Friday, November 30, 2012

Arthur Murray, Commander of USS Overton

I've been busy these past months, but I continue work on the Arthur Murray story. Arthur commanded the Overton during the evacuation of Wrangel's forces and white Russian nobles from the Crimea, the largest overseas evacuation to that date (20 years later overtaken by the Dunkirk evacuation). Later, Murray was an eyewitness to atrocities of the Greek genocide. His testimony on the Greek holocaust is in the National Archives.

Arthur's service follows the changing role for the US military after WWI. His work between the wars was a humanitarian mission. Below is a letter he wrote during his command of the Overton on December 14, 1920.

Dear Effie,

We got into Constantinople this morning after two awful lively weeks. Did I write to you about going down to Gallipoli one night, staying during the day and then returning the next night? Then we laid quiet about two days. The next day – I don’t remember what day it was – we took on 175 Polish refugees (understood they were to be all men) consisting of 40 women and ten children, remainder men. The only place you can carry passengers on a destroyer is on the deck so we put up the awnings with 200 miles of open sea and 80 miles up a river to travel.

There was a heavy roll and gee but they were sick.

Before we started on this trip in fact the reason we were in Constantinople was that we had to make a fast run from Varna Bulgaria to Constantinople with a man with appendicitis, and on the way down during heavy weather another man fell and broke his knee and ankle. Our doctor or pharmacist’s mate hurt himself lifting this last man so when we arrived we sent all three to the hospital so we had to make the Gellipoli trip with no doctor. We had to leave on the second trip with no doctor and with crew and passengers over 300 people. We made out to get up the Danube River to Galatz and after a small war in French with the Romanian port officials, I finally persuaded them to let us land them which we did in a howling snow storm and the thermometer at about 22.

That was in the morning and we left at noon for down river to the Black Sea and back to Constantinople. We had just started when we found one man had developed pneumonia and had a temperature of 104.5. We anchored in a river at a small town (Tulcha) at night and sent for a doctor. The doctor said the crisis would not come for three or four days and gave him various medicine, and in the meantime as the river is very narrow we got blown on the mud banks by a sudden shift of wind. We could not do anything that night so the next morning at day break I took the motor boat and crew of three and went two miles up the river for a tug to get us off. That tug couldn't do it so we sent it after another. That sounds easy but you can imagine friend husband handling 8 ten and twelve inch lines over towing bits and running heaving lines in a cold snow storm. In all the fuss we managed to keep two officers with the sick man who was rapidly getting worse. The next morning we got the ship off with no damage and once more ran the 40 miles to the Black Sea by noon. This river in places is not as wide as the Cape Cod Canal and to make time we steamed at about 24 miles an hour. As soon as we left the river and pilots behind we opened up to about 32 miles an hour in a rather heavy sea but had only gone half way to Constanza where there was a good hospital when the man died. We sure worked with him for the last hour and a half.

We had gone about 30 miles more when one boiler blew some tubes and we had to slow down to 24 miles an hour on one boiler. We made Constanza at dark and I went with another officer (Cunningham) (he can’t speak French) for a doctor. We got him back to the ship and had him doctor up the men who were sick. We had the dead man embalmed and at 2 A.M. I turned in rather tired. The next day we oiled and left Constanza that evening just at dark – that was last night. I had the 12 to 4, mid watch and I did not get any sleep before twelve for I had actually to close the door of my state room to keep myself in the room it was rolling so.

The watch ran quietly until 3 A.M. when the wireless man came up on the bridge with S.O.S. messages from a French steamer which was sinking. It took us some time to locate where he was but finally we got him that he was the “Bor le Due” and in the Doro channel down in the Mediterranean so we had to let him go as others were nearer. His last message was “sinking fast.”

I got to bed at five and slept until 7 A.M. as in the interval we had come through the Bosphorus and were at the buoy at Constantinople. I happened to have the days duty today which will keep me up till midnight tonight and must be up at 6 A.M. as we have funeral services on board tomorrow. Outside of that I had very little to do the last two weeks.

By the time you get this, Effie, I will be in some Egyptian port.

I am going to number these pages so you can see what a long letter I write (16).

Love to all


[The page numbering was a joke, typical of Arthur's brand of humor – there were two typewritten pages and he numbered the second page “16”]