Saturday, September 1, 2012

Going Overseas in WWI

The Kashmir (1914-32) was one of a series of 9000 ton steamers built in 1913-1914 which survived the war, but were scrapped in Japan in 1931-1932. On Oct. 6, 1918, the Kashmir collided with the Ontranto, an armed mercantile cruiser, off the coast of Scotland. The Ontranto was sunk, and with a loss of 431 lives, 372 of whom were American soldiers on their way to France, it became the biggest convoy disaster during WWI. For more reading on Islay Shipwrecks, check out

Another oral story on World War I from my grandfather, Carl Oscar Ericke, accompanied this time with his personal diary and scrapbook entries. If you're interested in the ships that carried Americans to Europe, follow this link: WWI Ships Histories. Though I found this photo of the Kashmir (above) I'm not exactly sure it's the same ship, based on my grandfather's comments about it's small size. But could there be two boats named Kashmir in WWI?  Grandpa writes in his scrapbook that it is an old Cunard freighter that was currently servicing Eastern India at the time. According to the P&O Heritage Ship Fact Sheet this Kashmir (above) was transferred to the North Atlantic in 1918 to transport troops. It must be the same ship!

The politicians from Chicago came to New York to see us off before we left for overseas. They were a terrible bore, spending most of their time telling how good they were. Well we listened through that and finally that was over and we went back to camp. The next day I believe it was we went to get on the boat and, it wasn’t much of a boat. I don’t know what you’d call it a fishing boat, or what, but it certainly wasn’t one of their better boats, as we found out when we returned home in first class. 

Anyway, we stood it, and it was a rather an unsatisfactory trip because we had to sleep below deck in hammocks. These hammocks were all right except that the upper one used to sway quite a bit, and those fellows would become ill, and do their business and the fellow below would get the worst of it. Finally wound up with all of us sleeping on the deck. There were thirteen days I believe on the water and somehow or other managed to get to the other side and end our boat trip. Only things that were worth mentioning was that there was a lot of play from fellows that wanted to make fellas sick who hadn't become ill, they'd get a bucket and come by those fellas and try to get them to toss their cookies.

Sunday, May 26, 1918

We left Camp Merritt. Took the train to Jersey City. The whole regiment loaded on one ferry and we were taken to Brooklyn dock. We get off and relieved ourselves of our packs and sat down for a sandwich. The boat is big, much more so than any lake boat, but I heard so much of ocean liners that I was somewhat disappointed. About 10 a.m. we registered, went up the long gangplank into the good ship Kashmir. We were crowded 16 to a table one floor below deck. Just got comfortable when they decided to put us at the well deck. So we had to move again. Got our hammocks in place and soon we were all set. The crew was composed of Hindus. The boat was an old banana boat painted war gray. One funnel. The officers have great quarters. Went to sleep like regular Jackie’s. 

Monday, May 27, 1918

Woke at call of English Tar yelling "Out of the Hammocks" at us. Were still in dock. Our meals were fair. We will get 2 a day. Lots of rumors. Got out of dock at about 9 a.m. Passed out of the harbor and joined the rest of our fleet at 10 a.m. We were off! A few songs and a last look at the Statue of Liberty. That was the God of the moment. Most every body on deck watching land disappears. Brooklyn Bridge, the Woolworth Building, all faded away. There are 13 boats in the fleet and one battle ship of cruiser type. About 10 sub chasers escorted us out. Kashmir has 3 sister ships, all of which are sunk. 13th trip is a transport of troops. 13 days since we left Logan on May 13th. Were issued life preservers. Orders to wear them at all times. The water is fairly smooth. No one sick yet. Glad they have a canteen aboard.

Tuesday, May 28, 1918

The old K.C. insists we wear blues. Oh how I hate ‘em. Slept pretty good. Boat rocked quite a bit today. Slept fine last night. Funny feeling when boat rocks or pitches, you feel like in an elevator. Could eat a lot more than we get. About 1/5 cup of coffee. Some of the fellows are sick. Eck has been all in since he got on the boat. I feel fine.

Wednesday, May 29, 1918

Have calisthenics on the boat now, can you imagine it? Still hungry. The old boat is doing her share of rocking now. It is also raining.

Thursday, May 30, 1918

Gee, last night was fierce. Regular storm came up. Thought they would make us stay below. Water all over deck. First you see water, then sky, just like Dad said it was. Stayed up most of the night. No smoking is allowed after 8 p.m. It is rocking all day too. Came mighty near getting sick. God it’s awful. Some sights and smells below deck. Will sleep on deck tonight. They let us in the starboard hurricane deck now as we were too crowded. Slept on deck with Johnny.

Friday, May 31, 1918

There sure is a lot of water in this world. It’s pretty cold and rainy today. Boat has been pitching quite hard though water is getting calmer. Will sleep below tonight. Read a book of Mark Twain.

Saturday, June 1, 1918

Funny experience last night. A little after midnight the boat reversed its engines and blew it’s horn three times. As we had been having boat drill since the first day out and the signal was six blasts of the foghorn we were somewhat excited. We were nearly thrown from our hammocks. Found out this morning from the gunner on our boat that a submarine had shot a torpedo at the nurse boat that was alongside ours and in breaking their course our two boats nearly collided. Very little was said about it though we thought a lot. Fell in for muster today too.

Sunday, June 2, 1918

Forgot to say that yesterday the fleet lined up in battle order, which is V-shaped. The cruiser went ahead and dropped floats that looked like a periscope. The gunners on the various boats then shot at them as they came in sight. We have the best gunners on our boat. In the afternoon we saw smoke in the distance, then a funnel, and finally a boat. Our cruiser started out after it crossed its path and later joined us again.

Monday, June 3, 1918

We put on a submarine guard today as we are now in the war zone. Every so many feet stood a guard with a rifle to watch for submarines. Slept on deck. The card games, craps, and songs go on just the same. Had to take baths in the open.

Tuesday, June 4, 1918

Went on guard today. Got a good look at the brig. Some hole. Smell is fierce due to the Hindu kitchen above. Was pretty cold and foggy.

Wednesday, June 5, 1918

One of the Hindus died of pneumonia. He was buried off the back of the boat in a white canvas. Much ceremony with it. They say the night of the storm one of them got knocked off too when a crane broke loose. Slept on deck. Our cruiser turned back.

Thursday, June 6, 1918

Picked up our convoy. Woke up to find ourselves surrounded with little submarine chasers. At 10pm we sighted land in the form of a lighthouse on our left. It is the coast of Scotland. 

Friday, June 7, 1918

Land! Oh, what a glorious sight. And on both sides. Ireland on one side, Scotland and England on the other. More of the mosquito fleets a couple of airplanes and two big dirigibles. One came real close. Through the North Channel and the Irish Sea, saw the Isle of Mann. Liverpool is where we hit. Some harbor! Houses all red tile tops. Can see funny little 2-story street cars. Went into dock. Funny English policeman in sight. Had to stay on boat for the night. Thank goodness we may get some real food.

Well anyway, be that as we may, we finally got there. Nothing but water, water, water. No sights that I can recall that are worth mentioning. The matter of a diary, I did make a diary and started it when the trip started. So a lot of this stuff is probably recorded in that. 

While on the subject of a diary, I must say that Nancy has been after me to give it to her and since we've been very close the last couple years I do want her to have it. The reason for all that isn't that I think any less of Bill, but I have depended almost entirely on Nancy. Every time she and her husband moved, I moved too to get an apartment someplace nearby where they were living. It gave me a little feeling of safety to be close to her. Since then, I've seen her very often and they have had me at their home many times and I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't had her, especially for those moments when I get a little lonesome. I feel a little foolish saying all this because I don't even know if it's recording properly. But I'm hoping it will. The matter of the book isn't very vital but since I did tell her she could have it, I wanted to carry out my promise.

It was interesting when we got over there because we passed Ireland, and Wales, and finally landed at Liverpool. I don't know if I mentioned it or not but when we got there, we were again welcomed by the same politicians that said goodbye to us! I wonder how they got over there. First class no doubt. 

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