Early this morning, the convoy assembled behind its escort (1), and made its way in single file through the gate in the submarine nets at the mouth of Halifax harbour, and set its course toward Britain, not without trepidation. (2) Realistic appreciation of the real dangers was heightened by the date of the departure:
Of course natural tendencies and failings got all the boys talking about the prospects of being torpedoed and sea-sick To the old sailor the prospects were good for both as we left on the 13th. Then the crew spread some yarns. In New York the betting was five to one that we would never get across. Also the Cameronia had been chased on her two previous trips with troops and got away, but this was the third trip so ‘good-bye.’ (3)
They passed close to the “great Olympic,” said Ives. SS Olympic was the sister ship of the Titanic, refitted after that disaster with more lifeboats and better bulkheads, and taken into service as a troop ship.
This painting (4) by Canadian war artist Arthur Lismer shows the Olympic at dock in Halifax, wearing the “dazzle” camouflage painted in 1917 to hamper detection by enemy submarines.
The Olympic was much faster than any of he ships in Percy’s convoy, which would take nine days to cross the Atlantic.
Ives remembered the first day’s sailing as very pleasant. (2) Indeed, the men basked on the forecastle in the sun, and watched the “porpoises, whales and other fish” in the clear water and overhead “a little Kestrel which seemed to have got lost.” (5) They spent the evening “singing, the kind of singing which does the heart and soul good,” before all llights but the ship’s running lights went out at 9:15. (5)
Very pleasant indeed, except when four whistles from the Northland drew their attention to a boat hanging awkwardly over the edge; they saw “a couple of patent life preservers go overboard, strike the water and throw up little puffs of smoke. Up came a head.” (6) The Scandinavian sent a boat to the rescue. Wills recorded that “two sailors went into the water when the after falls [the tackle holding small boats at the edge of the deck] gave way, but one must have been hit by the propeller as he never showed up.” (5) The Drake’s logbook, says only “Man overboard from Northland. Picked up by Scandinavian.” (1)
It was hardly an auspicious event on September 13th.
(1) Logbook of HMS Drake, September 13, 1916.
(2) Ives, Raymond Ellsworth. Memoir (manuscript). Available from the Canadian Letters and Images Project.
(3) Wills, Archie. Diary. 3: 18. September 13, 1916. Archie Wills Fonds, University of Victoria Archives. Copyright 2007, University of Victoria.
(4) The painting may be seen in the on-line exhibit about Canada’s Navy entitled “A Century in Art” from the Canadian War Museum.
(5)Wills. Diary. 3: 20. September 13, 1916.
(6) Wills. Diary. 3:19. September 13, 1916.