CHAPTER II.

THE VOYAGE TO ENGLAND

September 29th to October 18th, 1914.



    THE “Andania” moved out to mid-stream and anchored off Cape Diamond. The harbour was full of liners, crowded with men in khaki. It was a great sensation to feel oneself at last merged into the great army life and no longer free to come and go. I looked at the City and saw the familiar outline of the Terrace and Chateau Frontenac and, over all, the Citadel, one of my favourite haunts in times past. A great gulf separated us now from the life we had known. We began to realize that the individual was submerged in the great flood of corporate life, and the words of the text came to me, “He that loseth his life for My sake shall find it.”
    The evening was spent in settling down to our new quarters in what was, especially after the camp at Valcartier, a luxurious home. Dinner at night became the regimental mess, and the saloon with its sumptuous furnishings made a fine setting for the nightly gathering of officers. We lay stationary all that night and on the next evening, Sept. the 29th, at six o’clock we weighed anchor and went at slow speed down the stream. Several other vessels had preceded us, the orders to move being sent by wireless. We passed the Terrace where cheer after cheer went up from the black line of spectators crowded against the railing. Our men climbed up into the rigging and their cheers went forth to the land that they were leaving. It was a glorious evening. The sun had set and the great golden light, fast deepening into crimson, burnt behind the northern hills and lit up the windows of the houses on the cliffs of Levis opposite. We moved down past the Custom House. We saw the St. Charles Valley and the Beauport shore, but ever our eyes turned to the grim outline of Cape Diamond and the city set upon the hill. Beside me on the upper deck stood a young officer. We were talking together and wondering if we should ever see that rock again. He never did. He and his only brother were killed in the war. We reached the end of the Island of Orleans, and looking back saw a deeper crimson flood the sky, till the purple mists of evening hid Quebec from our view. [Page 25]

    We had a lovely sail down the St. Lawrence in superb weather and three days later entered the great harbour of Gaspé Basin. Here the green arms of the hills encompassed us, as though Canada were reluctant to let us go. Gaspé Basin has historical memories for Canada, for it was there that Wolfe assembled his fleet on his voyage to the capture of Quebec. We lay at anchor all day, and at night the moon came up and flooded the great water with light, against which stood out the black outline of thirty ships, so full of eager and vigorous life. About midnight I went on deck to contemplate the scene. The night was calm and still. The vessels lay dark and silent with all lights screened. The effect was one of lonely grandeur. What was it going to mean to us? What did fate hold in store? Among those hills, the outline of which I could now but faintly see, were the lakes and salmon rivers in the heart of the great forests which make our Canadian wild life so fascinating. We were being torn from that life and sent headlong into the seething militarism of a decadent European feudalism. I was leaning on the rail looking at the track of moonlight, when a young lad came up to me and said, “Excuse me, Sir, but may I talk to you for a while? It is such a weird sight that it has got my nerves.” He was a young boy of seventeen who had come from Vancouver. Many times afterwards I met him in France and Belgium, when big things were being done in the war, and we talked together over that night in Gaspé Basin and the strange thoughts that crowded upon us then. He was not the only one in that great fleet of transports who felt the significance of the enterprise.
    On Saturday afternoon we resumed our journey and steamed out of the narrows. Outside the bay the ships formed into a column of three abreast, making a line nine miles in length. Several cruisers, and later a battleship and battle cruiser, mounted guard over the expedition. Off Cape Race, the steamship “Florizel” joined us, bringing the Newfoundland troops. Our family party was now complete.
    It was indeed a family party. On every ship we had friends. It seemed as if Canada herself were steaming across the ocean. Day after day, in perfect weather, keeping our relative positions in absolute order, we sped over the deep. There was none of the usual sense of loneliness which characterizes the ocean voyage. We looked at the line of vessels and we felt that one spirit and one determination quickened the whole fleet into individual life. [Page 26]
    On board the “Andania” the spirit of the men was excellent. There was physical drill daily to keep them fit. There was the gymnasium for the officers. We had boxing matches for all, and sword dances also for the Highlanders. In the early morning at five-thirty, the pipers used to play réveille down the passages. Not being a Scotsman, the music always woke me up. At such moments I considered it my duty to try to understand the music of the pipes. But in the early hours of the morning I made what I thought were discoveries. First I found out that all pipe melodies have the same bass. Secondly I found out that all pipe melodies have the same treble. On one occasion the pipers left the security of the Highlanders’ quarters and invaded the precincts of the 14th Battalion, who retaliated by turning the hose on them. A genuine battle between the contending factions was only averted by the diplomacy of the O.C.
    I had made friends with the wireless operators on board the ship, and every night I used to go up to their cabin on the upper deck and they would give me reports of the news which had been flashed out to the leading cruiser. They told me of the continued German successes and of the fall of Antwerp. The news was not calculated to act as a soothing nightcap before going to bed. I was sworn to secrecy and so I did not let the men know what was happening at the front. I used to look round at the bright faces of the young officers in the saloon and think of all that those young fellows might have to endure before the world was saved. It gave everyone on board a special sacredness in my eyes, and one felt strangely inadequate and unworthy to be with them.
    The men lived below decks and some of them were packed in pretty tightly. Had the weather been rough there would have been a good deal of suffering. During the voyage our supply of flour gave out, but as we had a lot of wheat on board, the men were set to grind it in a coffee mill. More than fifty percent of the men, I found, were members of the Church of England, and so I determined to have a celebration of Holy Communion, for all who cared to attend, at five o’clock every morning. I always had a certain number present, and very delightful were these services at that early hour. Outside on deck we could hear the tramp and orders of those engaged in physical drill, and inside the saloon where I had arranged the altar there knelt a small gathering of young fellows from various parts of Canada, who were pleased to find that the old [Page 27] Church was going with them on their strange pilgrimage. The well known hymn—

“Eternal Father strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave”

had never appealed to me much in the past, but it took on a new meaning at our Sunday church parade, for we all felt that we were a rather vulnerable body in any determined attack that might be made upon us by the German navy. Now and then vessels would be sighted on the horizon and there was always much excitement and speculation as to what they might be. We could see the cruisers making off in the direction of the strangers and taking a survey of the ocean at long range.
    One day a man on the “Royal George” fell overboard, and a boat was instantly lowered to pick him up. The whole fleet came to a stand-still and all our glasses were turned towards the scene of rescue. Often in our battles when we saw the hideous slaughter of human beings, I have thought of the care for the individual life which stopped that great fleet in order to save one man.
    Our destination, of course, was not known to us. Some thought we might go directly to France, others that we should land in England. When at last, skirting the south coast of Ireland, we got into the English Channel, we felt more than ever the reality of our adventure. I believe we were destined for Southampton; but rumour had it that a German submarine was waiting for us in the Channel, so we turned into the harbour of Plymouth. It was night when we arrived. A low cloud and mist hung over the dark choppy waves of the Channel. From the forts at Plymouth and from vessels in the harbour, long searchlights moved like the fingers of a great ghostly hand that longed to clutch at something. We saw the small patrol boats darting about in all directions and we felt with a secret thrill that we had got into that part of the world which was at war. We arrived at Plymouth on the evening of October 14th, our voyage having lasted more than a fortnight. Surely no expedition, ancient or modern, save that perhaps which Columbus led towards the undiscovered continent of his dreams, was ever fraught with greater significance to the world at large. We are still too close to the event to be able to measure its true import. Its real meaning was that the American continent with all its huge resources, its potential value in the ages to come, had entered upon the sphere of world politics, and ultimately would hold in its hands the sceptre [Page 28] of world dominion. Even the British thought that we had come merely to assist the Mother Country in her difficulties. Those who were at the helm in Canada, however, knew that we were not fighting for the security of the Mother Country only, but for the security of Canadian nationalism itself. Whatever the ages hold in store for us in this great and rich Dominion which stretches from sea to sea and from the river unto the world’s end, depended upon our coming out victors in the great European struggle. [Page 29]