Many of these Canadian soldiers were eager to see the wonders of London. Archie Wills was one of a group who hired a brake or a break (the spelling seems to be interchangeable) whose driver gave them a daylong tour of the chief sights. (1)
A brake, Archie notes, was “a vehicle drawn by two horses which prior to the war was rapidly losing favor but which recently has returned as a public utility owing to the government commandeering most of the ‘buses.'” (1) There were twenty-one in Archie’s boisterous group of sightseers, so we can imagine that they rode on something like a Thomas Tilling “Knifeboard” Horsebus. “Knifeboard” describes the back-to-back seating on the roof; another model of horsebus had “garden seats,” which faced forward.(2)
“A thousand and one things of interest were brought to our notice. On nearly every corner there stands a statue or a landmark, with a lengthy history.” (3) Despite stopping for lunch in a restaurant, they were very hungry by the time they returned to the Shakespeare Hut at six o’clock, having started their sightseeing at half past eight. The long day hadn’t damped their spirits: they had “a noisy time…singing and cheering” (4) as they rattled down the Strand before turning north through Soho and so back to the Shakespeare Hut.
“After a fine meal we made for a show but never got into one as we took too much interest in the sights on the street.” (4)
The motorbuses which had been commandeered by His Majesty’s Government were put to use in France chiefly to transport troops. The picture to the right shows a bus in Ghent in the autumn of 1914; apart from its riders, it looks entirely civilian.
Another, presumably later, picture shows how, as the war progressed, the buses lost their smartness, their windows replaced by boards, and their engines apparently kept warm under a load of straw.
(1) Wills, Archie. Diary. 3:57. October 7, 1916. Archie Wills Fonds, University of Victoria Archives. Copyright 2007, University of Victoria.
(2) “Vehicles: Buses.” London Transport Museum.
(3) Wills, Archie. Diary. 3:58-59. October 7, 1916.
(4) Wills, Archie. Diary. 3:61-62. October 7, 1916.
The images of the “battle buses” are provided by the London Transport Museum’s press and media page, along with others, including one of a bus converted into a mobile pigeon loft. See also an item from the BBC, “When London buses went from red to khaki.”