Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Barbara Bretton: Grandma and the Prince - Part 27

<--The ship Grandpa served on during WWI. (It was recommissioned as the USS Huntington around 1917.)

The months are zipping by too quickly for me. Thanks to Lee for the gentle reminder! I needed it.

Here is part one of my Grandpa Larry's World War I stories. The last surviving veteran of WWI died a few weeks ago and with him went all the first-hand accounts of the Great War. I'm so glad I have these transcripts and hope other families hung onto their treasures too. Enjoy!

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Under Sealed Orders - Part 1

We weighed anchor in North River and headed for the Narrows. It was the usual sailing, fully fueled, tank full of fresh water, supplies, provisions, and ammunition on board. As we neared the Narrows, I was assigned to the port chains. The chains is a steel frame extending about four feet from the side of the ship and about seventy-five feet aft of the bow of the ship. A wooden grill is fitted into the frame and at each corner is a steel stanchion about four feet high with a ring at the top Through the rings of the stanchion, a chain is threaded through and each end is secured to the lifeline of the ship. Thus the platform is logically called the chains which prevent the seaman from falling overboard while he is performing his duties.

The main duty is to heave the lead in order to keep the Bridge Officers informed of the depth of the water under the ship. Two seamen stand in the chains, one of which is the Leadsman and the other, the Lee Leadsman. On this day, I was the Leadsman. The leadline is a line similar to an old-time clothesline, about 125 feet in length and quite a bit of memorizing is required to be an efficient leadsman, and efficient you must be. Otherwise the ship might run aground and then you would be in bad trouble. I am sure you realize that. The lead line is divided into fathoms. A fathom is six feet. The even fathoms on the lead line are called Deeps and the odd fathoms are called Marks. Hence if your lead line showed six fathoms, you would sing out to the Bridge, “By the deep six.” In other words, you would have 36 feet of water under you. The line is marked every two fathoms by a piece of rag, a strip of leather with a hole in, or two or three holes, or one, two, or three knots. Each Mark denotes a certain number of fathoms and the Deeps are halfway between the Marks. All this you must memorize.

The lead itself is shaped something like a milk bottle and has a hole at the top to attach the line. The lead itself weighs fifteen pounds. About 12 feet from the lead on the line is attached a toggle which you grasp in your left hand when you are going to cast the lead. Now I am sure you understand all of this, so we will prepare to go to work.

You climb through the lifeline to the chains and your helper comes with you. First, you attach the bitter end of he line to one of the outboard stanchions to prevent losing the whole works overboard. Then you carefully coil the line in your right hand so that when the lead is released, the line will pay out without fouling. I now take the toggle in my left hand and start swinging the lead forward and back, the lead higher and higher each time, until at last I can bring it around in a full circle that will be 30 feet in diameter. After three full circles, on the fourth as the lead is rising, I release it and hopefully it will sail out toward the bow of the ship (65 or 70 feet.) As it hits the bottom and comes straight up and down, I read the mark at the water’s edge and call out the depth of he water to the Bridge. “By the Mark Seven.”

The duty of the Leadsman is to haul in the line and lead while it is being recoiled for the next cast. This procedure continues as the ship glides between the buoy lining the channel. Spar buoys on the starboard and (inaudible) buoys on the port until we reach deep waters, at which time we leave the chains and return to our regular duties. At last we reached the Ambrose Light Ship which no longer exists, as it has been replaced by an anchored, electrically controlled light buoy, but which still has the same characteristics as the old ship. (Interval between light flashes, I mean.)

The Ambrose Light is the point of departure which means that it has the exact latitude and longitude which he ship’s navigator to place on his chart for the purpose of starting his Dead Reckoning for navigational purposes. I realize that all this has nothing to do with the story I hope to tell, but just to show how things were in those bygone years before the advent of radar, sonar, distance tinders, and computers which the modern navigator now uses.
As we proceeded past point of departure, it became clearly evident that we were not picking up a convoy. Scuttlebutt rumors started to fly. The scuttlebutt on a war ship is like the water cooler in an office building. It is the breeding ground of rumors. One soon started which proved to be correct, that we were sailing under sealed orders for 24 hours on an unknown mission. The scuttlebutt runneth over with rumors. One popular one was that we were out to intercept a reported German raider heavily armed and disguised as a merchant ship that had been preying on isolated shipping. Either cargo ships that preferred to travel alone or stragglers that had become separated from their convoys for one reason or another. This rumor proved false.

We were cruising on a zigzag course of roughly 90 degrees. The next day, as the 24 hour period came to an end and the Captain opened the sealed orders, we made a drastic change in course. We had been sailing in a generally due east direction for the last 24 hours. Now our course was changed from 90 degrees to 310 degrees.

Now you can rest assured the scuttlebutt went to work again. It did not take the amateur navigators long to figure out that we were heading in a general direction of the Canadian Maritime Provinces. That proved to be a good guess. Some thought we were going to pick up a convoy of Canadian troopships. This proved to be in error. When we finally made a landfall, it was at the entrance to the harbor of Halifax, Nova Scotia where, coincidentally, Barbara, your other grandfather was living and working at the time.

(Part 2 next month.)

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Thanks so much for sticking with me!


Kaelee said...

Oh no by the time next month comes I won't be able to remember all this. It's interesting how they did things back then. Wonderful that you have these stories to tell.

Estella said...

Very interesting! I love the stories about your family.

ev said...

you are so lucky to have these stories. The grandkids have had my hubby telling them WW2 stories and writing them down, which is great.

I can't wait until next month either!

marybelle said...

I am always begging my mother to write down the family history before it becomes lost. I can't get enough of it. Just fascinating!!

Nas Dean said...

Very interesting and informative. Thanks for sharing.

Michele L. said...

Your family history is so fascinating! Gosh, that is awesome how you have collected all these wonderful passages of relatives lives. Have you started a journal of all the stories?