R. Lewis Evans was an English Teacher who loved to write. Although his books are quite well-known, his short stories and articles belong mostly to the more distant past. It was during the 1940s and 1950s that magazine short stories were popular and sought after and Dad wrote over 20 of them. Most were published, and many are of interest especially to those of us who know and love the Lower St. Lawrence and Saguenay areas of Quebec, so I decided to get them out of the file and onto the web-site where they can be read once again.
I've divided the stories into categories. While he wrote mostly river stories about the Tadoussac area, including some historical fiction, he also wrote 6 stories about World War II (4 of which overlap with our beloved river), and a number of odd inspirations, one biblical, several inspired by newspaper items, and even one (gasp!) Science Fiction. There are also some non-fiction articles which will be coming along later in the year. I love them all partly because he wrote about what he loved and I love it too, but partly because his characters are thoughtful, compassionate and real.
I've included a few notes that he kept in the file. Some are news articles he drew his ideas from; others are comments he received from editors either printed in the magazine or sent along to him separately. I've also tried to reproduce the illustrations, duly credited, as all the stories that published were supported by visual art. Only one, Casual Enemy, has no illustrator mentioned. My guess is he drew that one himself.
I've read all these stories several times in my efforts to get them up onto the web-site correctly and I've never tired of them. I hope you enjoy them.
A fair warning: some readers might recognize a few people!
R Lewis Evans War Stories
(As Published in “Boating Magazine”, Vol. 18, no. 3, April, 1942)
by Lewis Evans
PIERRE TREMBLAY put down his pipe and listened. The hollow chug of a diesel engine had suddenly broken the silence of the bay as some craft rounded the steep headland at its outer end.
“No running lights,” the old French-Canadian murmured to himself, and then he smiled at his own comment, for his own little work boat, anchored close under the rugged hillside near the head of the bay, carried no riding light. The bays off the Saguenay River are deep—thirty to a hundred fathoms; small craft have to anchor close to shore in order to find bottom, and lights of any kind attract mosquitoes from the woods.
The jarring clang of a bell slowed the engines of the incoming craft, and Pierre sat back and drew on his pipe again. She was the “Phantome”. He knew that engine bell—it had been cracked for years. The “Phantome” was a diesel-engined coaster with a shady history. Five years ago, meeting her under the same conditions, Pierre would have known that she was bootlegging cheap French liquor from St. Pierre and Miquelon in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the dry counties up river. Not much money in that game now, though, and the “Phantome” had been out of it since her crew had had to jettison a cargo worth well over a thousand dollars, and the pursuing government patrol boat had just enough evidence to get Xavier Bouchard, the “Phantome’s” captain and Pierre’s sister’s son, two years in the Quebec jail.
Well, he hoped that Xavier was up to nothing that might get him into trouble again. That jail sentence had nearly broken his mother’s heart, for she was a gentle and pious woman. Perhaps he was netting salmon—that would get him a fat fine if he were caught, but the government boats were too busy trying to keep the St. Lawrence free from German submarines these days to worry about coasting vessels breaking the Fish and Game Laws. Only a week ago a freighter had been torpedoed out in the Gulf, not so very many miles from the Saguenay. Two patrol boats had already claimed the destruction of the submarine.
Why couldn’t Xavier get some honest work, and save Marie, his mother, the anxiety which was making her old before her time? Honest work was to be had easily enough these days, though Pierre himself was not too sure what kind of a job he could pick up now that this work on the fish-hatchery dam was over. His had been the supply boat for that—a government project to build a salmon hatchery on the stream that emptied into the bay. Today the dam had been finished, the gang had been taken out by launch, and Pierre’s boat was loaded with shovels and picks, unused food stores, cement and dynamite. Ah well—he’d get something to do.
There was work going on aboard the “Phantome” — sounded like heavy oil drums being rolled along the deck. Surely they would not be shifting their cargo at this time of night. Still no lights, and only occasionally came a subdued order. Pierre could see nothing — bateme, but the night was a black one. Then came the louder rumble of oil drums — empty ones. Pierre suddenly stood up and peered into the darkness. Surely Xavier could not be such a fool . . . but still, the St. Lawrence was a long way from Germany, and diesel engines needed fuel oil, and Xavier had always liked easy money . . .
Quietly Pierre hauled in the painter of the ten-foot flat-bottomed boat that served him as tender. As he eased himself aboard he remembered to leave his pipe behind — the dynamite was stowed in the tender for safety’s sake. Two stealthy strokes with a paddle moved him away from his boat. The tide had begun to rise and a slight current set round the bay, drifting him towards the “Phantome”.
At last he could make out the shape of the coaster, her stump mast, and the wheelhouse at her stern dimly silhouetted against the mouth of the bay. Pierre peered at her waterline . . . was there? . . . yes — a long, low, shelving shape protruded astern of the coaster. The submarine lay on the far side of the “Phantome”.
Pierre worked his boat back against the tide, which was running more strongly now, and almost bumped his work boat before he saw it. He got aboard and sat down, holding the tender’s painter.
Poor Marie — what would she do if Xavier got into trouble for this piece of work? And this might be only the first of many refueling episodes. Straightening up with decision, Pierre hauled his tender to that side of his boat farther from the “Phantome”. Leaning over, he worked fast. Once he paused to peer at the position of the coaster, once to dip his hand into the current slipping past the side of his boat, testing its strength. He rummaged in the cockpit and came up with a large reel of cod line, one end of which he
secured to the tender. Leaning over the smaller boat and opening his coat wide as a shield, he struck a match. An end of fuse lay in the bottom; he lighted it and doused the match quickly. Manoeuvring the tender round the stern of his boat, he felt to make sure that the cod-line was not snarled, and then gave the tender a long, gentle push towards the “Phantome”. Sitting down, he carefully paid out the line as the little craft, in the grip of the tide, asked for it.
The rumble of oil drums on the “Phantome” had ceased, and now came a clanking. She was weighing anchor. Pierre gave his tender more slack and felt her take it up. Slowly the coaster’s anchor chain clanked inboard, and her engine was started up. So much of the cod-line was now in the water that Pierre could not feel a definite pull from the tender, but he went on giving slack.
The cracked engine bell jangled aboard the “Phantome”, and her propeller kicked ahead slowly. The clanking of the chain had ceased. Pierre found that the end of the cod-line was in his hand. Knowing the length of the line, and praying that his judgement of distance was right, he pulled in a fathom or two, and crouched in the cockpit. Suddenly there was a hoarse shout in the darkness — the tender had been seen. Pierre tensed, gripping the cockpit coaming.
Then a flash lit the bay — lit up for a second the silver streak of the submarine stretching forward from the flash, three figures on the deck frozen in their movement, and the “Phantome” clear of the submarine and heading out of the bay. Pitch darkness blinded Pierre; a scrap of wood clattered into the cockpit beside him — of the tender’s gunwale, by the feel of it; his ears, deafened by the blast, heard dimly confused shouts and the hurried thump of the “Phantome’s” motor as she fled out of the bay.
The old man, trembling a little, hauled up his anchor and started his motor. Expecting a fusillade of rifle shots at the very least, he zig-zagged along close to shore, heading for the open. No shots followed him, and he rounded the headland and dropped his hook in the next bay down the river.
On such a night that explosion should have been heard in Tadoussac, two miles away at the mouth of the Saguenay. If so surely the patrol boat based there would investigate.
Not long afterwards he heard the drone of the patrol boat. It swept up the Saguenay towards him, its searchlight probing. Pierre hastily lighted his running lights and got under way back towards the bay. The patrol boat caught up to him just off the headland. Pierre pointed towards the bay and was left rocking in the wake of the grey launch.
By the time he had rounded the head the patrol boat was almost alongside the submarine, her searchlight and gun trained on it. There was no resistance, however, for the submarine was submerged and aground at the stern, her bow protruding from the surface at a sharp angle, her crew clinging to the deck. Apparently the blast had occurred near the stern, which had gone down, while the forward part of the hull remained buoyant.
Pierre drifted up to the patrol boat.
“What do you know about this?” demanded the Naval Reserve Lieutenant in command.
Pierre explained, partly in French and partly in broken English, with expressive gestures, but not mentioning the “Phantome”, which by now should be far up the Saguenay, frightened to death but above suspicion.
The Lieutenant expressed his amazement profanely, and added: “Meet us in Tadoussac. The government will be very grateful . . .” Marie would be grateful too, if she knew, thought Pierre. “And we'll get you a new tender and some more dynamite,” went on the officer.
“Oh, the dynamite — it belonged to the government anyway,” said Pierre.
He heard a yell and the sound of quick movement from the pit as he swooped towards it and tossed the grenade
Monte Cassino Downhill
(Published in The Montreal Standard, Spring of 1944)
Lieutenant Johnny Martin takes a long chance on a tricky slope
by Lewis Evans
ILLUSTRATED BY GEOFFREY TRAUNTER
TO USE his own expression, Lieutenant Johnny Martin was skunked. He crouched and shivered in the hole he had scooped in the snowdrift under a stunted bush and mentally compared it with what the Americans called foxholes in the Pacific battle zones. The only fox that might condescend to call this "home,” thought Johnny, would be an Arctic fox.
The miserable shelter in which he crouched was on the southwest shoulder of Monte Cassino, and below him was the valley in which lay one of the main roads to Rome, the valley up which units of the Fifth Army were advancing towards the town of Cassino. Johnny could see the road down there, about a thousand feet below him, and the gaps in it where the retreating Germans had blown up the culverts. He could see the railway line, too, with the twisted girders of a steel bridge sagging into a small river; the Fortresses had fixed that, in a precision daylight attack weeks ago.
The slopes on which he lay, and all the other mountains in that jumble of southern spurs of the Appenines, were deep in snow on their summits but on the lower contours the snow became patchy, and down in the valleys mud reigned supreme. The regiment would be wallowing in it as usual, Johnny thought. The Italian weather had been horribly wet for weeks, and turning cold in December had resulted in the unusual amount of snow on the mountains.
Well, he thought, at least his snowdrift, if cold, was cleaner than the mud down in the valley. Opposite him to his left were the slopes of a smaller valley running into the main one, and that was where his regiment was. His problem was to rejoin them.
The considerable obstacle directly in his way was a small sector of the German defenses, consisting of a machine-gun nest in the lee of a knoll about halfway down the shoulder of the floor of this minor valley. In front of the nest and below the knoll stretched a mare’s nest of barbed wire, protecting the gunners from a frontal charge. Their field of fire covered the lower slopes of the mountain, where the snow gave way to grass and mud.
Monte Cassino had been causing the Allies plenty of worry as they hammered their way through ancient Campania. It was crowned by the huge monastery which had been founded by St. Benedict in the year 529, but that historical fact held little interest for the men whose job it was to rid the mountain of Germans. They hoped that the monks had had the sense to clear out before their mountain became a military objective, and wanted desperately to know if the Germans had established any form of artillery in or near the monastery or the ruined castle just below the two valleys and could break up any advance in force towards Cassino.
Air reconnaissance had failed to reveal any gun sites, but the two buildings afforded such opportunities for concealment that the risk of advancing without further information was too great—hence Lieutenant Martin’s uncomfortable presence on the mountain and on the wrong side of the remnants of the German rearguard.
JOHNNY had been amongst the Canadians who had qualified as paratroopers at an American training camp early in the war, and last night he had been dropped onto the slopes of Monte Cassino from an ugly Lysander Army Reconnaissance aircraft. In the gray December dawn he had scrambled up and onto the monastery courtyard to find the snow lying clean and untracked, and the great stone well standing in the middle as it had stood through the centuries of war and peace. Then he had slithered down to the ruined castle and satisfied himself that the Germans had established no artillery in either place. Possibly, Johnny thought, they considered the buildings to obvious, too likely to be bombed flat by Allied planes.
Into the first rays of the morning sun as it rose behind the Allied armies Lieutenant Martin had flashed the pre-arranged signal which told the watchers that the buildings hid nothing of military importance, and then he had started for home. Worming his way down the shoulder he had seen the machine-gun post. He had expected something of the sort somewhere, and after reconnoitering enough to find that there were other similar nests on other parts of the lower slopes which the advancing troops would probably have to silence by mortar fire, he decided that his only chance was to wait until dark or until the Allied advance had cleared the enemy from their positions.
So he lay and shivered, and considered the terrain below him. As the hours crawled by the sun warmed him a little, and the surface of the snow melted. Like spring snow in the Laurentians, thought Johnny, and his memory conjured up visions of Hill 70 at St. Sauveur, and beer and singing in the pub at night, and ski races against Dartmouth, and the Quebec Kandahar on Mont Tremblant, in the days when he was a Red Bird and used to ski for McGill.
He thought of standing on the brow of Hill 70 in the cold brightness of a Sunday morning and watching the Montreal train, looking ridiculously small from where he stood, pulling into the station, and the unbelievable number of skiers who poured out of it and fanned out towards their favorite hills. From the stationary locomotive a great white plume of steam would go up like a huge mushroom, and yet he would be looking down on its top, just as he was looking down on this valley and the occasional mushroom of smoke from a bursting shell as some German gunners far up the main road searched for the Allied advance units.
SUDDENLY Johnny’s gaze centred on a movement halfway down the slope and well to the right of the machine-gun post. Working round the shoulder of the hill was a man in the white parka of a ski-trooper, and to Johnny’s incredulous eyes he appeared to be on skis. He had apparently come from the steep zigzag road which connected the monastery with the valley below, and where another of the enemy outposts was. From his actions as he traversed the hillside he appeared to be carrying a load, and Johnny figured it must be ammunition or food for the post directly below. His surprise diminished as he realized that the man would hardly dare approach the post in daylight without that white protection, for a field uniform would be seen against the snowy slope from the other side of the valley. Perhaps the Germans had some mountain-trained and equipped regiments here. Their organization was supposed to be efficient and controlled by such inflexible rules that they might easily have sent skis with troops who were to fight in mountainous country even if the mountains were in Southern Italy.
The skier moved on and eventually came to the post, stooped to undo his harness, and then dropped out of sight over the lip of the emplacement. Johnny’s thoughts ran on the subject of skis and skiing. Looking down over the machine-gun nest by the knoll and its protecting wire, he idly wondered whether a good skier taking off from the knoll could clear that wire below it. It might be possible, he figured, as the lower face of the knoll was cutaway steeply and the wire ran close under the face. The landing would be too flat for comfort, he thought, but one could hardly expect a natural jump to have everything. If he had some skis he could wait for night and the moon, which was strong, and then run straight for the knoll, lob a grenade into the nest as he passed, and hope that his speed would take him clear of the wire before he landed. If the grenade did its job and if no other machine- gun covered that field of fire — and he had seen no other post close enough to do so — he might ski on down to the snow-line and find cover and perhaps his own advancing units beyond that.
Oh, well — what was the use of wishing? — but it seemed silly that after volunteering for a special ski course and being bored to death learning to “bear-walk” and do the “crawl” all over the snowy flats of Petawawa he should need a pair of skis in Southern Italy, of all places. The sun was sloping westwards toward the Mediterranean, and the air was getting colder. Johnny Martin thought of the long night on the mountain – he did not dare seek shelter in the monastery or the old castle as some of the Germans might have the same idea. Another twelve hours before he could reasonably expect his friends to attack – Johnny shuddered. “If I stay here all night,” he said to himself with a smile that was a bit grim, “I shall probably wake up in the morning with a very bad cold in the head – if I wake up. And if the attack doesn't drive those Germans away, or if we don't attack at dawn, I may have to stay on and on.”
Anything was better than that, he thought. If that fellow in the parka would start back, and if he could get his skis. . . Johnny got out his large scale map. There was Monte Cassino, there was the winding road from the monastery to the valley, and there was the contour line followed by the skier from the road to the macine-gun emplacement. Johnny's finger followed along the contour line and stopped where it swung deeply in towards the mountain and out again. That must be a stream or stream-bed seaming the slope, he knew. If he could meet the skier in that gully they would be invisible from anywhere but directly above or below; they would be, as it were, in a fold in the ground.
JOHNNY MARTIN got going. He wriggled out of his foxhole, and keeping the height of the drift between him and the post below he crawled up the shoulder towards the ruined castle, and then bore to the left towards the upper end of the gully. He reached it and slithered into it. It was just what he had expected – a rocky stream-bed with a trickle of water from the day's melting, a trickle that would be a torrent if the weather warmed up a little. Johnny scrambled down it till he came to the tracks made by the skier crossing the gully on the way to the post, and then he crouched by a rock a little uphill from the tracks and where he could see them disappear around the shoulder of the slope.
The sun had gone, and visibility was being cut down to a few yards, until at around nine o'clock the rising moon should increase it considerably.
Finally Johnny heard the indescribable sound of skis over snow, and a figure loomed against the sky-line. The Canadian gripped the icy butt of his automatic and tensed himself for a spring. The skier slid into the gully, lost his balance as his ski tips hit the opposite slope, and crashed with a grunt. He grunted once more – a grunt of surprise – as Johnny jumped on him and slugged at his head with the heavy gun. Johnny struggled to strip off the man's parka and heard it rip as at last it came away. Then he freed the skis and picked them up, together with the single ski-pole the German had been using, and started climbing up the gully with his spoil.
Back in his shelter in the drift Johnny waited while the moon cleared the silvery summits of the distant hills. His plan was a chancy one, he knew, but he could not face any more hours in the damp cold and inactivity.
WAITING for the moonrise he adjusted the leather harness to fit his boots, and his thoughts went back to cable bindings and long arguments before log-fires on the merits of super-diagonal and other down-hill devices.
“'The time has come,' the Walrus said . . .” murmured Johnny and stretched himself flat on his skis. Using his hands and feet as a seal uses its flippers he slowly and cautiously tobogganed down the slope as far as he dared. There was a bush a hundred yards or so above the emplacement, and there he stopped. Beyond was the clear, steep ground, ground bathed in moonlight where he would be spotted if he tried to sneak across, then the knoll with the shadow of the weapon pit to one side of it, and dimly seen below the knoll was the tangle of wire.
Crouching, Johnny got his feet into the harness and produced his two grenades from under his parka. One he left on the ground by the bush – he would only have time to use one, and he didn't like the idea of taking a mighty tumble with enough explosive on his person to blow him to bits, safe though grenades were supposed to be until the pin was out.
Slowly he straightened up and launched himself forward. His skis gathered way, and for a moment his mind flipped back to a mad moonlight race on Mount Baldy one March long ago – then he was checking with a forced stem in the yielding snow and pulling the pin from the grenade. His skis came parallel again and he heard a yell and the sound of a quick movement from the pit as he swooped towards it and tossed the grenade in. Then he was on the knoll with his knees bent deep, snapping straight as he crossed the lip of the mound, and he had a blurred impression of white ground surging up at him and a roar from behind him. His skis hit the snow and he wavered, steadied, hit a bump and crashed with a cracking sound that he hoped was breaking skis, not rifle fire. He struggled up to find one ski intact and the other broken off short behind his foot. On he plunged towards the darkness of the valley, trying to keep most of his weight on the unbroken ski. A clump of bushes loomed up and he swung round it in a forward leaning turn that would have been appreciated on the Taschereau run, only to see a great patch of snowless ground beyond it. He tried to stop but his skis bit the earth, and he somersaulted madly. In the first roll his head hit a chunk of half-frozen turf and he was unconscious as he hurtled into a depression in the ground where a very large Canadian sergeant and two men with evil designs upon the German machine-gun nest were setting up a mortar.
EVER since dark the sergeant had been heaving his bulk forward from cover to cover to get within range of that emplacement. To have his prospective target blow up for no good reason at all was one thing, he thought, but to have a one hundred and eighty pound unconscious lieutenant impinge on his stomach at that time of night was something else again.
Johnny Martin came to dizzily to hear the sergeant emphatically muttering what seemed to be a prayer – except that the words were in quite the wrong order.
NOTE: It was the following article in the February 7th, 1944 edition of the Globe and Mail newspaper which gave Dad the idea for this story. The (fuzzy and difficult to read despite my best efforts) original is included below.
Germans Shell Abbey Housing Own Troops
Montecassino Monastery (arrow) high above the town of Cassino, was founded by St. Benedict in 529, on the site of ancient Temple of Apollo.
By C. L. SULZBERGER - New York Times Special to The Globe and Mail. Copyright
With the 5th Army in Italy, Feb. 5 (Delayed).—German artillery, for some peculiar and perverse reason, today shelled the famous old monastery atop Monte Cassino where the Benedictine Order was born, although there is every reason to believe some of their own troops were within the vast abbey which the enemy is believed using as an observation post.
Shortly after 3 p.m. this correspondent happened to be looking at the historic landmark above the lacerated town of the same name, where American troops are slowly battling their way forward in vicious street fighting, when geysers of smoke billowed from the abbey, standing out clearly in the crisp, bright atmosphere.
As the smoke drifted southward in huge clouds, careful scrutinizing through binoculars revealed no visible damage. In order to ascertain the reasons for this extraordinary event, since Lt.-Gen. Mark W. Clark has issued strictest orders to his army not to fire on the abbey or any other papal property or a series of specified clerical buildings unless it is a question of the most vital military necessity, the writer made a careful inquiry among American artillery officers.
Major A. J. Peterson, Minneapolis, Minn., who observed the same bursts and then inquired of various artillery observation outposts in the immediate vicinity of the monastery, said:
“We could identify the shell bursts. There was one direct hit on top of the abbey. Our observers were able to plot the direction of the shells. They came from the north, in the Atinia region, and from the northwest which areas are in enemy hands.”
Meanwhile, further evidence of Nazi violation of those few courtesies remaining in modern warfare was received when a French prisoner who escaped last night informed Allied authorities the Germans were forcing British, American and French captives to carry ammunition and dig positions in the Cassino vicinity. These prisoners are forced to labor under the shellfire of Allied guns, and there have been casualties among them.
The Frenchman escaped during the night in the confusion following an especially heavy Allied barrage on Cassino positions still held by the Germans. He said that to the best of his knowledge, 12 Englishmen, six Americans, and two Frenchmen still remained with the enemy as prisoners in his group, doing forced labor under fire.
Of Assistance to the Enemy
(Published in the Montreal Standard, Date unknown)
By Lewis Evans
ILLUSTRATED BY BEN TURNER
“AND SO,’’ concluded the announcer who was summarizing the news in French over Radio Rimouski that night, “of the ten German long-range bombers which made an attempt at five o’clock this morning to destroy the great dams at the head of the Saguenay River, seven were brought down by interceptor aircraft from Bagotville and Mont Joli before they reached their objective, one dropped its bomb load harmlessly into the waters of Lake St. John and was brought down by anti-aircraft fire, and the remaining two fled south from the fighters towards the St. Lawrence, jettisoning their bombs over uninhabited parts of the Laurentians. The crews of these two bombers are believed to have bailed out over the north shore of the St. Lawrence, as their aircraft were observed to crash in the river some miles off-shore. These men are being sought by military units and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. So ended the first enemy attempt to do to a Canadian industrial centre what the British succeeded in doing to the Mohne and Eder dams in Germany some time ago.”
Old Captain Tremblay switched off the radio in the cabin of the coasting schooner St. Casimir, tied up at the wharf in Ste. Catherine’s Bay at the mouth of the Saguenay, and listened for a few moments to the comments of his companions as they continued their late meal. Outside, rain had come up on the rising east wind, and the three French-Canadians who formed his crew did not hurry over their food. They were in no haste to return to the rain-swept wharf and get on with the job of loading the St. Casimir with pulp logs.
The Captain reached for his battered green-covered copy of “The St. Lawrence River Pilot” and turned to the chapter that dealt with the mouth of the Saguenay and the waters of the St. Lawrence in that vicinity, for he and his ship usually plied farther upstream, and his present route was not a familiar one. With his finger on the place he looked up.
"Get going,” he ordered. “About twelve more cords to load. Tide’s full now. so the sooner we can sail the better — the ebb will be in our favor, and I don’t want to waste it.”
“The three men, two deckhands and an engineer, put on their sodden caps and went out. Climbing the steep face of the dock they mounted the pile of four-foot pulp logs and bent to their work. With one hand they drove their short hooks into the logs and jerked them upwards, and then hook and free hand heaved them forward and downward into the semi-darkness to land with hollow thunder on the St. Casimir’s wooden deck, illumined by the half-hearted floodlight permitted by the dim-out regulations.
When half an hour before midnight Captain Tremblay came out on the bridge to see how the work was going, the twelve cords on the wharf had become six and his men were on the schooner's deck converting the jumbled pile into a well-stowed deck load. The east wind had increased and even in Ste. Catherine’s Bay, sheltered by reefs from the open St. Lawrence, small waves were bunting the schooner against the wharf and her rubbing strake groaned from time to time on the massive piles. The Captain moved aft to slacken a taut mooring line, for the tide had dropped a foot or so. When he turned back there were four men on the deck amidships instead of three. As the newcomer’s shadow came between them and the light the workers straightened up from their task and stared.
“Good evening,” said the stranger. “May I speak with your Captain?”
He spoke in French, but each of the men listening knew at once that he was no French-Canadian. He was speaking careful school-book French, as most English-Canadians and Americans do. The engineer indicated Tremblay with a gesture and the stranger turned towards him.
“Captain, you have a small boat—” he jerked his thumb aft, where the schooner’s lifeboat hung on davits across her stern— “and I want you or one of your men to take me out beyond the reefs to the St. Lawrence. I will pay you what you ask for your trouble.”
“Impossible, monsieur,” exclaimed Tremblay. He motioned towards the pulp logs. “We have work to do and besides, the weather ...” He gestured vaguely towards the rainy darkness off-shore, and through his mind went the words he had heard less than two hours before—“The crews of these two bombers are believed to have bailed out over the north shore of the St. Lawrence. . .”
“Nonsense!” said the stranger rather abruptly, and he took a step nearer the Captain. “There is no sea to speak of, and I saw from the wharf that your boat has an engine. I will pay you well. I must insist.”
Tremblay was silent, staring at the man before him, a tall, fair fellow, bareheaded, who kept his hands in the pockets of a raincoat so soaked and dirty as to be colorless in that dim light. At length he spoke.
“No sir,” he said firmly. “It can’t be done.” It was no surprise to him when his words seemed to lift the stranger’s right hand— and Luger—out of the pocket.
“Listen, Captain,” said the German. “I am in a hurry. You or one of your men must take me where I want to go — out beyond the mouth of the Saguenay.”
“Submarine!” murmured the Captain, stating a fact rather than asking a question.
“Ha!” said the other. “You’ve heard of the bombing. There are U-boats at points off the north shore tonight and we were instructed to get to them if we could. You see my position — I will stand no foolishness. Make up your minds — will one of you take me, or . . .”
THE CAPTAIN’S eyes travelled over the German. The man was tired — that was obvious. His clothing bore the marks of a day-long battle with the Laurentian bush. A tired man, but the tired man held the gun, and was impatient.
The Captain turned to his men. “Lower the boat,” he ordered.
The three men turned slowly and shuffled aft to uncleat the falls, conscious all the time of the gun behind them. Captain Tremblay followed. He was under no illusion — that Nazi might shoot one or all of them, whether they did as he told them or not.
The blocks squealed and the eighteen-foot boat slid towards the black water. Tremblay glanced over his shoulder and saw the German peering at the illuminated dial of a military pocket compass—but the Luger in his other hand was still on the job.
He turned to the German, who was putting the compass back in his pocket.
“I’ll go with you,” said Tremblay decisively - and out of the corner of his eye he noted his men’s heads turn suddenly toward him. “That little compass you have - it's no good in a small boat because of deviation caused by the engine . . . and there are reefs outside, you know, and cross-currents. You must have a man with you who knows these waters.”
“And you know them?” asked the German drily.
“I was born near here,” stated Tremblay, conscious of the stares of his crew, who knew well that he was a Baie St. Paul man.
The German was no fool. He saw the men stare and he saw the craftiness in the Captain's eyes, so naive that he almost laughed aloud at it. He could trust him as far as he could see him — and not even that far in a small boat. “Good,” he said. “Get into the boat, then, and start the engine.”
Tremblay’s stomach felt cold. He had tried to make the man suspect a trap, and he did not know whether he had succeeded. He turned and swung over the schooner's rail and dropped into the boat under her counter. The German moved up and straddled the rail so that he could watch both Tremblay and the men on deck.
The Captain set about priming the engine. After a preliminary cough or two it spluttered to life. The Nazi swung his other leg over the rail. “You make one move from where you are and I'll shoot your Captain,” he threatened the three men on deck, and then he, too, dropped into the boat.
“Cast off those ropes and then get back aboard,” he ordered Tremblay.
“Back aboard?” echoed the Captain.
“Maybe you know these waters too well. Get back,” snapped the German reaching for the clutch lever, and as the other took a grip on the ropes hanging over the schooner's stern he eased it forward. The propeller bit the water and the boat shot forward and was swallowed up in the windy darkness.
As Captain Tremblay climbed over the rail the three men on the St. Casimir's deck looked at one another and then all broke out talking at once. The Captain said nothing but made straight for the cabin, where he slumped onto a chair by the table on which still lay the battered green pilot book, open as he had left it. The others followed him in, jabbering.
“Why did you offer to take him?” demanded one of the deck hands angrily.
The Captain looked up wearily. “Because I wanted him to go alone. I remembered your Marie, Jacques, back in Baie St. Paul. She seemed too eager for the wedding, so you jilted her.”
The deck hand’s puzzled look slowly gave way to one of understanding. Suddenly the engineer broke in.
“Shouldn’t we go ashore and find a telephone?” he asked. “Perhaps a patrol boat could be warned to pick him up.”
The Captain roused himself. “Telephone? Yes one of you had better report about the submarine.”
“But the airman,” insisted the engineer. "Couldn’t they—”
“They won’t get him,” stated the Captain. The finality of his tone fixed their questioning glances on him, and in explanation he pushed the open pilot book across the table towards them. “Read that,” he said, pointing to a paragraph. “It’s what I was studying after supper.”
The engineer picked up the St. Lawrence River Pilot and read the paragraph aloud.
“ 'The Mouth of the Saguenay River . . . The ebb tide from the Saguenay River on meeting the ebb from the St. Lawrence sets up very heavy tide rips, so strong as to interfere with the steerage of a vessel. When these ebbs are opposed to a heavy easterly gale, a particularly dangerous cross-sea is raised, which is considered dangerous to small craft, and in which no boat could live’.”
The Sitting Duck
(Published in The Montreal Standard, Date unknown)
By Lewis Evans
ILLUSTRATED BY GEOFFREY TRAUNTER
THE LANDING BARGE lay as still as if she were floating on the fog rather than upon the waters of the North Sea.
Somewhere, invisible, the sun was rising, and slowly the thick fog turned from black to grey. For the first time in hours the R.C.N.V.R. Lieutenant on the bridge could see the lines of his ship before him—that is if a medium sized landing barge can be said to have any lines at all. Lieutenant McNeil doubted it, and never could look at the scow-like bulk of his craft without seeing in his imagination the dashing motor-torpedo-boat he had hoped to command.
At her very best speed his landing barge could hardly be called dashing, and for the greater part of an hour she had been anything but — she had been left powerless by a defective unit in her reduction gear. McNeil resisted the urge to go below again to see how repairs were progressing. He might as well stay where he was, and if he was sweating with impatience he knew well that the Petty Officer below was sweating too — sweating blood to get the repairs effected.
Somewhere to the south and east was the attacking-force of which his craft was supposed to be a part — by now it should be fifteen miles away and almost grounding on the long, low sandy beaches of the Belgian coast, but there had been no sound of gunfire as yet. When his engines had failed he had had simply to drop out of the armada, the dense fog and strict radio silence preventing from letting even the commanding officer know of his plight.
NO ONE but the commander of the force knew whether this attack was part of the real thing, the invasion itself, or merely one of the dress rehearsals or feints promised by the Prime Minister. Whatever it is, thought the Lieutenant as he gazed down into the waist of his ship, it will have to get along without those two tanks. He could just see them now, crouched one behind the other, facing the closed ramp at the bow, and their crews lounging round them and smoking.
Suddenly McNeil raised his head and listened. Then he glanced at the Leading Seaman in the other wing of the bridge. He, too, had heard the faint throbbing and was peering into the blankness of the fog ahead. The Lieutenant crossed to him.
“What do you make of it?” he asked quietly.
“Sounds quite close, sir, but faint. Certainly not an aircraft — might be an M.T.B. or an E-boat throttled right down.”
They listened again and the subdued hum continued, punctuated once by a faint clang. The killick swung toward McNeil.
“Sub, sir!” he whispered urgently. “Surfaced and charging her batteries — that clang could have been a hatch-cover.”
“Go forward,” ordered McNeil, “and tell ’em to keep completely quiet. Send someone below to tell the engine-room, too — and find out how much longer they’ll be.”
“Aye, aye, sir.” The Leading Seaman slid down the ladder into the waist of the barge.
The Lieutenant went from one to the other of the machine-gun crews at either end of the bridge and warned them. Their weapons were designed to ward off low-flying aircraft, and would be practically useless against the sub’s gun.
The sun’s warmth could now be felt, and soon the fog would thin away. “That’ll be the pay-off,” thought McNeil, and resolved that while landing barges usually were known by numbers rather than by names, this one might well go down in history as “The Sitting Duck.”
“Don’t know about history,” he added aloud, “but we might well go down.”
THE IRONY of the situation struck him. For months as the junior officer in a Fairmile he had patrolled the Strait of Gibraltar hoping for a chance at a sub, and the nearest they had got was to let fly at a rock
awash in the seas in the grey light of a dawn such as this. In consequence they had become the butt of their flotilla until a few weeks later when their flotilla leader made the same mistake himself with the same rock. Now, here he was with a sub within three hundred yards, and instead of commanding the M.T.B. or Fairmile that he had hoped for when he got his second stripe, instead of having a fighting ship to meet this opportunity, all he had under his feet was a glorified ferry-boat.
The men were still lounging by their tanks, but their little motions and gestures of a moment ago had ceased. They were very still, very quiet. The Leading Seaman silently rejoined the Lieutenant on the bridge. He looked straight up into the sky above the ship, and then peered again towards the source of the steady humming.
“Fog’s getting thinner, sir,” he said. “Whatever it is, it seems to be dead ahead.”
McNeill resisted a light-headed temptation to say, “Wish it were dead, ahead,” and at that moment the Leading Seaman stiffened and pointed. Right over the ramp at the bows McNeil could make out a darker blur of fog. “Oh for a gun, a real gun,” he thought, and then swung towards the killick. “Lower the ramp,” he ordered, and threw himself down the ladder and made for the sergeant in charge of the forward tank, leaving the killick wondering if the Lieutenant had gone crazy.
FOR MONTHS of the tank gunner's training he had been prepared to deal with various beach defences. Now as the ramp before him ponderously swayed outwards and sloped away to a level position he saw, framed in the gap, the silhouette of a submarine against the receding fog. “Gaw’ love me,” he muttered, spinning wheels efficiently, “join the Army and see the world."
Figures rushed to the sub’s gun and it swung towards the landing barge. The tank gunner fired and as the barge shuddered at the shock there was a great splash close to the sub’s conning-tower. A shell from the sub screamed over the barge, carrying away the wireless mast.
“Get his gun, blast you!” yelled McNeil in the general direction of the tank. He was back on the bridge and on either side of him the machine-guns were chattering ineffectually, for the sub’s gunners were protected by a gunshield. He afterwards thought that, though his words were inaudible in the surrounding bedlam, he had been rather rude to the tank gunner who, after all, was performing somewhat in the capacity of a guest artist.
The tank’s second shell was over, but its third took the sub’s gun fair and square, and that was that. The figures on the sub's conning-tower disappeared and slowly her deck became awash — she was submerging.
“Red, one-four-five, a ship, sir,” called the Leading Seaman. "Destroyer - one of the Hunt class, sir.”
McNeil gave it a brief glance and then went on watching the disappearing conning tower. The sub had moved forward and was no longer ahead of the barge – the tank gunner could no longer see his target.
IN A MATTER of seconds the destroyer plowed through the swirl left by the U-boat and let go a pattern of depth-charges.
“That ought to fix 'em,” muttered the killick.
Apparently the destroyer thought so too, for she paid no further attention to the sub but swung in a wide arc and steamed past fifty yards from the landing barge.
MacNeil could see a figure in the wing of her bridge, and a megaphone pointed in his direction. “Quite a fighting ship you have there,” came the voice. “Good luck!” and the destroyer melted into the remnants of the fog, bent on her own urgent affairs.
As an engine room artificer stepped up to MacNeil and said, “All set now, sir,” far to the southeast all hell broke loose. “The Sitting Duck” hauled up her ramp and set off towards it.
Published in "The Standard" (date unknown, $20.00!)
By Lewis Evans
ILLUSTRATED BY ROY DYER
HIS SUBMARINE idling at periscope depth in the cold waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Ober- leutnant Seidel watched the plume of smoke climb over the horizon. It was still too early to figure the ship’s course and manoeuvre into effective range, and far too early to identify the type of ship.
“Well,” he thought to himself, “at least she is no Banks fishing schooner—not with that plume of smoke.” He still regretted the expenditure of his last but one torpedo on that fisherman two nights ago. She had been running under auxiliary power, and with her stump masts he had mistaken her size in the gathering darkness. An investigation of her wreckage with the sub's searchlight had revealed several broken-backed dories and a mess of cleaned and salted codfish, and his second in command had looked for a moment as though he wanted to laugh. Ah, well, the destroyed schooner didn’t look so badly in the sub's logbook as “motor-driven coastal cargo ship.”
Oberleutnant took another long look at the approaching vessel. She was no destroyer, anyway—her slow speed and broad beam told him that. He made out derricks on her foremast—that ruled out a corvette. She was steaming almost at right angles to his bows, and would pass about two miles ahead of him. He decided to close in, and grated an order to his second.
The order echoed from man to man in the steel hull, and the sub began to move.
Five minutes passed, and then Seidel slipped off his stool. “What do you make of her?” he asked his second in command, motioning him towards the eyepiece.
That officer peered for a minute. “Flushdecked,” he muttered, “A tanker, sir but . . .” He hesitated, still peering.
“Her engines are amidships, sir. Unusual for a tanker.”
Seidel took up his position at the periscope again and had another look. Then he lowered the periscope below the surface, ordered half-speed, and turned a superior smile on his puzzled second. No wonder the fellow was puzzled, thought Seidel—the ship was unusual, all right, but he knew what she was. Just before the war he had been on a training cruise and had put in at Bergen, and there he had seen a vessel with a peculiar stern like that.
“She’s a whale factory,” he said, and laughed at the expression on the other’s face. “The Norwegians had such ships before the war — South Atlantic, mostly. There is a great ramp in the stern, and they used to pull a whale’s carcass aboard whole and do all the work of a whaling station while keeping up with the trawlers that did the actual harpooning. Our friends must be very short of ships if they’re using that tub for cargo-carrying.”
He took another sight at the ship. He could see her ensign flying from a gaff on her mainmast, but it was either too dirty or too distant for him to tell whether it was Norwegian or British. His thoughts went to the single torpedo in the forward tubes, and to the long trip home. Then he looked at the expressionless face of his second in command and made his decision. He didn't want it said that he had expended his last two torpedoes on a fishing schooner and a whale factory, of all things.
“We’ll surface and attack by gunfire,” he said.
Bells rang and the gun crew got ready for their dash to action stations. The sub lifted towards the surface.
ABOARD the ex-Norwegian whale-factory Odda a lookout had reported a periscope off the starboard bow, distant the best part of a mile. Gongs had clanged for action stations, and the ship held her course. The R.C.N.V.R. lieutenant on her bridge was pleased. “Not forty miles from where the Coastal Patrol plane reported wreckage of that schooner yesterday,” he thought.
He glanced astern over his strange command and saw the men who handled the smoke-pots at
their stations right aft. He could not see the old whale-ramp because of the superstructure amidships, but he could imagine the scene there . . . the fifty foot motor-launch in her sliding crib, her bow towards the Odda’s stern, her high-powered, specially cooled engines warmed and idling, her crew tense and watching the great steel flap which cut off the after end of the ramp from the sea, the rows of depth charges on the launch’s after deck.
“Sub on starboard beam!" Two lookouts dead-heated on the shout.
There she was, white water pouring from her decks, about half a mile off. As her gun crew swarmed on deck a machine-gun from the Odda started an intermittent chattering, and a gun crew staged a well-rehearsed rush for their antiquated weapon mounted on a bridge-like structure over the ramp astern. When their first shot eventually got away it raised a spout of foam just where they wanted it—three hundred yards wide of the sub and a little short.
The first shell from the sub screamed over the Odda’s bows. The second hulled her forward, at the waterline. The lieutenant on the bridge thought of the watertight bulkheads and the whale-oil tanks now crammed with buoyant lumber, and grinned. His quartermaster, according to plan, swung the ship towards the sub to close the distance, and the sub altered course to port to evade any ramming action by the Odda. Another shell from the sub crossed the Odda’s bows and a fourth burst on the superstructure abaft her funnel. The whale-factory’s machine-gun fell silent, but it had not been hit. The smoke-pots astern burst into acrid life and their contents billowed over and around the Odda’s stern. The lieutenant snapped an order and a clang from far astern told him that the great flap had been lifted, and he could imagine the released crib sliding smoothly aft with its load. "Surprise, surprise!” he murmured happily to nobody in particular.
The motor-launch’s heavily guarded screws were already turning as she took the water, and then she was out of the smoke and roaring for the sub, a heavy machine-gun on her bow searching for the gun crew, and echoed by renewed fire from the Odda’s guns.
OBERLEUTNANT SEIDEL knew all about the “Q-ships” of the last war. He was not to be fooled by them, but this was different. He took one more amazed look at the grey shape bouncing towards him, ordered a crash dive, and threw himself down the conning-tower hatch. His gun crew, less three men who had been hit, scuttled for safety.
As the sea foamed over the submerging U-boat the launch roared past parallel to her, not twenty feet away, and two ash-cans set for eight fathoms plopped into her seething wake.
The Oberleutnant’s thoughts at this moment, freely translated into English, would have been “Let’s get to hell out of here,” which is precisely where he got.
Down To Heaven
(Published in “The Standard” Montreal, September 27, 1941, $12.50!)
By L. EVANS
He dropped to Earth and thought he was in heaven
HIS packed parachute bumped clumsily against the back of his thighs as he crossed the dark field towards the sound of the idling motors.
He tried to make himself believe that this was just another practice, that he was still in training, but the horrible emptiness in his middle gave him the lie. He was scared, and he was thankful that the darkness hid his face.
He and his companions groped their way into the big transport and sat down. A dim light forward showed them the pilot and navigator, their heads bent over a map.
Helmut stared at them fixedly, hoping that concentration of his mind would prevent him from being sick — sick with fear. Their job was simple, he thought. They just had to fly high to certain points, dump their living cargo, and fly home. Compared with his job theirs seemed easy, safe, comfortable.
IT was the unknown that frightened a man thought Helmut. The plane crew knew what to expect in the way of danger - attack by fighter planes, anti-aircraft fire, or forced landing on land or sea. But he - Helmut - how could he know what was in store for him? Death, probably; death or capture certainly. But how? Before or after he had done his job on the power plant? How? A sentry’s rifle? A night watchman’s baton? A farmer’s pitchfork? Helmut shuddered and closed his eyes.
The plane took off, climbed gradually, and steadied on its course.
There’s the difference, thought Helmut suddenly. The plane crew’s brightest hope is return, and my brightest hope is capture. The very best I can expect is capture and internment. A fine thing my life is, when prison seems like heaven!
The plane droned on through the black night, flying very high and very steadily. The parachutists began fidgeting with their equipment. They’re scared too, thought Helmut, but the younger ones, anyway, are partly afraid of failing in their task. They know only this stern life, and they are efficient. So am I, or I wouldn’t be here, but I am older. I can remember another way of life.
The navigator made a signal, and two men moved towards the door. Another signal, and they were gone. The plane altered course, and in a few moments the navigator’s gloved hand reappeared. Two more men dived into darkness.
MY objective is the third we come to thought Helmut, and the waiting is over. I am not afraid of the jump - I know all about that part of the job. I fear only the unknown future.
The glove moved and Helmut flung himself into the blackness and cold. The opening ’chute jerked him savagely, and gradually his dizzy swinging slowed down. As he drifted downwards he tried to figure the direction and force of the wind, if any. That was the first thing - to fix his own position, and then to find the power plant.
The little fear he felt about landing was lost in the great fear of the unknown future, and he felt little relief when he dropped on open ground, though it might have been a wood or a power line.
His, efficient training showed as he quickly got rid of his parachute. He did not have to think - his hands busied themselves and the complicated tangle of ropes and material was stowed under a stunted bush.
Luminous compass in hand, Helmut crouched, listening.
The silence terrified him. He felt the whole hostile countryside of England round him, deadly still, but ready at any moment to extinguish this lone enemy by some unknown unpredictable action.
Helmut forced himself to read the compass, putting it on the ground and getting as far from it as sight permitted, so that the metal in his equipment would not affect the needle. He was supposed to have been dropped two miles south of his objective; so he started to move northwards. If he did not find it in the first half hour he would start circling east and west.
He crept on across the field, surprised that it took him so long to reach its boundary. He expected a hedge - England was covered with hedges, they said.
HE encountered no hedge - he came to wire. A fine seven foot barbed wire fence, and on each side a barbed wire apron, arranged with ingenuity. Helmut stared at it in amazement. According to his instructions the power plant was the only important point in the district, and therefore the only one likely to be so protected. Could he have hit upon it already?
He could cut his way through the fence, but those aprons would take time. He decided to move along the fence to the west, and perhaps he would find a spot where the aprons were less formidable.
A hundred and fifty yards to the west he stopped. The fence made a right-angle turn - to the south. Helmut was inside the angle. His training made him turn east, retrace his steps, and he moved faster than before, with less regard for stealth. Two hundred yards or so, and another angle - turning south.
His stomach cold as ice, Helmut threw one look over his shoulder and started cutting the wire. Whether he was inside the defenses of the plant or not he would need some means of exit. He would make a passage through the wire, and then find out what lay to the south.
He cut rapidly and the apron gradually yielded a passage. Suddenly he paused. Someone was coming - a sentry? A flashlight flicked on and off. Helmut’s training sent his hand towards his gun. A cut end of wire scraped on the shears in his left hand. The flashlight’s beam cut the darkness, wavered, and then fixed on him. Helmut froze. A safety catch clicked. So this was the unknown.
“Don’t move,” commanded the advancing voice. Then - “Wot the ’ell! It’s a ruddy parashooter! Come out of that, Jerry, you’re home. You’ve landed inside an internment camp."