Search The Archive

Search form

Collection Search
Date: June 8th 1915

June 8th. 1915    (8-30 p.m.)

My dearest Fernie:

This letter is developing into a sort of diary of the voyage it seems, so I shall have to ask you to read at your discretion the narrative and non-personal parts of it to Mother, Dad and the girls. It would be impossible and rather lame I am afraid to write it all over twice. So you can have a little reading party some evening over a nice cup of tea and some of Mother's delicacies, and exercise your voice a little. Of course there are some little parts throughout which might bear elision in even a family circle.

For instance, if I should say that I love you, that I kiss your dear picture and fairly stare it out of countenance every day – that my arms, and lips and breast ache and long for you, that the brighter the day, the gayer the company, the more I shall long that you too were here to enjoy it by my side – if I should say all, or any of this, perhaps you had best pass it over with the remark – "Errol is really quite silly at times" – and go on to the next paragraph.

I think I wrote about yesterday noon and promised to tell you to-day something of our personell. So I shall, but first I must tell you of a little excitement we had yesterday afternoon. Of course the first thing we did on coming aboard, was to detail each unit to its own alarm post and figure out how best to get them there in case of emergency. Then the second day out every man was sent to his berth and on the sound of the alarm by bugle, he jumped up, put on his life-belt and paraded at the alarm post. It took just about six minutes to get every man in place and call the roll. We practised like that for a couple of times, and then yesterday suddenly while everyone was lolling about, clear and shrill rang out the alarm. Every bugler took it up and inside of seven minutes, every man and woman had gone and put on a life belt in their rooms, the officers put on their revolvers, loaded and returned to quarters on deck and answered to their names. Pretty fair for 1600 men and women!

However, everybody realized that this was only practice as in case of a real alarm the ship's siren gives two long shrieks, all the officers rush on to the bridge and the crew to their emergency posts, then the bugles take it up from the bugler on duty on the guard room. Well, about four o'clock I was standing under the bridge when suddenly I heard the engine room bells, clang-clang, and the Captain's whistle for quarter's go. In a second the Quartermaster had the siren chord in his hand, and such a hell of a row you never heard – no fear of anyone sleeping through that racket. One of the nurses fainted on the spot, the bugles rang out, a few minutes of confusion, and then every man stood motionless in his place. Even before the troops were in place, however, the first boat was out-derricked, and in five minutes was over the side. What was the trouble? The crew were testing a new davit which picks up one boat after another from a special boat deck and drops them over either side at will. This davit has a patent arrangement whereby as soon as the boat floats and the weight is removed, the grapples are released and the boat is free. The crew worked it all right, but unfortunately a swell bounced up and hit the boat unexpectedly, and away she floated. It only took a jiffy for a boat to go after her manned by its crew of seven. The vessel described an enormous circle and came back to it, and then the fun began. It took seven men nearly forty minutes to get those two boats into the block hooks. The blocks took two men to lift, and every time they tried to hook on a wave would crash them up and then drop them down out of reach. However, as the Captain said, it doesn't matter much as long as they got away quickly enough, if we have to take to the boats we shan't be worrying about getting back.

To-day has been beautifully clear, and we have sighted five vessels, one a troopship returning to Canada, three others, freighters and the fifth a horse transport vessel going back to Canada also. The Captain did not recognize her at first as being what her wireless said she was, so down went the tiller and we stood off, out of her way. We are not letting any foreign blighters with handy wireless find out this is a troopship. Two Dutch vessels have called us from below the horizon, but our wireless operator sits tight on that sort of stuff.

Our Captain is a regular old sea dog, not the modern Jellicoe type, as smooth as silk but stout, red-faced, double chinned, with a large sandy moustache hiding his mouth and a sort of cock eye. On the bridge with his collar turned up he looks pretty tough, but Lord you ought to see him at dinner in his short mess jacket and broad white shirt front. He is quite a courtly if a somewhat stocky figure. The senior officer is a typical Devonshire Seaman of the Lord Charles Beresford type, very bluff and very jovial; the purser is a short very energetic young Englishman, very full of yarns and oaths while the chief engineer is a tall, white-faced, grey haired aristocratic looking man with a turned up iron grey moustache. The crew, outside of the quartermaster, bos'n and a few old reliable A.B's stewards, and of course the engineers, and the usual gang of wasters and cutthroats from the Liverpool docks.

The officers of the 49th. Battalion are a fine lot, typical Westerners mostly old countrymen who've made their home in the West. Others again are typical Canadian cowboys who wear their breeches like a pair of chappes and slouch along with a Western swing, with their belts hanging down on the gun side, just like you see in pictures of cowboys. The Englishmen are a little neater, but even bigger than the Canadians. Altogether they are about the most two-fisted hardest looking bunch I've seen for some time. When they all sit around in the smoking room it is a picture worthy of Kipling's pen. Very great is the contrast between them and the Machine Gun Battery Officers. At the Ex. it used to be said that somebody collected all the nuts in town and called them the Eaten Battery. That may be unjust, but in any case they are all very trim, well groomed, small boned as a rule, and very nice you know. It is really quite amusing to see all these young Canadians from Toronto trying to be rather English, old top and all these magnificent Englishmen from the West trying as hard as they can to appear like wild west Canadians. Of the thirty-fifth officers of course I need say nothing, as you know them. In figure we approximate to the Battery, but in spirit we have more in common with the West and play the game more seriously perhaps than either.

Of the nurses I can say little. Some of them are very nice, a great many seem rather crude examples of the merciful profession. Needless to say they're being very well taken care of, especially by the gentleman from the West.

To-morrow morning we entered the danger zone and should be in port all being well by Sunday night. To-morrow night all portholes are blanketed, and no lights whatever are permitted on deck, so the ship glides on absolutely invisible, except for her masthead lights. During the day we expect to meet our convoy or perhaps on Saturday. Meanwhile every precaution is taken. All the boats are slung out and ready, double lookouts are on the watch, three rifles and a hundred rounds are in each boat, and three machine guns are mounted on each side of the ship. Of course they as written protect us from torpedoes, but will prevent the submarine coming to the surface and opening gun fire on us while the boats are being lowered.

Such as our life, dear sweetheart mine, but everyone is cheerful and even jolly. We are as ready as we can be and must put our trust in God for the rest.

Good-night, I kiss you again and again, on the lips, the brow and your dear eyes. Kiss your own shoulders for me, and dream to-night of

Your soldier lover,

Original Scans

Original Scans