Dibgate Camp Shorncliffe
June 9 1915
Your nice long letter with enclosures from Mother and Father arrived safely on Sunday. I was indeed glad to hear from you all once again, and before I forget, there are only two deliveries of Canadian mail a week, so do try to have something for me each week.
I scarcely know where to begin. I did tell you that we had quite an uneventful voyage across. The weather, I think, was ideal. We had a splendid boat, as far as easily riding was concerned. The 'Carpathia' is not a race horse by any means, but is was very steady. I think we traveled about once and a half times across the ocean. We had to go away south until we thought we were doomed for the Bermudas. Then when we neared the British shores we had to zigzag until we grew quite impatient. We did not know what the dickens was wrong with the Captain as we all had our compasses and knew pretty well where we were at, although the ship's officers would tell us nothing. Of course we had an idea of what was up, and knew that all was not well. It just came out at the dinner table the other day. The Brigadier told a few of us, on the quiet, that we had a most marvelous escape. A German sub had been on our course, and had missed us by seven miles, sinking a large freight boat, which they thought we were in. They had full information as to our course and knew just when to expect us. When we heard the real truth we quite forgave the Captain for any little delays. We took up a subscription at once, and we are giving him a little present to show him there are no hard feelings. But a miss is as good as a mile, and we hope to have lots more narrower escapes than that before the war is over.
The old saying about the world being such a small place, still holds good. When I arrived at this out of the way place, I fully expected to be quite alone outside of the few I knew of our own crowd. But not so. As soon as we arrived I immediately began to see my old friends. Practically the first man I saw on the camp grounds after arriving was one of my old college friends, Dr Blair, Dental Surgeon to 4th Field Ambulance. Then he took me over to his mess and I was immediately at home there. The Col. of the 4th was an old Winnipeg friend of mine, and three or four of the Captains were particularly good friends. In fact I knew all the officers with exception of three or four which I know now. And it is the same all over the camp. We came over with the 27th City of Winnipeg battalion and I know all their officers from Col. down and I know most of the 31st of Calgary, and quite a lot of the 29th of Vancouver, and the 28th of Regina. They are the four battalions forming our 6th Infantry Brigade.
And speaking of the 6th Brigade, well the Brigadier Col Ketchen is a prince. I don't think I ever met a whiter chap. He has certainly treated me right. You see I am attached to his staff and, as a result, I eat at his table. There are just five of us in the Brigade Hdqrs. staff mess at present ? the Brigadier, Major Moore, Captain Montague, my friend Dr Garfat and myself. The first thing he did, in fact, while we were on the boat was to make me Mess President. That, you know, is quite an honor in a military mess. As such I have charge of all the details of the staff. I buy all the food, choose all the cooks, waiters, etc and am responsible for all stores, equipment etc. Of course I have good men to do the work, and all I have to do is oversee the job. The Colonel has a fine Renault laundelet [sic] 7 passenger car assigned to him by the military headquarters, and this he has placed at my disposal. Every morning about 10 I go down with a corporal to buy my supplies for the day. I generally go to Folkestone which is about 4 to 5 miles, and is a delightful ride, thru English lanes which are lined with trees and beautiful hedges. Then if I need the car in the afternoon he lets me have it and is quite put out if I walk at all. He is only 43, every inch a soldier, and treats me like a Father. He always calls me my boy, and says he is responsible for my actions. Yesterday he called me over and said he had a job for me. Of course I jumped to attention and there with the "Yes Sir" stuff, which by the way is absolutely essential over here, and was quite prepared for some hard work. Well the outcome of it all was that he wanted me to take the car and entertain a couple of his lady friends, who were living near the camp. He said just take the car and entertain them and have a good time. I drove them around the camp, took them to Folkestone and had quite a nice morning of it. When I got back home he informed me that one of the young ladies was Miss Gladys Ravenscroft, amateur ladies' golf champion of Great Britain and America. It appears that the Brigadier is, or used to be a golf champion (of Scotland) himself, and these were some of his friends. Then he told me that I must consider it part of my work to entertain them and as there is a lovely golf links within a hundred yards of our camp, I think I will be able to do so. Miss Ravenscroft, by the way is a fine girl, who has given up her home etc in Scotland, and is down here running a Y.M.C.A. tent for our men. She said she didn't see why she should play golf all day while the men were fighting, so she came down here, and is now serving the soldiers, from behind the counter from 10 A.M. to 9 P.M. So you see she is a fine type of an English lady. And quite refined too.
And there are many examples of such work about here. The wife of one of the prominent Lieut. Cols over here is working at the Military Hospital at Shorncliffe. Maids are hard to get, so she scrubs floors on her knees every morning, so that the nurses can attend the wounded men. And believe me the places are filled with wounded these days. They are coming over by shiploads every day.
I do wish you could see our men. We have in our brigade 5000 of the finest men in the world. I mean that. There are none finer. An old English officer inspected them with Gen. Steele the other day and he said they were perfect specimens. Every time I see them on parade, I get a lump in my throat, I feel so proud of them. They really are wonderful. One battalion started out the other night at 8 o'clock on a night march. It was very dark and they marched all night and got back at 5 in the morning, and had covered 25 miles. That was just a little side issue with them, and they started in and did a day's hard work after that. So you see they are in good condition, and as willing as can be. I feel confident we are going to make a good showing when we get over there, and I believe the people at home will be proud of us some day. With two months extra training, such as is planned for us here, our own boys ought to be able to do a lot of damage at the front.
Talk about your fine music, we have four of the best brass bands possible. One or other of them are playing almost all the time. While we were having our afternoon tea to-day, the 28th Regina band came up and played for the Brigadier outside of our tent. The Brigadier is so proud of them all, that he could hardly eat his lunch.
And by the way we had Gen. Steele for 4 o'clock tea the other afternoon. He and a bunch of Imperial officers came over to inspect our brigade. After the inspection the General and party came over to congratulate our colonel. I was responsible for the luncheon so I went in to see that the table was O.K. The Brigadier nabbed me and made me stay and introduced me to the General, and all the blooming English officers, then he pulled me down and made me take tea with them. I felt awfully embarrassed in such high company, but the General was nice and said it was the best mess in his Division and the most homelike. So I felt quite repaid for my pains. I noticed the General had three cups of tea, and fruitcake galore, so I believed him when he said he had enjoyed himself.
I am writing this in my tent, in lantern light and it is 9.45 as the bugles all over the camp are blowing "lights out". That does not affect me as we have permanent late passes, and can go and come as we wish.
I have not received any pay yet, nor do I know what pay I am to receive. The Brig. asked me the other day how much I was getting ? I told him I didn't know. He said well leave it to me old chap I will look after you. He also said he would hurry along my other star. All promotions over here are slow, as there is so beastly much red tape to go through. However I feel perfectly confident that the Brigadier will do what is right in the matter. The Brig. himself is expecting a promotion soon to Brigadier General. I was getting some stamps (rubber stamps) for him the other day and one of them read Brig. Gen. so I guess it is not far off. Until I tell you, address all mail Lieut Gilroy and same address as before.
I have ordered my new suit and expect it in a few days, I think it will be nice. I know it is late, but before I go to bed I must tell you about our Quartermaster Sergeant (Quartes for short). He is a great big fat good natured Englishman. I appear to be in his good graces, as he is always doing things for me. Every time he hears that I am going to buy anything, he gets mad and tells me to come to him. Already he has given me from the Stores, free of charge, breeches, shirts, shoes, shaving brush, and says he has all I need. To-night I was talking about the horses, which are soon to arrive. I told him I would like to have a ride sometime. He said "don't worry sir, you shall have a horse whenever you want it" and he whispered to me that he had a saddle in his box for me when the time came. He was quite insulted when I borrowed a great coat from the Quartermaster of the 27th, who is also a friend of mine. Poor old Simmons stays awake at night thinking out ways to please people.
I am well looked after in my tent too. My batman is one of my old boys from the 90th. I had him transferred from 90th to 27th and when he came over here, he came and said he would like to be my servant. When the equipment (dental) arrives, I shall promote him to orderly and get a new servant. I am entitled to two but I have not enough to keep two going at present. Then my tent mate, Dr Garfat, has an orderly and a servant, and we have to scheme up ways to keep them busy. They brush our shoes and keep our belts polished, make beds and clean the tent. They are all willing chaps.
I notice that I am on the 10th page, and there so many things to write about, but it is late so will close now and write again soon. Lots and lots of love for all. Birthday congrats for Alf.