Clarence Arthur McCann June 8, 1891 - June 2, 1947

Clarence Arthur McCann was born in Pembroke, Hants County, Nova Scotia to Arthur Frederick and Ella Jane (Carmichael) McCann. He grew up in Windsor, Nova Scotia, Canada.

He married Ada May Smith on July 27, 1912 in Falmouth, Nova Scotia and together they had 14 children.

In 1915, Clarence travelled to Fredericton, New Brunswick to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He embarked for England not long after and remained overseas for almost four years. While there, he wrote many letters home. Over 100 of them survived and have been transcribed. The originals have been donated to the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

I offer these transcriptions to those who have ancestors who served in the Great War so they might have a glimpse of what that life was like for these men.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

June 27, 1915

Dear Father, Mother, & Wife & Lela & Victor and Everybody:

Well, we are here, but I will tell you all from the start.  The letter with this tells you up to 30 miles from St. John so I will start there and tell you as I can remember it.  First:  We had the best and calmest trip across that ever was heard of.  By the morning of the second day out I took sick and threw up about 8 o"clock, then I felt very squeamish for four days, but after that I felt like a top and never felt better in my life than I do right now.

The grub on the boat turned out rotten.  Porridge and lima beans for breakfast with butter and rank coffee.  Soup and roast meat with bread and sun-burned potatoes for dinner.  Canned beef, prunes and bread with poor tea for supper.  Everything except the bread that was cooked on the ship was rotten.  The canned beef was good.  Everyone had to be at the table first to get dishes.  There were armed guards and M. Police on duty day and night.  We were each issued with a hammock and two blankets, plate, mug, knife, fork and spoon, and a life belt.  This all belongs to the ship.

We had boat drill every second day so we would know something in case of accident, but nothing happened.  We never got an escort till 24 hours before we landed and then a gunboat with speed of 38 miles per hour and the dear knows how much artillery picked us up and took us in.  There was so much gambling among the men that all hands landed broke except about half a dozen and one of them had over $500 and the others nearly as much.  These men ran a game of their own, each for himself and they always win in the end.  They all belong to the C.P.R.  I saw one take $95 from one of them in half an hour, but he lost it all next day.  I had $4.25 when I landed and have it yet with six shillings that Mr. Muirhead advanced this morning to those who were broke.  I told him I was.  If you don't look out for yourself here no one else will.  You have to watch your stuff like a cat.  Our little bunch had the last boat to leave the ship with the captain so if anything had happened I don't know how we would have fared.  We had to wear life belts all day the last two days and keep them close at hand at night.

Six horses died coming over and were hoisted up and thrown overboard.  Two more were shot.  Could not be got up on their feet and had that disease anyway, so were not wanted.  The vet, who came over is a young fellow from out west somewhere and I don't think much of him, though one man said he had seen him tending horses in camp with his father before.  The disease takes them in the head below the eyes.  The lower jaw starts at the muzzle and swells till they choke to death in from 24-72 hours.  Gradually, the head swells, they get weak and dopey looking and have to be put in slings they get so weak.  They can't eat and can only suck a little water.  The lower lip drops and swells three inches from the teeth.  One had pinkeye and distemper with it and he was an awful sight with the bloody matter running from his eyes.  He was a fine looking horse as are most of them and some gained a lot on the trip and none lost any.  They felt so glad when landed that some ran away, although they were on their feet all of 15 days.  The vet. did not seem able to help any sick ones and only used a disinfectant for eyes and distemper.  He shot the two horses and made a swell job of the first I don't think.  He shot him fair between the eyes and knocked him down.  Then after he had thrown the blood all over the place and was tired out, got him right on the second shot, two inches above the eyes.

We saw whales, sharks, porpoises, flying fish and steamers and ships coming and going and if on a liner with lots of money would be a great trip as would be all of it, and I have not seen the best yet by any means.

We were issued with two blankets and a rubber sheet, water bottle, mess tin and haversack on Thursday and all hands examined for venereal diseases on Friday.  I feel sure we have two cases with us, but I don't know what will be done with them.

We got into Plymouth Harbour Saturday a.m. about 7 o'clock and docked about 3 o'clock.  There is a remount depot there of 4,000 horses, so I am told, and about 75 men came down and unloaded the horses.  I forgot, we had to clean all the manure away from those skates everyday and that is an awful job - no room, you know.  Once, we took up the floors of wood and washed the steel floor with water.  It's all done by moving the horses over one and I was about the only one game to go in around them, so had most of the moving to do.  If they did not get over, pull their head over and tie it there, put your back under their flank and fire clear of the floor right into place and you can move any horse that way.  Try it and see.  You want to do it quick to be effective, though.

Plymouth is next door to Ireland, I guess.  Anyway, it's a large city.  The docks are all concrete and take the largest liners.  A track runs two feet from the edge and on it are four traveling derricks for unloading steamers.  The drydocks take the largest liner and everyone has a battleship in for repairs.  I suppose there are eight or so of them.  The dockyard is very large, full of cars, tracks and machine shops and all kinds of shops and cops, too.  There are big derricks for unloading coal.  They are 70 feet hight and swing on a base with a traveling truck on the arm so you can pile a tremendous lot of coal all around one of them.  Although we had a pass out, the big mogul, whoever he is, would not let us out of the yard so all we saw was the dock and cars passing the gates.  The people jammed all they could to see us but the cops shut the gates.

All the houses are built of stone or brick and tiled with slate or iron.  Every street or road in England is made of stone in the country and paved or concrete in the cities.  Everything is neat and clean as a pin.  Though everything in the towns and cities are of stone, yet everyone has his garden and sometimes you would think you were in the country and they are the best gardeners in the world, I guess.  Anyway, everything you can see is beautiful and no money or time is spared to make it so, but stone is cheap.  We started from Plymouth at 10 o'clock Saturday and go to camp at 10 o'clock at night and fairly flew all the way.

Now for the R.Roads.  All the roadbed is made of crushed stone, the rails are of the heaviest steel and laid on wooden ties.  All the roads are laid perfectly, curves and all.  All switching is done from a tower.  One man does it all by levers, no brakeman on top of trains or throwing switches here.  Wherever a train stops there is a dandy station and tower.  The tower man throws all switches, even for yard switching, and they seldom have an accident.  All the cars and engines are only half the size of the C.P.R. except the passenger coaches.  The shunting engines are just like those at Wentworth and pull a deuce of a string of these teapots.  They depend on a lot of cars, not what one will hold.  The cars are all drawn by a chain and only the passenger trains are connected to the engine with air brakes.  Each car has two buffers on each end with a head the size of a tea plate and a spring behind so when the cars meet, the jar is all absorbed and you get a pleasant ride.  The main line engines are the same type but larger and a larger tender, but very powerful.  No pilot, cylinders out of sight and no bell and a small shrill whistle.  They don't need them.

The cars are made into compartments, seating from 5-7 people facing each other, with the door at the side.  The top of the door drops down and there is a closed window each side of the door.  The third class is as good as first class, both all nicely upholstered.  They lock the doors and average about 55 miles per hour from Plymouth to London, but some places when it is extra good go about 70.  We tore through some stations as large as Truro without looking at them and you could not see them anyway, just a flash.  The curves in the line are so perfect that the drivers go faster on the curves than they do on the straight way.  All the way it was farms and beautiful at that.  All the fields are fenced with oak trees or green hedges.  Hay and grain cut and going in.  There are no big barns except where there are a lot of stock.  The hay is stacked as large as a house and the top thatched.  When they want any they cut if off with a big knife and so always keep a square face to the weather.  Lots of sheep, cattle, horses and pigs.  Only one farm in twenty has an orchard and down where we are, only large fields of hops on poles.

There are no crossings on the roads here nor a road never goes on the streets of a town or city.  When the road crosses the rails it either goes over the rails or above them by means of a stone culvert.  The lines are all double tracked and a train is going or coming all the time.

Every farmer's property is hedged around so the railway is flanked all the way by hedge and is very beautiful.  We came halfway to London then our two cars were put on another train and we came to Paddington Station.  Here we took the subway train made up of five cars driven by electricity drawn from a centre rail.  Through a black tube like a funnel just as tight as ever we could go.  We left the subway train some place near Charing Cross Station and got to the street by an elevator.  At C.S. Station we took the train for here.  We went to Shorncliffe but that was two stations too far so the Army Service Corps brought us back here in two army motor transports - 3-ton trucks - about ten miles and we got here (Otterpool Camp) at ten last night.  Folkstone is ten miles away and all these places are summer resorts of fame.  We did not know where we would eat but the Heavy Artillery from Halifax two days gave us all we want so far and mighty good it was of them, too, but I'll save that till next time.

The Column from Fredericton is here, too, as well as many more with, I suppose, between 800 and 1000 horses.  It's an awfully big camp and the county all around is camps.  The towns are overrun with soldiers.  But I only mean to tell you of our trip this time.  We are under tents and I like it fine so far.  We came right across the south of England and are now only about 30 miles from Dover and fifty from France.

Well, I am here safe and sound after 13 days traveling (we were on the water 12).  I am surprised at the beauty of the country, the queer looking trains and their speed and the cheap price of things.  You should hear us squabbling over the deuced money.  Now it's hard to think of everything, so anything you want to know just ask.  After you get this, you will get one every week.  Try to let me have news often.  I am getting tired writing lying on the boards we have as floors, so will close with my address and love.  (I want Ada to get this.)


C.A. McCann
28th Field Battery
7th Brigade
2nd Continental C.E.F.
Army Post Office
London, England

© 2010 Pamela Wile. All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.

Friday, November 12, 2010

WWI Projects/Blogs

John Reid at Anglo-Celtic Connections posted about a new project to watch in this post dated November 12, 2010  It's called the Muninn Project which Reid says is "An international, interdisciplinary project to investigate innovative uses of First World War Records".  Check out the Muninn Project blog.  I found a link to a photo of General Sir Samuel Hughes  (at the Library and Archives Canada Flickr Photostream) who was mentioned in Clarence's letter dated May 25, 1915.  I think both of these sites might be a great resource for my research into these letters.

© Copyright 2010 Pamela Wile. All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Video Gives Me a Better Idea of the Conditions during WWI

I watched the first in this series of videos and I was hooked.  The ends are "chopped" off a couple of them, but I was happy to see the film footage and photos anyway. BBC World War One from Above - 1/4 BBC World War One from Above 2/4 BBC World War One from Above 3/4 BBC World War One from Above - 4/4

Until next time, Happy Researching!

© Copyright 2010 Pamela Wile. All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission

June 14, 1915 - Bay of Fundy

Dear People,

I am writing this 30 miles from St. John in case we stop at Halifax, then I can mail it.  Of course, we may not stop at all and no one can find out.  I can only see about 100 yards from the ship on account of the fog.  The transport we are on is the Herschel, some foreign boat, I think, by the lingo over the doors.  This is manned by English seamen, about 100 ft. long and as homely as the deuce.  She was formerly a fruit steamer and has been in Glasgow fitting up on purpose for this trip.  We came from Fredericton on Saturday morning and the people gave us a great sendoff as well as a big lunch for each man, donated by the ladies.

We got on board this tub about 12 o'clock noon same day and had the afternoon and evening as well as Sunday ashore.  We were in West St. John and had to ferry across to the city.  The Ammunition Column came to St. John with us and, with the 26th Battalion, sailed on the Caledonia, a regular transport, Sunday at noon.  We expect to cross together when we catch them.  They go to Halifax to get the heavy artillery, but I don't know whether we put in or not.  There is an escort waiting for us somewhere, probably Sydney.  It will take us 12 - 14 days and we will likely land in France, because we have 460 horses on board and all the horses have gone to France so far.  We unloaded the horses this morning (stated at 6 o'clock) from the cars and were two hours.  I tell you those horses moved mighty fast.

We have on board the C.P./P. Construction Corps which, with our 42 and officer and crew, make about 700 men.  The C.P.R. men loaded the horses between 9 - 12 and we have to tend them across - just feed and water.  We eat 16 men to a table and sleep in hammocks.  This old tub sets so high, I know she will roll.  Then I'll bet we will be sick.

As soon as I know it I will send you my address.  We left St. John at 3 o'clock today and are making only eight knots.  The people of St. John gave us a royal sendoff and the Ammunition Column and the 26th got the same.  There were many sad partings.  Conditions here won't let me write any longer.  So goodbye till next time.


© 2010 Pamela Wile. All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.

Local WWI Story and a Postcard Collection

Check out this link to a Dal News story about the efforts made by Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia during WWI

And, here is a link to one Dalhousie University Archive collection of postcards sent home from the front:

I enjoy reading these stories and hope there are more in the near future.

© Copyright 2010 Pamela Wile. All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

June 11, 1915 - Fredericton

Dear Father, Mother, Lela, Victor:

This letter is goodbye to all.  Forty-two of us go from St. John as soon as the troop can be loaded.  There are 42 from our battery, the Ammunition Column and, I think, the 26 Regiment.  I was the first driver on the list.  I don't know how long we will be in St. John.  Probably not more than a day or two, so  you had better not write till you hear from me again.  We are bound for England.  I will have any mail on the way for me returned home or possibly they may forward it on for me.  I don't know just now but it doesn't matter.  I will get it in the end.  I am sending the grip home with some things I don't need, also the watch.  I planned to start for home tonight but these orders came very suddenly and I did not know I was going till 11:30 today; nor anyone else for that matter.

Now I am glad that I qualified for 1st place as driving, still I don't like the idea of going from you all but we will hope I come back safe and sound.  Of course, we need a lot of training yet and the war may be over before we are ready.  Now I have a lot of packing to do so this must do till next time.  You never saw a happier bunch of men than those who are going in your life.  Now I am not very demonstrative, but you have my best love - all of you.  So goodbye till you hear from me next.


© 2010 Pamela Wile. All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

June 7, 1915 - Fredericton

Dear Father,

I received your letter Saturday noon and the parcel this noon.  If I had got the parcel with the letter I could have saved 35 cents for writing material which I bought Saturday night.  But no matter, it won't spoil and I can use it sometime.  The only money we can draw here is the $6.00 the major gives us between the 15th and 20th of each month and everybody gets that , so if I come home I will have to save what I can from pay day and the rest will have to come from home.

I did not think last summer that Henry Ward would ever work again, he was too sick at times.  I am sorry to hear that C. Sellon and J. Currie are dead, but it is as likely to be them as anybody.  I notice mostly all of the casualties are in the infantry.

When I spoke of my boots being rough on the inside I meant it was the untanned side of the leather, so there is nothing I can do to make them better.  However, I like them fine and they fit me perfectly.  I used a lot of grease called Dubbin on them when the weather was wet and they got very dark, and when the weather got dry and warm (it has been awfully hot here lately) I tried to clean them and get them a lighter color to shine but I could not do it, although I tried soap and warm water as well as gasoline.  However, on Saturday they issued us with our second pair and I got a pair of Slaters (regular dandies), size 7, just the right length but a bit narrow so I sent them to the cobbler this morning to have them stretched.  I like to have boots that fit.  So many here have them too big and they wrinkle all up and look like the deuce.  Of course, the quartermaster tries to make you take the first pair of your size he finds and there are so many makes made on so many different lasts that sometimes you can wear 6's in one make and have to have 8's in another, so I just stand and holler till I get what I want.

I am on picket today, went on with three others and an N.C.O at five last night.  My tricks were from 5-7 and 11-1, last night and the same today, up and down, mostly sit down out by the horses to see that they are all right.  Two hours on and four off, when on guard we have two on and six off.  But it's only play with no rifles to carry, only it's a bit lonely at night becuase the rest of the picket are 150 yds away, whereas the guard beats right alongside lots of company.  There is a draft of 42 men ordered for England from this Battery at any minute with Mr. Muirhead (Lieut.) in charge.  I don't know whether I go or not yet.


P.S. Mr. Muirhead started to make out the list of men he would take, 20 gunners, 15 drivers, 6 N.C.O.'s and himself, and he had me down as one of the best drivers, but the major took the reins himself and does not know the men's work at all so I don't know whether I go or not, but I will let you know as soon as I can...I thought you all might like my photo so I had it taken Saturday.  They cost me $2.50 and you will get them the last of the week.  Do what you like with them, but see that Ada gets one.

© Copyright 2010 Pamela Wile. All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

View of Ypres in 1919

I read about this film footage over at Anglo-Celtic Connections blog.

Apparently, it will be aired by the BBC on November 7, but is available at

If you ever wondered what Ypres looked like to your CEF ancestor, have a look at this video.  It certainly gives me a different perspective of the hell they must have seen.

© Copyright 2010 Pamela Wile. All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.

Canada 1914-1918 Ypres

I saw this website on an email list, I thought I would share it here.

This website is for The National Schools Vigil which is a Remembrance of the 68,000 Canadians who died in WWI.  From November 4 - 11, These soldiers' names will be projected one at a time and displayed for 25 seconds simultaneously in each of the participating schools in Canada and in Belgium.  Please have a look at  Canada 1914-1918 Ypres  and read about this worthwhile project.

Clarence would have known many on the list of casualties and he often wondered if he would ever go home again.  What a terrifying thought!

© Copyright 2010 Pamela Wile. All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

June 1, 1915 - Fredericton

Dear Lela,

I don't know what to tell you, only that I am well, never felt better that I know of.  We have a fire up here in town every day but they never amount to anything, the firemen are too quick (three on duty all the time).  They only have two wagons with ladder and hose.  One horse on the ladder and two for the hose always on the job.  When the alarm rings these horses jump to their places, the men to their seats and the third man opens the doors.  Then look out, for they stop for nothing.  The men drop their work wherever they are and go direct to the fire and as everyone has a wheel here, it doesn't take them long to get there.

I did not know John Harris had a car.  Something he found, no doubt.


P.S.  The city has a pumping station going all day and night to draw water from the river for the city, so they don't need any fire engines.

© Copyright 2010 Pamela Wile. All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.

Monday, November 1, 2010

June 1, 1915 - Fredericton

Dear Mother,

Now I got to hurry because it's nearly suppertime and I am on fatigue today.  We are still here although there are rumors in the air of us going to Sussex right away.  Some say the cars are at the station now.  I enclose a clipping of the talk the inspecting officer had with the Gleaner regarding us as a Battery.

I hope John Currie has not been killed though it may be so.  Its just as liable to be him as anyone.  Still, there may be a mistake like Arthur Warr's case.

Now I can't think of much to say, so if you want to know anything just ask me.  I am perfectly well, never felt better that I know of.  I think I will try to come home about the middle of this month if nothing prevents.

I must lay in some more writing material for I had to borrow this paper.  You will have to see each others' letters to get all the news because I hate like the deuce to write letters.  I don't think I wrote half a dozen in the last three years, but I will do the best I can and your letters will always be welcome.  They keep me in touch with home.

You have two pairs of socks that I sent home.  Please fix them up and send them to me by P.Post.  We are only issued with two pairs every six months and wearing them in rough boots they don't last long.  The toes are all gone out of mine now and have been for six weeks.


© Copyright 2010 Pamela Wile. All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.