Sturkie Family History
Letter from Ben F. Luker, Jr. to Wife Flora McCartney Luker
Written on his voyage to Europe at the beginning of WWI in 1917

Begun Saturday June 23
Finished Monday June 25

My Dear:-
I don’t know whether or not your received the two letters I sent from the boat before leaving New York, one on Wednesday, the other on Thursday. For fear you didn’t I shall repeat some of the things that were contained therein.

After telephoning to you from Hoboken Tuesday evening, I went to a hotel and spent the night. The next morning about 9 o’clock I got a small boat which took me to the Saratoga, then anchored in the middle of the Hudson, opposite 71st St. It was impossible to get off again. You can easily imagine my chagrin, knowing you were so near and not being able to see you. At that time, however, there was still hope of seeing you for I thought we might pull into some other place in New York or go to New Port News. Thursday morning about 6 o’clock we started down the river, going very slowly because of the fog and stopping very often. About noon we passed through New York Harbor and launched out into the ocean. I was soon confident that we were headed for France and what would I would not have given to be able to inform you! It would have spared you so much anxiety. But alas! I could not. I was too late. How I felt for you, Dear, left all alone in New York, not knowing what had become of me, what you should do. Just one day together! What a beautiful day it was! I have wondered whether we would have spent it differently if we had known that it would be the last. I doubt if we would. To be together was the best and most beautiful thing. It was a great sacrifice for you to come so far to see me for just one day and I appreciate it so much. It was worth so much to me. It would have been so hard to go without seeing you. I shall never cease blessing you for coming.

On the whole, the trip has been a very pleasant one although rather long. It was nine days today (Saturday) at noon since we left and it seems that we will not arrive before Monday. The first day the sea was somewhat rough and many of the boys were sick, but following that, for several days, it was the most beautiful weather I have ever seen on the ocean. The last few days it has not been so favorable, but not bad enough to complain about. I have been very well with the exception of feeling a little bit feverish because of the typhus vaccine. I have taken the third and last and am glad. There will be, however, more stabs for other diseases. When I get through with it all I should be a well man or a dead one. Ha! Ha!

You remember I told you that we might go to New Port News in order to give the gunners some target practice. This exercise was accomplished on the ocean after having sailed two or three days, the guns were uncovered and the men began to fire. Could you guess what the target was? Each boat in the expedition drags by means of a long rope, a log which is made in such a way as to resemble the periscope of a submarine. These logs serve as targets. The shooting was very exciting. It was my first time to see it done on such a big scale. Of course, these guns are not supposed to be big only six inch, but seems pretty large to me. That means that the bullets are six inches in diameter and I suppose they are about 9 feet long. This boat was not constructed to serve as a war vessel and so there was considerable jarring when the discharges were made. I was very well satisfied with the showing our gunners made. Those on our boat seemed to be the best, a thing for which I am thankful. If they can do as well at a submarine it will be fine.

The trip has been made more pleasant by the good luck of meeting some very fine fellows, some of whom will probably be counted among my permanent friends. We have six at our dining table and it seems that we have the jolliest crowd of all. My stateroom mate is Mr. Legget, a junior from Harvard and a very nice boy. I rather hope we can stay together all the time. Of course it is impossible to tell just now. He is going as a stenographer and typewriter.
I have been able to accomplish something in the way of study also despite the fact that after two or three days out, we have not been permitted to have any light at night. That means that all study must be done during the day. I have been pegging away slowly at Russian. It is a very tedious language and I shall not put too much time on it. But by going at it gradually I shall finally learn enough to profit if I should have the chance of going to Russia. Besides this, I have done considerable work on my text, the one I am going to edit provided permission can be secured. Also I have done a little with French and Spanish conversation as there are both Frenchmen and Spaniards on the boat.

Soldiers, soldiers, soldiers! I have seen more soldiers since I’ve been on this boat than I ever saw before. Everywhere. They drill everyday and almost all day, that is, at almost anytime some squad is drilling and you can imagine how much noise it would make if it happened to be just over your head. One gets used to almost anything though and doesn’t mind it.

The trip has not been entirely wanting in excitement, expected and unexpected. Before we were half way over in the day time, word was given that a submarine was sighted. You should have seen every body going for his life preserver. The gunners arrived and were ready to fire when it was decided that it was not a submarine at all. The real fright came Friday night, Mr. Leggett and I lay down about 10 o’clock. Before doing so, we arranged our clothing, life preserver and everything in the handiest position. And also we planned just what we would do in case of accident. After a few moments of conversation in our beds, we had ceased to talk and were about to go to sleep when a whistle sounded several times. I said to Leggett ‘Did you hear that?” He thought it was the wind. Then I told him that it reminded me of a whistle which I had seen and heard and which belonged to one of my friends (Mr. Atkinson) and which was used to give warning against submarines. Before I had stopped talking, we heard several shots from the cannon. Then we were up like a slash and raised the shutters which we were not permitted to keep open at night. From the window we saw the flash from the last fire of the cannon which was fired from one of our neighboring boats. In less than a minute we were dressed, our life preservers on and upstairs ready to get iln our life boats in case it was necessary. I might add here that the officers and clerks are supposed to use the lifeboats whereas the soldiers have rafts. Then we were advised to go back to our staterooms, that nothing had happened. I knew better than that. Next morning the official report was that a torpedo had been fired at us and went just a little in front of our boat. You can imagine that we have been very careful since then. The most dangerous time for submarines is at night. In the day time we can see them and the destroyers can drive them away but at night it is very hard to see anything. One of the ways to avoid them is to change the speed of the boat, go very fast for a time and then go more slowly. Also the boat follows a zigzag course all this makes it very hard for the submarine to get a correct range to discharge the torpedo which goes very slowly. The next morning after the great scare we were very glad indeed to see five other destroyers added to our force. These are our own. They have been over for some time. Indeed I hope you reached home safely and that you will have a pleasant summer with your mother and friends.


My Darling, I have no idea when you will get this, maybe never, as it is pretty long to get thru the censor. If mail doesn’t come regularly you may know the reason. Don’t worry. All danger is passed. It is now Monday June 25 and we can see the French coast. Vive la France!
With worlds of love.
Love to Mrs. Lowell

*This letter was generously submitted by Gerald Lowell of California who is a relative of Flora McCartney Luker. Thanks to Gerald I have been able to put together more of the life of Benjamin Franklin Luker, my great uncle.