About 3 p.m. on a sunny and cold spring day, our boat is lying at anchor off Newport News. I had often sung about “Sailing Down the Chesapeake Bay”, but never expected to do it. We were in sight of land before breakfast, a low-lying sandy coast on which we made out dark scrubby trees and sandhills, and large wooden buildings. Soon we had entered the mouth of the bay, and had taken a pilot aboard.
On the left-hand shore were a couple of curiously designed light-houses, one almost serving as a caricature of Uncle Sam, and the bay itself was thick with beacons showing the channels. The land on the Northern shore was just visible, but the bay is a large expanse of water, with long ramifications, down one of which we steamed for an hour or two before reaching our berth.
Here and there blocks of buildings, factory chimneys etc. showed where towns or settlements lay. As we drew near the port, fast launches, ferry steamers etc. began to buzz about us, aeroplanes droned overhead, and Yankeeland spoke in no uncertain tongue. I think that almost any intelligent person would have guessed this to be part of the U.S.A. from the rather gimcrack but big and business-like wharves of steel, great yellow-painted wooden stores, and huge electric appliances.
Officials commenced to come aboard, and the Yankee features and Yankee accent with them. To our surprise an order was posted to the effect that we were to be prepared to go ashore at 6 p.m. with our seakits and blankets. The boat is to take in a large cargo of coal, and the process will occupy several days: during which the skipper means to have us out of the road.
We pulled in to a monstrous steel wharf affair which must have cost millions, towering about 100 feet, with enormous coal-shutes every few yards of its quarter mile length, down which endless electrically driven wagons discharge coal.
We trooped ashore, and after a delay (unexplained) of about two hours set out on our long tramp. During the wait we poked about the wharf-side of the town, and an extraordinary jerry-built, darky-swarming place it was. Bought some fine bananas, the first for more than two years, and quizzed the cigar-chewing storekeepers and ragamuffin, grinning, showing-off blacks.
Eventually we set off, headed by a most astonishing negro band – a jazz march, at so fast a pace that our officers had at once to ask for it to be moderated, which was done, or rather over-done, so that the dreadful trombone crescendo-diminuendos sounded quite unearthy. They banged us right through the main streets of the town, petering off into an endless straight road lined with warehouses and suburban residences without fences.
The people lined the streets, clapping their hands and cheering – Y.M.C.A. men handed us chocolate, and altogether we were given a hearty welcome.
This camp knocks the stuffing out of anything I have seen in the world. The arrangement, comfort, and appointments are splendid.
[Image: Newport News Virginia, C&O Railway Co,New Coal Pier No 9, 1919 Postcard]