Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Anne Hitchcock Sims

[Extract]

U.S. NAVAL FORCES OPERATING IN EUROPEAN WATERS

U.S.S. MELVILLE, FLAGSHIP.

TELEPHONE, VICTORIA, 9110                 30, GROSVENOR GARDENS, 

CABLE ADDRESS, “SIMSADUS”                        LONDON, S.W. 1.

REFERENCE NO.                                       6 July 1918.

My dear Anne,

     . . . The really strenuous time began on the 4th. The British Government had decided to celebrate this 4th of July officially. The principal official event was a great meeting that was held in the Central Hall, Westminster, at which Mr. Winston Churchill1 was to make the principal speech, and to be followed by several other speakers including General Biddle2 and myself. Of course I knew that any high lights in this speech would be quoted, so I realised that I would have to be very careful not to make one of my customary indiscreet remarks.

     I therefore asked the Planning Section and Twining and Babcock3 for suggestions, and from these I compiled a bit of a speech which was submitted to them for inspection and they agreed that it was alright.

     The American press representatives asked me for a copy of it so that they could telegraph to America a day before, to be released on the 4th. I gave them a copy, but I have some doubts as to whether it will all be published in the American papers, because there was so much in the way of news on the 4th that it will be likely to be crowded out.4

     The next function of the day, and I believe the most important one insofar as propaganda is concerned, was the Baseball Game which was attended by the King and all the available members of the Royal family. It would not be worth while to describe this in detail, because I have not the slightest doubt that all details of any interest were cabled and fully reproduced in the American papers.

     All the same, I may give you some personal impressions. My first and strongest impression, when I got on the ground, in the presence of 40,000 people, was one of great regret that you could not see the sight.5 On all side of the great football ground every single seat was occupied and several thousand people over-flowed on to the grass and there was some difficulty keeping them far enough back of the foul line. I had a seat in the Royal Box immediately behind the King and Queen,6 so that I could answer their questions and keep them posted on the game.

     When the Royal Party arrived at the entrance to the ground, General Biddle and I met them and I escorted the Queen to the Royal Box. The two Baseball Teams, with their Captain, and with the Army and Navy athletic officers, were drawn up on the field in front of the Royal Box. When all was ready General Biddle and I, and a Mr. Cross who was managing the Baseball League went on to the field,7 where the King was introduced to the athletic officers and the captains of the teams and made them a little speech of welcome. With the clippings I am sending you one from the “Daily Sketch” which shows the King talking to the captain of the Army team while I stand just on the other side. It is one of the best pictures of the King that I have seen, and it makes him look considerably taller than he really is.8

     They tried to get the King to go into the Pitcher’s box and throw the first ball but he was rather afraid to do so as he had an idea that it required considerable skill for this function. In this he was of course mistaken. However, he handed the ball to the Umpire and declared the game open.

     He also autographed a new baseball with his name and the date July 4th. This will be mounted on an ebony stand covered with a glass case, and shipped to President Wilson.9 They do not seem, in America, to have appreciated the significance of this game. That is, the significance of the King attending it, and the effect it will have on public opinion in America. It was so apparent to me that I telegraphed the Navy Department and suggested that some message be sent from the Government to be delivered upon that occasion. The reply was that they did not think such a message should be sent upon such a minor occasion. I explained that no occasion that was attended by the King could be considered a minor one and repeated my recommendation but without effect.

     The game was one of the best I have ever seen from the point of view of professional ball. There was no reason why it should not have been, as nearly all the men on both teams were professional players until we came into the War. It was largely a Pitchers’ game, and we had the best one, as you have doubtless read in the papers.10 There was no doubt at all that our guest, including the Royal Party enjoyed the game very much. The King had seen two or three games before and was tolerable familiar with it. It was of course puzzled the ladies considerably but they were interested in the fine exhibition of fielding and so forth.

     I think that now that the P.D’s have seen the accounts telegraphed to our Press they have realised that this was not a minor occasion. At all events I have received a rather gushing congratulatory telegram from the Navy Department on the Navy’s winning the game.

     I had neglected to say that at the great meeting in Central Hall on the fore-noon of the 4th, Mr. Winston Churchill made one of the most eloquent speeches I have ever heard. It was also a very thoughtful one, and I believe will have considerable influence upon our relations in the future.11 There is no doubt about the intellectual capacity of this man. I would conceive him as a very valuable man in any Government, provided he were in a position where he would be under the control of cool heads. One could not say that he lacks judgment but that he is so terrifically impulsive that he is apparently liable to do things of the most important nature without sufficient consideration.

     On the evening of the 4th I had to attend the dinner of the American Society of London, of which Mr. Crane is, I believe, the President.12 At all events he is the nestor,13 and probably the most influential member. This is not a heterogeneous society but is composed of the best of the Americans who are resident in London. They always give a dinner on the 4th of July and on Thanksgiving Day. Upon this occasion there was some discussion as to whether they would invite any Britishers. They came to see me about it and I advised that as the British Government was officially celebrating the day that perhaps it would be better for the Americans not to do so, but instead to have a dinner which is exclusively American.

          Mr. Crane was in the chair, and the principal speaker of the evening was Mr. Cravath,14 a very prominent American who is charged here with our financial relations with the Allies, principally with the British. He is a man about 6ft. 3" or 4" and heavily built. He has a real brain, but perhaps a not very accentuated sense of humour. He made a very excellent speech, to which I was to reply, followed by General Biddle.

          Although Mr. Cravath’s speech was a very fine one, still there was no possibility of its being very original. It was nearly impossible to say anything on the patriotic speeches and sentiments of the last few days that was at all original. It was perfectly apparent while the speech was in progress that the audience was considerably bored. We had been joking for a couple of days in the office about the surfeit of patriotic sentiment. We had agreed that enough of that sort of thing was sufficient but that after a while one got a bit tired of hearing one’s country praised for what it had done in the distant past and in the immediate past, and what it was going to do in the future.

          In looking about at the faces of the people, the expression that many of them had, began to tickle my funnybone. Old man Twining was evidently suffering considerably under the affliction. A General on my right whispered to me that he had had about enough of that sort of thing. I asked him what he thought of my cheering them up a little bit and cutting loose from the patriotic line. He said “For the Lord’s sake do so.” I whispered to Mr. Crane (I was sitting on his right) and he said “Go ahead by all means.”

          So when it came my turn, I began my remarks by the usual formula in London – “My Lords and Gentlemen.” Then quickly apologised and said that I had been in the official atmosphere so continuously for some days that I had acquired that habit of address. I explained to them that it was a distinct relief to find myself in a sort of a home atmosphere. I said I had no desire but to please them, and that it was within my power to make them two or three different kinds of speeches. I asked them if they would like to have me explain to them how to make the world free safe for Democracy or, if they would like to know what I really thought about Labour liberty and Justice. I told them I had already made, that day, a “Hans across the Sea” speech and I could easily repeat it if they would like to hear it. I gave them the alternative of spinning them a few yarns. There were loud protests all over the room against the former and in favour of the latter. I told them that if I had correctly interpreted the sentiments expressed in London during the last few days, that we were better liked by the British than by the people at home. This seemed rather to tickle them. Then I said that in order to make it clear to them, the difference between now and former times I would spin them a few yarns that were familiar in the Navy, illustrating what the feeling should used to be. I will not repeat these yarns here, so suffice it to say that they were very well received. Then I spun them a number of yarns on similar subjects and had them all in a pronounced fit of the giggles.

          A good while ago, one of the gentlemen, principally instrumental in getting up the Officers Club, asked me if I would go out to St. George’s School, Harpenden, on July 5th and attend a ceremony – the inauguration of relations between that school and St. George’s School in Newport15. . . I believe that it is the only school of its kind in the World. There are only two in Great Britain where boys and girls are educated together, but I believe this is the only one where they take children in as young as three and keep them until they are old enough to go to University. . . .

          Just a word more, I had have been a bit distressed at the remarks that have been made to you by various friends as to the danger of submarines appearing on our coast. It ought not be necessary for me to try to explain all the reasons for my statements, because that would take a long while and is so technical that it might cause confusion. But suffice it to say that you need not be afraid of any submarines that come over to your side ever entering any harbour.16 The submarine’s safety lies in her remaining always in water deep enough for her to submerge, a couple of hundred feet below the surface if necessary. It would be suicidal for her to be found in shallow water in the presence of any vessel that carried depth charges. For a similar reason it would be nearly as dangerous for her to go close enough to any of our cities to bombard. Moreover, if she should throw all the shells she carried into a city, the total amount of damage she would do would be inconsiderable. As to all this rot about the possibility of a submarine being able to carry and operate aeroplanes, you may dismiss it from your mind for all time.

          I will doubtless be able to scratch a few lines at the end of this letter before it goes away. (See Letter No 3 in the small envelope).17

Source Note: TLS, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 10. In a section not included, Sims informed his wife that he had been forced by time pressure to “send you a dictated letter.” But it is clear that he read it after it had been typed and wrote in some corrections and additions. The letter is done on stationary so the portion down to the date is printed.

Footnote 1: Churchill was then Minister of Munitions. He may have been chosen to give the speech because his mother was American.

Footnote 2: Gen. John Biddle, Acting U.S. Army Chief of Staff.

Footnote 3: The Planning Section of Sims’ staff consisted of: Capt. Frank H. Schofield; Capt. Luke McNamee; Capt. Dudley W. Knox; Col. Robert H. Dunlap. Capt. Nathan C. Twining was Sims’ chief of staff and Cmdr. John V. Babcock was his personal aide.

Footnote 4: Sims’ speech was not published, at least in the New York Times.

Footnote 5: The New York Times in its article on the game on 5 July 1918 estimated the crowd at 18,000. Estimates of attendance at the game range from 18,000 to 70,000.

Footnote 6: King George V and Queen Mary.

Footnote 7: Wilson Cross and the Anglo-American Baseball League. For more on this league see note at: Sims to Sims, 20 May 1918.

Footnote 8: For the picture discussed here, see: Illustrations section for July 1918.

Footnote 9: That baseball is now held by the President Woodrow Wilson House in Washington, D.C. For a picture, see, “Spotlight on Collection,” Woodrow Wilson House, Accessed on 28 June 2018, http://woodrowwilsonhouse.blogspot.com/2013/07/spotlight-on-our-collection-king-george.html.

Footnote 10: For an in-depth treatment of this game, which the Navy team won by a score of 2-1, see: Jim Leeke, Nine Innings for the King: The Day Wartime London Stopped for Baseball, July 4, 1918 (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., Inc., 2015).

Footnote 11: The text of Churchill’s speech can be found at “Winston Church July 4th 1918 Speech,” The American Catholic, Accessed on 28 June 2018, http://the-american-catholic.com/2016/07/06/winston-churchill-july-4-1918.

Footnote 12: R. Newton Crane. According to the website of the Society, Henry E. Stoner was chairman in 1918. “Our Chariman,” American Society in the United Kingdom, Accessed on 28 June 1918, http://americansocietyuk.com/ourchairmen.html.

Footnote 13: “Nestor” describes someone of great wisdom and longevity.

Footnote 14: Paul D. Cravath.

Footnote 15: For an article discussing Sims’ visit to the school, see, “Admiral Sims comes to Harpenden,” Harpenden History, Accessed on 28 June 2018, http://www.harpenden-history.org.uk/page/admiral_sims_comes_to_harpenden.

Footnote 16: Sims’ underlined the “u” in his word and above it wrote: “British spelling.”

Footnote 17: That letter has not been found.

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