Rest Camp, Havre France
July 12, 1916
At last we have had notice to leave for the front line, or as the boys say in a careless way, "up the line." We were to have gone at 6 p.m. but we fell in just after dinner in full marching order with 120 rounds of ammunition and started off. We marched through to Havre, (by the way, this is the fort where we landed when we came to France on June 29th, 1916). The rest camp which we have just left is about five miles inland from Havre. Havre is a great railway terminal and sea fort. It has a great mole which because of its big (word is unclear) protects the fort both from a cross gale and a storm blowing straight into the harbour.
To start the story, we left Folkstone on June 19th, exactly 3 months later from the date that we set sail from Canada. We entrained about 6 a.m. on June 29th. We rode all day and reached Southampton by about 4 p.m. We hung around the station till about 6 p.m. and boarded a regular channel side wheeler. There were about 400 of us. We got our rations in groups. Every 5 fellows go a bunch of hard-tacks, one can of jam, some dry tea and sugar, and a big tin of hot water to make the tea for each group. Then each man had a can of meat and vegetable rations. This was an excellent Irish stew of meat, potatoes, peas, beans, and stock gravy.
We were escorted out of Southampton harbour, which by the way is strongly fortified, not only by land forts but by forts built right out of the water, and by a submarine net right across the harbour mouth. Our escort was a light cruiser, painted black. It looked mighty business-like.
The evening was a bit cool, and soon getting sleepy, we crept off into sheltered corners and went to sleep. A bunch of us got on the lee side of the smoke stack where the deck was warm. We were crowded on top of each other like a bunch of pups in a basket and slept good until about 3:30 a.m. Then the French harbour lights were plainly seen. We docked at Havre about 5:30 a.m.
We then disembarked and marched about 5 miles, heavy marching order, (Phew!) to the big rest camp. On the way to camp we came by a big job of filling in a ravine done by German prisoners. They were a pretty glum looking lot. Our nick name for them is "square heads" on account of their round hats which have no peaks. Their uniforms are the same colour of grey (or a little darker) as the light coloured shirting flannel and edged with a piping of red, short top boots.
At the rest camp we have taken up advanced instruction in shooting, bayonet work, obstacle running with light marching harness on, charging from trench to trench, and other stunts. We did bayonet fighting with a heavy dummy rifle and a spring bayonet, and wearing a padded suit and a big helmet. We went at it hammer and tongs and played as dirty as we could for we couldn't hurt the other fellow very easily. Even at that rate an average of about 14 men are hurt, mostly by jumping in and out of trenches with rifles and fixed bayonets. One man landed on his bayonet and buried it up to the hilt in his right side.
Well, we left the rest camp on July 12th, the glorious 12th of the Orangism. There was hardly a whisper of it in the camp except an occasional joke or two. We had a splendid train ride for nearly two days to this camp. The French passenger coaches are much like the English compartment coaches. Their engines, though, are big and powerful, very much like our biggest moguls, nearly all with four big driving wheels. We got off the train in a small town in Belgium (Poperinghe) just four hours after the town had been bombarded by the Germans.