Postcards from the Dalhousie No.7 Stationary Hospital
During his service as a soldier in World War One, Private Harold Benjamin Watts wrote two postcards to his friend, Harold Homans, of Port Mouton, Nova Scotia. Together with his service record in Library Archives Canada, these wartime postcards offer a glimpse of one soldier's experience during the Great War and his desire to stay connected to home while overseas.
Watts' service record indicates he was born on November 11, 1891, in Port Hood, Cape Breton. The 1916 Halifax City Directory lists him as bookkeeper for Neville Canneries, a lobster packing company on Lower Water Street. On October 28, 1915, he passed his military physical exam, and then on November 3, he was selected to be part of Dalhousie University's newly-created No.7 Stationary Hospital, a medical facility destined for Northern France. Watts was one of more than 100 Privates conscripted to provide general support for the hospital. Before shipping out, Watts was billeted at the Dalhousie Medical College and spent time training on campus. The unit sailed from Saint John, New Brunswick, on the Metagama on December 31, 1915.
Upon Watts' arrival in Sandgate, England, on January 8, 1916, the No. 7 Hospital unit took over the existing hospital grounds of Shorncliffe Army Camp. Eight days later, Watts mailed his first postcard to Harold Homans. The picture on the front depicts High Street in Sandgate, on the English Channel:
Just a card to let you know I am still alive. We arrived at Plymouth last Monday. Had a very good trip across with the exception that we nearly starved to death. We are quartered here, but expect to move in a week or so. Have not done any work yet only drill. This is certainly a beautiful country, but a hungry one. The grass is green, and vegetables in the garden, but it is cold + damp. Drop a line + tell us the news. Kind regards to all,
H.B. Watts 522025
#7 Stationary Hospital
Army Post Office
The next entry in Watts' service file, "Granted leave of absence - Sandgate, 29/1/16," corresponds with the second postcard Watts sent Harold Homans from England. It features an elevated view of Piccadilly Street in London.
Have been up here on six days pass. This is some berg and believe me I had a swell time. Have to go back to quarters tonight. Best regards to all,
The postcard now has the upper right corner torn out - probably done with the intention of moving the one-penny stamp of King George V into a prized stamp collection. This might have been Harold Homans' handiwork, who was close in age to Watts, and likely a friend or former work colleague. Homans' family originally hailed from Clam Harbour, and it's not known how or when he met Watts.
According to his record, by April 28, 1916, Watts was transferred from the No.7 Hospital in Shorncliffe to the London Canadian Pay Office. He spent the rest of the war there, and eventually rose to the rank of Staff Quartermaster Sergeant. While Watts stayed on in London, the No.7 Stationary Hospital relocated to France on June 18, 1916.
Even though Watts was positioned well behind the front lines, he was still in danger. Like many other soldiers, Watts contracted the Spanish Flu and was hospitalized at Tooting Grove Hospital for thirteen days in May, 1919. The lasting effects of the Flu, along with complications from tonsillitis, led to his "medically unfit" discharge in Montreal on September 1, 1920. He remained in Quebec for the rest of his life, settling down with Norah Muir Grace and continuing on with his career as an accountant.
It's not known whether Watts and Homans remained in touch after the Great War. Homans married Dorothy May Durling and spent his work life as a fisheries officer on the South Shore of Nova Scotia. Yet their friendship, however brief or long, is preserved forever in these two wartime postcards.