The Old Guard

page 2

Says John. the above picture was taken on "Georgia Street, Vancouver, outside TV station.  We were asked to pose in a "typically Victorian way"by the TV cameraman and although we did our best, I think we ended up looking like wax figures from Madame Tussauds!


After exchanging a couple e-mails with John --shown, right, at the Army booth at PNE in 1958-- we received a large manila envelope containing a treasure trove of  materials from 1958.  The pictures and information are what was in that envelope.

  Thank you, John Cobbing, for this most generous legacy!


Fort Langley
July 1958

Old Guard marching in through the main gate to take a position in the fort.  The "New Guard" (modern RCE soldiers from camp Chilliwack) followed soon afterwards, replaced the 'Old Guard' --to the music of an RCE band-- and  'took post'.

Royal Engineers 'Old Guard' Fort Langley, July 1958

left to right:

Captain Geofrey Gathercole, RE 'Geoff'
Sergeant Douglas Tucker RE 'Doug'
Sapper John Cobbing, RCE 'John'
Corporal Norman Miller, RE 'Dusty'
Sapper Kenneth Higham, RCE 'Ken'
Lance Corporal Max King, RE 'Max' or 'Slapsy'
Sapper (Taffy) Thomas, RE 'Taffy'
Sergeant-Major (Wo2) William Foster, RE 'Bill'


One hundred years later, the descendent governing body, pleased with the progress that British Columbia had made, and with their contribution to the stability of Canada through many unsteady times, decided that the occasion should not go unnoticed.  Plans were made for province wide celebrations.  It was soon realized that the role of the REs during those formative years was of such pivotal importance that it could be argued that if they had NOT been in that place, at that time, Canada might not be occupying the place on the map that it does today.  The BC Government therefore considered it fitting that the REs should play a major part in the year's festivities, and invited them to attend.

The contingent members were:

Captain Geoffrey A. Gathercole RE "Geoff"
Sergeant Major WO2 William Foster RE "Bill"
Sergeant Douglas Tucker RE "Doug"
Corporal Norman Miller RE "Dusty"
Lance Corporal Max King RE "Max" or "Slapsy"
Sapper [Taffy] Thomas RE "Taffy"

It was decided however to increase the number in the contingent by two additinal Sapper from the RCE, and to maintain authenticity as much as possible, they should have a British background [Whether the addition was a last minute decision, or a deliberate move - I never discovered]  The tw RCE Sappers were:

Sapper Kenneth Higham RCE "Ken" 
Sapper John Cobbing RCE "John"

The innumerable changes in the British Army in the last few hundred years have been grist for the mill of many a military history writer, and few armies have been researched as diligently and thoroughly.  Therefore, when Captain Gathercole learned of his assignment to represent the Royal Engineers in BC, the details that he needed to know were readily available.  Uniform designs, information on weapons, and instructional pamphlets for 1858 drill were gathered, and the three senior members of the contingent set out to absorb what it would be like to actually be a soldier of those days.  The next thing to consider was what to do.  It had to be understandable, military, and connect the two eras in some way.

The idea of 'changing the guard' came easily to mind.  When performed as a ceremonial drill it is visually stimulating, an authentic military procedure, and for celebrations purposes, a unique kind of snapshot of 'change' that the province had experienced over the previous one hundred years.  One that would be likely to stay in the memory of spectators for a long time.  But before that could happen, the contingent had to 'graduate' as 1858 infantrymen and Sappers.  We had to act and think like soldiers of the time in order to come across as truly authentic, and not appear simply to be a group of actors putting on a Hollywood kind of extravaganza.  As it happened, we were successful.

Two of the basics had to be re-learned from scratch.  Marching, and rifle drill.  For instance, a hundred years ago the marching pace for Engineers was 110 to the minute, as contrasted with 120 today, for both the British Sappers and their Canadian counterparts.  Arm movements differed [the arm was swung in front of the body while marching], coming to attention, turns and 'standing easy' involved different foot positions.  All these we practiced on the tennis court behind the Sergeants Mess in Camp Chilliwack.

The developed of 'personal weapons' [ie rifles] had gone through many iterations by 1958; the methods of carrying and firing them changed in tandem.  Going from the .57 Lancaster smooth [spiraled] bore of 1858, to the Belgian rapid fire F 7.62mm [Fabrique Nationale] of 1958, meant that the effectiveness of a soldier in the field increased a hundred fold. But of course at that time, our weapons ranged against arms of similar effectiveness, s, as with al successful armies, the balance is tipped not by the weapons themselves, but by how well they are put to use.  And one vital element in that is the proper, judicial, and wise use of discipline.  That was, and still is the trump card of both the British and Canadian Forces.

W)2 Bill Foster understood that, as did Sergeant Doug Tucker. They demonstrated the movements, coached us through them until we had it down pat, and it was through just that relatively simple process of learning 1858 arms drill that we began to get the 'feel' of what an 1858 Sapper's life might have been like.  It was not just the drill.. The uniform also contributed.  A black busbie [fur hat] with chinstrap and a white bristle 'brush' fastened to a brass 'grenade' badge [the only cap badge as such], red serge tunic buttoned to the neck, a black collar, black serge trousers with red side stripes, white leather belt and shoulder strap, holding a black ammunition pouch on the back.  White cotton gloves set it all off.  Captain Gathercole's uniform was similar, but with the addition of more gold trim, gold braid belt and shoulder strap, and, the most noticeable difference, a 'Nelson' cap, with ostrich plumes.  Boots were gleaned from the modern era.  Our rifles were the .57 Lancaster, although the captain and the Sergeant-Major carried only swords.

Soldiers of those days were not restricted to any extent as to how much or little facial hair they chose to display.  Many had beard or moustaches, and the 'mutton chop' sideburns were a great favourite!  Haircuts were probably required only when locks began to flow over the shoulders.  In 1958 though, things were quire different!  In order for the contingent to look as authentic as possible we were supplied with make-up hair, from which we fashioned mutton chops and an occasional moustache.  Once or twice the glue lost its grip under a steady stream of perspiration from the hot BC sunshine, and the audience convulsed as a mutton chop fell to the ground from an otherwise very serious looking Sapper, marching in with solemn gait!  One of the difficulties we had was to keep a straight face ourselves at those times and we didn't always manage it!

The May to July program for our appearances covered the south-western part of the province, from Victoria to Prince George.  Usually the appearances augmented or emphasized events of local importance, or more general events such as the 'Fraser Brigade' which travelled down the Fraser by canoe, much as the river was used a hundred years ago.  Sometimes we were 'the only show in town'.  Towns along the route, such as Prince George, Lillooet, Hope, Mission and Vancouver were adorned with bunting and balloons, and parades of period costumed performers, some of horseback, brought crowds that celebrated well into the early hours!  At each of these places the Royal Engineers and the Royal Canadian Engineers 'changed the guard', to the tunes of their own marching band, and sometimes wit the the Band of the Royal Canadian Engineers playing the stirring Corps march, "Wings".  The response everywhere was enthusiastic appreciation and remarks such as: "I just never realized how important a contribution they made" was heard after many of the performances, and the commentary given.

A fitting climax was the parade fro Princess Margaret at the restored Fort Langley at the end of July, at which we performed our 'foie de jeu" --a volley fired consecutively along the rank, in quick succession.  We never loaded the barrels with shot of course, but the best crowd pleaser -- apart from misfires [band! bang! bang! click] was when we stuffed toilet paper down the barrel.  It shot out like confetti ten feet up in the air.  They say Margaret was amused, even if her great great grandmother may not have been.  Everyone else certainly was!

John Cobbing

February 2004



1 May Vancouver International Trade Fair CNE stadium  
14 May Chilliwack Stagecoach Week Fairgrounds  
16 May New Westminster Homecoming Stadium  
22 May Port Coquitlam Centennial celebrations Ball-park  
24 May Burnaby/New West -do- Fairgrounds  
26 May Maple Ridge -do- Ball-park  
27-29 May Prince George Departure of Fraser Brigade Field and river bank Armouries
30 May North Vancouver Centennial celebrations Ball-park  
1 June White Rock Annual celebration Peace Arch Park  
2 June Abbotsford Opening of Swimming Pools Recreation Grounds  
5 June Abbotsford (Cancelled)    
7 June Richmond (Cancelled)    
10 June Vancouver 'Almanac' - TV show Georgia St. Studio Jericho Beach
11 June West Vancouver Centennial celebrations Recreation Grounds  
12 June Surrey -do- Ball-park  
14-15 June Lillooet Arrival of Fraser Brigade Main street & river bank  
16 June Aggassiz centennial celebrations Main street  
20 June Lytton Fraser Brigade Ball-park  
23 June Boston Bar -do- Main street  
25 June Delta & Ladner Centennial celebrations School playground  
27 June Spuzzum (Cancelled)    
28 June Yale & Hope Fraser Brigade Old RE church grounds & main street  
29 June Ruby Creek (Cancelled)    
30 June Mission Fraser Brigade Soapbox Derby track  
1 July Derby -do-    
1 July Fort Langley Opening of Museum Field & museum  
2 July West Vancouver -do- Barge of English Bay  
4-5 July Victoria Centennial celebrations Parliment Buildings HMCS Naden
7 July Duncan -do- Field -do-
8 July Sidney -do- Field -do-
9 July Comox -do- (Travelling to Comox) RCAF Base Comox
10 July Courtenay -do- Ball-park -do-
11 July Port Alberni -do- Ball-park, Marine Div RCMP -do-
12 July Nanaimo -do- Athletic arena  
16 July Port Moody -do- School sports field  
22 July Fort Langley Princess Margaret opens Fort Fort  
23-26 July Fort Langley Centennial celebrations Fort, each evening  





Princess Margaret visit
features Langley's Week

     LANGLEY--The week of July 21 will be declared Langley's Week, according to centennial committee chairman Alex. C. Hope.
     Princess Margaret's visit to the old fort will be July 22 and all during the week Royal Engineers from England will be stationed at the fort where they will carry out changing of the guard ceremonies every evening.
     The engineers, several of whom are direct descendants of the Royal Engineers who arrived at Fort Langley 100 years ago, are a company of hand-picked men sent especially for B.C.'s centennial celebrations.
   They are based out of Camp Chilliwack.


Holiday Air Spreads Over
Fraser Valley

    Thousands Flocking to
Colorful Celebrations

           The Fraser Valley is whooping it up.

  Thousands of visitors and residents are having a whale of a time at centennial and Dominion Day celebrations that include such colorful events and exciting events as logger sports, parades, soap box derbies and beard contests.
  Here is the lineup at the main centres:
  The soap box derby Tuesday heads up the list of events at Mission.
  A big parade starting at 12:30 p.m. will include armed forces units and eight bands, the derby queen and attendants, antique autos and bicycles, horses and colorful floats.
  Forty-eight rinks are competing in the third annual bonspiel which winds up Tuesday.
  Centennial beards will be judged at 7:30 p.m.
  The Simon Fraser Brigade's arrival highlighted today's events.
  A giant jubilee parade on Tuesday at 11 a.m. leads the fun-fest at Chilliwack, which is celebrating its 50th birthday.
  A citizenship pageant, ball games, a circus and acrobatic display and a square-dance competition will follow.
  Today the freedom of the city was given the Royal Canadian School of Military Engineering.
  Many former Chilliwack residents returned for the jubilee which winds up Wednesday with an open-air dance and fireworks display.
  Logger's sports at Hope Tuesday include log-birling, saw-bucking and nail-driving contests for women.
  The day climaxes five days of celebrations.  A parade crowning of the Centennial logger queen, picnics, concerts and historical events were held today.
  Dedication of the Fort Langley museum highlights Tuesday's events at Langley.
  The Fraser Brigade will land at Derby Cairn, two miles west of Fort Langley, at 9:30 a.m.


Centennial Theme for
Fall Fair

  LANGLEY--Langley fall fair set for Sept. 5 and 6 will stress the centennial theme.
  Exihibits in all divisions will feature one special class for expression of centennial ideas.
  The women's institutes will present a collection of pioneer articles instead of the usual competitive display.
  Directors of the Langley Agricultural Association have announced that enough entries have been received in the beard contest to include this feature.


Royal City Plans Scroll For Margaret

  NEW WESTMINSTER -- A welcome from all reeves and mayors of the Fraser Valley is expected to be incorporated in a scroll to be presented to Princess Margaret by Mayor F. H. Jackson.
  His worship said today it is hoped Victoria approves presentation of the illuminated address and that city council will also approve it by a resolution to be contained in the scroll.
  As there will be no public speech by the princess during her 35 minutes in the Royal City, and no hand shaking, it is planned to have all mayors and reeves seated in the council chamber during the presentation.
  They would then line up as the princess departs for Century House after unveiling a plaque in the city hall rotunda.
  She will spend approximately seven or eight minutes opening Century House in Moody Park, walk through the various rooms in the building, then step into her car and be driven back to Burnaby.


LIKE WOODEN SOLDIERS, members of England's Royal Engineers meet Princess Margaret at new Westminster City Hall Wednesday after she unveiled plaque the unit gave to Royal City.  Her Royal Highness spent several minutes talking to each of the engineers, who are in B.C. celebrating Centennial of the province their forerunners helped to settle and build.---Don LeBlanc photo.

From right to left: Foster, Tucker, Miller, King, Thomas


Fairground, Chilliwack




left to right:  Thomas, King, Miller, Tucker, Foster, Gathercole

far right: Engineer officer from RCSME


Note; the "stand at ease" position, gained from the "attention" by  placing the instep of the right foot behind the heel of the left, with hands crossed in front when not carrying a rifle.


Original pen and ink by John in 1958


Cobbing in Sardis
above: right to left, Foster, Thomas, Cobbing, King, Higham, Miller, Tucker


"The uniforms for Ken and myself ," says John, "were made in Canada, after they knew who the two extra Sappers were to be.  Measured to fit.  Ours were a lighter weight material than the others, which were originals, and so we did not dehydrate as quickly.

"Ken and I turned our uniforms over to the RCE museum after the summer's activities."



Show Needed

  It was good.
  It was genuine.
  It was something Hollywood could never attain.
  There was only one difficulty, and that is the usual one in Canada.  There was no on to tell the crowd how much history, how much discipline they were seeing in the changing of the guard at Fort Langley, B.C. on July 22, 1958.
  Because Hollywood can make it look so much better, Hollywood is not hampered by history.  It doesn't ask the extras to march 120 to the minute against 100.
  There was on one to tell of the November day when McMillan and his men came down with the light bateaux of Michel LaFrombois through the birch and alder thickets and shot the elk for camp meat on the Langley Prairie portage.
  No one to tell of the coopers who cut staves for the barrels when B.C.'s first salmon pack--died and salted--was exported from here in wood cut on the lake which is now know as Stave Lake.
  No record, public, of how much whiskey they could drink, how well they could shoot, how far they could travel on two pounds of pemican a day.

Museum Former Cattle Barn

  Except a few old timers like Duncan Mackenzie ("yes, probably related to old Sir Alexander --all sheep stealers you know") who prospected in the north, in the Yukon, in the Northwest Territories.
  He is curator of old Fort Langley museum, the last building of the original fort settlement in existence.
  It was used as a cattle barn by the farmer who owned this land in the 1920s.  Only a new floor and one new beam and electric lights, he says.  Everything else the same.
  The timbers squared and groove-in-tongued in the French-Canadian style of long ago.  They don't make log building like that any more.
  She walked down the red carpet, laid over the gravel pathway.
  "That guy," said the photographer to the Mountie, "He's moved right out in front of us.  no credentials.  Get him out."
  The Mountie moved over to the amateur with the movie camera and spoke to him.
  "Get him out.  Get him out," said the cameraman.
  The Mountie blocked the intruder's lens.

Princess Sees Ancient Relics

There are two museums at Fort Langley now.  The old one, at the stockade, the original  with the squared logs which used to be a cow barn and is now a federal park shrine, and the new one, built by the municipality a block away.
  Princess Margaret moved slowly through the old museum, declined a glass of water from the gallon glass jug wit the prominent manufacturer's label, asked about the picture of the Coast Salish longhouse, the stone adze they used in canoe making, the packsaddle, and the model of the old fort (which has since been found to be inaccurate.)

  She was particularly interested in the old, iron Hudson's Bay safe.
  "They kept the gold dust in it," said Mackenzie.
  "Did they grind up the gold nuggets to make gold dust?" she asked.
  As I say, she is typically feminine.
  Ex-prospector Mackenzie is an equable man.
  He explained that gold dust is all they ever got from the lower Fraser River bars.  Flour gold, they called it.
  It was the man who went looking for the big nuggets, the heavy stuff which couldn't carry down this far, who opened up this province.  Looking for the motherlode, and finding the big nuggets in the Cariboo, up north of the Fraser Canyon.
  When it was time to go, she paused beside the desk and the old chair (the chair made in the Hudson's Bay fort).
  There was a clean, blue-lined ledger in front.
  "I believe," said Lieut.-Gov. Frank Ross, "that there is a register for Your Royal Highness to sign in the new museum."
  Her Royal Highness said, "I would like to sign this one."
  So she took the governor's pen and wrote in a clear hand, "Margaret, July 22, 1958."
  Which a lot of British Columbians are going to remember.
Old Fort Vivid Reminder
Of 1858 For Royal Visitor
  The plane buzzed back as she was saying the expected: "... to see what 100 years have done for British Columbia ... most fitting that the reopening of Fort Langley should have been chosen as one of the main projects ... feel sure this will continue to be a source of pride.

Flag Unfurled Bit Too Soon

  Most of it came in a clear voice with a strong English accent.  The loudspeaker quit on a few words--it seemed that she has lost the thread of her talk, but it was the equipment.
  A Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman yanked a cord too soon and the Centennial flag snapped open.  When the princess pulled, only the Union Jack remained to open.  It did.
  July 22, 1958
  Two men of the Royal Engineers from Chatham, England, standing at ease in the old-fashioned style -- one foot ahead of the other, arms folded frontward, instead of backward, enclosing the Lancaster muzzle-loaded rifle.  (It fires 70 grains of black powder in a blank charge salute, is .57 calibre, and can shoot almost as hard backward as frontward.)
  They wore 1858 uniforms, found in the Royal Engineers museum in England.
  "Progress," whispered Capt. Bus Breivik of the Royal Canadian Engineers who has toured B.C. with them, "Red flannel, buttoning up to the neck.  Look at me in 1958; blue serge buttoning up to the neck in my Number Ones.  Even worse."
  The vets of the Legion were watching closely at the changing of the guard.  So was the princess.  There was a lot to see for the army men.

Engineer Drill 'Like American'

  The Royal Engineers guard marching out in the manner of the last century.  The forearm bending at each step, the pace slow, slow, slow.
  The engineers still march 120 to the minute instead of the 140 to the minute of the light regiments of British and Canadian armies.  but this was the ancient step of 110.  It looked like slow motion.
  "The Americans kept the old style.  This is more like American army drill than modern British or Canadian," said Royal Engineer Captain Geoffrey Gathercole.
  Opposite, the Royal Canadian Engineers marching in at 120.
  Try marching 120 a minute against 110 a minute some time.
  The Canadians in khaki.  Carrying the Belgian FN.  They carry it down, by the long pistol grip, parallel with the body.  A stubby little ceremonial bayonet on top.  The gun itself a wicked-looking thing --not much wood and a lot of blued steel.
  The Royal Engineers, the Lancaster muskets sloped, 18 inches of sword-bayonet on the top, mounted sidesaddle in the old way.
  The British corporal inspected his guard and straightened one man's bearskin busby.  The crowd laughed.  The princess laughed.

Pictures on Page 25
Vancouver Sun Staff Reporter
          July 22, 1958, Fort Langley.
  One of the flags came unfurled too soon.
  The loudspeaker blooped in the middle of the princess's speech.
  The flower girl was stricken with the heat and excitement, the 350  yards of royal red carpet couldn't be kept clean and inside the stockade of the reconstructed Fort Langley it was as hot as the hinges on the gates of hell.
  But these things were superficial.
  The ceremony with which Princess Margaret officially opened Fort Langley Historic Park, Tuesday, July 22, 1958, ran far smoother undoubtedly than the one at which Governor James Douglas proclaimed the founding of the colony of British Columbia on November 19, 1858.  On that day cold winter rains drove the whole ceremony indoors.
  July 22, 1958, Fort Langley
  To all those with an ear open to the faint but clear voices from the past, a historic day, colorful, warming, stirring.
  The princess was one of those who felt it.
  She was to prove this--not with her routine and some-what silted little speech but later, in the old Fort Langley storehouse that is now a museum.
  If she doesn't know much about washing gold, she does know history when she sees it.
  She arrived crack on time, 2:15 p.m. at the stockade gates, wit the usual retinue of politicians behind her.

Rebuilding of Fort Not Yet Complete

  She wore a light blue dress and a blue turban.  They drew attention to her blue eyes which, with her full and very mobile lips are her most striking features.
  The old fort has been reconstructed, parts of it are still being rebuilt, on the mound on the bank of the Fraser behind McMillan's Island.
  (They know it's the original site--University of B.C. students dug trenches to find the old footings for the palisades before the new construction was put up.)
  Nearby the meandering creek called Salmon River where James McMillan of the Hudson's Bay Company, guided by an Iroquios named George and George's slave, paddled down from Mud bay in 1824.
  "The soil here appears very rich, a black mould, " reported McMillan of the Langley Prairie.
  In 1827, when the first Fort Langley was built and in 1840 when the present site was occupied, the Hudson's Bay farmed these lands.  Some of the produce was sold to the Russians who came down in their ships from  Sitka, Alaska.
  July 22, 1958.
  Defence Minister George Pearkes, VC, wasn't able to be present.  He had been summoned to Ottawa because of the international crisis.

Many Collapse
In Extreme Heat

  Almost a thousand people sat on chairs on the sloping grounds inside the stockade.
  At the far end, nearest the Fraser (called the Coweechin by McMillan, called the Tahlko and sometimes the Patoochlie by the Salishan Indians of a century ago) was the dais for the official ceremony.
  Roberta Poppy, 9, daughter of Reeve Poppy of Langley municipality, had been taken outside the stockade to St. John Ambulance tent, the first of a dozen children and adults who keeled over.  "Heat and over-excitement" was the diagnosis.
  She had recovered by this time and walked up to the platform, curtsied, and presented a bouquet of yellow roses.

Women Sewed Old Costumes

  Nineteen-year-old Anne Seigo, representing Maple Ridge branch of the Canadian Legion from across the big river, presented the princess with a needlepoint picture of the church of St. John the Divine, built originally at Fort Langley, transferred to the Haney district where it still stands.
  "She asked me about it but I was nervous and couldn't think of what to tell her," said Anne.
  July 22, 1958.
  A float plane buzzed back and forth, altitude about 600 feet, south of the crowd.
  On the grounds: Brownies, Girl Guides, Legion men in their tams,  TV camera atop a big giraffe-like crane, a half-moon of photographers in front of the stand, Langley district women in old fashioned dresses -- "we found some that were really a hundred years old, other we sewed ourselves," said a matron.
  Over the main gate of the stockade three flags -- the Centennial flag, the Union Jack, the Hudson's Bay flag.
  Over the stand, two flags with WO2 W.A. Foster of the British Engineers watching them fretfully.  "It's the way you tie," he said.  "I've been doing it for 24 years. One snap  and the silk should just burst out, but the halyards were cut a little short."
  The princess was speaking.
  She had held her script in her hand while Premier Bennett and Langley's Alec Hope spoke, looking a little nervous.
  After she spoke she crossed her legs with their brief, white strap shoes.  When relaxed, she has a habit of turning her feet as though she wishes she could kick her shoes off and wiggle her toes.  It is part of her particularly feminine way.


The Frozen Miner -- Century Sam

As I sat down one evening
Within a small café,
A forty year-old waitress
These words to me did say:

"I see that you're a miner
And not just a common bum,
Because nobody but a miner
Stirs his coffee with his thumb".

I told that pretty waitress
"There's none like me today,
If you'd pour whiskey on it,
I'd eat a bale of hay".

I never shave these whiskers
From off this horny hide,
I just drive 'em in with a mattock
And bite 'em off inside.

I went to see my waitress
'Twas on a wintery day'
I held her in a fond embrace
That broke three vertebrae.

I kissed her when we parted
So hard it broke her jaw.
She could not speak to tell me
I'd forgotten my mackinaw.

I left my pretty waitress
Went wading  thru'the snow,
Going bravely home wardbound
At forty-eight below.

The weather it tried to freeze me
It tried its level best,
At a hundred degrees below zero
I buttoned up my vest.

I went up to the Klondyke,
In eighteen eighty two,
I met a working pal of mine
His name was Dan McGrew.

We panned for gold together
In prospects old and new,
Until the fatal shooting
By the lady known as Lou.

It left me broken-hearted
For I had lost my mate,
And so I left the Klondyke
with dear old Klondyke Kate.

Now as the years roll onward
I hold on to my pan
And there you have one story,
Of me Old Century Sam


(To the tune of "I tooral I ooral I addee")

"I don't know the history of this poem.  It was recited now and again in 1958, but may have been written especialy for the centennial celebrations," says John.  "Century Sam was a caricature drawn for the occasion and displayed in a number of places, especially in the Lower Fraser."

Of this last piece, John says, "History unknown, but it has been around since WW II, at least."

- 21 -



  Now a Lord of the realm has glorified
the charge of the Light Brigade,
and the thin red line of the infantry,
when will its glory fade?
There are robust rhymes on the British tar
and classics on Musketeers,
but I shall sing till your ear-drums ring

Now it's all very fair to fly through the air
or to humor a heavy gun, or to ride in tanks,
through the ranks of the crushed and battered Hun,
And it's nice to think when the U-Boats sink
of the glory that outlives years.
But who ever heard one vaunting word

Now you mustn't fell when you read this spiel
that the sapper's a jealous knave
that he joined the ranks for a vote of thanks
in search of a hero's grave.
No!  Your mechanized cavalry is quite alright
and your Tommy has darned few peers,
but where in hell would the lot of them be
if it weren't for the ENGINEERS.

Oh, they look like tramps and build your camps
and they sometimes lead the advance
and they sweat red blood to bridge the flood
to give you a fighting chance.
Who stays behind when it gets too hot
to blow up the roads in your rear,
just tell your wife that she owes your life

No fancy crest is pinned on his chest!
If you read what his hat-badge says,
why 'Honi soit qui nal y pense'is a gruesome sort of phrase.
But their modest claim to immortal fame
has probably reached your ears,
the first to arrive and the last to leave