Friday, April 29, 2005

29 Apr 1915 - England at last, and on to Shorncliffe

The passage took twelve days and, according to the War Diaries, the ship tied up at Avonmouth Dock in the Bristol Channel sometime between 6 and 8 in the morning on Thursday 29th April. Avonmouth had been used by the First Canadian Division, under Lt.-Gen. Alderson when they sailed for France almost three months earlier, and was a major port employed in the massive troop movements required during the war. It had been chosen as a result of Germany's declaration of their intent of unrestricted submarine attacks on all shipping in the English Channel, which had effectively ruled out the use of Southampton. The men were given the order to disembark at 10 a.m., laden with heavy kit bags and other personal gear, and once off the ship were immediately marched to the nearby railway station, where they boarded a waiting troop train.

For many of the men who stepped off onto dry land that morning, this was a return to the home which they had left only a few years previously, having been part of the huge influx of immigrants arriving in Canada in the last decade or so. However, Leslie Payne and his friends would have been largely unfamiliar with this part of the country. Leslie and William were from the Midlands, while Bud and Bob hailed from further north in Scotland, and there would have been many others like them, in much the same boat, so to speak, as the roughly 15 percent of the 2nd Div Train who were Canadian-born.

They didn't have much time to store their belongings in the luggage lockers and settle into their seats before the train pulled out at 11.15 a.m. It rattled its way slowly eastwards across the countryside of southern England, eventually arriving at Shorncliffe Barracks, west of Folkestone on the south-east coast, at a quarter-to-five that afternoon.

The following extract from Canada in the Great World War, written in 1919, gives a good impression of the town and countryside which greeted the men:
And now a word about Shorncliffe Camp. It was in an ideal location on Sir John Moore's Plain, on a plateau overlooking the sea, and consisted of brick buildings of comparatively modern construction. It composed five unit lines known as Ross, Somerset, Napier, Moore, and Risborough Barracks, and was undoubtedly one of the finest permanent barracks in England. A mile to the east, on the opposite side of the valley, was the beautiful seaside resort of Folkestone, a town of considerable size and importance. To the west, about three miles distant, lay Hythe, familiar for its school of musketry and extensive ranges. Joining Folkestone, and extending almost as far along the shores as Hythe were Sandgate and Seabrook, in some places only the width of a single street, and frequently littered with shingle when a stormy sea dashed through the breakwaters and lapped the doorsteps of the dwellings huddled under the cliff. In prominent locations along the coast at this point were ancient martello towers, erected originally as a means of coast defence and now used by the troops as storehouses and observation posts ...

... In April, 1915, units earmarked for the 2nd Canadian Division commenced to arrive. Accommodation in the barracks was not available, although some of the earlier arrivals were temporarily allocated until tenting arrangements were made. The majority, however, occupied one or other of the hutted camps, the position of which it will be necessary briefly to outline.

From the south-west corner of the barrack area a road led west for approximately a mile, skirting the front of the camps known as St. Martin's Plain. Then clipping into a valley and curving through a hamlet, it emerged another mile west and entered East Sandling Camp. Bisecting this camp, it continued on another two miles to West Sandling Camp on the left, and still another mile to Westenhanger Race Course and Otter-pool Camps on the right and left respectively ...

... The huts occupied as headquarters were at the very commencement of the road on St. Martin's Plain; and Otterpool, the farthest camp away, was approximately six miles.
From the railway station at Shorncliffe the men were marched to a hutted camp at West Sandling. However, part of the "Train" got lost, and only arrived at the camp at 10 o'clock that night, exhausted. At least the huts had beds, and they are unlikely to have had much difficulty adjusting to their first night on solid land for almost two weeks.

Formation of the 2nd & 3rd Divisions, in Canada in the Great World War, publ. 1919, and reproduced on Old And Sold Antiques Digest
Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919, Official History of the Canadian Army in the Great War, by Colonel G.W.L. Nicholson, CD, publ. Army Historical Section, 1964, Available online from the Directorate of History & Heritage
War Diary of the 2nd Canadian Divisional Train, C.A.S.C., C.E.F., Library & Archives of Canada, Microfilm Ref. T-10903.
TheShipsList-L Rootsweb Mailing List Archives : Various Postings to this thread
History of the First Canadian Division, The Great War 1914-1918, by Joanna Legg & Graham Parker


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