Monday, April 18, 2005

The journey across the Atlantic

Unfortunately, there appear to be no exisiting War Diaries for the journey across the Atlantic written for the 2nd Divisional Train, which commence on 29 April 1915, after they had arrived in England. Whilst it is possible that they have subsequently been lost, it is far more likely that they were never written in the first place.

It is fortunate, however, that the appropriate War Diaries for the 27th Canadian Infantry Battalion were written, and have survived. The 27th were also part of the 2nd Canadian Division and, while they arrived at Shorncliffe a month after the 2nd Div. Train, one would expect the crossing to have followed a similar pattern, with the men having similar experiences and daily on-board routines. These War Diaries have been filmed and scanned by the Library & Archives of Canada, and are available, along with many others, on the ArchiviaNet web site. The actual images may be viewed by clicking on the links provided below:

The daily routine for the men to follow on board was as follows:
    Time :: Duties
    6.00 am :: Reveille - Turn out. Make Beds. Wash
    6.30 am :: Sick Parade
    7.00 am :: Breakfast - 27th Battalion
    7.30 am :: Breakfast - NCOs
    7.45 am :: Breakfast - 31st Batt & Bordens Battery
    8.00 am :: Breakfast - Officers
    9.00 am :: Orderly Room
    10.30 am :: Assembly - General Parade on Decks & Daily inspection of Ship
    11.00 am :: Troops allowed below
    11.30 am :: Dinner - 27th Battalion
    12 noon :: Dinner - NCOs
    12.15 pm :: Dinner - 31st Batt & Bordens Battery
    1.00 pm :: Dinner - Officers
    2.00 pm :: General Parade
    5.00 pm :: Tea - 27th Batt
    5.00 pm :: Tea - NCOs
    5.45 pm :: Tea - 31st Batt & Bordens Battery
    7.00 pm :: Tea - Officers
    9.30 pm :: Stop Smoking - Everyone below but guards & Police
    10.00 pm :: Lights Out
    10.30 pm :: Lights Out - Saloon
The first two or three days out on the open sea were understandably difficult, with many of the officers and men suffering from mal-de-mer or sea-sickness. It was made worse by some miserable weather with very choppy seas. The third day on board, when the diarist remarked that they had passed close to the Newfoundland fishing fleet, was characterised by rain, sleet and snow! By the fourth day, however, most had recovered and some semblance of routine had been established. They had also ironed out some teething problems with the cooking staff, which had found catering for the numbers in the confined quarters difficult to cope with. Another factor which helped enormously was an improvement in the weather, with calm, clear days and plenty of sunshine. Apart from regular daily physical exercise, then men attended lectures from their platoon commanders on training, defences, guard mounting, equipment, sanitation and First Aid. They also carried out lifeboat drills at 4.30 every afternoon and, as they got closer to their destination, firing parties were detailed as sharpshooters on lookout duty for submarines. Luckily no periscopes were sighted!

Not every minute on board was arduous. Some evenings there were performances by the brigade band in the YMCA, which had been opened in the 2nd Class Dining Room. Sundays were given over to a church service and general relaxation. Monday 24th May was Empire Day, and the troops were granted a holiday. A patriotic band concert and sporting events were held. Robert Lindsay has posted images of the programme of entertainment for the night of June 4th, 1915, which his grandfather attended when crossing with the 28th Battalion on the S.S. Northland.

On Day Eleven, when they had their first sight of England, a torpedo boat appeared, then escorted them into Devonport, following some two miles astern, where they were taken in tow to their moorage at the Admiralty Dock. The war diarist had the following comments to make about their enthusiastic welcome:
Brigadier issued orders that men were not to cheer on entering Port. This order was not obeyed. Imagine men keeping quiet when entering an English Port on Troopship and are cheered by all the Boats in the Harbor. Especially Canadians!
Jimmie Johnston, in his recollections of a similar journey across the Atlantic in September 1916 (Riding into War, 2004), talks about the advantages of volunteering for mess duty on board:
Before we left the harbour, they called for volunteers for mess orderlies for the trip. About a dozen of us volunteered and were fortunate in doing so, as we were given good staterooms, two to a room, and the privilege of going to the galley any time we cared to, to have something to eat. This was a real break, as I soon found out that if I started to get sick a few sour pickles would help my stomach a lot. All we had to do was carry the meals from the galley to the dining halls, which of course was bad enough when the sea was rough. We had no dishes to wash and no other duties, except on boat drill once or twice a day, which we all had to attend.

We had a few days of real rough weather, and these were the times we appreciated the stateroom, as most everyone was sleeping in hammocks, and one surely got all the benefits of the roughness in these. Oh yes, and the day we got off the boat we were paid thirteen dollars apiece for the extra work. Believe me, if we had known this when we had got on the boat there would have been a lot more volunteers as thirteen dollars was a lot of money to have landing in England.

28th (Northwest) Battalion History by Robert Lindsay
Riding into War : The Memoir of a Horse Transport Driver, 1916-1919, by James Robert JohnstonRiding into War : The Memoir of a Horse Transport Driver, 1916-1919, by James Robert Johnston, The New Brunswick Military Heritage Series, Vol. 4, publ. 2004 by Goose Lane Editions & The New Brunswick Military Heritage Project, ISBN 0-86492-412-7
War Diary of the 27th Battalion, Library & Archives of Canada, ArchiviaNet web site


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