Thursday, April 21, 2011

Grandma and the Prince - Part 28

Here is the second installment of Grandpa Larry's World War I reminiscence. He called it "Under Sealed Orders" and the words that follow are all his. (Not too bad for a man with a sixth grade education!)

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Part II

We entered the harbor without our identity code flag flying and dropped anchor near the dock section of the city of Halifax. There was no more to moor ship, so it was evident that we would (inaudible) one anchor with no intention of staying in port long. No one came near us. The Union Jack was raised on the jackstaff at the bow and the ensign was rised at the stern, which is the usual procedure in port – also, the Marine guards were posted at various places on deck.

A little later, the Captain’s Gig was lowered away and the Captain, accompanied by Lieutenant Commander Stiles, the ship’s First Lieutenant, went ashore. The scuttlebutt was quiet. I guess everybody had run out of ideas. A little after dark, our big canopy-covered motor sailor was lowered away and sent ashore. That evening, after the boatswain’s mate had piped standby and pipe down hammocks, I stretched my hammock on my billet, unlashed it, and prepared it for the night. I then listened to the band play some nice music for while, then as I had no watch that night, I turned in for a good night’s sleep.

The next morning, after reveille and breakfast, we heaved in the anchor and got underway. I soon heard by the usual grapevine that four men had come aboard with the Captain in the gig and the motor sailor had brought several more men and a large amount of luggage. We heard later that after we had left port and little more than cleared the harbor and headed out in the open sea that a load of TNT had blown up in the harbor, not far from where we had been anchored. It had devastated about (inaudible) the shipping in the harbor and great damage to the city of Halifax itself. I soon found out who our guests were. The men who came on the motor sailor were aides and secretaries, and the four who came in the Captain’s gig were Colonel House, who was the advisor/confidante of President Wilson; General Bliss of the Army high command in Washington; Admiral Benson of the Navy high command; and a tall, handsome young civilian who was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy under Josephus Daniels. Fourteen years later, this young man was destined to be President of the United States. You don’t have to ask his name, do you, Barbara?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

We heard later that they had arrived in Halifax from the United States on a freight train in boxcars. The men were in disguise. Halifax officials were not aware of the maneuvers which were handled by our Intelligence men. We also found out that it had been learned that the German high command was starting to crack at the seams, and that these men were the mission being sent to negotiate the armistice when the time came.

The Huntington had been selected for this mission and it was a good choice. We had our job to do and that was to get these people quickly and safely to their destination which was, of course, top secret. Our ship was good for the job, well-armed, quite fast for those times, well-commanded with a well-trained experienced crew. The only things we had to look out for were the subs, of course, of which there were many – and big German battleships, but they did not come out into the open seas until the Battle of Jutland.

I had recently been promoted and was in charge of a section of the boat deck which included the base of the cage mast (inaudible) the Bridge and also #1 smoke stack. I was usually there during working hours when I was not on gun watch. I noticed that some of the mission seemed to like being around the cage mast. I happened to be talking to the Jimmy Legs in charge of the Lucky Bag and he had an idea. There were a number of folding chairs in the Lucky Bag which had probably been used at some function aboard the ship before the war and had not been taken off. Anyway, they were brought up and placed in the Bull Ring below the cage mast. The guests took advantage of them in nice weather and seemed to enjoy sitting there in the Bull Ring, talking. I came in contact quite a bit during the crossing and was able to get a number of pictures of them taken by the ship’s photographer. It seemed strange to see them there. They represented the highest power in the United States. The pictures were lost years later in Brooklyn when we were robbed. The crossing proved to be uneventful, except for two or three submarine alerts but nothing came of them.

I guess I should explain a few things. First, Jimmy Legs is the nickname of the Master at Arms. There were a number of them and they have charge of the unruly who, in such cases, can’t be handled by the petty officers of the sections. They have charge of the brig and bringing the culprit before the Captain’s mast, deck court, summary court-martial, and even general court-martial, although that is infrequent as most general courts are held on shore.

The Lucky Bag is a compartment below decks where everything lost, strayed, stolen, or misplaced finds its way and may be recovered if properly identified by its owner. When a large amount of unclaimed articles are accumulated, the Master at Arms in charge holds a sale. The articles are stamped “Lucky Bag” and sold to the highest bidder. The theory is that the funds received go to the crew’s entertainment fund, but I would not swear to that. I would like to say that a big warship of the World War I era was no luxury liner. No way. Its decks above and below were always cleared. There was no place to sit down, the folding tables and benches were placed in racks in the overhead as soon as the meal was completed and cleared up. At sea we wore life belts 24 hours a day and never broke out our hammocks. I had no bedding at any time. We slept on the deck and you can believe it was hard. Most slept on the gun deck because it was warm in the cold weather. In addition to this spartan way of life, we were allowed a half-bucket of water a day with which to wash our faces, teeth, shave, and take a sponge bath. We used the rest to scrub clothing. Anything that was left went into a community bucket for the purpose of scrubbing paint work. If we wished to sit down for any purpose, we would get our ditty box from a rack to use for a seat. This was a box about 10 inches wide and 10 inches high and maybe 14 inches long with a lock on it. We kept our personal belongs in there: tobacco, soap, shaving gear, writing paper, maybe a picture of a girl friend or family or such.

(to be continued)

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He was begotten in the galley and born under a gun. Every hair was a rope yarn, every finger a fish-hook, every tooth a marline-spike, and his blood right good Stockholm tar.
--Naval Epitaph

PS: I'm Barbara Bretton and you can find me here and here. Leave a comment behind and you'll be automatically entered in a drawing. The winner will receive signed copies of CASTING SPELLS, LACED WITH MAGIC, and SPUN BY SORCERY and a little sweet surprise.

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marybelle said...

Thank you for part 2. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you also for the generous giveaway. Fingers crossed!!


traveler said...

Your wonderful family stories are captivating and leave me wanting more. They are extremely interesting and real life is like that. Thanks for this great and fascinating story. The Halifax explosion was devastating and historic. Many books have been written about this tragedy.

CrystalGB said...

I loved reading your grandfather's story. Thanks for the awesome giveaway.

Kaelee said...

I love reading about your family history. Just think how the world history would have changed if the ship your grandfather was on hadn't left Halifax when it did. The loss of FDR would have really changed things up. I bet you wish that the photos hadn't been stolen. I imagine your grandfather missed them as well. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

Estella said...

I love reading your Grandfather's story!

Margie said...

This makes me wish I'd thought to make a recording of my grandfather, who served in the Army during WW2 and marched through Europe during the liberation.

Lucky you to have his stories.

Barbara Bretton said...

Thanks so much for taking time to comment. One of the things that jumped out at me when I was transcribing Grandpa's story was the fact that while he was docked in Halifax, my other grandfather was in Halifax also, living the life of a very rich man's son. Life is far more fascinating than fiction, isn't it?

van_pham said...

You're a new author to me and these book sounds really great. Definitely will be checking your books out!

thanks for the awesome giveway!


Pat Cochran said...

Very interesting story, you are quite
lucky to have had access to your grand-
father's memories!

Pat Cochran