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“Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean on the Troopship” It was July 23, 1916. In the early morning Pier 2 at Halifax was busy as the troop trains began arriving dockside. RMS Olympic towered against the wooden planks of the pier below, its heavy mooring ropes taunt, as dock workers began to prepare for the great ship’s departure. The ramps were in place. The ship’s officers would be checking the ship's manifest that listed the cargo, and supply needs for a seven day crossing of the Atlantic. Five battalions, with more than four thousand officers and other ranks, would depart Halifax, Nova Scotia for Liverpool, England later in the day. The 103rd, 109th, 112th, 115th, and 116th Battalions would provide re-enforcements for the Battalions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force already overseas. Soldiers with the 103rd were mainly from British Columbia. The 109th Battalion had been formed in Ontario and had completed four months of basic training at Barriefield, near Kingston before departing to Halifax. The strength of that Battalion was 1050 men. The 119th Infantry Battalion was organized at Uxbridge, Ontario, with a strength of 943 men. The 115th Battalion had formed in New Brunswick and had been mobilized in St. John. That Battalion had a strength of 801 men. The 112th Battalion was from Nova Scotia. Recruitment had occurred throughout the province, with many from the Yarmouth area. The Battalion had mobilized at Windsor, Nova Scotia and would depart Halifax with a strength of 36 Officers and 1090 other ranks. Alfred was seventeen, eighteen if one looked at his attestation paper. In the official military records he was Joseph Alfred Muese. In December, he was in St. John, New Brunswick where his sister Mary (Muise) Friars lived. On December 30, 1915 Alfred turned 17 and the following day he enlisted with the 115th Battalion. Like many other young Canadian men, he gave an incorrect birth year on his Attestation paper, making him 18 years of age. He also gave his name incorrectly as Alfred Joseph Muese, changing the correct spelling of “Muise”. He listed his older sister, Mary, as his next of kin. She lived in St. John and in those days, it was far away from Yarmouth and his parents were ‘not looking over his shoulder’. He was 5 feet 5 ½ inches in height, single and a labourer. James, known as Jimmy, was a student in 1916. Recruitment drives in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia were persistent and the numbers of young men enlisting were high for the area. Caught up in the patriotic fervour of the time, on February 18, 1916 Jimmy enlisted with the 112th Battalion. He was 14 years of age, nine days short of his fifteenth birthday and a student. His official military record listed his birth date as February 27, 1898 and his full names as James William Muise. He was 5 feet three inches in height and weighted 135 lbs. He had enlisted as a recruit with the 29th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery at Yarmouth prior to joining the 112th Battalion. Alfred and James were brothers. There older brothers, George Stanley and John Arthur, had enlisted in November of 1915. George was serving with the 26th Battalion and Arthur the 25th Battalion. Both were serving in France and by July 1916 had participated in the Battle of Hill 62 where Canadians had recaptured the majority of former positions lost to the German attacks on the British lines. By noon, on July 23, the five Battalions were boarding RMS Olympic. Quarters were assigned and dinner was served. The RMS Olympic had seven decks on which troops were quartered. Each soldier was given a hammock. The two brothers were separated, each with their own Battalion. As the ship began to make its way out of Halifax harbour the men of each Battalion were called to “fall in” and were issued with a life belt which was to be worn until they reached the other side. The orders were the only time when they could be removed is when they slept and then it must be within arm’s length. Alfred and Jimmy found one another among the four thousand that roamed the decks from time to time. They had not seen each other since Alfred had left for St. John the previous year. RMS Olympic came out of the harbor and the shore lights could be seen until late in the evening and eventually fading into the distance. This was the last glimpse of Canada for the two brothers standing side by side as the RMS Olympic cut through the waves of the Atlantic. The following morning Reveille was at 6 a.m. and the men got up shook blankets and rolled hammocks and went to breakfast. After breakfast they were free to go on deck. On July 29, the day before their arrival in Liverpool, the two boys were together, talking about home, their family, their brothers and the possible adventures that awaited them. They decided to write a letter home. They had been given bibles and hunched together they concocted little notes and a plan to trace their badges no doubt aware they may not survive what was ahead. They tore several empty pages and traced the outline of their Battalion badges and signed the paper with their name and Battalion number. This was enclosed with the letter together with several other sheets. They read: "Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean on the troopship. Fine weather and a very pleasant journey. Saturday, July 29, 1916. Pte. A. J. Muise both serving in the kings army. H.R.M. King George V." And on another: "The finder will please send this letter to Mrs. R.R. Friars, 182 Britain St., St. John, N.B. Please keep the other letter as a relic of the European war." Two days later, RMS Olympic arrived in Liverpool and the Battalions disembarked. Alfred would be re-assigned to the 25th Battalion on October 5, 1916 and arrived at the Canadian Base Depot in France on July 6, 1916. From there, he departed for the front lines on July 20, 1916 and arrived there on July 22. He served in the front lines for six months before the assault on Vimy Ridge. He was killed in action on April 29, 1917 during an assault to secure the south eastern flank of Vimy toward the town of Arleux-en-Gohelle. The attack began on September 28 and there was a German counter-attacked on the 29; however, this was repelled but casualties were high, The area was held and this helped secure Vimy Ridge. Jimmy was transferred to the Royal Canadian Regiment. He was gassed at Passchendaele during a heavy enemy barrage that included the use of gas shells. He was evacuated and after four months in the 16th General Canadian Hospital was invalided home. The two brothers did not meet again. While their letter did not survive the years, the three additional sheets are treasured by a family member. They were the sons of William and Annie Muise of Yarmouth, NS.
“Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean on the Troopship”
RMS Olympic
SOURCES: Soldiers of the First World War CEF. Library and Archives Canada. photos courtesy of Josie Muise