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, March 13, 2011

July 4, 1915 - Shorncliffe, County Kent, England

Dear People,

I suppose you would like to know where I am now so I will tell you all about this place.  We only stayed at the Otterpool Camp till about 2 o'clock last Monday, when we were loaded into motor trucks again and moved to the barracks.  This is certainly some camp.  There are about 25 buildings here, all built of brick, nicely laid off and the yard is all paved and kept clean as a whistle.  I think about eight of them are the mess quarters and the others are stables, with the exception of the cookhouse and the gun shed.  There is a very nice parade ground in the centre and a field for gun drill at the back which has become as hard as a road.

Just across the field is the Canadian hospital, a very large brick building with numerous other buildings that go to make up the hospital station.  I don't know anything about it for I have not been in there yet.  The greatest part of their cases are all kinds of venereal diseases.  The women in this country are simply rotten with all kinds of it and the men won't keep away from them.  When they get in the hospital for this, their clothes are taken from them and they get a suit of blue overalls and are confined to grounds, so you always know them.  Some don't report but there is a heavy penalty for not doing so when found out, discharge and I don't know what all if they wish to enforce it, but they need men so badly that they have not discharged any that I know of.  After treating them at the hospital for a while they are sent to a canvas hospital a short distance away and there a[re] a deuce of a lot of men there.  Then they are getting a lot of wounded from the Front, but I never hear of any dying.

This whole country is the Canadian camp for miles around and they say there are 50,000 here but I don't know for sure.  Anyway, every way you turn the country and towns are overrun with them.

Each building has from four to eight rooms, each holding 23 men.  Our room has a washroom just outside the door, a bed for each man and four tables to eat from.  Each man has his row of pegs and two shelves for his clothes.  The beds are jointed.  At night we pull the bottom half out and push it in again in the morning.  It makes a bed two feet wide and six feet long, made of iron as are the supports of the tables and benches.

There is a dry canteen where you can get anything a soldier needs and a wet canteen where you can get soft drinks and beer for 5 cents per pint.  The officers have a very fine building of red brick beautifully finished with lawns, flowers, hedges and a tennis court.  It is like a town right here, horse and mule transports, motor transports, motor ambulances, fruit peddlers and all kinds of rigs running around.  A horse would not last long in this country at fast work, everything is done by motor.

Every road in town, city or country is made of macadam and they take great care of them, never let them get out of repair.  The only fault is the roads are very narrow, especially in the country, where they are barely wide enough for one vehicle to get along.  Everyone in this country is a gardener and the places look lovely, with flowers, hedges, shrubs and trees of all kinds.  The farms are great with the evenly planted fields.  I guess the farmers are the equals of any, but no one hurts himself.  They take their time about it.  The women are the best workers.

The children are an awful nuisance and awful bums.  They drive you nearly crazy if you don't drive them away, and that is a hard job.  A soldier from Canada dare not stop hardly.  They gather around, tramp on your feet, climb up on you by your bandolier and rub their greasy hands all over you and they are always dirty except the better class.  There are a good many cripples and they all know how to beg.

We are right on the Channel and on a fine day we can see the coast of France.  All kinds of warcraft are always going back and forth and it makes a nice view.  About two miles away is an airship station and the three dirigibles and 20 areoplanes are flying overhead all the time.  Sometimes you can hardly see them, they go so high.  The propellers on the aeroplanes make such a noise you hear them before you can see them.

There are several towns around here.  On one side Sandgate, a place of 3-4,000 people, mostly a Channel port but it has a large motor works where they build the buses for between towns service.  On another side, Hythe, probably 5,000.  I don't know much about it because I was only there once.  Anyone gets tired of it, nothing going on at all there.  On another side, Chariton, a place of about 7-8,000 people.  It seems to be purely residential.  A good many soldiers spend their evenings there with girls or drinking beer, but most of them go to Sandgate and Chariton to catch a bus for Folkstone, which is the main place around here.  This place is a very large summer resort.  There is a large beach, pier, gardens, promenades, hotels and fine large residences all along the waterfront.  In fact, all the houses and stores are very fine and are kept in wonderful repair and order.

Plymouth and London had the only streetcars.  I have seen all double-deckers and all the towns have motor buses, holding about 30 people.  The buses have solid rubber tires and the rear wheels are like two tires on one wheel and are twice the size of the average tire.  After the tires get worn (from 3 - 6 inches wide) they are very hard to turn.  Some of the buses in the cities, in fact all of them, are double-deckers and they carry a big load.

There are such a lot of Canadians around here you can hardly get along the streets, especially on Saturday night.  Instead of having restaurants like we have, they have a few good places and the balance of them are fish shops where you get chips and fish, but they smell so badly I have never been in one.  Some of the men like it and you see them sitting everywhere eating from a newspaper.  Every place tries to soak a Canadian when he goes to buy anything, but if a man stops to think a minute he can do all right after an argument.

At Folkstone, you pay six cents to get on the pier.  There are two concrete floors, one for roller skating (pay six cents more to skate).  The other floor is waxed for dancing and is free.  A lady plays the piano in the centre and a crowd made up of girls and soldiers dance all the evening from 6 - 10.  Then in the building at the end of the pier there are moving pictures.  They run off six reels of pictures, then anyone can sing, dance or recite on the stage and the best performance gets a nice prize.  After that, six more reels of pictures and good night.  This is free also.  Just now they have two lady swimmers on the pier each afternoon and evening.  They take day about [is a word missing from transcription here?].  Diving in the day when the water is high and an exhibition of all kinds of swimming at night.  These girls take a collection before they enter the water and do very good.  On the pier there are all kinds of devices to get money like other summer places, but I don't monkey with any of them.  Gambling is strictly forbidden anywhere in this country, although they have all the machines that would be forbidden home - all penny slot machines.

There is a dandy rifle range on the pier where you use .22 repeating rifles at a range of 30 feet.  It is the best small range I ever saw and as I have not used a .22 since I was in Halifax five years ago, I tried and made 61 out of a possible 70.  Three of the seven were bulls, not bad without any practice.  This costs six cents.

I am sending a small book of views of Folkstone so you can see some of the places I speak of.  You get from the upper leas to the beach by means of steps and steep walks, all of stone, with benches and corners.  Everywhere, the whole side of the hill is walks and benches in pretty little groves.

If you don't want to walk down, you can take a lift which is a small car on rails (there are four).  These are drawn up and let down the face of the hill by means of a winch cable and is three times as steep as the Jail Hill at home.  I don't know what power they use, I never asked and I can't see any.

When I first came here, I was in this place every chance I got because it was strange but I have seen most of it and I don't like the ways here and it costs money to be going all the time, so I guess I will spend more time in barracks resting after this.

July 1st we got three pounds (about $15.00) and some of our boys are nearly broke now.  I still have a little of the money I had when I landed and have not touched mine yet.  About the 15th of July we will get the balance along with pay for this month to that date.  By that time our pay books will be ready (everyone carries one) and we will get squared up.  The money I signed home is paid to me here for the month of June, but it will go home after this.  I don't know where from.  I suppose they thought we would like some extra money to start on in a strange country.  They tell me if a man goes to the Front and loses his pay book he can't get any money till the war is over!  But I believe the wounded who get home leave have been able to get some money before leaving.

Now then, for the routine here.  We rise at 5:30 and fall in in any old dress at 5:45.  Then do the horses till 6:45.  Then we get breakfast and dress in full with the exception of pants.  We march to the parade ground and get our instructions for the day.  Drivers to the stables and gunners to gun drill till 12:00 o'clock.  Then dinner and fall in at 1:45 for the same thing till 5:30, then supper and free till 12:00.  We have a M.N. Pass (privileged characters), but they don't care what time you come in as long as you are there at 5:45 a.m., so some stay out all night.  There is only one guard near the officers' quarters and there are a dozen roads into Barracks.  Lights out at ten (gas) and no roll call.

Each town is patrolled all night by a picket of ten men and an N.C.O. to keep order and some English military police who wear a blue uniform with a red cap.  These are dirty men, you bet.  Last night I saw one of them try to pull a Canadian off a bus in Folkstone because it was too crowded.  They were both big men.  The Canadian got down and asked him who he was pulling.  The E.M.P. said he was pulling him, so the Canadian drew back and hit him full in the face.  He lit fifteen feet away.  They carried the cop away and the other man got on the bus laughing.  There were enough Canadians there to clean up the town.  They are the only soldiers around here for miles.  This whole country for miles is the Canadian Station.

The first three days here we got a rifle course and Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we go to the ranges to shoot (six miles away).  Walk and stay all day.  Those that pass are through, the others do some more.  We go by stages from the 3rd to the 2nd then to the 1st Battery when we are ready for the Front.  A draft of 200 men go this week.  When they go, we drivers expect to get our saddles, harness and team.  When we do, we will start riding and manoeuvering with the guns (we have four and four wagons).  Up to now the drivers have mostly done nothing but clean dirty harness that was sent down from Salisbury Plains and was never cleaned before.  They were in such a hurry to get the men away.  Every officer has his horse and there are a lot of them, too, but we are short of gun teams, expecially the 3rd Battery.

The officers are very nice men, so are the N.C.O.'s with the exception of our two sergeants who came with us.  No one likes them (overbearing and ignorant and show it).  One is an Irishman and the other an Englishman.  One was bawled out for saluting an officer from the cap with a rifle on his shoulder.  He should simply place the hand on the stock of the rifle across the body.  The other got the same twice, once for carrying his rifle wrong (he looked like a young rooster trying to fly), and again for marching a body of men in front of our Major's Parade.  The last is the Englishman and the worst of the two.  He had his experience pounded into him years ago in this country and if something doesn't happen to him I don't know.

The gunmen have nothing to do with the horses, so spend their time on the guns.  The drivers have nothing to do with the guns yet, so spend their time around harness trying to look busy till we get something to work with.  Saturday is a bad day on fatigue because the colonel holds an inspection and it fell on me.  Talk about scrubbing floors and cleaning up, well I guess we had to, but she was clean.

There are two men to a room, so while the men have half a day Saturday room orderlies stay around to draw rations and watch the room.  Then our little bunch of drivers have to do stables today at 6:00, at 11:30 and 4:30.  Then I am on picket tonight with no time off, so I am getting it in the neck these three days.  But the life is not hard yet, only the hours are long!  Thursday was the 1st and we had to work all day, but by not pushing myself forward I got a bare-back ride in the morning away out in the hills and we had a great time.

That morning the fog was so heavy you could see it come over the bank from the sea like smoke, you could not see down the valley 100 feet.  The air is so full of the ocean and salt air that you have to shine your buttons twice a day to keep them right.  We have to be in full dress for all parades (except the 5:45), but not shined.  But at church parade on Sunday we have to be shined and shaved.  And have a moustache, too, or you get an awful bawling out right before all the men from the brigade sergt.-major.  He is fine soldierly man, very neat and covered with colors for service, but there is nothing too sarcastic and saucy for him to say to a man when he finds a fault.

Perhaps you would like to hear of our meals.  Breakfast: tea, bread, and either bacon, eggs or salmon.  Dinner: roast meat, gravy and either peas, beans, or cabbage.  Supper: tea, bread and either jam, cheese or peaches or pineapple (canned).

This week we get an issue of everything, so I may be sending some clothes home after I wear them a little to make them second-hand.  I'll let you know later.  I got three pairs of heavy socks from the ladies of Fredericton.  I think we must have between 150 and 200 horses, I don't just know.  I can get washing done very reasonable here.  I sent fatigue shirt and pants, 2 pr. socks, 2 handkerchiefs, 1 towel, 1 top shirt and a change of underwear to a wash woman and had it back in three days for 48 cents.  There are half a dozen boys around gathering up laundry every day.  There is a laundry at Chariton but it doesn't give satisfaction, so we send it to the women.  Even these people soak you.  One boy's pants were 24 cents, but mine were only 12 cents.  I am getting onto this money now, but in writing I will speak of it as in our own and you can understand it quicker.

Now I have said all I can think of.  I hope you are well.  I am feeling better all the time and gaining.  I have a fine red moustache now, but no hair.  I had it clipped close on the boat but it's starting to grow now.  I have talked with wounded drivers from the Front.  They all get wounded from the hips down and these men say a driver very seldom gets killed.  Now I will have to go on duty soon, so must eat.  Write as often as you can.  It will keep me in touch with home.  Now in case you did not get my right address here it is, and I think it will take about one month for me to get an answer to this.  A long wait.

With love, Clarence

Driver C.A. McCann
No. 90152 3rd Battery
Canadian Artillery Reserve Brigade
Ross Barracks
Shorncliffe, County Kent, England

(This is for Everybody...Be sure that Ada gets it too)

© Copyright 2011 Pamela Wile. All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission

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