Eldred Letter - 1918 A
On Board the W S S Van Steuben
July 5, 1918
When you get this letter you will know that I have reached France safely and I intend to give it to a member of the ship’s crew who will mail it in New York so it will escape the censor.
We left Phillie Saturday and came to Hoboken from there we were taken on tugs to the Bush Terminal in Brooklyn where we went on board the W. SS. Henderson which was built for a naval transport. We had fine quarters on board her and had splendid food everything was kept very clean. The officers went about with flashlights looking for dirt. We left New York Sunday about 2. P.M. and sailed out keeping close to Long Island I saw Long Beach very plainly from ship. The next day we met another convoy which sailed from Newport News. Monday evening we saw two subs and the destroyers dropped depth charges but we do not know whether we got them or not.
On Tuesday at 4 P.M. fire was discovered on the W.S.S. Henderson in the compartment next to us. The fire got so bad that the plates began to buckle so about 10.30 the order was given to abandon ship. The destroyers came along side one at a time and we got on them and were transferred to the Von Steuben which is the old Kronpizen Wilhem, the raider which was interned at Newport News. I left ship at 11 P.M. but did not land on the Von Steuben until 4 A.M. the captain of the destroyer was afraid to come alongside. It was raining part of the time but there was no sea running so everything went along smoothly. There were about 1700 on board the Henderson and from the information that we have now only one or two marines lost their lives and it was their own fault if they did.
I am writing you all about it because I am afraid that the papers will have some wild yarns and no truth. There was no panic aboard ship and everything went off smoothly.
Nearly everyone lost some of their baggage and most of them all. I was fortunate as I only lost my hammock and blankets and some underwear which I had put in my hammock as I did not have any room in my sea-bag. I saved my sea bag and hand grip. This ship is very much over crowded as you can imagine. The food is very good and plenty of it but we have no fresh water to wash in and not a regular bunk to sleep, so we sleep on the decks in life boats, in fact any place where we can stretch ourselves. I have been sleeping in some of the ship’s crews hammocks who have been on watch, so I have fared very well.
We have left the rest of the convoy and are sailing alone but expect to meet a convoy of destroyers to-morrow. This ship is a cruiser so we have 20 guns on board and some crack gun crews. At present we are going at 20-22 knots per hour so if everything goes O.K. we will reach Brest some time Monday afternoon. Yesterday the Fourth we had a chicken dinner and it was a real good feed. We sure are a “salty” bunch now and no one gives a damn what happens now and we are hoping to meet a few subs. I think I told we were going to Base 25 which we think is on the Island of Corfu. Most of the men think the Henderson was set on fire before we left New York. She was a slow boat but had fine accommodations for the men. Tell the bunch at home about it as I cannot write everyone. I am feeling fine and did not catch a cold even.
Love to you Mother dear,