NEW! Canadian Military History Trivia Challenge

Canadian Military History Trivia Challenge

Take the quiz and Win a Trivia Challenge prize pack!

Canadian Military History Trivia Challenge

Take the quiz and Win a Trivia Challenge prize pack!

Letters From Garnet – Seaford Camp, June 13, 1917

 “…..rioting in Montreal over the conscription bill…”


Miss Millie Dobbs,

Seaford Camp, June 13, 1917

25 Howland Ave, Toronto, Ont., Canada


Dear Sister,

Well: here we are at our destination at last and some trip we have had.   …We didn’t know which camp we were heading for until we were…ready to board the train here in England and there is a couple of different camps.  …We left Belleville Sat. May 26 about 1 p.m. and had a very nice send off at the station.  …Dad had to go back to work and couldn’t wait until the train left. We cut down through Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and we could almost tell what province we were in by the reception we got from the people. Through Quebec the population were very silent and took no more notice of the troop trains than if they were freight, but in the other provinces we got the glad hand all the way through. There were six or seven trains ahead of ours and some of them had windows broken by stones thrown by people at stations in Quebec. There had been rioting in Montreal that night over the conscription bill and we were hoping they would let us off to have some fun but “nothing doing.” We weren’t allowed off the train at all until we reached Halifax. At least the troops weren’t allowed off, but the band got off at a couple of stations and played and got right back on again. After travelling for what seemed like a month or two, for we had the old slat seats in our case—no cushions—and they got pretty hard after a few hours, we arrived at Halifax on Monday night about 8 p.m. We were supposed to have gone aboard that night but on account of arriving so late we had to spend another night on the train. During the ride down a case of supposed diphtheria was discovered on the train and the coach was quarantined.

On Tuesday morning we got packed up bright and early and started for the boat in a drizzling cold rain. We only had a couple of blocks to go when we entered an immense freight shed nearly as big as a city block and a few minutes later we got a view of our boat and what a monster she is. She is one of the largest liners afloat…and can accommodate about seven or eight thousand passengers readily.

I can’t give you her name or any of her dimensions on account of the censor. I only wish you could see her. We were quite close when we first saw her and really couldn’t realize how big she was until we got off her on this side and got some distance away.  …After some delay we finally got up to the gangplank and were just about to go aboard when we were held up. The news of the quarantined car had leaked out and they wouldn’t let us on, so we had to gather up our stuff and “beat it” downstairs again to wait for a train to take us to a quarantine camp. We had to hang around until 3:30 with nothing to eat and nearly froze to death. Just as the trains backed in to take us away an order came out that they had got the quarantine raised and were going to allow us aboard.  …We got a little ticket on the way which designated where we were to sleep and believe me, it wasn’t anything very inviting. After quite a lot of trouble I finally got a half-decent place to sleep in a room where we kept our instruments.

I had to “tip” the porter to get in and he supplied me with a little mattress which made things quite comfortable. I started to explore the boat and I haven’t space nor paper enough to describe what I saw even if I could. The nearest comparison I can make is to say it was like going through Eaton’s store from basement to top floor and trying to see everything at once. You would see something interesting and perhaps go to see it again and not be able to find it for maybe an hour. We didn’t lack for exercise for her promenade deck alone is ¼ mile once around and we had route marches every day around this deck.

There was a sharp lookout kept for subs and I understand several were sighted but too far away to do any damage. As we neared this side an escort of several light cruisers came out to meet us.  …We had one fairly close call from a sub that took a “pop” at us and missed our stern by a few feet. One of the cruisers immediately dropped back to give chase and we haven’t heard any more about it. Some of the boys got pretty seasick but I didn’t feel any more than a slight dizziness when the boat would roll and which lasted for the first two or three days.

It was the following Saturday morning that I came on deck and saw land ahead which was England, and as it became lighter and the mist raised, we could see a large town—which proved to be Liverpool—and on the opposite side of the river (the Mersey) from where we were going, was another big town—New Brighton and Berkenshire. We were up extra early that morning (3 a.m.) to get ready to leave the boat by 7 o’clock and had everything ready to march off when they discovered that they couldn’t get trains for us that day and we had to spend another day on the boat. The next morning we were up early again and finally left the boat at 10 a.m., marching…up from the dock into a great railroad shed where the trains were…backed in to convey us across England. I wish you could see the trains here—they are the funniest little things alongside ours in Canada. The box cars are only about 12 feet long, the dinky little coal cars only seem to hold about 2 tons and a little oil tank and flat cars that looked almost like toyland. These little trains, at which we laughed at first, could travel like “the dickens”, often speeding up to 75 or 80 miles and with a train of 25 cars.  …We got a great reception all along the line—people rushing from their houses, cheering and waving flags—they certainly know there is a war on.

The country is beautiful…you couldn’t picture such a beautiful place even in fairyland—rolling green as far as the eye can see with plenty of trees to relieve the eye.  …The fields are separated by hedges about 3 feet high which run for miles.  …Occasionally we would see old castles tucked away up on top of a hill surrounded by a fortress and, no doubt, with a history as long as your arm.

We reached Seaford about 8:30 p.m.  …finally reached camp about 9 o’clock in a drizzling rain.  …We were assigned to tents in a quarantine camp where we will have to stay for 2 or 3 weeks to see if there is any contagious disease after which we will go to the main camp about a mile from here. The first night was very dark and rainy and the sky was pierced in all directions with searchlights looking for zeppelins.

About noon today a heavy mist rolled up and the alarm was sounded upon which we all ran out and got away from the camp. We learned later…there had been a zep raid over the country but didn’t learn of any damage done. There are lots of airships and dirigibles flying around here and we are getting quite used to them.

The grub here is very “punk” but we have been promised better food when we get to the other camp where they have better facilities for feeding a large number of men.

Everything is very high here especially sweet stuffs. It costs a shilling (24 cts.) for as much candy as you’d buy at home for a nickel. Little boxes of matches, 10 cts. a dozen home, are 2 cts. straight here. Little biscuits like ginger snaps and Arrowroots are 3 biscuits for 3 cts. and almost all eatables are correspondingly high. You can’t get white bread at all—using a sort of rye bread. Sugar is also scarce, etc.

There are lots of Belleville boys here some of which you know—Wilfred Vandervoort (who has just come from a hospital), Charlie Wills, Ray Mimms …and Tommy Ellis.

We got some good news tonight which I only hope comes true…all the non-commissioned officers (sergeants, corporals, etc. ) are reduced to the ranks and of course  “Little Willy” is among the number so I am now a full private again.

Last night a letter came from headquarters asking for two bands to go to France right away to be used in billets as a band. There are certain qualifications to be filled, which our band filled to a man, and we have put in an application to go, so the next time you hear from me might be from France.  …Everybody here thinks it is a splendid chance if we can get it.

Now Sliver: when you get a chance write, for it is rather lonesome over here and I’ll try and keep up my end. I’ll append my address which you can write to and even if we leave here it will be forwarded on to me.

As ever yours, Garn xxxx


Pte. G.E. Dobbs #636208, 6th Bn.,

South Camp, Seaford, Sussex, England.


Selection from the letter collection of Sergeant Dobbs, to his sister Millie and his brother Walter
CWM 20050153-001
George Metcalf Archival Collection
© Canadian War Museum


Sign up today for a FREE download of Canada’s War Stories

Free e-book

An informative primer on Canada’s crucial role in the Normandy landing, June 6, 1944.