Tom Marsh - Off To War

The Grenadiers entrained at Winnipeg on October 24, 1941 and their departure was so hurried there was a great deal of confusion, changes having been made in the posting of officers, noncommissioned officers and other ranks. Added to this was the receipt of around 300 reinforcements practically on the day of departure.

Officers and non-coms were, therefore, kept busy on the train, trying to seek out and familiarize themselves with the men for whom they would be individually responsible. Because of this confusion a few of the men strayed from the train at the stations along the line and were left behind.

At last we reached Vancouver, the docks, the smell of the sea. Slowly each man, laden with his full equipment, filed up the gangplank of the New Zealand ship “Awatea” There was a feeling of unrest and uncertainty among the men. A feeling that forces they did not altogether trust were herding them into something they did not understand. Where were they going and why? The Canadian soldier obeys orders much better when he understands their meaning and their significance. To some of the troops all was strange as they had never been on shipboard before.

This feeling of complaint became one of open protest and insubordination when the men saw their living and sleeping quarters. Closely packed between gloomy decks a man could not move from his hammock without disturbing his neighbours and he had to sleep either above or below his dining table. Due to so many closely packed bodies the air was fetid. We all thought the conditions terrible. Little we knew then that within a few weeks we would face conditions that, in comparison, would make the accommodation on the S.S. Awatea a paradise.

The men had observed that the best parts of the ship were allocated to the Officers, who had spacious lounge and dining rooms. Just before the ship sailed the men gathered in groups and voiced their complaints about the set up. Officers and NCOs found it difficult to place responsibility for the unrest and disturbance on any particular individual as those best known to them were usually the best disciplined and behaved. One group of thirty broke ship and was left behind in Vancouver. I wonder how many of these owe their lives to this incident?

On October 27, 1941 the ship sailed. It was misty and damp, typical Vancouver winter weather. We of the Grenadiers, who were accustomed to the sunshine of the prairies, and recently the warmth of Jamaica, were a trifle depressed. There were no flags, no bands, no waving of handkerchiefs, nothing. The ship crept away into the mist, a ghost ship taking the Lost Battalions to their rendezvous with destiny.