Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters to Anne Hitchcock Sims

 

[Extract]

London, October 14, 1917

My darling Nani:

     No mail has been received since my last letter, but I will doubtless have some soon — perhaps before I have to close this on the 17th. As you know, the steamers are very irregular now, and probably will remain so.

     Captain O. P. Jackson is going home by the steamer that carries this letter and I will probably ask him to mail it in new york. He will also carry a package similar to the one sent you by Pinky.1 I think it will prove even more interesting than the latter, particularly the extraordinary correspondence with W.W.2

     Do not, however, assume that this or other similar incidents worry me in the least My position is secure, and I thoroughly enjoy the job.

     You need not hesitate the comment upon anything I send you. If you are not disposed to trust the mails between Newport and Washington, you can send me a letter under care of one addressed to

     Lieut Comdr H. H. Whittlesey, USN.

     Office of Naval Intelligence

     Washington, DC.

and register it. Whit will drop the enclosed letter in the pouch, and the latter will not be opened until it reaches this office

     The Captain Jackson referred to above is the one you know—the c-in-c's3 chief of staff who was hurt in an auto accident in France. He was pretty badly cut up about the head, but is all right again . . .

Last night I went to a dinner at The American Officer's Club. I am sending a paper describing the object of the club. This a present from British people to us to use during the war. The house was loaned by Lord Leconfield, It one of the largest in London and is nothing less than a palace with marble staircase and walls, statuary, tapestries, paintings etc; and it is wonderfully furnished. There are beds for 40 people, and two houses across the street will be rented to accommodate more. It is a wonderful gift. It will be a home for all army or navy officers resident or passing through London. I have been asked to be Vice President of it and have accepted4

     It is part of a propaganda now going on to promote a better understanding and better feeling between America and Great Britain

     Some time ago I was requested not to make any engagement for tomorrow evening Oct. 18th, my birthday. The naval and Embassy people are giving me a dinner in the fine basement luncheon room of the embassy, and there are mysterious preparations being made

     Perhaps I will be able to tell you the result before I close this. . . .

     Winston5 went to the American Luncheon club with me the other day. He is going to address the club next Friday. He is invited everywhere. He has lunched with Lloyd George and has met many of the P. Ds.6 Admiral Jellicoe asked me to bring him to call and I did so day before yesterday They talked from 5-30 until 6-45, and Jellicoe told him to come again7 He makes a very good impression. He is working hard and thoroughly to get onto the situation and is preparing a letter to send to W.W.—who does not think much of the opinions of military people. He seems very well. He is going to France and the Western Front the latter part of this month and after 2 or 3 weeks will return home I believe he will do a lot of good to the common cause. He is certainly very deeply interested in it The letter which you proposed to write has not yet arrived at present—I doubt the wisdom of interfering. It will depend upon circumstances. In the package that Jackson is taking, I may include a very interesting paper of his to W W which has already had its effect8

     There can be no doubt, also, that the information contained in my letter to "My dear Admiral" (which I decided not to send) has produced its effect.9 I refer particularly to my reply to the extraordinary cablegram that was sent me

     These are certainly interesting times, and, as Pratt10 says in one of his letters, it will be curious to return to the "tame conditions of peace" However, interesting as all this is, I will not be happy until I can return to those conditions and pass the rest of my life with you and our darling young sweethearts. I do not care two cents for all the honors and distractions—tho I value the opportunity to do this work.

     Some of the work is disagreeable and can be done only by the man at the top, and what makes it hard is that it must be done in spite of personal friendship and feelings. For example, an officer reported to me on his way to a certain country as naval attaché. Several officers came on the same steamer with him, and made such reports about him that I ordered him back home. But, worse than this, I am afraid I will have to ask for the recall of certain officers of the force, or their transfer to less important duty in the force. I have also been obliged to report that the naval attache here, McDougall is persona non grata with the British P. Ds. to such an extent that he cannot do any useful business with them.11 . . .

    

     I wanted Babby12 to go home with the C-in-C, talk over everything with the gang in Washington, and return with all the questions he could not answer, but he and Twining13 thought it would be better for him to wait a while Jackson will talk the matter up when he gets back and see if he can get the P. Ds. To suggest it - I think there is not much doubt he will be home pretty soon.

     President stating that the allies approve of my being a member of the board, and recommending that the proposition be accepted.14 That was two days ago. No answer has been received yet. The French even want to give me a similar position. Perhaps the Italians will follow suit

     In the old Admiralty Board Room is a very large portrait of William IV. This directly behind the very big, high backed chair at the head of the table where Admiral Wemyss presides it is curious to note his resemblance to the King. He is one of the latter's descendents. I don't know the history of the connection, but the fact is well known15. . .

     This afternoon I received the pasteboard box with all the things in it—Ivory soap, tooth paste, brushes, sugar, collar ornaments and the writing case. The latter is much too fine for a man. It is a beauty. I have been carrying my writing gear in a paper envelope. You can imagine how convenient this will be.

     I now have no less than 8 tooth brushes, not counting two in use, and half a dozen tubes of paste, so I will not need any more during this war

     If I do not forget it, I will send you a register showing the personnel in the London Headquarters

     There are:

     29 Commissioned officers

     16 Naval Reserve officers

     7 Warrant officers

     31 Yeomen and enlisted men.

     3 Civilian employees, high class men.

     13 Marines.

     14 Messengers—boys.

     12 Housekeepers and charwomen

     4 Janitors

     31 Stenographers—all British girls

     Don’t let Josephus see the list.16 He would have a fit. The Paris Headquarters has about as many . . .   

All my entertaining is paid for by the government

     I have always been intending to make you a plan of the apartment. I will do so some day. As soon as Babby left I moved into another apartment (The Valets and maids did it very nicely) while this one was given its annual cleaning. The walls, ceiling and woodwork was all painted and done over, the furniture removed and new carpets put down, and it now looks quite fine17

     About the dances of the Coddington Club, it is hard to give an opinion without learning more about the circumstances. Where the men are of the same social class and can be invited to well regulated dances with good girls of the same social class, I think it is a good thing For example, Miss Bowlker18 conceived the idea of getting up such dances for the benefit of the navy and army enlisted men who are employed here in London.

     So she went to Mr. Selfridge,19 an American who has a great department store here and got him to loan his recreation hall and invite the girls from among his employees, and it has turned out to be a very successful affair. They have dances every week.

     Miss Bowlker says it does no good to have a lot of ladies get up such affairs for enlisted men, as it only embarrasses them and they do not have a good time; and that it is still less successful if both the men and women are of mixed classes.

     However, as an expression of patriotic interest in the case of the naval reserves, I suppose it does some good. However as I have said, I do not know except about the conditions you indicate to venture an opinion.

     In your reference to the Admiral and his wife who were in a boarding house on Washington Street, your typewriter spelled the name Flethcher, so I am not sure whether you mean Fletcher or Fechtler, but I assume you meant the latter, as the former have a house in Newport.20

     In either case, I do not know enough about the circumstances to advise you. I dont know why the Fechtlers are in Newport, whether there on a visit or to remain. In any case I do not see that you are under the least obligation to invite them.

     If it is the Fletchers (and their house is rented), and whether they are there on a visit or not, I think the same applies as to any obligation

     However, I am sure they would they would not be offended, but equally sure they would not accept. Fletcher thinks I have treated him unjustly and has written a long protest to the navy department. This protest is a clear demonstration of his insufficiency, but he does not understand it. He accuses all of his subordinates of having been disloyal to him. He does not understand that a commander is wholly responsible for the attitude of his subordinates toward him.

     However, I hope your sympathetic heart has not been the cause of your burdening yourself with either the Fechtlers or Fletchers. . .

Ever your loving

Will     

Source Note: ALS, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 9. The letter is a fragment. It begins on 14 October 1917, but then stops and begins again on 2 February 1918.

Footnote 1: “Pinky” was Dr. Frank L. Pleadwell. For more on him and his carrying mail to Anne Hitchcock Sims, see: Sims to Sims, 9 August 1917; and Sims to Sims, 30 August 1917. Sims further discusses Capt. Orton P. Jackson later in this letter and in his letter to Josephus Daniels on 9 October 1917. See: Sims to Daniels, 9 October 1917.

Footnote 2: “W.W.” was President Woodrow Wilson. See: Wilson to Sims, 4 July 1917; and Sims to Wilson, 11 July 1917.

Footnote 3: Jackson was chief of staff for VAdm. Henry T. Mayo, Commander, Atlantic Fleet.

Footnote 4: For more on this club including a number of pictures featuring Sims, see Edward Price Bell, The American Officers’ Club in London (London: Clay, 1918). Lord Leconfield was Charles Wyndham, 3rd Baron Leconfield. He was then serving in the British Army as commander of the Royal Sussex Volunteers.

Footnote 5: American writer Winston Churchill. For more on his reason for being in Europe, see: Sims to Sims, 15 September 1917; and Sims to Sims, 24 September 1917.

Footnote 6: British Prime Minister David Lloyd George; “P. Ds” were presumably people of distinction, the equivalent to today’s VIP’s.

Footnote 7: First Sea Lord Sir John R. Jellicoe, R.N.

Footnote 8: For more on this “paper,” see: Churchill to Josephus Daniels, 2 August 1917.

Footnote 9: “My dear Admiral” was Adm. William S. Benson, Chief of Naval Operations. It is not known what issues Sims’ letter addressed.

Footnote 10: Capt. William V. Pratt, Benson’s Chief of Staff and a regular correspondent of Sims’.

Footnote 11: Capt. William D. MacDougall. Sims soon replaced MacDougall as naval attaché in London.

Footnote 12: Sims’ personal aide, Cmdr. John V. Babcock.

Footnote 13: Sims’ chief of staff, Capt. Nathan C. Twining.

Footnote 14: Presumably, the head of the British Board of Admiralty Sir Eric C. Geddes. The proposal was for Sims to join the board. He was not allowed to do so.

Footnote 15: At this time, VAdm. Rosslyn Erskine Wemyss, First Baron Wester Wemyss, was Deputy First Sea Lord. His maternal great-grandfather was King William IV, though his grandmother was illegitimate, born of William (then the Duke of Clarence) and the actress Dorothea Bland, better known by her stage name Dorothy Jordan. Dreadnought Project, Accessed on 28 September 1917, http://www.dreadnoughtproject.org/tfs/index.php/Rosslyn_Erskine_Wemyss,_First_Baron_Wester_Wemyss.

Footnote 16: Sims is referring in an ironic fashion to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

Footnote 17: Sims’ residence was the Carlton Hotel in London. See: Sims to Pratt, 30 August 1917.

Footnote 18: Miss Bowlker has not been further identified.

Footnote 19: Harry Gordon Selfridge.

Footnote 20: RAdm. William B. Fletcher, Commander, Patrol Squadrons, French Waters.

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