Letters from the Front

Private John Cushnie

The Tower of London, Chu Chin Chow and Ireland

Private Collection

Sunday, January 20, 1918

Transcribed by: Anne Hales

25th Reserve Battalion

Bramshott Camp Eng.

20 – 1- 18

Dear Folks at Home:-

     You will be thinking that I have become very neglectful of my duties starting off the New Year as I haven’t written for this last 2 weeks but I hope you’ll forgive me this time and I’ll promise not to offend again.

     Well my long due leave is now a thing of the past as I got my pass at last and just came back last Thursday.  I have an awful lot to tell you so if I don’t get it all in this time I’ll write more about it later.

     I told you that I was going to Ireland and although I was rather doubtful it went through at Brigade and on the evening of the 9th the sergeant brought the pass with the free transportation into the hut and all doubts were removed.

     As Bill was not due for a leave my travelling companion was a boy from Harriston by the name of Pat Eedy who is a very nice fellow and who I knew before I enlisted.

     As matters turned out we were “in luck” to get a pass to Ireland at all, because the day after we left an order came out saying that no passes were to be given to Ireland unless there was a special reason so we got ours just at the right time.  The reason for this order is that Ireland is such a nice place that fellows are tempted to overstay their leave and we could quite understand that after we got there.  Another pleasant surprise was that we were given a 7 days pass while we only applied for 6 days so our lucky star must have been in the ascendant indeed.

     Leaving Bramshott about 6.30 am on the 10th we arrived in London about 8 o’clock and upon inquiring we found that we would have to spend the day in London because there wasn’t a train out until that evening.  We went to the Eagle Hut (The American Y) and after a wash and clean up, had a nice breakfast, consisting of some real good porridge and some eggs.  The Eagle Hut is a favorite spot with Canadians on leave because there is no Canadian Y in London and the people there make you feel so much at home.

     After that we paid a visit to the Tower of London which neither of us had seen before.  It is a very imposing place as most of these places are and is of course very old.  The walls , stairs etc are all built of stone which in many places has been rebuilt to prevent it crumbling away.  There are men there whose business is to show you around and explain things to you.  They are dressed in olden fashion with those funny collars, silk stockings, knee breeches and red jerkins and a broad brimmed hat.  They are in themselves an object of curiosity.  We saw cells where famous people had once been imprisoned and they are certainly cheerless places to say the least.  The stairs are very narrow – in fact I know some people who couldn’t manage them – and if you ever fell down them you would have a hard time because the steps are all made of stone.

     The Crown Jewels are also on exhibition there and they are very beautiful.  They are very well guarded of course and there is someone always watching you while you are near them.

     After dinner, as it was too wet for sight-seeing we went to a matinee of “Chu Chin Chow” at His Majesty’s Theatre.  It had been highly recommended to us so we thought this would be a good chance to take it in.  The theatre itself is an immense place and although we were seated in the back of the gallery – quite a piece from the stage – we could see everything fine and hear all that was said.  The plot is the same as that of Ali Baba and his 40 thieves in the Arabian Nights.  The main part of the performance however was musical and the singing and the playing of the Orchestra were grand. The costumes were very beautiful and it must have cost a small fortune to provide the costumes alone.  Chin Chin Chow has been played in London now for over 600 performances so you can see how popular it is. It was certainly well worth seeing.

     We caught our train in London at 7.30 that evening to start us on our journey.  We travelled all night and about 6.30 next morning we arrived at Straurear in Scotland where we were to take the boat.

     We didn’t have any trouble finding the boat as we simply walked off the station platform onto the boat.  Of course it is only a small one, not to be compared with the Olympia but is very fast.  We had no escort across the Irish Sea although sometimes they have one when they think there is any danger from German submarines.

      The crossing only took us two hours and we were hardly out of sight of Scotland before Ireland came in view so you can see that it isn’t a very long sea trip.  We chose this route in going to Ireland because it has the shortest sea passage as neither of us wanted to be seasick.  There was no one sick at all on the boat for which I was truly thankful because if anyone had started it I think I would have been the next as I had a very unpleasant sensation in my stomach.

     We had sunrise at sea during our trip and it was beautiful to see the sun rising over the horizon on the water.  I can’t say that I am specially fond of the sea and I have no hankering whatever to be a sailor.

     We arrived at the Port of Lorne, Ireland about 9 am and from there it was only about an hour’s train run into Belfast.

     You may wonder why it was that we went to the north of Ireland instead of the south as it is so much nearer.  The South of Ireland, around Dublin and Cork is the headquarters of the Sein Feiners and whenever there is a demonstration, soldiers have to keep out of the way for fear there will be trouble.  Therefore we thought we had better be on the safe side and go to the North.  Besides Belfast is McKinstry ’s native city and I had heard so much about it that I wanted to see it for myself.

     We were surprised to find that Belfast is a very busy, up-to-date city as we had expected to find it rather slow.

     The weather was rather unfavorable for sight seeing as it was snowing nearly all the time but we managed to see some interesting thing nevertheless.  Belfast Castle is just outside of the city so we took a train and paid it a visit one morning.  We found on reaching it that we couldn’t get inside without a permit so we had to be content with seeing it from the outside.  It had all the towers, drawbridges, moats etc that you read about old castles and it was very interesting indeed to see it for ourselves.

     While in Belfast there was a big airship exhibition opened which we attended.  There were quite a number of notable people there and we heard speeches by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Mayor of Belfast, Countess of Drogheda and several others  The speeches were rather poor and hardly worth listening to although the Countess of Drogheda was the best of the bunch.  They all talked about all Ireland was doing in the war, which was rather amusing because they haven’t even got conscription in Ireland.

     The exhibits at this exhibition were very interesting being nearly all planes that had seen service and had some kind of a story connected with them.  There were several German planes which had been brought down and also parts of Zeppelins.

     The plane was there which Lieut Warneford used when he brought down the first Zeppelin in England and many others besides.

     We soon found that Ireland is not nearly as much affected by the war as England and Scotland.  One thing that pleased us very much was that there were practically no food restrictions as in England.  We could get nearly anything we wanted, as much as we liked and at a very low price compared to England.

     Then, as I said before, there is no conscription in Ireland and we saw hundreds of young fellows around Belfast in civilian clothes which is a very uncommon sight on this side of the Atlantic.

     It was also a treat to be in a place once more where the street lights are on full blast at night.  There have been no German air-raids on Ireland yet, so it isn’t necessary for them to keep their light under a bush.

     Well I think this letter is quite long enough now so I wait until the next letter to tell you of the rest of our holiday.

      I received mother’s box O.K. and also the letter of 16th . The apples don’t carry very well as they get a little bruised although they were not rotten by any means.  I don’t think I would bother sending them as we can get some here although of course they are not as good as Canadian apples.  The cake was fine though and we enjoyed it very much.

     Hope this finds you all well as it leaves us.



This is part of the John Cushnie Collection. This is a collection of approximatly 98 letters from 1916 to 1918, and a diary with 220 entries from 1918. These letters and diary entries, were very gratiously provided by Anne Hales.

Chu Chin Chow is a musical comedy based on the story of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves. More information here .