Kent County -
My own dear wife -
At last I am settled in England, I have been here a week now & I have had an awfully busy time, I started to write to you several times, but got interrupted so often that I gave it up, till I should get time, which is now. Well, I suppose you would like to hear all about the voyage across, what we did, & how we lived. well, we arrived in Halifax on Sunday Mng, 21st Feby & they kept us in the train till mid-day & would not let us go up town, I wrote you from there & got a civilian to post it for me, they marched us on board the “Megantic” which is a white Star Liner, I was very fortunate in getting a good berth, there were six of us in the cabin which was 2nd class & we were really very comfortable, there were over two thousand troops on board, there was the 6th Brigade of Artillery from Montreal & the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifle from Ontario, & an ammunition column, our company was the only one of the 30th Battalion on board, the rest of them were on board the S.S. Missinabibe which is a C.P.R. boat, by the way, there were three boats altogether, the Megantic, Missinabie & the Vaterland, the Vaterland is a German ship captured by the British & used for Transport service; she is a fine boat but is very slow & rolls badly in a rough sea. We left Halifax on the Tuesday morning & just as soon as we got outside Harbour it commenced to get rough & the boys started in to get sick, I may say right here, that I was not sick the whole way over & never missed a meal, which is saying a great deal, for we had very rough weather for the first five or six days & the rest of the time we were in fog & the sea was very heavy which made the boat roll horribly. We were escorted across the Atlantic by the Cruiser Essex, but sometimes other men of war would come up to us & stay around for a few hours & then dart off again, at night, all lights were out on deck & all port holes were closed, when we got within two days of land. They got very strict & any one who struck a match on deck or opened a porthole was put in Irons, which was perfectly right, as we were in serious danger all the way across from German submarines & it speaks volumes for the efficiency of the navy that we got across safely; we had lifeboat drill every day & sometimes twice a day, every man knew what boat he had to go to & the quickest way to get to it, they gave an alarm one night about 11 O.C. & every man on board was at his boat with life belt on in seven minutes, which means that if the boat had been struck by a mine or submarine, every one of us would have been saved as it would take over 15 minutes to sink a boat like ours, of course when we got the alarm we did not know what had happened, one night we got an alarm about 11-30 PM, & it was really very funny to see us all standing shivering in our shirt tails & with our life belts on, it was a cold night & the wind was blowing & every one of us had nothing on but shirt & belt, you can imagine how we felt when we found out that it was only a false alarm, the worst trouble was that we nearly all caught colds after it & some of the boys were afraid to go to bed afterwards & slept with all their clothes on, & one night about a dozen of them were caught sleeping in a lifeboat with their lifebelts on, they were the worse off because they were put in the guardroom which was on the lower deck & they would have had a poor chance to get out if anything had happened; when we got within two days of land, we had to be very careful, as you know the Germans are trying to blockade the British coast & we were very much afraid of submarines & on the last afternoon our boat left all the others & made a dash for Queenstown, of course other men of war knew where we were & were looking after us, but we had over a million dollars worth of copper on board & they were in a hurry to get us in first.
We got into Queenstown on the Thursday morning early & lay along side the Quay all day & that night, but no one was allowed on shore, the Irish people sure gave us a great welcome, there were several parties of ladies & gentlemen bought oranges & apples & cigarettes & candies & stood on the Quay all day throwing the stuff on board & you can imagine the scramble there was, everyone wanted to give us something, such as magazines or papers or tobacco, so we were all sorry to leave, although we could not get on Shore, well, our boat left for Liverpool on Friday night, this time we were escorted by two torpedo destroyers & one torpedo boat, these destroyers are wicked looking boats & I would certainly like to see them in action, we got into Liverpool on Saturday forenoon all safe & sound & all our dangers over for the present, you may guess what danger we were in, when I tell you that two German submarines were caught & sunk that same forenoon in the same waters that we had just passed.
We entrained at Liverpool for this place, Shorncliffe & arrived here at midnight, thank goodness, we did not have far to march as the place was all in darkness, there is only one lamp allowed to be lit in each street & the top of that is blacked so that it cant be seen from above, the blinds in all houses are pulled down & stores are not allowed to light their windows, the public houses have to close at 8 P.M. instead of 12 as it used to be, This is all on account of Aeroplanes, some of which have been over here once, but did not do anything, but they are liable to come again & there is no telling what they may do.
This is a very nice place to be in, we are only 10 miles from Dover, & one mile each from Hythe & Folkestone, to either of which places we can get for a penny in the cars, it is a very pretty place, situated on the coast of Kent & only 21 miles from France but we do not have very much time for running about as we are kept very busy.
Our daily routine here is pretty heavy. Reveille is at 6 AM. & at 6-30 we go out for one hours physical drill, Breakfast at 8 O.C. & parade again from 9 till 12-30. dinner at 1 O.C. & parade again from 2 till 4-30, supper at 5 & lights out at 9-30 & I can tell you we are glad to get to bed, on alternate nights we have Bayonet fighting in the Gymnasium from 7 to 8 & on the other nights we have to attend lectures, along with this, I have to attend an N.C.Os class three times a week. Our drill calls for a route march every day when we have to march ten miles & once a week we have to march 20 miles, so you can see that we have a whole lot more to do here than we had at Victoria, it was a picnic there compared to what it is here but it is all very interesting, I like the work & you will be pleased to know that all the non coms in the Battalion here had to go through an examination & I was confirmed as a full Corporal & am working now for the three stripes, there were quite a few were put back, but we have a better class of NCOs now than we had & we work together much better, we have our own mess and reading room & bar & are allowed to stay up an hour later every night, but that is a thing I dont take advantage of, as I am only too glad to get to bed & am usually asleep before light out sounds
We see lots of Aeroplanes every day, both French & British, & we are getting now, that we can tell which is which no matter how high up they are, sometimes we see them quite low down & at others they are a mere speck in the sky, they are a wonderful machine & it seems marvellous, how they can circle round & round & soar up in the air, just the same as a bird, I have been speaking to some of the fellows who go up in them & they dont seem to think much of it, in fact one of them told me that he would rather be up in the air than on land in a motor car, he says he feels much safer, they travel at an enormous speed, it just takes a few minutes from the time they appear till they are out of sight & the racket they make is fierce, you can hear them miles away & sometimes on a still day you can hear them before you see them.
We have very comfortable barracks here, we have iron bedsteads & mattresses & four blankets a piece, there are 24 men & 1 N.C.O. in each room & we have every convenience, I have a lot of the Vernon Boys in my room, there is Andy Campbell & Bob Griffiths & Bob Hanna & George Bowman & Rendall & Bailey & Price, so you see, I always have someone around to remind me of Vernon;
This place is full of Soldiers, there are over 40’000 men stationed round here, most of them belonging to Kitcheners army, after hearing all about these men we were very much disappointed in their appearance they are a very sloppy lot & are not nearly such a smart lot as ours, all the papers here comment very much on our appearance & General Babbington who inspected us the other day told our Colonel that our Battalion was the smartest & had the best class of men of any that had left Canada, I am enclosing a clipping from the London Times, so that you can see that I am not bragging.
Now, dear Heart, I am going to close up, I know you will be anxiously waiting for a letter from me, just as I am from you, I am a long way from home now, dear, but you can rest assured that I will never, as long as I am alive, forget my loved ones at home, you will always occupy my thoughts, you & my dear little son & daughter, we may not be here very long, we may go to the front any day, I wont be sorry in a way, because then I will be all the sooner home & I pray God that this will be the last time we are separated. I suppose you have got back to Vernon long before this, if so, remember me to all my old friends, McMann & Harlow & Hawthorne & the rest, I will write to all of them in a few days, or as soon as I can find an hour or two to spare, I will write to you again in a few days dear, but I dont suppose I will have very much news to tell, Kiss George & Eileen for me & with all love & kisses to you, my dearest wife, I remain Your loving Husband
Address your letters to me:
Cpl J. McNeill # 77661
No 4 Company
30th Battalion - C.O.C.
You will notice the new number.