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Bill Thayer

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Part I
Chapter 5

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
One Man's Fight
for a Better Navy

Holden A. Evans
[Former Naval Constructor, U. S. N.]

published by
Dodd, Mead & Company
New York

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Part I
Chapter 7
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

Part I

 p63  Chapter VI

The Life of Reilly

If Admiral Ramsay had sought to win my allegiance to the line by giving me pleasurable experiences, he could not have done better than assign me to the U. S. S. San Francisco, which, in the summer of 1894, was being conditioned at the New York Navy Yard to relieve the Chicago as flagship of our European squadron.

To be ordered to a ship on the European station was simply to be included as a member of a perpetual yachting party. It was a perpetual following of summer seas, as the romance and glory of the Old World unrolled before one's eyes. To a young officer, eager for strange sights and new sensations, it was an approximation of Paradise. Picturesque North African ports, glamorous Mediterranean islands, gay and exciting northern cities, having one's place in the pageant of power, meeting the famous socially, making dozens of charming acquaintances, sophisticated men and beauti­ful women, entertaining and being entertained, acquiring a gourmet's taste in food and wines — it was what the ribald today would call the life of Reilly.

I joined the San Francisco in New York in August. Captain P. H. Cooper, the commander, at once detailed me as his aide and clerk. My duties were to write my captain's letters, prepare his reports, care for the files, and be his general utility man. I studied my chief — his temperament, his peculiarities, and his routine — and made it my business to take from his shoulders every care and annoyance that could possibly be carried by myself. This recipe I always followed afterwards as a subordinate.

 p64  Captain Cooper was an outstanding officer, a disciplinarian who knew his profession and his duties and expected his subordinates to know theirs. Before we sailed we lost him. The Naval Academy needed a strong, capable officer as Superintendent, and Captain Cooper was selected. I greatly regretted his departure. Afterwards he wrote me from the academy in his own hand a letter which I still treasure, urging me to give up any thought of going into the construction corps.

"If you remain in the line, you will achieve a reputation which you can not obtain in the construction corps."

These were true words. Fame is hard to get in the construction corps, the line sees to that. Years later it was my pleasure to find in my Navy record Captain Cooper's report on my fitness. He gave me "Excellent" under all the headings.

Captain E. M. Shepard succeeded him and continued me as clerk and aide. One of the most pleasant memories of my life is my association with Captain Shepard. I am sure he thought well of me, too, for long after I left the San Francisco he was still writing me intimate, friendly letters.

But all the associations on the San Francisco were congenial. In the junior officers' mess there were fourteen of us. Although four of them had been senior to me in the academy, I found myself senior line officer of the mess and therefore presided at the table and was responsible for order and decorum. This apparent contradiction may need to be explained to the civilian reader. Of the four junior officers senior to me, two were engineers, one was a Marine officer, and one a medical officer. That is, officers in the Staff Corps. I was of the Line, which made all the difference. Such are the navy regulations.

Of these youngsters, my favorite midshipman, Ridley McLean, became the efficient and well-known Admiral McLean; Reeves became Commander-in‑Chief of the Fleet; Riggs became Surgeon General. Not a bad average for one small mess.

 p65  We sailed from Newport in January, 1895. We had only four regular watch officers but were to receive the fifth from a ship on the European station. Meanwhile Captain Shepard gave me the fifth watch. Later, when Ensign Russell was transferred to us from the Chicago, he was ill, and I continued in the position, standing the watch at sea but being relieved in port by one of my classmates. This was a delight­ful arrangement for me. I obtained the sea experience, but escaped the monotony of standing watch in port.

At first, however, it was not so delight­ful. The voyage from Newport to the Azores was a very rough one, life lines stretched on the spar deck and the ship rolling thirty degrees from the vertical. At one time we were hove to with the storm mizzensail set and one engine turning to keep wind and sea on the bow.

We made a short stay at Horta, Fayal, which seemed to me an earthly paradise. I had never seen such profusion of flowers. At Gibraltar we found orders to proceed immediately to Algiers, where we found the Chicago, flying the flag of our Admiral Kirkland.

Then, for the next few months, followed a delight­ful cruise in the Mediterranean — Alexandria, with a trip to Cairo and the pyramids; Joppa, to visit Jerusalem; Piraeus, for a long stay; Naples, where I heard Mascagni conduct the première of his new opera "Iris"; Palermo.

At Piraeus the King and Queen of Greece and Crown Princess Sophia visited the ship and had tea in the cabin. The Crown Princess invited me to the Palace and later accepted my invitation to tea. She sorrowfully told me that she would not be present at the forthcoming opening of the Kiel Canal. Her brother, the Kaiser, was angry with her for having adopted the Greek religion.

I thought, "Quite a jump for a boy who ten years ago was marking deals in a Florida sawmill — exchanging confidences  p66 with the Kaiser's sister." I would have been even more set up had I realized that the charming and intelligent Princess would, as Queen of Greece, play an important part in the greatest war in history.

We were having a wonder­ful time in Palermo when Washington ordered us East to investigate a report that there was to be a massacre of Christians in Turkey and Syria. The large English colony in Smyrna ridiculed the report. We went to Alexandretta, the most easterly port of the Mediterranean and a beastly hole, and then to Mersyn, almost as bad, but could find nothing. The Admiral mustered something about meddling missionaries, and his remarks were cabled home. They got him into no end of hot water.

May found us in Southampton, England, where we were joined by the armored cruiser New York and the new triple-screw cruiser Columbia. They were being added temporarily to the European Squadron so that the United States might make a good showing in the naval celebration at the opening of the Kiel Canal. Southampton then was not the great, smoky port it has since become but a place of lovely homes and hospitable people. We were entertained a great deal.

We left Southampton for Copenhagen, arriving June 7. It was my first visit to the Baltic, and I found much to interest and attract me. We went to the Tivoli, of course, and in that vast, open‑air garden drank excellent Copenhagen beer and listened to the music of one or another of the many bands. At the beach we marveled to see thousands of Danes bathing in the sea, though we were finding light overcoats comfortable.

Here the Admiral transferred his flag from ours to the New York, and the squadron sailed for Kiel, arriving June 15. We found the harbor filled with warships of nearly all nations, though the British fleet had not yet arrived. At once we came in contact with the celebrated German efficiency. German  p67 ships came out to meet and escort our ships to the proper buoys, and from that moment until we left Kiel we had at our command the services of efficient agents of the German Government.

One illustration will suffice. At the Naval Review in New York we had allowed our foreign visitors to be exploited and annoyed by chandlers, grocers, and other shore tradesmen. There was a much larger naval concentration at Kiel, and one might have expected the daily purchase of supplies for the numerous messes — officers, petty officers, and men — would have resulted in great confusion. Instead, every evening a German cutter visited each ship. The German Government purchased for all at proper prices and early next morning made deliveries to each ship. In the same way everything was done to relieve the visitors of annoying details.

The extreme German courtesy could even be embarrassing to us. Our steam launches needed repair, and we received permission to have the work done at the Government dockyard. Afterwards we asked for the bill and were informed that there was no bill, the work was done as a courtesy to the U. S. Navy. The Captain protested but got nowhere. It took plenty of paper work to straighten that out in the Bureau in Washington.

Soon after our arrival at Kiel we attended a reception and dance given by Prince Henry, the Kaiser's brother. As the royal party entered, I was surprised to see Crown Princess Sophia of Greece. The Kaiser had relented after all and had invited her to the celebration.

The Crown Princess saw me and bowed and spoke to me as she passed. I was in a quandary. Everything had been informal at Athens, but with the German Court it was all formality. While I was wondering what to do, an officer approached me and said, "The Crown Princess Sophia of Greece desires that you dance with her."

 p68  I started to accompany him, but he said stiffly, "Please remove your sword."

I unbuckled the sword. Lieut. Hodgson, who was with me, took it.

"I'll hold it," he said, "but remember you must not leave her until you are dismissed."

At the end of our dance, the Crown Princess said, "Now you must tell me all you have been doing since you left Athens — and how you liked England."

I told her of our visit to England. She was most gracious, but I was uncomfortable. How did one get away from royalty? I watched carefully for any sign of dismissal, but none came. The Crown Princess had begun to chat as she had done in Athens. Another dance had started. Wasn't I overstaying my proper time? Was Lieut. Hodgson right about this point of etiquette?

Just then a very good-looking woman glided past us in the arms of her partner.

"The Baroness X–––," said the Crown Princess. "She is a countrywoman of yours, aren't you proud of her?"

I snatched at the opportunity.

"Not only proud of her," I said, "but I have the next dance with her."

"Oh then, don't let me keep you," replied the Crown Princess. "The music will soon begin. Rejoin me later, if you can."

I vanished — to look for the lady I had never seen before. Not entirely according to Hoyle, perhaps, but it was one way of getting dismissed by royalty.

The naval procession through the new canal was to be very special. Each navy was permitted one small ship, and this international column was to follow the imperial yacht Hohenzollern, carrying the Emperor, through the Canal from the Elbe to Kiel Harbor, a distance of about sixty miles. Our Admiral designated  p69 the Marblehead, commanded by Captain O'Neill, to represent the United States and selected a special staff of officers, of whom I was one, to accompany him.

The visiting admirals and their staffs went by special train to Hamburg on June 19, arriving about an hour before the entrance of the Emperor from Berlin. Hamburg's streets were beautifully decked and jammed with the Kaiser's cheering subjects. In the evening the Emperor gave a magnificent banquet at the City Hall. But this was for admirals and captains only. With the other subordinate officers, I took in the city's sights and late at night went aboard the Marblehead.

Next morning, June 20, the Marblehead entered the locks, and the memorable voyage through the Canal began. There was nothing for the admiral and his staff to do but assemble on deck and view the spectacle. And a marvelous spectacle it was. Wherever we looked, from the banks of the Canal as far back as we could see into the low hills, there seemed to be troops, fully equipped and standing at attention, and we caught glimpses of hundreds of guns. It was a proud day for the Kaiser. This Canal he had built had tremendously increased the effectiveness of the German Navy. In his triumph, on the Hohenzollern, he was at the same time taking the salute from his massed forces and letting the world have an impression of his mighty power.

Every person in the world, it seemed, who could possibly secure any sort of official favor, assembled at Kiel the next day to watch the culmination of this historic event. Secretary of the Navy Herbert had cabled our admiral that his daughter would be on hand to watch. He requested that Ensign Evans be detailed to assist her during her stay.

On the morning of June 21 I presented myself to Miss Herbert at the hotel. Accompanying her were Miss Voorhees, daughter of the Senator from Indiana, and Miss Shelley,  p70 daughter of the former Representative from Alabama. By this time I felt myself a traveled man, blasé and sophisticated, and I undertook to instruct these novices from the States in some of the ways of Europe.

I explained to them that, unlike what they were used to at home, in Germany there was no glorification of womanhood. Glory and honor were reserved for man and his power. Before the arrival of the Emperor, it was true, there had been some entertainment in which the ladies had been permitted to participate, but now that he had arrived all official functions would be limited to men. My fear was that Miss Herbert, feeling her position as daughter of the Secretary, might expect to be included in the official reception and dinners. I don't remember if the girls giggled over my little lecture. At any rate, they meekly assured me that they all understood the situation perfectly.

Then I had better news for them. Captain Shepard expected them to be his guests for luncheon aboard the San Francisco, and I had come to escort them. The ship and the luncheon delighted them. Captain Shepard assured Miss Herbert that our fleet was hers to command. All she had to do was make her wishes known to Mr. Evans. It was a charming little speech, but I felt misgivings.

The Emperor placed the last stone, the big guns thundered, and the Kiel Canal was officially open. Then the Hohenzollern, carrying the Emperor and Empress, steamed around the entire foreign fleet, as every ship manned yards and rail. It was a never-to‑be-forgotten sight, and, needless to add, our young ladies were thrilled.

The New York had a commodious electric launch, the only one in the combined fleet. I had asked for the use of the launch during Miss Herbert's stay, and the admiral had granted the request. That evening I arranged a launch party consisting of  p71 Miss Herbert and her friends and some young officers to view the great fireworks display from the water. We had not gone far before it became evident that the French fleet was preparing to get under way. The French did not enjoy contemplation of a completed Kiel Canal. International courtesy demanded that the French Navy be represented at the formal opening but not that it take part in the jollification afterwards. The French fleet, no doubt on orders from Paris, was going to sea.

And just at this unfortunate moment, Miss Herbert expressed a desire to visit the French flagship. Smoke was pouring from its funnels, one could see the sailors clearing the decks. I pointed out the impropriety of a visit under such conditions, but — Miss Herbert had only to command. I climbed the ladder to the deck of the Hoche, expecting only a polite but chilly rebuff.

I didn't know my Frenchmen then. The daughter of the United States Minister of Marine? Mais oui, mais oui. We were taken to the captain. Miss Herbert spoke beauti­ful French, and the captain was "enchanté." He presented us to the admiral. The admiral, not to be outdone, insisted on refreshments. After that we had to inspect the ship, the captain serving as our escort. Finally we tore ourselves loose, but our launch had hardly left the Hoche whence once more the black smoke belched from French funnels, and in a short time the French fleet was turning its disapproving back on the Kiel celebration. Three American girls had held up the execution of this important international gesture for more than an hour. After that I kept my superior knowledge of Europe very quiet.

We were proud of the fireworks from the New York, which were magnificent and surpassed all the others, even the English. We weren't advertising it, though, that a London firm designed the display and furnished the pyrotechnics.

Next day's arrangements included a luncheon aboard the  p72 ship in honor of Mrs. Runyon, wife of the American Ambassador to Germany, ship visits in the afternoon, and in the evening the spectacle of a hundred warships of many nationalities brilliantly illuminated — again viewed from the electric barge. Next morning I went to the station with my charges and saw them off. Seldom does a young officer have such delight­ful duty as I enjoyed as aide to the Secretary's daughter.

The Kaiser visited the New York, presented Admiral Kirkland with a magnificent gold snuff box, dined with the Admiral, admired the ship's machinery, especially the couplings on each propeller shaft. The American squadron gave its grand farewell reception, the admiral transferred his flag back to the San Francisco, the New York and Columbia left for home, and the great celebration was over. Admiral Kirkland took a month's leave, and we left Kiel for Russian waters, arriving at Kronstadt on July 6.

Five of us — Flag Lieutenant Nickels, Flag Secretary Lieutenant Noel, Marine Lieutenant Theall, Midshipman Ridley McLean, and myself — took a morning boat up the Neva for three days of sightseeing in St. Petersburg, noting on the way the large number of Russian battle­ships under construction.

I wrote in my journal: "To us . . . these preparations for war seem strange, but to these people over here it is perfectly natural. They expect war at any moment." It was not to come, though, for nearly twenty years.

In St. Petersburg the American Consul, Mr. Peter Wigins, acted as our pilot and interpreter. It was Sunday morning, and we visited churches. In the afternoon Consul Wigins wanted to show us the Yacht Club. We objected, because we had not received cards. But Wigins, as a mere cit, was not so punctilious about such things, and persuaded us just to go out and drive through the beauti­ful grounds. Mr. Wigins stopped to see the steward for permission but returned instead with the club's  p73 commodore and a reception committee. American naval officers? We simply had to stay as guests. It was a fête day, with boat races. We must take part in the festivities. We yielded and presently found ourselves members of a gay crowd on the bank of the lake watching the boat races.

Tea was served on the lawn. After tea Lieutenant Nickels rose as a signal to go. Our new friends would not hear of it. We must stay for the grand banquet. Since all of us had now attached ourselves to charming prospective dinner partners, we were easily persuaded.

We entered the large club house and found vodka and appetizers on long tables. This collation they called the sacouska, and the Russians ate so much of the sacouska I wondered how they could eat any dinner. We entered the dining room at last and found three immense tables spread, place cards at each seat. The dinner was delicious but tremendous. It came to toasts; and the toast to "the American officers" followed immediately after the formal national toast. Toast after toast to us followed, and finally the commodore announced that the ladies alone wished to drink our health. They formed a line and passed the commodore's table, where we sat, and as each one passed an officer, she raised her glass and drank with him. When we left at midnight, we were not alone. A group of club members accompanied us to show us the attractive night life of St. Petersburg.

Probably not one of these charming people is alive today. Probably not one of their children is alive. They belonged to the Old Russia. I never wish to see Russia again. Present conditions are too horrible. My wife, who knew Russia well, feels as I do and will never again enter the country in which she spent many happy years.

At Kronstadt I played the cap-and‑bells rôle in a little comedy of errors that seems funnier to me now in retrospect  p74 than it did then. Captain Shepard had invited the American Ambassador and family to luncheon and sent me with his steward to St. Petersburg to supervise the purchase of the necessary supplies.

The steward had secured everything except the fruit, when I saw some exquisite peaches — just the right fruit for the luncheon. I told the steward to get two dozen. Back at the ship the steward told me that he had not had enough money to pay for everything and had used some of his own.

"Nonsense!" I said. "You had more than enough."

"But those peaches, sir," he replied. "They cost forty-eight rubles."

He showed me the receipt. A ruble was worth fifty cents. Twenty-four dollars for peaches! I knew the captain would never stand for such extravagance, so I took the only course possible.

"I'll pay for the peaches myself," I told the steward. "Make out your account, leaving out peaches, and I will approve it. Take it with the balance due him to the captain, and never under any circumstances let him know I paid for the peaches."

My next duty was to meet the ambassador and his party, who were coming by train from Moscow. In full dress, with epaulets and cocked hat, I went to the station. The train came in, but there was no ambassador. I felt foolish. In my hurry to get back to the boat and find out about it, I took the first droshky that offered — an open one. On the way to the landing, a sudden rain squall broke and soaked me. Water was running down my face from my cocked hat. I put up my hand to wipe my face, and it came away black. The haberdasher had put everything into that cocked hat of mine to make it elegant, except a fast dye.

At the landing I was informed that the ambassador had come by an earlier train and had gone off to the ship. A boat was  p75 waiting to take me out. As I came over the ship's side, the officer of the deck greeted me with laughter.

"You're a sight, Evans. What happened?"

Without answering, I went to the cabin and told the orderly to ask the captain to speak to me at the door. While he was gone, I tried to wipe off the streaks with my handkerchief but only succeeded in smearing dye all over my face. Captain Shepard came, took one look at me, and roared with laughter.

I tried to explain, but he said, "I understand. Go below and wash your face, then come up for luncheon."

I said, "but, sir, my frock coat is soaking, and I have no other."

"Come in service dress," he said. "It will be all right."

While changing my clothes, I inventoried my chain of mishaps. I had missed the ambassador. I had ruined an expensive hat, and ensigns had little enough to spare for equipment. In service dress I would be the ugly duckling of the party, and the desert was costing me twenty-four dollars of my own money. To cap the experience, the party — all Americans — didn't think there was anything remarkable about peaches in July, and only a few took any. I ate one and enjoyed it — enjoyed it with determination. Unwisely, I told a messmate about the peaches, and for months afterwards I heard conversation starting, "Did you hear about Evans in Kronstadt — paying twenty-four dollars for one peach?" The one I ate, of course.

Leaving Russia, we had a delight­ful summer cruise before us — Stockholm, Christiania, Gravesend, Southampton, and then Scotland. I remember our arrival in imposing Stockholm. It was about midnight, though at that time of the year clear daylight.

United States Minister Ferguson invited the officers of the ship to luncheon for Sunday. The captain and six junior officers accepted. The older officers of the wardroom would not accept.  p76 They considered themselves blasé and expected the luncheon to be stupid. The wardroom made a mistake. Mr. Ferguson's hostess proved to be his beauti­ful, charming daughter. She had invited all the diplomatic set, and there were several very pretty Swedish girls. After luncheon came music and dancing.

We had such a good time that before we left Ridley McLean, Lieutenant Theall, and I decided to give a return party on the ship next day. Captain Shepard said yes. We invited everyone present for three the next afternoon. Miss Ferguson consented to be our hostess.

Next morning I told the captain we junior officers wished to give the party and were not going to ask the wardroom to share the expense. The captain said it was all right, provided we would count him in. He turned over to me both his and the admiral's cabins. We folded back the doors between the cabins, using the admiral's cabin for the refreshment room. With the ship's handsome silver service, presented by the city of San Francisco, and some flowers, the suite was most attractive. As the servants prepared refreshments, I mixed the punch ready for Miss Ferguson and her friends.

This story I am telling really as an excuse to give the recipe of a wonder­ful punch — the same punch I mixed that day. It seems to be mild, but decidedly isn't. We used it in Hampshire, in England, for cocktail parties, and I have yet to find one person who does not think it delicious. Here is how it is made:

One quart of brandy
One quart of Jamaica rum
One quart of port wine
One quart of strong but not bitter black tea
One‑half pint of Curaçao
One dozen lemons
Sugar to taste — about two teacups

 p77  Mix these ingredients in a punch bowl as stock. About ten minutes before serving time, put in a large block of ice (not small pieces) and then pour in five quarts of champagne.

Mr. Ferguson went with us to Christiania (now Oslo), Norway, as the captain's guest. Here we saw the headquarters of Norwegian shipping. The Norwegians can operate tramp Chicago ships and make a profit where any other nationality will starve.

In Christiania at this time lived a young man named Christoffer Hannevig who was destined to become a great ship owner. He may have looked out and seen an American war vessel anchored in the harbor that summer. On board was an ensign whose destiny it was to become in time a well known shipbuilder. The paths of these two would cross. Mr. Hannevig will figure frequently in these pages later on.

We remained at Christiania only a few days and then were off for Gravesend, England.

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