1 Oct. 1918
Waiting three hours for the boat. A good breakfast of meat rolls, tea and bread. The problem of last night was to fold a blanket about one so as to make it serve as a mattress and a covering as well. ‘Tis marvellous what you can do with a single soldiers blanket if it’s all you have got to defend you from the unfriendly features of board, stone or chicken wire which are the usual foundations for a soldiers bed. A Great Coat helps too but when it is called upon for such service it shrinks in a most marvellous manner and instead of the long garment which binds around your legs while walking it appears as a muffler only for your neck and ears. Things always change their appearance at night. The other problem was a pillow. How to transfer shaving material, boot brush and button polishing outfit into feathers with downy softness. A towel, a pair of socks and a handkerchief on top of the tightly filled haversack did it.
At four I woke up feeling cold. Soon we were shivering. Washed below on the ground floor on long benches with taps. A line up and stand for an hour for breakfast, chatting with Britons from everywhere but especially with our own fellow Canadians. You find American troops mingling with us occasionally. They seem to feel as much British as the colonial troops.
The morning is lovely, the grey clouds are gone and the wind cold but the sun is a necessary companion for a cheerful leave. If only it remains clear for sight seeing the leave will be worth twice as much.
The man to be married is enduring the delay with surprisingly good grace. Mac says he has pitie-pat-tations of the heart. We eased the tension somewhat by giving our ears and sympathy to stories of Her and her history.
The news is good, never better in all the war. This is Old Britain’s way in every war she has been engaged in, after a severe reverse, success. The losses last spring were the worst since 1914. The news too is electric, a bright flash of success may come at any second. Rumour has it Bulgaria has agreed to the Allied terms. If only it were true -----.
One of the German prisoners yesterday had a rather strange looking deaths head badge on his cap. An English soldier asked for it. He scowled and refused, wanted it for himself. Wonder if our fellows in Germany could refuse? They seemed to be quite confident of security in the hands of the English and there was not the slightest show of feeling anywhere against them. Some Tommies joke about the ‘Jerries’, showing only contempt but do not throw it in their faces.
When we entered the station yesterday the crowd was faced with military police, one of each nation which might find soldiers in the mass of men. French, American, British, Portuguese and Belgian. In the railway yards, in semi military clothes, the French have engaged Javanese. And everywhere you can find Chinese labourers employed by the British. Among the crowd of British soldiers form all over the Empire walked a tall, stately Hindoo with the khaki turban and peculiarly shaped clothes flapping about his thin limbs in the cold French wind. He seemed the most out of place of anyone. The yellow race was there to make money but he was there out of loyalty to a race so far removed from his own. True he was fighting for the independence of his native land finally.
Another hour to wait for the boat.
Out of the billet, in fours marched towards the boat, a line of men twisting around corners of streets and dock buildings in a way that seemed endless. One remarked that it looked like the British Army was evacuating France. The Expeditionary Force Canteens [EFC] gave each of us two buns that were white and sweet. Here was a confusion of ships and boats of all possible kinds. Traders from far Norway, fishers of Boulogne, the city from which we were leaving France, row boats containing hardy old French sailors who had spent an uncertain number of years on the sea and now were making their living rowing passengers from one dock to another. A confusion of anchors, ropes, supplies, all the apparatus of those who go down to the sea in ships. French women and children lined the way selling broaches and silk scarves and the like, EFC buns with the plea ‘French bread fine’ which had no truth in it. A crush to board the steamer after numerous showing of passes.
The day was glorious, light sun whitened cloud banks and an Indian summer sun. The Channel had very little motion. If only the fourteen days would be like this! By our side, playfully kicking up the water like a bull dog playing in the leaves was a small British destroyer. In the air, three or four always in sight, the glistening cigar shaped body of an air ship on the watch for submarines, like great Kingfishers watching for their prey. I talked to a Canadian from the 52nd Regiment and an Australian Scout. The latter was dark, lean and wiry, just the type of man you would imagine a scout to be. He told of the Americans and their dash and curious humour. ‘They are good enough for me’ he chuckled.
The high shores of France with the towers of Boulogne faded away into a blue grey cloud and then disappeared in the gold tinted white mist above the ocean. A few minutes later the white lines of the English coast caused all of us to stir with anticipation. Soon we were on shore at Shorncliff. A crush hard on the ribs and arms getting off. A race up the railway track to pick out the first train to London. New Zealanders and Canadians leading. Colonials are always ahead even of the crowds flocking to England. A newspaper here confirmed the rumour about Bulgaria and outdoing the previous day in good news. The war cloud is lifting and there can be nothing compared to the joy it gives one, to the relief upon ones spirits, to spring like quality of ones hopes; no joy unless it be that of the spirits of the blessed when the feeling of darkness and uncertainty of death rolling away. The paper contained a cartoon. Along a very precarious ledge on a rock face four persons were painfully creeping, tied together with a rope for mutual support. The leading figure was Bulgaria who had fallen headlong off the thin ledge, flying into the depths and Turkey, who was encircled with the rope many times would be pulled after in a fraction of a second and the others were doomed to come too.
We had buns and tea and in a few moments the train was flying through the beautiful fields and villages of Kent towards London. It was a perfect day for seeing England. Glorious Old England, the most beautiful country on earth. A shower of feelings and expressions fall upon one from history and ones British blood tingles with pride and enjoyment. No wonder this is the home of the poets who loved nature best. Wonderful old Britain! It is a garden of incomparable beauty. A mist hangs over the hills and valleys in such a tender way. It is a kind of grey, blue, gold that one seems to expect and know about from ones blood. The towns seem so comfortable, clean, homely and contended, an atmosphere of a beautiful fireside hangs around the red roofs and chimney pots, and about the window and door through which these kindly home folk wave and smile at you. You are reminded strongly of Dickens, Wordsworth and Blackmore.
My attention was divided between the news in the paper, the car window and Walker, the lad who was with us on his way to wed an English girl. He was a good hearted lad and it was pleasant to chaff him.
London. Crowds, crowds and then more crowds. Eager men on leave in great lines to have their French money changed to English. Watch relatives and friends with a suggestion of a happy tear here and there in some women’s faces. We are taken in possession of at once and not by a military police man. Thank the powers that be but a good sport of a Canadian Sergeant who bundles us into a bus going to the Maple Leaf Club where we can get our cheque of 15 Pounds changed, a good supper for 1/2d. a bath, a room and kit stored. Mac and I dined at the YMCA and then later at this club. Had a shave and a clean up and started on our journey to St Pancras Station.
It was now six o’clock and we had been in London five hours. We went by Underground. Stations flashed by as we wound along through the subterranean darkness. Crowds of all manner of people everywhere. In Victoria Station is a large painting indicating that from the most distant parts of the world trade pours into England and this is the heart of the Greatest Empire of the world.
Walked around to see the sights of London but only a faint glimmer of light showed here and there. You could see only outlines of people.
At nine o’clock we got the train and Mac secured cushions and rugs. We hoped for the whole compartment to ourselves but first a civilian entered and graciously took as little of my seat as possible. The pillow was clean and delightfully soft and we managed to sleep quite well. Carlisle was reached by five AM.
Carlisle, lunch, rest and clean up in Soldiers & Sailors Rest House near the station, all for 6 d.
At 4:25 we took the train for the north again. I fancy they would call this a Scotch mist. It seems to affect the Scottish people here, with their broad burr and their peaked caps shaped like ‘tammies’ as nearly as any modern head dress, not in the least. They seem unconscious of it. They whistle pipe tunes and swing along as jauntily as if there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
Played with a charming kiddie on the train. His mother told me about Daddy in the hospital and that, though wounded twice, would again go back. She hoped his wound would heal rather slowly. They were delightful Scots. Very gentle and refined people.
Changed cars at Kilmarnoch and Ardrassan. At the latter place by ‘just going around half a corner’ which turned to be around half a dozen corners and a mile walk, I found the Soldiers & Sailors Club. A most comfortable place with carpets, a piano, two eggs and rations unlimited.
At 10:48 PM off for Larges where I arrived after eleven in pitch darkness and Scotch mist. Any little light there was far distant, self depreciating, ashamed of its body, like a mediaeval saint. A tall burly arm of the law loomed up in the Egyptian gloom and I enquired of him for a possible haven of refuge a short distance from the station. He landed me in the Temperance hotel for they have such things in Scotland. The good proprietor was compelled to leave his bed to let me in. The bed was excellent.