England

 

I don't know where we landed in England but we went to Wittley Camp. I don't remember anything very exciting happening while I was there except we were given a three-day leave to go to London which wasn't far from there. I had an aunt living in London then. She was working in a munition factory and boarding with a lawyer and his wife. It was a very nice place. They had three sets of siverware for dinner which was a new experience for me so I ate very slowly and talked a lot as they were very curious about life in camp and especially in Canada though my aunt must have told them something. They were probably checking up on her or just being courteous on my account. By watching closely I used my silverware as they did and got away with it, I hope. In any case they didn't put me away from the table and wouldn't take my ration card until I explained to them that it was no use to me in the army.

We were taken on a guided tour of the House of Lords (English Senate) and invited to sit on the chairs of the King, Queen, and Prime Minister among some others' that I forget now. We were also taken through the Tower of London and Hampton Court. Afterwards, I went to the Zoological Gardens and Tussard Waxworks which I found most interesting. The London police (Bobbies) were very helpful as they had a little black book and no matter where you were, they could tell you how to get back to where you started from so you didn't have to worry about getting lost. If you had the price as we usually had, we simply wandered around all day and called a taxi to take us home.

When we got back to camp, I, being a year too young to go to France, was put to work in the kitchen, much to my disgust as I was afraid the war would be over before I got to France. I complained about not being allowed to go. They then put me on the camp police force and gave me a job guarding isolation huts as there was a measles epidemic going around. It was better than the kitchen but as it was raining most of the time, it was unpleasant at night. No one had measles at the time but my hut was quarantined for two or three weeks though no one in it had ever had a measle and on a rainy night who's going out anyhow. So I used to come in and play cards to pass the time and go out and stand in the rain when the M.P. sergeant was expected around. But, of course, one night he came ahead of time and found me playing cards.

"How long have you been in here?"

"I don't know, sir. I haven't got a watch."

"You must have an idea." As I didn't answer it immediately, he said, "Fifteen minutes?"

I said, "Yes, I was here that long, I guess."

One of the other players said, "That’s right. I happened to look at my watch."

So he took my name and number and said I'd be up before the major in the morning.

I was. He was a middle-aged, fleshy man with glasses, an ex-lawyer from Canada. He read the charge against me and asked me whether I was guilty or not.

I said, "Guilty." He said, "This is a very serious charge. I wonder if you realize how serious?"

Perhaps not, sir," I said. (My face was as smooth as a baby's, of course, as I never shaved for six months after that.)

"Well," he said, "suppose for a moment, if while you were absent from your post, a brigade of men had entered camp and, not knowing that hut was quarantined, just one man had entered it and got contaminated with measles. That whole brigade would have to be quarantined for a month putting a whole brigade out of action just at a time when every man was needed. It might have cost us the war. Now do you realize the seriousness of your crime?"

"Yes, sir," I replied very meekly.

He then said, "As your crime sheet is empty, I'll let you off this time but never let it occur again." I found myself back in the kitchen again the next day.

I requested to be sent to France soon after that and was called up to have my request considered before two majors, one our own battalion doctor and the English camp medical officer. I told them I wanted to be sent to France because that's what I came over for, not to peel spuds, wash pots, and sweep floors, etc. The battalion doctor asked me if I wasn't afraid of getting shot.

I said, "I have as good a right to take a chance of getting shot as the next man, don’t I?"

They both listened and thought about it for a minute, and the camp doctor said, "We have so much trouble with men wanting to be kept here that it seems too bad not to let a man go who wants to." The other doctor agreed finally and that was it.

I was in training with the next draft. We went to Seaforth camp where it didn't rain so much. We had reveille at 5:30 a.m., got a cup of poor coffee, and jogged three miles around the country. Then we washed up and had breakfast at 8:00 a.m. followed by instruction on various things - target practice, grenade throwing, open warfare, etc.