MoboReader> Literature > The Red Watch

   Chapter 6 VIToC

The Red Watch By J. A. Currie Characters: 34763

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


THE NEW ARMADA

The St. Lawrence River at Quebec presented a busy scene. Never since the days of the Tercentennial of the discovery of the River by Jacques Cartier, when King George and the British fleet, headed by H.M.S. "The Indomitable," were present, was there so much activity, or so many ships in the harbor. As soon as each transport was loaded it pulled away from the pier and dropped anchor in the stream. When all our troops were on board the "Megantic" we cast loose, pulled up the stream off Cape Diamond, and "dropped our hook," as a landsman in the ranks was heard to remark. The hotels and boarding houses of the City were filled with friends of the men who had come on excursions to bid the soldiers good-bye. The City was full of life and activity and brilliantly lighted up and the scene at night was very beautiful. Old Cape Diamond wearing its crown and sparkling with thousands of electric lights looked its name. In its shadow on the evening before he climbed the heights at Ainse d'Fulon Cove, now dim and silent in the distance, to win the immortal battle of the Plains of Abraham, General Wolfe had recited Gray's "Elegy" and unconsciously the prophetic words "The Paths of Glory lead but to the Grave" arose in the mind. In these shadows Wolfe had brooded over those plans which on a succeeding morrow were to mature and lead to three of the greatest epochs in the history of the world-the fall of Quebec, which placed in the hands of Britannia the trident of the world's naval supremacy, destroying the foundations of the ancient regime of France, and laying the corner stone of the great American Republic.

Some one among the crew was humming the refrain of the old anchor-hoisting song, "Le Chien d'Or-I love your Daughter;" a melody that has haunted the River St. Lawrence since the day when his comrades forcibly carried off Admiral Nelson, then a "middy," from the wiles and fascinations of the daughter of the landlord of "Le Chien d'Or."

The distant tramp of battalions, the rumble of battery after battery as they marched through the crooked streets, came faintly from the shore. The slumbers of a hundred years of peace had been rudely broken. Europe was ablaze. The hands of the clock of civilization had been turned back a century. The Empire was again threatened and Canada was at war.

We lay in the river off Quebec from Saturday night until Tuesday evening, when we pulled up to the pier again and took on fresh water. The Captain had asked me if the bar was to be opened. I said, "No, close it up," which he did most cheerfully, remarking that it was the first time in twenty-seven years that the White Star line had sailed a "dry ship." He had thought he had plenty of water to take us to England, but after three days' experience with a lot of dry Highlanders he came to the conclusion he was mistaken, so he pulled up alongside of the dock again, and a miserable stream of water trickled slowly into the tanks, all afternoon and evening.

Colonel Penhale of the Divisional Ammunition Column was on board and entitled to seniority. I was very glad to be rid of the responsibility of ship management, with its round of inspections at all hours and in all weathers.

We had no sooner got settled on board than I asked the Captain to give us a plan of his lifeboat stations so that the men could assemble if necessary, without any confusion, at their posts at the lifeboats in the shortest possible time. I got this plan and then the trouble began. The orderly room began to attach the men to their stations by lists and I waited patiently for a day and there was still nothing but confusion, showing how difficult it is for an office to run a gang of men, something I had learned long ago. The Adjutant said "Rush," and every time a list was made out it was found that some names were missing and then fresh lists had to be made over again. Finally I took the sketch of the ship, showing the position of the boats, called the Captains of the companies and divided up the boat space among them, and told them to first place the men of their companies at the different stations with their life belts on, call the rolls of each boat squad, then dismiss them, and that in an hour or so I was going to "beat" the troops "to quarters." In an hour I caused the alarm bugle to sound and there was some scrambling, but I inspected the decks and found every man at his post with his life-belt on. The first time it took twenty-five minutes. We did this turn three times, so that the men soon knew the direct road from their berths to the lifeboats and were able to get into position in ten minutes, which is considered very good.

A time table of physical drill was prepared and carried out every morning and evening. From 9 to 10.30 the right half battalion practised first twenty minutes' run round the deck, then the balance of the time they spent at physical drill. This was repeated again in the afternoon, and the men were all fit when we landed. Officers and all had to go the round.

We pulled out of Quebec on Wednesday night at 10.15 and very soon everybody settled down to sleep. The night was dark and still as we floated down past Cape Diamond. We had a splendid ship, and every day our admiration of her increased. Even if there was a gale outside, the ship was as steady as a church. Every three men had a room and there was a berth for each one. They lived like millionaires. As for the officers and sergeants they had every comfort.

Our Captain was a very fine man by the name of James. He was an Englishman from Liverpool, with an aristocratic air, but quite modest, a gentleman and a seaman every inch of him.

Finally, we pulled into the stream and departed for parts unknown. We had a beautiful trip down the St. Lawrence. The sun was shining next day, and on the shore we could see the outlines of the French-Canadian villages, the long narrow farms and big churches. As we neared Gaspe Peninsula the mountains in the distant background were covered with snow. One by one we overhauled the steamers that left before us. In the evening we were off Flame Point, having dropped our pilot. At Flame Point they burned blue rockets or flares on the shore at dusk to give us a send-off. Gradually we swung around Gaspe Peninsula as dusk closed in. It was then we learned that sealed orders had been given the Captain to rendezvous at Gaspe Basin. Soon we came in sight of the lights that mark the entrance to this harbor. The Captain had his sounding-line going, and I was on the upper deck with the signallers. Pretty soon we made out the outlines of a small ship shrouded in darkness. We turned our signalling lamp on her and asked her name. In a moment came the answer "British Warship, don't go into the harbor until daylight." The Captain could not find bottom with his anchor with one hundred fathoms of chain out, so he had to stay outside, backing and going ahead, all night. We all went to bed feeling secure, with that cruiser lying a short distance away. When I woke up in the morning the bugles were sounding the "Officers' Call" to breakfast. I looked out of my cabin window and after dressing, hastily scrambled on deck. The sight in Gaspe Basin was one never to be forgotten. Twenty-eight transports were swinging at anchor, many of them the flower of the North Atlantic merchant fleet. The ship we were on was the finest of the White Star Line, the "Megantic." Some distance away was her sister ship the "Laurentic," also the "Franconia," the "Allonia," the "Royal George," and the "Royal Edward," all first-class ships. The weather was bright, clear and warm, and the water of the Basin as smooth as oil.

Some of our officers got letters before they left Quebec, stating that on the previous Sunday prayers had been offered up in the churches for the safety of the contingent, which was supposed to be at sea, while it was riding quietly at anchor in Quebec harbor. We were waiting for the last of the transports to come before we left. About ten o'clock I was on the bridge, when I heard cheering, and some one calling my name. I ran down the deck, and saw the Minister of Militia, who had come on alongside on a tug. He was going the rounds of the fleet. He spent a day among the ships, and there was a good deal of talk about his going on board one of the transports, but he did not. We all expected to see him waiting for us when we landed in England. The day passed quietly. No one was allowed ashore. The ship's gig went down to see some of the other ships of the White Star fleet and we got some of our belated mail. On Saturday we were to sail with the ebb tide. All the transports had come in and there was assembled in Gaspe Basin the greatest Armada that ever set sail for British shores. We were going in this great Armada to assist the Mother Country to maintain the Pax Britannicum. There were over twenty-five thousand men in thirty-one transports. They were anchored in the harbor in lines, and as the tide rose and fell they shifted about, now heading one way, and after the lapse of a few hours, in another direction. The Government had kindly issued to the officers Colt Automatic Pistols and high power field glasses. My glasses were of a very high power, and I could pick out the figures of the women and men working about the farm houses five miles away. The British warships in the basin were obsolete small cruisers of slow speed, the "Diana," the "Eclipse," the "Talbot" and the "Charybdis." The latter was the flagship of the Admiral. We looked upon these ships with a good deal of apprehension. The "Dresden" or "Karlsruhe," the German ships in the Atlantic, would only have a mouthful in any one of them, in fact in the whole four. They all anchored apart in a separate part of the harbor, and the signaller on the Admiral's ship amused himself by signalling, "Is your bar open?" "How is the Scotch?" Our men answered back in kind. This mosquito fleet appeared to have a big job on its hands to convoy this Armada across. Presently a naval "gent," or "hossifer" as some of the crew called him, came aboard, and gave the Captain his secret instructions, that is, the formation of the convoy, and a rendezvous for each day in case the convoy was scattered by fog, storm or other cause. The Captain said we were to sail at three o'clock, in three columns, right, centre and left line, with some ten ships in each line. The speed was to be ten knots. We were to lead the left line, with H.M.S. "Eclipse" four cable lengths ahead. The "Charybdis" was to lead the centre, and the "Diana" the left of the line, while the "Talbot" acted as a rear guard. Our ship started out first. The Captain of the "Eclipse" sent the height of his mast back to our Captain and we kept the distance constantly by the officer of the deck reading off the proper angle with the sextant. In and out our line threaded, and then began to zig-zag, until by-and-bye we were out of sight of Gaspe Cape and all three lines were abreast.

On the afternoon of the last day before we left a black gas boat filled with people came away from the shore. I scanned them carefully with my glasses. They came within a couple of hundred yards of our ship and after halting, went past, looking over the rest of the fleet. The crew were men and women, evidently fisherfolk, all except one woman, who sat huddled in the stern. She looked very much like a German and under her rough coat she had a fine blouse and good clothes. I had my suspicions and could not help thinking she was either a newspaper woman or a German spy. I was surprised to find that when I mentioned this boat to the Captain at the dinner table, he said she had a suspicious passenger on board, like a "German woman." He was some observer, was Captain James, R.N.R. He said "My word, we had one like her on board the last passage over. I set sail north for Greenland, keeping out of the way and coming in by Belle Isle. This woman had a basket on her arm when she came on board. I noticed her basket, and the pigeons in it soon found their way to the pot. I took them from her. She raised a storm, but I did not want any carrier pigeons on board. They made good pie."

Now I should say a word about this country before we leave it. The Basin where we rendezvoued was beautiful and well protected. A number of fishing boats flew white sails and proclaimed the principal industry of the villagers. French-Canadians reside on the shore. The most prominent objects on the horizon were the great churches that have the customary gilded spire and the clusters of white cottages about them. The shore rises steeply and the farms taper back into the forests that crown the hills of the background, which rise fully one thousand feet above the sea. On our left hand as we left the Basin were huge clay or sandstone cliffs cut away by the fierce swells of the Gulf. A lighthouse crowned the Point, with a flag staff from which a Union Jack stood out in the wind as stiff as a board. On the left there were masses of rock to mark the shore line, and several small islands. In one place we could plainly see an arched rock called "Pierced Rock," where the sea passed below a natural bridge.

The moon came up brightly as we sailed out into the Gulf. By-and-bye clouds fleeced about it and formed a peculiar halo resembling a cross. We took that for a good omen. We were speculating whether we were to go by Belle Isle or Cape Ray, but about nine o'clock the three lines set their course southeast and then we knew we were to take the southern route. The weather was all that could be desired, and the water as smooth as a mill pond. It was slightly cool, as the breezes always are from Newfoundland. In the morning we could see that ancient Colony, Cape Rae, with its lighthouse and wireless station. We had wireless on board, but were not allowed to use it except to intercept messages. When the Captain took his observation at noon, October 4th, we were in Lat. N. 47° 36', Long. W. 59° 51'. On a chart at the main companion way each day's run was recorded with the latitude and longitude. We had what they called north-easterly gales and fine weather. Along about noon we caught a glimpse of Cape Breton in the distance. Nothing occurred all day. It was cloudy to the north and west and clear to the south, with the sun shining. We had started a dry canteen when we left Quebec, and it was doing a land office business. No drinks of an intoxicating nature were sold on board.

When the Captain took his observation we had only sailed 190 miles from Gaspe. The next day was fine. In the morning we saw a ship loom up on our left and the cruiser flew out to "speak" her. Evidently she was all right, "The Bruce," bound from Newfoundland to Sydney. When she saw us first she started to run away, for the sight of our Armada was a very impressive one. The chase lasted only a short time when she discovered we were friends. Then in a very strange way a large grey battleship slid in from the horizon on our left and was etched against the bright sky. Volumes of smoke rose from her large funnels and two big masts with fighting tops made her look quite formidable. She had been out of sight just beyond the horizon all the time. We found that she was H.M.S. "Glory," a dreadnought. It felt very comfortable to have her there, speed twenty-three knots and four twelve-inch guns.

Along in the afternoon two whales spouting water came along and had a look at the fleet. They kept with us for some time but presently got tired.

At noon on the 5th, we were in Lat. 46° 17', Long. 35° 03', having sailed 213 miles in the 24 hours. The transport "Monmouth" had been giving us trouble, by constantly dropping back. The next day we would be out of sight of Newfoundland, and we wondered what weather we would get. The men were kept busy drilling and exercising, so were the officers. I was made Hon. President of the ship's Y.M.C.A., and a concert held on board netted a neat sum for the Patriotic fund. We had four preachers on board. We were to have had a priest, but in some way he did not turn up. To-day another steamer was chased by the "Charybdis" but she gave us the slip. She had the "legs" on us all, as the Captain said, and disappeared into a bank of fog to the north. Then we got clear of Cape Race, which we did not see. The wind changed to southwest, and began breaking up the nasty swell that came down the Atlantic. We had made in the twenty-four hours only 210 knots, our position being Lat. N. 45° 36', Long. W. 50° 11'. During the night the rudder gear jammed and our ship began to run amuck among the fleet. We all slept through it, but the Captain had to stay on deck till it was fixed. No harm done.

The next day was also fine. There had always been a storm behind us, but it had not yet caught up. On the 7th of October at noon we were Lat. 46° 46' N., Long. 45° 25' W., another 210 miles to our credit, and we were due about the 20th in Southampton at this rate. In the evening we were amused by a school of dolphins that chased each other about the ship, jumping out of the water, and acting up generally. We expected very soon to be in the Gulf stream, where the weather would be milder. The electric heater in my room was hardly large enough to cope with the chill in the air. On the 8th we made 214 miles and the "

Monmouth," which was still giving trouble, was ordered up to the front and signalled by the Admiral to "stoke up." The Admiral had all the Captains scared stiff. Along in the afternoon we got into the Gulf stream. A man threw a green canvas pail overboard, dipped it full and took the temperature of the water. It was 56°. Next day at noon it was 62°.

On the 9th we made 250 miles, which was a record run. The "Monmouth" had found her second wind and was going strong. Some of the ships were tossing but not very much. I forgot to say that on the 7th, a soldier on the ship astern of us died. He was a reservist going home to rejoin his regiment. The ship dropped out of the line and lowered her flag to half mast, and tolled her bell, whilst they buried him at sea.

All this time the weather was all that could be desired, with bright sunny days, a mackerel sky and moonlight nights, the moon being at its full.

The first night out, the Captain called my attention to a comet which was showing to the north, and according to traditions said to be a harbinger of war, but when we went to look for it with our glasses it had gone down. We saw it on the evening of the 7th just south of the second star in the tail of the "Dipper" or Great Bear. Looking through my glasses, which were the most powerful on board, being more so than the ship's telescopes, I could see it quite clearly with a great tail stretching to the northeast. In a week or so it would be quite large. The weather continued bright and all the time a storm hung on behind us, but never caught up.

On the 8th we got well into the Gulf stream, and the temperature of the water registered 62° to 65°. The nights had been so cold before this that I had to get out my eiderdown, but when we got into the warm water, that had to be discarded. We had a bit of a swell from the north, and we all felt a shade miserable but not enough to be really sick. During the day a large six-masted schooner, with a barge ahead of her, hove in sight and started down the line. The "Eclipse" went after her and led her out of the convoy line. "My," said the Captain to me, "that fellow will have his ticket taken from him for not keeping out of the way of a convoy." I found that a complaint from a naval officer can take away the papers of an officer of the merchant service.

On Saturday the 10th, when I got up, and looked out of my window, there on the port bow was another big warship. When I had a good look at her, I recognized that she was of what they call the Superdreadnought class. It turned out that she was the "Princess Royal," nicknamed H.M.S. "Hellfire." She has a speed of 34 knots an hour, and carried eight 13-?" guns, besides being very heavily armoured. God help the German that she marked down, for she was one of the most powerful fighting machines afloat.

On Saturday afternoon I gave the men a half-holiday, which they appreciated very much. The officers spent their spare time playing shuffle board, and other games such as are practised on board ship.

I gave lectures in the afternoons to officers on map reading and topography. They were apparently very interested and a number of the outside officers asked leave to attend. There was only one set of instruments for fifty officers so the class was carried on with difficulty. Much had to be left till we got ashore. On Sunday religious services were held by the various denominations.

I forgot to say that on the morning of the 5th, off Cape Race, there was an alarm in the convoy, a "man overboard." The ships began sounding their horns, and the "Royal Edward," with the "Princess Pats" on board, turned out of the line and began lowering her boats, at the same time flying her flags. The next ship astern dropped a boat also, and the man was picked up after being in the chilly water for about fifteen minutes. Then the Admiral sent a message back that the men were not to climb the rigging.

On Sunday the "Allonia" left the convoy and went on ahead with the Admiral. It was rumoured they had gone to try and get the British Government to send the contingent over to recover Antwerp, which we learned by wireless had fallen on Sunday. The gale continued all day Monday with a misty fog from the north. We would be off Land's End in the morning.

On Sunday afternoon another warship of the Dreadnought class quietly took her place ahead of us. It was H.M.S. "Majestic." The sailors said that this was the finest voyage they had ever had at this time of the year.

On Monday, the 12th, we had a signalling competition amongst the companies. Each company had been teaching all the men the semaphore code. It is a good thing to start with, but at the Front they use only the Morse system. About seventy-five per cent. of the men of the regiment could read the semaphore alphabet very readily. When a warship sent a signal everybody on board read it. "H" Company won the signalling competition.

Group Non-commissioned Officers. 48th HighlandersToList

The same evening we had a concert given by "F" Company, commanded by Captain Osborne. I was asked to attend and did so. It was a great success.

I was wakened Monday morning by some one pounding on the door telling me that land was in sight. I got up and dressed, had some tea and buns and went on deck. There was Lizard Point ahead in the mist. It was blowing a gale, but the sea was not very heavy.

We detached from the convoy about ten o'clock on the 12th, and the swifter ships started to sail on, but still no one knew what our destination would be. Last evening the signallers brought us a message from our General, whoever that might be, saying "dye white haversacks" "and carry a day's rations, on disembarkation." He did not know that dye and coffee had run out so that the men could not dye their white haversacks. Somebody suggested to flag back, "send along some dye by wireless." Our men's haversacks, however, were dyed drab when we got them, so we were all right.

A case of measles developed on board, suspected to be German,-another case of German "frightfulness." In the evening the water was calm and warm and the night very dark. I went on deck to see the wonderful phosphorescent display. The ship seemed to be floating in a sea of gold, or rather sunshine. It was wonderful.

We took a good look at Lizard's Point when we were passing about ten miles off. There was a big white castle on a cliff and nice green farms.

Before closing this chapter reference should be made to the good conduct of all the officers and men. Our men on the signalling staff had a hard time but they did their duty well. The men and officers went ashore in the pink of condition.

We got our first real glimpse of England on the 14th. Off Eddystone Light the pilot came on board. He was a very large portly man and very nervous about being dropped into the sea. I should judge he weighed at least two hundred and fifty pounds. The ladder he had to climb was made of rope with the rungs woven in, and he made them heave him a line which he fastened about his body.

When he came on board we were informed for the first time that our original destination was to have been Southampton, and that it had been changed, by a wireless message from Eddystone Lighthouse that morning, to Plymouth. The evening before, the warship "Princess Royal" came steaming down the line. She was on our left. She crossed our column about half way down-dressed her decks and spars-her crew all in white-and passed upon the right of our column so close that you could toss a biscuit on her deck. She is a magnificent fighting machine. Our men all lined the decks and every available space and cheered themselves hoarse. That ship is the fastest warship afloat. The ordinary Dreadnoughts sail twenty-one knots. The "Emden" and the "Karlsruhe," the German Corsairs, sailed twenty-six knots, but the "Princess Royal" can reel off thirty-four knots. Our ship was at the head of our column and she swung past our bow to again take her station as if we were standing still, so quickly and easily did she answer her helm. Her decks were cleared for action, her 13-?" guns run out. All her metal work in the setting sun shone like gold. She looked like a great grey yacht. This convoy had been wonderfully cared for. It seemed that all the time we were being convoyed by four great battleships and five light cruisers. The battleships were always below the horizon till we saw the "Glory" on the right. That was off Cape Breton. Truly the British Navy is wonderful, and ever up to its traditions. We were sailing up the Channel and going to land at Plymouth, the port from which sailed the great Admirals who gave Great Britain command of the sea. The day was lovely, the autumn sun shining brightly, and the shores of England shimmered a ruddy bronze brown. The trees were in full foliage, but the color scheme as seen from the sea was a much more vivid green than the Canadian landscape. In the early part of the day we could see a wireless tower and life saving stations at the Lizard. The shore was steep, a huge line of chalk cliffs.

Fourteen miles from Plymouth we passed Eddystone Lighthouse. This is one of the most noted lighthouses in the world. The first light was erected here on a submerged reef in 1697. Six years after it was washed away during a great storm. It was rebuilt in wood and the structure stood the buffeting of the Atlantic until it was burned down in 1755. The third, or as it was called the Smeaton Tower, was erected in 1757. It was built of masonry and stood until 1882, over a hundred years. Part of this wonderful old light, I was told by our Captain, is still in use in Plymouth. The present light is 135 feet high, and was built by Sir James W. Douglas at a cost of $400,000. In the summer, excursion steamers run out from Plymouth, but very few of the passengers land.

As we gradually drew nearer the harbour we began to meet the sharp-nosed destroyers and torpedo boats that guard the harbour, and as we neared the entrance we were delighted with the view of a vast park and grounds with a castle peeping out from the trees. This park is known as Mount Edgecombe, the seat of Earl Edgecombe. The park is one of the most beautiful in England and occupies the whole of one side of the Sound. Through our glasses we could see beautiful lawns, walks and tropical palm trees growing here in the open air. Soon we could distinguish the great breakwater that almost closes the entrance to the Sound. On all sides we could see from grimy walls and caverns the black gaping mouths of cannon. The shore outlines rose about five hundred feet on each side and great batteries and the white tents of some of Kitchener's army were to be seen almost everywhere. There was certainly no doubt about England being at war. As we drew near the breakwater a shoal of paddle wheel tugs rushed out to welcome us with their sirens blowing to pilot us safely into the most noted harbour in the world. From this port sailed such great captains as Drake, Hawkins and Cooke, who first circumnavigated the globe. From this port emerged William Longsword when he defeated the French when they desired to land an expedition to defeat King John. Here it was where Sir Howard Effingham and Drake lingered on the Hoe, a hill which we could clearly see, to finish their famous game of bowls (every bowler knows the story) before emerging to fall upon the Spanish Armada. Here Blake, equally famous, the father and organizer of the British Navy, made his dep?t, and in the church of St. Andrew's, in the city behind the Hoe, is deposited his stout heart. From this Sound emerged the Mayflower to land the Pilgrim Fathers in America, there to lay the foundations of yet greater nations, and re-establish that Pax Britannicum for which we were here to fight, and which has given a century of peace in the new world.

Nearer and near we came, and soon passed the breakwater, guarded by a huge steel tower girded with long lean gun barrels. The town seemed to wake up and the open spaces began to fill with people. The sailors and cadets on Drake Island poured out from the casements like rabbits from a warren. With our glasses we could see the dense crowd on the Hoe, which is now a public park. We could see the colossal statue of Sir Francis Drake towering aloft over the Hoe, speaking trumpet in hand, as if welcoming us, for certainly this was a great Armada that was entering the Sound, a peaceful Armada, greater than that of King Philip; this second Armada composed largely of the second and third generations of pioneers coming back to give to the Mother Country what she had so freely given to the Colonies and the civilized world. What would old Sir Francis have said at this sight if he had lived to-day? Back from Plymouth in a country manor near Tavistock, some descendant guards the ancient drum with which Drake beat his crews to their quarters. It was said that on his deathbed, when he bequeathed this drum, he left directions that it was not to be beaten unless the shores of England were endangered, and if it were beaten, England would produce a great man or something great would occur that would meet the emergency. Twice only had the drum been beaten, and assistance came, first in the persons of the great Admiral Blake and then Admiral Nelson. Some one must have given it a sly tap to bring the Canadian contingent.

Gradually we drew into the inner harbour. The white streaks on the shore and on the warships in the harbour resolved themselves into naval cadets and "tars" "dressing" ship. We had seen this before on the decks of the "Princess Royal." Here were hundreds and thousands of them. Certainly England did not show any slackness in the number of sailors. We could hear the cheering from the shore, and our pipes struck up "The Cock o' the North." The men cheered themselves hoarse in reply. Then we could hear the civilians on the shore giving out something like a college yell. We listened and it came across "Are we down-hearted? No." It never seemed to strike our men that way. We had not heard the latest London Music Hall slang borrowed from "Joe" Chamberlain, so our men called back, "Cheer up, the worst is yet to come" and everybody roared with laughter. Slowly the "Megantic" threaded her way in and out between buoys, through mines loaded with enough dynamite to blow her to smithereens. The inner harbour is called the Hamoaze. As we passed Drake Island, we were under the guns of the citadel which was built in 1670 and is still occupied; we passed the great naval victualling yard, a large establishment built in 1835 for victualling the navy. Then we entered that part of the Sound known as Devonport, the headquarters of the Royal Navy. Devonport is one of the great naval yards, and there is situated one of the huge naval shipbuilding plants. Huge steam derricks rear their arms along the masonry walls of the harbour on the left, and in several places the huge ribs of warships in course of erection disclose their nakedness. On the wharves could be seen enormous guns like giant pine logs heaped up ready to be put on board the warships when ready. Several large men-of-war were in the dock, among them one that had knocked a few plates off its bottom in running over a German submarine in the North Sea. Further and further we went until finally our cable was tied to a huge buoy and we were at our moorings. Orders were issued that no one was to go ashore, so I slipped a cable for home, to the Pilot, also a gold sovereign. He said he had no change, but I told him the change was his. He was the assistant of our big Pilot. He stared for a minute, then he vanished over the rail like a blue streak, down the ladder, over the tender, alongside he hailed another tender that was passing, and before our cable chain was out I could see him climbing up the landing stairs and I guess he is running yet. Gold has its fascination here as elsewhere and spells service. The cable went through all right.

The appearance of the fleet seemed to stir up everybody and the wharves and quays were thronged all evening. The bugles blow Retreat on a beautiful spring-like evening, and after the "First Post" the pipers discoursed those ancient melodies that sounded years ago amid the brown heath and shaggy wood, and that are now calling the descendants of those ancient warriors from farm, city and many peaceful and cheerful firesides to fight for King and Country like their ancestors, and if need be to die that the Empire may live. The men sang themselves to sleep that night. I could hear their songs long after "Lights Out" had sounded.

The voyage was over, and we can thank an All Wise and merciful Providence that we had all come safely so far. Never did a Commanding Officer have a finer lot of men than mine. Never did a Commanding Officer have less trouble-the conduct of everybody was so good. We would land eleven hundred and fifty-seven strong and only one man sick. The rest, thanks to continual physical drill, were in the pink of condition, ready and fit to go anywhere. I had only one regret and that was that that some of them might never return. Still, the price of Empire and power, as Bismarck said, must be paid, not in talk nor treaties, nor promises nor golden tribute, but in "blood and iron."

* * *

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares