Meets Former Dutton Boys Among Whom is Sergt. Locke -
Nearly Every Able Bodied Man in England in Khaki
I thought I would take advantage of a rainy Sunday afternoon to write some letters. There are so many persons around Dutton, however, to whom I would like to write but cannot for lack of time, that I thought I would write you a good long epistle and you make what use of it you think best.
Just as I finished that opening paragraph an aeroplane flew past, making an unusual amount of noise and I went to the tent door to look at it. It was flying very low - did not appear to be more than 150 feet high. Aeroplanes as a rule excite very little curiosity here, as there are dozens of them flitting pasty every day. Sometimes you can hear them but cannot see them when they are very high up and it is cloudy. They make a noise exactly like a saw mill in full operation.
The camp where I am quartered is know as West Sandling, and there are four regiments here - the 12th, 25th, 36th and 39th reserve battalions. I suppose that you have already head that "Elgin's Pride" has been broken up. There is no 91st any longer. I am now attached to A Company fo the 35th, the battalion which reinforces the 19th and 20th battalions at the front from time to time. I was fortunate in being placed in an excellent battalion. It is a Toronto unit and commanded by Lieut.-Col. McCordick. Of course I was sorry to know that conditions required the breaking up of our 91st, but I will have to make the best of things. I am very sorry though that the rest of the Dutton boys are not with me. The majority of them were sent with C. Company to the 36th battalion. As they are in the same brigade, however, I will see them often, at least up to the time we got to France or Belgium.
By the way, Sergt. Harry Locke in the 36th and I have had several talks with him. He came back from the front but is quite alright again and has been placed in the 36th. He will likely go back to the firing-line with an early draft. He looks splendid but has grown a big busy moustache and I would never have know him to meet him on the street. (I say in parenthesis we are under strict orders that the upper lip must not be shaved and I am getting a moustache myself which, with careful cultivation, is going to be a "beaut.") Sergeant Locke has been awarded the military medal for gallantry at the front. He was one of those in the First Canadian Division upon whom the honor was conferred on the occasion of the King's birthday. I want the people of Dutton to know this, for they should be proud of Harry.
I have run across several other boys who used to be around Dutton. In this part of Kent there are none but Canadian troops. They flock the towns around and if you go into Folkestone or Hythe in the evening you are sure to meet someone who you know. It was in Folkestone I met Lieut. Lyal Kennedy. He is trying for a transfer to the Royal Flying Corps. I also met Billy Crehan, formerly of Wallacetown, who was attending Toronto University and is expecting a commission in the Imperial Army. Another man who is well known in Dutton and whom I meet often at mess, is Major Tolmie, of Windsor, paymaster of the (former) 99th. I was chatting with him a few minutes before I started this letter.
This county, (Kent) is very beautiful, with its quaint old towns, thatched roofs, hedgerows and hop fields. I wish you could see it. The only unpleasant feature is the rain. It seems to drizzle here about every other day and it always seems damp and raw. You could wear an overcoat almost any day without being uncomfortable. But perhaps I am judging the climate too hastily for the past two or three days have been really warm and pleasant and I hope it may continue that way for a while.
When there is a heavy bombardment on around Zeebrugge or at the west of the battle line at Dunkirk, or in the direction of Ypres, we can distinctly hear the rumble of the big guns. You know we are only a few miles from Dover, and from Dover to Calais across the channel is only a little over 20 miles. I thought at first the noise I heard was thunder but as I was hearing it every morning at made enquiries and was told it was the noise of battle.
I have not had a chance to see much of England yet but hope to get a few days leave before long and will got up to London, which is only about 70 miles from here, for a few days. The things that impressed me most however in the short time I have been here are there:
(1) The almost total absence of able bodied me in civilian dress. You see nothing but soldiers everywhere. Only an occasional man is noticed in civilian attire and he is either an old man or medically unfit. All the classes from 19 to 41 have been called out and are under arms. The trains are crowded with men in khaki, the streets throng with them - they are everywhere.
(2) The way in which women are taking up man's place in all departments. It looks odd to see a woman perched on the driver's seat on a hack or driving a taxi, but that is the everyday thing here now.
(3) The antediluvian make-up of the big English newspapers. I am not saying this to flatter the publishers of The Advance. But I must say that in general make-up the papers here are a hundred years behind the times. The editorials are beautifully written. The English is superb and all that, but so far as news is concerned you have to search very carefully to find it and you generally find that really interesting items (war news, etc.,) carefully concealed in some remote corner on a back page. The front page is usually given up to adds and even these are of the most commonplace and lack the snap and ginger that a Canadian or an American puts into his advertisements. Isn't "display" the technical term for what I mean? Well, then, English newspapers are away behind in that respect.
I would like to tell you something about our voyage over in the Olympic but I must not take too much of your time. There were over 6000 troops with us and the trip was delightful. The great ocean liner is certainly a leviathan. I got lost whenever I tried to go anywhere in it. It rides the waves beautifully and hardly anyone was at all sick.
I think perhaps the most beautiful sight I have ever seen was the Isle of Man as it appeared from deck. It was something to always remember. We got glimpses of the shores of Ireland and Scotland, too, but were not close enough to see them clearly. As we sailed up the Mersey past Birkinhead and into Liverpool the scene was a busy one. The boats flitting about, the tremendous shipping, the busy docks, wouldn't give you the impression that old England was at war at all. I may say I got a glimpse of the Mauretania in Liverpool Harbor.
I would also like to talk about Hythe and Folkestone, the only large towns I have seen here yet besides Liverpool, but I must stop. I may say before closing that Folkestone is a summer resort town of about 35,000 population and it is very interesting to the Canadian visitor. Just now you see more Canadian soldiers there than anyone else, but there is also a big sprinkling of French and Belgium officers on the street. Next time I write I will try to tell you more and to make my letter more interesting. I am afraid this one has been rather prosy and I know it is decidedly ill-written. With best regards to all my Dutton friends.
S. C. Kirkland.