Through War Torn Europe: An official trip after WWI told in the words of James Gordon Steese
Number Thirty
On Board, U.S.A.T. "VON STEUBEN",
Tuesday, September 23rd, 1919.
Homeward bound at last and 900 miles out from Brest. Quite a different trip from that over.

Marie must have sensed my longing for beefsteak, because just after I had finished my last letter to you, she served a delicious filet with French peas. The nearest approximation she could make to the onions, however, was to mix with the peas some of those little ones out of the mixed pickle bottle.

I left Paris in a driving rain. I found a couchette to consist of a six place first class compartment with seats so turned as to provide four berths, two upper and two lower, with bare mattresses.

I went right aboard the train, got hung up with an Englishman, who was having trouble with his French, and was so engrossed in talking with someone I could understand, that I did not find out till after we had started that I could have rented a blanket and pillow for three or four francs. As it was, an American Naval Officer, his wife, an Army Surgeon, and I all shared the compartment and I nearly froze, in spite of my sweater and trench coat. The train was an hour and a half late so the four of us shared Marie's breakfast.

At Brest, I was advised that I had been assigned to the Powhatan, a boat expected in next day and scheduled to get out Tuesday, if possible. Then it would take ten or twelve days to Hoboken. I objected and explained I was to go on the Von Steuben. They only laughed at me and were going to send me out to Camp Pontanezen in the regular high handed way in which they treat all officers at Brest, no matter how high ranking. I merely smiled and went out to the nearest telephone and got Paris on the line. I then went up to the Moderne Hotel and, by the time I had unpacked, an orderly arrived to order me to be ready to go aboard the Von Steuben at 7:30 next morning. I then went down to the dock again for a physical examination.

I have been too close to the inside of this machine to let a little administrative inertia stand in the may of my getting what I want, especially when I have such definite orders as I had both from Washington and Paris. I was considerate enough not to go around and rub it in on the Executive Officer who had treated me so cavalierly. Besides, I did not know how close he might be to the Surgeon. It is easy enough to report enough temperature to make one miss one's boat while being further observed. Anyway, it was not his fault entirely, Paris should have handled the case "special" in the first place, as the Chief of Staff directed. It was another case of orders losing their identity through passing through too many hands.

I can heap coals of fire on his head by giving him a good assignment when he returns to the States himself and finds me chief of that section of the General Staff. Brest is a very undesirable place and I was glad to spend only one day and night there. We sailed about 10 A.M. on Sunday.

I have mentioned the exchange before. At present the Government pays in francs at the rate of 8:05 to the dollar, whereas commercial rate is 8:53. I lost out on this in July, but I made it up last week by cashing a personal check for five hundred dollars at the bank in Paris for 4265 francs. I then went to the American post office and bought five one hundred dollar money orders on Now York City for 4037.50. The remaining 227.50 francs I put into my pocket for miscellaneous expenses and my trouble. The only reason I am not a millionaire right now is the fact that one may buy such money orders only once a month and then for not to exceed a month's pay.

The Government will pay in dollars or exchange French money for dollars only when one has orders to the States and then only in limited amounts. Every one is speculating in francs and marks. As I went in to the pay office on the dock to get U.S. money for what little French money I had left, a soldier asked me to change some money for him and handed me a roll of 42,000 francs. Had I tried to do so, I would have landed out in Camp Pontanezen sure enough. He was, no doubt, an agent for some civilian outfit in town.

The Von St Steuben was the Kronprinz Wilhelm before the War, one of the crack liners of the North German Lloyd. I had a reservation on her the summer the War broke out. This reservation was later changed to the Vaderland, and still later was given up entirely as my leg did not mend rapidly enough for me to risk going abroad. Strange I should have made these two trips on these two boats.

The Germans transformed this boat into a raider. She slipped out of New York Harbour and is credited with 26 ships before she was finally ran into Newport News and interned. After we got into the War, she had a brilliant record in convoying troops and rescuing the sufferers in the explosion at Halifax. She is very fast and we had hopes of a six day trip  until we hit this heavy weather. At that, we are making 420 miles a day.

We have about 2200 troops aboard and a crew of 800. Except for General ******, another Colonel and myself, and the major in command of troops, all the officers, including two lieutenant colonels and a string of majors, are sleeping on standee bunks in three tiers in a large squad room the same as the soldiers occupy. There is room in the dining room, however, for all officers. The other colonel and I have a small inside stateroom to ourselves. The remaining staterooms are occupied by Naval Officers.

Altogether, the accommodations are not very good, the service non-existent, and the ship filthy, but I'd put up with anything to get back that much sooner, My room-mate, though, is an old regular of the old school and his continual complaining has become quite a source of amusement to all on board. He has no idea of making a formal complaint through the proper channels and getting satisfaction; he is merely interested in finding fault and thereby relieves much of the tedium of the voyage both for himself and for us.

Today, also, I got into him for about five dollars at bridge, so I don't know whether I'll dare go home tonight or not. Then again, he may win it all back, as so early in the voyage one can consider oneself only as a temporary custodian of whatever money may have escaped the allurements of Paris.

The trip has been very rough, but I have escaped so far, - one of the few. Ordinarily, I am a pretty good sailor and my average is very high, but I can recollect three or four very unpleasant voyages, so I am not boasting.

Sunday, September 28th, 1919.
This number thirty is the last of the series, We hope to land this evening. I shall then go right on to Washington on the midnight train.

I have had no mail, newspapers, nor any news in almost three months. Even the Paris edition of the New York Herald reached me only occasionally and, as you know, there is never any news in a French or Italian newspaper.

End Notes and Bibliography