Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Anne Hitchcock Sims
30 Grosvenor Gardens,
20 July 1918
My dear Ann[e],
These are very bad times indeed for correspondence. I thought we should have time for a bit of a letter after we got through with the celebration of the Fourth, but things have been booming ever since. The amount of routine business keeps up, and now the Assistant Secretary is arriving to-morrow,1 and a few days later not less than eleven members of the House Naval Committee will be here. I am off in a couple of hours for Portsmouth, to spend the night there, and meet the Secretary when he arrives on the following day. Doubtless there will be a number of dinners, and other functions for him, and I will have to be in attendance. He will want to visit all of our bases and see everything there is to be seen over here, and I will probably go with him to some of them, although of course I could not spend the time to travel with him for a month or so. The same applies to the members of the Congressional Committee. Of course, this adds a good deal to the work we have to do, but everybody knows that that sort of thing is entirely necessary in war.2
I am enclosing you a number of letters from people in connection with St. George’s School. It would seem that I made a rather favourable impression during my visit.3 As one result of it, I have been made honorary Vice-President of the Montessori Society in London...
Yesterday I attended a lunch given by the American Luncheon Club to Ian Hay Beith.4 He told us about his two visits to the United States, one of eight months, and one of seven, and the hundreds of speeches that he made in every one of the different States. It was very interesting indeed. I like this man exceedingly. We had a long talk about the conditions here among the labouring population of the shipyards, etc., and he has promised to look into the matter at once, and see what can be done about it.
A propos of this Luncheon Club, they intend to invite Sir Eric Geddes5 to a lunch in the immediate future, and I think it very likely that they will invite Mr. Roosevelt also. Doubtless they will also invite the Congressmen...
I received this morning a telegram from Powell,6 which I am sending with the forwarded letters and so forth, stating that you have been to the Fore River plant, and launched the first destroyer that was finished there. This information was also contained in the broadcast wireless that was sent out from Washington and which we intercepted on this building. Needless to say, I am very much pleased that you were able to do this.
I am enclosing some correspondence addressed to you by the Consul at Nantes,7 who forwards a letter written to him by the present head of the family of de Ternay.8 This man saw a notice in the Press that you and the children had decorated the grave of his ancestor, and he was very much pleased.9
I will doubtless be able to add to this before it goes, and I hope that by-and-by times will be less strenuous so that I will have an opportunity to write to you myself.
Monday, July 22nd.1918.
I had hoped that I would get a bit of leisure to write to you with a real pen, but I find that that has become quite impossible in time to catch the next mail, which leaves tomorrow.
I dictated the first part of this letter under the impression that the mail was going to leave on Saturday. I finished it just before I had to leave for Portsmouth to meet Assistant Secretary Roosevelt. Babby10 and I left here about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and arrived down there about 6.30. We had to go on Saturday because the Secretary was to arrive rather early in the morning of the next day. We were put up by Admiral Vaughn Lee, second in command of the great naval station of Portsmouth.11 The Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Colville,12 was away at the time. Admiral and Mrs.Lee gave a dinner for us that evening and invited several of the officers attached to the station. Some of these were officers who had already visited America and who knew a good many of our people and our naval officers.
We had word that the Secretary would arrive the next morning at 10 o’clock. He came all the way from America in one of the new destroyers – the DYER – after stopping a couple of days at the Azores. He was nine days on the way and Captain McCauley13 was with him. His Private Secretary14 and two or three other people came on a merchant steamer and landed the day before. The Assistant Secretary is an experienced yachtsman and enjoyed the trip. Fortunately they had very good weather, with a following wind. The DYER came up the Portsmouth Roads in fine style and we were all on the wharf to receive the Secretary. Admiral Lee invited me to spend the forenoon looking around the station which is one of the biggest naval stations in the world and then to remain for lunch.
The Admiralty had sent a big motor down and I had sent down my motor as the train service on Sunday was very inconvenient. Directly after the Secretary arrived we all went on board Nelson’s old ship, the VICTORY, and we were shown over by the officer in command. Some of these days we may be able to repeat this visit and take the boys and girls along. It was very interesting indeed to see the old souvenirs of Nelson’s time and the place on the spar deck where he was wounded and the place in the dark hole where he finally died.
After this visit we went around the big naval station and then had luncheon at the Admiral’s house in company with a number of officers from the Yard. About 3 o’clock we started for London in the motors over the beautiful Portsmouth Road. It took us about 2½ hours to make the run of 70 miles. The Secretary is of course the guest of the Admiralty while he is here, and he and his party are put up at the Ritz. One of the secretaries of the Admiralty called on him to welcome him for the Ambassador15 and that evening I took the whole party to the Palace Theatre to see the concert given there for the men every Sunday evening. The concert is not so much to see but it is an audience that you could not see in any other place. It is a solid mass of khaki from the highest gallery to the pit. The performance was about as usual. The only novelty was that just before the end of the performance, one of the representatives of the Government, who was looking out for the Entertainment that evening, came to me and said that the last piece on the program was taken part in by about twentyfive or thirty chorus girls from some of the other theatres. He explained that these girls did not get much for their services at the regular theatres and they got nothing at all for their performance at the Palace Theatre. He therefore asked me if I would not come down on the stage behind the curtains after the last piece and thank these young ladies for their services. Of course, I could not refuse such a request, but I did smile at what you would have said if you could have seen me make a speech to about twentyfive young ladies that did not have many clothes on, and did not have many skirts on at all to speak of! I thanked them all very sincerely for entertaining our people and than shook hands with them all. Whereupon they gave three cheers for the American Admiral. You will be glad to know that there were none of the usual photographers about.
This morning I took Assistant Secretary Roosevelt to call on Sir Eric Geddes, the First Lord. The latter had already made arrangements to visit Queenstown and some of the Northern ports, and is leaving this evening for that purpose. He apparently took a shine to the Assistant Secretary at once and he invited him to accompany him on the trip to Queenstown. This is very fortunate, because, as he said it would give them an opportunity to talk over all sorts of things for the three or four days they would be together. They are to leave here tonight and tomorrow morning they will cross the Irish Sea in one of the American destroyers landing at Queenstown at about 3 p.m. He will be back here in about three or four days.
Unfortunately, I could not go with him, as I have to attend a meeting of the Allied Naval Council tomorrow morning. However, it would have been very difficult to accommodate all at Queenstown, as the Admiral16 only has three or four rooms at Admiralty House and Sir Eric Geddes is taking a Rear-Admiral with him.
When he returns here the Ambassador is going to give him a dinner and shortly afterwards he will be off to France, and possibly Italy. I will not be able to go with him, as times are too strenuous and there are too many important matters to be attended to here.
Of course, you have seen in the papers long before this that I have been accorded the decoration of the G.C.M.G. (that is, the Grand Cross of St.Michael and St.George). This is not at all what the Government contemplated I am sure, when they passed the Bill allowing our officers to receive decorations.17 I have been insisting for some time that a Bill of this kind be passed, because some of our young Destroyer Captains were recommended for the D.S.O.’s (Distinguished Service Orders) and similar orders for actions in which they took part and for which British destroyer captains always receive distinctions.
The Bill as passed by Congress authorises officers of the United States Military Forces to receive these decorations. You have seen in the papers that Pershing and Marsh and Bliss received these decorations and this was immediately followed by mine and Admiral Rodman and Admiral Strauss.18
Of course you know the prejudice there has been against that sort of thing in the wild and woolly west and to some extent in the East. I am curious to know what impression will be created by this in the United States so I hope you will send me all of the editorial comments you see and all of the clippings on the subject.19 I suppose that sort of thing is inevitable in a war of this kind and it will be curious to see what Congress will do about it. It would hardly seem proper for our people to receive these decorations without our Government having similar decorations to give to the officers with whom we are associated. Perhaps this will be arranged later. I would also like to know what your comments are on the subject.
I am forwarding you with the clippings and so forth, a number of letters and telegrams of congratulation. They are still coming in. You will note one from Uncle Lewis and the Only Neice20 in which they congratulate me and Lady Sims. I wonder what you will think of this. Of course after the war I can hardly imagine anybody keeping these titles or these titles being used currently in the United States but no one can ever tell what will come out of a war like this.
Source Note: LT, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 10.
Footnote 1: Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Footnote 2: For more on these two visits, see: Sims to Benson, 28 July 1918.
Footnote 3: For more on Sims’ visit, see: Sims to Sims, 6 July 1918. The enclosed letters that Sims references here are no longer with this letter.
Footnote 4: Maj. Gen. John Hay Beith. Beith was a British schoolmaster and soldier, but is best remembered as a novelist, playwright, essayist and historian who wrote under the pen name Ian Hay. During the First World War, Beith served as an officer in the British army in France. In 1915, Beith published a good-humored account of army life, The First Hundred Thousand, which quickly became an international best-seller. In 1916, on the strength of the impact The First Hundred Thousand was making in neutral America, Beith was sent to Washington to join the information bureau of the British War Mission. While in the US, Beith contributed a series of six long articles to The Times. Under the title of "The New America" these articles described American life and outlook for the better understanding of British readers. The paper commissioned a second series of such articles, published under the collective title "America at War" in March 1918. Murray, Patrick."Beith, John Hay (1876–1952)", rev. Katherine Mullin, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.
Footnote 5: First Lord of the Admiralty Sir Eric Geddes.
Footnote 6: Cmdr. Halsey Powell, Commander, Parker. Parker’s telegram to Sims has not been located.
Footnote 7: Gabriel Bie Ravndal.
Footnote 8: Charles Marie d'Aviau de Ternay, Marquis de Ternay.
Footnote 9: See: Sims to Sims, 29 June 1918.
Footnote 10: Cmdr. John V. Babcock, Sims’ aide.
Footnote 11: RAdm. Sir Charles L. Vaughan-Lee.
Footnote 12: Adm. Sir Stanley Cecil James Colville.
Footnote 13: Edward McCauley, Jr., Assistant Chief of Naval Intelligence.
Footnote 14: Louis Howe.
Footnote 15: United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom Walter Hines Page.
Footnote 16: Adm. Sir Lewis Bayly, Commander, Naval Forces in Southern Ireland.
Footnote 17: The bill to which Sims is referring was an act of legislation that allowed American military personnel to accept foreign decorations, honors, titles, and distinctions for meritorious service in the war. For more on this act, see: Leigh C. Palmer to Sims, 18 July 1918.
Footnote 18: Maj. Gen. John J. Pershing, Commander, American Expeditionary Forces, Maj. Gen. Tasker H. Bliss, American Permanent Military Representative, Supreme War Council, Maj. Gen. Peyton C. March, Army Chief of Staff, RAdm. Hugh Rodman, Commander, Battleship Division Nine, Atlantic Fleet, and RAdm. Joseph Strauss, Commander, United States Mine Laying Forces. See also: Sims to Benson, 28 July 1918.
Footnote 19: For more on the reaction in the United States to the conferring of these honorary titles, see: Josephus Daniels to Woodrow Wilson, 29 July 1918.
Footnote 20: Bayly and his niece, Miss Violet Voysey.