Press Notice Issued by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels
[Washington, D.C., 21 May 1917]
Secretary Daniels said to-night:
“This morning I have out the distressing statement that two nurses, who were going to Europe had been accidentally killed on the steamship Mongolia Sunday afternoon. That was all the information that had been received at that time. To-day the Mongolia returned to New York to bring the bodies of Mrs. Edith Ayres and Miss Helen Burnett Wood, the two nurses who were killed, and the fuller particulars were learned from the officers at the New York Navy Yard who boarded the ship in the upper bay. The particulars of the fatal accident, which is deeply deplored, is thus furnished by the ordnance officer from New York
“When about 100 miles to sea, in accordance with the usual procedure, guns were fired to test mounts, ammunition, and to practice the navy crew in their use. The guns were of the 6-inch caliber for which the shell and powder are loaded separately into the gun. The powder charge is contained in a brass case and there held in place by a pasteboard wad, distance pieces, and a brass mouth cup that fits closely, thus making a moisture-tight joint in order that the powder may always give the velocity and pressure intended. When the gun is fired this brass cup is propelled some distance, sometimes whole and sometimes in pieces, but always in front of the gun. Several nurses who were watching the firing were sitting on the promenade deck some 175 feet abaft and 10 feet above the gun. On the third shot the brass mouth cup struck the water peculiarly, boomeranged directly back to the ship, struck the stanchion near where the nurses were sitting and broke. Its pieces instantly killed Mrs. Edith Ayres and Miss Helen Burnett Wood, of Chicago, Ill. The firing was stopped at once and the vessel returned to port to land the bodies.
“This method of sealing the cartridge cases has been used in the Navy for many years, certainly for 15 years of more, and that such an accident, as this wad one, could occur had not been even considered by ordnance experts.
“An investigation has been ordered and its finding will enable the department to fully ascertain the cause and provide the remedies to prevent possible recurrence of the accident.”
Source Note: Casualties Aboard Steamship “Mongolia.” Hearings before the Committee on Naval Affairs United States Senate, Sixty-Fifth Congress, First Session, Pursuant to S. RES. 71. (Washington, D.C., Government Printing Office, 1917), 7-8.