Search The Archive

Search form

Collection Search
Date: June 18th 1915

23rd Battalion,
Dibgate Camp,
Shorncliffe, England.
June 18th, 1915.

Dearest Mother: –

Here we are George and Arnold and myself all sitting in my tent writing letters by the light of three candles stuck on a packing box. We have'nt the luxury of a table built in the tent like we had at Niagara. You see we are only one company in a great army of nearly three millions. One sees in almost everything the evidence of a dire necessity to save on material. For instance the tents are much thinner than the regulation British or Canadian Tents, and they say when it rains hard it leaks quite a bit. The men have no tables to eat from. Instead there are four little huts beside the lines which are the company kitchens where they make porridge, boil potatoes, etc. The meat is cooked in carcass in great pits in the ground. The men parade on the bugle, get their rations, and sit down on the ground to eat it. The officers go in for no luxuries in camp at least. Everything is extremely simple and crude. What is lacking in material, however, is more than counterbalanced by perfection of organization and excellence of all arrangements. The food is better than in Canada, and more of it. I heard there is less difficulty and disturbance in feeding the men in the way they do than with all our fussy and bothersome mess tents.

I wish I could describe to you this country. Every acre of it seems to have been most affectionately cared for from all time, and yet there is none of the feverish desire to cultivate every inch of ground that seems to be the obsession of the Canadian farmer. Sometimes acres and acres of pasture stretch out before one covered by little patches of woodland. Everywhere trees, in clumps, singly and in rows, and in place of fences as a rule beautifully clipped hedges between the fields. My first impression when I awoke in the morning after we landed and looked out over the hills of Devon and Somerset lying on either side of us was that a piece of stage-setting. There is none of the majestic grandeur of forest and rock one sees in parts of Canada. Nature seems everywhere to have been restrained, to have been artificially assisted by man, and yet never to have been outraged. The soil of the south-west is very red, and the plowed fields lying on our right look like pictures I have seen of the Holy Land. Then beside them the light green fields of sprouting grain and everywhere the frame of dark green hedges and mighty trees. On the other side of the bay lay the beautiful estate of Mount Edgecombe, one of England's great ancestral homes with a beautiful little village of red stone houses nestling in the trees at the waters edge, and the towers of the great castle gleaming on the hilltop. Never have I seen such wonderful trees and such foliage. I could'nt describe it, you must see it for yourself. The town of Plymouth reminds one somehow of Christopher Columbus. It is not, of course, a great port and has no docks to speak of. The ships are anchored everywhere about in the river, and big chunky lighters ply from them to the different railway piers. Then all the way up the long windy river mouth bay are a row of old wooden battle ships anchored. They are used for training schools for sailors, and as we glided by their decks and rigging were alive with white clad figures in baggy trousers and bare feet waving caps and towels and cheering like mad. The town itself is very old fashioned and wonderfully clead looking. The streets rise up the hillsides from the water in long rows of grey stone and red plaster terraces, every house with its chimney and eight chimney pots in exactly the same place. Here and there a church spire or a tower breaks the long well drilled lines. On the water's edge are the sheds in which the old wooden ships were built a hundred years ago.

We left the boat by lighter making three loads of it with an hour between each. After puffing up the river a way we came to the Great Western Railway Station and Docks. It was strange after a Canadian Station to see almost nobody about except three officers with the Royal Transport service badge on their arms standing near two long trains of funny looking little coaches drawn up close by. We disembarked and formed up. Still not a soul in sight. Some of the officers wandered into the Station. Every wicket was closed and not a soul about. The Government had simply for the half hour we were there taken over the whole works. The gates were closed and not a soul allowed inside. All along the train the doors stood wide open, the company was marched along beside it, and in five minutes more every door was shut and we were pulling out for Shorncliffe at a speed of sixty miles an hour. The railway rolling stock looks ridiculously small. The freight cars are nothing more than little boxes on four wheels. I was very much amused to see them shunting in one place by hand. Four men leaned up against the car and started it off down the line to a turn table that turned by a pole stuck into the edge, and the same four men pushing it around. There seems to be no desire here in any phase of the national life for size or scale. Nothing is bigger or more cumbersome than can be helped. Even the roads in most cases are merely winding paths between high hedges or garden walls with roses growing over them and just wide enough for two vehicles to pass. But such roads; as hard and firm a solid rock and make them. A ten mile walk through this beautiful country is mere pleasure.

I shall write again on Sunday and tell you about our camp and what we are doing. Meanwhile best love and many kisses to yourself and dear Daddy and the Girls from,

Yours lovingly,

Original Scans

Original Scans