Over the Top (January 1930) cover was created by Harry Thomas Fisk (H. T. Fisk). Someone took the time to apply packing tape the entire length of the spine. Sadly, the top of the cover lacks a chunk, but, the artwork below is largely unaffected. This was acquired along with two more sequential issues: February and March. Those will be read and blogged in the future.
The inside rear cover lays the bold claim that their policy insists all stories be written by men that served in the war, what they dub the “Big Scrap of ’17-’18”. Naturally, I was curious to know whether this was Fact or Fiction. After each plot summary, where known, I researched each author and provided information, which may be from a Wikipedia entry, FindaGrave.com, or various other sites.
Owen Atkinson’s THE PICTURE GUN details two foolhardy privates assigned to lug Sergeant Kiess’s baggage across No Man’s Land so that he can make motion pictures to bring back to the United States. The films are to capture live combat situations and boost American morale as American units beat the Germans. Kiess is fanatical about his Hollywood abilities but oblivious to the realities of actual warfare and death. The bodies don’t rise at the end of this “shoot.” The story has plenty of lighthearted humor etched in with scenes of carnage on both sides of the conflict.
Owen’s actual name is Marion Owen Atkinson and he was born on 22 June 1898 in Doniphan, Missouri. He rose to the rank of Commander in the United States Naval Reserve, served in The Great War (WW1) and in WW2. He died 29 October 1962 and was buried at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California.
CASEY CONVALESCES is a humorous short by Edward Arthur Dolph, centering around two Irishmen that don’t seem capable of working within their unit. In fact, they are constantly drunk and getting into absurd situations. Sergeants Casey and Murphy return in another tale in which they are confined to a military hospital, to mend wounds and await future orders to return to their assigned units. Only problem is, they don’t like being locked up. The pair eventually commandeer the night nurse, steal her outfit, and then knock out an M.P., take his clothes, and hop an outbound train headed deep into France. They’re eventually caught singing drunk and paraded through the bombed French town before the men. In typical fashion, they manage to escape with even more idiocy.
Edward Arthur Dolph was born 19 June 1896 in Pinconning, Michigan. From 10 July 1916 to 1 November 1918 he was a cadet at the Military Academy (ergo, he did not serve during The Great War). From the academy he was promoted to the army and served for an unknown period of time (though I do have records up through 1919 overseas). He died 1 March 1982 in Newburgh, New York. He was married to Laura Belle Knapp and they had one child. Edward compiled a book on soldier songs from as far back as the Revolutionary War.
After having read a semi-serious lighthearted novelette and following that up with a pure tongue-in-cheek Casey short, I was desperately hoping that Over the Top magazine wouldn’t push my patience over the top! Damn it, I want a bloody effing war story! And Peter Henderson delivers with “I AIN’T A CAT!” Private Parker drags fellow Private “Smitty” Smith along to solve the mystery of what became of various missing American soldiers. The outfit was strung out around the French town of Buerre and instructed never to enter the ruins. (Incidentally, there is no such town, but the author may likely be referring to the French word beurre, which means butter in English). No Germans are known to be positioned there. And yet, Parker, assigned to a night watch crew, was slapped with dereliction of duty, sleeping on the job! His unit vanishes overnight, leaving only Parker the sole remaining member accounted for. Only, he insists he wasn’t asleep. He plans to enter the town at night against regulations with Smitty as company to watch his six. Parker’s on the prowl for a Frenchman with a slight in his neck. Smitty is curious as to how Parker knows that there is a Frenchman in this empty town with a slit neck, and keeps insisting that curiosity killed the cat. The story rolls along with Smitty giving us some Edgar Allan Poe treatment: fear of the dark, shadows, odd sounds, etc, And then a shrieking bandit hauls itself from the dark recesses, dragging its nails into Smitty and nearly bearing him to the ground. He throws the bandit off him, draws his sidearm and plugs two rounds into…a cat. (By which point I’m worried that I’ve hit a third humorous story). Well, those two shots do the trick. It’s not long before the shadows cough up very solid shadows, and one clamps a hand over Smitty’s mouth from behind! He kicks Parker hard, forward, to get him in the clear while biting his assailant and then killing him. Parker is oblivious and blind as to what happened, but Smitty and Parker make haste as German’s pop up out of nowhere and the real meat of the story takes place, with loads of killing. The body count climbs quickly as the pair dance their way through swarms of Germans, bullets, grenades, and all the while, Parker wants that Frenchman! I won’t ruin the conclusion, but it’s a damn fine read by an author that supplied only one pulp fiction story. I’m guessing the writer’s name is a house name. If anyone knows otherwise, I sure as hell would love to know.
Peter Henderson is a complete mystery to me. No other fiction story appears under this name in the pulps. The name is too commonplace to track.
Bill Morgan introduces me for the first time to his “Wound Stripe Quartet”. The quartet appear in several other issues, but here’s a recap: four war veterans form a singing quartet with the aim of traveling and entertaining active soldiers, etc. Well, they naturally have their own adventures along the way. In THE DAILY DRUNK, the quartet are in Paris and not receiving the usual accolades that they are used to. While lamenting their ill-reception, they spot the perpetually drunk Lieutenant Cannon, who obviously has the reputation of being perpetually soused. Three of the quartet believe he is absolutely wasted and an embarrassment to the United States, while one is convinced it is entirely an act. When they determine to escort Cannon home, the lieutenant abruptly becomes startling sober and essentially tells them to bugger off, that they are interfering with his affairs. Much later, the drunk lieutenant accosts them and asserts that he requires their assistance. He returns to sobriety and secretly enlists them in his undercover assignment. Cannon is hunting a pair of Frenchman known to be deserters and worse…they have stolen military parts, etc. The conclusion involves a lively bar room brawl that made for a grin-splitting night.
Bill Morgan wrote from 1928-1930 exclusively for Over The Top magazine. Another Bill Morgan would surface from 1944-1948 writing detective stories. Somehow, I doubt the two are one-and-the-same. The name could easily be William Morgan, but in any case, too damn common a name and could itself readily be an alias. Or perhaps even a staff editor.
BUDDIES IN ARMS is my first introduction to pulp legend Robert H. Leitfred. Shocking, I know, but true! I have never read a story by Leitfred prior. By this time, Leitfred had been writing (and selling) pulp fiction steadily for 7 years. Here we are introduced to Corporal Eli Horntrop, a lanky yet muscular young man with straw-colored hair. As a companion, he had previously enlisted Private Pluvius Johnson, formerly attached to the labor battalion at St. Nazaire. I say “formerly” because Pluvius is officially A.W.O.L.; Eli had convinced him that he would never see “action” unloading boats for soldiers moving forward. Pluvius is noted to be a Negro with the stereotypical Southern broken English, and is convinced he’s not actually A.W.O.L., but unofficially attached to Eli’s Rainbow Division. If Pluvius wants awards and medals, Eli had him convinced he had to abandon St. Nazaire and come with him. And come Pluvius did. Interestingly enough, there isn’t overt racism present. Nobody drops the “N” bomb, though yes Pluvius was described once as a Negro and later noted to colored. But all in good fun, Pluvius freely calls Eli “white boy.” This is a rather long explanation, I realize, but I want to establish that you are not reading a racist work of fiction here, though Eli is clearly in charge of Pluvius. At the start of this story, Eli and Pluvius are in the town of Sergy, near the River Oureq. The German’s and American’s have been bombing each other in and out of town. Neither at the moment have firm control of the area. Last time in, some of the men had found food and divvying it up among themselves, either ate or quickly buried their newfound rations. Well, Eli and Pluvius have returned to the buried meal. Eli instructs Pluvius to dig into the cellar. Breaking through to the cellar door, Eli drops in and discovers his black bread and baloney missing! In the loose dirt he spots footprints, and realizes that one of the other members that found the food stole his share. That unworthy soul is Sergeant Henderson, and he’s across the street in a barricaded building with a handful of troops preparing to hold off a German advance. Eli and Pluvius find themselves awkwardly in the open and nobody will open the doors. They are forced to drive through the window just as the German’s riddle their position. All of his is background to the fact that they meet a young American that has never seen action. His name is Lawrence “Pinky” Sellers, and he’s terrified. Pinky is impressed by Eli’s cool demeanor under fire and latched to his side as everyone abandons the tank-shelled building and escape the town. The Germans rapidly and efficiently take the town and situate massive guns at strategic positions to hold Sergy permanently. Eli is impressed to see dozens, perhaps hundreds, of troops escape Sergy. He wasn’t aware that so many were present. A lieutenant orders the men to surge forward and the Germans butcher them by the droves. Eventually they retreat, much to Eli’s ire, as they were practically at the town’s edge. Retreat, regroup, and try again. They do, only to get mowed down again, but this time penetrate the town. The trio are this time accompanied by Sergeant Henderson, who wastes a grenade toss. It lands mere feet from their location and the smart-thinking Eli drops his steel helmet onto the ticking time-bomb and hits the dirt. He then takes Henderson’s last grenade himself after that latter nearly killed his own men, and hurls it at the tank. He succeeds is killing the gunner atop the tank as Eli examines the grisly remains. A major eventually spots Eli and likes the way he operates under pressure. Assigns him to retreat from Sergy and back along the river road find the missing troop and supply transport, and redirect all assistance to Sergy. He takes Pluvius and Pinky along for the hike. Along the way they are attacked by Germans and Pinky catches shrapnel in his side. He’s delirious and bleeding to death. Spotting an approaching M.P. motorcycle and sidecar, he arrests their attention and informs them he is commandeering their wheels. They are convinced he and Pluvius are A.W.O.L. and both M.P.s set forth to arrest the pair. Thus ensues a fist-fight fit for Fight Stories magazine. Eli eventually knocks down his assailant and deposits Pinky in the sidecar, climbs aboard, and the M.P. grabs for him. Pluvius is having trouble with his own man, but takes the time to plant a solid fist into Eli’s man, enabling him to escape. Eli speeds away and glances back once, to see Pluvius taking on both M.P.’s. Eli arrives in the distant town of Epieds, and convinces the overburdened doctor to tend to Pinky, thereby saving his life. Later, the M.P.s catch Eli, cuff him, and bring him before a captain and a colonel, along with the likewise arrested Pluvius. Their case is presented, and Eli defends his case. The colonel upon hearing of Pinky dismisses all present, much to the chagrin of the M.P.s. When asked Pinky’s name, Eli is gobsmacked to discover he saved the colonel’s son. He knew that Pinky had secretly enlisted to prove himself to his “old man” but had no clue where he was assigned. He thanks Eli and asks if there is anything he can do for the Eli, who responds he just wants to eat. He and Pluvius enjoy from the upper rank’s own cook steak and potatoes, while a hungry Sergeant Henderson watches from afar, begging for a bite. Oh sweet irony!
Robert Henry Leitfred was born 5 August 1891 in Syracuse, New York. Sometime in 1918 he enlisted with the motorcycle corps. Robert died 6 August 1968 in Lagune Beach, California. This information and a lot more is readily available at the Pulp Flakes blog site. But, did he see action? Additional research yields that Robert registered for the draft on 5 June 1918.
Lloyd Leonard Howard presents the stereotypical revenge tale. In AN ARGUMENT FOR TWO, fighter-pilot Joe Speers writes a letter to an unknown German pilot, demanding to be met solo in the air. Speers buddy was shot from the sky, in the back, while himself pursuing another German plane. Speers thought the tactic was pure cowardice. He has a friend place it in a tube with white trailers, dropped over a German field. It’s recovered and read. Next day, a German plane drops a return note, calling his bluff. Speers must bribe the flight mechanic to ready his plane and get him airborne before the major catches him. And yes, Speers gets his man, and the tale concludes on an entirely implausible note.
Lloyd wrote exclusively for Over The Top from 1928 to 1930 and spun a half-dozen more stories for 1930, 1933, 1934, before entirely vanishing. The draft index shows eight men by the name of Lloyd Howard. Irksome…
HELL’S DOORSTEP by Andrew Hale was more entertaining. “Snifter” Hogan, a daydreaming doughboy in the trenches dreams of earning a genuine medal to impress a girl back home in New York. Only, she is fickle and he is certain she’ll stray to another neighborhood man that has earned a medal from the French. He’s convinced the French medal was “purchased” and not actually “earned.” That aside, his two trench-mates wake him from a dream, reverting to reality. They are to storm the German’s. Everything goes wrong. One of his mates catches one and left behind to live or die. He and the other guy drop in a crater and watch as the Lieutenant foolishly plods onward, without backup! He catches a bullet and is knocked down. Is he alive? “Snifter” Hogan doesn’t know, but his body has already made up its mind. Somehow he avoids being shot full of holes, despite the buzzing hot lead all about him. Gets to the Lt., finds him alive, and carries him back only to land into another crater and come face-to-face with the New Yorker with the French medal. That latter notes Hogan caught a bullet through his calf and is lame, and decides to steal the Lt. from him and carry him himself and earn the medal. The pair get into a serious fight fight, with Hogan the shorter and slighter of the pair brutally battered. The villain snatches up the Lt., and hoofs it back, only to be shot to ribbons in the back. Hogan bravely limps over and snatches up the unconscious Lt., and eventually makes it back with his man. That odds of Hogan surviving hundreds of fired bullets and bombs is absurd, but plenty of doughboys survived the war doing just that.
Andrew Hale only supplied a few tales to this magazine and one to S&S’s Complete Stories, all in 1930. Was he a real person or a staff writer? Again, a case of a very common name, and five gentleman by this name turn up on the draft index.
A MATTER OF DISCIPLINE is by Cole Richards. Private Garrity and hundreds to thousands of men are in Argonne, trying to push forward and defeat the Germans. It’s raining, muddy, craters everywhere, bombs falling, bullets flying, and Garrity is slowly losing his shit…mentally. While hunkered against a tree, various men are killed next to him, each in a different grisly manner. One may think he is yellow, but he finally snaps and begins running, aimlessly, and in the darkness flails into a curtain, falls down steps and finds himself before Major Forstal. That latter determines that Garrity is a coward. Garrity takes the accusation personally and physically assaults his superior officer. The candle goes out and in the ensuing darkness they street brawl. Garrity eventually wins and realizes he murdered the Major. Mortified, he returns to his tree, or a tree, at the least. Next morning, another officer spots the disturbed Garrity, who confesses he killed the Major. They can’t afford at the moment to lose a man so he is sent forward to atone for his crime. Garrity readily agrees. Better to lose his life honorably as a stop-gap than hang from the gallows. Try as he might, Garrity simply can’t die. It’s not a matter of waiting for a German to run him through with a bayonet. He fights with every ounce of his being to defeat and break through every German line. He eventually survives where officers one by one are killed and finds himself at the very front placed in command of a unit. He whips them into shape, even beating up one man that lays claim to having enlisted six months before Garrity. Assuming full authority, he refuses to bend, refuses to yield to the advancing Germans…even when the dead Major Forstal shockingly makes an appearance and orders Garrity to stand down and withdrawal the men. Garrity laughs and leads his men forward. He refuses to gain ground only to lose it retreating, thereby losing more men. If you are going to lose men, lose them going forward! The Major goes forward with the unit and is impressed by Garrity’s cool and authoritative manner in the face of insane odds. They soon drop into a German-filled trench and an awesome fight ensues. The Major is physically outclassed and about to die when his assailant is blown away by Garrity, who himself is assaulted next by a muscular German. The fight and war scenes involving guns and bombs and grenades are splendidly detailed, generally hiding nothing of the grim realities of death and destruction. In the end, Garrity’s unit wins, and Garrity stumbles over to Major Forstal, apologizes for his assaulting his superior officer. The Major explains coughingly that as a matter of discipline, Garrity must be arrested and face proper charges. Garrity laughs. Nobody will be arresting him. He took a fatal shot at the beginning of the farce and has been a walking dead man ever since. The man drops in a dead faint. Forstal has two courses: let the man die, arrest him and he’ll die, or…. No, he constructs a third option, unorthodox it may seem, but one that obliterates the “crime.” Garrity can’t possibly have committed the crime if he is still at the very tree at the start of the conflict, where he received the fatal wound. He’d still be there, dying, and never been able to assault the Major, never take out various German gun nests, led a successful unit, etc. Tossing the dead weight upon his shoulders, the Major carries his burden several miles back, back, back, back to the tree, or at the least, a probable tree, and deposits his burden. He then hollers for a medical unit and chastises them for having left behind a wounded man. The medical man is flabbergasted, but one does not argue with a Major. After all, “discipline has its advantages.”
I am not sure who Cole Richards is, but if he wrote consistently this well, someone needs to unearth his ass and shake his skeletal phalanges. The above tale may well be the best damn story in this magazine. It’s psychologically demented and full of blood-and-thunder meat. I’m impressed that the editors of Street & Smith permitted so much graphic detail. While much is left to the imagination, the author does his damnedest to paint very clear, gruesome pictures. As Cole Richards, this person wrote from 1927 steadily throughout the 1930s, but only a single sale each in 1939, 1940, 1941, and 1943. I couldn’t locate a single Cole Richards in the draft index, however, I did locate one George Cole Richards born 23 February 1893 in Mahaffey, Pennsylvania, and working the rubber industry in Akron, Ohio.
The final tale is THE LAST CREST by Captain George F. Eliot. Machine-gun sergeant Owen Hurley of the 101st Australian Battalion decides to disobey the orders of the major and proceed as originally planned, and secure the third crest and hold the area against the advancing Turks. His unit is all but obliterated upon holding the area assigned. Setting up their machine gun, they mow down the Turks from behind, annihilating them. Realizing they are caught from behind, they turn and begin assaulting Hurley’s crew, eliminating nearly every last man before reinforcements assume control of the second crest and a wave of Australians win the day. The major approaches and congratulates Hurley on his successful initiative, and Hurley faints from blood loss. A simple tale.
George Fielding Eliot has a Wiki entry, for anyone that is interested. It’s well-worth the read, because Eliot was indeed a soldier during The Great War. He was born an American citizen whose family moved to Australia. He grew up there and enlisted in the Australian military. After the war, moved to Canada and became a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Later, moved back to the United States, working in military intelligence, from 1922-1933, rising to the rank of Major. His entire war-life and experiences served him greatly in authoring numerous action stories, spanning various countries and literary genres.
To wrap up the project, I’m dismayed to not be able to ascertain the identities to many of this magazine’s contributors, on the base claim that all served in the war of 1917-1918. One I proved clearly never served during the war, though he was a cadet and eventually went overseas. At the least, he was certainly exposed to the postwar conditions in Europe. The others? Maybe one day someone will find this blog and supply additional information on the unknown / unconfirmed gentlemen….