November 21, 1929
I could write quite a lot more than what I have already written about little experience in camp in Canada, but the more exciting experienced were after I got over in England, and particularly after I got over to France, so I am not going to take up any more time telling you about my Canadian training, but will start in on the trip across the Atlantic on the Metagama.
One of the boys who had gone through the same course as I did was quite a violinist, and as we had a whole day in Montreal before being required to go on board, we went around to the different music shops and bought most of the latest song hits. Several of the other boys also bought music, so that by the time we got on board we had quite a collection. We had to be on the ship by midnight, and we were allocated cabins. We were very comfortable. My cabin was right off the main deck. It was rather a new experience for me to be called at half past six in the morning for a hot or cold salt water bath, just whichever you preferred. The boat, while it was not very large, was very comfortable, and the meals were exceptionally good. As a matter of fact I cannot imagine that even in peace times a first-class passage would prove any more comfortable than ours was. Of course we had lifeboat drill and all that sort of thing. One had a spot allocated to them on the deck, and at the alarm siren you had to get there in so many seconds. We also had Swedish Drill every morning, but this was optional with the officers. We also had several games that we played to keep ourselves fit, and we even used to go down on the deck below, where different battalions were- as there were a couple of thousand men on board the boat- and we used to have skipping contests with the men. This was real fun.
We left Montreal shortly after midnight, but were unfortunate in being held up on a sand bar down from the port. The St. Lawrence River at Montreal is not very wide, and it is a difficult port to get in to. Every boat must have a pilot, and even then the sand bars seem to shift with the result that now and then a steamer runs aground. However, we did not know anything about it, and in the morning when we woke up and got up on deck, everything was going fine. We went from Montreal to Quebec, where we took some more men on, and from there on to Halifax, and if you look at a map you will find that Halifax is quite a distance from Quebec. One has to go well out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence and then out on the Atlantic Ocean, and then back to Halifax, making a half circle. Of course, we were not allowed to have any lights on board ship- that is, any visible lights from the outside. All the port holes and cabin windows were covered with a material that the light could not show through, but we had shut the door of our stateroom; turned off the lights and opened the port-hole window so that we could look out and it gave me a strange sensation to be almost blinded by a search light from the fort at Halifax. It was not constant, but after it picked us up it started to signal, and I presume that our boat signalled back, with the result that we were allowed to proceed into the harbor. The harbor itself had a great many boats in it, and the next day when we were leaving the port I noticed that the harbor was completely cut off by a removable barricade. This, I presume, was to keep out submarines. There were eight boats in our convoy- the largest of which, I think, was the Baltic. We had no battleships accompanying us, but the boat in the lead was the Ogama, which was camouflaged in the most approved fashion with stripes of all different colored paint. She was a boat that had been in the South African service, and was very fast and quite large. This boat, of course, was a converted cruiser, and carried quite a number of guns, and every ship in the convoy, of course, was well protected with a six inch gun on the stern. We did not have any firing practice going across, although on different convoys they used to drop barrels overboard and shoot at them. It is pretty hard to imagine how a gunner could hit a barrel that would be about four feet long, at any distance, but according to stories that I have heard it is remarkable how close they could come to the barrels, and sometimes actually hit them. The first few days out was splendid weather, but we ran into a bad storm with the result that the cargo shifted in one of the boats ahead of us, consisting of war material, etc., although there were quite a number of horses on the deck in little kind of coups. We had to stand to for part of the day while it was re-adjusted. We had concerts on different evenings, and altogether had a splendid time. We, of course, had no idea where we were, or what port we were going to, but we were all agreeably surprised one afternoon to see several black smudges on the horizon, and these smudges-as we had expected-turned out to be British destroyers. One slid around the stern of the Metagama so close that you could have easily thrown something on her deck and slid up the other side. They are certainly very businesslike little weapons of war and the speed at which they can travel is astonishing. They kept up with us all day and they were still there when we went to bed that night. We expected to wake up in port the next morning, but we were rudely awakened with the alarm siren with the result that everyone rushed up on deck in his pyjamas. However, when we got there we were told that it was just a precautionary measure; that we were in dangerous waters, and that everyone had to be on the alert for anything that might happen. The boat was not travelling under a forced draft, and was certainly making better time that she had made since leaving Montreal. The quivering of the boat, I think, communicated itself to all of us with the result that one could not help but feel that almost anything was likely to happen any minute. However, we were very much relieved to see the port of Liverpool looming up. We were admitted to the port in the late afternoon and came to anchor, waiting for the proper tide conditions to go up to the dock. A boat came out from shore with several officers on it, and we were all in the main saloon and I was very much surprised, and just a little bit frightened, to hear my name called out by one of these officers. I could not imagine what ever he wanted me for. He said, "Are you Gavin Baird", and I said "yes". He said, "I have a letter here from your brother Jack". I said, "How did he know that I was coming on this boat" and he said, "We know everybody that is on this boat". However, the letter from Jack simply told me that when I got into London I could find him at Argyle House, which was the Headquarters for the Canadian forces in London. We arrived in the evening, and the next morning I went up to see him. The first question he asked me was- "What in the world did you join up with that suicide bunch for". I said I had just as much chance in the Flying Corps if I looked after myself, as I would have anywhere else. He, unbeknownst to me, started certain machinery to get me transferred to the Aeroplane Inspection Branch, but as soon as I heard of it I said no, that I had come to England with the idea of flying in France, and I was going to go through with. Upon reporting to the Air Branch in London we were all given ten days leave, and during that ten days I had a wonderful time. My brother insisted upon my getting a decent outfit. He said I looked like a sergeant, not, like an officer, and of course as he was a Major on the Head quarters Staff he did not want to be seen walking up and down Piccadilly or Oxford Street, or some of the other fashionable streets of London, with sergeant beside him. Of course, this is all "bunk", but that is the way they looked at things in the army. I got my new uniform and went up to Glasgow, where I saw two of my aunts and several cousins, and also got up to Ballantrae where I saw for the first time, my grandmother- that is, my father's mother. She was then well over ninety years of age but a wonderful character. She had all her faculties and was just as bright as any of us, with the exception that her hearing was going back on her a little.
Before my leave expired, I was back in London, and when I reported for duty was sent down to a training camp at Salisbury Plains. More about this in my next letter.