Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Anne Hitchcock Sims
London, Sept 24, 1917
My darling Sweetheart:
. . . Your letter of the 29th [of August] was written from Marion just after you had received the package Pinky sent you by express.1 This gave you some idea of some of my difficulties—particularly in getting the P.Ds to understand the situation. These difficulties are gradually clearing away, and I don’t think there will be any more of the same kind. My letters to Pratt2 have cleared matters up a good deal, and the officers who are frequently coming out from Washington and going back have done the rest. Also, Admiral Mayo’s account of the conference here, and what he has seen, will clear away some misunderstandings.3
However, you must not imagine that these matters worry me much. They do not, for, as I have explained before, the elements of my problem are simple and they must soon be well understood—particularly as a number of very able newspaper men are beginning to explain things on the other side.
I am sure I need not say; my darling, how much I was touched by your offer to come over here and bring all the children: Bless your dear heart, nothing could make me so happy as to have you here. You would of course be a great comfort to me not to mention the joy of having all the dear children. But, my dear, it would not be “good business,” and would not be a justifiable risk. Also, I understand that no women are allowed to take passage unless they are on official duty or can show some very urgent reason. Over here, if a woman (not on official duty) gets permission o to France, or vice verse, she cannot return for six months.
There is also another very weighty reason, namely, that not long ago I cabled the department recommending that no wives of officers attached to this force be granted permission to take passage for Europe. I have also issued a circular to all the forces stating that I think it very undesirable that my officers or man should have his wife take passage for this side.4 I could not legally give an order to this effect, but I think that expression of my opinion will have the desired effect. I did this because I was informed that a number of the young officers on the destroyers were talking of bringing their wives to Queenstown. There is still another very good reason for this, and that is that British naval officers are not allowed to have their wives with them when serving abroad. They can of course follow their husbands to any home port, but an officer serving in France, for example, cannot have his wife with him.
So, deary, you see it would not be right for you to come over—much I would like to have you. You may be sure my heart aches for you and all the dear ones, but, as you have often said, our sacrifices are inconsiderable compared to those who are suffering all the horrors of war over here.
I am as well as I can possibly be. Responsibility does not worry me in the least, and I find the work wonderfully interesting—so much so that I really enjoy it very much
The trip through France was a bit strenuous, but was very interesting. I wrote you a couple of notes from Paris,5 which I assume you will receive before this, but from this time of leaving Paris until I returned to London, I had no opportunity to write at all. In fact I spent most of the time in travelling, and nearly every night in sleepers.
We left Paris Monday evening, 17th, arrived Brest Tuesday morning at 9. Visited the Prefit Maritime, then visited the port and had a conference with Admiral Fletcher and his staff,6 then had lunch with the Prefit, and took the train again in the afternoon from St. Nazaire, where we spent the next day inspecting. That evening I took the train for Bordeaux while the C-in-C [Mayo] returned to Paris. I spent the day inspecting at Bordeaux and the neighborhood and that evening took the train for Paris. Arrived at Paris at 8 am next day, and took a 9 am train for Baulogne, thence crossed the channel and reached London at 8 the same evening.
At Bordeaux we were received at the station by the Mayor, a number of military and naval officers, the President of the Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Consul and Vice Consul, etc7 Got no breakfast that morning, but had lunch with most of them at 11-30, then motored about 75 miles to visit all the stations, then dined with them all at 7, and took the train at 8:30.
The C-in-C visited the Western Front after returning to Paris. I declined to go, as I had no business there, and I have forbidden all the officers of the command to go their
I am sorry to say that whene the Admiral party was returning to Paris from the Front, a motor in which were Captain Jackson, Comdr Sayles and Comdr Bingham,8 sledded around a sharp corner and ran into a tree. They were all thrown through the glass screen and Jackson was very badly cut up, Sayles less so, and Bingham still less. It was an hour before they got them to a hospital at Amiens, and the suffered greatly from a loss of blood. Jackson will be in hospital for at least a week. The C-in-C returns here tomorrow, but I do not know when he will start for home. Admiral Jellicoe has gone (this evening) with several other officers to meet him at Dover. Babby went with him, just for a change. He seems quite well now, and looks fine is his commander’s uniform, which I have authorized him to wear in advance of the official notification from the department.9
On Sunday, having “huit-jours de chemin du fer dans le das [Eight-day train ride].” I went out W.Gillmor’s10 and played several sets of tennis I took Winston Churchill [American author]- with me. It was a perfect day. I see him everyday, and I am supplying him with all the dope about the situation, and he will pass it on where it will do the most good. W.W. [Woodrow Wilson] has no confidence in the military men. he so stated in a speech he made on board the Pennsylvania a short time ago, which he declared his belief that the war would be won through the inspiration of some amateur So he is more likely to take Winston’s opinion than that of any other man. It is a very fortunate thing that he came over here.
He expects to be here until about the last of October, and will then go to France. Perhaps I will go with him. I will visit Queenstown before that time—and perhaps I will take him with me, or have him follow me up there. . . .
Last week there was only about half as much shipping sunk by submarines as the acreage for the last dozen weeks, but we can hardly expect it to remain as low as this right along, particularly as there are rater more submarines out than usual. During the last three months the Allies have sunk many more submarines than in the previous three months. The means of appacing (and chasing) them are improving, and the morale of the crews is probably decreasing considerably in consequence. There are seldom any survivors from those that are sunk. Sometimes one or two men get out of the conning tower, but the rest (about 30) remain in the boat. What a dreadful war this is! And how fortunate we are not to have lost any of my vessels of any of our men! Our destroyers have acquires a very fine reputation throughout the British service for the excellence of the boats and the skill which they are handled. Admiral Bayly has written a number of highly complimentary reports about them. . . .
Source Note: ALS, DLC-MSS, William Sims Papers, Box 7. Document is on the stationary of the “Embassy of the United States of America.”
Footnote 1: Anne Hitchcock Sims’ letter has not been located. “Pinky” refers to Captain Frank L. Pleadwell, Medical Inspector, who had just returned to the United States after his being recalled from his post as Assistant to the United States Naval Attaché atLondon. Pleadwell would return in October to head the Medical Section of Sims' London Staff.
Footnote 2: Capt. William V. Pratt, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations.
Footnote 3: Adm. Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, traveled to London at the end of August 1917 to conduct a review of the United States naval forces and gain first-hand perspective on the Allied naval war effort. During this time, he also attended an Allied Naval Conference in London on 4-5 September.
Footnote 4: The cable and circular that Sims references here have not been located.
Footnote 5: See, for example: Sims to Sims, 15 September 1917.
Footnote 6: Capt. William B. Fletcher, United States Patrol Squadrons Operating in European Waters.
Footnote 7: Charles Gruet was the Mayor of Bordeaux. The United States Consul at Brest was George A. Bucklin and the Vice-Consul was Azel D. Beeler.
Footnote 8: Capt. Orton P. Jackson, Mayo' Chief of Staff, Cmdr. William R. Sayles, United States Naval Attaché at Paris, and Cmdr. Donald C. Bingham, Fleet Gunnery Officer, Atlantic Fleet.
Footnote 9: :First Sea Lord Adm. Sir John R. Jellicoe and Comdr. John V. Babcock, one of Sims’ aides.
Footnote 10: Reginald E. Gilmor was Sims’ Flag Secretary.