During WWI Halifax was a busy port. In addition to Canada’s war effort, it was also the base of British naval operations. The rail yards were busy ferrying troops, medical supplies, prisoners, injured soldiers, and necessary cargo to and from Europe. Passenger ships, cargo ships and hospital ships made for a very busy harbour. Ship repair also added to the daily operations of the harbour.
While three thousand miles of Ocean lay between Canada and the war in Europe, the threat of German submarines was very real. Canada had only a small navy was small. In Halifax troops were posted at fortifications in and around the city, a blackout system was enforced to prevent submarines from using the lights of the city for navigation and submarine nets were stretched across the mouth of the harbour at night.
This was the first taste of the atmosphere of war that the new recruits experienced. It was an intriguing and nervous time. Perhaps this is why James and the others wrote so much about it in their diaries. The published diary of the 11th Field Ambulance records the intrigue surrounding the few days harboured in Halifax.
Three nights were spent abroad ship in harbour during which time Dame Rumour was very busy spreading reports of spies among the troops. It was affirming that at least two men were removed from the boat. Betting in New York was said to be one hundred to one against the convoy’s getting safely across. At Hamilton meanwhile news had been received that the Adriatic had been blown up in harbour and that all the 86th had perished, while hordes of German-Americans were said to be invading Canada from the south.