On the Atlantic-Going to England…. The three units left New York on May 18, each assigned to a different boat. The Northwestern University personnel were assigned to the S. S. Mongolia. At this early date the U.S. troop transports did not have a convoy to escort them as they did later on in the War.
By a convoy I mean gunboats to go along as protection. But we had 20 gunners assigned to each one of the boats. They were to guard the boat against any submarine attack as well as stay on watch at night.
The boats were all kept in darkness at night so as not to be noticed or become a target for submarines.
We left New York on a Saturday morning. Sunday at dinner our C.O. announced that the gunners would have target practice at 2 p.m. and anyone wishing to observe it should be on the upper deck.
Not wanting to miss anything, many of us were there. The gunners had just started to fire when a shell exploded prematurely, killing two of the nurses and injuring a third. We were all horrified and stunned.
Our C.O. immediately ordered the firing to cease and also ordered the Captain of the ship to stop the practice until a thorough investigation could be made to determine the cause of the accident.
One of the nurses killed was Miss Wood, my roommate, and most intimate friend. The other two were from Chicago Hospital.
After many wireless messages were sent from our boat to and from Washington, it was decided we should return to New York for a thorough investigation.
I am sure there isn’t another place where rumors are as prevalent as on board a boat. It was feared our ammunition had been tampered with by German spies and, of course, it was rumored time bombs had been found in the ship’s fuel and there were many other rumors.
So, we were all quite pleased to be returned to the U.S.A.
This accident changed our entire attitude. Instead of being fearless and carefree we realized the seriousness of our mission.
When our ship was within about three miles of New York Harbor, ferries came out to meet us. The bodies of the two nurses were lowered on the one ferry.
How grateful we were that they were being taken home for burial rather than buried at sea or some foreign land.
Miss Matzer, the injured nurse was sent to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington until she had recuperated and then was sent to France to join our unit.
We remained in New York Harbor for four days while Naval and Army officials made a through investigation. It was decided the accident was due to faulty shell casings.
It was found the ammunition dated back to the time of the Spanish American War. On May 23, 1917 we again left New York. We were a far more serious unit.
The daily routine on the boat included a passenger drill to get into our life belts and take places assigned to each one at certain lifeboats. We took French lessons, played games, danced and read.
The trip was uneventful until June 1, just two days before we were to reach England. We suddenly were startled by five blasts of the foghorn, three successive times.
We hurriedly donned our life belts, grabbed blankets and took our places at the lifeboats, not knowing whether it was practice or real danger. We were in doubt only a short time when we heard our gunners firing at a submarine.
The submarine had fired at our boat three successive times but failed to hit us due to the skillful maneuvering of our boat by the ship’s captain.
Very shortly after the submarine attack we sighted a British destroyer coming toward us. This destroyer and two others joined the group.
One stayed near our boat and escorted us until we reached Falmouth, England, a beautiful and picturesque city in Cornwall country in southern England.
To read more about the adventures of Thecla Richter click HERE.