Ole Gambling Cloth is Home Again

Reprinted from The Packet, June 23, 2016
by Lester Green


Ole Gambling Cloth 1

Pte. Daniel Shaw’s Ole Gambling Game welcomed at his childhood home, Little Heart’s Ease.


Ole Gambling cloth 2

Ole Gambling Game used by Pte Daniel Shaw during WW1



In researching and writing stories of our Southwest Arm, Royal Newfoundland Regiment, I have on many occasion been elated at finding or receiving information about our soldiers.

Rare photos, military files, and newspaper clippings have all been like finding that elusive clue in telling their stories.

Such was the case this week with the arrival of a postal package from Fred Shaw from North Reading, Massachusetts.

While my wife stood watching, I eagerly tore open the package like that of a child on Christmas morning. Inside, bubble wrapped among the numerous pink, sytrofoam ‘peanuts’ was a framed, homemade Crown and Anchor cloth, affectionately referred to by Fred as “father’s gambling cloth.”

The cloth was well used and brought back by Private Daniel Shaw after the Great War.

It travelled to Boston when he first immigrated there in 1923.

Drawn on the canvas were six symbols used in the Crown and Anchor game. All symbols were in excellent shape and the anchor was outlined in great detail. This was fitting for a soldier born into the Shaw fishing family, who had proudly owned the schooner The Seven Brothers.

Unfortunately, we may never know the many stories that this cloth experienced as it was carried around by Pte Shaw’s, hidden inside his clothing, folded like a flag, during his travel across France, Belgium and into Germany. The game reminds us that even in harsh times, these young soldiers had a means of escape from the brutal reality of war.

In his book, “Now God be Thanked” John Masters describes the popular game, played by the Navy and Army that involved three dice and a piece of cloth marked with six symbols: a crown, an anchor, a club, a heart, a spade and a diamond.

These were lovingly referred to as the Major, the Mud-hook, the Shamrock, The Jam-tart, the Curse, and the Kinkie.

Each side of the dice had one of the six symbols. The bet was placed on one of the symbols and if it came up when the dice were rolled from a leather cup, the banker paid out.

If the three dice showed two anchors and one heart, those with bets placed on anchor and heart received a payout.

The person with bets on the anchor received twice the wager. The odds, of course, were stacked in favour of the owner of the game.

The homemade gambling cloth would have provided hours of entertainment to the soldiers during their leisure time and an opportunity to socialize with their comrades. For some, the game became addictive, eventually leading the British Forces to ban the game.

We can only assume that this was true for the Newfoundland Forces under British command. This led to an underground secrecy of the game among the soldiers as they would gather around the cloth and answer the owner’s cry: “Whose for the old killick?” “Anyone for the Ole King’s Hat?” “Place your bet now by’s.”

This makes this “Gambling Cloth” a piece of history, preserved by Pte Shaw and his family, an intriguing,piece of our past. It surely must be a rare item.

Some of these cloths are preserved in museums in Britian, Australia and New Zealand. Now we can proudly display Pte. Daniel Shaw’s cloth in his hometown of Little Heart’s Ease and share it with the people of the Southwest Arm region.

Fred recalls reading the following statement a few years ago, “Too many of us leave this world with our stories unfinished but when we inspire and give of ourselves, others will carry our stories forward and finish them for us.”

Lest we forget Private Daniel Shaw #4975 and the soldiers of Royal Newfoundland Regiment who served from Random 100 years ago.

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