24 August 2015

Honouring Newfoundland Writers #nlpoli

Most of you have probably never heard of a fellow named Alonzo John  Gallishaw. 

John Gallishaw is best remembered in his native land for his brief service in the Newfoundland regiment during the Great War.  Wounded at Gallipoli,  Gallishaw was invalided out of service and eventually went back to the United States.  Born in St. John’s in 1890, Gallishaw had been in the United States at the time war broke out.  He was studying English at Harvard University, of all places.

He took up a teaching appointment and after the Americans entered the war,  Gallishaw enlisted in the American Army in January 1918.  He  took a commission and went to France as part of the American expeditionary force   That was Gallishaw’s hat-trick since he had enlisted briefly in the Canadian army on the war to Newfoundland in 1915.

While in the United States, Gallishaw wrote and published a memoir of his service.  Trenching at Gallipoli is a fairly typical memoir from the Great War. For Newfoundlanders, it is an oddity since most of the local knowledge of the Great War is focused on the western Front, especially Beaumont Hamel.  Gallishaw wrote about the regiment’s time in Turkey and gives a soldier’s level view of the entire experience.

pg35119.cover.mediumRegular readers will remember the name.  A couple of posts mention Gallishaw briefly. Trenching at Gallipoli was out of print for decades. 

There is a hard copy version you can still find, a re-print from the 1990s.  The original edition of the book is now also available free, online thanks to Project Guttenberg.

Gallishaw wrote another book about the war.  The man in the ranks was supposed to be advice to new soldiers from an old hand.  Gallishaw wrote it for all the Americans enlisting in 1917.  It is every bit a little pocket book of tips and wisdom.  Take a pencil with you, for taking notes.  Have a good toothbrush.  That sort of thing.

There are also little tidbits of Gallishaw’s experience in the Newfoundland regiment.  Gallishaw advises that soldiers pay attention to discipline and their training.  He warns the Americans based on his own experience in a battalion – he does not say which one – that was held back from the fighting because it was ill-disciplined for a long time and the soldiers were not the least bit serious about their job.

“It was a hard lesson for the British colonials,”  wrote Gallishaw.  “For months after they had become masters of their drill and forma
tions, they were held back from going to the front because they were not disciplined. Of one regiment the inspecting general said: "This is the finest body of men I have ever seen, but the most undisciplined." That regiment, solely to acquire discipline, had to remain in training another three months, while their friends went to the front.”

Gallishaw turned up in the Telegram this past weekend.  As part of its series on the Great War,  the Telegram had a submission from Gwynne Dyer about Gallishaw and Trenching at Gallipoli. There are some interesting tidbits but the column is shot through with the attitude that makes you think his parents meant to name him Glib but the priest copied it down wrong.

At least Dyer’s column is better researched than his recent book on Canada and the Great War.  There are bits on newfoundland that rely on the glib – and pretty much entirely fictional – account of how the country came to be in the war.  Dyer adds insult to injury by not only focusing on the governor  - who had nothing to do with getting the country into the war – but also by getting his name wrong.  Repeatedly.  At least for the Gallishaw piece, Dyer managed to check his research and confirm the governor’s name was Walter, not Basil.

Anyway,  Gallishaw will give you insight into what soldiers experienced during the First World War. 

Gwynne Dyer?  Not so much.

Meanwhile, in another corner of the Telegram this past weekend former telegram scribbler and CBC executive producer Bob Wakeham was getting all excited about Ray Guy. 

“Ray was not comfortable being a legend,”  wrote Wakeham, “But that’s what he was. That’s what he is.”


Ray was a great writer because “he relished taking on the powerful in Newfoundland society, any one he thought to be abusing authority.”

Absolutely true.

Lana Payne, another former Telegram scribbler who,  like Wakeham, has a column at the telegram also tweeted about Ray Guy recently.  She linked to a column by Rick Salutin that appeared in the Toronto Star earlier in August. Best Canadian columnist ever, said Salutin.

Wakeham wants someone to memorialise Ray somehow.  Like maybe making a course in Ray’s writing mandatory at Memorial University.

Regular readers of these e-scribbles will know Ray Guy’s writing.  When Boulder had the good sense to put together two collections of ray’s columns,  SRBP told you all to go out and buy them.  if you haven’t yet, you should.  They are extra-ordinarily funny even 50 years later.  You don’t have to know the people or the particular events  to find Ray’s humour.  That’s how good a writer Ray Guy was.  That’s how perceptive a fellow Ray was.

Bob Wakeham is wrong about Ray Guy.  No, he isn’t wrong that Ray is great.  Bob is wrong because we don’t need to force people to find Ray Guy’s writing.  People will find Ray’s work because they want to find it.  They might even be inspired to change things in Newfoundland and Labrador.  As Salutin reminded us,  Ray wanted young Newfoundlanders to stay here rather than leave.  He wanted them to stay because they could change things.

And really, the only way people will change things is if they want to.  The surest way to make sure nothing ever changes is to force people to read Ray Guy’s writing.  That would be the kiss of death for it. 

People read Ray’s columns in the 1960s because Ray fearlessly poked at a premier who was overbearing and who was abusing his authority.  They read Ray’s column in the Telegram because everything else in the local media at the time was as blandly tasteless as the paper on which it was printed.

If Bob and Lana had wanted to honour Ray Guy,  they could have done it while he was alive.  If they had taken anything from him at all, it would have been inspiration.  They had columns in the major local daily while the place was run by an overbearing Premier who abused people around him and the position he held.

Instead of being like Ray,  Bob and Lana loved up Old Twitchy at every chance they got.  Fawning, laudatory, ass-kissing horseshit flowed out of their keyboards in such torrents that their praise for Ray Guy is proof that they may have known him, may have given him a job, and may have genuinely liked the old fart.

But they never understood him.

They never got him.

Not for one frigging second.