Seaman Timothy Brown, Reid, to his Family
Ponta Delgada, Azores,
Sunday, August 18, 1917.
I have not had much time for writing the last few days not because there has been nothing to say, but because work has taken up even more time than usual. As we get further into the war, things tighten up somewhat, and lately we have had to work Saturday afternoons and Sundays the same as the other days in order to keep the old boat where she belongs. Every time we go into port there is a lot of coaling to be done and little things to be fixed up.
As soon as the coaling is over, cleaning ship, scrubbing the sides, and sometimes painting is necessary, and we are on the go now to such an extent that we have to put in our spare time as well as our regular working hours in order to get finished by the time we have to get out again. Often we move at short notice with the work half finished, and have a rush to get things stowed and secured for sea by the time we get outside. There is always a little thrill about going out unexpectedly. Of course in the crew we don’t know anything, and that makes it more exciting when we hear the cry, “All hands—get under way!” Sometimes it comes in the night; then the petty officer of the watch comes down the ladder with a flashlight and shakes each man. We dress in the dark (those who have removed their clothing or parts of it), then get on deck, where there is always a little light from the sky, swing in the boats that are trailing astern while we are in port, secure all loose objects around the deck, then all up on the fo’c’s’le to assist in the ceremony of hoisting anchor and getting it aboard. By that time the “black gang” (firemen and machinists) have the engines turning over, and out we go. Our turbines run so smoothly, and I am so interested that usually the first I know of our being under way is when we leave the harbor and meet the swell of the open sea. As soon as the anchor is secured, those who have the watch as lookouts are posted, and the rest after the odds and ends are cared for turn into their bunks again.
The first couple of times we had alarms I was pretty wakeful after getting under way, but now I can go back to sleep quickly and be glad of the chance. Those who have the watch go to various points on the ship—in the crow’s nest, if it is getting light; the bridge, out on the fo’c’s’le if the seas are not coming over; and keep a sharp watch for anything at all which may appear on the water. Turtles, porpoises, bits of driftwood, oil, etc., are all reported as well as sails and lights. The moon first appearing, is nearly always reported as a light by some alert lookout. Submarines are apt to be most any place these days, and it would be foolish not to take every precaution, not so much for our own safety, but in order to get the sub before she can submerge.
Sometimes we see something that looks like a periscope, and then there is more fun. The men go to quarters and the ship goes at it. It tickles me the way we don’t try to sneak by, but go to anything that looks like trouble. Of course that is our job, and it is a good job. When the object turns out to be a bit of wreckage or other harmless thing, there is a curious feeling of mingled relief and disappointment. By relief I don’t mean relief from being keyed up. I don’t believe any of us have anything but regret at losing out on a chance to improve our batting eyes.
In the place where we now are, they have the best little cakes (especially the cocoanut with pastry rims), and when I get a chance to go ashore, which is something that doesn’t happen often to a deck-hand, I eat myself full at a place conveniently situated so I can see the harbor. Bum-boats also come alongside with most of the fruits I would get at this season at home—melons, pineapples, plums, grapes, and others that I am not used to, and they all taste good, and so far nothing has poisoned me.
My fried “Nick” Carter, who was with me on the Irene, is still with us. He is a mighty man with the swab and is always cleaning up the place, of his own motion, and always with the swab, and always in a good humor. I know if we are boarded by the Germans he will make for the swabs instead of the cutlasses, of which we have a liberal supply, and the gunner’s gang has to polish them. I feel that this duty will finally devolve upon the deck force. Still, it is more like a book to be shining a cutlass than a stanchion. Hines, one of our seamen, says to shine stanchions is against regulations, because the wear of the emery paper weakens the “structure” of the ship. Still, we do it. Some folks think the Dungaree Navy2 is not very regulation. I sometimes think so myself.
With love, TIMOTHY.