Ways and By-Ways of a Singing Kiwi with the N.Z. Divisional Entertainers in France
Chapter VI. — Kiwis in Paris
Kiwis in Paris.
In March, 1918, came the good news that we were to take the show to Paris, for two performances of the pantomime, in aid of funds to carry on Miss Butler's work at "The Corner of Blighty," a leave hostel for all British soldiers and sailors, which this English lady superintended at No. 20, Place Vendome.
The stage-manager's difficulties with the stage hands and more especially with the scene shifters were many, and his "S'il vous plait messieurs, voulez vous er, drop this one," while it drew roars of laughter from the troupe, only served to make the wondering workmen shrug their shoulders the more.
As instancing this matter of the language problem, Punch's cartoon of the French poilu, pipe in hand, approaching a Tommy on a lonely Flanders read, and being in need of a match, asking, "Allumette?" to which the Englishman's nonchalant "Ullo mate," as he passed by, proved such a perplexing rejoinder, aptly hits off the difficulties on both sides.
At both performances, which were given at the English Theatre, 64 Rue du Rocher, we were favoured with capacity audiences, no doubt due to the excellent publicity afforded us by the English and American newspapers.
The following extract is from the Continental Daily Mail—page 95
Fine Performance by New Zealand Men in Paris.
The Theatre Albert ler, in the Rue de Rocher, Paris, was crowded with an enthusiastic audience yesterday afternoon, when the New Zealand Kiwis, a concert party from the front, gave a performance of their pantomime, "Achi Baba and the Forty Thieves," on behalf of "A Corner of Blighty," the soldiers' institute in the Place Vendome. The Kiwis are all members of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. As has already been stated in these columns, for over a year this talented troupe has been entertaining the forces at the front. With Christmas they produced a pantomime—our French friends would no doubt call it a revue—and one can only regret that circumstances did not permit of a bigger theatre being secured and an opportunity given to a wider circle of the English colony here to come and see what was really a unique and remarkable performance.
All the characters, male or female, from the dainty heroine to the Dan Leno-like widow, are impersonated by fighting men, who have come 15,000 miles from "down under." For the most part, too, they are men from the ranks, and one and all throw their heart into the performance and so render it unique. There is no story to "Achi Baba," but there is a sequence of pretty scenes, jolly songs, and much quick repartee dealing with trench life and the front, which must cause immense delight to the soldier audiences, for whom the work was written.
Where all the performers were so excellent it would be invidious to individualise, but for record's sake the names of the performers and the promoters as given in the official programme are appended:—
Cast of Characters:—Achi Baba, J. Le Comte; Cogia, G. Lyttleton; Ganem, C. Tidy; Morgiana, C. S. Nelson; Nephelococcugia, F. Nation; Kassim, R. Shaw; Capt. Camouflage, A. Green; Lieut, See Bee, W. E. McKinlay; Lieut. Otto of Roses, C. Richard-page 96son; Abdullah, R. S. Moloney; Titania, D. A. Kenny; a Citizen, O. B. Pinches; a Street Arab, N. L. Martin; the Wazir, N. Isaac.
Management:—Director, Lieut.-Colonel J. Hardie Neil; Musical Director, Capt. D. A. Kenny; Deputy-Conductor, Pte. H. B. Lange; Scenic Artist, Sergt. W. N. Isaac; Electrician, Pte. A.O. Devlin; Perruquier, Pte. B. Pearce; Wardrobe, Pte. O. B. Pinches; Assistant Stage Manager, Cpl. R. S. Moloney; Business Manager, Capt. A. Jackson.
Orchestra:—C. Cimino, G. Jackson, N. L. Martin, S. J. Anderson, H. Baxter, R. Booth, H. V. Cross, P. Dimery, R. Goodison, C. Howard, W. King, H. B. Lange, F. Lound, T. Neighbours, L. Poore, B. Peterson, L. Probert, C. White, H. Wright.
Only a few seats remain for the second performance, which takes place at the Theatre Albert ler, 64 Rue du Rocher, at 2 p.m. this afternoon.
Our receptions were most flattering, and made one regret that they could not have seen the show as it was at Dickebusche, when we had the full cast of the company.
This being my second visit to Paris, I was to be of some use in seeking out the main sources of interest, such as The Louvre, Pantheon, Trocadero, Napoleon's Tomb, etc., and all our daylight hours were spent in doing the rounds of such places.
The luxury of hotel life was once more very much enjoyed, and the change over from good old army stew to the choice Paris menus has to be made to be appreciated for, from the varied assortment of hors d'oeuvres, right through the several courses of richly cooked food, to the numerous brands of delicious cheeses, that Paris hotel surpassed even our hungriest dreams.
We also saw the grave wherein the great Sara Bernhardt, though still very much alive, had a leg, which she had had amputated some time previously, placed; so that of her it could be truly said she had "one foot actually in the grave."
A feature of Pere Lachaise is its beautiful statuary, and one of its most artistic pieces must be the enormous representation of "The Judgment Day," placed at the head of a very large grave, containing the remains of some two and a-half million people, gathered together when the authorities were cleaning up Paris some time previously.
Two of our five free nights were spent at the Grand Opera, and while I feel that I have already gone to some length in describing the beauty of both outside and inside of that large and spacious edifice, it may amuse you to know that, while our chief comedian was ready to admit all that, it was his considered opinion that the comedian in Faust was no good at all, and that he would be all the better for a few good gags with which to pep up his performance. I think we were all quite carried away with the seven beautiful ballets that are always done with Faust in Paris, but which are so often omitted elsewhere.
The graceful dancing of this State-trained and paid corps de ballet was a relevation, and their exquisite movements, as when, jumping into the air with arms extended and feet page 98a-twitter, their many goffered skirts seemed to momentarily hold them in the air, to allow of a slow descent, for all the world like thistledown coming slowly to earth. Such delicate grace had a greater appeal, to me at any rate, than all the more angular, seemingly calisthenic displays of any Russian Ballet I ever saw.
Not, of course, that I did not appreciate the marvellous technique of the latter; but the national characteristics of the two peoples are no-where more marked than in the very different styles of ballet they cultivate, and I found pleasure more readily in that of the French school. But then everything about Paris seemed to please me, and this performance of Faust not the least.
One often hears Faust spoken of as being hackneyed; but if only the truth were appreciated it would be seen that it is the blase people who make the assertion who are hackneyed, and not Gounod's beautiful melodies.
The other production we attended was of Charpentier's lovely opera, "Louise," and I feel sure that to see this charming opera to perfection you must see it in Paris where the scene is laid.
In fact, I would go further, and say that to see any opera done perfectly, you must see it performed by a cast in whose language the opera has been written.
Thus, Germans do German opera best; but to hear them essaying the lighter French style is not altogether the same thing as hearing the French do it.page 99
Russian opera for the Russians and Italian for the Italians. I once saw a performance of the comic operetta "The Belle of New York" at Nice, and could scarcely recognise it; and it occurs to me that I should hate to see a Gilbert and Sullivan performance by any other than an English cast.
Of course I realise that if we have to wait for a national company to arrive before we can hear these operas, we might never hear them, and it is much better to have them done in English so that we can understand them; nevertheless, if you wish to hear them done perfectly, you must contrive to hear them where the leading melodies and choruses are not very far removed from being the traditional music of the country.
That, of course, can only be accomplished by the comparatively few, and lucky, people who are able to travel.
To illustrate more clearly the point I am trying to establish, I would suggest that any performance of the "Passion Play" we could put on here could not possibly have anything of the tradition and beauty of production that has characterised its portrayal down through the ages at Oberammergau; and so, to see it at its best, one must visit the Continent.
Therefore I should say, as with the "Passion Play," so with opera.
If it is possible, endeavour to see your operas done by a company of artists whose language is that of the story being portrayed, and whose temperament is akin to the spirit of the music.
At the Opera Comique we attended performances of Thomas' "Mignon" and Gounod's page 100"Mireille," both French Grand Operas and excellently put on, so that you would not see either of them better performed anywhere else in the world.
From Paris we had leave to London, and while leaving the train at Calais we ran into a very dapper little man, with a neatly-trimmed beard, who could be none other than that most helpful of war-time counsellors, General Smuts. He had just arrived by boat from London, and looked very smart in his neatly-fitting khaki uniform.
What a thrill to be back in the "Big Smoke" once again; this time for ten days instead of only a week as I'd previously had. I did not go to Scotland on this occasion, but spent all my time in the big metropolis, doing the sights, or sitting listening to the bands in Hyde Park by day, and seeing a different show at a theatre each night.
I noticed that Ellen Terry was appearing at the Coliseum, and decided to pay my respects to her; but when I called at the stage door I was informed that she would see nobody. The door-keeper agreed to take my name in to her, and returned all smiles to tell me I was lucky, and that although Ellen Terry had been there three weeks, I was the first person allowed past the barrier: I could have five minutes with her. Actually I was entertained for over an hour, meeting all the artist's assisting company and many other well-known stars on the bill.
She was genuinely pleased to see me, and called at my hotel next day to take me to meet a friend whose husband, a Mr. Morrison, was the editor of the Morning Post.page 101
They were very charming people, and I spent a very happy time in their company.
Ellen Terry told me that her family were very eager that she should give up her public appearances in the theatre, but that she was too independent to do other than work for her own sustenance.
She made a lot of money, she said, but money was made round to go round; and while she was quite happy in her stage work she would continue to appear.
She greatly enjoyed recounting to me an amusing story that Queen Mary had told her, of how, when she was visiting some wounded soldiers at one of London's hospitals, a Tommy had told her that When he was at 'wypers'—," and here the Queen had smiled and interjected softly, "Ee-pr," but the Tommy, undaunted, went on to relate that at "Wypers—," when the Queen again endeavoured to give him the correct pronunciation of "Ee-pr," whereupon the Tommy said, "Excuse me, but I think I have a lozenge that will cure those hiccoughs of yours."
Ellen Terry is gone now, but so charming a lady could scarcely do aught but leave behind her a beautiful memory that will never die.
I was able to see much more of London this time than I had been able to on my last trip, and I felt more convinced than ever that I had been familiar with it during some previous existence; but, of course, it must have been because London's landmarks have become so well known round the world per medium of their many post card and other photographs.page 102
On our return to France we were stationed at the small town of Hondeghem, near Bailleul, where we received several additions to our numbers, including a new officer in charge in Lt. Shayle Gardiner.
There was much lamentation over the loss of our extremely capable and popular O.C., whom headquarters had seen fit to replace; and one can only state that this change was in the nature of a tragic mistake on the part of some-one. We were fated never to see Capt. Dave Kenny again, for he died as the result of an operation at Walton-on-Thames Hospital, England, shortly afterwards.
With the loss of Dave Kenny and Theo. Trezise, one and all of the old company felt that we could never again do such good work as in the past; and in this spirit we began the production of a new show which, nevertheless, was to win for us more kudos than even the panto, had done.
Thus it was that when the Germans broke through at Meteren, we were sent, marquee and all, to Etaples, where we produced the musical revue "Y Go Crook," in May, 1918. This was a favourite expression in France at the time; for when anyone got annoyed and began to "fly off the handle" one would say, "Have you read that little red book, 'Why Go Crook'?" In our search for a catchy name of the new revue, I had the doubtful honour of suggesting the one accepted, and later had the pleasure of hearing one Tommy say to another, "Ee go crook, laad, what's it mean?"page 103
In Paris a few months later on, they got over the difficulty by billing the revue as "Pourquoi s'en faire?" but in spite of its name, the new show was a great success from the start, and drew large audiences to the marquee on the sands at the rear of our N.Z. camp at Etaples.
While in London, opportunity had been taken to visit the well-known theatrical out-fitting firm of Morris Angel & Co., where each member of the company was fitted with a complete wardrobe of dress clothes, shirts, ties, shoes, etc., so that now the pantomime was ended, we would be ready to put on a new and smarter type of show than the pierrot performances that had been our metier previously.
Nelson, of course, was put through it in the no-man's land of the ladies' department, and succeeded in annexing some devastating creations which he wore in the next production.
"Y Go Crook" was a musical medley following along the lines of the revue type of entertainment, and consisted mainly of a series of vocal numbers linked by the dialogue of an almost negligible plot, eked out here and there by a sketch or some such other diversion. Most of the music was from current London shows as the "Maid of the Mountains," and I remember that the Performing Rights Association made a successful court claim against the sponsors of our Paris performance, because we used the music of that particular show without per-mission.
What story there was, was written round Baron Pop-off and Mrs. May, which characters were splendidly sustained by Le Comte and page 104Lyttleton respectively, who were ably assisted in their nonsense by a clever little dancing waiter in the person of Harry Prechner, a versatile artist of Continental experience.
Of the several girls in this lavish production, mention must be made of the excellent impersonation by Pinches, who made a most presentable wench second only to Nelson.
By general request, Lyttleton repeated his great success of the pantomime, and conducted the orchestra in his riotously funny manner, to the intense delight of our audiences.
The show was exceptionally well dressed, and all the stage accessories, such as curtains, table-cloths, lamp-shades, etc., were of the very best quality, and were supplied by the famous London firm of Liberty's.
Our scenic artist had once again excelled himself, and the whole bright and breezy performance ran through slickly under the able direction of Bob Shaw, our new producer.
With our new wardrobe, and the increasing accumulation of scenery and stage props generally, we had definitely evolved from the chrysalis of our early pierrot show days, and from now on were to continue with the costume comedy type of performances.
Their Keystone-like transport, tied up in the true Heath Robinson manner, with string and bits of wire, was one of the biggest jokes in France, and the Germans could not do other than imagine we were either beaten or balmy, to have any faith in such undersized Allies.
Their average weight, at a rough guess, would, I think, be somewhere round about eight stone, and in their pale-blue uniform they looked more like the enemy than the Germans.
They certainly let us in for something when they put on their April tea-party and allowed the Germans to walk through the hole in the line and swallow up all that territory which had seemed so far behind in the days when to get back to Bailleul seemed like putting you well out of harm's way, and yet here we'd lost 15 miles of country, including such towns as Meteren, Merris, Outtersteen, Vieux Berguin, Merville, and dozens of others, in the short space of six days.
It was terribly galling to think that such homes as Armentieres, Bailleul and Estaires used to be were now all securely in the enemy's keeping, and with such a flying start as they got on that occasion they certainly took some halting.
I well remember seeing a Scottish regiment coming out of the line at a point where they had stopped this German advance some time in April; they were far short of their full strength of a battalion, and as they marched at a very slow tread, led by a single officer on horseback, page 106their khaki aprons covering the kilt on active service, they carried the mud and grime of their several strenuous days in the hastily-cut trenches full upon them. Some were hatless, and some without rifles, while others had lost various parts of their equipment in the fierce engagement that had only just ensued, and I approached a sergeant who had been wounded in the wrist, and sported several days' growth of stubble on his chin, to ask how things were going.
He said "they were all right now," but he'd never been so pleased in his life as when he looked round that morning and saw that the Aussies had dug in behind them, when they'd come up in their relief during the night. There was no mistake in the confident tone when he said that "Things are all right now," and that was near Hazerbrouck.
It was now the month of May, and here we were at the base, the Division being still too busy to have us with them.
The Canadians sent for us, and we went to them at Fort Mahon, where we did our best to produce the revue in the small hall provided, for a week.
In June we returned from Etaples to the Division at Authie in the Somme area, where we gave shows in a natural open air bowl to large audiences, including on one occasion "Bill" Massey, "Joey" Ward, as the two heads of our New Zealand Government were more or less affectionately termed. On our return to the Base in July, we produced a new revue entitled "Fun in a Sanatorium" which name was afterwards changed to "Oh, Helen."page 107
A terrific storm at Etaples, unfortunately, blew down our big tent and wrecked the scenery of this production.
During repairs to the theatre, the orchestra assisted by a couple of vocalists, gave concerts at the Lawry, Salvation Army, and other huts round the camp.
The members of the show had been living in tents in the lines at our base camp, and about this time we suffered an addition to our numbers in the personnel of the Tui Concert Party, who were attached to us, for rations and discipline, as Army phraseology has it.
They might have got a few rations, but we certainly got very little discipline; and, indeed, their presence in our midst had rather a disturbing influence upon our own party.
The Tuis were under the musical direction of pianist George Pope, and their programmes were produced by that well-known boisterous comedian, Edgar Hodges, popularly known to all the Division as "Hodgy." With a small orchestra and some clever talent they were the "wing-forwards" of the Digger concert world, and put on many excellent free-lance performances round the Front.
Things had been very lively at the Base most of the time we were there, with aeroplane raids on the railway bridge an almost nightly occurrence for a while.
We were there when the Germans put a star shell up over St. John's Hospital and bombed it, so that there were over 360 casualties; we had given a concert there the week previously. Most of the men in the nearby camps were marched page 108out to sleep in the wood every night, after a Canadian depot camp had been blown almost off the map with heavy bombs, which tore every tent in the place to absolute ribbons.
Etaples was not exactly the healthiest spot on earth in that summer of 1918.
Happily some diversion was available at this time, in the contact by several members of the troupe with girls of the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps, who were engaged in various duties in connection with the army at the base.
Our matinee idol, Charlie Tidy, as usual walked away with the chief prize when he captured the affections of one of the best-looking "Waacs," as they were known, for himself, and I well remember his ready wit when he was asked to put something in Winnie's autograph book.
For words in praise of winsome Win,
My sluggish brain I rack;
But he who wins this winsome Win,
Will win some winsome Waac.
I think you will agree that no apology for reproducing such a stout effort here is required.
A most exciting event during our stay at the Base was the burning down of the Orderly Room by a few hot-headed dissentients from the existing leave regulations. Luckily the Commandant was none other than the popular Col. "Hoppy" Mitchell, who tactful handling of the situation soon restored the usual harmony of the camp.
Before leaving Etaples, appreciation must be expressed of the splendid playing of the various page 109calls by the camp bugler. Bugler Napier won the open competition against all-comers from the British and Dominion Troops at La Toquet, and those of us who had some knowledge of brass instrument playing can say we have never heard a more artistic rendition of the long and difficult "Last Post" anywhere.
Early in September I suffered a recurrence of my chest trouble, and was left behind in hospital at the Base when the troupe moved up to be nearer the Division at Bihucourt.
I had just finished reading Victor Hugo's great story "Les Miserables," and was about to be discharged from hospital when General McGavin called to take me in his car, the very same road that Jean Valjean, Hugo's hero, had taken on his way through Montreux, Hesdin and St. Pol to Arras.
I could not help but picture that memorable journey all over again; how he had changed horses at the three towns mentioned before arriving in Arras, and it all seemed so real to me that, when in Paris a month later, I again visited Pere Lachaise Cemetery, as Victor Hugo asks his readers to do, and searched for Jean Valjean's grave; but though I found again those of Chopin, Auber, Offenbach, Rossini and other great men, I could discover no trace of Hugo's hero, for, of course, my search was hopeless from the start.
The Division was busy when I got back to the troupe, and an urgent call having come from Paris, asking that we be allowed to show our new revue there, permission was readily granted, and we soon found ourselves once more in the gay page 110city, where we gave two performances of "Y Go Crook."
The first was given in aid of the British Army and Navy Leave Club at the Alhambra Theatre, where a capacity audience received the show with enthusiasm, souvenir programmes being sold by society girls from the English Colony, and the total takings cleared the large sum of £400.
The following extract is from the Continental Edition of the New York Herald:
"Y Go Crook" has Clever Kiwis.
But Not A Male Crook.
"Y Go Crook?"
Well, you needn't go crook if you go to see the Kiwis' show. Yesterday it had its Paris premiere at a gala matinee at the Alhambra for the British Army and Navy Leave Club, and it is going to be given at the English Theatre to-morrow afternoon under the patronage of Lord Derby, for "A Corner of Blighty."
"Y Go Crook" has a plot that involves a number of women, and the New Zealand soldiers, "straight from the Cambrai front," are some quick change-sex artists, especially Gunner S. Nelson, who as Sonia is the "feminine" hit of the show, while "her mother," Sapper G. Lyttleton, runs "her" a close second.
Where Gunner Nelson—his best girl back in New Zealand would not know him in skirts—got his girlish tonal quality is not explained in the programme, nor is the source of Sapper Lyttleton's antics as an orchestra conductor revealed to the Kiwis' audience. But their feats establish the fact beyond all doubt that a soldier can do anything—even play the Hun, as one anonymous Kiwi did to the great amusement of all concerned.
The Kiwis' strong point is their army stuff, all the way from English "Ruby Queen" cigarettes to A.E.F. Fords. "Oh," exclaims a fair Kiwi damsel, "I just page 111love cigarettes." "Then," replies her soldier friend, "take a whole one." Or, it's an S.O.S. drink. What's that? Short of sugar. After all, asks the Kiwi, but not an officer, what is rank? Have you smelled the margarine lately? The King conferred the K.C.M.G. on a New Zealander, and that, to the y-go-crook soldier, is "Kindly Call Me George." He crossed No Man's Land; oh, it belongs to the ladies. No, most of it belongs to us now. France is full of Yankee hordes, with waving flags and flaming swords; they don't need any tanks: all the Yanks have got Fords.
"Y Go Crook?" Oh, that's simply New Zealandese for "Pourquoi s'en faire?" which is "Ich gebibble," which is I should worry.
So now you know.
Two nights later, on October 14th, we repeated the revue, this time under the patronage of His Excellency, the Earl of Derby, the takings being in aid of Miss Butler's "Corner of Blighty."
On the occasion of this, my third visit to Paris, we were entertained as guests of the Army and Navy Leave Club at their headquarters in the Hotel Moderne, in the Place de la Republique.
During the four days we were there, the rumours of a projected armistice were growing apace, and all newspapers were eagerly scanned for confirmation of that much-desired event.
Influenza was raging and people were dying like flies. When we left on our return to Bihucourt, our baritone, Charles Loader, was an in-mate of St. Cloud hospital, where he was buried shortly afterwards, a victim of the reigning scourge.
The Division was still busy, and rumours now were to the effect that the enemy's defence had page 112been broken and that he was on his return home with all possible haste, while our armies were hurrying him along.
Although the armistice was only a fortnight away, it could not have seemed very real to us just then, as I remember that some of the company were incensed because our O.C. had put his name on the Paris programme as the producer of the show. At a rehearsal one morning, Le Comte walked on to the stage and stood absolutely mute before the assembled company, and when told to "go on," he calmly replied to the O.C.: "Go on what? You haven't told me what to say."
The result of this upset was that a meeting was held, and I was deputed to go to the O.C. and tell him we objected to his appropriation of the title of producer.
It all seems so petty now, but it shows we evidently expected to be producing revues for some time to come.
We were alone at Bihucourt, and some of the boys were discussing how they would react to the news of the armistice when it came.
Some were going to paint the place red, though how this was to be done without paint shops or public houses, was not explained; while others threatened to play up generally, and it is amusing to reflect that our then musical director, Ken. Phillips (now a Mus.Doc. in Auckland): admitted that when peace came, nothing would give him greater pleasure than to go into the bush with a nice book, to have a good read and hear the birds sing.page break
Etaples. The Kiwi Orchestra, 1918
Back Row: H. Lange, H. Cross, L. Probert, F. Lound, T. Neighbours, R. Booth.
Middle Row: N. Martin, H. Wright, W. King, S. Anderson, K. Phillips (conductor), P. Dimery (leader), H. Baxter, L. Swales.
Front Row: C. Howard, C. White, L. Poore, R. Goodison, B. Peterson.
See Page 107
The serenity of Bihucourt was to be rudely awakened when a pile of some hundreds of stick bombs, a legacy left by the retreating Germans, went off quite suddenly and seriously wounded Sgt. Alec. Tozer, N.C.O. in charge of our cinema staff.
On Nov. 11th, the peculiar silence all around us was most noticeable, but it was not until Nov. 12th, when someone managed to get hold of a Continental Daily Mail, that we got official word of the armistice; and so, while almost everyone in the civilised world was rejoicing that peace had come again to a sorely-tried world, we, who were only a few miles from Bapaume, and not so very many miles from the actual fighting, knew nothing officially of the cessation of hostilities.
Our Division, which performed great deeds in climbing the walls and chasing the enemy out of Le Quesnoy, where they were congratulated personally next day by the French President, Poincare, himself, returned to re-organise at Beauvois-fontaine, where we endeavoured to entertain them.
We had carefully rehearsed a brand-new show for the occasion, but feeling personally very much "off colour," while fighting a losing battle against a very heavy cold, it seemed to me of little worth to men who, now that their job had been done, had only a great desire to return home as quickly as possible.
Everyone was eager to know what was happening, and who were most likely to be on the first boat for New Zealand, when word came through that the Division was to march through page 114Belgium to take its place as part of the Army of Occupation in Germany.
There were quite a few murmurings against this proposal, but when it was pointed out to the men the great honour it had been that they should be the only Dominion troops asked to march into Germany, the small grumbling element was quickly silenced; and once again the Digger put the honour of his little country before all personal desires.
There was absolutely nothing for us to do and, indeed, one felt that we were in the road, and that the heads would gladly be rid of us for a while; so when it was suggested that we make ourselves scarce until the Division got fairly settled in their new quarters in Germany, we took the hint and applied for leave, which was readily granted.
Most of the company went across to England where, unfortunately for us, more than half of them stayed, instead of returning, and going through to Cologne, thereby missing what, to many, was the best part of the war. Only four of us took the opportunity to travel south and see something of the Riviera, the beautiful play-ground of Europe, where we duly arrived after a journey by way of Paris and the P.L.M. railway to Nice.
Breaking the journey from Caudry to have a couple of days in Paris, We saw a fine performance of Massenet's tuneful opera, "Thais," and were so taken with the lovely "Meditation" that we bought copies of the music and went to a marvellous automatic gramophone parlour in the Boulevarde des Italiens, where by simply page 115inserting a token in a machine and dialling a number, obtained from the huge catalogue provided, we were able to hear the "Meditation" played by whatever artist, who had recorded the number, we desired. I remember we dialled three times and heard Kreisler, Heifetz and Elman play this beautiful violin solo, which is one of the gems of "Thais." I think we hummed and whistled this lovely melody everywhere we went in Paris, and all the way to the South of France.
During ten lovely days in that perfect climate we visited all the well-known resorts—Cannes, Monaco, Monte Carlo, Villefranche, and Mentone, from whence we succeeded in getting past the sentries at the bridge, and through to Ventimillia, the first town over the Italian border. This feat took some scheming, or "wangling," as the army's word for any shrewd dealing has it.
We found, after some enquiries, that it was the' custom one day a week for an N.C.O. and two or three men, armed with sacks, to go to Ventimillia to obtain rations for the officers' hospital at Cap Martin, and we were pleasantly surprised when the plan worked and we were able to have our spaghetti in Italy as we had set out to do.
Ascending the Alps Maritimes from Mentone by the usual method of transport—donkeys—we dined at a surprisingly large hotel perched precariously on the top of Mont Agnes. Ships of the French and Italian navies were at Villefranche the day we were there.
Monte Carlo was, of course, the highlight of the tour, and our window at the Hotel des Fleurs page 116looked straight down the imposing garden stretch in front of the Casino. Although no man of military age was allowed to gamble at the tables, we were permitted to see the roulette games in action, the players being a very mixed assortment of ladies of varied nationalities, and elderly men. We made friends with one of the croupiers, who are the men that rake the money from the tables, and were able to secure a counter—a round disc of white ivory, which were being used in lieu of five-franc pieces—to take away as a souvenir.
Signor Bianchi proved himself an excellent host when he had us.up to his home that night and turned on some eighteen-year-old wine of such potency that when we left to return to our hotel, the whole family accompanied us, linking our arms with theirs, as we marched down the middle of the road, singing in the moonlight.
Thus it is we have very pleasant memories of Monte Carlo, which must be one of the cleanest and best-kept municipalities in the world: or perhaps it would be more correct to say it must then have been, for from all accounts the whole Riviera has felt the draught badly since England went off the gold standard on September 31st, 1931.
At Monaco we inspected the Prince's palace, where I confess to falling for a childish impulse, and sat on the Principality's throne when our guide wasn't looking. The beautiful aquarium, built over the sea-wall so that the running sea-water can be utilised, is one of the sights of Monaco.page 117
The picturesque blue-domed palace of the Persian Prince, Mirza Risa Khan, who was President of the Hague Peace Conference in 1912, was another of the lovely places we saw there, and the Prince's gold piano, with its mother-of-pearl keys, is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen or imagined, yet it is only one of the many wonderfully brilliant items among the Prince's priceless collection.
Of course we were not able to do this Riviera trip in the style of its regular habitues, and instead of flying along the magnificent Corniche Road in a Rolls, we were quite content to use the tramway service provided, all the way from Nice to Mentone. It was a thrill to take tea on the wide terrace of the Promenade des Anglais at Nice, and to watch the beautifully-dressed women and their escorts as they strolled by.
The Americans certainly picked a choice spot for their leave area when they chose the Riviera. It was most disappointing, later, to find that the lovely coloured scenic views of the town, for which we paid high prices, in advance, did not arrive in New Zealand as promised.
After a marvellous ten days in the Riviera's perfect climate, we broke our journey north to have a day in Lyons, and arrived back in Paris on December 14th in time to see the astounding welcome accorded President Wilson when he came as the great peace-maker and instigator of the League of Nations.
The fervancy of the huge crowds as the visitor rode with Poincare, in an open carriage, preceded and followed by twelve of the magnificently-attired Guard Republique, riding abreast page 118on their pitch-black horses dressed in their flowing black drapings, knew no bounds, and the importance of the occasion was apparent.
At night, the delicacy of some of the brilliant illuminations, with pendants of light showing the portrait of the American guest, picked out in tiny electric globes and suspended across the street, was the most artistic thing of its kind one could imagine.
At Parc Monceau we were part of a great concourse, in response to whose insistent demands President Wilson appeared again and again on the balcony of his residence, to the accompaniment of enthusiastic hand-clapping. There was singing and dancing until an early hour next day, on all the boulevards; and we, being conspicuous in our distinctively shaped hats, came in for some attention at times.
The mademoiselles made a dead set at securing our chapeaux as souvenirs, and when we found ourselves several times surrounded, in the "ring-a-rosy" manner, it seems we were expected to, and often did, kiss our way out. Anyone who has visited Paris on a fete day will quite understand the situation; it's just an old French custom, and it was an education to see the French capital in this mood, as it illustrated in no uncertain manner the tremendous difference in the temperaments of the French and British peoples.
On the steps of the great opera house, one man with an accordion, and two others with the very ordinary tissue-paper and comb outfit, played for hours, while everyone danced with his neighbours, irrespective of whether they were acquainted, or whether they looked poor or page 119affluent. And so it was all over the city that night; everyone seemed bent on letting him-or herself go, and, very evidently, they were all enjoying themselves tremendously.
No one could have dreamed, then, that the famous visitor's health was to be completely broken so shortly afterwards, when his high ideals failed to find favour with his own people at home.
A most amusing incident of that joyous night of revelry was when Peterson and I, having missed our companion for some time, came across him later, in the middle of a huge crowd, gesticulating wildly, and trying, in his best pidgin-French, to make himself understood.
Thinking, from the way he was swinging his arms, that he was having a spot of trouble, we squeezed in near enough to hear him say: "Mesdames et Messieurs; Dans mon pays, l'homme noir, il dit comme ca, 'Kamate kamate, ka ora, ka ora,' etc.," giving a very fair pakeha's impression of a Maori war-cry, and ending up with the familiar grimace, with his tongue protruding in the prescribed Maori fashion, a seemingly rude gesture which must have been the last straw, as it completely convulsed the immense crowd, including ourselves.
The last we saw of Crossy that night was when he was taking round the hat after giving a soulful rendering of "Home Sweet Home" on a battered, borrowed cornet.
The French are very liberal in their dispensations of vin blanc.