Gunner Bert Cox
Witley Camp - England
Sunday Sept. 24th -1916
My dear (sisters) Ina, Mabel, Hellen and Ella,
Here we are at last across the pond, as you'll notice. I suppose I'd better start at the beginning and detail it right through.
The time came at last at 7PM on Sept 8th of us to pull out of old P'wa (Petawawa Training Camp in Canada) and a glad moment it was. Our train (special) stopped at Pembroke and I never saw so many girls in that town before, as there were to meet us at the station. We were not allowed to get off the train, but talked to them all through the windows. One that I never saw before gave me a box of eatables about 2 feet long, then we'd pull them up to the windows and kiss them goodbye.
McLennan one of the Bank boys (Canadian Bank of Commerce employer) took me in for a week end some time ago to meet some relations of his. They also met us with candy and several pairs of socks. Our next stop was Ottawa at midnight and another at Montreal at 6 AM, we were allowed to get off here for an hour and walk around on the platform, where there were all kinds of girls. Then we had a meal at Revieres de Loup; and a route march at Moncton NB. Did you receive my card from there?
Then we passed Canada's wireless station, New Castle, then stopped at "Truno" NS (Hallesley's home) and I never saw so many girls in any city, much less town, as there are there. Thousands on the railroad station, and fancy we were not allowed to off, or even talk to them through the windows, as from this point on to Halifax, the windows had to be closed and blinds pulled down. We struck Halifax at 6 PM, Sept. 10th, slept on board and at 10 AM next morning went on board the SS "Cameronia" . We anchored and coaled in Halifax harbor until 8 AM, Wednesday Sept 13th; when we pulled out to sea, accompanied by the "Northland", "Scandanavian", and "Matragama" all filled to the utmost with troops, infantry and artillery, and cavalry, our escort was the dreadnought "Drake", and we kept this formation:
Until 24 hours out from Liverpool, when we met the submarine destroyers. One destroyer escorted each ship, all through the war zone and at this point we all raced for England our boat beat the "Matragama" by 3 hours and the other 2 were about 6 hours behind. We docked at Liverpool on Friday Sept 22 1916 at 4 PM. Took us 9 days and in peace times this boat does it in 5. We went away up North, and did this business all the way across, and especially in the War Zone : ZZZZ, to escape mines and submarines.
We only had one days sunshine, it was one fog all the way over. Everybody was sick on the 3rd day when the sea became rough, but apart from that it was like a pond. The officers had the 1st class, and the 12th Brigade the 2nd class, and the 15th Brigade (Bert's), were steerage for 1/2 the voyage, when we changed with the 12th. The food was awful, and I need not comment on the accommodations when I say "steerage"; but I slept on deck every night. We were allowed to use the 2nd class smoker, and all the lower decks, and on a whole, being with a bunch we knew, I had a very pleasant voyage. We had physical exercise for an hour every day, and life boat drill.
From 4 PM Thursday, until 2 PM Friday (War Zone) we had to keep our life belts on all the time.
After breaking away and leaving "Northland behind on the last day her destroyer escort chased a submarine for 10 hours , but we never saw one.
(So much for the voyage.)
We went from the boat on to the train and were allowed to get off, and have some thing to eat at Birmingham, passed through "Oxford" and struck Milford station at 4 AM next morning. The trains are nothing like the ones in U.S. and Canada, very small, 4 seats facing each other, no sleepers, but very fast. We then had to walk over to Witley Camp, about 1.5 miles some walk with all these kit bags (2) , overcoat, rain coat, bandolier, water bottle, haversack. We are in huts, 1 to a subsection (4 subs to a battery) ours is "c", about 30 men, this gives lots of room with a table in the center. The huts are about 1 foot off the ground, and our beds of staws, are on stands about 6 ins. off the floor, which makes it very healthy. We have glass windows and electric lights and lavatories etc, with modern accommodations.
About 500 yards away there is a little town for the camp, and in that town a soldier can buy everything he requires. There is a moving picture show and several tea rooms and restaurants, and about 10 stores. Most beautiful roads around here and everyone rides a bycicle. Two miles away, there is a town of 4,000 people, we all went down last night , a very pretty place, in fact the whole camp is awfully pretty, hills on one side and valley on the other. Then another town of about 30,000 people about 5 miles away. All these towns except the last are in bounds, and one can go anytime to them and a pass can easily be had for the other. We are enjoying great weather, but very cold at nights. In other words in my 21 years, I have never been so pleased , as I am with the conditions of this place experienced in the last 24 hours . Petawawa was just a jail, this is the real thing, and makes one feel more war-like everyday.
We are 40 miles from London, and can get a pass, quite often (week ends), so hope to see the city in a week or 2. We also get 6 days leave in a few weeks, I'm going to spend mine in London, (3 1- return) and also hope to take a trip to Edinborough; and Glasgow. Then we get "King's leave", about a week before going to the front, travelling expenses free. (In fact Gunner Cox and the 14th Brigade stay in England for nearly a year before going across to France to fight).
Bert B.H. Cox (327.964)
59th Battery. C.F.A.
Well think you all have my news to date
Lots of love and kisses for all, write soon
Your loving brother
Grandson Frank's research notes:
(On the first page upper left corner of this letter is written: "As I could never write this History to each one individually, kindly read and forward, and will write separately later on. Oct 2nd London on 6 days leave in the city . Will write you all about it, B.C.")
The ship SS Cameronia which Bert travelled to England on was built in 1911 and sunk by a German U-Boat in 1917 about a year after he sailed on it.: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Cameronia_(1911)
The sub. which sunk the Cameronia surrendered in 1919: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SM_U-33_(Germany)
"Martragma" is probably : SS Metragama,