Rear Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Destroyers Operating from British Bases, to Anne Hitchcock Sims
May 18, 1917
This has been another busy but very interesting day. This morning at ten I had all the captains onboard the division flagship to explain the nature of their work and tell them how I wanted it carried out. Then Admiral Bayly and I went to the Conyngham (Alfred Johnston’s ship) to arrange about some “splinter mattresses” for the protection of the bridge – to decide on the plan for the protection of the bridges of all our destroyers. Then we went to visit a “mystery” ship, that is, a merchant ship fitted with concealed guns and torpedoes for attacking submarines that attack her under the impression that she is common merchantman. After that I attended to some business in connection with the men’s club house we intend to build. Then tea at 5 and a bit of a rest before dinner.
But I forgot to tell you about the beginning of the day. We have breakfast at 9 in the English fashion. . . . After breakfast Babby went off at once to visit some of the destroyers, and the Admiral, Miss Voysey, his niece, and I made the tour of the gardens and visited the flowergardens, kitchen gardens, greenhouses, etc.. . . They are absolutely devoted to each other. He is a man of about 60, of medium height – and slender. . . He is a very cultivated and well read man and a very able Admiral, but an eccentric character. I have not asked anybody any questions about him, but as far as I know he has no wife or children and never had any. He fairly hates any parade or show or function. Has never had his photo published and never will. A prominent London paper asked for a photo of him and me shaking hands, and he told us of his reply, which was very amusing. He has a keen sense of humor and a whimsical turn of mind. As the French say: Il sait le mot pour rire. As soon as he gets to know you a bit, he unbends and becomes the most companionable of men. He is the kind of man I would like to live near so that I could see as much of him as possible- and you know there are only few men I care much to be with. He is cynical about many things. He apparently cares little or nothing about what people think of him. Today he he wore a more than threadbare uniform, a pair of boots shapeless and cracked at the side and the lace on his sleeves was nearly in tatters and brown with age. . . He is brusk and sometimes rude in manner and speech, but he is really allheart, and those who know him are very fond of him. I make the guess that he gives nearly everything away to the poor. He allows half a dozen cows of very poor people to pasture in part of the admiralty grounds. He gives the poor (and Queenstown is very poor) nearly all the product of his kitchen gardens. His affection for his niece is very touching, and she is worthy of it; for she is a very admirable woman. She appears about 30 or less and is very pretty and attractive. She is a little scrap of a woman and girlish in appearance but a strong and “masterful” character, as the Admiral says. She is devoted to her uncle. She not only manages his big house, but has organized the town and directed its war work – a difficult task, as Ireland is very anti-British. She has shamed them into doing something. Some time ago she got some of the ladies to subscribe about ₤30 to provide the crews of submarine victims (and many are landed here) with coffee, bread, tobacco, etc., when they were landed and before leaving for the regular stations at Liverpool. A party of 68 landed on the day I arrived here, and as she gave a dinner for the captains that Evening, she had to call upon the vice president to look out for them. The latter was such a fine lady that she kicked up a row about it, said the relief organization was not necessary, etc. In this she was supported by several other ladies. The Admiral at once took a hand, sent their subscriptions back to them, disbanded the organization and he and Miss V. now attended to the refugees themselves. The next day another party was brought in and the Admiral and Miss V. attended to them in person – served them with coffee, etc. had a chat with each of them, and helped wash the dishes and put them away. You would find Miss Voysey a woman after your own heart. She has a great admiration for the fine things in character and courage – and so has the Admiral, though he frowns down on any show of emotion over the deeds and sufferings of this war. He says we must accept everything with a stout back and not waste energy by giving away to our feelings. He fairly loves his competent captains, especially those who have the nerve to command the “mystery” ships.
Last night his niece asked him to tell of the wireless message he received from one of his most successful captains who had won many honors. This captains ship had been torpedoed in a fight with a submarine. He sent this signal “am slowly sinking. Goodbye: I did my best.” This was related in the most matter of fact way, and without any comment but I could see that the Admiral shut his teeth hard and his cheeks twitched for a moment; and then he went on to talk of something else, and soon was chatting and making fun. As for me, I could not have spoken at all for some minutes. He says that this war is vastly improving human character.
At dinner tonight there was one other guest a Captain Marks. He is 66, and has gray hair and a white beard. He was a Rear Admiral on the retired list when the war broke out. He applied for active service and is now in command of a “mystery” ship. He has sunk a number of submarines and has been decorated for bravery and skill. He cruises looking for a fight with submarines for 8 days and in port 4.
It is impossible to overestimate the spirit of these people. Also their gratitude for our coming into the war.
And these wretched Irish are traitorously Anti-British and anti civilization! They say it is not their war. They are ignorant beyond comprehension.
I am very glad to be of service in this cause – and so, I am sure, are you. This will help you through the trials of moving to a new house. I hope it did not tire you too much, and that you are comfortable.
Good night, my darling
Your loving Will.