Part 3 – Departing Regina To England

Photograph of RNWMP "Depot" barracks in Regina (Source of photo - Ric Hall).

At 8:30 pm on May 30, 1918, the entire Cavalry Draft formed up in front of “A” Block at “Depot” barracks in “squadron column.”  Members were in full marching order.

May 1918 - Photograph of Cavalry Draft RNWMP members on the parade square in front of both "A" and "B" Blocks (Source of photo - RCMP Historical Collections Unit - "Depot" Division).

At 9:00 pm, the Draft marched from “Depot” to the C.P.R. railway station in Regina and were lead by the Regina Salvation Army Band.  As they marched out of “Depot”, they received an enthusiastic farewell from all ranks.  A large number of town’s people walked along with the Draft members to the railway station. 

“A” and “D” Squadrons,  under command of Capt. Newson with a total strength of 349, left on the 1st train at 3:30 a.m.(May 31, 1918). “B” and “C” Squadrons, under command of Major Jennings with a total strength of 343, left on the 2nd train at 4:30 a.m. (May 31, 1918).

Trooper John Glen provided an insight to the condition of the train and their activities:

“The train was made up of the old type of Colonist cars and four men occupied a section.  To say that we were crowded would be putting it mildly for we boarded the train with full marching equipment.  Rifles and bandoliers would be issued to us in England.  Our greatcoats were rolled tightly and tied at one end, resembling a horse collar.  This was slung over one shoulder.  The blankets were crammed into a kit bag and a haversack rounded out the list.

Those Colonists cars, in a way, resembled the present Pulman sleepers in that the seats can be pulled out and the upper shelf, which is hinged, can be lowered to form an upper berth.  But there the similarity ends, for no mattresses, ladder, or foot stools used by porters, were in evident.”[1]

At meal time, we were divided into groups and we would file to the cook car with our mess kits, receive a generous helping of food and return to our seats.  We washed and dried our dishes at a sink at the end of the car.  At Brandon, I think it was, an NCO came through the car telling us to fall in on the platform in fifteen minutes as we were going on a route march.  As yet, I was not too adept at winding my puttees and had them on too tight.  The result was when we finished the march I was in agony as it had almost stopped the blood circulation.”[2]

Both trains arrived in Montreal on June 3, 1918: #1 train at 2 pm and #2 train at 3 pm.  On #1 train, one member had contracted measles and another with symptoms of measles were quarantined in hospital along with 12 other possible contractions. These members were not permitted to depart with the Draft.  However, they would arrive later in England and rejoin the Draft.

The rest of the Cavalry Draft detrained and marched to the wharf and boarded the H.M.T. Bellerophon troop ship.  The Bellerophon was built in 1906 at Belfast Ireland with a length of 485 feet and 53 feet wide.  Her service speed was 14 knots.  In 1914, the ship had been requisitioned as a British Expeditionary troopship and horse carrier operating out of Liverpool England.

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According to Trooper John Glen, “We had another long wait in the wharf at Montreal to allow a number of (C.E.F.) men returning from furlough aboard.  Each man was questioned closely by officers at the end of the gang plank as a precautionary measure no doubt.  This was a time consuming process, but those returned men had priority and rightly so.  The fact that nearly all of them were intoxicated did not help to speed matters any. At last the interrogation was over and we were free to go on board.

I asked one of the men the following day why all the questions?  ‘They are afraid of fifth columnists, lad,’ he replied.  ‘You see, one of those swine could easily dress up in a Canadian uniform, smuggle a bomb aboard and blow the ship to hell.’  After a few minutes, he continued, ‘I guess I was awful drunk yesterday, but I was trying to forget that I was going back to the Hellava carnage over there (western front).”[3]

In Montreal, Commissioner Perry and A.A. McLean (Comptroller for the RNWMP) were present to say farewell to the members of the Cavalry Draft.

Trooper Glen described the conditions on the ship which they would be their home for the next three weeks –

It was vermin infested as I quickly found out.  Three tiers of hammocks, placed as tightly together as possible, comprised our sleeping quarters.  It was almost impossible to undress or even get into your hammock when the others alongside were occupied. I thought I was making a real smart move when I picked one at the side of the ship, with a porthole alongside.  A room with a view, so to speak.  The porthole could be used as a miniature clothes closet.  I mentioned that we made sandwiches prior to leaving the train but I did not finish mine.  The remainder I stuffed in my tunic pocket.  I thought how fortunate I was to have this extra space as I went to bed.  Next morning, I had a horrible surprise for as I was putting on my tunic I noticed a gaping hole in the pocket where I had put the sandwich.  A rat had had a meal!  That hole in the pocket was to cause me much discomfort for a long time to come.  Every parade that I took part in when the inspection was taking place went as follows: the officer would notice the hole, followed by the usual question – ‘What caused the hole in your tunic pocket?’  I would explain what happened.  He would then turn to the sergeant. ‘Sergeant, please take this man’s name and number and see that he is issued with a new tunic.’[4]

The food on the ship was horrible.  Porridge was the primary food served at breakfast and usually had pigeon egg sized lumps which was usually mold.  The bacon contained more fat than meat and was usually half cooked.  Other meals were edible.

Upon clearing the Montreal harbor, the ship traveled to Halifax and waited the formation of the next convoy to England with a battleship escort.  After leaving Montreal, the first activity was a boat drill where troops were assigned specific gathering stations and life boats. Each passenger was assigned their own individual life jacket which would be their personal companion and pillow during the voyage.

For the duration of the trip from Montreal to England, Draft members stayed on deck all day in rain or shine.  Time below the deck was spent taking their meals and sleeping.

According to Trooper Jon Glen, “When we viewed her (H.M.T. Belerophon) from the water the exterior looked just as bad as the interior, but we found out one thing.  Underneath the camouflage paint on her stern, barely visible was the nameBelerophon.’”[5]

By June 9, 1918, the H.M.T. Belerophon was a member of a convoy of eighteen ships bound for England which included S.S. Athenia which was based out of Glasgow Scotland.

As pointed out by Trooper Glen – “A sleek grey destroyer darted here and there amongst the convoy and at intervals circled it while overhead two seaplanes kept their vigil.  After the first day out our escort left us to our own resources.  I thought this strange, as an unprotected convoy would be sitting ducks for an enemy raider.”[6]

Photograph of the "Depot" Riding Master as a Sgt. - Tim Griffin.  Shortly after this photograph was taken, he was promoted to Sergeant Major (RCMP Historical Collections Unit - "Depot" Division).

Photograph of the “Depot” Riding Master as a Sgt. – Tim Griffin. Shortly after this photograph was taken, he was promoted to Sergeant Major (RCMP Historical Collections Unit – “Depot” Division).

 

 

To combat the boredom on board, a sports day was arranged.  As Trooper John Glen recalls – “Boxing and wrestling having the preference.  We were divided into three classes – Officers, non-commissioned officers and Troopers.  We had a lot of fun and nothing more serious than a black eye or a bleeding nose resulted. 

Then came the officer’s chance to show their skill.  The event which drew the most attention was the match between Inspector Proby and the Riding Master (Sergeant Major Tim Griffin). 

 

In the first round neither man showed much inclination to open up, rather they appeared to be trying to find the weak spot in their opponent’s armour.  The second round saw a little more action and the excitement began to mount to fever pitch.  The popularity of Mr. Proby soon became apparent as the cheering and applause was all directed at him.  They had stripped down to riding breech and running shoes and both were splendid specimens of manhood with Proby having a slight advantage in height, weight and length of reach.  Both men wore grim expression which inclined me to think that this was a grudge fight for in the third round they really, as the saying is, went to town.  Proby seemed to slower of the two, but his doesn’t mean that he did not take advantage of any opportunity offered.  Wilts appeared on both bodies but as yet, no blood had appeared. I was confident that this fight would end in a knockout as both men appeared to be giving all they had, but who would be the winner I could not decide and would not have bet on the outcome.  

Sirens shrieked from every ship in the convoy and as this meant boat stations all hands rushed there.  All the ships in the convoy scattered in every direction.  It was a case of every man for himself, or, in this case, every ship.  The fastest boat in the convoy that took over the guardianship of our little company when the destroyer left us after leaving Halifax now really go down to business.  Black smoke poured from her funnels and she darted here and there, just like a hound hot on the trail of a fox, while the bells jangling, no doubt craving speed, our old belly robber responded manfully.  I thought to myself ‘this is it’, and I scanned the sea, expecting any minute to see the wake of a torpedo intent on destroying vital organs of our ship.

If further proof was needed it was forthcoming by the sighting of considerable wreckage floating on the water.  The victim evidently had been a troop ship at evidenced by the flotsam, consisted mostly of life jackets and helmets.[7]

ARRIVAL IN ENGLAND

The convoy was now in the danger zone of the Atlantic Ocean and in the hunting area of the German U-Boats.  After many days of continuing the zigzag course, the convoy was approached by seaplanes and then later by a British destroyer on June 18, 1918.  Soon after, the Eddystone Lighthouse  was spotted and indicated that the convoy was off the English coast near Cornwall.  With the destroyer escort, the zigzag course was discontinued and the convoy headed to the English Channel then turned up the Thames River finally docking at Tilbury Docks in Essex England on June 20 at 11 pm.

Measles were running through the ship.  Within the Draft, there were 15 cases of measles: 7 in “A” Squadron; 4 in “C” Squadron and 4 in “D” Squadron.  These inflicted members were placed in quarantine in Essex.

On the following day at 11:45 am, the remaining members of the Draft disembarked from the ship and boarded a waiting train which took them to the Canadian Expeditionary Force base at Shorncliffe in Kent England.

It was at Shorncliffe where the training of reinforcements for the Canadian Cavalry Brigade and the Canadian Regiment of Light Horse.  Once the training was completed, the reinforcements would be transferred to a particular military unit on the western front.

On June 21, 1918, the Cavalry Draft were transferred to the Canadian Reserve Cavalry Regiment (CRCR) and all Draft NCO ranks were reverted to private.  This reverting of rank came as a total surprise.  Major Jennings argued against this reverting of ranks but was over ruled.  Apparently, these NCO promotions were only provisional until arrival in England.

According to Trooper Glen, as they marched into the Shorncliffe base –

Many Canadian cavalrymen lined the road in the camp area and shouted greetings, while some recognized friends and acquaintances.

Shorncliffe consisted of two different blocks of barracks.  One was named Napier while the other was Ross.  We were to occupy the former which was suitable for lectures and indoor training.  Ross had the clothing and equipment stores, orderly room and horse lines.  As all incoming troops were quarantined for ten days we had lectures on many subjects, practice in assembling machine guns, the loading and firing of which would come when we passed in musketry. Then the Medical Officer gave a lecture accompanied by lantern slides on venereal disease.  As though ten days wasn’t enough to be confined to barracks, a case of German measles was reported and that meant another ten days.  However, this time we had some dismounted drill on the training field, but we could not associate with any of the other units.  

The barracks were comfortable enough.  We had iron cots and mattresses, which were three separate squares called biscuits.  Shaving with cold water and an army issue razor was not too pleasant.

The food was good but in woefully short supply.  The menu was varied each day.  I have forgotten the order in which it appeared but I do know that we had lamb and mint sauce on Sundays.  One day it would be macaroni then hamburger would come to the table in the form of meat balls.  This was genuine horse meat and many of the boys would not eat it. They said it turned their stomach.”[8]

Photograph of Troopers and junior NCOs of the Cavalry Draft RNWMP - taken at Shorncliffe Camp in Kent England (Source of photo - RCMP Historical Collections Unit - "Depot" Division).

On June 24, 1918, the draft members were now under the control and direction of different instructors of the CRCR. Since the cavalry on the western front had frequently been called on to undertaken infantry action, it was necessary for cavalry training to include 16 weeks of infantry training. Their training syllabus included:

physical training – boxing, musketry using the Lee Enfield rifle and the Hotchkiss machine gun, bayonet fighting, troop drill dismounted, military law, gas drill, entrenching classes, hand grenade training – 10 minutes each day, map reading & topography, signaling, stretcher bearers, install and navigate through barbed wire entanglements, animal and stable management, sword training  and mounted cavalry drill.

To supplement these courses, there was a very heavy emphasis on stable duties – care and feeding of  all training horses.

Trooper Robert Bowen (Reg. #4829) recalled his experience with the Draft and its training at Shorncliffe –

We had a stiff training.  One instructor, whose legs were one mass of varicose veins, had been in our care in the Lethbridge guardroom and he certainly put us through it.  All the instructors were under a most lugubrious looking Sergeant Major whom Nichy Thorne christened the ‘Silent Menace.’  Our boxing instructor was very ferocious and kept egging the boys on to slaughtering each other.  One of our chaps wasn’t hitting to his liking so he made him double mark time for ten minutes and then said that he would show him how to hit.  He didn’t.  He was laid out in nothing flat.  Our chap was the boxer.[9]

This chap was Trooper Gordon Ellwyn (Reg. #7104).  In August 1918, Trooper Ellwyn entered the Military Boxing Champion and won the welter weight championship.  Photograph below is Trooper Gordon Ellwyn receiving the championship cup from the ex-mayor of London England.

August 1918 - Photograph of Cavalry Draft RNWMP trooper Gordon Ellwyn receiving the winning boxing championship cup from the ex-mayor of London England (Source of photo - the Ellwyn family).

August 1918 - Cavalry Draft RNWMP members receiving bayonet training at Shorncliffe Camp in Kent England (Source of photo - Library Archives of Canada).

According to Trooper John Glen, many hours were spent “our hopes of riding were soon dashed as we were informed that we must first take courses in musketry, gas drill, rifle and hand grenade use and the use of barbed wire entanglement What diabolical practices mankind would resort to kill and maim their fellow men.”[10]

Trooper John Glen described the musketry course “The rifle range was situated at a little place named Hythe on the south coast, and we marched down there for target practice daily, for about two weeks.  On the shore a long mound of sand and gravel had been erected and this made backing for our targets. A short distance from the butt’s machine gun practice was held.  After target practice, we had what is referred to in Canada as a coffee break, only in this case it was tea.  The coffee there was horrible.”[11]

Part 4 – Dispersement Of The Cavalry Draft



[1] Glen, John, “G. Division: A Tale Of The Royal North West Mounted Police.” – page 16.

[2] Glen, John, “G. Division: A Tale Of The Royal North West Mounted Police.” – page 17.

[3] Glen, John, “G. Division: A Tale Of The Royal North West Mounted Police.” – page 17.

[4] Glen, John, “G. Division: A Tale Of The Royal North West Mounted Police.” – page 18.

[5] Glen, John, “G. Division: A Tale Of The Royal North West Mounted Police.” – page 21.

[6] Glen, John, “G. Division: A Tale Of The Royal North West Mounted Police.” – page 21.

[7] Glen, John, “G. Division: A Tale Of The Royal North West Mounted Police.” – page 24.

[8] Glen, John, “G. Division: A Tale Of The Royal North West Mounted Police.” – page 29-30.

[9] Bowen, Robert C. – article entitled “Daddy’s War” appeared in the 1951 edition of the Scarlet and Gold magazine – page 35.

[10] Glen, John, “G. Division: A Tale Of The Royal North West Mounted Police.” – page 32.

[11] Glen, John, “G. Division: A Tale Of The Royal North West Mounted Police.” – page 35.

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