Diary: December, 1919
Binkley’s last day in London was spent at the Law Courts, observing a case of libel. He had spent similar days in June in the Chamber of Deputies in Paris and in a police court in Lyon. Together with his taking Chambers’ The Common Law to read on the crossing (Dec. 7), this suggests that he still saw his future in law, as he had before leaving Stanford to join the ambulance corps.
In Liverpool he saw Prof. and Mrs. Adams off aboard the Celtic from the very pier where he had landed in January 1918, and then boarded the Carmania (the ship that had brought him to Europe) with Ralph Lutz (Dec. 3).
Binkley’s twenty-second birthday fell on Dec. 10. It was a snowy night with heavy seas, and the Carmania collided with the freighter Maryland. They were south of Newfoundland, about 300 miles northwest of where the Titanic had gone down seven years before. Binkley was dressing for a costume ball at the time, and the ball proceeded after the collision. But the result could have been an enormous loss of life, if the crews had not reacted in the three minutes before the impact to turn the two ships so as to have the Maryland strike the Carmania a glancing blow and not hit her directly amidships. The publisher George H. Doran, who had experienced a similar collision aboard the Philadelphia four years earlier and remembered how the ship heeled suddenly as it turned to avoid the other ship, described the collision in detail in his memoir:
We were off the banks of Newfoundland one evening, just at the dinner-hour. We were in a blinding snowstorm, driven by a great gale. The sea was very rough. While seated at dinner in the saloon, again there came the heeling over of the ship and the ominous swish, which from my Philadelphia experience I had learned to dread. I rushed up to the deck just in time to see a great monster with one green eye and one red eye bearing down upon us. There was a violent impact on our starboard quarter, a crunching of broken rails and plates. Suddenly we came to an abrupt stop. I turned to go to my cabin. Every officer and every steward stood to attention like men on a battle-ship or in an army. From first one and then another I made inquiry, always to be met with the one answer – “Waiting the captain’s orders, sir.” Such discipline and the promise of such efficiency! We had been rammed by S.S. Maryland, 9,500 tons, bound from Baltimore to Liverpool. The snow was so blinding that neither look-out could see a ship’s length ahead. The gale was so fierce that fog-horns could not make themselves heard above its rattling. We were not on any one of the regular lanes of travel and it always seemed to me a strange dispensation of Providence that in all the wide expanse of the Atlantic these two corklike ships should collide. The Carmania was repaired by timbers and cement. We lay to while the Coronia caught up with us and together we limped in to Halifax two days late. A very narrow escape, for had we been struck a hundred feet further forward, we should have been wrecked and no one of us could have survived that sea.1
(The green and red eyes were the navigation lights on either side of the bow of the Maryland. If you could see both of them at once, it meant the ship was headed directly towards you.)
The clown Grock, on his way to his rather disastrous American tour, described his experience of the collision in his memoirs in 1956 (with a slight error in the name of the ship):
It all seemed to be doomed from the start, including the voyage. But you’re much mistaken if you think I mean seasickness and rough weather. Neptune knew very well that it needed more than little things like that to upset a Grock.
We were a party of four, my wife, Percy Riess, Max van Emden, and I. We sailed in the Carmenia, a twenty-thousand-ton boat with fifteen hundred passengers on board. The voyage was supposed to take seven days but after eight days we were still on the ocean. We encountered such terrific seas that we could hardly make any headway and my poor wife made many offerings to Neptune. We ran into dense fog at last, and the fog-horn moaned drearily every few minutes. We were just lurching through the dining saloon at eight o’clock one night, when a sudden jar threw us to the floor. Such a crash could not be any normal occurrence.
I rushed up on deck, where nothing was to be seen in the fog, but I heard we had just been rammed by the cargo-boat Maryland. I was running below again to rescue my wife, who had no experience whatever of sea voyages, when one of the officers reassured me. The Carmenia had only been damaged above the waterline and there was no serious risk at all. Nevertheless, I cursed the whole American enterprise. We reached Halifax two days late. The ship had to be docked and we continued our journey to New York overland from Montreal.2
Also aboard the Carmania was Tammany Hall boss Richard Croker, who praised the captain’s quick reaction to the New York Times.3
The Carmania stayed in Halifax for four days and then proceeded to New York. Binkley debarked on Dec. 19 and left immediately on the train to Chicago. From there he took a sleeper to California, arriving at the terminus at Bernicia on Christmas Eve. His brother Charles met him there; they took the electric railway to Calistoga and hiked over Cobb Mountain to the family’s new home, which Robert had not yet seen. After a couple of days there he and Charles moved to Oakland, where the Binkleys had rented a place for the older children, who were attending school or working there. Binkley found work as a stevedore; but on New Year’s Eve he put himself out of action by hitting his head.
On his last two nights in London he took in two more shows (The Yeomen of the Guard and Who’s Hooper), bringing his total of opera and theatre performances to 58 for 1919.
George Henry Doran, Chronicles of Barabbas 1884-1934; Further Chronicles and Comment (New York; Toronto: Rinehart & Co., 1952), pp. 383-4. Doran misremembered the date of the incident, placing it in January 1920.↩︎
Grock [Charles Adrien Wettach], Grock: King of Clowns, trans. Basil Creighton (London: Methuen, 1957), p.143.↩︎
“Carmania Barely Escaped Being Sunk,” New York Times, December 14, 1919.↩︎
Diary: December, 1919
Go to office, pack up things, & then away to see the Prince come in. Day very foggy -- dark as night at 1:00. Just as Prince of Wales arrives it clears up. He is a charming young fellow, yellow haired.
Then I buy buttons, and finally meet Ethel and go to the Yoeman of the Guard.
See the Adamses off at 11:00. Then walk to Piccadilly and lunch with Ralph Lutz.
Then to the Law Courts. Case of libel before the Lord Chief Justice. "The witness is evidently suspicious of you."
Go to Who's Hooper -- a passable musical comedy. Then back to pack. Miss Heaton & the cook are unco' kind.
Say good-bye to Watts, & to Brown, load my stuff on a taxi and rush for the station. Leave at 11:00. Lunch on train. Liverpool at 3:00. See the Adams on the Celtic, which is still at the pier. The same pier at which we landed in January 1918. Then Carmania pulls in, and go aboard. No formalities and not a very bad crush. Am impressed by British care of of women. "Careful, you're crushing women here". Walk deck with Ralph, and turn in early.
A little excitement when we think we have lost baggage, but we haven't.
The lower decks still smell bad.
A very good dinner. Steerage passengers are roughly treated.Notes:
Binkley was one of 117 "saloon" passengers; there were also 20 "2nd cabin" passengers, and 457 steerage.
Go for walk on windy deck with Canadian officer. Do shorthand and write letters. Meals are very good.
After dinner talk with Chilcock, the Canadian naval officer, & his friends, and drink a ginger ale, which almost undoes me. But a two hour sleep in a deck chair puts me right.Notes:
The manifest lists A. Chilcott, 25, on his way to Toronto to be a student.
On deck with Chilcott, take pictures of ship. Read Le petit Chose by Daudet. Run errands for two Red Cross girls who have deck chairs near me. Sleep for a while in drawing room. Then go out for walk on deck, and finally read some more. Play a round of deck golf.
Finish reading Le Petit Chose. Don't get much shorthand done. Am feeling very fit. Walk on deck with Chilcott in the morning & Lutz in afternoon. Take one of the nurses out for a turn after tea.
Walk the deck with Chilcott, then to church. Try to read Chambers: The Common Law, but don't like it. Walk my patients up and down the deck furiously. Sleep from 3:00 to 6:00. Stay up very late in smoker, talking first to nut who has been in Japan and then to boob with triangular theory of war.
Morning walk with Chilcott; start Bourget: Les deux soeurs. Ship is going very slowly, only made 270 miles yesterday. One turbine said to be out of working order. Talk a bit to Miss O'Rourke, & play with little Marian.
There is a dance at night. Grock plays. Lutz dances well. We watch Squirrel-eyes & Fluff.
Play with little Marian in morning. read and play 500 with Red Cross outfit. In evening am collared by Mr. Smith and play a game of cards similar to Bridge then solo whist.
Women are bad losers.
Get all the little children started with drawing pictures. Talk with Marian's mother, who is a little wonder.
Fancy dress Ball at night. Go as an Arab. While \I am/ dressing, boat hits something. Collision with the Maryland. Ball very pretty, but I only dance once. Then play cards at night.
Announcement that we will stay 4 days at Halifax.Notes:
This was Binkley’s 22nd birthday.
Very strong wind, with sleet & snow. I walk deck with Chilcott and then with Miss Hall. Begin to read Les Trois Mousquetaires. Play FanTan with Red Cross people. Argument at lunch about who won the war.
Entertainment at night. Collection for Orphanage. Grock puts on good show.
The piano dashes on Dashing Devil-may-care.
Very high sea
Mail 35 letters.
Ship is sheathed in ice. Chilcott & I break thru to lower deck forward and take pictures. I read, and beat Ralph in chess game. We will reach Halifax tomorrow.
Get into Halifax. Caronia comes in too. Jellico comes aboard -- I shake hands with him, & am ashamed of it later. Speeches at tea given in his honor. Play 6 games of chess with Ralph, losing 4.
At Miss Hall's request I go to church. She gets telegram asking her to visit her future mother in law. Ralph teases her mercilessly about it, giving her advice.
I play cards with Red Cross outfit.
Spend morning at chess with Ralph, in afternoon have game of 500 with Red Cross people. News comes that ship will go at 6:00 P.M. tomorrow. Miss Hall has just gone ashore, not to return to Halifax till 6:00 tomorrow.
News comes that ship will leave at 6:00 tomorrow. We worry about whether Miss Hall will return.
I talk with little English girl in evening.
Speak to Play cards withGo ashore and look over fort with Ralph. At Dinner Richard Croker opens up on prohibition. Lomeau remarks "They wouldn't have done it in your day" & he shuts up.
Win chess with Ralph. Miss Hall gets back in time. Sew on chevrons in evening party around fire. Hall refuses to discuss love.
Our room is warmer.
Spend lots of time with Ralph & little Miss Saunders whom we kid mercilessly. Finish Book I of 3 Musketeers.
My hankies come back from the laundry.
Win ten chess series with Ralph. Read 3 Musketeers. Get into N.Y. late in afternoon to anchor inside narrows. Run around deck with O'Rourke & Josephson, singing and cutting up. Impromptu dinner.
Pull in to dock at 1:00 P.M. Wait long time, but have no difficulty with customs officer. Go to Pennsy station, and buy through ticket to S.F., telegraph folks and write Alliods & Berl. Leave N.Y. at 6:00.
Train very late & crowded, from Phily to Pittsburg. 4 hours late at Chicago. Meet Kelsey, of 583. Go to K of C. for night.Notes:
The Knights of Columbus ran hostels and recreation centers for soldiers during the war.
Leave Chicago at 10:30. Get sleeper.
A very sociable crowd in the car, I write letter to Molly but don't mail it.
Try to sing in car. Play cards. Mrs Petersen is very sociable. We are 3 or 4 hours late.
Spend morning in
sleeperobservation car talking with traveling salesman. Get to Ogden. I mail hankies to Mollie.
Talk with Mrs Wood in afternoon. Crossing Nevada desert as night falls.
Get up at Sparks, Nev. A session of singing in car. In California sunshine. Get off at Benicia & fall into Charles. Electric to Calistoga, and long walk to Cobb, 50 minutes walking and 10 resting. Home again. Drink 3 cups of coffee on mountain top.
Talk things over, look over farm. Go down to Farley's and get our coats and suitcase.
Walk up toward Rabbitt Valley. Christmas Dinner.
Sing songs in evening.
Get to work. Dig for sheds, and then work rolling logs for dam. Kill Coaly when two falls. Decide to pay bills and send people to Oakland soon.
Make budget, spending all our money.
Refuse to work on road, finish drainage system and dig place for wood shed. Decide to go to Oakland with Charles tomorrow.
Walk to Calistoga get ride with Mr Skaggs. Go to Church. Meet Petersen, and go home with Mrs Shortt.
Ride to Napa with Caldwell. Go
tojob hunting in morningafternoon. American Legion gives dope on stevedores strike. Go to show "23½ hours leave" -- very good.
Clean up house. Burn myself for breakfast. Go to Matson Co. Wait till 1:00 P.M. and get job stevadoring. Home at 7:00, having earned $4.50
Go to work at 6:00 -- get to Dock at 7:00 work
on\with/ truck. Hit my head on port hole and have to go to Doctor. Marian Hedrick calls we get supper. She invites friend & Hazel Green, and we have long talk fest. Cook a punk supper.
The case he heard was probably that of Sir Alfred Mond, First Commissioner of Works in Lloyd George's government, who sued Henry Beamish for libel over the latter's publication of poster calling Mond a traitor. The cross-examination was reported in the Times on Dec. 2 and 3. Beamish was viciously antisemitic, and had to be restrained by the judge in a line of questioning intended to show that Mond could not be both a Jew and an Englishman. Perhaps that provided the context for the line Binkley quoted.