[Editor’s note: Transcription provided by the donor of the Sydney Winterbottom Collection.]
Excerpts of a letter to his Father regarding the Trip across the Atlantic on the troopship SS Lapland
July 16-July 24, 1916
We left Halifax dock at 7 AM Sunday followed by the Empress of Britain (she has gun mounted on her stern) and last by a cruiser. When we got outside the cruiser steamed up ahead and now (5pm) we are about 120 miles out and steaming about ESE in a line. The SS Lapland our boat is only about 2 or 3 hundred yards behind the cruiser and the Empress of Britain is a about a mile and a half to the rear. The water is deep blue and very different to the water near land.............The boat (SS Lapland) used to run from Antwerp to America and was the Red Star Line. Now she is White Star Line and running from Liverpool to New York with passengers and freight. There she loads munitions and comes to Halifax for troops. She has therefore a full crew, stewards and all, so we are waited on and have nothing to do and the grub is excellant. At present we have, so I heard, a $2,000,000 cargo of munitions. I saw in the hold a lot of boxes containing uncharged shrapnel shells for 12 pounders. So the Lapland is making money. She is a little bigger than the Empress of Britain but is made more for cargo so she has nothing like the passenger accommodation. There aren’t more than 2500 troops on her now so we aren’t crowded at all. She is about 18,000 tons while the Empress is 15,600. I hear she, the Empress, is stripped inside and the troops have just hammocks and are pretty crowded. The men will have to get their own grub as she would carry no stewards. I have heard that she takes 4000 troops so they must be pretty crowded.
Besides us on the SS Lapland, there is the 98th Battalion which comes from the Welland Canal, a draft of the Princess Pats. And some army medical corps men.
We have to take our lifebelt about with us where ever we go and no lights are shown after dark. We have physical jerks for about half hour in the morning and 1 hour in the afternoon. We always fall in at our boat stations for any parade....................there is a concert every night but they usually aren’t up to much. There is plenty of air now that the boat is moving but when we were in harbour it was often very stuffy even with the portholes open. You see we went on board on Saturday afternoon the 8th of July and we didn’t sail till 7 AM July 16th.
We are in bunks with spring bottoms and mattresses. They are all made to be taken down and some of us are in cargo space. A few are in 3rd. Class cabins, Sid, Mcp. and I are to-gether and on the starboard side about half way from the bow to the bridge........
July 21st. On guard all night came off in the morning at 10 am. Guard very monotonous and absurd. I was supposed to prevent any but the crew from using a short bit of passage about 20 ft. long. It is ridiculous the number of men they have on guard every day, about 75 that is to say. So calm we had our port holes open nearly all the time. Grub still excellent.....
July 23rd. In the danger zone now. We have a very large guard posted all along the sides with rifles and live ammunition and also a number of machine guns scattered about so any sub. will get a warm reception. The fog is so thick you can’t see the Empress or the cruiser. No destroyers yet but we will meet escort about 5 pm so they must be coming up to-day.
Sid won boxing matches against a 98th fellow and as a result has 2 black eyes and a scratched cheek. He is bound to be that way when he first goes to see his great uncle in London.
About 6:30 3 torpedo boats appeared and attached themselves to us. Shortly after, our cruiser the Drake steamed away ahead out of sight with a torpedo boat zigzagging in front of her. The torpedo boat is only about 100 feet long with 2 guns one fore and one aft and 2 deck torpedo tubes. On Sunday we were going at high speed and zigzagging along with the other ships...
July 24th.... off Merlin Head Ireland. Foggy so didn’t see Scotland at all....6pm passed the Isle of Man. Some of the men said they had never known such a calm voyage.