The transports lay at the docks ready to depart. Loading did not take long. In two hours the transports Lap-land, Cretic, and Justicia, with the 1 St, 2nd, and 3rd Battalions respectively, started down the river. No one was permitted on deck, and so the last view of the New York skyline was at best bounded by the limits of a porthole. In spite of the jealous secrecy, which guarded our departure, it is possible that some general suspicion may have been aroused. At any rate, the windows of lower New York were alive with fluttering handkerchiefs, and the whistles of all passing boats added their shrill good wishes. And high overhead in the sun of early spring the Statue of Liberty looked down on the ships carrying thousands of men each of whose equipment bore her stamped image. How many crimes-how many blunders worse than crimes-are committed in her name! Yet, however faulty our purpose and our preparation, it was not altogether either crime or blunder which was sending these thousands so widely differing in race, fortune, and desires on one common journey for one common end.
With New York behind them, the men turned their attention to making themselves comfortable and inspecting the vessels. Each had been handed a ticket with his berth number and his place at mess. Those so unfortunate as to be in the hold cheerfully admitted that they were S. 0. L., while the Sergeants who were lucky enough to draw staterooms listened sympathetically to them. On the Cretic, Major Budd discovered from the ship's officers that the Cretic's accommodations limited to 1500 men, would have to be stretched to take care of the 2032 assigned to his command. The extremely overcrowded conditions were cheerfully borne, although running each meal in three shifts was a distinct hardship on the soldiers. Life belts, distributed to all, were carried on the person throughout the entire trip. Like many other objects of military equipment, they were never put to the use for which they were designed.
The first night aboard was for many as unique an experience as the first night in camp. No lights were permitted to show after dark, and smoking on deck was prohibited. April 7th dawned with calm seas and bracing air. Indeed throughout the whole trip the weather was unusually good for the season of the year. The decks were thronged by those who eagerly sought fresh air after the poor ventilation below. The mess, now under British control, contrasted with the Upton diet. Meals eaten in the stuffy atmosphere of the hold were none too appetizing.
On the afternoon of the 8th we anchored in Halifax Harbor, to remain twenty-four hours taking on coal and water, and awaiting the remainder of the convoy. Among the ships joining us was H. M. S. Queen Victoria with Australian troops already sixty-eight days at sea. In the harbor opportunity was seized to practice the life boat drill. Boats were lowered, and men went down the ropes in succession to row merrily about the bay, just at sunset of the 9th a great sounding of whistles warned all to stand by; anchors were weighed; and the transports swung into line. Led by the U. S. scout cruiser St. Louis, flying the American flag, nine huge gray ships, grotesquely camouflaged, steamed proudly out to sea, flanked by British and American battleships and craft of every description. From a British battleship was heard its band playing in succession Over There and, The Star Spangled Banner. A little further on a U. S. Marine Band burst with characteristic national tempo into There'll Be A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.
Behind, in contrast
to all this music and movement stood the charred ruins
left by the explosion which Q razed Halifax a few months
earlier, and still further back, the bleak snow-covered
hills. But in front-when the breakwater had been passed
and the boats had turned their noses sharply to the
east-in front of us lay "Over There," the yet
unseen and unknown land of which at that hour it was
customary to sing in humorous paraphrase:
The voyage was uneventful. Guard duty, performed day and night, and a constant watch for submarines broke the monotony. Although the submarines never appeared on the field of vision, they formed the chief topic of conversation and became the subject of many a practical joke. One corporal is reported to have posted his guard on a pitch black night and admonished them to keep a sharp lookout for black buoys. Despite their vigilance none was reported. A bonafide bounty of one hundred pounds was offered to anyone sighting a submarine, but in spite of many thrills from floating barrels and boxes, fortunately it was never won.
Boat drill was held
twice daily under the strictest discipline. Orders were
issued to shoot any man who violated rules in case the
extreme emergency should arise. The sound of the bugle
might call for an emergency drill at any moment-it
sounded particularly inconveniently for any officer who
happened to be enjoying the luxury of a bath-and
immediately hundreds of men would scramble above decks
and rush hurriedly up and down companionways, each to
find his appointed post and there answer to his name. To
each was assigned a definite duty to perform in order to
facilitate the prompt and orderly lowering of the
lifeboats. Though the lessons which they taught were
never applied, the drills served both as diversion and
A few selections
from the 2nd Battalion diary will serve to recall the
APRIL 16TH. Merchant vessel intercepted, advises that armed convoy is on its way to meet us.
APRIL 17TH. Eleventh day out from N. Y. Eighth day from Halifax. Clear and calm. Cruiser St. Louis has turned back. Left during night. 5 P.m.-Convoy of eight British torpedo boat destroyers meet us and accompany us forth-with.
Wireless report of French merchantman torpedoed, 50
miles to the Southwest.
A more inspiring sight cannot be imagined than these small vessels darting first in one direction and then another. The moderate sea then running tossed them up and down like bits of cork, and frequently swept them from bow to stern. In spite of this they were ever on the alert, quartering back and forth like bird dogs, with such an evident nose for danger as to give the onlooker a very comfortable sense of confidence during the rest of the journey through the submarine zone.
Land was sighted on the 19th, as the convoy passed the south coast of Ireland. Needless to say many a wistful glance was cast toward those green shores where not a few of the 3o8th had been born. But soon the Cliffs of Wales loomed up, the guardian destroyers dropped off, and anchor was lowered in the River Mersey at Liverpool. An English mist obscured most of the landscape, but through it rows of neat dwellings and green lawns could be dimly discerned. The following morning the vessels docked at Liverpool, and soon hob-nailed boots were planted again on terra firma.