[transcription and annotations of this letter were provided by the collection donor]
On Board SS Olympic.
Dear Mama and the little foxes 1,2,3,4,
I did not write anything yesterday because there are no postmen or letter boxes and I won’t be able to send any letters till I get on shore. However perhaps it is the best way to write a little bit every day just when I feel like it and by the time we land I may have quite a long letter written.
Well to continue my story from where I left off, Letter 18 was sent off about 50 miles before we got to Halifax. There were some funny orders came to us about that time. Our goods and clothing were going to be examined to see if anybody had any explosives or matches. The windows of the train had to be closed and we must not speak to anyone on the platform or wave a hand or (bandline?) Well we did not do much. I did not even unpack my blankets, and still have my pillow and underclothes (vc?). I would have taken several days to examine everymans things.
When we reached Halifax at 6 pm (that made just a week and 3 hours on the train) we marched with all our outfit straight on to the steamer. As we went up the gang plank we were each given a card which told us just exactly where our bed was and where we must sit for meals and so on and I’m pleased to say the good fortune, or special providence or whatever it is which has followed me ever since joining the army was with me still. I have a lovely little stateroom with 3 beds in it and the men with me are all right, one is L.Cpl. Johnson from Oak Bay and the other Williamson who sat opposite me in the train and we have lots of room, a nice mahogany wardrobe to hang our clothes and drawers for small things. Electric light switch at the bed side, mattress and pillows white sheet and blanket, a fan blowing fresh air through a ventilator under my bed and so on. everything lovely. After a stroll round the deck and she is a big one, I began to think of a bath, but all the bathroom were locked and no hot water, but where there’s a will theres a way. I found a steward and a quarter (25¢) did the rest. I got a cold salt water bath and got some clean clothes on and went to bed about 11 oclock and in 5 minutes time I opened my eyes and it was 6 am next morning. A quick wash and dress and I hurried on deck expecting to find myself far out to sea but there we were still tied to the wharf. Well what about breakfast, I looked at my card it said Compartment A2, Deck D Mess table 74. (?Not ??tting?) It took some time to find it and oh what a place, away down in the dark, rough benches with oil cloth tables 22 men to a table. Thousands of canvas hammocks over head. Men just getting out of them and dressing on the tables. We had to stoop all the time under the hammocks.
This is where the soldiers sleep, as close as they can pack up to the roof. no place to put their clothes or kits. It nearly choked me. This is where all my friends of the 103rd sleep. Maynard, Yardley and the rest of them. Well we soon lost our appetite. But [McAlister?] and I got busy and got some big tins and struggled to the kitchen and got porridge and coffee, sausages and bread for the table and got something to eat. We washed up the dishes ready for the 2nd sitting although we knew that several of our men had not found the place yet. They lost their turn and went without or bought a breakfast at the canteen. My head was buzzing and I was glad to get up into the fresh air again. And low and behold we were steaming out of Halifax harbour. It was very pretty but a little foggy.
Very soon we were surrounded by other boats. One very fast torpedo boat circled round and round us all the time. We were only going slow through the fog. It was very interesting to watch them dodging about like flies around a jam pot. They were so small compared to this one. Now perhaps I better tell Alex something about this boat. It is about the biggest ship the British have. Very nearly the biggest in the world. The Germans have a bigger one but it is in New York I think and has been afraid to come out ever since the war started. When this one was in the Dardenells she had 13,000 men on board. There are only about ½ that number now. It is difficult to get an idea how long she is. For example there is a brass plate on the top deck (which as you just runs round the center part of the ship). It says. This deck is 1150 feet round or 4 ½ times around is one mile. There are soldiers on 7 decks and the boat deck is about that, and I don’t know how many decks below that. Spencers building only has 6 decks so that will give you some idea. The ship draws 46 feet of water. However it has been read out that we must not say anything in our letters about the boat or how many men or when they leave or when or where we arrive at, til after 4 days. So as I have said too much in this already I won’t be able to send it and will have to start another, using more discretion and this will follow later and the censor will cross off anything that is against the rules. There is a lot more I would like to tell you and may do later on but meantime