The Honorable Eustace and other imported Mounties
A retired RCMP assistant commissioner recalls the free-and-easy days of
Sixty years ago the Royal North West Mounted Police ran out of home-grown volunteers. They launched an enlistment campaign outside Canada that produced, among other unlikely recruits, a remittance man, a circus freak and a collection of cheerful topers. This is what happened when the new redcoats met the old frontier—a Maclean's flashback
VERNON A. M. KEMP
EARLY THIS CENTURY Royal North West Mounted Police officials decided to launch recruiting campaigns in Britain to keep the force up to strength, since native-born Canadians were showing reluctance to enlist. There had always been Englishmen, Scots and Irish in the ranks, but now their number increased greatly. The imported batches of men were augmented by homesteaders who had come over on their own and then decided they preferred the life of adventure that the force was thought to offer.
One of the latter was Bert Mosses, an old friend who was a corporal in charge of the Rosetown, Saskatchewan, division when I first knew him. Mosses came to Canada in 1906, lured by prospects of early wealth as a rancher.
On his way to the foothills he dropped off at Winnipeg to learn something of the Canadian way of life. It was a hot day and he sought refreshment in a convenient bar. Among the patrons was an inspector of the RNWMP, in uniform and consuming whisky and soda. “That’s Inspector Church of the Mounties,”
confided the bartender. “He’s in Winnipeg looking for recruits.” At the time Church was riding master of the force, a well-known character. His presence in the bar in uniform was by no means exceptional in those days, when RNWMP members were permitted that form of recreation. To look for prospective recruits in such surroundings would seem strange today, but not in the early nineteen hundreds when an inclination for a quiet glass was no obstacle to membership.
Mosses, who had not previously considered the mounted police as a career, accosted the inspector. A few days later he was in Regina, a fully enlisted rookie.
Another recruit had been a hypnotist in continued overleaf
civilian life. He arrived in Regina from Britain wearing a particularly repulsive beard. Informed that he would have to remove his appendage, he demurred. The adjutant was adamant: “Shave off the beard or you won’t be engaged.” So off came the beard.
This character was an asset to barrack-room life, as he was always prepared to hypnotize willing subjects. On one memorable occasion our cook volunteered as a subject. Under hypnosis, he was directed to include roast turkey on the next day’s menu. The following noon he produced the customary slab of boiled beef and said with a straight face: “I hope you enjoy the turkey for a change.” This entertaining constable was released from the force for cause after six months, and returned to the vaudeville stage.
Another of our members was a Scot named Murray. At one point in his career Murray had been reduced to accepting a position as the wild man from Borneo in a touring carnival. According to Murray, preparation for his role occupied a full three hours, the matted hair added to scalp and torso, the lecherous grin and fearsome teeth all requiring care and patience in adjustment. With make-up completed, our comrade was cast into his den, with a stout ring prudently fastened around his neck. Then a supply of gory bones was thrown to him. A sadistic patron on one occasion prodded him with a lighted cigar, causing him to leap high in the air and revile the customer in terms that certainly had no origin in the wilds of Borneo. The fraud being thus re-
vealed, he was promptly fired. He crossed the Atlantic, then joined our ranks.
In the force were a few British army reservists who were mistakenly confident that they would never be required for military service again. With the outbreak of war in 1914 these men were all released for service at the front. They included a winner of the Victoria Cross, Michael O’Leary.
Another old soldier who arrived at Prince Albert on completion of his training had an interview with Superintendent W. H. Routledge and emerged with an obvious grievance.
“He seems to think that all us old soldiers are a bunch of boozers,” he lamented. “He says to me, ‘You’re an old soldier, aren't you?’ 1 said yes I was. ‘Well!’ he said, i hope you don’t drink.’ I told him, ‘No sir.’
“Me drink?” he went on in scornful yet righteous tones. “I’ve seen too much of it in the army for me ever to getthe habit. I wouldn’t touch the stuff if it was in barrels and free for the taking.”
The word quickly got around that there was a paragon of rectitude, a man of impeccable habits, a teetotaler who would at no time fall from grace. The sergeant-major got to hear of it and rejoiced, as did the OC.
It seemed only a matter of days before this old soldier was selected for detachment duty. At his outpost he worked in an untiring and highly efficient manner — when sober. But one whiff of a passing cork would start him off on a real bender. He was soon recalled to headquarters in Prince Albert where his tendencies could better be curbed, and he
rounded out his service in a more or less satisfactory manner until recalled to the colors in 1914.
The right of a member of the force to take a drink while in uniform did not mean that discipline was lax in those days. On the contrary, the penalties were far tougher than they are today. It was the unvarying practice to place men “under arrest” for the most trifling misdemeanors and to impose drastic penalties. This treatment was an accepted phase of service to which all submitted stoically, if not cheerfully.
Probably one reason we were allowed to drink in uniform was that we were rarely out of uniform. Restrictions on the wearing of civilian clothes were rigid and unrealistic. Some OCs refused to allow the privileges of plain clothes at any time and the more tolerant granted only one such pass a week.
But, paradoxically, the right to take a drink did not excuse showing the least sign of it. The Mounted Police Act made it an offense to be intoxicated, “however slightly.” In the force today a charge of intoxication is rare. When it is laid dismissal is usually the result. Fifty years ago things were a little different. It was apparently considered preferable to retain a man who occasionally took a drink but who knew his job and was content with his lot than to hunt for a new recruit who might himself prove unsatisfactory. There was the additional possibility that the gap in the ranks would remain unfilled.
This disinclination to dismiss men for intoxication, however slight, was not matched by re-
luctance to impose harsh penalties. Rarely did an offender get off with less than a ten-dollar fine for his first charge of intoxication. For a second or third offense the penalty might be fifteen dollars, or more. Imprisonment for a month or two, which carried with it complete forfeiture of pay, was occasionally invoked. A fifteen-dollar penalty in those days was almost a month's pay for a young constable.
The diversity of other peccadillos for which men were punished was astounding. “Improperly saddling his horse,” “hesitating to obey an order,’’ “neglecting to wash before breakfast.” "being improperly dressed,” “laughing on drill.” and “loitering while on duty” were among the items considered sufficiently heinous to justify a complete orderly-room parade.
One factor that seriously limited the indulgences of members of the force was lack of funds, and a colleague with a sudden windfall of cash was likely to find himself, temporarily at any rate, the most popular man in the barrack-room. One such was a genuine remittance man with whom 1 served at Prince Albert. (Contrary to popular belief, there were actually few remittance men on the force, and this was the only one I ever met.)
We all eagerly awaited the arrival of a cheque from “the pater” at home in England. The inevitable result was a party, followed by a series of personal appearances on misdemeanor charges in the orderly room. Our superiors could pinpoint with reasonable accuracy the dates on which the allowance arrived by the incidence of delinquencies which tarnished the monthly divisional Defaulters’ Return. We
all had a warm affection for the lad's parent.
Our remittance man's closest friend was one Watkins who had been brought over from England by a recruiting officer. The two probably would never have met in the old land. Watkins had been a carpenter who wanted to escape from the routine of his trade and found his wish gratified to the full: a mounted patrol into the bushland north of Prince Albert, or south across the prairies to Saskatoon, was a distinct change from his former calling. In due course he left the force, turned his talents toward the stage, and for years played cockney roles in Hollywood.
I recall two well-educated constables who had adjoining beds in the barrack-room. One, an Irishman, had studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood. The other was an Englishman who had attended an Anglican divinity school.
The disparity in their religious beliefs, far from causing arguments, appeared to be a bond. Their frequent discussions on religious subjects were intelligent, and any of us interested in broadening our knowledge of ecclesiastical affairs could profit by their debates. I spent one evening of particular interest with the two as they calmly examined the doctrine of transubstantiation, a bottle of whisky between them to stimulate thought.
On the other hand, at least six men I knew took the opposite course by leaving the force to enter the ministry. Their far-reaching encounter with crime, and their barrack - room life, proved of incalculable value when counseling erring souls.
One of the most memorable results of the
recruiting campaign of the summer of 1907 was the enlistment of the Honorable Eustace. That was not his name, but an irreverent mounted policeman, one of several who witnessed his arrival at RNWMP headquarters in Regina, was prompted to remark, “My God! It's the Honorable Eustace,” and the pseudonym remained.
To set the scene of the Honorable Eustace's entrance, 1 should explain that the Regina headquarters of the RNWMP was a veritable Garden of Eden on the otherwise austere, bald plains, with its cultivated flowers, shrubberies and lawns, a rare sight sixty years ago. Local citizens often took visitors on tours of this notable showplace.
So the appearance of a carriage transporting the Honorable Eustace along the barracks roadways did not excite immediate attention. It was not until the visitor stepped from his vehicle that the significance of the occasion was realized.
He happened to arrive just as the men were falling in for noon stables with a sergeant and corporal in charge. The men of the stable parade were thus privileged to witness at pointblank range the ensuing events and to relate them at the various posts to which they were later assigned.
The man who stepped out of the carriage wore a top hat, a frock coat with two inches of starched white cuff protruding from the sleeves, striped trousers and patent - leather shoes. He carried a walking stick with a silver handle and his patrician face was adorned with
a magnificent, neatly trimmed blond beard.
“My God!” said the awe-struck sergeant to the corporal. “Who’s that?”
“Must be the governor-general,” replied the other, “or maybe a cabinet minister or a senator.”
“Here, you take over the parade,” said the sergeant. “I'd better go and talk to him.”
The event had attracted attention in other quarters. Heads were thrust from office windows and barrack-rooms, while officers’ ladies could be seen viewing the proceedings with obvious interest from their own homes.
“Can 1 help you, sir?” inquired the sergeant courteously, only with great difficulty restraining himself from a salute.
“Now that’s extraordinarily kind of you,” replied the other, in a posh accent, beaming appreciation upon the sergeant. “As a matter of fact I'd like a word with your commissioner.”
“The commissioner’s away right now,” answered the sergeant. “I wonder if you shouldn’t see the adjutant. Is it a personal matter, sir?” “Oh, rather, rather,” replied the newcomer. “I should say that it is very personal, decidedly personal. I’ve a letter for the commissioner from my uncle in England. As a matter of fact, I’ve come all the way from the old country to join the mounted police.”
At this disclosure the sergeant was visibly shaken, while from the ranks of the stable parade came a murmur of ribald comments. The contemplation of this fashion plate as a barrack-room comrade was literally overpower-
ing. The fact that the sergeant had addressed a prospective recruit as sir was an additional amusement.
The muttcrings were speedily ended.
“Stop that talking on parade!” barked the corporal, and sensing the wisdom of a discreet withdrawal, he marched the assembly off to the stables.
“You’d better come with me,” grunted the dispirited sergeant to the newcomer. Having been a young constable himself years before, he could appraise the subdued comments passed by the men behind him. When a clerk from one of the offices approached, he seized the opportunity to dissociate himself from further dealing with this Beau Brummel.
“This constable will take you to the adjutant’s office,” he said coldly, adding with a gleam of satisfaction, “We’ll get better acquainted later on.”
The Honorable Eustace was speedily approved for enlistment. There were many vacancies at the time and rarely were men of good character, education and physique kept waiting. Twenty-four hours after his impressive descent on the barracks square, Eustace, minus his beard, was taken on strength.
Training was no problem. Years of riding to hounds and a fling in the local yeomanry in England had provided excellent grounding in equitation and foot drill. The newcomer became an efficient member of the force. He had a warm personality and established himself as a good comrade and friend.
But before attaining full qualifications as a policeman, Eustace needed certain psychologi-
cal indoctrination. He was accordingly assigned to a spell as driver of the slop cart, a vehicle for the collection of garbage. Even the most menial of chores can be invested with dignity. Certainly old Major, the horse that drew the vehicle, wore an air of impressive austerity. Major was as much a mounted police character in those years as the men themselves, and Eustace and Major got along very nicely. The former proved himself a good sport and performed the humble role without grumbling.
When Eustace was transferred to Prince Albert he was warmly welcomed there. His career had already aroused interest. His baggage still included the top hat, frock coat and striped trousers he had arrived in. An illfounded rumour had it that Eustace was wellto-do, and any comrade with a little spare cash was a godsend in those days. Disappointment set in when the men learned that Eustace was as poor as the rest of them, yet what he lacked in hard cash he more than offset by a bright cheery nature.
In a few weeks Eustace landed at a detachment where, singlehanded, he patrolled a wide area. One evening a rush call came to him. A free-for-all fight was in progress in the local bar. The battle was still on when he arrived, although casualties had somewhat thinned the ranks. Fists, boots and bottles were being wielded by the combatants. Eustace sailed into the melee.
It turned out Eustace was a modest soul who had not disclosed to his comrades that he had continued on page 51
continued from page 28
American recruits included a cowboy, a divorce detective, and a deserter from the cavalry
held an amateur ring championship in Britain and had boxed at the National Sporting Club, the ambition of amateur fighters in the old land. Two of the gladiators, resenting interference in what they considered a private affair, closed their ranks against the policeman. One, attempting a kick to the groin, Eustace quickly knocked out. The other he rocked with a hard right to the jaw. A chartered team of horses removed these battered warriors to the detachment. With sundry other disturbers of the peace, the premises soon overflowed with human bodies.
Not long afterward, an unfortunate disciplinary lapse caused Eustace to be recalled to the Prince Albert post, where he served the rest of his career in the force performing routine duties under the watchful eye of the commanding officer.
While the proportion of recruits from Britain was high, a few came from other parts of the world. One was Durant, who had heard of the RNWMP while a member of the South African constabulary. Durant withdrew all his savings and worked his way to New York on a freighter. His police experience did not prevent him from being robbed of his life savings by a pickpocket in New York, and Durant found himself in a serious predicament. Jobs were scarce, and as an alien in transit he could not legally seek employment. Then one day, wandering the streets of Manhattan penniless, he saw a “man wanted” sign in a haberdasher's window. Durant happened to fit the requirements: broad shoulders, chest and posterior, to demonstrate a new type of trouser suspender with pulleys that adjusted to the wearer’s movements. For several weeks Durant performed in the store window, ceaselessly bending and stooping to demonstrate the virtues of the suspenders. In this way he earned enough to pay his fare to Regina.
The rules of the RNWMP stated clearly that recruits must be British subjects, but this requirement was occasionally ignored, and among my early comrades were several Americans with an occasional German, Aus-
trian, Dane, Swede and Belgian to add to the international flavor. While by no means a parallel to the French Foreign Legion, the force was far from the all-Canadian body it became.
One American was a deserter from the U. S. cavalry, for reasons he never revealed. He concealed his previous employment from the adjutant and entered the force under an assumed name. Only his closest friends knew of his past. He acquired both promotion and naturalization as a British
subject, and later took legal steps to change his name.
I encountered three other Americans in my early years in the force. Our sergeant-major. Wilcox, was one: another was a former cow-puncher who saw great scope for his profession in breaking mounted police remounts. The third had been a private detective. Why the latter came to Canada was never very clear. He always claimed he had been prompted by a desire to apply his talents to the solution of
crime. His barrack-room friends, however, felt that the pursuit of evidence in divorce cases, his specialty, had proved too disturbing for cither his peace of mind or personal safety.
In our division we had a German named Ahich who was still a German citizen. After training he was posted to Vonda, where he carried on alone with a minimum of direction. On one occasion he calmly entered a house and arrested an armed man wanted for murder. His later service
was marked by the same calm efficiency. Promotion was fairly rapid in the force fifty years ago because of the constantly changing personnel, and Abich, while still a German national, soon attained the rank of sergeant.
He was not too popular with his comrades. A tendency to Prussian brusqueness set him apart from his fellows. But none could deny the quality of his work. Among other accomplishments he was a fine pianist and was rumored to have played Bach on the German concert stage.
Abich returned to Germany on leave of absence to visit his mother in June 1914. The First World War broke out two months later. An undocumented story was that Abich had been killed in action while serving as an officer in the German army. One yarn, which seemed to attain the ultimate in coincidence, claimed that he had been killed by a former member of the force who recognized him.
One of our few native-born constables had been a professional actor in Toronto. Why he chose the force as a career in preference to the footlights was not revealed, although dark allusions led us to suspect that the reason was not a happy one. We never probed the past of a comrade.
The young constable's ability on the stage nearly led to his undoing. He was selected for duty at a small detachment under a veteran sergeant, who delighted in regaling subordinates with tales of derring-do from the early days of police history. One of these yarns was his valiant arrest of a bandit, Two-Gun Pete. The sergeant invariably concluded the recital: “I stuck my six inches of government gas-pipe into his ribs and I said to him, ‘Now get in that buckboard, you gun-toting profanity.’ ”
The young buck was warned before his departure to demonstrate a suitable degree of awe when his turn came to hear the story. Within a week the youngster found himself under arrest for insolence. He had taken his advice too seriously. As the sergeant unfold-
ed the hair-raising account a look of admiration spread over the constable's countenance. His lower jaw dropped in apparent wonder. The sergeant correctly diagnosed his attitude as phony and returned the ex-actor to divisional headquarters at Prince Albert where he was assigned to the inglorious job of stable orderly.
We had at one time a gentleman of title at our post. Sir Granville Templet affectionately known as Jakey. A man much older than the other occupants of the barrack-room, Jakey had engaged in the old North West Mounted Police in 1891. In 1912 he presented himself for reinstatement and was employed as night stoker, a way of life somewhat different from his social background in England.
Temple was a product of England’s Royal Military College at Sandhurst and held a commission in the British army until he set out for Canada in 1891. The adjutant of the force reported on seeing the new recruit: "He is evidently a gentleman by birth and education, though now, for reasons known only to himself, dead broke.”
Like many others then in the force. Jakey found himself frequently in the orderly room for trivial disciplinary transgressions. At no time did he make any allusion to his title or family. A comrade in Regina knew his story, however, and it was learned that Temple was a baronet, related to several prominent families in Britain. In 1919, while still a special constable, he died of cancer. I visited him a few hours before he passed away, assisting him in the preparation of a will. Although he knew death was close at hand and messages might properly be sent to his family he maintained complete silence as to his personal affairs. His motives in abandoning his position and pursuing such an unusual mode of life were never revealed. Whatever his secret, it perished with him. ★
This article was excerpted from Mr. Kemp’s forthcoming hook, Scarlet and Stetson (Ryerson Press, $5.00).