Up early next morning, kit bags packed, we were off down to the docks to board a ship for a two and a half hour voyage to Vancouver. My emotions were rather mixed. I desperately wanted to go home but felt sad at leaving the people who had been so kind and generous, helping us ease our way back into society.
We arrived in Vancouver about three hours later and disembarked in two separate groups. One group to travel on Canadian Pacific Railways and the other on Canadian National Railways; I was to board the latter. After a short walk each group were settled in their respective trains, which were to travel, by different routes across Canada to our destination, New York in the United States of America. Our train was the largest I had ever seen with twenty-two coaches pulled by two locomotives. Our coach was comfortably warm with double-glazed windows and two settee type seats facing each other with two of us to each settee. There was also a pull down bunk above the window that formed part of the roof by day.
During the evening, whilst we were at dinner, the steward unlocked the pull down bunk and made that and the settees into beds ready for us to retire. I had the bunk. I felt a surge of excitement as we pulled away from Vancouver. As we left we could see the Rocky Mountains and soon we would pass through them. Vancouver was a surprisingly large city with lots of small towns and suburbs. But in no time it seemed we were in the mountains running along tracks cut into the mountainside with our speed decreasing as the train started to climb the steep gradients. As I watched from my coach window, which was near the front of the train, I could look back along the whole train, which by now had acquired two more locomotives. We now had two engines at each end of the train which I could see winding itself gracefully around the curves of the mountain with columns of black smoke and steam rising straight up from the locomotive’s funnels. The scenery was breathtaking, with snowy mountains, fir trees and riverbanks along which the track sometimes ran.
At the end of our coach there were washing facilities, toilets and showers. After dinner which was served in the dining coach, we sat on our beds chatting for a while before turning in. The rhythm of the train soon rocked us to sleep although we were half wakened occasionally by the unfamiliar sound of the train whistle. In the morning we found that we had passed through Calgary during the night. The steward told us that we would shortly be stopping at a town called Medicine Hat for a change of driver and fireman and to allow the train to refuel. There would, he said, be a further five stops along the way where we would be able to dismount for an hour to stretch our legs and have a look around. We would be alerted to return on board by the train’s whistle and bells which would sound at intervals ten minutes before the train was due to depart.
There was snow on the ground as we chuffed into Medicine Hat, the train bell ringing just like a small church bell. It was a small station without a platform. As the coach door opened, the metal floor hinged up revealing steps down to the trackside. I had donned my hat, greatcoat and gloves to face the weather but my first breath of air told me where my lungs began and ended. It was freezing with snow crunching underfoot. I decided to have a look round the nearest locomotive and noticed that the Company’s name had been removed from the coaches and had been replaced by a sign saying ‘Armed Forces Sleeper’. On the locomotive’s tender I read waster capacity 6000 gallons, coal 16 tons; an enormous amount I thought. I was told later that they also used 600 gallons of oil, which was sprayed into the furnace with the coal, the coal was fed into an opening in the tender floor, crushed in a worm drive then blown into the furnace under pressure with the oil.
Outside the station was a large log building with general store emblazoned across it’s front; some of us decided to go inside. A large iron barrel stove stood in the centre of the room, the remainder of the store being packed to capacity with everything imaginable, all one needs in this frozen climate. I’d never seen so many commodities in one place and could have browsed for hours. Instead, I thought I would explore some of the town, walking down a couple of side streets. There were no other shops in sight, the general store obviously being the main supplier to the local populace. The only inhabitant I encountered were some men wearing hats and earmuffs, lumber jackets and thick trousers and strapped knee length boots. It was a visual geography lesson for me but I decided I needed to get back on the train to enjoy its cosy warmth.
Next stop Moose Jaw; a similar journey, similar town except for the weather which was horizontal snow and freezing wind. I wasted little time in hopping back on the train. The scenery was also changing as we journeyed on with the countryside becoming flatter. We then reached the prairies, the wide-open spaces, which took a day and a half to cross. At one of the stops some English girls, who had met and married Canadians, were waiting to meet the train. They all talked of the loneliness, with no neighbours nearby. Three of them were so desperate they asked if they could join the train and travel home with us. I must say I had some sympathy with them because I was desperate to get home and could hardly wait for the journey to end.
The view from the train was just mile after mile of grassland with bushes here and there, of course this was November and the wheat and cereals must have been harvested, the occasional farm scattered the horizon, I felt that to live such a lonely life with no near neighbours and not another human being in sight would be hard to bear unless born into this vast lonely world. We did not stop at any of the large cities having pas Winnipeg about half way through our journey and now as we neared the end sped past Ottawa and Toronoto.