The New York Times/Wireless Workers Back from the Scene of War

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Wireless Workers Back from the Scene of War  (1904) 
by The New York Times
Published August 21, 1904.

WIRELESS WORKERS BACK FROM THE SCENE OF WAR
New York Operators Tell of Their Oriental Experiences.
ADVENTURES OF THE HAIMUN
Describe Capture by Bayan and the Sinking of the Petropavlovsk After Port Arthur Bombardment.


H. J. Brown and H. E. Ahearn of the De Forest Wireless Telegraph Company, the operators employed at the seat of the Japanese war in The London Times-NEW YORK TIMES service, are back in New York. Mr. Brown was the operator aboard the Haimun, the stanch vessel which was employed in gathering the news at first hand. Mr. Ahearn was in charge of the shore station at Wei-hai-Wei.

The story which they tell of their experiences in the Far East is one of more than ordinary interest. The part that they played in the installation of the service was most important. Every word sent through Wei-hai-Wei passed through their hands, Mr. Brown flashing the news from the front and Mr. Ahearn receiving it in his little shack on the top of the hill above the cliffs of the island, which was made the base of operations.

They are both young men, typical Americans. Mr. Brown is just in his thirties and Mr. Ahearn only twenty-one years old. That they were fully equipped for the responsibilities which they were called upon to assume is evidenced by the following letter from Capt. Lionel James, who, as correspondent in charge, directed the movements of the Haimun, and gathered the story of the war, which from day to day circled the world.

It is a great source of regret to me that I will not see you again, but I hope that when I pass through New York on my way home we shall meet. Before you go I wish to express in the highest terms my appreciation of the loyal and admirable work which both of you have done. I cannot say more than that I have never at any time had the slightest cause to be dissatisfied either with your work or with the service of the system you have so admirably exercised.

Mr. Brown pounded out the message which told of the capture of the Haimun by the Russian cruiser Bayan. He did not know that it would not be the last message he would ever send. He was aboard when the vessel, which boasts a normal speed of twelve knots, developed sixteen knots an hour in escaping from the Russian fleet, sighted off Port Arthur. He witnessed the second bombardment of Port Arthur by the Japanese fleet and saw the sinking of the Petropavlovsk, with Admiral Makaroff aboard.

Mr. Ahearn received the news of the stand taken by Russia, when that country announced that if the Haimun was captured, those aboard would be treated as spies, and flashed the tidings across the waves to Capt. James, aboard the inquisitive vessel, then far away and headed for Port Arthur.

Both remained until, by the edict of Russia and the refusal of the Japanese Government to permit the Haimun to perform the functions of a news gatherer except in a limited zone, the dismantling of the vessel and the abandonment of the service was made necessary.

WHAT THE TROUBLE WAS[edit]

"The real trouble was," they say, "that The London Times-NEW YORK TIMES service was getting too much news, and was untroubled by any censorship to all intents and purposes. There was a Japanese officer aboard, who was supposed to censor the messages which Capt. James sent from the Haimun, but he was most lenient, letting them go as written, and once they reached Wei-hai-Wei they were beyond recall."

On Jan. 16 at noon the two young men were employed in their usual duties at the De Forest offices in New York, when they were told to get ready to leave for Japan within twenty-four hours. Simultaneously with the receipt of their instructions the officers of the company began the assembling of the apparatus necessary for the service, and when they boarded a train for Vancouver the following evening the necessary instruments and machinery were in the express car ahead of them.

When they reached Vancouver, and boarded the steamship Empress of China, they found a number of London war correspondents who were to make the journey with them. There were Pryor of The Graphic, Maxwell of The Standard, and Brownell and McHugh of The Telegraph. These correspondents were not destined to get into the game with the Americans, however, for when Yokohama was reached they landed, to be held for months, while the wireless men kept on, after a conference with Capt. James, who outlined their duties to them, to Shanghai, where the Haimun, which had been already chartered, was waiting for them.

JAPANESE CELEBRATED[edit]

"We reached Yokohama," said Mr. Ahearn, "on the day before the attack upon Port Arthur, which opened hostilities. The city was quiet, but there was noticeable an atmosphere of suppressed excitement, which conveyed the impression to us that we would not have long to wait before things got lively. From Yokohama we sailed to Kobe, which port was reached the day after the Port Arthur victory. The 'Japs' were celebrating at a great rate and we went ashore and helped. Every time we hurrahed they 'banzai'd' back at us, and we were introduced to sake, their national beverage for purposes of celebration. The whole city was strung with banners and Japanese lanterns, some of the lanterns being as big as tables. We were astounded by the spirit of patriotism which we saw manifested by the people.

"Through the Inland Sea we proceeded to Nagasaki, still passengers on the Empress of China. I shall never forget the beauty of the trip. In some places the sea is not more than 500 or 600 feet wide, terraced cliffs rising on either side which surpass in beauty anything I had ever dreamed of. After touching at that port we went on to Shanghai, where we found the Haimun.

"There was plenty to interest us there. Inside the harbor was a Russian gunboat which had taken refuge there, while a couple of Japanese vessels were lying outside, daring her to show her nose. This boat was dismantled without leaving the harbor. Her guns were transferred to a Chinese gunboat while we were there.

"We found that we were in for a delay when we landed. It was Chinese New Year, and the Custom House was closed, so we were up against it when it came to landing our apparatus from the Empress of China and transferring it to the Haimun. We couldn't do anything at all the first day, but the second morning, although the festivities last from a. week to a month--as long as the Chinese have money to burn up in fireworks--we succeeded, through the Shanghai agents of the service, in getting the stuff through.

OREGON PINE SAVED THE DAY[edit]

The Haimun was tied up in a shipyard, putting the topmasts on each of her masts, which were essential in the stringing of the aerial wires. The timber for the topmasts had already been secured. One was of Chinese pine, the other of bamboo. As it turned out, neither wood would do, for we had barely gotten a good start for Wei-hai-Wei when they broke off short in the rough sea, which we encountered, and we had to fall back on a topmast of Oregon pine, which we were lucky enough to have provided in case of an emergency. It was about eight hours from Shanghai, and in the dead of night, when the topmasts fell. For a moment we thought we had run into a naval engagement, so terrific were the crashes as they struck the deck.

"At Wei-hai-Wei things were in pretty bad shape. It had been arranged by David Frazer, Capt. James's lieutenant in command, to establish the shore station for the receiving end of the work on the top of the hill on the island of Liao-Kung-Tun, which is about 350 feet above the sea. There it was necessary to erect a pole 170 feet in height for the receiver. There was a miscellaneous lot of flag poles and masts from which to piece the pole together.

"The New Year celebration was still going on, and we would have been in a bad fix had not Mr. Fraser secured 100 tars from the British cruisers Thetis and Fearless, which were lying at Wei-hai-Wei, to assist in getting the pole in place. They worked hard piecing the timbers together by a sort of tongue and grove work, known as a Chinese scarf. The first attempt was a failure, the pole breaking into three pieces as soon as it was lifted from the ground. The experience gave birth to the idea of raising the pole in two sections, the first section being securely guyed after it was erected. In this work the sailors were at home and the pole was ready in a much shorter time than it would have been had we been compelled to rely upon coolie labor.

"Then came the erecting of the shacks for the instruments, and the engines, which were to be used in furnishing power for the dynamos. These engines had been brought from America. The Chinese contractor, working backward as they do, put the roofs of the shacks on before he began the building of the walls, and a typhoon came along and scattered them all over the side of a hill.

"In the meantime the Haimun had returned to Nagasaki, where the Oregon pine topmast had been put in place. The transmitting apparatus was easily rigged up. Capt. James was on the Haimun, accompanied by Capt. Tonami, the censor detailed to accompany the vessel on her cruises, and see that the news she sent was all right. The 'Jap' was a great little fellow. He knew everything about naval affairs. Maybe he was an officer in the Japanese Navy. You never can tell just what a Jap really is, as they are not inclined to be talkative about their official positions. At any rate, from the messages that he passed, he was the best censor Capt. James could have had.

"Finally everything was in shape, on the vessel and ashore, and the Haimun steamed out of the harbor. From the first few miles tests were made of the apparatus, and the instruments worked perfectly. The tests were not discontinued until the vessel was seventy miles out, and there was not a hitch.

THE FIRST STORY SENT OUT[edit]

"As a matter of fact there was no trouble from that time on, except once when the pole at the shore station was blown down by a typhoon and had to be put up again. Sometimes messages were received from distances of over 200 miles--one, I believe, from a point 240-odd miles away. Every day the news came right from where things were happening, and as fast as I took it I chased it over to the office of the Eastern Extension Telegraph and Cable Company, a mile and a half over the hill, by a Chinese runner whom I had employed, who would cover the rough journey in about twelve minutes and worked for $4 a month in American money. There wasn't any delay. In less than half an hour after a message started, and it started as soon as anything developed, it was on its way by cable."

Mr. Ahearn did not make any cruises on the Haimun. He was ready for duty day and night at the shore end, but the thrills of the game came to Mr. Brown, who was in the very thick of every adventure in which the vessel figured.

"When we reached Chi-nam-Pho, the morning after leaving Wei-Hai-Wei on the maiden trip," he said, "we found the Japs landing troops. There were about 25,000 troops and 10,000 horses already landed when we got there. The first story we sent was descriptive of the scenes attendant upon the landing, and wonderfully inspiring and novel they were. It was all very new to me, as can be easily appreciated. After a short stay at Chi-nam-Pho we headed for Port Arthur, running to within about twenty miles of the Russian stronghold. From the deck of the ship we could plainly see the Russian searchlights splitting the darkness of the night in their guard against torpedo boats. The Japs were somewhere on the Korean coast with their fleet. Capt. James had already sent the whole story of the movements of the fleet, having secured it in Chi-nam-Pho.

"On the morning of March 21 we reached the Port of Che-mul-Pho, to find ourselves in the very heart of news. There were Japanese vessels in port, which were dismantling the two Russian vessels, the Korietz and the Variag, which had been sunk on March 19, and burying the Russian dead. The Korietz was upside down and the Variag was lying on one side. I don't know how many Russian dead were buried. The Japs were very careful not to permit any count to be made. The bodies, as they were recovered, were put in separate boxes and sent ashore, where they were buried. Capt. Colquhun joined the Haimun party about that time.

"I tried my best, when I got a little leisure, to accumulate a few relics from the Russian boats, but failed. The Japs are death to souvenir hunters, and I couldn't get even as much as a screw or a bolt. After leaving Che-mul-Pho we had our first real good scare on board the Haimun. Of course, we all knew how we stood with the Japanese, but we were not at all certain of our status with the Russians. We were headed for Port Arthur, anyway, as Capt. James wanted to see what was happening there, when we almost ran into the entire Russian fleet at Pillar Rock. That was the time the Haimun showed racing qualities which had been, up to that time, unsuspected. If she didn't develop a speed of sixteen or seventeen knots I am no judge. The engineer said he didn't know the boat had it in her.

CAPTURED BY THE BAYAN[edit]

"Our cruises until the morning of April 6, while always fruitful for Capt. James, who was getting the very freshest developments right along and sending from 400 to 2,000 words a day by wireless to Wei-hai-Wei, were uneventful. On April 6 we had our second and our most trying experience. We were within five or six miles of Port Arthur about o'clock in the morning. For several hours we steamed slowly, taking in the situation, when a vessel suddenly appeared and fired a shot across our bows.

"It didn't take the Haimun very long to come to, and a boat put off from the vessel, which proved to be the Russian cruiser Bayan. There were two Russian officers in charge of the party that boarded, and they inspected everything aboard, from our papers to the wireless instruments. The Russians had not yet reached the side of the Haimun when Capt. Tonami disappeared from view. He didn't put in an appearance at all, and we explained his absence to the Russians by saying that he was a coolie whom we employed as a servant, and that he was mortally afraid of Russians. The Russian officers laughed, and said we needn't send for him.

"After the Russians had left, and they left in a big hurry, too, I went on a search for the Jap. I found him in his cabin. He had disrobed, and was standing, knife in hand, ready to commit hara-kiri if any attempt had been made by the boarding party to make him prisoner. When we told him they were gone he laughed, and said 'All right,' but he would have killed himself as sure as I live if one of the Russians had made any move toward him. He didn't propose to be captured for a minute.

"I always have thought that we owed our escape from the Bayan to the fact that the Japanese fleet was not very far away. Just before we were boarded Capt. James sent the following message to our shore station:

"'We are about to be boarded by a Russian cruiser, If you don't hear from us in three hours notify London Times, Commissioner of Wei-hai-Wei, and commander of Leviathan.'

"When the message was sent it looked pretty serious. The way I figure it out is that the Russians had heard the Japs working their wireless, and then heard our message, and had concluded that they didn't have the time to pull us into Port Arthur.

"The second bombardment of Port Arthur, in which the Haimun was with the Japanese fleet, was a spectacle of inspiring grandeur. We were right there all the time, from the firing of the first gun until after the bombardment was over, and were still in plain sight of Port Arthur when the Petropavlovsk came out of the harbor and ran into the mine which put an end to her career. Capt. James had learned that a second attack was in contemplation by the Japanese fleet, and we were cruising about between Che-mul-pho and Port Arthur when we sighted the 'Jap' fleet. At first the officer on watch thought the vessels were little islands, but when we were closer we made out the ships plainly, and the Haimun was run to the fleet, Capt. James asking permission of the Admiral to accompany the fleet if there was any move in contemplation. He was told of the attack in prospect and authorized to come along. Aboard the Haimun was a Mrs. Lewis, wife of the commander of the British ship Fearless. We had taken her on at Wei-hai-Wei, as she wanted to pay a visit to her husband, who was stationed, with his ship, at Chi-nam-Pho. She witnessed with us the bombardment, the sally of three Russian ships, and the naval battle, and after it ended, and the fleet had started away, leaving three vessels outside to try to tempt the Russians from their stronghold, she was lucky enough to have her camera out.

THE PETROPAVLOVSK'S END[edit]

"We saw the Petropavlovsk leave the harbor, and then start back when she saw that the vessels standing in close were merely decoys. Suddenly a great shaft of water shot up from her side, and she began to wobble like a drunken man. She plunged this way and that. Suddenly she gave a plunge and disappeared. We did not know then, and I have never been able to learn definitely whether or not the mine which proved her undoing was one which had been planted by the Russians or the Japanese. The Japanese say that it was a mine which they had placed. For a time I thought it might have been a torpedo.

"As it happened, Mrs. Lewis snapped the camera at the very moment of the explosion, and she now has the only photographs extant of the destruction of the vessel. I have seen one of the pictures, and it shows the column of water thrown up in the air very plainly.

"Capt. James was writing the story of the bombardment while it progressed, and I was sending it right away. We followed the 'Jap' fleet, intending to put in at Chi-nam-Pho, but when we got there we were told that we could not enter. It seems that our wireless story of the bombardment had interfered seriously with Admiral Togo's wireless messages, by which he was sending out his general orders to the fleet, after starting from the scene of the battle, and he didn't want us with his command any longer.

"Two or three days later, while we were cruising about, there came the message from Mr. Ahearn in Wei-hai-Wei telling us that the Russians had announced that we would be treated as spies if captured. It is hardly necessary to say that we changed our course, for we were at the time pretty close to Port Arthur, and drawing closer.

"There followed a long series of negotiations regarding our privileges, so far as the Japanese were concerned, and the orders were issued forbidding us to go any further north than a line between Che-Foo and Che-mul-pho. Personal appeals at Tokio made no difference, and it was at length determined to dismantle the shore station and return the Haimun to her owners. We had the satisfaction of knowing for Mr. Ahearn and myself were taking just as much interest in the messages we were sending as if we had been writing them ourselves, that the correspondents with the Japanese and Russian forces were not in a position to do anything. We were told, when we started for home, that they were not allowed within miles of a battle and that when they tried to send stories to their papers they were first censored at the front, and then censored again either at Tokio or St. Petersburg. I suppose that the conditions will remain about the same as far as the sending of news is concerned.

"We left Wei-hai-Wei for home on July 10, sailing from Shanghai on the Oriental and Occidental Steamship Company's Doric on July 13 for San Francisco, and touching en route at Nagasaki, Kobe, arid Yokohama. We also touched at Honolulu. Now that we are home again we will get right down to work, but we will never forget our experiences in Eastern waters."

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).