Seaman Timothy Brown, Reid, to His Family
Ponta Delgada, Azores,
September 11, 1917.
I write this on my lap till the mess cook finishes cleaning the table. I’ve been pretty busy lately, for besides the regular daily work I have been working some on the study of navigation, as I had already written you, and a week ago our Chief Boatswain’s Mate, (“Stump”),1 told me he had recommended me for coxswain, the next step after seaman. He broke the news in the classic phrase that he was “putting me up for a crow,”—the crow meaning the eagle which is a prominent part of a petty officer’s rating badge.2 I was immensely pleased and very much surprised, for, while I thought I was qualified for the rate of seaman when I got that, this new rate presupposes a knowledge of work belonging purely to the navy, and I didn’t think I knew anything about that. However, I studied up pretty hard so as not to fall down on the bo’sun, and when the time came I took the examination and was told yesterday that I had passed creditably; so now, as soon as some kind of office paper is made out, I will be a petty officer of the lowest grade and will have to acquire an authoritative manner. I know you will not be as surprised as I was at the promotion, and Aunt Millie and Uncle Frank will think I should be admiral by now, but I will be more pleased than any of you can be so as to make up.
Life grows more pleasant all the time. The last time we were at sea we discovered some whales,—two, loafing along on the surface, and amused ourselves by trying to sneak up on them, as we were not in any hurry. Twice we got so close that I thought surely we would hit them. We leaned over the side and could look right down into their nostrils, or spout holes, or whatever it is, and the surf would wash upon their backs, and all of a sudden they would notice we were there and would hump up their backs and disappear right under our cut water. It was a long time before they got scared or tired of us. It was a most interesting experience for us. If I had had a brick to throw I could have got one for you to put in a tub in the yard. There I go talking like a landsman again! “Irish confetti” is the proper name on our ship for bricks!
For the last two days I have been painting our compartment and the wash room. It is a mean job, especially the overhead, in between the pipes and wires and deck beams, and the paint runs off the brush and down your arm; but there is something sociable about slapping on the paint with a bunch of fellows, and it was pretty good fun. Afterwards we had the phonograph on deck, and sat around on boat cradles and buckets, with the phonograph in the center on a keg of sea stores, and we heard all the latest music of last year. Somebody has named the phonograph the “Agony Box,” but we would not be without it for all that. After the music I had an anchor watch, and after that a bath in my pail, and washed some clothes and turned in at midnight, with nothing to do till the morrow, and a fine night for sleep.
We are still without mail and have no idea when any will reach us, or whether the department has forgotten where we are. All of us are anxious to hear from home, and the speculation on when the mail will come takes up almost as much time as discussion of things we have eaten or expect to eat when we get back home. Beer, properly cool, seems to get the most votes, but ice is scarce when you get away from the states. Having lived a while as a struggling lawyer in Milwaukee, I am considered somewhat of an authority on this subject. Alas! The poor sailor can’t get beer at all now at home, and this reconciles many to an extended cruise.
Source Note: George M. Battey, Jr., 70,000 Miles on a Submarine Destroyer or, The Reid Boat in the World War (Atlanta: The Webb & Vary Company, 1919), 297-99.
Footnote 1: George C. McCabe.
Footnote 2: For the insignia for a United States Navy coxswain in World War I, see: Illustrations for September 1917.