On April 13, 1915 the 10,187[i] gross tonne Canadian Pacific Railway Line S.S. Grampian arrived in England. The Halifax Herald reported that the liner had “taken precautions” when departing Liverpool against German submarines. She brought 15 first class, 85 second class, and 150 third class passengers as well as 4,000 bags and passengers of English mails. Of the 256 passengers, only thirty-seven disembarked in Halifax and he was to move on the St. John, New Brunswick to drop off the remaining passenger before she would return to Halifax for her next voyage.
She was to transport the 18th Battalion from Canada to England.
The Battalion left London April 15 and arrived late on April 17 or early on the 18th. The 18th boarded her and by the evening on that Sunday she had slipped her moorings and headed out of the harbour gap via the Western Passage towards open sea.
Had the men of the 18th seen the prior day’s front page of the Herald it would have given them pause to trip that was before them as the headlines did not bode well for those about to put to sea and eventually serve in active front-line duty. The banner related the following:
“HOLLAND IS INDIGNANT AT SINKING OF THE KATWYK”
…referring to a Dutch steamer that was travelling from Rotterdam to New York and sunk on April 15. In addition, four other Dutch vessels had been seized and detained by the German Navy at Cuxhaven.[ii] This was a stark reminder of the threat and risk of being sunk by submarine warfare.
Further, the front-page of the Herald related the “FINE HEROISM OF HALIFAX BOY AT FRONT” informing the readers of the Herald of the “Thrilling Story of Capt. Francis Whitechurch Townend[iii], Who, With Both Legs Shot Off, Said to “Attend to the Others First.”[iv] A reminder of what may befall some of the soldiers of the 18th as the move one step closer to active service.
The Grampian was to transport the Battalion safely to England and it was reported in the Herald on May 1, 1915 according to “private dispatches”, most likely telegrams, from officers to their family in Canada but one suspects that one of the officers had family in Halifax as the story’s location is identified as Halifax. As the Battalion arrived on April 29, 1915 at Avonmouth only a telegram would have been able to convey this information in such a short time.
These consice articles give us some sense of the activities of the Grampian and that she was a dual-purpose ship not wholly dedicated to transporting military cargo and personnel. She also served as a passenger liner during this part of the war.
[i] Jones, Chris. “Sailing Down the Clyde: ‘Doon the Watter.’” Glasgow History Sailing Down the Clyde Doon the Watter Comments, 10 July 2010, www.glasgowhistory.com/sailing-down-the-clyde-“doon-the-watter”.html.
[ii] Sacramento Union, Volume 181, Number 47. April 16 1915. Page 1.
[iii] Captain Francis Whitchurch Townend, 35th Signal Coy., Royal Engineers, BEF. was born in Halifax on July 10, 1885 and joined the Royal Engineers in 1904 as a 2nd Lieutenant.
[iv] Captain Townend was wounded on March 28, 1915 and the following description from a motor-ambulance driver describes the incident in detail (source: “Captain Francis Whitchurch Townend.” Imperial War Museums, www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205389823. ):
“After dinner I commenced a letter, but was interrupted by a shell bursting somewhere in the vicinity and a man yelling for bandages. Of course I rushed to see if I could be of any use, and found that the shall had burst on the side of the road about forty yards away, right in the midst of a party of Indian Engineers who were inspecting the telegraph wires. I was late in starting owing to my letter, and all the Indians where being attended to when I arrived on the scene. However, I saw someone in the shell hole which was on the side of the road opposite from where then men had been hit, and so had escaped notice. In it was a man, the white officer of the Indians, who appeared to have half his legs buried in the debris of the hole He told us to attend to the other first; he was alright. And then as we moved him we saw that he was standing on the stumps of his legs! Both had been shot off at the knee. I’m telling you this story, horrible as it is, because of the extraordinary courage the man showed—such courage as I’ve never seen before and hardly imagined. It’s worth while bearing the horror of it to realize that we are officered by such men.
He was perfectly conscious and calm, and spoke as though he were a medical officers and some one else the victim. He looked at his legs as we moved him on to the stretcher and asked me quietly (he was nt in the least excited, and his handsome face showed no pain) to tie something tight around his thighs to stop the bleeding. I did what I could with my handkerchief, and another I requisitioned, and took him to our bilet. We had to move hurriedly, of course, as a second shell had followed, and we wanted cover in case any more arrived. There were two R.A.M.C. men with me, and they attended to the subsequent first aid. They discovered another horrible wound in his arm, and while they were dressing it he tole them that he thought he would give up football next year. We then took him to the nearest hospital: he was still conscious and perfectly collected, and laughed quietly and talked, apologizing for the trouble he was causing, while on the way to the hospital. And I came back thinking of the tag in some book or other—’ have seen a man.’ The poor fellow died in hospital”