A Social & Family History

British Military Mission to the USA – Major

July, 1918. Southampton Dock Station.

The officer in charge went to get the instructions as to the ship we were to join. He was given his ticket with the number of the boat we were to join. We went to the wharf and got on a small cross-channel boat. Opposite us, the other side of the wharf, was the huge Olympic. Very soon after getting on board I said to one of the officers of the ship who was passing “This is a very small boat in which to go to America”. He stopped dead and said to me “America? You’re not going to America – this ship goes to France tonight.” I immediately got the officer in charge and he rushed back to the office where he found that they had given him the wrong number and that the proper ship we were to sail on was the Olympic. We scrambled abroad her and literally got on board half-an-hour before she sailed. The Olympic was at that time the largest ocean-going liner. She was equipped for the war with 6” guns, fore and aft and on each side, and she sailed unaccompanied a zigzag course from Southampton to New York. She had on board besides ourselves nothing but women and children, a whole bevy of Red Cross nurses and Mums taking their children God knows where but away from England, and we had a marvellous time, very good weather, and took just about five days to get to New York.

On my appointment to this Military Mission I was given the rank of acting Major and a special expense allowance of £2 per day. From New York we had to catch a train to Washington, where we had to report to the Headquarters of the British Mission. This we did and I was allocated to a large camp called Camp Gordon in Georgia about 15 miles from Atlanta. This was the first time I really understood the huge distances in the United States. I remember being told that the Officer who was going to California would be seven days and seven nights in the train, I could hardly believe it. In due course I reported to Camp Gordon. This was a huge camp right out in the country where they had something like 30,000 white troops and 10,000 black troops all under canvas, and the white troops, all ranks, had iron bedsteads with wire string mattresses to sleep on. Each of us had two Warrant Officers and our job was to train the Instructors in the particular aspects of war for which we were trained. The French and British Officers lived together in comfortable quarters, and I was allotted a Chevrolet car and a chauffeur, a horse fully equipped, and an enormous Harley Davison motor cycle. I used the chauffeur and car frequently every day; the horse I got on once for the purpose of having my photograph taken; and the motor cycle I got on once and was only able to stop it with the greatest of difficulty.

We were given full authority by the G.O.C. of the camp. We dealt direct with the Brigadiers of each brigade and what we “advised” was taken as instruction, and I had very many amusing incidents, which I have no time to record now. It was hard work and I think we got results.

The hospitality of the people of Atlanta was quite extraordinary. Within twenty-four hours of my arrival there were three separate households into which I had been introduced where I was told that a bedroom was always at my disposal at any time of the day or night and that I would be very welcome. There were two families I made special friends with, one was the Irwins. He was a bank manager and had a lovely house just on the outskirts of Atlanta, and the other were the Stirlings, a Scotch family with two daughters, and he was the British Consul in Atlanta. All the officers were made honorary members of the Social Club in the town and we had many good times there – meals, dances, golf, tennis and so on.

The propaganda that the Germans had done in the United States was remarkable. In Atlanta these kind, nice, decent people that we met really believed that the English as distinct from the other races of the British Empire had sent everybody else over to France, but that no Englishman had ever left England to go and fight let alone be wounded. We had been told that, apart from our professional job, we had a job of public relations and were to do the best we could to overcome this strong German propaganda. This was not very difficult because all of us had been over to France and most of us had been wounded. We therefore had a whale of a time and were not at all popular with the male population of Atlanta whether they were in uniform or not.

Towards the end of Sept. 1918 the G.O.C. of the camp sent for me and handed me a document which was signed by two women, and had a name something like “The Women’s League for the protection of the United States”, something like that anyway. This document said that on certain specified dates Major Scaife had spread alarm and despondency amongst the citizens of Atlanta by making such statements as (1) the casualties on the Western Front were so large that the authorities dare not publish them all at once but had to dole them out in batches; (2) that the staff and General Officers were incompetent; (3) that the true position of the submarine menace had not been revealed, and there were one or two other items of the same sort. I was asked by the General if this was true and I said to him that in private conversation with individuals whom I had met socially it probably was true. He said he thought this was not a very good thing to do and I agreed with him and apologised, but pointed out that the number of people who could have heard these sort of remarks would have been very few. Looking back on this incident I feel, of course, that I had been very foolish. I was only repeating the sort of remarks that officers in the front line who got together used to talk and how everyone who is in a subordinate position always makes unfounded and stupid remarks about those who are in authority over them. The General and I then discussed the matter a bit further and he said “Well Major forget it and just take care of your tongue.” He was, of course, quite right about my tongue – I can’t stop talking! Anyway, he said “Think no more about it” and we parted on the best of terms.

A week or so later I received orders to report to Washington. I thought it was just a routine visit transferring me probably to some other Camp. I had a riotous send off and arrived in Washington in sweltering heat with high humidity. I remember sitting in a cold bath in my hotel and the bottom part of me was cool which was under the water, but my body which was above the water was pouring with sweat. I reported to the G.O.C. and he said “I have a very serious report about your activities Major Scaife and I have decided to send you back to France. You will get your orders downstairs and be attached to American Division. That’s all and try and keep a tongue in your head in future”. I was dumbfounded. He obviously had in front of him the same piece of paper that I had seen down in the G.O.C.’s office. I was deeply hurt that he gave me no opportunity to say anything; He had simply taken his decision and that was that. At that time I was very upset indeed. In addition I found out through Dr. Stirling at Atlanta that these two women were teenagers and although now I admit the irresponsible action I took in talking so I still feel that the British General should have given me some opportunity to say what I had to say. Well, feeling very crestfallen, I carried out my orders and reported to the 33rd Division of the American Army which was stationed somewhere in the State of New York ready to go to France in a short time.

The Officer to whom I reported said “Major, have you any friends or relations that you could stay with until we get our orders because this Camp is going to be completely isolated tomorrow because of Spanish ‘flu?” which was then rampant in the United States. I said I had a sister in Long Island. He said “Go there, give me the address and telephone number, and stay there until I telephone you again. “ I stayed there for nearly three weeks. The ‘flu simply decimated the area and when in due course I reported back, the railway station I arrived at was literally lined with coffins. There must have been fifty or sixty of them and this had been going on day after day. Unless one experienced it one cannot have any idea of the devastating effect of this ‘flu. It killed far more people in the world than all those that were killed in the whole of the Great War on all sides.

October 1918. Back to England and France with the 33rd Division of the U.S.A. Army.

Sometime in October I got my orders to report to the G.O.C. 33rd Division of the U.S.A. My job was to act for the General as liaison officer with the British forces.

Our convoy back to Liverpool consisted of 13 ships and the speed was that of the slowest. We took 13 days to cross. An American cruiser and two destroyers escorted us half way where we were met by the British destroyers. There were no enemy “incidents”, but on the 2nd day one ship had to turn back to New York because so many of her crew were down with the ‘flu.

The crowding on board was terrific. Once the men were on deck they pretty well “stayed put” where they were, and those on the rail being the lucky ones. The officers on the top deck were only a little less crowded – rather like a cross channel ferry today at the height of the season! I knew that Father was in the same convoy in another ship and I managed, via our Captain, to get a message to him arranging a meeting place in Liverpool, so we saw each other briefly on arrival.

The 33rd U.S.A. Division was to travel to Wiltshire, all night travel. There was no heat and no lights (air raids!). Each officer and man on arrival had been handed an autographed letter from King George V. welcoming them and thanking them for coming over and saying “Everything would be done to make them comfortable” while in England. The General sent for me and said it was impossible for the troops to travel overnight in a train which had no heat and no lights. I pointed out that we had been at war nearly 4 years and that things were difficult. Whereupon he showed me “Your own King’s letter.” And asked me to provide the comforts he said he wanted them to have!

Well, a very disgruntled Division arrived at a Camp in Wiltshire the next day. It was a very nice camp, with brand new huts, and 3 planks and a head rest to sleep on. For men who had been provided with beds in the U.S.A. this was intolerable! The General sent for me and when I said the men were lucky to have the planks to sleep on he said “No wonder it’s taken the British 4 years to fight the war. You are so behind the times and show no initiative!” That night the troops made a bonfire of all the bed planks as a protest. In three nights time we were across the Channel and they were sleeping on bare ground at Harfleur transit camp. They didn’t like it one little bit.

11th Nov. 1918. Armistice

The Division went down to South of the Line behind the Ardennes Front. We were in a small town whose name I forget and were there when the Armistice was declared at 11a.m. on 11th November 1918. I still have the photos of the huge crowd in the Town Square crying, laughing and singing. While there I was billeted with a French family called McLeod, a reminder of the time when the French King’s bodyguard was made up of Scotsmen!

Shortly after the Armistice I took my leave of the Division and with my English batman (how I acquired him I forget) leisurely found our way to Paris where we spent three days participating in the rejoicings which were continual and then finally to Rouen to the base camp there. I think I was there for Christmas but I am not sure. What I do remember is that we officers spent our whole time attending funerals for those who were dying of the Spanish ‘flu. It had now arrived in Europe and started to kill off what remained of the population! We lost one million dead in the First World War by enemy action and the same number by Spanish ‘flu.

1919 Marjorie born. Demobilised March.

Early in January 1919 I reported to Northern Command, at Fulford Barracks, York. I reverted to my previous job but remained in York. On Feb.5th 1919 I received a telegram to say that I had a daughter born at Conyers House, Sandyford Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. This was a nursing home owned and run by Dr. Robert Ranken Lyle the gynaecologist husband of Mary née Bagnall (Fay’s sister). So Marjorie Scaife came into existence!

On March 19th 1919 I was demobilised at Ripon with the rank of Captain and £250 (I think) as a War Gratuity. A civilian once more, a married man with one child, and junior partner in the Firm of Justice Scaife and Co. importers and exporters of 5 Idol Lane, Eastcheap, London.