The food remained an issue: Bertie Cox told his mother “the food was AWFUL [sic].” (2) The historian of the 55th Battery, who was writing after he had suffered worse, said only that the “grub was nothing to write home about, but kept up life in those men who were hardy enough to eat.” (3) Still, the men looked around for better sustenance, and began to buy on the side from the cooks. The price of sandwiches rose rapidly, from ten cents at first to 25 cents. Four oranges (or four lemons) could be had for a dollar. Four bottles of beer cost $2.50, and a slice of cake, 30 cents. (4) 32
Although such dealings with the crew were strictly forbidden, “hunger knows no law,” said Archie Wills.As prices rose, so did tempers, especially when “the fellows … discovered that the whole crew were in a ring to do them and were cutting down our rations to make us come and purchase more from them.” (4) They confessed to their illegal purchases, the officers investigated, and some of the cooks were punished. (5) 33
And if they were well enough to eat, they found that “physical training, boxing tournaments and guard duties helped to pass the trip.” (3)
It was indeed a long trip, partly because of the speed of the slowest ship and partly because their route took them “away up North” (2) to avoid the busiest shipping lanes where enemy ships would be more focused. Bertie told his mother that the Cameronia could do the crossing in five days in peacetime, but that it took nine [he counted elapsed time rather than days at sea]. (2)
This chart (6) plots the various routes HMS Drake took in 1916-1917. After the convoy passes north of Ireland on the more northerly routes, the transports head south through the Irish Sea toward Liverpool, while Drake sails into her home port of Greenock in Scotland.
(1) HMS Drake, Logbook, September 20, 1916
(2) Cox, Bertram Howard. Letter to his mother, September 23, 2916. Available from the Canadian Letters and Images Project.
(3) MacArthur, D.C. The History of the Fifty-Fifth Battery, CFA. Toronto, 1919. 4
(4) Wills, Archie. Diary. 3: 32 Archie Wills Fonds, University of Victoria Archives. Copyright 2007, University of Victoria.
(5) Wills, Archie. Diary. 3: 33
(6) The chart is part of Naval-History.net.
The photograph, labelled “Physical Jerks on board Metagama,” is from Percy’s small album.
Copyright 2016. See “More about this project.”