Thursday, January 24, 2013

6 August 1915 Otterpool Camp

 Dear Everybody,

Well I am back to camp life again after 6 days in old “Lunnon”. It is a wonderful place but one can only get a glimpse at the interesting places in the time we are allowed. I went up a week earlier than I expected, and Red Irvine, one of my tent mates, went with me. We were on the go from Friday am until Thursday. We left off a route march at 12:30 on Friday ( at least Red did; I was not out that day) and when we came back the next Thursday, we were just  in time to get out for another. We are having long marches and field maneuvers every day now. But I must tell you about my trip to London.

We got there about 4:30 pm on Friday 3o July and after riding around on the underground for nearly an hour trying to find the Union Jack Club, we finally got back to the place where we started and then it was “just around the corner”.That is the invariable answer the “cops” give, when they are asked where any particular place is. “Just around the corner on the left, and then on your right”.

The U.J. club is a place devoted entirely to soldiers, and good clean beds can be had for a shilling a night. They are only single beds though, and and as we wanted to be together, and also get away from soldiers as much as we could just for a rest, we changed our hotel the next day and put up at the Bannington Hotel, Southampton Row for the rest of the time. it is a splendid place and they give good service for 5s./6p. a day including breakfast.

We spent Friday night at the “Royalty” seeing “The Man Who Stayed at Home”. It is a good play and we enjoyed it. When we came out, we knew about as much where we were as if we had just dropped out of the clouds. London is very dark at night now, on account of the Zeppelins, and it is pretty hard to find your way around. After walking about 20 minutes in the direction opposite to where we wanted to go, we were directed to “just around the corner” to Trafalgar Square where we thought we could get our bearings. In about half an hour we found ourselves hovering around The Mall heading straight for Buckingham Palace. Finally however, we got home and were just about ready for bed. It was good to get back into a bed again and sheets felt pretty good too.

On Sat. morning we checked our haversacks and struck off for a grand day. After hunting for a new cap and a few other little necessary articles to make us presentable, we hit the British Museum and spent 2 1/2 or 3 hours there. It was as long as we thought we could spare, although we had not much of a look at each thing, we managed to get over the place pretty well and have a general look at nearly every section. After dinner we thought we would go down to Regents Park. It is a pretty nice place and the zoo has some very rare animals. There are also a couple of Canadian bears there presented by the 32nd Battalion from Canada who brought them over as mascots.

We intended going to another show at night but, as it was the weekend and a big Bank Holiday on Monday, the city was full of visitors and there was not a seat left in any decent show so we just took a stroll down the Strand etc. After dark the search lights can be seen playing on the sky, sweeping all around in wide circles
On Sunday morning we went to St. Paul’s and heard the service and also had a look through the place. It is a wonderful building  but not a very satisfactory place to hear a sermon, as there are too many echoes. It might be better if the place were filled with people but on Sunday there were only a few there.

After church we went over to the Tower of London but found that it was not open.We had a short walk through Whitechapel and then took a bus to Hyde Park.The top deck of the big buses is a good place to view the streets from and as the one we were on passed from the east to the west end, we had a good view of the central parts of the city.

After lunch we went on through the park to Kensington Gardens, and who should we run “kerplunk” into but Will Redburn with two of his chums. I didn’t know he was in town at all.

We left him as he and his fellows were going back downtown, while we were on our way to the Museum of Natural History. It is open on Sundays and it was sure worth our while to go thru’ it. They have a wonderful collection of uniques from India and a lot of splendid wood carving etc. Upstairs they have case after case full of jewels set in solid gold which altogether must be worth an enormous sum. And the best of them are gone just now. They have buried them somewhere until the war is over. There are old antique weapons and rifles etc. of every conceivable shape and design. These collections are noticeable in every museum or such place that we were in, and they have been gathered from every corner of the earth.

After supper on Sunday we went out to hunt up the Jeffs and after a long search we found a directory of Upper Tooting in a hotel and as there were only 3 Jeffs in the book we decided we would try each one till we found the right one. The first we went to was the son of the people Will (his brother) stayed at and we spent the evening there and had a good chat with him. We also found out where his father’s place was. We got back home pretty late and came out to the other Jeffs the next night.

In the am we went up to the Tower again first and spent a good morning there. It is very interesting to get a look in reality at some of the historical places that we have been reading about in History all our lives.We went thru’ every room that the public are allowed into and had a guide tell us the events that made each place notable. The collection of arms and armour in the armouries is great and give a person a good idea of how the early English used to fight.

The Crown Jewels are on exhibition in the Tower and also some of the table service used at the banquet during Coronation festivities. We thought we had spent enough time in the Tower by noon. After lunch we struck across to the Waxworks and found a big lineup waiting to get in but as it seemed to be moving along pretty quickly, we went with it.

I wish that we had waited till another day to go there because the crowd was so dense that we were just carried along with it and could not get a very good chance to look at things closely. It is remarkable how natural and life-like the figures are and all are posed in the attitudes for which they were famous.They are so much so that when Red saw a woman on a step holding an umbrella as if she were trying to attract the attention of some people she was with – she was perfectly motionless when Red saw her – and he was just asking me if that was Mrs. Pankhurst, when she moved off. He was speechless, having been certain that she was one of the images. They already have 4 V.C. heroes set up there including Mike O’Leary.

When we got through the Waxworks, the afternoon was pretty well over so we did not bother going to see anything else but after supper went to the Jeffs. We had a splendid evening there and just struck the house when everyone was at home except Mr. Jeffs who was away over to France with some supplies of some kind. They made us feel very much at home and it was nearly eleven o’clock when we left.
Tuesday we struck off for Westminster Abbey and had a whole morning there. We fell in with an old man who has lived in London all his life and seemingly has made a hobby of the Abbey. He took us around for a while and explained things to us that we would have missed otherwise.While we were there a service was in progress and we had a chance to hear the organ. It is fine but we only heard a few hymns played and they didn’t show the organ up to the best advantage.

In the pm it started to rain and so we “hiked it” for the Tate art gallery and spent most of the afternoon there. I had a small catalogue showing a few the of the pictures that I’ll send. The place closed before we were through it all so we walked around in the rain for awhile and had a late supper. After tea we went to see “Betty” at Daly’s Theatre. It is a musical comedy and is good. We had booked those seats two days ahead to get them.

Wed. was the anniversary of the War and we found out that there was going to be a  grand service in St. Paul’s in the morning and the King and Queen along with several of the ministerial “big guns” would be there. We did not want to go in but went early and stood by the road where we could see the “doings”. We ran into Will Redburn here again and as he was alone, he came with us and after a bit, we all got a place upon the steps of the Cathedral. pretty soon the procession began. It was not a regular procession but a carriage or auto would straggle along one at a time. Kitchener came early and soon Asquith, Churchill, Lloyd George, Balfour, and several other Cabinet Ministers came. Queen Alexandra, then King George and Queen Mary came last. From where we were, we could get a pretty good view of them but it was only a passing glance. There were coach after coach of wounded soldiers brought down to see the proceedings and they were from all parts of the Empire.

After dinner we went over to do up the district around St. James Park where the Horse Guards are stationed. Buckingham Palace is close by too and we had a walk around Whitehall and Downing Street which is the official district. We were not able to get into the Parliament Buildings but had a look at them from the outside. We then went for a short look at the National Portrait Gallery on Trafalgar Square and then got seats for the Coliseum Variety Theatre at night and nearly split my sides laughing at some of the “stunts”. This was our last night in town and as we had to catch an early train we went to bed as soon as we got home.

We had the same bunch coming back on the train that came up together. Some had been to Ireland, others to Scotland and some to other parts of England. We had a great time telling our little experiences and of course we all had been stung and bit by sharpers (?) and each one seemed to be trying to make himself a bigger “goat” than the others. Some parts of London are simply alive with beggars and they can draw a shilling out of your pocket and guarantee to do it painlessly, that is, there will be no pain for you but they seem to be suffering something terrible themselves. When we would tell them not to buy booze with it, they would be sure to say “ Oh I never touch it” when their breath would nearly knock you over with the smell of booze.

I have not time to tell you all the little adventures we had for I am way behind with my correspondence. I found 8 letters and some bundles of papers awaiting me and this is the first chance I have had to get at them. In fact I haven’t had time to look at the papers yet.

On Wed. while we were watching the King at St. Paul’s, the rest of the Canadians in camp were getting soaked at a big review by Bonor Law (?). It just poured all morning and when we came back the next day the place was littered with stuff up drying. I hear we expect the King down in a week or two. But he has been coming so often that we suppose this is just another rumour.

We are getting lots of heavy marches now. We were out with the 4th Brigade ( the one we are attached to composed of 18, 19, 20 21 Battalions). They  were labeled and had to be brought in and dressed as if it were the actual conditions of battle. it was good experience. Quite a few walked in who were labeled “unconscious” and one came in labeled ”this man has a fractured leg, unable to walk”.

Well I guess I had better finish this or I’ll not get any more written. Among my letters was one from Floss.
Hoping you are all ok. I am your loving son and brother,

Thursday, January 17, 2013

1 July 1915 Otterpool Training Camp, Kent

Harold writes home on Canada’s Dominion Day from Otterpool where they are having field day celebrations in camp. He mentions the  delays in getting all their horses, ambulances, general service wagons and other transport equipment as the War Office is so rushed. Although Harold doesn’t mention it, this was around the time all men made out a Short form of Will which was carried  in their pay book.

Harold's Will

1 July 1915 1
1 July 1915 2
1 July 1915 3
1 July 1915 4
1 July 1915 5

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

25 June 1915 Otterpool Camp, Kent, England

Harold writes to his parents in Teeswater, Ontario from Otterpool Training Camp where he is living in a bell tent.

Harold Skilling front right
Otterpool Camp

25 June 1914 1
25 June 1914 2
25 June 1914 3
25 June 1914 4
25 June 1914 5
25 June 1914 6

Friday, January 11, 2013

Introduction to Letters of Harold Skilling

Harold Roy Skilling was born 31 July 1893 in Teeswater, the next older brother to my mother-in-law, Agnes Norma Skilling Jackson. He was 21 when World War One broke out and eagerly enlisted in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Forces on 21 November 1914. We don't know why he chose to join the 5th Canadian Field Ambulance Corps as a Stretcher Bearer, except that recruitment orders had just come down on November 11th to recruit a Field Ambulance Corps for overseas service with the Second Canadian Contingent.

At Exhibition Camp in Toronto, Harold was first examined by doctors,  measured and attested. He was one of the shortest men in the Fifth at 5 feet 3 3/4 inches. After 5 months of training in infantry drill, stretcher drill and first-aid treatments, other necessary skills and physical conditioning, the first units boarded the train on April 15, 1915 for Halifax. Harold left Toronto in April 1915 and sailed on the S.S. Northland (formerly the Zeeland) of the White Star Line.

Harold arrived in England at the Port of Avonmouth on 29 April 1915. Trains transported the men to Westenhanger in Kent. They set out on foot, marching two miles to Sandling Camp where huts awaited them. On the 24th of May the men moved from Sandling to Otterpool Camp where they lived in tents.

Harold's letters begin on 25 June 1915 at Otterpool Camp. These letters are in poor condition, written in pencil on onionskin paper or other scraps of paper. Many were written under difficult conditions by candle light. Some will be possible to scan but many will have to be transcribed.