The SS Tuscania, circa 1914
From the PAW Archives: March 1918

With thousands of students and alumni serving in the military during World War I, the news of Princetonians in Europe became a staple of PAW’s reportage. A weekly column, “Princeton in the Great War,” detailed the latest news, with the magazine’s readers often supplying first-hand accounts.

The March 13, 1918, issue featured Raymond K. Wilmarth 1916 describing the experience of being torpedoed by a German U-boat while sailing on the Tuscania, a transport ship, one month earlier. “It isn’t the most pleasant experience in the world,” he wrote, but despite having to swim to a life-raft in the icy seas off the coast of Ireland, he escaped with nothing worse than a cold. When he arrived in Winchester, England, an old Princeton friend supplied a back issue of “The Weekly,” which sparked Wilmarth’s decision to send a letter about the close call at sea. (Read the full account below.)

Also included in that week’s column: news that Captain Allen G. Shenstone, Class of 1914, had received the Military Cross from the British government, in recognition of his gallantry on the western front in France; and a lengthy dispatch from Lieutenant Neilson Poe 1897 of the American Expeditionary Force, in which he described the “sweet music” of a mortar whistling overhead — the dangerous ones, he quipped, are the ones you never hear coming.

Princeton in the Great War

Experiences of a Survivor of the Tuscania Disaster

(From the March 13, 1918, issue of PAW)

Delayed reports bring the information that two additional Princeton men were on board the transport Tuscania, which was sunk by a German submarine off the Irish coast in February. Besides Captain Dan D. Casement ’90 and Lieutenant Renwick S. McNiece ’07, the Princetonians on board the transport were Lieutenant Frank Kennedy ’06, Field Artillery, and Raymond K. Wilmarth ’16, an enlisted man in the sanitary squad over there. All four of these Princeton men had the good fortune to be among the survivors. The manner of their escape has not yet been learned except in the case of Mr. Wilmarth, who had a thrilling experience. He slid down a rope, swam to a raft, and after over three hours of exposure on the raft in the dark, was picked up by a trawler. He is now at a military camp in England and has found a warm welcome at the Army Y.M.C.A. headquarters at Winchester, where Alan Jackman ’17 is secretary. A letter from him dated Feb. 13 and passed by the censor gives this account of his experiences:

“A welcome, though rather old, copy of The Weekly came into my possession from an old friend, Alan Jackman ’17, and I read every wort of it, and saw that you were anxious to secure the whereabouts of the some missing ’16ers, so am going to tell you where one, who was a member of the Class of 1916 for nearly three years, is now.

“I have joined the large number in khaki, enlisting last June and training during the summer, fall, and part of the winter at Camp Douglas, Wis., and Camp MacArthur, Texas. I sailed early in the year on the ill-fated ‘Tuscania,’ and so had the experience of being torpedoed by a German U-boat, and believe me, it isn’t the most pleasant experience in the world, either. I was reading in bed when we were hit, and don’t believe I will ever forget the explosion of that torpedo or the shock to the ship. I grabbed my overcoat and life preserver from beside me on the deck and hurried up to my boat station. There was no panic or unnecessary crowding in my part of the boat, but several life boats were shattered by the explosion, or unable to be lowered because of the list of the ship. Mine was one of these, so I stayed on board for about a half an hour, looking for a way off, then saw two life rafts below, so slid down a rope to them. A wave carried them out and I lit in the water, got an icy plunge bath, and swam to one, but found it full, so swam a few rods to the other and got on. We soon had a load and experienced considerable difficulty in paddling away from the ship, but finally got away, and were picked up by a trawler, about 9:30 p.m. Early next morning we landed in a northern port and were very well treated by the inhabitants, who did all in their power in supplying our wants. Aside from a cold and the loss of practically all my property, I came safely out of the disaster, and have had a novel experience.”