be supremacy in the air—but I think it’s better.”

“Better my-.”

“Who is coming with me for water?” Cross Rhodes buttoned his jerkin busily. ■“May as well get it over.”

“I’m wid you,” O’Neill said, hotly. ‘“And I hope a shell hits the two of us, and some of these guys that never lift a finger till they’re told have to carry us

“Terry’s got a grouch,” observed Tonal’, when they had gone.

“Nerves!” said Spokeshave. “We’ve all got ’em, differently. For instance, our mutual friend, Percival Q. Wind-Up, has not spoken two words since breakfast. And why? Has he been stricken dumb, ■or sane, or modest? Not in the least. He is merely a nervous critter, like me, but :some different.”

“Merci à Dieu!” said Little Tonal’, grinning.


NEARLY six feet of ungainly youth, lying cramped in a distant bunk, reading and hitherto unregarded, rolled on its side in acceptance of this quite friendly invitation to speak. Lindop’s eyes were large and solemn. His brown, lately unshaven beard was still almost downy.

“I don’t want to quit reading,” he confessed. “It’s rubbish, but it diverts thought. 1 don’t want to think any more, nor to go out for water, nor ever to go out on post. And I’m not going to pretend that I do.”

The corporal sat up with a jerk, scratched his disordered hair, and struggled with his wet boots.

“I am going to see how Andersen is making out,” he explained. “Anybody coming?”

Lindop meditated.

• “I am,” he said.

“Too late, dreamer. Half a dozen ahead of you. Come on, Tonal’!”

They went out. The shells were fewer. “Pretty good time to get a Blighty,” mused Spokeshave. “I wonder if the Corp. is looking for one.”

“No,” said Lindop. “I think he is a fatalist. I wish we were going over together. He makes me feel safe.”

“Console yourself, Percy! Thousands of sure-enough fatalists will be on parade with you to-morrow.”

“Don’t be a fathead. You know what I mean. I’m not the only man he helps.” Spokeshave was a wise old soldier. He had refused to go over with Lindop, on the principle that it is good for no man to see his best friend die. And he called the youngster Wind-Up (which was not very offensive) and Percy (which was) on the principle that talking is a healthy exei'cise.

“Granted!” he said, still provocative. “And yet the Corp. believes in nothing but women and music.”

“Don’t try to cheapen his faith.”

“I quote.”

Lindop shook his head, half rising. “Love and music,” he corrected. “He means that these things clearly help, and that the rest is dark.”

“You are an ass. The Corp. is not. At least not so much. Your love is a calf of fairy gold. His women are living, warm, real —— the women of England. They are well worth fighting for.”

“Dying for, yes! Nothing is worth the beastly, mechanical stupidity of fighting.” Spokeshave chuckled over some private joke of his own—-a trick he had.

“Exactly,” he mocked. “Let us go over in the morning holding the points of our own bayonets between our ribs, and ask the first German we meet kindly to push on the handle. Sweet Percy, slick dodger of shells and propounder of thoughts to the prejudice of good order and discipline, do you know what happens to men of your temperament when they go over? If I were a Fritz to-morrow, an intelligent Fritz, with a proper taste for home comforts and the loveliness of an English April, and you were to approach me, I should empty half a belt of cartridges into your pacific disposition, and then surrender to some savage-looking sergeant-major.”

“I don’t know,” said Lindop humbly. “This is my first real battle. I think that is what makes me so anxious not to be hit beforehand.”

“A Blighty for me!” cried Podmore. “Any old time will do. Ping! Right here, please! Nice, clean little bullet-hole straight through the joint, so it’ll stiffen me up for life.”

“But I’m afraid,” hé added gently, that 1 have been lucky too long. If I get it I shall get it good.”

“Chut,” said Birkett, his chum. “The war will be over in six weeks.”

“Or months,” said Telford. “Or perhaps two years.” And he split more wood for the fire.


LITTLE TONAL’ came in again, humming tunelessly.

“It is a lovely day outside. Perfect observation. Fine work by the heavies.

“I saw a fifteen-inch make a crater right against that grain-stack we reported as a probable machine-gun emplacement. The stack is kind of tousled, instead of being blown all over the lot. Something solid showing, too. The Corp. thinks they’ve built a concrete emplacement inside, cementing some of the sheaves in place.”

They pondered. Most of them had watched some stages of the change the guns had made on Vimy Ridge. They had seen the greenness go even as it brightened. The well-marked trenches of a month ago had lost their insolent security, some could hardly be traced; others were utterly wiped out; here and there an overland track threaded between ragged ditches of linked shell holes. Skeletons that had been trees lifted reproachful arms that no leaves would ever clothe. An untidy litter of rubble marked where the homes of men had been. Line after line of heavy wire was everywhere breached.

Beyond the eastern rim of that little world were most of the enemy guns. And all day long, day after day, the ghostly rush of heavy shells streamed overhead toward that rim, and passed beyond to make wild havoc out of sight and hearing.

But here and there, in spite of all, the waste of yellow-brown clay with its ugly chalk and rubble scars would house some things that dealt out death. How many? No man could guess. In the morning they would know.

Or they would have bought knowledge for others.

“We ought to have watched more eagerly,” said Lindop. He said strange things, that boy.

“We have done well,” said his friend.

Lindop made a gesture of despair.

“The little more care, the little greater patience that would have saved a hundred lives to-morrow. I regret them.”

Finding several curious eyes watching him, and some kind ones, he blushed.

“I know -,” he said, his big eyes

shining. “I know I take the cake for carelessness and impatience. I know my wind gets up too easily. That’s why I speak. If we were all keen and tireless soldiers, instead of leaving these things to the few, the war would soon be won.” “In the section,” said Tonal’, “each man does what he can. If that is not enough he leaves us. If it is, we do not hastily interfere.

“Yes,” Lindop muttered, still flushed. “I know some of you are pretty damned

“Don’t make such an infernal racket,” said the sergeant. “My head is splitting.” In the army, as elsewhere, the old men find that the young ones talk a great deal about nothing.


DINNER was over in the dug-out.

The sergeant entered with three sealed envelopes.

“Telford, Podmore and Lindop,” he said, “you have not been out. Here are three messages. Yours for the advanced engineers’ dump, Telford. Here it is on the map. Start when you are sure of the way. Podmore, the water dump is here. Start ten minutes later. Lindop, ten minutes later; go to Four Company's headquarters in Alpha trench and give this to Mr. Eyton.”

Andersen, relieved from the post, remarked that he had seen ‘the boss” (their officer) walking near the dumps.

“It was very funny,” he added. “Every time a shell came over he ducked. I never saw him duck before. I guess it was just because he thought no one could see him.” Telford returned to the dug-out within the hour, plastered with yellow mud to waist and elbows.

“Stuck in Alpha trench,” he narrated. “Lindop pulled me out. Wrenched ankle. He went on with both messages. His wind is up, but he’s game. I’m going to sleep for a spell. All right for morning.”

“You should not have gone by Alpha,” said the sergeant. “Scrape him down,

Podmore arrived while they were cleaning Telford’s clothes with jack-knives.

“Hullo! Tel. Tumbled down? I met a man doing your job. Little old Percy is a bear. Skates over that hiatus mud like a clumsy but efficient water-beetle.” “Was he rattled at all?” A tinge of suspicion colored the sergeant’s voice.

Spokeshave frowned. Tonal’ looked up at his superior. The corporal appeared bored to extinction. Podmore slowly spread his humorous smile.

“I was too scared to notice.”

There was a light laugh.

“That,” Spokeshave admitted, “is a very admirable lie.”

Yet the youth called Wind-Up came back serenely, in due course, his messages delivered.

“They were fakes,” he announced. “It was just a stunt to get the three of us to take a little exercise.”

The sergeant glowered.

“I’m glad I went,” Lindop ran on, heedlessly. “There was a lark singing somewhere over No Man’s Land, high up, toward where our shells were making lanes through a low wisp of cloud.

“And, say, you know that low place back of Fritz’s line, about Ak thirty-seven E? I fancy he has got guns there for sniping, or perhaps expecting tanks. Anyhow he loosed three whizz-bangs at me while I was crossing a shallow of Alpha where the parapet’s all blown away. I was in too big a hurry to get the direction of fire; but I kind of stuck around and sized things up when he seemed to be feeling better.”

“You’ve been seeing things,” said the sergeant, not unkindly. “Better take a

Storm gathered in Lindop’s eyes, but did not break. He fell to reading.

MOST of the men slept. One or two could not sleep. Lindop went on reading.

Time passed quickly, yet not too quickly, even for the wakeful ones. Cross Rhodes, who slept, rose uncalled at a certain time and began to fry steaks in mess-tin lids. Others wakened at the smell of cooking and began to eat.

Over their talk played the crude, fugitive humor of the trenches. Lindop kindled. He liked this humor in others, lacking it himself.

“This morning's work,’’ he said, simply, “has been like a burden to me for a long time. Perhaps I am afraid. And yet, somehow, I have been happier than usual. I am not sorry to be going over with you. Something is making us all better than

we used to be - out there, in the

estaminets. Nobody gets sore or sulky here. We have only played at squab-

He fell into awkward silence. Spokeshave’s eyes twinkled.

“Tonal’,’’ he said, “some of your excellent seed has fallen into a humid, sandy, shallow soil.’’

“Ay,” said Tonal', smiling at his own drollery, “1 guess the soil you are speaking of has sand enough.”

“Day of days!” exclaimed Spokeshave. “The Scots have humor after all. Tonal' has risen to the sublime height of a pun.” “Be ready to start in an hour," the sergeant warned them. “The corporal and his five men had better go ten minutes sooner. Load your gats and take four bombs each. Don’t risk a jam by trying to get ten rounds in your magazines.”

“If you’ll take the risk of my blowing up the dug-out,” Podmore suggested, “I’ll see that all the bombs are detonated and the pins in order.”

He passed most of the hour in that soldierly employment.

The sergeant’s party of six formed up in the trench. Four men of another section, carrying implements, joined them.

“Podmore, bring up the rear! Forward!”

A few stars peeped through driving clouds. Here and there the mud in the trench was knee-deep. Telford and the four men with implements fell behind. Lindop fell back to help if necessary.

They climbed up out of the trench. Lindop and Telford, relieving two men of a heavy box, perforce fell further behind..

“Better going up here,” said Lindop. “One feels freer, out of the trench.”

“Take it easy. My ankle hurts a bit.” They followed a winding way toward the front line, where now and then trench mortar bombs burst, or a short stutter of machine-gun fire broke out. The British guns were quiet.

Suddenly there came the downward rush of a howitzer shell, so close that it burst while backs were still instinctively bending. Telford dropped the box with a groan.

“Into the trench!” Lindop shouted. “Telford’s hit.”

The last phrase could not have been heard. Lindop reached the trench with the heavy box to find Telford leaning there alone.

“It isn't much. But I can’t help with the box.”

Furiously angry, Lindop ran after the otners. Swearing strange oaths he brought them back. Two other men took

The sergeant led them to a tunnel, in whose cool, well-lighted depths they left the slightly wounded man—incapable of further effort.

In the trench again (they did not know which trench : the tunnel and its environs were unfamiliar), they received vague directions. Perhaps the directions were correct; but they were already a prey to uncertainty. At the second cross trench the sergeant halted, puzzled.

“I think I know this corner,” said Lindop. “I’ll go a little way to the right to make sure.”

“It is Alpha,” he announced, returning. “The battered place where Fritz shelled me is only a hundred yards away. And the line isn't far beyond.”

“We don’t want the line,” said the sergeant. ‘We want Four Company’s headquarters.”

“Very well. I think that must be a little way back, to the left. But I’m not sure.”

“You were sent up this morning to make sure.”

“Was I?” Lindop abruptly stilled "his speech. A bitter sense of injustice filled

“Look for it, fellows,” the sergeant ordered. “Two or three of you in each direction.”

Lindop stood ominously idle. He knew the sergeant’s ill-humor rose from his sickness. He knew that he was at fault. But he wanted to anger the sergeant, in revenge for his own hurt.

No one had gone to the right. , The other searchers came back. The sergeant shivered and gave vent to his bitterness.

“Come,” said Cross Rhodes, evenly. “Lindop and Little Tonal’, let us look toward the line.”

"Here’s the shallow part -.”

A salvo of small calibre shells whistled close above their heads.

“Burst close to where we left the boys,“ said Cross Rhodes, looking back.

“I know now,” Lindop cried. “Just round the corner ahead. I was thinking of other things this morning. Maybe I’m rattled now.”

They found the place.

“Stay here,” Rhodes suggested. "Tonal' and I will bring the boys up.”

After a weary wait Lindop went back and met them on the way.

“Birkett was hit,” someone muttered.

The boy, sick with self-loathing, wondered if, daring much and being hit himself, he would be forgiven. But no one attached any blame to him, then or later.


'T' HE section was in place. Lindop and Andersen crouched together in a cunning funk-hole which Andersen had dug. A dozen shells had fallen very near. Their hole had caved in; they had refashioned it. There had come cool, erect, breathing confidence.”

“You know how long to wait after the opening of the barrage,” Andersen cautioned. “Don’t forget. Stick to the time table and your own job!”

The booming of the heavy guns had grown to a terrible monotony. Lindop dozed uneasily.

Then he was wide awake, in a dread, exalted moment. Quivering chaos had leapt upon him. There were no separate sounds. Only the frenzied drumming of the eighteen-pounders dominated the disturbance and spoke of purpose. And they created not a noise but a cosmic shuddering that shook the soul and made the body light as a feather.

Lindop’s bayonet clicked into place. A hand fell on his shoulder. Andersen was screaming something quite inaudible.

“Come on!” Lindop shouted back. And with the word he was away, leaping, plunging in soft ground, feeling nothing.

Then he was down. Some stuborn, insignificant thing held him firmly by the ankle. It was barbed wire. He tore himself free and sped on. •

An Empire Was in the Balance

THEKE /* ini nili legend in India to the effect that nun nutu a ho finds the three sacred sapphires will her,m,, )nrd ut er all the land. .1 certain ambitious Rajah secures two of the stones and then a strängt elephant wanders into the British elephant hues with a he/l on its neck—and the clapper of the hell is a sapphire! The Oriental cunning of the Rajah is hent to the securing of the third gem. In the meantime a Germern spy comes to the Rajah with information calculated to foment an uprising against the British. And into this web wander a

couple of Englishmen looking for big game hunting. Such in brief is the groundwork of IF. A. Eraser’s remarkable new story, “The Three Sapphires.” It is primarily a story of mystery and intrigue, but through it all runs a stirring background of animai lore. A'o one knows elephants and tigers and the wild beasts of India better than IF. A. Eraser.

This famous Canadian author who is well known to the reading public as the creator of “Mooswa” and the “So’ Zada Tales” has written the best story of his career in “The Three Sapphires” and—

It will start in the next (June) issue of MACLEAN'S

Continued on page 79

Continued from page 37.

Free as the air he felt. The first dim light of dawn was about him. A little way in front, spreading in a line to either hand, moving slowly forward, a great cloud rolled on the earth and burst everywhere into momentary meaningless red efflorescence. Vain white star-lights hovered over it. Now here, now there, the cloud added to itself a fountain of rich, golden light.

“A pillar of cloud and fire,” said Lindop. “A pillar that rolls and crushes. How could a pillar move unless it rolled?”

It was the barrage.

He must be too close. No man was near him. There, to the left was a man. Then there was none. A red blaze had silhouetted him, leaping grotesquely into the air.

On the right were more men. Among them, too, the red light flickered; and again there was an impresison as of wild, drunken dancing.

Not far behind men were advancing in a steady line. A shell burst between the line and Lindop. He recognized that as a shell. He paused. His immediate business lay behind that line. The men in it

shouted at him. Impatiently he waved them on.

How far had he gone? There was no saying. He had better wait till the rest came up, and go with them.

But he could not wait. He could do anything else. Dimly he realized that he could even go back—that, once the first difficult paces of flight were accomplished he might not be able to stop going back, shamefully. Fear lurked not very far behind. He seemed to have outstripped it. He was afraid of fear,

The enemy guns in the hollow! Fancy or fact, they called to him from somewhere forward on the right. They presented an immediate object. They satisfied his need.

He had halted but a few seconds. Now he bore swiftly to the right, falling a little away from the advancing line.

He crossed a trench. There were dead Germans in it. He tried to realize that they had been living men a little while, a very little yvhile, before. The thought refused to shape itself. The stillness of the men belied it.

The sinister whip of machine-gun fire swung past or over him twice. He dropped to the pai-tial shelter of a ruined trench. The mud pulled his puttees down.

South of that unknown trench he ran into a line of men of another division.

“Where are we?” he shouted.

They shrugged their shoulders. It occurred to him that they were in their place; he was not in his. He did not see the hollow he was seeking. He was losing ground for nothing.

He swung to his front, then left on an incline. The heavy going made him pant.

There was a dead man of his own battalion. He must be recovering his place. The dead man looked unfamiliar, as the dead always do.

Then he saw a familiar figure sitting calmly on the edge of a shell-hole.

“Podmore,” he cried, gladly, running that way. He became shockingly aware of blood—a hopeless lot of blood; it sickened him. *

“Podmore!” he cried again, “can I do anything?”—knowing that he could not.

“Don’t bother! I am dying.”

The ear could hardly have distinguished the words; vet their import carried*

“Where are the others?” The boy rebelled against the callousness of his question, though he could not help it.

Podmore smiled, and pointed to where, at that moment, two ruined haystacks near which men were fighting framed off a section of the barrage, directly under the bright arch of the coming sunrise.

“Up there, against that flaming gate. Do you see the gate, boy? I am going through it—soon.”

The boy thrilled to the other’s valour.

“Yes,” he said, stooping quickly to clasp the failing body of the soldier, “it is a gate, old man. It is opening for you now. and my slow feet must carry me there quickly. God speed us both !”

To prepare for the Food Board’s ban on canned vegetables grow your own. The Board has warned us of its intention as soon as this year’s crop of fresh vegetables becomes available to prohibit the consumption of canned vegetables in Eastern Canada to October 15(A and in Western Canada to November 1st. At a recent production meeting in Victoria is was shown that on the fertile land within the city a Chinese community could sustain 150,000 to 200,000 people.