May 12, 1940 (Okehampton)
I received your letter last Wednesday and waited until I reached camp to answer it as I thought you would be interested in hearing of my trip. Our first task was to pack all our belongings into the very limited space provided by our kits. After much perspiration and much unparliamentary language, I managed to get everything packed which included some very bulky articles such as a great coat, two complete fatigue uniforms, one rain cape, four suits of underwear, four shirts, one pair of spare boots, two towels and six pairs of socks, not mentioning several other articles which includes towels, shaving kit, etc. You should really see us when we are considered properly dressed for the field. We are provided with a haversack and a large pack which are both worn and a dunnage bag which is carried.
These articles are held together by a web harness which fits snugly over the shoulders and is belted around the waist. When you get all this junk on you feel and look like an overworked pack-horse. I forgot to mention that the regular equipment which consists of the respirator and the anti-gas cape. Well, they wanted us out of bed at 5:30 and, from then on, we dashed about until the time of our departure which took place at 7:30. I drove the truck which contained the battery captain, one wireless set and operator, and one spare driver. The convoy consisted of about 65 vehicles not including the motorcycles.
We travelled about eighty yards apart, so the convoy covered several miles. It was quite a sight to look back and see a steady stream of vehicles rolling along. The plan for the trip called for an average speed of twenty miles per hour, but I was held up and forced to drive forty per to catch up again. I forgot to mention that this convoy was just an advance party to take the equipment to camp and to prepare the ground for the main body.
I really enjoyed the trip as we passed through some very beautiful country. In many spots, the road was lined with huge oaks and horse chestnuts which formed a bower over our heads. We drove until six o’clock on the first day, at which time we stopped at an army camp at Exeter, where we spent the night. We went into Exeter to look the place over and found the people very friendly as we were the first Canadians to reach these parts. At seven-thirty next morning we were underway again but lost about two hours refuelling the trucks. This last leg of the journey proved more exciting than the previous day and saw several accidents. The first took place when a despatch rider hit a truck head on which resulted in a badly damaged bike and a smashed wrist. The second little incident took place when one of the guns broke loose from the truck and dug a trail into the bank. The funny part of this was that the driver of the “quad” was unaware of his loss until he had gone almost a mile. The third accident was much the same as the second, with the gun breaking loose and turning turtle in the road. This proved quite a job to get the gun back on its wheels. I helped to right the gun and then proceeded on my way. I had gone a few miles when I came across the Glovers, Les and Stan, stuck on the road with a broken valve spring in the Quad.
The truck would limp along but lacked the power to pull the gun, so I took the gun into camp for them. I arrived about 3:30 on Friday and after a hearty lunch unloaded the truck and placed my baggage in my tent. I forgot to mention the last accident which occurred just as the main convoy was pulling into Okehampton. A despatch rider from the Eleventh regiment was showing off and travelling about forty miles per around the corner when he was suddenly confronted with a large truck. The last I heard the poor bloke was in hospital with very little chance of recovery.
Well, so much for the gruesome details and now to describe the camp. The camp is situated on a high plateau which is about fifteen hundred feet above the town. You can really get a wonderful view of the surrounding countryside from this spot. Les and Wes Taylor and I walked down to Okehampton which is about two and a half miles from camp and had quite a time. We drank some good old Devonshire cider which is very potent stuff indeed and costs only tuppence half penny a pint. After two pints of this we took in a local dance and had a good time, possibly due to the warm glow provided by the cider. I was lucky enough to catch a truck back to camp, so we saved the trip up the hill which is quite steep, as you can well imagine.
We have all been very busy since our arrival here, the big job being the erecting enough tents to accommodate the regiment. These tents are circular and hold six men but have little room for our personal equipment. I think we will be here for about a week to ten days, so expect we will soon get used to these conditions. The main body arrived today and were met at the station by the baggage detail of which I was a member. We picked up their kit bags in the trucks and then told them it was five miles to camp. I think some of the boys were really worried when they saw the steep grade. Well, we finally got their stuff unloaded and the boys all settled, so perhaps our fatigues are over for the present. We expect to start our shoot tomorrow, if the weather is favourable and we are all looking forward to seeing the actual firing.