It was the wettest winter weather that any local could recall. At the end this post I add the description from Col Nicholson's Official History.
And for most, it was spent under canvas.
You might be forgiven if you thought that this was on the Western Front. But amazingly, morale was still good as this picture shows.
On a rare dry day, marching past history on their way to making it themselves.
It seems that getting hot water was very difficult.
All the men got leave and a bit of a break from the rain. Most of the men in the first contingent had come from Britain in the first instance and so, like Alec, had links and connections in London. But imagine if you were from a farm in rural Quebec of Ontario?
"I certainly sympathize with your weakness for Turkish Baths Daddy, we can't get any hot water here, and I went to the Imperial Baths in London yesterday and never enjoyed myself so much."
Image Source - This is the Cold Room at the Baths at the Imperial Hotel in Russell Square
Here is the Imperial Hotel in 1913. Quite spendid!
In Appendix 2 at the end of this post - you will find a report by Col Arthur Duguid on the appalling bathing conditions of the camp - and so know why Alec was so thrilled.
For the Montreal officers, family from home was also moving to the UK. Alec talks of a lunch with the the Allans. Lady Allan must have been on a house hunting tour. Alec was besieged by Canadian women too. "I got a letter from Dottie saying that she was coming down to see me and one from Miss Stamford asking us to go there, also a card from Mrs Rey Gildar me to go there, but I am afraid I will not be able to." ("There" being London).
As now, London Theatre was a great draw.
"We saw "Miss Hook of Holland" which was good and I beleive that "Country Girl" is splendid with Gertie Millar, Camille Clifford, Terry and a lot of other stars. I have not been able to get seats so far. Here is a picture of Gertie Millar - a huge star at the time.
My great Aunt Francis was staying in a house in Westbury - look for it on the map above on the left hand side - that her mother rented just off Salisbury plain. Her father, Francis Chattan Stephens, would have been able to get over there and bathe and have the comforts of home now and then. Westbury is also a staion on the line to Paddington and it would have been used by many Canadians on leave.
Aunt Francis says that she could see a white horse carved in the hill from the front window.
I went to Google and used Street View to search for any house in or near Westbury that would have such a view. Here it is!
It took my breath away to find it.
Hazel and aunt Frances arrived around January 18th 1915. Chattan was to sail to France on mid Feb. So the chances of them seeing each other - as was the case with Agar Adamson and his wife Mabel - was slim at best. By Feb 28th, she had moved back to London and the address of Chat's letter at the end of February (the 28th) was Earls Hotel London.
They can only have been a few weeks on Salisbury Plain - but it must have made a big impression on Frances.
Next week we dive into the War Diary and see what happened on the plain. Later in December we reconnect back to Julia, Lady Drummond on her arrival in London and her first steps in becomeing the "Mother" of the Canadian Corps.
Col Nicholson's description of what Salisbury Plain was like :- Note the high VD rates - we will learn more about this when we return to Julia Drummond.
Before the last Canadian unit to disembark reached Salisbury Plain the weather had broken. A quarter of an inch of rain fell on 21 October, and a full inch in the next five days. It was the beginning of a period of abnormally heavy precipitation which brought rain on 89 out of 123 days; the fall of 23.9 inches between mid-October and mid-February almost doubled the 32-year average. There was no escape from the ever pervading dampness, and conditions steadily deteriorated. Temperatures were unusually low, on some nights dropping below the freezing point. High winds pierced the light fabric of the unheated tents, and twice in three weeks gales flattened much of the Division's canvas. Mud was everywhere. An impervious layer of chalk a few inches below ground-level held the rain water at the surface, and wherever wheels rolled or men marched the "excellent" turf quickly became a quagmire.
All attempts at drainage were fruitless; scraping the mud from the roads only exposed the treacherously slippery chalk.
There were no permanent barracks available for the Canadians, and a programme of building huts begun in October 1914 was overtaken by the arrival of winter. The contractors had taken on more work than they could handle, so that commitments by Lord Kitchener to have all the Canadians in huts before the end of November could not be met.44 First to move under a roof were the units of the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade, which on 9 November took over newly completed hutments at Sling Plantation, north-east of Bulford. To push the work forward the Canadian Contingent was called on to supply an increasing number of carpenters, bricklayers and unskilled labourers. At the beginning of January some 900 Canadians were under employment to a civilian contractor, drawing besides working pay an extra daily ration of a quarter of a pound of meat. But great as was the need for dry accommodation, the need for training was even greater, and after 8 January demands for labour were made only on the 4th Infantry Brigade, which furnished working parties of 250 men per battalion.
By 17 December the Engineers and the 2nd and 3rd Infantry Brigades had gone into huts at Larkhill, between Bulford and Bustard Camp; but Christmas found 11,000 Canadians still under canvas. From the beginning of the war, the War Office had sought to solve its accommodation problems by billeting a large part of the "New Armies" recruited by Lord Kitchener.* Now, as the continual exposure to the wretched weather threatened the health of the Canadians on the open plain, billets were requisitioned for as many as possible in the adjoining villages. Moves into private houses began at the turn of the year, and the names of numerous little Wiltshire communities entered the annals of Canadian regiments-villages between Wilton and Tilshead for the Royal Canadian Dragoons, between Upavon and Pewsey for Lord Strathcona's Horse; to the north the artillery were spread out between Market Lavington, Rushall and Devizes; farthest west, between Bratton and Erlestoke, were the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery. Only the 1st Infantry Brigade remained throughout the winter in tents. Of greater significance to the mounted units than their own move into billets was the fact that at the same time their horses were put under cover and on dry standings. During November and December the condition of the animals had deteriorated seriously through their being forced to stand outside in mud to their hocks, their rain-soaked blankets providing little protection from the elements. Grooming was impossible, nor could sodden leather be kept clean. The change of accommodation worked wonders, and before January ended horses, harness and saddlery were reported restored to their proper condition.
The general health of the troops was remarkably good, and only after the move into crowded huts were there serious outbreaks of respiratory and intestinal ailments. There were 39 cases of meningitis, 28 proving fatal. Of the four thousand admissions to hospital in the fourteen weeks on Salisbury Plain, 1249 were cases of venereal disease.
The training begun at Valcartier was resumed during the first week of November and continued for thirteen weeks under the direction of Southern Command. For the infantry a period of basic training, devoted principally to physical training (which included route marches of progressive length thrice weekly), musketry instruction, foot and arms drill and entrenching, was followed by five weeks of company training, two of battalion and two of brigade training. Except for two officers and five N.C.Os. loaned by the War Office, all instructors were members of the Contingent. British regular divisions in France had amazed the enemy by the speed at which they could deliver their rifle fire, and with this standard before them Canadian infantrymen daily practised charger- loading and rapid fire with dummy cartridges. In comparison with the extensive array of targets at Valcartier, range facilities were limited, and cold weather hampered shooting, but each infantryman fired an allotment of 155 rounds. The artillery ranges also proved inadequate; with six British Divisions competing with the Canadians for their use, the Canadian batteries managed only one week of range practice, firing fifty rounds a battery. The Engineers found plenty to do, supplementing their technical training with practical work on construction projects about the various camps. Tactical exercises were held at all levels of command, but these were frequently interrupted by heavy storms of wind and rain.
Indeed the miserable weather turned training into a drudgery. There were no means of drying clothing, and men who ploughed through ankle-deep mud all day had to let their rain-soaked uniforms dry on their backs. Describing conditions of camp life as "simply appalling", with the whole camp grounds from Salisbury to Pond Farm "just one sea of mud", Colonel Carson reported to the Minister on 7 December that he had learned from a large number of medical officers that "the general consensus of opinion is that another two or three months of present conditions in England will have a serious effect on the general health and well-being of our troops". He felt that "they would have been a thousand times better off in Canada than they are at Salisbury Plains".46 The plight of the Canadians had been studied with no little concern by the Australian authorities, and as a result of the conditions on Salisbury Plain the combined Australian and New Zealand contingents, 29,000 strong, on their way to train in English camps, had been halted at Suez and diverted to training grounds in Egypt.47 Carson's proposal to Lord Kitchener that the Canadian Contingent should also move to Egypt to train was turned down.
It is surprising that in such deplorable circumstances the Canadian troops maintained a good standard of morale. The enthusiasm with which they had flocked to Valcartier persisted, and in general they bore their adversities with admirable patience, regarding them as the inevitable consequences of war. Officers and men did their best to improve conditions. Welfare agencies helped to ameliorate the lot of the soldier in his off-duty hours. Welcome parcels of food, knitted goods and tobacco came from the Canadian War Contingent Association, an organization of Canadians in England and their friends. The Y.M.C.A. supplied reading material and stationery and operated refreshment centres. The Canadian Field Comforts Commission, organized from voluntary women workers by two Toronto ladies, who on the Minister of Militia's authority had proceeded over seas with the First Contingent, looked after the distribution of gifts received from Canada.48
Regulations for the Canadian Militia dating back to 1893 prohibited alcoholic liquor in camps, and Valcartier had been "dry". But almost immediately upon taking over command of the Canadians General Alderson had seen the need for establishing wet canteens in the camps. He reported that the controlled sale of beer under military supervision would put a stop to troops going to the neighbouring villages where they "get bad liquor, become quarrelsome and then create disturbances". In spite of protests from temperance organizations in Canada, the new arrangements proved wise. Nearby villages were placed out of bounds except to men with passes. A rebate of 7-1/2 per cent on sales of beer enriched unit funds by $7,500 during November and December. Undoubtedly one of the most important factors contributing to the maintenance of morale was the allowance for all ranks of up to six days' leave, with a free ticket to anywhere in the British Isles. While many flocked to London (where the disorderly conduct of some cut down the number granted leave), others found their way into English homes to form permanent friendships and to enjoy the warm hospitality extended to the visitors from overseas.
The scanty water supply of the main camps was piped up to open reservoirs from pumping stations at wells or streamlets; as a rule there were but two taps in the lines of each battalion for all purposes. For each unit a marquee was provided for bathing and some used bell tents also, but the ration of fuel—2 pounds wood and 1 pound coal per man until 21st November, with an added pound of wood thereaf- ter—and the lack of boilers allowed little hot water.
The equipment per battalion for the first two months was only six tubs, one forty gallon cistern, and a stove. The Southern Command fitted up the Old Corn Store in Salisbury—ten to fifteen miles from the camps – so that a man might have a hot bath for fourpence, if he could find his way there between 5 and 8 p.m. on week days or on Sunday afternoon.
Village washerwomen plied a lively trade, and enterprising laundry firms in Salisbury and even London made arrange- ments for collecting washing weekly by motor truck. Washing and bathing in rivers, streams or mist ponds and the watering of horses in the last, were strictly forbidden; reservoirs and pumping stations were out of bounds and under armed guard. Horse troughs connected to the camp water system were placed to serve a number of neighbouring units.