Source: Duty Nobly Done Roll of Honour 18th Bn. compiled and edited by Edward H. Wigney.
Barndardo boy per Dawn Hueston.
[DRAFT of] Letter by Private David Aiken, reg. no. 880497.[i]
Mar 22. 1917
Well we left Chatham about ten oclock [sic] on the C.P.R. everything was moving fine[,] there was a large crowd at the station to see us off and say Good Bye to the boys nearly every man carried a box of goodies that had been given to him by friends[.] The 241st Kiltie Band led the parade to the station. We arrived in London at one oclock [sic]. Everything was going good the boys were setting themselves to have a good time on their long journey[.] We met several of our old friends in London that have been transfered [sic] to special service.
The weather was cooler when we got this far after getting water and coal here we started again[.] [T]he boys were playing games and singing and doing everything for a general good time[.]
Along this route we see the old familiar scenes that we had seen several times before on our way to Camp Borden[.] We arrived in Toront [sic] at six oclock [sic] P.M. here we got off for a few minutes and stretched [?] ourselves and we found a dairy and it certainly was well patronized by the soldiers for a while. We got a change of engines then started on our way again we were begining [sic] to get tired so lay down to have a sleep but were awakened about eleven oclock [sic] P.M. by the playing of Bagpipes and cheering and to our surprize there was a large crowd around there [?] I could not find out the name of the Place.
One thing I did not know was that we were getting into a colder Part of the country than we were used to. When I woke up this morning I was surprist [sic] to see about three and a half feet of snow covering the ground[.] This was quite a change to the place we had left the day before[.] [S]hortly after we were up the train stopped at place by the name of St. Clet[ii] this sounded like a french name to me so I enquired and found that we were about 22 miles from Montreal and right amongst the French Canadians[.] [W]e had Breakfast at 7 oclock [sic] after arriving in Montreal[.] We stayed there for about 2 hours and here we met some of our old friends that had transferred[sic] to the Construction Batt. this seemed like a military meeting place we met the 70th & 71st Battries [sic][.] The 205th Construction Batt[,] the Queens [sic] Ambulance Corps & and the 256th Batt so there was quite a bunch of soldiers there for a while all destined for the same place.
Here we changed from the C.P.R. to the Canadian Government Railways[.] On leaving Montreal we crossed the great steel Structural Bridge 2 ¼ miles long wh over the St Lawerence [sic] River. [A]fter this we struck quite an open country[.] The People were mostly French along here and seem to be living in Settlements[,] their farms are laid out backing up to each other and look as if they were about 40 rods[iii] wide and two miles long The the Roads are about 4 miles apart and here the People are settled like a village.
It looks like Poor farming country and judging by the size of the barns and the appearance of the houses the country is up to much all the buildings have a neglected appearance. [T]his kind of land stretches for hundreds of miles then we come to the foothills of the Laurentians and see some beautiful scenery. We got as far as Diamond Junction we could not see much of it as it was dark when we got there. [W]e could see the lights of Quebec City from there[,] but we did not get close to there.
This morning on awaking we found ourselves at a little town called River DuLoup[iv] [sic] with a population of about 2000 People. [T]here seemed to be a great Lumber industry here although what woods we could see was all scrub Pine and white Birch.
Leaving here we come into sight of the St Lawerence [sic] where one sees some of the most beautiful scenery that is to be seen in the world we run close to the river for a while then it is hid from use by some small mountains these mountains are covered with just scrub and white Birch trees and extend for miles along the river the we emerge from a valley and find ourselves on the very edge of the River bank from here we could see mountains away in the distance accross [sic] the river there are some little fishing villages here and a more prosperous looking ings. now we get to Mont Joli here we have to wait for sidetrack and wait for a train to pass it was loaded with Nurses and wounded soldiers coming from the front we started on our way again and travelled through a rough and hilly country some of the hills were almost mountains some about 600 feet high and covered with deep snow along through here there is thousands of cords of Pulp wood piled along the railroad tracks there are alot [sic] of small sawmills through this part of the country but few of them seem to be working.
Well we got to Campbellton in the evening it is quite a nice town just on the edge of Quebec and New Brunswick Provinces this seemed more like civilization for the People were English speaking. we had travelled a long way through French speaking terrtory [sic] there was quite a crowd at the station when we got there[,] we felt almost at home here. [B]ut we did not stay long as it was getting quite dark by this time for the night.
Sunday Mar 25
We arrived at Moncton this morning a beautiful town it was quite quiet as it was Sunday but it showed signs of being Prosperous now we travelled through a part of this country that was made to look at[.] I think for it is hills and valleys it is worth half a persons life to take a trip through this country. Well we reached Truro at 1 oclock [sic] and we took a little march around the Town for exercise[.] [I]t is a very pretty place with its Brown and grey Stone buildings.
We arrived in Halifax at 4,30 P.M. we had just a short walk to the docks where we got aboard at 7.30 and then we got some supper which certainly tasted good for we had an early dinner and it was [a] longtime wait for supper[.]
Well we are still in the harbour getting accquainted [sic] with the ship, they certainly give us good meals here. We get three course dinners every day and we certainly have good appetites since getting into the ocean air[.]
Just came off guard[.] [T]his make twice I have been on guard since I joined the army[.] [T]his ship is well guarded in case there should be any spies on board. We have had Pysical [sic] drill and life boat drill and wore our life belts for the first time 8.P.M. [W]e weighed anchor at 4 oclock [sic] this afternoon and things became interesting at that time our convoy an auxiliary cruiser leading the way out of the harbour there were some pretty sights to be seen coming out[.] [W]e are now getting out on the real ocean and some are beginning to show signs of it.
Well I got up at six oclock [sic] this morning and took a walk around the Promenade deck[.] [T]he air was cool and bracing it was a beautiful morning the ocean is quite calm the air is so fresh that it made me hungry and I forgot that I used to get seasick so went below and eat a good breakfast[.] [W]ell we did nothing but eat and lie about all day it was to [sic] nice a day to work I guess[.]
[N]ot quite so nice yesterday it is getting a little breezy we seen a little manovering [sic] for action by the boats today and the gunners showed us a little of thier [sic] marksmanship by shooting at a barrel 800 yards away and they smashed it to atoms, some fine shooting that. I don’t think subs would stand any chance with that kind of stuff
Three more days have passed the sea has been quite rough and there has been a lot of sea sickness but we done a little Pysical [sic] drill and carried out our Boat drill[.]
Well it was a misty raining morning. [T]he sea is calming down and is more like living on we are about to enter the war zone[.] [W]e recieved [sic] our escorts about 9.30 this morning they are torpedo boat destroyers they look to be about 75 ft long and 10 ft wide and they can travel at a great speed. [They] are a trim looking little boat they are scouting around looking for subs all the time[.]
The morning was fine our escorts are still busy hunting for subs. Well we are going to sleep on the deck tonight in case anything happens the boats are swinging over the sides and rations in them ready for any Emergency calls[.]
We are still on a calm sea. [W]e will soon be out of the danger zone and we are now in sight of old Ireland and there are all kinds of boats out here and they are fishing boats they all have a nice little gun mounted on their bows so that they can take a shot at a sub or mine[.] [I]t certainly is fine for boat riding on such a calm sea[.] We expect to dock about midnight so quite a few of us are going to stay on Deck and watch the Proceeding of docking.
Well we have reached camp at Bramshot [sic] we are now under canvas.
[W]ell we had quite an experience coming up to Liverpool when we were about 15 miles from there it was about 12 oclock a.m.[v] we had just got our Pilot aboard and everything looked lovely and we were feeling quite safe so most of us went down below for a little while, till we would get close to the dock. I had just laid down on a bench by the table and was covering my eyes with my cap when there was a crash and rattle everything that was loose and glasses came down[.] [T]he ship seemed to rise right out of the water then it seemed as if it was going away down into the bottom of the ocean. On realizing that something had happened I found myself on my hands and knees [“]hollering grab your lifebelts boys[“] but somebody had already grabbed mine[.] I had laid it on the floor beside me when I laid down but I soon got another. We got up on deck and to our boats as soon as possible[.] [T]here was men Pouring out of the gangways. There was no excitement everyone seemed to be saying “take your time” and they did so. No one got hurt going up. There was two men of the 244 Batt. killed and a couple of men of the 149, and one of our men got hurt by the explosion of the mine. It will take a long time to forget the sound and the gas that comes from it.
We got to our boats and the roll called all men on board answered except two which was killed one of these it was said was seen to fall through the hole that was torn in the ship. After Roll call we stood too [sic] our boats the ship began to settle – it looked as if we would have to use the lifeboats but the pumps were got to work and we travelled at half speed. We stayed on deck by our boats and sung songs till we got to Liverpool at about five oclock then we went below and got what we could of our equipment we then disembarked and had to wait a couple of hours for a train. At last it came and they were curious looking articles with their little engines and coaches that are divided into compartments ten persons in each part. We had an interesting trip from Liverpool to Liphook on our nearest station to the camp we were quite tired but things were new to us so we took in all the sights along the way. There are some very large cities and they all seem to be very busy. When going through the large cities the Railways are generally overhead up about two stories above the street, and they run under ground quite a bit. Also in the cities they have an under ground railway that will take you to about any part of the city the same as street cars do in The Canadian cities.
[Note on back]
This is about enough to put in one envelope so will write a letter this evening if possible.
[i] Aiken, David. “Untitled Letter.” Received by Myrtle Aikins (Most Probably), 22 Mar. 1917. This letter was contributed by a family member. The letter is edited for clarity inserting punctuation and paragraphs.
[ii] Saint-Clet, Quebec is east of Montreal before the Ottawa River. It is approximately 50 km. from downtown Montreal.
[iii] A rod is approximately 16.5 feet/5 metres in length.
[v] Most likely the morning of April 7, 1917. At this time no reference to this event is known to the transcriber in regards to a mine or torpedo striking the S.S. Lapland.