This is the Franconia, a Cunard ship, that was filled with nurses. It was docked along side the Ivernia where Alec and the 2nd Brigade CFA were docked in Devonport. They had been at sea since October 4th and had tied up on October 20th. They had spent a week longer than planned because submarines had forced a change from Southampton to Devonport.
I mention the nurses because Alec was thrilled that he knew some of them. Namely a Miss Campbell and Isobel Strathey.
The horses had been on the Ivernia since September 23rd. Conditions in the holds were foul. 6 horses died while still in the hold at Devonport. 5 were lost on the trip. Alec had been in charge of the loading back in Quebec and so his battery's horses were fine. "I had the arranging of where our battery's horses were to go, and as our battery had the best section of the boat and my horses had the best two stall, they stood the trip wonderfully and are perfectly fit."
He is writing to his parents in the only letter we have for the entire war. The letter is dated November 5th, 1914. His parents must have been thrilled because it was likely that Alec's two horses were family horses.
Here is the convoy arriving and here is how the Plymouth newspaper, the Plymouth Herald, wrote about this "Invasion".
"The convoy had been aiming to disgorge their passengers at Southampton, but a submarine threat prompted them to put into Plymouth. The Germans had evidently got wind from their agents in New York that a troop-carrying convoy had set out from Quebec on October 8 and submarines U8 and U20 were dispatched to deal with it. Happily U8 was spotted by the French off Cape Gris Nez and U20 was encountered off Culver Cliff and so the Admiralty initially ordered the convoy to shelter in Plymouth. Once disembarkation had begun it was decided to carry on.
It was the largest single convoy ever seen in the port, 32 liners, escorted by five warships, carrying ammunition, stores, 1,000 tons of coal, around 100,000 sacks of flower and more importantly for the war effort, some 33,000 men. A massive movement of manpower that temporarily created a major logistical problem of where to billet the men, and their horses, and how to move them out of Plymouth."
Here are some of the men on parade in Plymouth.
Here is the first glimpse of the convoy as it arrived.
Alec had a terrible time unloading. The packing had been very disorganized and so this made unloading equally bad. He then had to load the train. They left Plymouth at 11.45pm and got to Queensbury at 5am "In the pouring rain."
The total distance is about 200 km. If they had been able to use Southampton as planned it would have been only 30KM.
"I had 30 men on the train and by the time we got our guns and wagons off, the rest of the battery arrived on the other train with the horses. It cleared up about 9am just after we left the station to march up here and was a beautiful morning. We had about 12 miles to go. We passed Stonehenge and I thought of the last time we were here in that motor. We got here in time for lunch. It has rained pretty hard ever since we ahve been here and the place is more like a swamp than anything else, but everybody is getting used to it. The slicker you bought me Daddy has been spendid."
Rain was to be the feature of the next 4 months as the Canadians lived on Salisbury Plain. The men would not get used to it!
This was to be their soggy home until February 1915. Alec and the officers were luckier than most of the men. Many had family and friends who were in the UK already or would be there soon. Officers got some leave too and Alec even had a Turkish Bath!
More soon and also the King arrives.