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Remembering Earle R. Miller A Voyage from Halifax to England
Wednesday Oct 11th Left home about 11 o’clock for Aldershot. Arrived in Kentville about 5 p.m. and was marched to camp with the rest of the boys. Was then given a ticket and told to hurry and pack kit as reveille was to sound next morning at 2 a.m. and that we were to move out at 5:30 a.m. I didn’t get a wink of sleep all night as I knew it would be my last night at Aldershot. I decided to have some fun and believe me I had it. About half of the tents in the battalion were flat when some of us boys got through. We dumped over cook- houses, latrines, etc.; burned everything we could lay our hands on and I wouldn’t want to hand out cash for all the damage we did. Went to my tent and turned in at 1:30 a.m. but didn’t get any sleep as my tent came down about two minutes after I laid down. Thursday 12th Oct Crawled out at 2:00 a.m. and got ready to move away. “Fell in” at 4 a.m. and had roll call. Marched to the train and boarded about 5:30 a.m. Had a fine ride on the train. Arrived safely at Halifax at 11 a.m. and were taken down to Pier 2 in the train, where we left our kit and then the the 219th Battalion was marched up Pleasant St (I think that is the name of the street) to the Academy of Music and then up to the Commons where they were allowed to stand easy and all friends were allowed to go through the ranks and say their good-byes. At 12 noon they were marched down to the Pier at the side of which transport no. 2810 [HMS Olympic] was docked, and boarded. We found our quarters and then had dinner. I then wandered around the ship till 3 o’clock getting lost about a dozen times as she is worse than any city that was ever built. At 3 p.m. I went to my quarters, which are on F deck i.e. four decks below the main deck. She has seven decks on which troops are quartered. We were given hammocks and I turned in and went to sleep about 4 p.m. and didn’t wake up until 5:30 a.m. next morning. Friday October 13th Reveille at 6 o’clock. Got up rolled our hammocks and went to breakfast at 7 a.m. After breakfast went below and played cribbage with Simon till 10:30 a.m. and then was called on deck as the Olympic started to move up the basin. Then went to dinner at 12 noon. At 1 p.m. “Fell in” on “A” deck and was issued with a life belt which we were told to wear till we reached the other side, the only time when we are to be allowed to take them off is when we sleep and then it must be within arms length. There was a general alarm during the afternoon and also a fire alarm to see how soon we could get to the boat deck. The ship carries boats and rafts for about seven thousand so there is no need of worrying about being lost. At 5 p.m. the ship started out the harbour and as soon as she got to the mouth struck some gale and started to wiggle around quite a bit; but she is going some fast as I think they are trying to make a record trip. I did not feel sick at all and went on deck at 6:30 p.m. and stayed till 8 p.m. Then went below and read till “lights out” at 9 p.m.; then turned in. Saturday Oct 14th Reveille at 6 a.m. Got up shook blankets and rolled hammocks. Went to breakfast at 7 a.m. After breakfast went on deck. About 7:30 a.m. passed a liner bound westward. She was fairly large and had one funnel. We also passed a sailing vessel about 11:30, one of the crew said she was french. There was a general alarm at 9 a.m. (the general alarm is six or more blasts of the siren). At 2 p.m. I was put on guard at one of the doors in the watertight bulkheads run crisscross all over the ship and there are hundreds of doors all through them each one of these doors is guarded by a sentry and his orders are; that as soon as an alarm sounds he must close the door (they are sliding doors and are closed with the aid of a heavy spanner) and then run to the boat deck, there being a flight of stairs between every bulkhead. I was on duty from 2 p.m. till 4 p.m. during which time there was an alarm and I had to close the door and go up to the deck. After the alarm I came back and opened the door. At. 4 p.m I was relieved and went on deck for a little while. At 5 p.m. went to supper. After supper played cards till 8 p.m. when I had to go on guard again. At 10 p.m. came off and strung my hammock and went to sleep. At 12 noon the ship had travelled 381 mi. She came out of the harbor in daylight Friday afternoon but it was dark when we reached the mouth of the harbor. She then coasted along the shore up past ------- as we could see the lights along the shore on ------ side till late in the evening. She then turned ------ but took a ------ course all day Saturday. ------ her direction about ------ ------. There was a strong breeze blowing all day which made it fairly rather choppy but not enough to hinder a large ship like this. Was not sick at all during the day. Sunday Oct 15th Was called out at 5:30 a.m. to go out on guard. Relieved at 7:30 a.m. Then went to my hammock and slept for an hour. Went on deck and stayed the remainder of the morning. Saw 6 whales on port bow, they spouted and then disappeared. There was a very heavy sea running and she was rolling and pitching like a crazy thing. She The ship was travelling at full speed all the time about 25 mi. per hr. During the morning went up on her bow and watched her cut through the waves. It was certainly pretty. Sometimes I could see her bottom for 2 or 3 feet so it must have been pretty rough. Went to dinner at 12 noon. Talk about grub they certainly feed us fine. Had pea soup, chicken and plum pudding and they were good too. After dinner went on deck again. Soon after dinner it began to get rougher and talk about sick boys. They were laying around all over the ship most of them somewhere near the rail. What a time! I was not sick except I almost made myself sick laughing at some of the poor fellows. It was a shame but I couldn’t help it. G. Wagner* was as sick as a dog. We carried him all over the ship and he didn’t know anything about it. Jim Mallett** was also very sick. At 5 p.m. went to supper. Had a fine supper with oranges and bananas for a desert. After supper strung my hammock and then sat down and read. It was very rough but I did not mind it in the least and was feeling fine. Read till 9 p.m. and then “turned in”. There was a strong gale blowing all day and it was very rough. I saw the mountain waves I have often read about. Monday Oct. 16th General routine till after breakfast although still rough it had calmed down considerably. We went on deck after breakfast and stayed all the morning. Passed a tramp bound westward at 9:30 a.m.; she was having a hard time with the seas. Dinner at the usual hour. After dinner went on deck again and stayed till 5 p.m. One of the bands gave a concert during the afternoon. Supper as usual. After supper strung hammock and then sat down to read. Retired at 9: p.m. The ship crossed the Gulf Stream during the day, the difference in temperature was noticeable. Tuesday Oct 17th General routine till after breakfast. After breakfast went on deck and laid around till 11 p.m. [a.m.] then went to sleep and didn’t wake till 2 p.m. thus losing my dinner. Stayed on deck till 5 p.m. Went to supper. After supper strung hammock and turned in. Wednesday Oct. 18th General routine. Went on deck after breakfast. Our escorts joined us during the night. (I must omit about 20-25 lines here as it describes the ship’s course and different things that I am not allowed [to] the write about) At 6 p.m. turned in our life belts as we were past the danger zone. At 6:30 p.m. we entered the mouth of the Mercey [sic] River and stopped to take on a pilot who piloted us up to Liverpool. The men were allowed to smoke on deck after dark for the first time since we left Halifax. I spent all the evening leaning over the rail watching the sights. Turned in at 9 p.m. Thursday Oct 19th Reveille at 3:30 a.m. While getting breakfast the ship docked. Got ready to disembark. At 6:30 a.m. we got the order “packs on”. Picked up our kit and went on deck. At 7 a.m. the troops started off. The 219th did not start till 10:30 a.m. Meanwhile we had to stand with our packs on which was rather hard. When I walked on the wharf it was 10:45 a.m. We stayed on the wharf till 1:30 p.m. I got my money changed to English money during this stop. Boarded a train at 1:30 p.m. (The station Riverside being on the wharf). I knew something about the English trains, but it did seem funny to see engines with bumpers and no bells and with whistles that sound exactly like our old fire engine whistles. The cars are of various sizes and all are divided into compartments. Each compartment is the width of the car so that passengers can get into the same compartment from either side. But I had to laugh when I saw when I saw the freight cars they about 12 ft long and have open work wheels. There are often thirty or forty in a string of cars. Left Riverside station about 2 p.m. and was on the train until 11:00 p.m. when the train reached Millford a town about four miles from Camp Witley. There were many strange things to be seen on the way. I noticed that all the houses were brick even in the poorest quarters. I didn’t see a wooden building all the way to camp. I saw in a number of places men plowing and sea gulls in flocks of fifteen or more following within ten paces of them picking up weeds, worms etc. The sea gulls are all like this through England I was told. The people on the station threw flowers to us, shook hands with us as we went through (I got more than a few) wishing us good luck and sent kisses after us. Got off the train at Millford and marched into camp. Had a lunch and then were sent to our huts. The huts are about 20 x 60 ft and are built strong. They are nothing like what I imagined a hut would be; they are more like well built barns. Five windows to a side, a door at each end and a stove in the center. We sleep on a little platform about 4 in from the floor on which is a straw mattress. Turned in at 1:30 a.m. Friday _______________________________________ * George Morris Wagner (Service No. 282660) Tusket, Yarmouth Co., NS ** James William Mallett (Service No. 282941) Yarmouth, NS The picture and copies of the original letter were provided by David R. Hahn, the grandson of Earle Russell Miller.
Earle Russell Miller (Service No. 283361) enlisted at the age of 17 with the 219th Battalion at Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, April 3, 1916. He was born July 4, 1898, in Yarmouth, the son of Avard Herbert and Hannah Sarah (Allen) Miller. The following is his account of the voyage from Halifax to England during the First World War. The fifteen page letter, written home, provides a detailed account of his wartime experience between the 11th and the 19th of October, 1916. He begins the letter with his arrival at Camp Aldershot, describes his seven day voyage across the Atlantic on the RMS Olympic, and his battalion’s arrival dockside in Liverpool, England. His account concludes with his initial impressions of England detailing the journey by train from the Riverside wharf in Liverpool to Camp Witley near Millford, Surrey.