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The Visit of the British Fleet

By Phyllis Marquiss-Munro

President San Francisco Women’s Press Club


Last Monday, San Francisco awoke through a golden veil of mist to a city of fluttering flags.  Overnight, the somber streets had been transformed into a pageant of red, white and blue, the Union jack, waved side by side with the Stars and Stripes.  The British fleet was arriving.

A thrill of expectancy and suppressed excitement filled the air.  “When are they due?” “Where can we best see them arrive?” was on the lips of every passerby.

For three hundred days, the British fleet has ridden the seas, lead by the mighty “Hood,” the world’s greatest battleship, in command of Vice Admiral Sir Frederick Field, K.C.B.-C.M.G.

Through storm and sunshine these huge protectors of Great Britain have tossed and traversed three great oceans, the Atlantic, Indian and lastly, the glorious blue Pacific, our ocean that washes the sandy shores of this city.

From noon thousands of people on foot and in automobiles climbed the steep hills above the harbor, and waited with strained eyes for the first glimpse, looking towards the Golden Gate.

Tiny white sailing craft and fussy motor launches dotted the bay, whilst every ocean going vessel was dressed in honor.

Planes circled daringly above, vying with the white winged gulls.

The minutes slid into hours.  “Why, oh, why” asked several onlookers, old hands at the game, are transports and fleets always late?  When suddenly out of the blue grey fog that had folded around the heads, majestically and slowly, H.M.S. Hood sailed into the bay, followed by the five warships in single file.  The spectators held their breath, then simultaneously from a thousand throats, rose a deafening cheer.

Britain’s fleet had arrived.  Above, planes circled in formation like huge graceful birds.  At the Gate, one plane dipped low, dropping on the deck of the Hood a floral key to open wide the Golden Gate and the hospitable hearts of the San Francisco people.  Impressively with a world of dignity, the ensign floating in the breeze, the armada steamed up the bay to Man-o-war Row, where America’s flagship, U.S.S. California greeted the travelers.

Turning from the British fleet, our eyes rested on the protectors of USA, far away, anchored in the swift rising fog.  They looked like eerie phantoms, a final ray of sunshine caught the magnificent U.S.S. California as H.M.S. Hood fired her first salute.

The British Lion reared her arrival in a salute of seventeen guns, answered by a similar welcome of friendship from USA flagship.  Then the greeting whistles and screams from the Ferry Building, boats and craft.

Ashore, Jack Tar reveled in the kindly hospitality of this wonderful city.  “Jack and the Gobs,” were the best of pals, dating from the fraternizing of the two mighty fleets during the great world war.  On every street they were seen together, Jack Tar in his blue jersey and wide trousers, tipped by the strange pancake hats; standing open-eyed and wondering whilst a witty “Gob,” his little pudding basin hat tilted at a rakish angle, tells wild and woolly stories of the early days of the Golden West.  “Cripes,” says the Tar, which greatly puzzles the “Gob,” who eyes him suspiciously.

From Ferry to ocean, the town was en fete—San Francisco has given her best.

Gold-laced Admirals and Commanders rode through the streets, bowing and saluting the eager crowd, who press forward to get a look.

San Francisco’s alluring girls have danced and dined with the crème de la crème of Britain’s navy, in the soft pink shaded glory of the Palace Hotel’s Rose Bowl, or beneath the amber lights of the glittering St. Francis Hotel.  And Jack Tar has romped through a glorious, never-to-be-forgotten evening at the Civic Auditorium, when the city turned out en masse to give the “boys” a good time.  No wonder, then whispers abroad, the British navy is “fed up,” their stay is so limited, in this jewel city of the Pacific.

The English colony have done everything within their power to make the all too short visit full of pleasure and surprises.

But America gathered her forces and came into the brilliancy, saying this is our town, let us help, let us show the British navy, “we know how,” and give them our very, very best, as England did, when both our Army and Navy swarmed their shores to help them in the dark days of the war.

Three cheers, then, British cheers, to San Francisco for her hospitality and good will.  To quote the final words of Sir Frederick Field’s wireless message of thanks to Mayor Rolph from outside the “Gate” on Monday:

“We come to your city in peace and friendliness, remembering that our two countries stood side by side, to defend the right and bring peace to the world.  In presenting us with the key to your city, you have found the key to our hearts.”

San Francisco, let us remember his words, so for all time, the world’s two mightiest nations may stand side by side in peace and disaster, as our forefathers, those great men who built this country, meant we should.  “Cousins Across the Sea.”

July 19, 1924