Now memory is not so sharp after 62 years, but I remember the troop train was made up of old colonist cars that had been in service for years bringing immigrants to our country. Here we were on our way out of the country. The train rumbled through the Ontario country side and into Quebec. In Quebec City, we were detrained for a march up the cobble stone street to, I think it was called the Citadel. Our steel shod shoes striking sparks along the slippery cobble stone street. You see this was late at night and I do not remember a single person or vehicle on the street as we marched. This was a walk to get some air as being early November and the train coaches were steam heated we needed to get out for fresh air.
Back on the train we went through other training camps and we hoped we would not be stationed at any of them. Looking back it seemed that the train travelled the most miles at night. After, I think, two nights on the train we arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia.
This is when we knew this is it! We are going overseas but where, still was the question. We detrained and were given documents stating where we were to be on the ship. The ship was HMT Oronsay. All aboard I found that I shared a cabin with Sgt Vern Lovely, who was Sgt in the same troop as I. This is war I thought, sharing a cabin on the outside porthole and all. Well now, seeing we were separated from our gunners and all below the rank of full sergeant, Vern and I decided to find our gunners. This was something else! Armed with the description of the area, we found our chaps down in the bowels of the ship. No port holes,and hammocks to sleep in that were slung above their mess tables. Before we left port the grumbling started. The conditions that our chaps had. What an ungodly mess they were placed in. It was a disaster waiting to happen. All the tremendous thousands of pounds of good food that we saw being loaded on board. Sides of beef and all the great Canadian fare. Were we to get any ?? Seeing this was a British ship and under their command, we had to put up with it. No we did not see any beef and not much of anything else worth eating. The sergeants and above did pretty well but the men were really crapped on. To show the difference Vern and I were awakened by a cabin steward at about 5or 6 AM and had a glass of scalding tea put at our bunk side. The men had to go to a common kitchen and pick up their large containers and carry this across a wave and wind swept deck then down into the bowels of the boat to the rest ot the fellows. Sometimes they would spill the contents, but most of the time it would be cold. Can you imagine waking up and getting out of your hammock and finding almost everyone had been sea sick and had thrown up all over the tables? If that was not bad enough, the poor ventilation, stench of those being sick and here would arrive a group of your fellow gunners carrying in breakfast. They looked and here were kippered herring with the eyes staring at them. So up it would come again. No one should have been treated that way. But that is the way the Brits had been doing things for centuries.
Yes I got carried away and shot ahead.
The first day that we were aboard the Oronsay, we heard on a ship's radio a news report saying Ottawa was talking to Washington regarding whether we would allow USA boats and personnel into our waters. Just after this announcement, we looked over the side of the boat and here was, I suppose, a ship's lighter. Now this lighter had aboard about thirty high ranking American Naval Officers. They did not just drop from the sky, so they must have boats outside the harbour. The next day we weighed anchor and lo and behold here, outside the harbour, was an armada of American naval vessels. This impressive fleet was made up of at least three battleships and about 12 destroyers. What a terrific show of force! One of the battleships had a plane that they would catapult into the air then retrieve it by a hook and winch.
The crossing was U boat free although there was one alarm but we did not get attacked as our convoy had almost all the division aboard. If I remember there was about twenty ships in the convoy. Of course the progress was to the speed of the slowest ship. One fell out of line and disappeared for it seemed some time but on the following morning it was back with the flock.
I will get more on the crossing another time. It will give the memory bank a day to recharge