Chisledon, Wilts, England
Monday April 30/17
We have had a week of as beautiful weather as I have seen in England. Sunny, blue skies, weather warm but not too warm. buds coming out and rich, pure air. No signs of rain anywhere, yet last year when we arrived it was cold and wet. It is hard to realize that we have been here almost a year. In some ways it seems like a century. Particular events which happened last spring seem like a far off dream, yet it doesn’t seem so long since I left home. Still in quarantine, but we shall probably be out to-morrow.
Well the first draft for France has been called for, organized, equipped, and is ready to start. It is composed of sixty men and includes half of No. 5 platoon – the other room. Owing to the fact that we were in quarantine we wouldn’t get on. It is too bad to see the platoon split in this way and half of the fellows leaving us. McCutcheson, Huxtable, Mitchell and a lot of the best fellows are going. It is likely that the rest of us will shortly be sent to Witby or some Canadian camp.
Last Thursday afternoon Dorland and I broke quarantine, hired a couple of wheels and rode to Farringdon twelve miles east of Swindon. We left camp about three o’clock and got to Farringdon shortly after five. We rode along, had white roads through a beautiful country, the Vale of the White Horse; a countryside flat to gently undulating with abundant hedgerows and groves. About three miles to the south the Beckshire downs stretched parallel to the road all the way. Seven miles from Swindon we passed through the village of Shrivenham, a picturesque little place with the usual inns, cottages, and an old gray church. Just outside the village we passed the estate of Viscount Barrington and looking the rough stone gateway, past the row of hedge trees lining the roadway and across a broad green lawn we caught a glimpse of Barrington Hall amid a stately grove. We learned afterwards that in spite of his title and significant home, the Viscount has no money! Another forty minutes ride brought us to the old [?] shine marked town of Farringdon. Before the Industrial Revolution it was a thriving town and the center of a great market fair, but like so many other towns in the South, it has sadly declined. The population is now, I think, about 9000 but one would think the place was deserted. Without exception it is the deadest town I ever struck. You’d think all the inhabitants were buried up in the churchyard. We saw hardly a soul on its narrow, winding little streets and to heighten the atmosphere all the stores were closed (shops I should say.) The church is a queer old affair, cruciform in shape with a long nave and choir and a short, squat tower rising only a few feel above the roof. They say that a slice of it was shot off by Cromwell in the Civil War; and at any rate a cannon ball imbedded in the east wall gives indisputable evidence that somebody took a shot at the church. I am getting to be quite an expert in Church architecture. It is loads of fun and not very difficult to figure out the period at which the various parts of the church were built., though of course it is difficult to tell restoration work from the origional. For example, I couldn’t have told if I hadn’t known before hand that the early English nave of Southward Cathedral had been rebuilt last century. At six o’clock we had supper – the inevitable eggs – at a fine old inn, the ‘Bell’ – quite naturally. It had a huge, yellow bell hanging over the entrance as a sign post – no name painted up. After a good meal we stretched our legs before a grate fire, smoked and talked to an old gent – evidently a commercial traveller for half an hour. It is very delightful to go to some old house in these little towns around about, and talk to strangers. We talked about England and the Scotch cities and volunteered some information about Canada. We arrived back in camp at half past nine.
Yesterday we had a most tiresome, provoking day. Word was received to mobilize immediately a cyclist battalion composed of the Imperial Australian and Canadian troops in the camp for the defence of London or the East Coast. Of course it was only a test but it is the second time something of this nature has happened as they are evidently not taking any chances. In spite of our isolation, we were called out about every hald [?] with the rest, to get into the new formation, draw identification, dircs, full equipment and then to parade in full kit. Owing to the way this ragtime outfit is run with an old woman for in D.C. and a bunch of perpetually drunken sobs, everything was in a muddle and finally it was found that there weren’t enough after to go around. However nothing came of all the fuss, though consensus were rife that so many wheels had been packed and shipped to such and such a place [?] that a train was waiting for us on the riding at Chisledon. We thought we might be called out in the night, but fortunately our slumbers were undisturbed.
Got a lot of mail last week. Long letter from Father of April 1, followed a few days afterwards by one from Mother, two cards, a letter from MArion and my assigned pay. I don’t think I told you that I changed my assigned pay beginning this month from ten to fifteen dollars. Also received several papers. I hope you are feeling strong and well Mother and keeping cheerful, and that all the rest of you are well. First rate myself except that my note has practically ceased to perform its proper function and be a usevull member. Getting huge, bulbous and red with so much blowing end handling. By the way Father, where did you live that winter you were in Edinburgh? Haven’t heard from Bill lately. I often think of him and wish he was here with me.
Much love to all of you,