Baker, James

Letter
Date:
March 17, 1943
To:
Mom
From:
Jim
[censured]

March 17th, 1943

Dear Mom,

By the time you read this, you will know that I am back in Canada again because I am going to send you a telegram as soon as I land - which should be in about six days. It has been very exciting up to now, but we are just waiting for our orders to sail at present.

The night before last we were all assembled in the Park at midnight, but something must have gone wrong with the train arrangements because we had to wait in the Mess Hall until 5.30 AM. It was one of the strangest nights I have ever spent! We marched in about 12.30 PM. and first had a sing-song, then a cabaret (volunteers from among the boys), it was quite good. Then we had supper of bacon and eggs, tea, cake, bread and butter, then we had another sing-song. Next, the padre came down and we had a short service. He asked any one of us to come up to his office if he wanted Communion, and do you know that nearly the whole of the mess hall rose to its feet as one man? That was the most moving Communion I ever attended, probably because it was the most sincere. I wonder why men always turn to God whenever they think danger, even though they may never think of Him at other times?

When we got back to the mess Hall about 3.30 AM. I went to sleep lying down on one of the benches. It was not very comfortable, but I never woke up until 5.00 AM. and by the time I had got into my kit, it was time to march off to the station. I slept on the train and by that night, we were all on board out troopship. It was a very long, tedious day because we were waiting so much between moves. The moves themselves weren't so long but the waiting was interminable! Probably because we were all so excited and impatient to be going. However, once we got on board our ship we found that we needn't have been impatient after all because she wasn't going to move off for a day or two. We came out to her in a tender and by a very peculiar coincidence, it was the same tender that I disembarked from three years ago! Somehow, it didn't seem all that time since I had seen her last, she is exactly the same now as then. It was only about five minutes ride to our ship and when we got within sight of her, I am sure we all gasped with amazement because she is a very famous passenger ship, and there wasn't one of us who wouldn't have given his eye-teeth to ride on her in peace time. Now she is waiting to carry us to Canada! She seemed like a great skyscraper to us looking up her tall, gaunt side from the deck of our little tender. Honestly, she seemed to tower over us like an elephant over a mouse. It only took us a few minutes to board her and as each of us came up the gang-plank, a steward handed us our berthing card and our mess card. Then we started to wander over the ship looking for our places. We were led straight to ours, but I honestly believe I walked half a mile before I got to it! I never dreamt a ship could contain so many doors, cabins and passageways! Eventually, we got to our cabin and looked around. There were nine of us in a little space about 15 by 10 feet, so you can see we are rather crowded. The beds are three deckers, a canvas back supported by ropes against an iron frame, but they are wonderfully comfortable, I was surprised! We have a bathroom to ourselves so things are not too bad, bar a bit stuffy at night! We strip to sleep just now, I expect that when we get to sea we will have to sleep in our clothes.

The meals here seem very good, not much in quantity but very good in quality. Tea yesterday was fish, potatoes, bread, butter, jam, cheese and tea. Breakfast this morning was porridge, bread - butter, marmalade, coffee and two eggs!! That's three eggs I've had in the last 36 hours and the first I have had for months! We had white bread too, the first I've seen in over two years! It is impossible to get any but brown in England because white flour is no longer sold. The Government won't allow it to be milled. The meal system does not seem to be working very well - just yet, but it will improve probably. We sit fourteen to a table and two of our number are given mess cards by a steward, then they take our tins out to the kitchen - present the card, and get the food for the whole table. They then come back and dish it out. It is very much like the English Public School method and has the same disadvantages, last comers don't get very much but that cannot be helped I guess. Certainly it must save the kitchen help quite a lot of work. They must work night and day and there must be a regular army of them to feed this huge number of men!

I went for a promenade this morning, walked about three times around the deck and must have done about three miles. I never knew there were so many officers in the world as there are aboard here! They are in every colored uniform and of every rank from Junior-Junior to very Senior ones. There are Americans going home on leave (imagine that, after one year's service over here they get 10 days leave at home and our poor Canadian laddies cannot get leave after three and a half years!) Navy officers going to take up appointments and dozens of RAF. officers from PO. to Air Vice-Marshalls.

I have seen a terrific number of very youthful Wing Commanders too, so I suppose they are going over as Instructors. There is every Nationality aboard too, South Africans, Indians and Malayans, Poles, Czechs, Belgians, Free French, Dutch, Norwegians, Danes and of course, British.

This must have been a wonderful ship in peacetime and I certainly would have liked to have seen her then, right now - considering she is supposed to be a troopship, she is wonderfully comfortable. The Officer-lounges are a dream to behold, that's all we can do, too. Behold them! Next time I come across, I hope to be occupying them instead.

Our kit bags are just coming across in the tender now, so I expect we will be leaving tonight sometime. I hope so, because the sight of this shoreline irritates me now. I wonder why I considered it so beautiful a little over three years ago?

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