Continuing Martin Devlin’s saga as told in his WWI diaries.
May 7, 1915
Bonnie said she wouldn’t wait for me. What she actually said was that she didn’t want to tie me down. Made up some cockamamie story about needing to focus on being a soldier rather than worrying about her. She said she would write to me as a dear friend. And I was imagining being engaged or almost engaged. That’s a laugh. When I told Bill, he said I had already dodged a bullet. I suppose I knew he didn’t really like her but for a moment I wanted to hit him.
One more day of leave then back to camp. Father is taking me to a baseball game today and Mother is feeding me all my favourites. Jane told me if she could enlist she would because living at home will be terrible with me gone. My sister has enough gumption to do it!
May 20, 1915
We left on the 17th, two days later than scheduled. Getting ready was a chaotic process; Butler shouted so much he lost his voice. More than a thousand soldiers marched out of camp and through the streets fully kitted out with a pipe band leading the way. I was surprised to see so many people waving flags and handkerchiefs and cheering us on. Mounted troops lined the route, saluting as each battalion passed by.
The train station was a real jumble. Crowds lining the platforms were so thick police had to clear a path for our troops. Mother, Father and Jane saw me off and I could tell they were holding back tears. I suppose I might never see them again but I don’t want to think that way. How can I lead others if I am anything but positive?
Bonnie arrived just before I boarded the train. I have no idea how she managed to find us in the crush of people. She gave me a book – The Three Musketeers – to take with me and kissed me but it felt like the kind of kiss a sister would offer. She said it was the favourite book of her grandfather who served with the British army in India. Curious choice. I don’t know what to make of it.
May 23, 1915
After two days of unexplained delays, we are finally on board the RMS Royal Edward. She used to be a passenger ship owned by the Northern Steamship Company, apparently launched in 1907. Seems sturdy enough, powered by three steam turbines that shudder and bellow at times like a caged beast and she has two enormous funnels belching black smoke.
We set sail at 10am and passed Quebec City at 9pm. Soon we will reach the mouth of the St. Lawrence and be in open seas. The thought makes me feel excited and apprehensive. I understand we will join a fleet of ships in the Gaspe basin although it will take a few days to get that far. Captain Butler says our ship is also carrying ammo and small arms in addition to more than 1000 men. Very crowded conditions.
The fleet has assembled. It’s a massive thing with more than 21 ships, a combination of troop ships and merchant ships plus battle cruisers to offer protection as we cross the Atlantic. Communication amongst ships is prohibited, only orders from the flagship, which points to the seriousness of our endeavour and all portholes are darkened at night. We travel at the speed of the slowest ship, which means rarely more than 10 knots an hour. We had our last sight of land yesterday as we left Newfoundland behind in the setting sun while up ahead a full moon rose. Rather beautiful except when you consider our purpose.
May 31, 1915
We’ve had some rough days at sea. Many down with seasickness. Not much doing except to walk the decks and chat with the men. Wind steadily from the northwest today, waves are high and occasionally lift our ship to shoot it forward just like a canoe riding the rapids so we are making good time. I never realized the enormity of the ocean. We travel for days yet all I see is water.
Captain says we will soon be getting into the danger zone where German subs patrol. British warships are supposed to meet us and escort us into port. Had a few of our machine guns out yesterday using boxes and barrels for targets. Today we have our guns manned on deck just in case. Everyone is on alert. Expect to dock in a few days time. Don’t know where.
June 2, 1915
Two destroyers joined the convoy yesterday, which is a relief after yesterday’s attack. We watched them take position on port and starboard sides. Comforting to have their presence since we have nothing except machine guns to defend ourselves. Butler said there were limited casualties on the Scandinavian and no deaths.
June 3, 1915
We docked at Southampton around 5:30pm today and are anchored in the harbour. It’s a beautiful harbour full of naval craft of one sort or another. Not being a navy man, I don’t understand the classifications. As we arrived, a band played O Canada and the Maple Leaf Forever, which made us all feel proud. The men can’t wait to go ashore.
M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available in paperback from Amazon and in e-book formats from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.