Witness to War: Saturday April 7, 1917

Private Raymond Duval, MM, was a soldier of the 14th Battalion (Royal Montreal Regiment) CEF who served overseas during the last two years of the First World War. He participated in some of the fiercest fighting seen by Canadians during the war and was decorated for bravery at Passchendaele. Determined to preserve his memories of the First World War, he maintained a daily record of his experiences. Here is what he wrote precisely 100 years ago today:

Saturday April 7, 1917: Woke up with a start as our ship struck a mine off the mouth of the [?] damaging bows and killing one from D Co (Walton) Rushed to deck but we did not put out boats as front compt [compartment] only busted. Stayed on deck till 5.30 when we disembarked and got on train and came to Shoreham camp getting here at 6pm when we immediately marched to huts and slept on floor pretty cold too.

Author’s note in 1954: On the last day prior to arrival in Liverpool, all men in the hold in the forward part of the ship were ordered to sleep on deck. Four of us occupied a 3rd class cabin amid-ship. We were about 5 miles from Port, and it was a beautiful moonlight night. Several destroyers had joined our convoy some two days before, we all felt quite safe as the shores of England were in sight. We four in our little cabin felt so safe that we decided to undress and have a comfortable sleep. This we deeply regretted a few hours later. At about 1:30am, our ship struck a floating mine, which tore a large hole in her bow. Fortunately, the compartment next to the forward hold was full of grain and the bulkhead held fast, but the bow went down several feet.
The confusion on board was terrific for some time following the explosion. Everyone rushed to the deck where the confusion continued, but the traditional calmness of the British seaman held, and they soon had everything under control. All men were soon in their places, as assigned in our daily lifeboat drills during the passage.
In my case, I had a doubly trying time, as the shock for some reason did not awaken me, even though the man in the bunk on the opposite side of the cabin was thrown right out on the floor. To make matters worse, the lights had gone off and we were forced to dress in the dark. With the smoke from the explosion rapidly filling the lower parts of the ship, and getting in each other’s way, I finally had to put on my boots without my socks, not having been able to locate them. Finally, after having wasted enough time to get to the very bottom of Davy Jones’s locker, we reached the deck where the confusion was really something.
When struck by the mine exploding, we had a fine demonstration of the British Navy, as in seconds our ship was surrounded by a regular flock of destroyers and/or torpedo boats. In a short time, it was announced that there was no immediate danger, and the ship would proceed under her own steam, but all men were ordered to stand fast in case another mine was encountered. In the meantime, I returned to my cabin and retrieved my socks.
Two lives were lost, one of the ship’s crew and one of our men. The latter was killed when (after being ordered to stay on deck) he went back to get some personal object, which he had forgotten in his bunk, and unfortunately got the full force of the mine explosion. His body, we were told, was found later, having evidently been floated out through the hole made by the mine (22’ by 12’ ft).
About noon of the same day, we disembarked and entrained immediately, and were transported to Shoreham–by–the sea. The trip across England was most fascinating. The small green fields so neat, the towns and villages so pretty and colorful, it seemed like opening the pages of a picture book as the train rushed by. It can well be said England is England.
After this most pleasant ride, we arrived at Liphook , where we detrained and marched to Shoreham Camp , were assigned to huts, and training in earnest began. Up at 6 am to the sound of the band playing martial music as they marched from section to section of the camp.
The RMR Foundation thanks Natalie Dyck for generously sharing her publication of “The Diary and Memoir of Private Raymond Duval” in order for us to be able to share his story with you 100 years on. You can learn more about Private Duval here.

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