The War through the Eyes of a Child

The first volume of Herbert Hoover’s memoirs is probably the most revealing.  It contains many entertaining asides that demonstrate his dry wit and self-deprecating humor.  The volume also discusses his family in ways that is absent in later volumes.

Owing to Hoover’s profession as a mining engineer, he was constantly traveling the globe to attend to the needs of business.  Lacking air travel at this time, Herbert and Lou Hoover took cruise ships to reach their global destinations.  Their favorite passenger liner was the Lusitania.

Postcard of the R.M.S Lusitania, ca 1915.
Postcard of the R.M.S Lusitania, ca 1915.

On August 3, 1914, Hoover arrived at his London office only to learn that Germany had declared war on France.  Remembering that Mrs. Hoover had booked passage back to the United States for the family on the Lusitania weeks earlier, Hoover telephoned the steamship office to see if their travel plans would be interrupted by the rapidly changing world events.  The woman answering the call told Hoover, “Sure, she will be sailing to Germany.  Don’t you know there is a war on?”  Hoover deadpanned, “I concluded she meant that the Lusitania would not sail.”

For the next several months, the Hoover’s undertook heroic efforts with the American Citizens Relief Committee helping stranded American travelers in Europe return home safely to the United States.

On October 3, Lou Henry Hoover took their two young sons, Herbert and Allan, back to the safety of the United States to enroll them in school.  Young Herbert, fearing sea-sickness more than U-Boats, was reluctant to eat during the voyage.  In the end, his fears were proved unwarranted.  As Hoover recalled:  “When Mrs. Hoover and the boys reached New York, the cable informing me of safe arrival consisted of a statement from Herbert that he had eaten seven cream puffs in one day on the voyage.  This was also his indication of exuberant triumph over his forebodings of seasickness.  But to the British censor it was some deep and sinister code.  I don’t think even yet that this British official is satisfied with the explanation.  He certainly accepted it only with emphatic suspicion and dark warnings of the dire fate that awaited spies.”

Hoover‘s work with the Commission for Relief in Belgium took him to New York City in October 1915.  He reunited with his family and they all left the United States for London on November 9, 1915.  The following year, Hoover related another story about the war.

Camp de Meucon. Balloon ascending. France, circa 1918.
Camp de Meucon. Balloon ascending. France, circa 1918. Air Service Photographic Section.

Beginning on May 31, 1915 and continuing intermittently throughout the war, the German’s used Zeppelin’s to bombard London.  What had previously been considered a safe haven from the frontlines of battle, airships now terrorized civilian populations in regions far removed from the trenches.  Describing a similar bombing raid in 1916, Hoover wrote: “One night during a raid, a bomb dropped nearby with a great explosion.  Mrs. Hoover ran to the boys’ room to gather them up, intending to go into the basement, but their beds were empty.  We furiously searched the house from attic to basement, but no boys.  It then occurred to me that they sometimes climbed up a ladder through a trap door from the attic onto the roof.  Pushing up the trap door, we found them calmly observing the streaming searchlights and the fighting planes.  We decided to join them, and behold, we witnessed a Zeppelin brought down in flames north of London.  We mentally marked the direction and, as soon as it was daylight, we got out the car and went in search of the wreck.  With the help of a friendly policeman, both boys came home with treasured parts of the Zeppelin which clashed with our other household gods for years.”

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