Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Rear Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Destroyers Operating from British Bases, to Anne Hitchcock Sims

[Extract]

No 17 (Not counting those from Paris, and some others)

May 7, 1917, Monday

My precious Sweetheart:

     These are such strennuous times that I am sorry I cannot write you more fully of all the interesting events. The following is a brief account of my activities since my last letter from Paris1

     The commission of P.Ds.2 was delayed and did not leave for the western front at noon on the 5th, so the trip to the front was given up for this time, and we left at 11 P.M. instead and came directly back to London, by special (really palacial) train to Boulogne, special steamer across the channel and special train to London.

When I got back to the hotel I found Babby3 not yet back from Queenstown, and I was very lonely for him. He is entirely indispensable, and I could not get along without him. I got back at 4 P.M. After a good lunch I went to the Jellicoes for tea and found the Admiral playing ball with three of his girls, and of course joined in.4 They had a ping pong ball that was so very light that it would not knock anything over. I carried the 3rd daughter, Nora, about 7, up to bed “Piggyback,” and saw the youngest (3½) having her bath. They all give me a kiss whenever I see them. I went for a walk with Mrs J. and got back to the hotel at 7-40 to find the enclosed invitation from Mr Henry Van Dyke.5 As his hotel was only a block away I went at once and found him an another man (whom I knew) just beginning dinner- We had a famous talk over the situation, and I explained very thoroughly the necessity of america making every possible effort immediately; that the basic decision was up to the president; and that he should drive it through against all opposition. He will explain it all to the President, and as he is an old friend and college mate, it may do some good. . . . Babby came back early this morning, very much pleased with his trip to Queenstown

     Our destroyers made the trip in splendid style and arrived in excellent condition.6 The Vice Admiral commanding at Queenstown (under whose orders they are placed) asked Taussig how soon they would be ready to go on duty, and he replied: “Tomorrow morning.”7 They are making their own small repairs and not asking for help. We think they are distinctly superior in design and equipment to the British vessels Babby will write Mrs Bess all about the visit and she will tell you.8

     This afternoon at 3 Babby and I went to the 99th annual meeting of the British and Foreign Sailors Society, held at the Mansion House.9 I enclose the program. We accepted the invitation a couple of weeks ago.

     When I got back yesterday I found a telephone message from the Lord Mayor10 asking me to speak in response to one of the resolutions. I at once telephoned and declined. Babby and I had seats on the platform, and the beautiful hall was packed— 2000 to 3000. invited guests. I found my name on the program as seconder of the 1st resolution. A member of the committee, on the part of the Lord Mayor, asked me if I would not second the resolution without making a speech. Then I was asked if I would not make a few remarks. I finally consented upon condition that the reporters be forbidden to report them. There was a long table full of reporters.

     Well, dearie, I made another speech!! When I was introduced there was great applause, and the audience and those on the platform stood up — which they did not do for any speaker before or after. I did so wish for you to be there to realize how much it means for these sorely pressed people to have America come to their assistance. That is what I represented, particularly as I was in uniform.

     My speech was vigorously applauded all through, and I was highly complimented upon it by all who spoke afterwards. I think it was a good speech and that I did not say anything indiscreet –this time.11 Babby was pleased with it. The Lord Bishop of Kensington12 told me afterwards that it was worth the price of admission to see the faces of the reporters when they saw so much good “copy” going to waste — for they had been warned by the Lord Mayor that they must not report my remarks.

     Babby and I were much pleased with your cablegram. We wondered whether our orders were published or whether they were kept secret and you were informed of them privately.13 They have not been published here. Also I have often wondered when you were moving out of the house on the hill and where you had found a new house.14 I am very sorry for all the trouble it will be, but I know you are glad for the distinction this mission and these orders have brought me — representing the United States in deciding with Great Britain and France the strategy of the submarine campaign on this side, and command of all the forces of the U.S. engaged.

     How curious it is that after all our longing to have america help in this war I should be so unexpectedly given such an active part! Let us hope that I “make good”. Babby says that the destroyer captains are delighted that I am to command them and we can hardly fail of success with such devoted men.15

     The Germans knew they were coming, and published the fact in the press several days before they arrived here; and laid mines in front of Queenstown the day before they got in, but the mine sweepers got them all out. They probably do not suspect that 36 are coming with all their supply and repair ships.

     The captains are most enthusiastic and they will certainly have considerable effect on the submarines. The subs have received a very hard blow during the last week. Five of them, for certain, have been sunk, and probably seven or eight.16 . . .

     Now I must be off to bed, as it is quite late, and I am a bit-tired There was no mail today, as the New York is still off the line,17 but there will be two in this week, and this will go Wednesday instead of Saturday.

     You cannot imagine how I have longed for you and our lovely boys and girls! Kiss all the precious ones for me. This war may last a year or more. What a pity to miss so much of their sweet babyhood, and how changed they will be when I return— Ethan a big boy walking about and talking!

Good night, my precious darling

Your devoted

Will

Source Note: ALS, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers.

Footnote 1: Sims wrote his wife from Paris on 4 May 1917.

Footnote 2: People of Distinction.

Footnote 3: Sims’ aide, Lt. Cmdr. John V. Babcock. In the margin at this point Sims wrote “Tell Mrs B.”

Footnote 4: That is, First Lord of the Admiralty Sir John R. Jellicoe. Jellicoe, who was married to Florence Gwendoline Cayzer Jellicoe. At the time, they had four daughters: Gwendoline, Myrtle, Norah, and Prudence who, at the time of this letter, would have been, respectively, 14, 9, 7 and 3 years old. A fifth daughter died of infection in 1911, and a son, George, was not born until 1918. Sims to Anne Sims, 15 April 1917, Ibid.; Reginald H. Bacon, The Life of John Rushworth, First Earl Jellicoe (London: Cassell and Co., 1936).

Footnote 5: Henry van Dyke was an American author. His friend and classmate, Woodrow Wilson, appointed him American ambassador to the Netherlands and Luxembourg in 1913. He left that post in January, 1917, and was en route to America. Henry Van Dyke, Fighting for Peace (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1917), 5, 201.

Footnote 6: On the arrival of the first division of American destroyers at Queenstown, see: Diary of Commander Joseph K. Taussig, 3 May 1917.

Footnote 7: This is different from the phrase “We are ready now, sir” often given as Taussig’s reply when VAdm. Lewis Bayly asked him about the condition of the destroyers in his division. For more on the controversy surrounding Taussig’s words, see: Diary of Commander Joseph K. Taussig, 9 June 1917, RNW, Joseph K. Taussig Papers, Mss. Coll. 97, Naval Historical Collection.

Footnote 8: Probably, Babcock’s wife.

Footnote 9: The Society, formed in March 1818, was an interdenominational charity with links to many mainstream Protestant churches in the United Kingdom. One of their activities during World War I was “the reception of crew and passengers” from torpedoed ships. “What the British Foreign Sailors’ Society has done,” Accessed 20 April 1917, http://digitalcollections.hoover.org/objects/32887/what-the-british-and-foreign-sailors-society-has-done-and-i;ctx=c14cd347-6d63-4b96-8556-8f18633eae00. Mansion House was the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London. It was also used for official functions.

Footnote 10: Sir Charles Hanson.

Footnote 11: Sims is referring to his infamous speech given at th Guildhall banquet in London when he pledged that should Great Britain be threatened, England could “count upon every man, every dollar, every ship, and every drop of blood of your kindred across the sea.” Sims was officially reprimanded by President Howard Taft for those remarks. Sims, Crisis at Sea: 281.

Footnote 12: The Bishop of Kensington is a title used by an area bishop of the Diocese of London, Province of Canterbury, England. The bishop in 1917 was John Maud.

Footnote 13: There was a story about Sims’ mission to England published in newspapers on 19 April 1917. See, for example, New York Sun, 19 April 1917, p. 1.

Footnote 14: While at Newport, Sims was President of the Naval War College. With his departure, Anne H. Sims was required to vacate the official residence and move elsewhere in the city. Sims to Anne Sims, 29 April 1917, MSS-DLC, William S. Sims Papers.

Footnote 16: Only one German U-boat (U-81) was sunk during that period. Kemp, U-Boats Destroyed: 27.

Footnote 17: The submarine cable between London and New York.

Footnote 18: William and Anne Sims had five children: sons William and Ethan and daughters Adelaide, Margaret, and Anne.

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