The First World War at sea by Americans who fought in it
It’s easy to understand why this book was originally published under the jingoistic title of ‘Over the Seas for Uncle Sam’—perhaps edited by rather than ‘written’ by Elaine Sterne—for when it was written the subject was nothing less than reportage. The passage of time provides new perspectives on works such as this, and for that reason we have changed the title to alert readers to the unique nature of the content. Sterne’s book contains fifteen first hand accounts by those serving in the United States Navy in the first American conflict of the modern age on a global stage. The United States entry into the First World War in April, 1917, (particularly in terms of it’s immediately engaged naval contribution) was pivotal, if not essential. The Allied war effort was being strangled for want of materials as a result of the German U-Boat successes against merchant shipping, especially in the Atlantic Ocean. These accounts by serving men and women in the U. S Navy—including contributions by marines—are mainly from the enlisted ranks, with a few from officers. They are told in ‘their own words,’ and enable the modern student of the period to read of the experiences of those service men and women whose voices—in the absence of a work such as this—would have been forever lost to posterity.
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I found the deck deserted. I looked down. A few boats were bobbin’ on the waves. I dived off. When I came up it did me eyes good to see a boat a few yards away. I swam toward it and they pulled me in. A seaman named Doyle and another called Hooper were good strokes. They rowed all eighteen of us away out when the cruiser went down.<br>
About a hundred yards from us was a boat full of our officers. It was decidin’ to follow them we were, when the submarine came to surface again. She was after knowin’ which boat held officers, too—no doubt about that, because she trained her machine gun on the lot of them without wastin’ time, and opened fire. Yes, by God! shootin’ on men adrift in a lifeboat!<br>
That’s a sample of Hun fightin’ I won’t forget in a hurry! I’d have given me life and that of all me dear ones just then for a chance to cut the throats of those cool devils on her deck, pumpin’ death into that boat load of helpless youngsters. . . .
We expected to get it next and it’s ready for them we were. I hoped with all me heart and soul that they’d come close enough to hear the names I was callin’ them. But they didn’t honour us—not them. They figured that we were all enlisted men, not worth wastin’ a shot on, for they submerged.<br>
It was growin’ dark, but there was still light enough for us to take stock of our fodder. All lifeboats are well equipped—provided with ten gallon barrels of water, and with tins of bacon and crackers. It’s glad to find the food and water we were. The chances were pretty fair of our bein’ rescued in a day or two. That was good, seein’ we hadn’t a compass and most of us was green. We couldn’t even pick the stars and none of us knew seamanship.<br>
We could do nothin’ but wait until mornin’ and pray for the sight of a sail. Mornin’ came. We were stiff, ’part from wet clothes and ’part from the hard boards on which we’d been lyin’.<br>
There were four boys aboard—just kids, not more than eighteen or nineteen. It’s game they were, all right. They were the life of that gang. It’s “Cheer up, they’ll find us today,” they’d tell us.<br>
One of them was bubblin’ over with spirits. He was a big, blond kid called Terry. He was one of the gun’s crew and I’d liked him from the start. He appointed himself C. P. O. in charge of the chow and dished out the crackers and bacon to us, jokin’ about our table de hôte and sayin’ he’d try to do better next meal.<br>
Some of the older men aboard shook their heads over the way we was eatin’.<br>
“Better hold back on the rations and water,” they warned us. “We ain’t rescued yet.”<br>
But we laughed them down. We felt sure some ship must have caught our S. O. S. the night before. It stood to reason help was hurryin’ toward us.<br>
We took turns scannin’ the horizon. It wasn’t hard, because the sky was cloudy. We didn’t say so, but it’s hopin’ we were that there wouldn’t be a squall. It wasn’t long before the water grew choppy and a mist came up. Some of the men were glooms for fair.<br>
“Fog risin’. We couldn’t see a ship if she was alongside of us,” they growled.<br>
The boys wouldn’t be downed.<br>
“We’ll shout just to show them we’re here,” they said, and, at intervals all that long night, their voices rang out, but no answer did we get.<br>
Along toward mornin’ it began to rain in earnest. We caught the raindrops in our mouths. We decided to start economizin’ in water. It cleared up the third day and the sun came out. It burned our wet faces. Some of the men slept, but most of us kept a lookout. Help must be comin’ soon. We didn’t know in what direction land lay. Sure, we’d pull toward the north, then hold a council and decide it was the wrong way after all, so we’d start off due east. But we didn’t row as hard as we had the first day—not by a long sight. Some of the men were against goin’ away too far from the place where our ship went down.<br>
“If we’d stayed around there we’d have been picked up by now.”<br>
The men were gettin’ sulky, blamin’ each other.<br>
“Sure, if you’d listened to me——” we all started off.<br>
Only Terry didn’t get sore. He and the other three kids wouldn’t give up hopin’.<br>
“Oh, they’ll find us by another day,” he’d grin. “What’s bitin’ you all?”<br>
The fourth day dawned and slipped by. No help. The fifth day came, and with it a storm that tossed our boat from the crest of one big wave to another. The water washed over us in torrents. We bailed like madmen to keep afloat at all.<br>
Sure, now, it’s queer when you come to think of it, how hard men will work just to keep that little spark of life inside of them. With no hope in view they won’t give up while there is strength in them to go on with the fight.<br>
We proved it through those days of black horror, in an open boat on a sea full of salt water. That was the awful fact that stared us in the face as the days slid by—no gettin’ away from it—a certain knowledge that the water in those barrels was gettin’ lower and lower.