Unhappy Camper Writes Home in 1914

Wednesday, December 23, 1914

In Camp, Lark Hill, Salisbury Plains

The Battalion War Diarist wrote for this day: “Rain.  Whole Battalion on fatigues at Lark Hill.” [1]

23 Dec 14THIS DAY IN RMR HISTORY: This letter appeared in a Westmount newspaper and was written by Private Harold Russell, formerly a messenger for the Royal Bank of Canada on Greene Avenue in Westmount.  Prior to enlisting for service in the First Contingent he had served briefly in the Canadian Army Service Corps, but before coming to Canada he had served 12 years with the Royal Horse Artillery.  At the time of writing this letter he was serving in the 1st Cdn. Divisional Ammunition Column. This letter, written two days before Christmas, gives “a somewhat vivid description of the experiences of the Canadian contingent overseas.” He doesn’t sound like a ‘happy camper.’  The letter follows:


                                                                                    Salisbury, Wilts., 23. 12. 14

“Dear Friends,

Just a line to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, also to let you know how things are going with us in the Canadian Army Service Corps.  After an uneventful voyage we got safely to Devonport on Wednesday Oct. 14th.  We finally disembarked on the Sunday the 18th and entrained in the dark for Salisbury Plains.  We arrived at the nearest railway station to the Plains via Amesbury at 1:30 a.m. and proceeded to walk 13 miles to camp.  This was done on an empty stomach as we had nothing whatever to eat since dinner the day before.  Arriving at West Down Camp we had to picket our horses and see to ourselves.  This time it was well on into the afternoon and no signs of anything to eat yet.  Canteens for Kitchener’s Army were all around us, but they would not take Canadian money and we had no other as we had received no pay since leaving Quebec 26 days before (viz. Sept. 12th) nor did we receive any until the 28th of October when they gave us $15.00.  We were not well landed on the plains when it started to rain; it has rained more or less every day since.  You ought to see our camp, if you put your foot outside the tent and miss the stones or pieces of wood – the men have laid themselves – up to your knees you go in liquid mud.  Until last week our horses were on lines in the open and it was pitiful to see the poor beasts there in slush and shivering under their one wet blanket.  For over a month we were under canvas; now we are in huts which while better than tents are far from good.  We have no beds, but lay on bags filled with straw, on the floor, the joints of which are ¼ of an inch and more apart through which the wind comes up to beat the band.  Bronchitis and pneumonia are prevalent, but if you report sick, you are told, “Sorry we can do nothing for you, we are full up, but you can have a pill or two.”  They seem to think a pill would fix a broken head, they give you pills for everything!

For breakfast we receive bread, bacon, 2 oz. tea, “no milk or butter.”  Dinner – the one and only and everlasting “Mulligan” that is a concoction of meat, fat, carrots, and sometimes turnips all boiled to death in a tin pot seasoned with black pepper. Tea or supper – bread, tea, cheese and jam, (no milk).

Our cleanliness is a thing of the past, we wear our underclothes as long as human endurance will permit and then they are mostly burnt.  We have no place where we can wash either ourselves or our clothes, and even though we could wash the clothes we have no place to dry them.

Most of our fellows have supplied themselves with rubber coats and boots at their own expense.  Otherwise there would have been much more sickness than there is.

My God!  How we are all longing for the 15th January 1915.  We are told we would proceed to the South of France then.  One of the biggest kicks is that we are not allowed to go to the villages around and buy necessaries.  Every place is out of bounds to Canadians.

We are sick, sore and cold, but we are not downhearted.  Only a trifle disgusted and disappointed with the treatment we have received since arriving here and our officers are in the same boat as ourselves.

I must close now asking you to please print this letter in your paper, disclaiming all responsibility, which I take entirely on myself.

Yours respectfully,

                Harold Russell”    [2]


[1]   War Diary, 14th Canadian Battalion, The Royal Montreal Regiment, Dec 23, 1914.  Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, http://data2.collectionscanada.ca/e/e044/e001089681.jpg
[2]   “Westmount Soldier Gives Word Picture of The Conditions on Salisbury Plain,” The Westmount News, Friday, January 15, 1915, pg. 14, col. 3


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