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Fighting Words
Humour Hunt

Fighting Words

The First World War has been over for more than a century, but it still echoes today, even in the language. The thousands of Canadian soldiers who went overseas in 1914-18 brought home words and phrases we still use. Soldiers in the trenches were plagued by lice, which were known as “chats.” The men would gather in quiet times to pick the lice out of their garments and pass the time of day with their buddies. They called it “chatting” and we still chat today, although without the pesky insects. The concept of three on a match being bad luck also came from the trenches. Soldiers believed that the lit match applied to one cigarette might draw the eye of a sniper. The second light would give him a chance to zero in and the third light, Bang! Very bad luck. The word strafe—to machine-gun...
Green submarine
Humour Hunt

Green submarine

Corvettes, the tough little warships that made up much of the Royal Canadian Navy’s Second World War fleet, were notorious as lively sea boats. Although they could take the worst the North Atlantic could dish out, they were said to roll on wet grass. It took a strong stomach to handle the dizzying movements their little round hulls could develop. In May 1945, as the war came to an end, Germany’s surviving U-boats were ordered to surface, hoist black flags and signal their positions so they could be located by Allied warships. Some of them ended up surrendering to Canadian vessels. The corvette HMCS Thorlock and the frigate HMCS Victoriaville were detached from a convoy in mid-May to rendezvous with one of these surrendering subs, U-190. A boarding party from the corvette took charge o...
Gunfire at the Château Frontenac
Humour Hunt

Gunfire at the Château Frontenac

– Illustration by Malcolm Jones – This issue, we have a mix of tales ranging from a sly private and unconventional menu items to a story about wartime gunfire in the halls of Quebec’s famed hotel, the Château Frontenac. Bob Anglin of Ottawa, who joined the Black Watch in the 1960s, recalls an incident at Gagetown, N.B., later in his career. Peering out a window, he saw a soldier leave a quartermaster stores building. He carried a cardboard box under one arm, with the other holding a column of toilet paper rolls threaded down the handle of a broom. Anglin thought this was an ingenious way to carry the awkward rolls and remarked on it to a nearby warrant officer. The warrant glanced out the window and then turned to Anglin. “He’s not carrying toilet paper. He’s stealing a broom.” Bri...
Why you shouldn’t steal the padre’s whisky
Humour Hunt

Why you shouldn’t steal the padre’s whisky

– Illustration by Malcolm Jones – Two of my uncles ended up in the Korean War, one in the Canadian Army, the other in the American Army (how that happened is a story in itself). Cy was a sergeant in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, assigned to the Canadian headquarters where, among other things, he was the padre’s assistant. Don was a sergeant in one of those numbered American outfits, leading patrols over hellish bits of Korean real estate. One day, as Cy was handling his paperwork, a concerned private entered his office to say there was a suspicious character at the front gate asking for him. Cy strode down to the entry and found two sentries flanking a bedraggled American sergeant. The man was fresh from some place known as Old Baldy. He was unshaven with his tatter...
Laughing at life in the military
Humour Hunt

Laughing at life in the military

–Illustration by Malcolm Jones– Military humour, much like military everything, is an acquired taste. As with all comedy, it depends on the audience. A great comedian once said something like, “Tragedy is me slipping on a banana peel. Comedy is you slipping on a banana peel.” Most military jokes would make unlikely material for the local comedy club. A lot of them are the sort of “you had to be there” jokes that do not always translate. Military humour, though, is as old as soldiers. It surely had an already long history back when Centurion Marcus got a chuckle by sending recruit Publius off on a wild goose chase to find a left-handed javelin. In Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson’s navy, his officers were aware that promotion likely depended on a higher than usual casualty rate among thei...
The glory days of the Clunk
Humour Hunt

The glory days of the Clunk

 Illustration by Malcolm Jones The legendary CF-100 Canuck was the only all-Canadian jet interceptor-fighter to enter mass production back in the 1950s. Note the careful wording. “Mass production.” The Avro Arrow of course was a revolutionary Canadian-designed delta-winged interceptor, but it was destined for limited destruction rather than mass production. The design work on the CF-100 started at Avro Canada in 1946 with the maiden flight of the first prototype in January 1950. Those who flew the CF-100 affectionately dubbed it the Clunk, in honour of the loud—yes, you guessed it—“clunk” that reverberated throughout the aircraft when the front landing gear retracted after takeoff. This strikes me as a very Canadian nickname—typically humble, understated, modest, and arguably a littl...