Lester H. Smith's personal log of his second of three trips across the Atlantic during WW I
Foreword by Alan Smith:Enclosed is the personal log of Lester on his second trip from New York harbor to France delivering troops and cargo for the war effort.
They traveled in convoy and you can see the ships involved the rules aboard ship were very strict because with a crew and soldiers aboard in the 3 to 4,000 nobody was permitted to put the entire ship in danger. Thus the severe punishments dished out. Oliver’s sister Evelyn was in the nurse’s corp. and in the early portions of Lester’s duties she was stationed in New York under going training for overseas duty. He always tried to get to see her whether on a turn around in New York or later in his turn arounds in France. He was extremely proud of what she was doing, but very concerned for her safety.
On one of Lester’s trips over to France on the Matsonia they were in a convoy in heavy weather in submarine waters running without any lights. Lester had to go to a lower deck on official business and he fell down one of the steel ladders between decks. He ended up on a hospital ship for several months and several operations to repair a double hernia in his stomach area. This accident gave him trouble the rest of his life and contributed to his high blood pressure.
He was married to Florence Mehring October 29, 1924 in Menominee, Michigan.
In February 1938 their new born son David died 2 days after birth.
April 11th or 12th 1938 Lester went into a Milwaukee hospital for a complete physical as a result of the war injury kicking up. They did all the tests gave him a clear bill to go back to work. The night before his discharge from the hospital he had a heart attack and died.
Strange: died- Lester at 47, Florence at 44, Carol at 46.
Virginia Smith (now Haack) comments:Uncle Lester's "Log" while crossing the Atlantic was wonderful! Not only interesting from the insight into events happening in W W I, but especially to Lester's thoughts and feelings about his calling into Military Service, and Pride in his sister, Evelyn. I have not seen Lester's Obituary before, either. Thanks to Alan for this info to the Smith Family History Web Site.
Editor's Note: Page 1 is indeed missing.
gratitude for our being there.
I was ashore three times in France. It is comical to see the “gobs" (sailors) try to make themselves understood. First of all you must get wise to French money, then you must know a few words of their language. It does not pay to get lost if you do not know the French lingo.
The streets are narrow and the buildings almost touch at the roofs. The sidewalks are about five feet wide and it is much more comfortable to walk on the streets themselves.
Nearly every able-bodied man is in uniform. Women are employed at much of the labor that occupied the men before the war. However, I want to say that there is no truth in the report that "France is bled white". Everybody I have heard speak, regards the present German offensive as the last trump card of the Hun. Germany has to win now and win decisively or she loses the war, and she will not - cannot, win.
I ate better food at a much cheaper price in France than I ever bought in the States. This is not to say, however, that things are over-abundant. Sugar is scarce. Coal, also is used with greatest economy. You never see a tug or steamship "blowing off" excess steam over there.
The French are experts at fancy work. They can’t be beat for laces etc. Most of the things we make, we make on a large scale and of heavier material. Even the French steamers, railways, cranes etc., are constructed in so frail a manner as to make a person wonder whether they are strong enough for the work. The French are efficient in their way, but I think that American methods are superior for getting results.
I wish I could tell you all about what we are doing in this war. I never before realized the job that our navy has undertaken when it began transporting our army to Europe, but let me say that our organization is equal to the demands made upon it.
We do need ships and we do need officers, but we are now turning out both in quality and quantity.
Our return trip from across was most interesting. In the first place, we did not have the soldiers to worry about, and in the second place the weather was very favorable. There was another thing that made our voyage interesting. Our engine broke down in the war zone. For twenty-eight hours we lay to quite helpless. Nobody seemed to think of torpedoes or mines, A radio came in to us that an English ship was sunk not far away, but the officers piano kept playing and the crew's phonograph was agoing full blast until the black gang got the engine in shape again. Seems as if the German subs respect American ships. The probable reason is that the Yankee bravery is of a careful kind (we show no lights in the war zone) while the British are more reckless. We broke down twice after that, or rather, stopped to fix up our engines, but finally got into port this A.M. Coming back we passed a convoy of thirty-four ships - a great sight. Whenever a ship was sighted we immediately trained our guns on her. War is war.
Gee: I wish I could get mail from home. Has Evelyn gone with her Red Cross unit? I was hoping I would be in New York when she got there. You bet I am glad to have a sister in the service, in fact, I am so proud that I mention it many times to my friends.
I was thinking about Oliver in case the draft would soon include him. Tell him that he should choose some sort of naval service in preference to the army. It pays better and is right in his line. Like myself, his experience as a fishermen will be invaluable. With good, honest work he can soon be a petty officer, and later.
First Day - April 30th, 1918
Once more we head eastward. We are going at reduced speed. Sea is smooth, but air raw and too cold to sleep on deck.
Had my first watch last night. The ship steers better than last trip, as we are loaded down better.
Began our first drills today, and altho the movement of men to their various stations was slow and ragged, it was better than the first time over.
Everything seems to be in good shape, but as some one drowned, or did away with our black cat, (about to have kittens the superstitious sailors are predicting an accident. Our only mascot now is a mysterious potatoe bug which was found on the bridge. Everybody denies ownership of it, not wishing to be called a farmer. Never-the-less, Mr. Bug serves as a gambling device. The sailors mark out a square with chalk like this. Each man taking a corner. If the bug walks out over your corner you win.
Second DayPretty cold today and raw. The sea is smooth but our pea coats are comfortable. The troops do not seem very lively and most of the boys stay below deck.
Drills have begun in earnest.
This P.M. a large fish, possibly twelve feet long, came alongside and gave us a race. It was said to have been a black fish. I saw a school of them later.
Third DayWarmer today. We picked up the other ships of our convoy this A.M.
Sea smooth. We are now doing four on and four off.
The navigators caught two quartermasters absent from their posts and all of us are paying the penalty.
Troops are livening up. We are getting some real plantation music.
Target practice today. Poor shooting. Most of the time our target towed under.
Fourth DayModerate sea running. Nearly every one of the new members of our crew are sick, plus a good percentage of the soldiers.
Passed quite a bit of wreckage this noon.
Stopped engines this evening to tighten up on bearings. Convoy will run under reduced speed to allow us to catch up.
Fifth DayBack into convoy again with engines running smooth and everything fine.
This P.M. a school of black fish caused a little excitement.
Weather warmer and the soldiers are becoming livelier. This evening they gave a regular Darky (Editors note: unsure of this word) Town show. The big hit was a song - "He's a hell of an Engineer”.
We tried out our zig zag plans today. Everything well.
Sixth DayRaining today and with a bigger sea things are not very agreeable.
I saw my first porpoise – or rather, porpoises today, There was a school of them and they jumped out of the water in front of the ship four at a time - magnificent fish of about 150 lbs. each.
Today I was called upon to lead in Swedish exercises. When I got up before the crew I forgot most of the movements I knew, but I guess I got away with it O.K.
Soldiers held another entertainment tonight.
Seventh DayAll rules and regulations are tightening up. Anyone smoking after hours will be shot on the spot. Sentries ordered to bayonet anyone showing a light.
Sighted an English tramp today. All guns ready and everything cleared for action until the stranger identified herself.
0ne of the ships broke down but caught up with us again a few hours later.
I was called upon so lead in physical drill again today and did better.
A steamer just passed, did not answer challenge and very promptly our cruiser swung about and "went after" her. Both of them disappeared beyond the horizon. Two hours later: - cruiser is on the way back. No doubt, the suspected one was an innocent tramp, but we take no chances.
Eighth DayField day today, which means that everyone must clean up everything. We are still doing four hours on and four hours off, and as there is plenty of work when we are off duty, we have no trouble sleeping when we are allowed.
Yesterday we found out that one of the ships carried Red Cross Nurses. I shall try and signal over (if I can get permission) and see if Evelyn is among them. I do not think, however, she has sailed as of yet.
Weather continues rainy and miserable.
Ninth DaySaw some more porpoises today.
The soldiers are holding some interesting boxing bouts lately.
Four soldiers (colored) were caught smoking below decks and are now in irons. The sailors are amusing themselves by assuring the soldiers that they will be shot at sunrise. Even at that, their punishment will be severe enough.
Tenth DayPassed two masted schooners, also two steamers today.
Black cat was found today. Our luck must be still with us, but, question - where are the kittens?
The pet potatoe bug disappeared a few days ago. No more gambling.
Eleventh DayFinland left behind with broken steering gear.
Strange ship sighted: We are rolling like hell – 24 degrees and will hold no quarters this morning. Weather cold.
Another strange ship sighted: Man the guns!
Secure. All is well. They are American destroyers and now there are four of them.
Goodbye Cruiser. Give our regards to Broadway.
Twelfth DayFinland and Kroonland to St. Nazarie.
“In the Bay of Biscay O”. We are now in the most dangerous part of the war zone. Last night one of the ships of the convoy broke her steering gear. We left her behind with two destroyers.
This A.M. there were several evidences and reports of submarines. All guns loaded and ready; destroyers darting here and there.
Passed many sharks, great, big fellows, probably fourteen feet long and some of them barely lively enough to get out of the way.
Passed some floating rigging of a ship.
Weather quiet – but cool.
Soon convoy will split up.
Well, at last I can say I was in a bonifide encounter with a German "sub". I did not see the encounter, being in charge of the morning cleaning detail in after quarters, but it was a real periscope, nevertheless. The periscope was seen twice - first when Mr. U. Boat was trying to get our course and speed. He probably succeeded in this, but did not reckon on our zig zag plans, for when he next came up, instead of being on the flank of our convoy, he was right in the center of our ships. The destroyers sighted him and opened fire. Then they dropped three depth bombs over where he was last seen. That was when I first found out what was going on. Those depth bombs, exploded about a half mile away, shook our ship so violently I felt sure we were torpedoed. Believe me, I beat it up that ladder to the top side in a hurry.
Leaving one destroyer behind, the convoy kept right on. Altho the crew could get nothing official on the results of the fight, we heard later that our boys "got" the sub. So much for first encounter with the Germans - my first bit of real war.
Piloted in by Astor's Yacht, Naoma.
Land ho: A light house. More land - a long, sandy shore line just like Suckers Brook, then a river with more beautiful country beyond. Vineyards (famous vineyards), villas, and chateaus. Our anchor rattles down and our soldiers answer cheer for every cheer from shore.
Then we go farther up to docks - wonderful docks built by the U.S. since the war began. Our troops leave us with cheers and the cranes begin unloading our cargo.
Another successful trip.
Original images below:
A Letter to home from Lester H. Smith while preparing the Matsonia for a cross Atlantic tripAbout a month or two before the above log of his second trip across the Atlantic during WW I Lester writes home and tells of the preparations of getting a ship ready that will carry 3000 soldiers to France. Note: Lloyd Smith has the original hand written letter.