INTERESTING LETTER FROM Dr. ELLIOTT
Ocean Voyage of the Canadian Contingent, en route to England
After a passage lasting fourteen days, His Majesty's Troopship 'Scotian' anchored off Plymouth on Wednesday, Oct. 14th at 5 P.M. The voyage across the Atlantic proved to be a most delightful one. No more beautiful weather could have favored the Canadian Expeditionary Force than that experienced throughout the fortnight on the water. It was ideal in every respect, and despite the fact that it was autumn, the elements behaved in a manner that would have done credit in the balmiest days of mid-summer. Not the vestige of fog was encountered during the whole trip. 'Old Sol,' who had confiscated the weather throne, reigned supreme, as he beamed brightly overhead. The old-time sailor or 'salt' was the authority for saying that never had he seen weather to equal it for the season of the year.
As an example of the absolute secrecy with which movements of the War Office are carried out, not an inkling was known throughout the entire 'Tight Little Isle' that the Canadian troops had sailed from their own shore. Even the great London Dailies were quelled in silence and prone to speak. If they themselves did know, the English public received no intimation through their columns, so rigidly was the news suppressed. So when the transports appeared in Plymouth harbour that evening at early dusk, England first knew that they were in their midst. During the same evening the fleet, one by one was towed into the mouth of the Tamar River, opposite Devonport, which forms the boundary between the Counties of Cornwall and Devonshire. Here under the shadow of the splendid estate of the Earl of Mount Edgecumbe, they lay in waiting.
Looming up in the offing rose the monument erected to the memory of Captain Handy, of Lord Nelson's famous flagship 'Victory'. In turn were the transports unloaded and the troops disembarked, immediately entraining for their respective military camps.
With the morning following their arrival, busy and animated scenes presented themselves in the harbour. First to greet the boys was an excursion boat carrying recruits from one of the large training ships anchored in port. With their own boys' band on board they made the rounds through the line of troopships and gave their brother 'Canucks' a rousing reception. The same order prevailed all day, as numerous excursion parties, carrying hundreds of civilian citizens from the neighbouring cities of Plymouth, Devonport and Stonehouse constantly plied to and fro and cheered the boys all along the line. Conspicuous among them were many of the fairer sex, whose presence prevailed on every hand.
There was certainly nothing lacking in extending the heartiest of greetings. Manifestations of welcome were profuse everywhere. Young and old, fair maids and damsels, from the tiniest 'tot' to the aged veteran received them with 'open arms.' Once shore-leave was granted to some, no sooner had their foot touched the dock than they were besieged for buttons, badges, coins, and what- not souvenirs. Every person pointed with pride to the Canadians. The sight is one that will long linger in the memories of the boys from Canada. Among their recollections one that cannot fail to be cherished is that of their first welcome to the Mother Land during the war of 1914.
It was upon the stroke of mid-day of Tuesday, Sept. 29, No.2. Stationary Hospital, A.M.C., Lt-Colonel Shillington of Ottawa commanding, bade 'good-bye' to Valcartier camp. The Corps, over 100 strong including all ranks proceeded to Quebec, and 7 o'clock that evening witnessed them safely embarked upon His Majesty's (Ship) Transport 'Scotian,' Captain R.H. McNeil, R.N .R. The good old Allan Liner which had just returned from a trip to Liverpool, arrived in Montreal on the previous Saturday, was all in readiness to receive them. Aboard she carried four six inch guns, two for'd and two aft, manned by a squad of Royal Navy Reserves, under Commander Randall.
Until the hour of sailing, tons of provisions, ammunition, baggage and supplies poured though the hatchways into her holds. It was about eight o'clock on Wednesday evening that the troopship cast loose from her moorings. All day long had others preceded her on the way down the mighty St. Lawrence, outward bound towards the Gulf, each carrying their quota of sturdy sons of the Dominion. They were bidding their last farewell to their native shores in response to the common call to fight the battles of the Empire.
As the shadows of the encroaching darkness gradually stole over the Ancient Capital, the gang plank was haul- ed in, the signal for 'under way' was given, and she was off to join the fleet of sister transports. As she slowly drew away from the docks, the band of the 12th Battalion, who were also on board, struck up 'Rule Britannia'. Simultaneously round after round of lusty cheers emanated from the throats of the soldiers who lined the decks.
Upon the hospital corps devolved the care of those men who required medical attention envoyage. A number of minor cases were treated, including one successful operation upon one of the members of the 12th Battalion for a fractured jaw, and a case of Pneumonia.
Enrolled in the establishment of the hospital were officers whose names are familiar ones to the medical fraternity throughout the Dominion. Next to Lt-Colonel A. T. Shillington of Ottawa, Officer Commanding, came Major H.C.S. Elliott, second in command, a resident of Cobourg, Ontario. The other officers of the unit were: Major F. McK Bell, of Ottawa; Captain R.S. Pentecost of Toronto; Captain C.A. Young, of Ottawa, Adjutant; Captain L.H. Wood of Toronto; Captain Stewan Fisher of London, Ontario; Captain James Walker, Charlottetown, P.E.I., Quartermaster; Captain Wm. Bentley, Sarnia, Dental surgeon; and sergeant-Major H.E. Law (Warrant Officer) and formerly staff sergeant Instructor P .A.M.C., Kingston, Ontario. To them lay entrusted the wounded soldiers, as they are sent back from the field of action by the Field Ambulance the location of a stationary hospital being in the rear of a Field Ambulance unit, at what is known in military circles as Railhead, or in other words at the end of the line of communication. From this point, all patients, after being operated upon, are sent further back to the general hospital at the base.
The sailing of the Scotian bore another significance, apart from that of the other transports. This was from the fact that aboard she carried the 8th Royal Rifles, the City of Quebec's own crack regiment. The local interest manifested was therefore more pronounced. Especially was this the case on the final eve of departure when scores of loyal French-Canadians took their last leave from families, wives, and sweethearts, former ties and associations.
On the early morning of October 1st, the Scotian let off her pilot at Father Point. In a short time she sailed past the watery grave of the ill-fated Empress of Ireland. During the night following she dropped anchor in Gaspe Basin, joining the rest of the fleet who had already preceded her. Here they all lay in waiting until Saturday, the 3rd, for the convoy of cruisers, which were to escort them across the Atlantic.
The scene they presented, sheltered in that haven of peaceful waters, in the sequestered arm off the Gulf of St. Lawrence, was one never to be forgotten. To the 'habitant' the array was a revelation. It was with awe and wonder that they looked upon the congregation of Canada's first army Division, concentrated in their midst, invading the very threshold of their very hamlets and disturbing their quiet slumbers.
Friday morning the Royal Message to the troops from the Governor-General was read aboard ship. Saturday afternoon all were held in readiness and at precisely at three o'clock, the cruiser heading the first column drew away. Following closely in her wake were the first line of transports. Similarly, the second and third, in the same formation, did likewise, one armoured cruiser leading each. To the Scotian was accorded the position of honor, being the head transport of the right column, immediately following the flag ship Charybdis of Vice-Admiral R.E. Wemyss. Abreast the three columns put out to sea, numbering thirty one transports beside the cruiser convoy. Onward through the straits they steamed ahead, last sighting on Canada's shores the wooden 'cross' marking the spot where Jacques Cartier first set foot upon soil on the mountain slope so many years ago. The routine of regular duties on ship began with reveille which was sounded at 6:30 a.m., when everyone was required to turn out from their hammocks and be ready for early morning physical drill which was held at 6:30. Breakfast was served at seven followed by a general muster parade and inspection of troop decks at ten o'clock. Dinner at twelve, and afternoon lectures and signaling practices daily, with tea again at five. At nine in the evening, or two bells, everyone was required to be below for the night. Fifteen minutes later the last rounds were made, and the men already 'turned in.' Fire alarm calls, sounded at all hours of either day or night, formed another feature. For these the troops were required to respond and fall in, with life belts on, at their respective parade stations.
Nightly concerts were also held under the direction of Lieut. H. Whiteman, representative of the Y .M.C.A., attached to the twelfth Battalion, and formerly secretary of the association in Quebec City. Under supervision, all manner of athletic deck sports and tournaments were pulled off, for which substantial prizes were offered.
Every Sabbath witnessed the observation of the Lord's Day by regular church ser1ces, including Holy Communion of the Church and Mass of the Church of Rome. Accompanying the 12th Battalion was none other less a personage than Major Father O'leary, of South African fame, and one who will ever occupy a warm spot in the hearts of every member of the First Contingent. The Chaplain of the Battalion was Captain Rev. A.L.L. Skerry of Stanley, York County, New Brunswick. The Battalion itself, over 1,200 strong, was under command of Lt. Colonel the Hon. Harry McLeod, M.P.
The men were the recipients of many treats, including several barrels of choice apples which were distributed en route. No effort was left un-spared by the officers in looking after their general comforts. In this the entire ships crew from the Captain down lent their mutual assistance.
In the holds of each of the troop ships was also stored as ballast, large quantities of both Canadian flour and grain, the gift of the Federal and provincial Governments to the War Office. After passing well outward to sea, the Canadian Expeditionary Force was joined by his Majesty's Transport, Florisel, carrying 500 troops from Newfoundland and a large cargo of fish, the gift of that Colony.
On board H.M. T. Cassandra was the 2nd Battalion under command of Lt. Colonel Watson, and with the Battalion were Major (Rev.) Wm. Beattie, Chaplain, Cobourg; Herman Rogers, (Grafton) second in command; Capt T. Hall-Abel, Major H.G. Bolster, Cobourg; and Capt. Birdsall, Birdsall's, each of the latter in command of a Company. While on port awaiting disembarkation, the Cassandra was anchored beside the Scotian.
Wireless bulletins were posted on board ship with the latest war developments. The news was keenly devoured by the soldiers. A message was picked up to the effect that, a report had gained credence in America that a greater part of the transports had been sunk wrought much consternation. The United States papers, from which it was said to have originated, were strongly denounced for their policy in resorting to such vile tactics in their greed for sensation and yellow journalism.
As the distance from home widened, the fleet's safety was further strengthened by additional men-of-war who met the liners in mid-ocean. Several of the latter were of most formidable type of fighting machines, including first class cruisers, battleships and torpedo boat destroyers. They constantly kept out at a distance ahead, scouting and alert at all times in scent of danger. Early in the second week out, the Super-Dreadnought 'Queen Mary' hove on the horizon and took up her position on the extreme left. Devoid of their gaudy coat of paint, which adorned them in the times of peace, the troopships presented a dull grey appearance, all having been gone over before starting. At night, every port hole was required to be covered and blanketed. Not the semblance of a light was visible anywhere as they sped ahead, while the men-of-war continued on their long vigil of watching on the highway of the seas.
The percentage of men who suffered from the effects of sea-sickness was perceptibly small, taking into consideration that the majority were making a trip on the deep for the first time. A few, however, felt it the first few days out, but soon found their legs again. Save also for a heavy swell in mid-ocean, of about two days duration, and a slight squall in the Irish Sea, no rough weather worthy of mention was encountered.
The first sight of land was that of Eddystone Lighthouse on the Scilly Isles, early on Wednesday, October 14th. Later the Cornish Coast was skirted, finally dropping anchor at five o'clock the same evening off Plymouth.
No more tangible expression of Imperial Unity, within the greatest empire upon which the sun has ever shone, has been evidenced than that enacted by the voluntary action of the Dominion, in the hour of the Empire's need. Long will the attribute remain, a shining star in the firmament of Colonial spirit.
MAJOR H.C.S. ELLIOTT.
P.S. - Oct. 20th, H.N.T. Scotian docking this afternoon. Troops will disembark and proceed tonight to Salisbury Plains.