In the long adventurous life of Royal Mail Ship (RMS) Olympic, the older sister of the ill-fated RMS Titanic, the time she spent as a troopship ferrying Canadian troops during the First World War is a notable but frequently overlooked part of her career. Olympic was cheered enthusiastically by Canadian troops who sailed aboard her, respected as the “Old Reliable,” praised for services rendered to other ships, and honoured for her own success in attacking an enemy submarine. Carrying more Canadian soldiers than any other troopship, Olympic was an important part of Canada’s war effort.
Able to accommodate close to 6000 troops at a time, Olympic made ten round trips from Liverpool to Halifax between March and December 1916. On the return voyages she carried wounded soldiers and civilians back to Canada. For the next two years Olympic continued to ferry Canadian and American troops across the Atlantic, and in 1919, brought the victorious soldiers home. Although she was once a household name in Canada, Olympic’s wartime service has since slipped into obscurity.
Most information on Olympic as a troopship is derived from the memoirs of the Olympic’s wartime Captain, Sir Bertram Hayes. Using Hayes’s account as a framework, this article helps to further illuminate Olympic’s wartime history with new material such as diaries, and other sources housed at the National Archives of Canada and at the hitherto largely untapped Archives of the Canadian War Museum. These sources provide interesting details of the experiences of sailing on the vessel and of life on board, including the difficulties of embarkation and disembarkation, the danger from submarines, and the general supply and handling of this large ship in frequently hazardous circumstances.
Gray, David R. "Carrying Canadian Troops: The Story of RMS Olympic as a First World War Troopship." Canadian Military History 11, 1 (2002)