Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels
Letter No. 14.
LONDON, July 2, 1917.
From: Vice Admiral Wm. S. Sims,
Commanding U.S.Naval Forces in
To: Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D.C.
Referring to your cablegram of 28th June1 regarding Mr. Pegler2 of the United Press, there seems to be some misapprehension concerning my request that he be withdrawn from Queenstown.
At the time I made this request, I was acting in my official capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Irish station,3 and I considered it my duty, as the guardian of the reputation of the American and British personnel under my command, to take this action.
Under the circumstances, I am sure you will agree with me that the reputation of Mr. Pegler as an all round correspondent was a secondary consideration.
I understand that he is a fine young fellow and a good journalist, as witness the following letter to Mr. Keen:-4
My dear Mr. Keen,
Referring to your telegram, I have no doubt that Mr. Pegler is a very cultivated young gentleman and an admirable correspondent in certain, if not most, lines.
I believe him to be perfectly reliable as regards the handling of matter that has to be censored, and I have not the slightest doubt that he always tells the truth as he understands it.
I have no objection to him in any capacity, except the particular assignment in connection with our naval forces.
In this connection my objections have already been indicated by referring you to the matter he sent in concerning the men who are risking their lives in the cause of the Allies.”
Very sincerely yours.
My only objection to Mr. Pegler was based upon my conviction that he is not the right kind of a man for the assignment in question. His undoubted abilities in other lines is manifestly beside the point.
The following is a sample of the kind of “story” to which I objected:-
“Tonight, phonographs squawk foxtrot and one-step where one-string fiddlers formerly sawed out native jigs and reels; colleens are training their tows to the Broadway steps imported by American bluejackets, and down on the beach the old, old story is being told again by boys with a foreign accent. It seems to lose none of its interest for it was told last night and will be told again tomorrow with the village maids doing all the listening.
And that isn’t all.
The buxom barmaid in the hotel pub is making horrible decoctions in an effort to hit upon the one known to Americans as a cock-tail; villagers now say ‘my shoes’ when they mean “me boots” and the two town bakeries are offering fat, soggy rings of bread-stuff which bravely pretend to be doughnuts.
Dropping in casual-like in the late afternoon a few weeks ago, the American boys took the town --- mainly the girls, by surprise. They weren’t expecting company; at least, not without some warning.
Thht’s [i.e., That’s] how it happened that a number of all-British romances were shattered. Mary didn’t have time to steel her heart against the moonlight sentiments of these Americans.
Well, the British sailor is a regular feller, too, though he may speak the Cockney language. He wasn’t going to roll over and play dead even if these new ginks did happen to be allies.
There were a few personal controversies over the Lady Question and relations are still stretched somewhat between certain groups of sea-farin’ men. The English maintain that they weren’t licked.
But the Americans tauntingly yell back: “Razz-berry! We got the girls, ain’t we?”
And to an impartial American observer it looks like Our Boys really are one up on the British in the game of hearts.”
I am sure you will agree with me that this “human interest” account is not the kind which should be published about the American and British seamen who are daily risking their lives in this distressing war.
That Mr. Pegler thinks it is proper material is to me sufficient proof that the assignment in question is out of his line.
It should be particularly noted that the correspondents in question were given the same privileges as regards both American and British naval forces, except as to certain types of British vessels – the so-called mystery ships.
As you will see from my letter to Mr. Keen, there is no charge that he is unreliable. The “story” was passed by a young British officer appointed by the Commander-in-Chief as censor, but fortunately I was able to have it suppressed.
The Commander-in-Chief, Vice Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly, approved my action upon his return from leave, and the matter has in consequence passed out of my hands.
Source Note: TL, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B.
Footnote 1: This cable has not been found.
Footnote 2: Westbrook Pegler was the youngest American correspondent in Europe, and would be known throughout his lengthy career for his harsh criticism of those he opposed. After Sims convinced the United Press to remove him from London, he spent a short time stationed at the headquarters of Maj. Gen. John J. Pershing, Commander-in-Chief, American Expeditionary Forces, and was subsequently recalled by the United Press after alienating himself from Pershing. Oliver Pilat, Pegler: Angry Man of the Press (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1963), 67-80.
Footnote 3: While VAdm. Sir Lewis Bayly, Commander, Southern Ireland, was away on regular leave, he asked Sims to assume temporary command of the station. This was notable as the first time an American had commanded ships in the Royal Navy. Dunn, Bayly’s War: 160-161.
Footnote 4: Ed Keen, manager of the United Press’s London Bureau.