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.