David Yeager Letter
May 10th 1941 Camp Bordon, England
Mrs. Rachel Yeager
5348 St. Urbain St.
Montreal, Que., Canada
I wrote you last week from Londonderry, Northern Ireland, & I hope that that letter reached you safely. I’m in England now, that’s where I’m writing you from. I arrived in this country Sunday morning from Belfast, Northern Ireland.
I might as well tell you the truth about how I came over. Our ship was torpedoed and sunk somewhere around 200 miles west of Ireland on Wednesday the 30th of April about 10:30 at night. Don’t be frightened now, & because I’m still alive to write this letter, so realize that. I was in someone else’s cabin at that time, when I heard an explosion and all the lights went out. I had no boots on at the time, only socks, and a sweater was covering me. I ran to my cabin to get my lifebelt, but it was so dark, and in the excitement I grabbed a pillow. The floor was covered with water, and already a crowd was going up the stairs towards the lifeboats. I knew where our lifeboat was because only the second day of the voyage we had boat drill. I got into the lifeboat, which had some people already in it and then the ropes were cut, and the boat fell into the water. Water started to come into the boat right away, and we had to pour it out with our hands. Most of the lifeboats, perhaps all of them were lowered. That ship had three torpedoes in her, and as a result she sank in four minutes, before everyone had time to get off. That submarine commander wanted few people to survive. Before she sank, I remember seeing a big flame, then the ship broke in two pieces and sank. Meantime, our lifeboat drifted on, water coming in all the time, and we kept on bailing it out. That action kept us warm. Our lifeboat kept filling up with water, so it was steady work for us to keep it out. David Fitch was in the same lifeboat as I was, and I was glad to see him still alive. Sgt. Saull also survived, although the boat in which he was overturned before it was let down, and he fell out and was forced to swim around before he got on a raft, and then onto a lifeboat. You must understand that every article of equipment, or supplies I had has gone down with the ship. I had only the clothes on my back and my money in my money belt. Everything else has gone. We drifted about all night in that boat, and five people had already given up hope and died. However, before the ship went down the wireless operator sent out an SOS and a British destroyer was already looking for survivors.
The ocean was rough at times, and I swallowed some water. That water is terribly salty, and I had the good sense not to drink any. My feet were numb, and so was one hand. But I would not lie back, as the others had done. David Fitch was in the same boat, and he did not get discouraged neither. We saw two flares in the dark and thought it was a rescue ship, but later we found out it was two submarines signalling to each other. When daylight arrived we were more hopeful. We tried to find a plug to stop the leak, but could not. An American plane saw us and we waved to it, and it signalled back that it had seen us. 10:30 that morning a British destroyer found us, and lowered ropes, and we were rescued. I was soaked in sea water from the waist down, because the leak in that boat was so large a civilian passenger had only his light underwear at the time, and he died of the cold. Five people died in that lifeboat. So soon as I was taken on the destroyer, a sailor gave me some hot tea, took my clothes off, dried me, and hung everything to dry. Then they put me to bed, and I had a good meal, some roast and boiled potatoes and lamb. I fell asleep soon. When I woke up my name was taken as one of the survivors. I put on my clothes, which were dry, and all of us boarded a small destroyer, which took us to Londonderry. From there we took a bus to the local barracks. The military police told us not to mention the torpedoing, because we were near to Eire. We were taken into the barracks, where we had a big plate of Irish stew and the biggest cup I’ve ever seen of tea. I was still dazed by what happened. I tried to sleep but could not. Almost everyone was coughing. Those British Army men were very kind to us, and next morning we had our breakfast in the barrack beds. I had a bath after that which I needed badly. Then I was given a new uniform, two pairs of socks, a pair of boots, a comb and a toothbrush and another set of underwear. Thus a small fraction of my kit had been restored. We had lots to eat in Londonderry. We stayed there until Saturday afternoon, when we were given 8/ spending money. We were taken to Belfast by train, and from there we took the ship to England, across the Irish Sea. We had supper on the ship. Sunday morning I got off the ship. It landed at Heysham, a dreary looking town. Then I set foot on English soil. From there we took the train to Liverpool; we arrived first at Waterloo, a small suburb of Liverpool, and then the army trucks took us to Liverpool proper, which everyone knows, has been bombed quite frequently. We saw some damage. There were still some fires burning, and they were still trying to put them out. We saw rows of houses, whose window panes had been shattered, and then some buildings were just heaps of bricks and lumber. You could see glass scattered all over the street and smoke filled the air. Some of the business section had been hit also. We went to the barracks in Liverpool, where we had tinned herring, chocolate cake (I wondered how they managed to make it) some white bread, marmalade (there’s lots of it here) and tea, which had hardly any sugar, but no one minded. All gas, electricity, and light services had broken down because of the air raids but the food was good. Then we were given 50 cigarettes each, but I gave mine away. We rested in the barracks for two hours, and at 5 o’clock we took the train to London. England seems to be a nice country, but parts of it are somewhat old in appearance. I guess some buildings could be torn down with no harm being done. We had dinner on the train. Those English trains are small, and are they crowded! The train stopped every quarter of a mile it seemed to us. We arrived in London at 11:30 P.M. at Euston Station. We were met there by a Canadian officer, and then we boarded a bus for Camp Bordon which is 45 miles away. The city was blacked out, but the traffic lights were on, but they were dim, and covered up. We did not see much of London, because it was dark and I could not see any damage. I guess we were in the West End. They tell us most of the damage is in the East End. I don’t think I’ll have much of a chance to see London now, because Canadian troops are forbidden to go there. Some soldiers were killed a few days before. I hear that we will get 5 days landing leave, and I’m thinking of going to Edinburgh, Scotland. Train fare is free to the troops. I would have gone with Sgt. Aubin, but he’s disappeared, and so has that poor, shy fellow, Ashworth, whose mother spoke to you on the train at Bonaventure Station. I last saw him, he was shaving. One of our sergeants, Turner, his name is, was killed by a torpedo, which split his head open. Sgt. Saull borrowed $5.00 from me, because all his money was with Sgt. Turner. All our documents have been lost. Sgt. Aubin was taking care of them. I think he was married, and had two children. You spoke to him that night I left. Ashworth was an only child. We arrived at Camp Bordon about one o’clock where we were given a meal and then put into barracks. They told me London gets bombed every night. Next day, I got an extra uniform, some brushes and a great coat. Barrack life is not very comfortable. We had to make our own beds, and line up for our meals at the mess halls. The food isn’t bad. Most of it is greasy. There’s lots of it, but not much variety. The only sugar we get is in marmalade. The sugar in our cocoa or tea is almost tasteless but it can’t be helped. There are lots of potatoes, and spinach, but we don’t see any fruit as apples or oranges. Chocolate costs 2d or 2 ½d a bar, but it can’t be obtained at all times. There are different refreshment stands & recreation stands halls around the camp, and there are free movies twice a week. L They seem to have lots of cocoa here. It costs only 1 1/2d a cup. Chips cost 3d a plate. You can see that there’s not much variety, but what food there is does not cost much.
They told us that the civilian population are placed on stricter rations than the military personnel are. Tuesday afternoon we were medically re-examined, and they found out that I have albumen in the urine, which showed that the kidneys are not functioning properly. A few more tests showed that I had to be taken to a military hospital for observation and a long rest. I suspect that I may be sent home, but that is not probable. On Friday afternoon I entered the hospital here, which is very cheerful. I don’t know how long I’ll be here. Its now about 7:00 PM, Saturday, 10th May, and I hope that this letter reaches you in two weeks on 24th May. I’ve got enough money about 6.5s, and besides Sgt. Saull owes me $5.00, at 4/4 to $1.00 comes out to l.l.8. So I’m financially O.K. I don’t know if I’ll be discharged or sent back, but when I’ll know, I’ll send you a list of stuff I need such as handkerchiefs, shaving soap, blades, etc., but don’t send anything until I’ll write you, which will be in about 4 or 5 days. I hope that the Woodhouse and Pay Assignment cheques and War Savings Stamps are arriving O.K. Meantime, I’m here in this Military Hospital having a rest, and perhaps I’ll have my 5 day holiday when I leave this hospital. I hope that you got my cable quickly. I sent it on 2nd May from Londonderry. How is the family? I hope that nothing serious has happened. How is your mother? Has she had another attack of diabetes? Has Polly been put on her feet yet, or is she in another mess? Is the cat still at home? I wonder if she’s had any kittens. There were some cute kittens on the ship, but they were drowned. I’ve nothing more to write now, so I’ll close. Don’t worry. I’m in good hands, and I’ll soon start work. If I’m to be sent home I’ll send you a cable. But now that you have the address, (on the back of this sheet) you can write me now. I’ll write again in a few days. Good-bye, until I hear from you, or until you hear from me.
Your affectionate son,
P.S. Be sure to prepay full postage on your letter.
Reference: Letter from Len Saull
Written on Salvation Army stationery
Overseas War Services Department
17 Cockspur Street,
London, S.W. l
On Active Service with the Canadian Forces