Memories of World War I by Robinson Shepard (my grandpa) – page 4: Where Grampa heads towards the Front and sees the Halifax fire

NOTE: The most amazing part about reading this part of my Grandpa’s diary is that H (my “James”) and I were in Halifax for our honeymoon – and the historian who was showing us around told us about the fire that destroyed most of Halifax. Little did I know that my grandfather had been a witness to it!!!!!!!!!!!


July 8 or 9th we got on the troop train and headed for New Hampshire. I was pretty excited when we stopped at Tilton for a few minutes, but I didn’t see anyone I knew. The curtains had to be down, but for some reason I was on “guard” and could go from one car to another so I stayed on the platform for some time hoping to at least see the taxi man, who would have told Father he had seen me – but no such luck. I had never seen beyond The Weirs, so Plymouth, West Rumney, Woodsville also was new to me. (Little did I suspect My Future – 1931 – was living in West Rumney, New Hampshire. I wonder if she saw the train go by.) [This was a note with respect to my grandmother – and the best part is the NEXT note is written BY my grandmother – MES – Myra E. Shepard!!] (NOTE: In July 1918 I was at home in summer, South Wentworth, but lived in Orford during the school year. MES) Near the Canadian border, the milkmen were just arriving and htey had dish pans of real cream that were passed around and everyone had a big drink. I remember how good it tasted.

Eventually we got to Montreal and backed down to the wharf and got our first sight of “HMT” Durham Castle, an old cattle boat used between England and South Africa. The “HMT” stood for “His Majesty’s Transport,” but it was always referred to as His Majesty’s Tub and was our home for the next three weeks. I was assigned to the orlop deck, two decks below waterline. The bunks were five high and htere was a great scramble to get the topmost. I got one next to the top, and luckily the fellow above me wasn’t seasick. Came up on deck in time to see us pull out and a fellow on the pier semaphored “Bon Voyage.” Started down the St. Lawrence River, but ran into a sandbar at Three Rivers, after a while we got off and the next morning passed quite near Charlettetown P.E.I.  Sunday morning and we could hear Church bells. Very peaceful passage and smooth sailing. However, after leaving the lee of the Island, it was very rough. I remember coming up from below as fast as I could, feeling very seasick. When I got to the deck, someone turned around and saw me and let out a yell so the crowd quickly parted and I got to the rail where a deep breath of fresh air cured me, and I didn’t whoop. Some of the boys seemed to think I put it all on, to get to the rail – but I stayed there! Should say the soldiers had only one deck, and there were so many that only one out of 5 or 6 could get to the rail. All the first class and ohter decks were occupied by the officers, and nursers, about 100. I heard that one officer was disciplined as he was overheard asking a nurse if she wanted to go down “to see the animals feed.”

Finally we got to Halifax and a calm harbor and stayed htere 3 days, until the convoy – 23 ships – among them the Mauretania – assembled. We were near enough to the city to see some remnants of the fire which had wiped out a good many buildings. We saw a long train which we fondly thought had come from Boston. There was one that used ot be at 9 p.m., Boston, whihc was due in Halifax about the time we saw this.

Those who wished could dive in for a swim, but remembering my Still River experience, I didn’t. Once we had to get into a small boat (don’t recall how) then with a pack (knapsack) climb a swinging rope ladder 25 feet or so back up to the boat. I thought I’d never make it! Toward the end I had all I could do to hold on and was glad then hands grabbed me and pulled me in. I guess others were the same and everyone seemed to be pulled in.