February 8, 1940 (Greenock)
We arrived safely after a smooth and uneventful trip. We arrived in Halifax on Sunday, January 28th about 8 p.m. and marched aboard immediately but lay at anchor in the harbour for two days before sailing. The weather was fair and the harbour looked lovely with the deep blue of the sea backed by the white of the surrounding hills. There were many ships of every type lying at anchor, from a large battleship to a coal barge. I would like very much to give you the names of the troop ships and also those of our fighting craft, but it is strictly taboo. I can however tell you that there were four troop ships and about sixteen fighting ships (visible). Our own boat was very comfortable, in fact, the best-fitted in the convoy. Our stateroom had hot and cold water laid on, a bath tub, a sink, a toilet and indirect lighting, not forgetting to mention the roomy clothes closet.
We were allowed on deck every day for reveille ‘til retreat and saw all there was to be seen. It was certainly a thrilling spectacle to see the three large and one smaller troop ship sailing in a checker-board formation, with the fighting craft riding herd on them, the two battleships looking quite as formidable as I expected and the cruisers just as fleet.
I had quite a laugh at the little destroyers which bobbed and twisted like corks when the seas got a little heavy. When we got on towards the British Isles, we were joined by still more naval units and as we drew near the mouth of the Clyde, they arranged themselves in a formation similar to that depicted in the picture “Canada’s Answer,” with the two battleships falling in line and the destroyers doing the scouting.
There were many rumours current, most of which were discounted as quickly as they were spread. Some of the boys have grand imaginations and had subs chasing us and being sunk daily. One of the stewards said he couldn’t see how the ships were sunk, as he hadn’t seen a sub since war was declared and didn’t expect to.
As I expected, I was sea sick and felt the change the moment we left port, a dizzy head and upset stomach for the first four days, then I was good and bilious and felt better directly. We mounted guard twice on the trip and as there are forty-six posts, all the battery were busy doing duty in shifts of three, each man getting four shifts of two hours on and four off. It was quite the ordeal standing guard when you felt ill on the third shift.
I was relieved before my time was up by a sarge who had a heart. I feel fine now and think I might like the sea if given time. On two occasions, the wind rose and the sea got quite rough, with the spray sweeping the deck, which is about fifty feet from the water line.
The sailors laughed when we thought we were in a storm and told us we should see her when she really got mad. I certainly agree with these people who say you haven’t seen anything until you have seen the ocean. You have no idea what a sight it is to look out over miles and miles of rolling, heaving waters with the sun’s rays playing on them and giving them some wonderful hues, ranging from deep green emerald to a bright blue. The waves wash up against the ship, then roar away in a lather of foam.
We have reveille at six and breakfast at seven in a large mess hall which must hold over four hundred men at one time. The food has been very ordinary and most unappetizing to a failing, temperamental stomach. To add to this, there is a very disagreeable odor emanating from the ship’s galley which does things to one’s appetite; this really gets you when you aren’t feeling up to yourself, anyway. It is really funny to see some of the boys come down to a meal, sniff the air a couple of times and then run for their bathrooms. Sometimes the distance between the mess and the stateroom would prove to be much too great.
The crew for the most part are English lads or from Newfoundland and very decent. I was sick one time on guard and one of the stewards gave me a couple of glasses of milk fresh from the officer’s mess which did wonders to an upset stomach.
I had a long chat with an old English steward and got quite a kick out of it, particularly his description of black-out in London and a hockey game which he witnessed in New York. His is a Yorkshireman and his language was a scream, especially when describing the hockey, which he thinks is tops as a game. He was particularly interested in hearing of Western Canada, which of course, being a sailor, he had never seen. We have quite a time pulling his leg abut conditions in the West and of course, the cold weather winds up the story. I think the sailors in turn get quite a kick out of us and considerable laughing among themselves.
Well, as I mentioned at the start, we arrived and are at present lying at anchor in the Clyde, waiting to be taken off by tender. Apparently, the ship draws too much water to enable her to dock, so we must wait our turn. The river is full of ships as far as you can see and, in the distance are many battleships, including an aircraft carrier., The towns along the shore and all the ships at anchor observe a strict black-out the moment dusk falls. The boats have nothing but their riding lights to mark their presence.
There are large hills on each side of the river and a thin sprinkling of snow covers the hillside, which shows green in many places. Greenock itself is not a large place but seems to extend for quite a distance along the river. On the other side is quite a settlement, but contains no large docks or commercial houses. The estuary of the Clyde is heavily mined and guarded as we moved in. We were cheered by the crews of the boats already in, who seemed to think it quite a sight to see the convoy arrive without the loss of a single man.
The weather cleared today for the first time in three days, but we only caught a glimpse of the sun at that. The crew said the fog was a break, as it removed all chance of an air raid. I understand that our old friend Adolph broadcasted last night, stating that he had sunk two of the troop ships, which was a low trick done for the morale effect on the German people. I hope you didn’t worry on this account, but know you undoubtedly did if you heard.
I intended on sending a telegram as soon as we reached shore but have learned from the crew, who had a radio, that the news of our safe arrival has been broadcast by the C.B.C., so this will be unnecessary. (I must buy a dictionary the moment I get a chance.)
A very amusing incident arose tonight, the Colonel in charge called a general parade of all units on board to be held in the mess hall. When we were all duly gathered, he addressed us on the subject of souvenirs. He drew attention to the fact that there were several articles missing from their usual places and asked that they be replaced or turned in before we leave in the morning. He seemed to realize the boys hadn’t intended to steal and if they replaced their loot, it wouldn’t be considered as such, but if they kept it, it certainly would be and hinted at a kit inspection in the morning. He went on to say that he didn’t want it said that Canadian troops were thieves, which drew a large laugh from the boys.
I think I have covered most of the trip and news but will add that the other day we were called before our Captain and were allotted positions in the battery. I was asked how I would like to be a driver and stated I would prefer to stay with the guns if possible, to which the captain replied that this might not be possible, but that at any rate I would get a thorough schooling in mechanics, so I agreed, as it might help in the years to come after the scrap, in readjusting myself. Well, I will close for now and finish when we arrive in camp. I hope the censor won’t mutilate this letter too much, but one never knows. As it is 8 p.m., I will say good night from Greenock, which will be good morning in Tofield. It is funny to look at the clock and allow for the seven hours difference, then wonder what you are doing.
This ship’s stationery will be one souvenir that you can keep and I will enclose a postcard of the ship before it was painted its present drab gray, also the ship’s letterhead from the envelope we are forbidden to use and which Lorna can paste in her autograph book.