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.

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