ATHELINGS TOUR TO CANADA AUGUST 1951
A PERSONAL RECOLLECTION by David Kemp
It is now 50 years exactly since I joined the Athelings tour to see something of Canada and to shoot at the Dominion of Canada Rifle Meeting at the Connaught Ranges in Ottawa. I wish that I had kept a diary and I confess that these comments are from memory only - any omissions or errors I fully accept. I regret that I have not kept in touch with any of the team, but I did contact John Previte and David Kilmister within the last month and their comments have helped to refresh my memories.
I did not know until recently that we were the first Athelings team since before the Second World War. It was Festival of Britain Year and Britain was just beginning to recover from that huge upheaval and we were still very short of many things which today would be taken for granted. There was no television so our scant knowledge of Canada and the USA was taken from films and the wireless. Our experience was to be an enormous culture shock for us all.
We left for our transatlantic 7 day voyage on the 20,000 ton 'Empress of Canada'. She sailed from the Liverpool landing stage on 31st July - I believe it was the same stage that was used for the film 'Chariots of Fire' many years later. The ship herself was destroyed by fire in Gladstone Dock, Liverpool, only two years after our crossings. Some of us were, I think, a little bit sea-sick on the first morning, but this soon passed and we began to enjoy the wonderful food on board - after rationing we couldn't believe it, even in Tourist Class where we were given four berth cabins. The 'Empress' had a shallow draught to enable her to transit the St Lawrence Seaway and thus rolled a bit in mid Atlantic.
But the biggest attraction was when we discovered that there were 51 charming young ladies on
board sponsored by Garfield Weston, the biscuit magnate, and led by Odette Churchill GC who had
suffered so horribly during the war. Mr Weston's daughter, Barbara, also accompanied the girls.
With these wonderful companions we enjoyed to the full the many facilities on the ship including horse racing in the First Class lounge and deck quoits and other activities. Our leader, Brigadier Davenport
and the adjutant, Capt Godfrey, must have had quite a job dragging us away from these
attractions to practise our dry snap-shooting on deck. The weather was not great on passage so it was interesting!
We disembarked at Quebec under the imposing Chateau Frontenac Hotel and were whisked away down to business at the Province of Quebec Rifle Association meeting at Mount Bruno. In our spare time we visited the Heights of Abraham (with memories of General Wolfe) and Fort Henry at the top of the heights - although for the life of me I can't remember if the fort was French or English - perhaps both.
In Quebec we met up with our bus which was to take us all over the Maritime provinces. It was an
army bus and the seats were OK for short journeys, but trying to sleep on longer ones meant you had
to curl round the seat end and leave your legs dangling in the aisle - most uncomfortable!
We were transported in the bus to the Connaught ranges and, for me, my first full meeting. We were
issued with our DCRA hat, which I still proudly have and which I used at Bisley until 1963 when I left
Surrey and stopped shooting. Frankly I cannot remember much about the shooting itself except that
it was very hot. It was also our first experience at the long ranges - quite a shock from our maximum
hitherto of 500 yards. We were not given a great deal of coaching, nothing like the quality of the
present day, but everyone was extremely helpful to us and we were greeted most warmly. We used
the old No. 4 rifles issued by our schools or cadet units with none of the preparation that is available
now. I must have been reasonably successful as I was lucky enough to be awarded the Imperial
Cadet Aggregate Medal which is on my desk as I write. We were entertained at many of the Club
Houses on the range including one, The Elk ?, which had huge Moose heads on its walls. Any prize
money won during the meeting was shared out equally so that we could all have some small
chance of enjoying Canadian life, bearing in mind that we were only able to take a very small
amount of English currency with us because of currency restrictions. During the Ottawa visit we went
to visit the British High Commissioner, Sir Alexander Clutterbuck, and had a chance of seeing the
Parliament buildings. We greatly enjoyed hot dogs, coca cola and some films, 'Showboat' was one
and we listened to the 'pops' of the day, Les Paul and Mary Ford playing 'How High the Moon' and 'On
Top of Old Smokie'
During our trip after the meeting at Connaught, we were entertained most royally by the Canadian army. These visits included Camp Petawawa and Camp Borden. I do remember the hospitality of the Princess Patricia Light Infantry and being able to clamber over the tanks and vehicles at Borden where we also swam in the river Gatineau and had a marvellous evening barbeque, although I don't think the word had come into use at that time. We also went to the Military Academy in Kingston, Ontario, where I recall the splendid Officers' Mess.
Many entertainments were laid on for us, of which the highlight was a concert at the Canadian
National Exhibition in Toronto where the famous entertainer Jimmy (Schnozzle) Durante was top of
the Bill. We also managed a brief trip to Montreal and the Magill University. On one memorable day
we went to the Niagara Falls in our faithful bus and saw the various barrels and contraptions which
had been used by people who wanted to go down the falls - a very hazardous occupation. I also
recall going to a nylon factory and some of the Eddy Group paper mills. So impressed was I by
the nylon factory and its promise of no more ironing that for my memento of the trip I bought a nylon
shirt with a hideous bilious green 'Kipper' tie - neither of which I still have !
We were accompanied everywhere by wonderful Canadian army guides - could one of them have been the ubiquitous Col. Buer? They looked after us so well that I really wish I could remember their names and in retrospect I am so grateful to them.
We reboarded the Empress of Canada at Montreal, I think, where to our delight the Weston girls were
already settled in. The return voyage I recall as a joyous blur - although in those days a 17 year
old was probably as mature as a 12 year old is nowadays! Actually we had some healthy competition
for our companions - a group of Scottish Country Dancers who twirled 'our' girls in their jigs and reels.
Our return to a wet Liverpool was a bit sad as it meant the end of our youth - certainly I was due to be called up for my National Service within 10 days - but it was an adventure the memory of which I still treasure.
I did go and see Peter Godfrey at Marlborough College in 1952 when I was stationed at Devizes. The only other contact was some fifteen years later when I was working with a shipping company which traded with Canada and I was introduced to the UK boss of Canadian Pacific Railways and realised that he had been the Chief Purser on the 'Empress of Canada' during our voyages! It was an adventure the memory of which I will always treasure and in particular the good fellowship, the fun and the kindness shown to us all - and not forgetting Lee and Tessa especially. of the 'Weston' girls.
David Kemp August 2001