Tuesday, February 12, 2013

1 September 1915 Otterpool Camp, Kent

Harold writes a letter to his mother from the hospital where he is working. The last pages of the letter are missing.

Harold Roy Skilling front right
Otterpool Camp

5th Field Ambulance, 2nd Division Canadian Expeditionary Force
Dear Mother,
This is Wed. night and I am on duty in the hospital but have a few minutes of spare time tonight so must try to get a short line written home.
We have been very busy all week and today in the hospital has been busier than ever and we are crowded to the full capacity of the hospital tonight. It has been a rainy day, and also there is a big review by the King tomorrow so that is one of the reasons for a big sick parade. Orders are out in some units around here for the big inspection tomorrow, but there is not any out for us yet so I can’t give you the details.
Things are getting pretty well cleaned up now and all our equipment has been received. The transport have all been issued with new waggons and watter carts and we got our 3 horse ambulances as well which are all we will get here. The motor ambulances of which we are allowed 7, are in France now. (except 1 which the Col. uses as a joy car.)
The last time I wrote I was out on manoeuvres and did not have a very good opportunity to write much and did not feel very much like writing anyway as I was just about “all in” from the cold and thought I would have to report sick, but the next morning I was nearly better. We came thru’ our operations ok and went through a scheme of billeting in Ashford. Our unit was put in a brewery and the Col. was tickled but we were not allowed inside. He is a regular old soaker, but is better now than when we first came over.
Before I forget, I am sending my watch home. (The one I got from the boys) It does not fit in the case, I don’t think, and besides is not strong enough for the knocking around it gets. I was downtown last night for a few odds and ends and got a 13/ Ingersall wristwatch with luminous dial. It is a good reliable time-keeper and stands all kinds of rough usage. You can keep the other one for me and if you can get it fixed, it will do for some one to use. I would have gotten it fixed only the jewel shops around here are so rushed that they can’t accept anymore work to be done in less than a month.
In case my letters from the front will be very strictly censored, could some of you arrange to sent a film for my camera every so often, say once a week. They cost 20 cents and are no. 127 for the vest pocket Kodak (folding). I am going to try and get them sent out with men coming back and trusting to them being sent home. You will have to get them developed as I am not taking a developing outfit with me. I had thought I would like to take it but it is going to be too bulky and as we are only allowed 1 kit bag and 35 lbs. in that, I don’t know what we are going to do with our big boots for they comprise nearly all that weight in themselves.
Here comes a case so I’ll have to ring off now and finish this the first chance I get.
This is Thursday evening just after supper and if I am going to catch the Canadian mail for tonight I must post this right away.
Well the big review is over and we were praised by the King. He said we looked better than any division he had yet inspected that was leaving for the front. He rode past our unit on horse-back about 11 o’clock a.m. and was accompanied by Kitchener and a score of staff officers. They made quite an imposing sight as all the prancing horses and distinguished men with their khaki uniforms trimmed with red. He passed directly in front of us and he scrutinized us closely as he rode by. Kitchener is a very heavily built man and wears a heavy brown moustache. I had always heard him described as one who seldom smiles, but his face was wreathed in smiles as he passed us. (I suppose it one of pleasure at out good appearance, eh what?)
It threatened to rain all day as it usually does on inspection days, but kept off pretty well until we were on our way home and then it started to pour. We got a good soaking as we had to march about 3 miles in it.
Altogether there would be about 22,000 reviewed, and they certainly showed well today. They presented arms at the Royal salute like one man, and there was not a movement as the King rode past. After the inspection they “marched past” in double columns of fours (eight abreast) the massed bands of the division playing regimental marches. At the conclusion of the inspection, and previous to the “march past”, “three cheers” were called for. When a person overhears 3 by 3 from a division of soldiers, it is not soon forgotten. It just seemed to quiver along the whole line, which extended for about a third of a mile and was 4 companies deep and then burst into a big roar.
When we got home all thoroughly wet from the inside out, and outside in also, we were met with few words of praise from the Col. when he was dismissing us. When he had finished conveying the message of Gen. Turner, he said that as we were not standing at attention when the Gen. came around after the inspection to give him this message and instead we were eating out lunch, which was contrary to orders, he would give us as punishment 1 hr. of standing to attention today and half hour every morning instead of physical drill. When we were dismissed everybody just booed and gave cat calls etc. It was ….
( More details on this incident after the King's inspection may be found on pages 50 - 53 in "Stretcher Bearers...At The Double" by Frederick Walter Noyes )


  1. Imagine the soldier's disdain at the Col. using an ambulance for his joy ride. I love the language "old soaker." And you can feel the emotion when he writes, "When a person overhears 3 by 3 from a division of soldiers, it is not soon forgotten. It just seemed to quiver along the whole line, which extended for about a third of a mile and was 4 companies deep and then burst into a big roar."

    Interesting detail too about the film number and Kodak pocket model.

  2. Thanks for commenting Mary! I love the details also. Makes a vivid picture of Army life.

  3. Dear Ruth Zaryski Jackson

    I would like to ask your permission to use the photo on this page from the Otterpool Camp in a book I am writing about danish immigrants in the Canadian and Australian army. One of them has been in the Otterpool Camp, and I would like to use a photo from the camp. Yours sincerely