Norwich, January 20/16.
Dear Ones All,
I am writing this on my knee so you must excuse the penmanship.
Father’s letter telling about your Xmas in Walkerton, and Mother’s telling about how you spent New Year’s, both reached me this week. You have no idea how much those letters from home mean, now how I read them over and over before putting them away in my trunk for safe keeping. I am sure it must have been a very different Xmas this year from what it has been in the past for this is the first time that none of us “kids” have been home on that day. Wouldn’t it have been a splendid one if we all could have been there and that means Molly too for I want to have her there next time we are all together- and yet I feel in spite of my longing to be there that home is not the place for me just now, I felt that before I left Canada of course, but it is surprising how strongly the military atmosphere of England impresses the thought on one. Now it is simply beyond my comprehension how any young able bodied man can keep out of khaki.
Everywhere one sees soldiers and blue-jackets and the number of men wearing "Lord Derby’s armlets" is increasing every day. People in Canada pride themselves in “doing their bit” for the Empire, but believe me, Dear People, Canada simply hasn’t begun to wake up to its responsibilities and its duty. Even when that whole contribution of 500,000 men is raised, there will be thousands of slackers walking the streets in Canada. You ought to see the number of them in Montreal and Quebec now. It made me a little bit ashamed when I came through there a few weeks ago, even before I realized what England has done in the way of recruiting. Perhaps I am underestimating what Canada has done- 1 hope so- but certainly that is the way I have felt all along ever since I landed here.
I don’t believe I have ever told you what our day’s work consists of. We rise at about 7.30, a tender calls for us at 8.15 and we go up to the aerodrome for breakfast. At 8.45 we have squad drill and rifle drill until 9-30. In the meantime all the instructors have gone up to try the air and if it is not too bumpy, flying begins as soon as drill is finished. If there is flying we stick at it until noon, and again at 2.00 p.m. until dark which at this time of the year is about 4.30 p .m. After that there is always a lecture, usually by the C.O. In case the weather is unsuitable for flying, and that, by the way is the case about two days out of three- we go to the work shops and have one of the instructors give us practical instruction on one or other of the various aero engines. After that there is a lecture, or we practice Morse code with buzzers or with signalling lamps. In the afternoon if there is no flying there is an extra lecture and more “buzzing” In fact we “buzz” in every spare minute, and even here, at the billet too, as we have instruments rigged up between a couple of the rooms.
I have had some good times during the past few days, as we have not had much flying and we have been able to get away between 12.00 & 4.00 p.m. One of the officers, a chap named Tillard, has a car and has been very good about taking us out for drives. On Saturday we went to Cromar and we had our first glimpse of the North Sea (which as some one has said "was once known as the German Ocean") On Sunday we went to Blickling Hall, a magnigicent old place, which is connected with the name of Anne Boleyn. And to-day we went to Yarmouth, made famous by the German raids last year. All these places are within an hour’s run from the Aerodrome, and the country through which we passed was just as well worth seeing as the destinations to which we were bound. We saw a submarine to-day in fact we were close beside it as is teamed past us in the harbour.
The other day I asked the C.O. to take me for a joy-ride some time, and at dinner to-night he told me that he was going to try out one of the new fighting ’planes in the morning so I am looking forward to having the best flight I have ever had tomorrow. We never use goggles with the long-horns and short-horns as they are supplied with windshields, but I’ll have to wear them to-morrow as the machine we are going in has no wind shield and moreover is very fast. I’m afraid that I’ll have to leave this letter unfinished now until I can tell you about my flight for I’m very sure you will be worrying about me unless I do . Good-bye then for just now.
Tuesday, Jan. 25th
I am sorry I didn’t send this letter off at once, for five days have passed while I was waiting for that flight. It has rained or something every day since until to-day but after all it was worth waiting for as this morning when we finally did get off, it was so clear and bright that it made it a flight well worth remembering. I borrowed all the necessary flying togs and was snug and comfortable all the time. We were in the air forty minutes and covered about fifty miles in that time so it was rather a speedy little trip. We climbed up and up all the time too and did most of the journey at a height of a mile and a half. There wasn’t a cloud or a bit of mist anywhere and we could see not only the North Sea but could follow the coast line for I suppose twenty miles both north and south and distinguish ships here and there. Oh, it was glorious! I am sure you have seen pictures of the very machine we were using. The observer’s seat is in front and much lower in the nacelle than the pilot’s seat. There was lots of room for me to move around (and the wonderful stability of those “busses” permits one to do it too) so that part of the time I was on my knees looking down at the scenery over the nose of the machine, and the rest of the time I cuddled back out of the wind and kept track of where we were with a map and a compass. That wrist compass which the little Aunts gave me was mighty handy and I used it all the time this morning. When we got back above the Aerodrome, the C.O. turned off his engine, and it surprised me more than a little to see how long it took us to come down. Fully ten minutes I should think and with our throttle back to zero all the time. It was the smoothest ride I have ever had, none of the usual “bumps” at all, and the C.O., who by the way, is “some pilot” landed us so smoothly that I scarcely knew when we touched the ground.
A dear letter from Mother from New York and one from Ruth and another from Molly all reached me to-day- the first ones that have come direct to Norwich. I am so glad that Mother has been able to go to New York. She will enjoy it I know, and it will make her feel better too to have a little jaunt. Uncle Sam’s memorial service must have been hard to bear on account of the memories it recalled, but it will be a mighty sweet memory in itself in after years.
Have not seen Bun Robinson yet and he has written me that he expects to go to the front shortly. He has twice made appointments to meet me here and then failed to appear and on each occasion I have left the aerodrome without permission and trudged three miles to meet him. Part of it is doubtless due to the fact that in England the telephone system is so rotten that everybody sticks to the antiquated telegraph, which makes it so hard to communicate with anybody quickly.
Next week end, I am expecting to spend with P.L. Robertson in Gillingham down in Kent and hope to meet him in London next Friday night. Am quite looking forward to seeing some threaders and shavers and socket head screws again.
Must off to bath and bed now. Good-night, good people. With heaps of love to you all.
Yours as ever, fondly,
P.S. It isn’t fair to the others to send all the letters to me. Better just leave me out on the round and I’ll hear all the news in the letters that you all write to me. E.