The Grand Finale
By Frank J. Atkinson
It was the Eleventh of November, 1918. The Grande Place in Mons, rich with memories of the start of the Great War in August, 1914, and the epic struggle of the British Army against overwhelming odds of the invading German armies, was like an ant-heap with assembling Canadian troops. Lieut.-General Sir Arthur Currie, Canadian Corps Commander, was due to arrive at any moment.
With the passing of intense war activity the divisional Intelligence Officer was itching to repeat his scoop of the previous day … a germ-spreading traitor had been captured in his sleep in an attic on his return from a long journey to the distant Baltic province where he had made sure his tiny phials would be crushed in the cogwheels of the factory making them. The Belgian Gendarmerie, revolvers drawn, had mounted those steep, narrow stairs with him before dawn and soon had the traitor on his way to the cells “for necessary action”. The documentary evidence turned over to them was so foolproof as to spell his quick doom.
Wandering around the square with a Signals friend to investigate the tall belfry isolated and unconnected with any other type of cathedral architecture, the Intelligence Officer found it had one inhabitant – a huge carilloneur who weighed almost 300 lbs. and was eagerly polishing up the treadles, plugs and levers ready for the glad release of Victory and a resonant call to rejoicing. With a mixture of Flemish, French and German the I.O. was able to get over to this creator of musical rapture the idea which had suddenly germinated in his mind. The Signals lieutenant was prevailed upon to return to the Officers’ Mess opposite and bring up the bulk of the music sheets from the much abused piano. The carilloneur soon grasped the cadences and, half-stripped, sweated and toiled with his bare feet and arms producing the rich strains of “O Canada”, “The Maple Leaf Forever”, “Home Sweet Home”, “Il Bacio” (Arditi), “Tipperary”, “The Brabançon”, “The Marseillaise” and “Britons Never Shall be Slaves” – all in close sequence.
Meanwhile, the parade had been assembled below and our beloved Corps Commander, mounted on his charger, was ready to pass down the heroic lines of Canadian troops when the first chimes began to tinkle out on that mass of big and diminutive bells.
The effect was electrifying! All military starch was softened. Nothing could prevent those thousands of astounded eyes looking skywards instead of stiffly to the front as ordered by the officer in charge of the review. It was said later that tears even welled up in the eyes of many.
Later on, as drinks were handed around in the Mess, the perpetrator of this unconventional announcement of “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All Men” discovered that either he had been betrayed or his attempt to take cover after descending the belfry had been futile. The Corps Commander crossed over to the I.O. and said rather crossly, “This will get you a court martial.” Soon however, he relaxed in loud laughter and added, “Never mind. It was a grand finale to this long, long trail.”