30 January 2019

Sam Steele: Himself Not God

Major General Sir Samuel Benfield Steele KCMG CB MVO died one hundred years ago today. A man of great accomplishment, Steele's Dictionary of Canadian Biography entry begins by describing him as a "NWMP officer and army officer," then goes on to detail so much more, including his service in the Second Boar War and the Great War. In our family, Steele is remembered for his interactions with Edward Stewart Busby, my great-grandfather, who served as a customs inspector during the Yukon Gold Rush. A younger man, E.S. lived to see Louis St Laurent become prime minister, while Sam Steele fell victim to the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Much of what I know about Sam Steele comes from his unreliable 1914 memoir Forty Years in Canada, which I once helped usher back to print. Until now, I've ignored his verse – there was at least one poem – and so am taking advantage of this sad anniversary to present this, which Steele wrote in 1915, during the dark days of the Great War:

               "When Greek meets Greek" the battle's fair;
               Kaiser and I: gods! what a pair:
               For weapons we will choose — Hot Air,
                                     I need no God. 
               Bill may be there with shot and shell,
               His arms first may fair quite well,
               But, people, I can talk like Hell:
                                     I can by God. 
               That God created sun and rain
               In seven days, is told in vain,
               It took six weeks for me to train
                                    My men — by God. 
               At my command my men arise,
               Parade past me with right turned eyes,
               These warriors — mark you — symbolize
                                   Myself — not God. 
               When in Valcartier's latter days,
               My Troops assembled 'neath my gaze
               Thy merged each creed in one to praise
                                  Myself — not God. 
               In language of poetic flow
               I'll write my epitaph, you know,
               (That's if I condescend to go
                                 Beneath the sod)
               My tombstone will need a P.T.O.
                                 So help me God.


  1. I don't know if it's your typo or Sir Samuel's, but shouldn't the fourth line of the last verse read "Beneath the sod"? What does P.T.C. stand for?

    1. Good catch, Roger. Funnily, Steele made the very same typo, then corrected it by backspacing and hammering down on his 's' key.

      'P.T.C.' is another typo; it should read 'P.T.O.' I've corrected it. I'm fairly confident that in this case it stands for 'please turn over.'