William Henry Delamain
A Brief History by Ric Hedman and James E. Haas
Seaman 1/C William Henry Delamain, Born May 22, 1901, Died March 12, 1920 - USS H-1
William Henry Delamain was born to a prominent family in College Point, New York in 1901 and named for his Great Grandfather, William Henry Delamain. He was the second of five children and the first boy.
His grandfather was Henry I. Delamain, a well known local teacher and school principal who was very influential in the community. Born and educated in England in 1847, Henry I. Delamain attended both Oxford and Cambridge Universities before moving to the U.S. in 1872 to begin his career in education.
William's father, Henry (Harry) F. Delamain, born in August 1876, sold real estate before his untimely death on January 26, 1907. William, only five years old at the time, lived with his mother Louise, older sister Eleanor, younger brothers Robert and Charles and younger sister Madeline. The family resided at their home in a section of College Point near to what is today's College Estates, a very well maintained and lovely neighborhood. Louise Delamain worked to support her family after her husbands death. The 1920 Census her job is listed as "Agent, Insurance Business."
There is a bit of speculation on my part, from slight evidence, that William may have gone by his middle name Henry or even gone by Hank. There is no solid proof of this just one typed record from the H-1 that may indicate this. He will still be referred to as William for the purposes of this biography.
When the U.S. entered WWI on April 6, 1917, William, it seems, was eager to get into it, but was too young to join. When he turned seventeen, he was old enough to enlist with his mother’s signature and approval, but that, apparently, wasn't forthcoming. He then lied about his age claiming a birth date of May 22, 1900 instead of his actual birth year of 1901, making him appear to be over the age of 18, thus legal. He actually entered the Navy at age seventeen years and one month.
Delamain was of shorter stature, being 5 feet 4¾ inches in height. Upon his first enlistment in 1918 he weighed in at only 118 pounds but by the time he reenlisted he had gained weight and weighed 130 pounds. Navy life was good to him it seems. He was stated as possessing a “Ruddy” complexion with brown hair and eyes and a number of small pox scars on his face and body.
Delamain's first tour in the Navy began on July 12, 1918 as World War One continued to be waged in Europe. Enlisting as an Able Seaman, he signed up for a "DOW" enlistment, Duration Of the War, meaning however long the war was going to last. After signing his enlistment papers he was '...sent home awaiting orders...' which seemed to have arrived on July 31st when he was ordered to Newport, RI for basic training which he completed on October 8, 1918. Barely a month before WW I ended. He was promoted to Seaman 2nd Class on October 1, 1918.
Leaving basic training he was assigned to the Receiving Ship, which in all reality was not a ship but makeshift bunks at the Commonwealth Pier, at Boston until he was sent to the destroyer USS Colhoun (DD-85), under the command of CDR Benyaurd Bourne Wygant, for a brief period of time from Dec 17, 1918 to Jan 7, 1919. During this time, January 1, 1919 specifically, he was part of the crew that rushed to the aid of the transport ship USS Northern Pacifics' accidental grounding off Fire Island, N.Y. earlier that day, taking off 194 of the troops aboard and landing them at Hoboken, NJ. The Colhoun was stationed at New London at this time and this may be where Delamain had his exposure to his first submarine during that brief tour of duty there.
He was then transferred to the Receiving Ship USS C.W. Morse in New York to await orders. On March 5,1919 he was admitted to the New York Naval Hospital for 22 days for an undisclosed ailment but we could speculate the Spanish Flu pandemic that was running rampant world wide at that time might have caught up with him. When released on the 27th he was assigned to Receiving Ship Eleven in New York. Four days later, March 31, 1919, he had orders to the troop transport ship USS General W. C. Gorgas, commanded by Lt. Cdr. James Edward Stone, USNRF, and sailed aboard her, making two round trips carrying troops returning from Europe, until his discharge from the Navy on July 22, 1919.
The USS General W. C. Gorgas was decommissioned a few days later on July 28th after barely four months in commission. During that time she made two round trips to France with William Delamain in the crew. The General W. C. Gorgas, which had been assigned to the Crusier and Transport Forces, sailed from New York April 25, 1919 to pick up Army troops and cargo at Bordeaux, France, and returned them to Philadelphia on June 2, 1919. She sailed once more for Bordeaux on June 5, 1919, returning these troops to Newport News, Va., July 4, 1919. She brought 2,063 troops home from France in these two Atlantic crossings.
Before his final days of service he was promoted from Seaman 2nd Class to Seaman on June 1, 1919 despite his having been found guilty on March 21 of 1919 of “...shirking duty and jumping work party...”, (just nine days short of a year to his death). He received ten days extra duty as punishment. Discharged at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on July 22, 1919, he was given all back pay totaling $71.43. It was only a short transit ride from there to his home in College Point.
On September 22, 1919 after spending two months at home, William reenlisted. He may have decided he liked the Navy and missed it, or perhaps his family missed his pay allotment. In truth, it is impossible to know exactly why he reenlisted, so anything written here would be speculation. The same thing goes with regard to his reason for volunteering for submarine duty; it is simply unknowable, but it could have been influenced by the short time he spent aboard the Destroyer Colhoun, home ported at New London where the Navy has its Submarine Base across the Thames River in Groton, CT. While there he would have seen the submarines going up and down the Thames, and maybe even toured one or two. Regardless, they seemed to attract his attention, and William may have even discussed service in submarines with a recruiter prior to his reenlistment. He signed the necessary paperwork at the Recruiting Station in New York City, then located at 34 East 23rd Street, (where he had signed his first enlistment papers), and was restored to his old rate and paygrade of Seaman. He was then immediately assigned to the USS H-1, a sub, which like the Destroyer Colhoun, was home ported at the New London Submarine Base.
The H-1 had made one or two war patrols in Long Island Sound during her wartime assignment there, and had also been used to train students from the Submarine School in practical operations and submarine applications. She did this until January 6, 1920 when she departed New London for her pre-WW I homeport at the Naval Base at San Pedro, California in the company of the USS H-2.
Within days of reporting to the H-1 William enlisted the aid of her Commanding Officer, Lt. Newcomb Lincoln Damon, in obtaining a change in his first discharge papers to be eligible for the $60.00 “War Gratuity” awarded for service in World War One. He had probably been issued a General Under Honorable Conditions discharge and to qualify for the War Gratuity he needed an Honorable Discharge. Actually there seemed to be little problem with this and a Honorable Discharge was issued on October 16th. William was awarded the gratuity that he no doubt sent to his mother, at least in part.
Sometime after William reported aboard Lt Damon was replaced by LCdr James Webb as commanding officer. The fateful trip to the Pacific Ocean and California under Webbs' command began on January 6, 1920.
While William was at sea heading down America's east coast, the 1920 Census was being taken in College Point. On January 20th, census-taker Amelia A. Connell came knocking on the family door and for some reason or possibly not knowing the rules, his mother listed him as being part of her household, and what she told Mrs. Connell was heard as "Quarter Master Helper, U.S. Marine". There has been a bit of speculation concerning what Mrs. Connell wrote on the census form and in discussing William's job, we feel that Mrs. Connell entered the information incorrectly not understanding military terminology. We believe Mrs. Connell may have heard "US Submarine," but wrote "U.S. Marine".
What we believe is that William Delamain's job in the Navy was as a "Quartermaster Striker", a kind of helper, or apprentice if you like, in the Navigation Department of the submarine. There are indication in his service record that he had received high marks in 'Signaling', which was one of the skills required in the Quartermaster field, while stationed to the USS Gen. W. C. Gorgas. He would have worked under the direction of Chief Quartermaster Brooks who would have been Delamain's immediate boss on the H-1. Interesting to note that his job may have been involved in the navigation of the sub and that is what caused her loss, a navigation error. Based on currently available information, it is not possible to determine who had the navigation watch charged with keeping track of the ship's position at the time of the grounding.
As the H-1 and H-2 slowly made their way down the eastern seaboard they made various stops along the way for food and fuel and recreation at Norfolk,Va., Key West, Fl. and Havana, Cuba as they went along their way. These boats were prone to many mechanical problems plus it being winter, weather played a big part in transit times. They finally passed through the Panama canal on February 20th into the Pacific Ocean.
Just past midnight on March 12, 1920 while working her way up the coast of Baja California and trying to make it into the entrance of Magdalena Bay, Mexico, Captain and Naval Academy graduate Lt. Cdr. James Webb, mistook the entrance and ran the H-1 aground on Santa Margarita Island, subsequently resulting in the deaths of 4 crew, himself included.
This quote from "Undersea Valor" by Willard F. Searle, Jr. & T. Gray Curtis pretty much explains the events of the grounding:
"Because of uncertainty of the unmarked entrance, CGM W. L. Albrecht was on deck with a lead line as the boat groped her way on her starboard engine through the entrance. The lead swung forward through the air and sank. The chief kept track of the markers on his line: no bottom at seven. There was enough water in the channel for the boat to enter the bay beyond the dark forms rising to either side of the boat. As a precaution, the captain shut down the engine and proceeded on motors. Suddenly she lurched and rolled heavily to port, aground on a sand bar that barred further progress. This had been a false entrance.
Webb reversed the motors and put the rudder over. This had no effect, except to trip the circuit breakers. A fire started in the forward battery compartment, probably due to a short circuit caused by the circuit overload.
As the surf around them wetted them down, officers ordered up life preservers from below. Going down [on deck} in advance of his ship [crew], the captain was washed overboard and lost, vanishing into the surf beside the submarine. CGM Albrecht and CQM Brooks were also washed overboard, but Albrecht climbed back aboard, unable to see shore. Twice more he was washed overboard before the boat took a list which prevented him from climbing back on board, forcing him to swim to the beach."
The H-2 could only stand by and watch helplessly as the H-1 was driven harder aground and was buffeted by the surf. Later in the day the H-1 sent a wireless message describing her situation before abandoning the sub to the surf.
Around one o'clock in the morning when the crew was ordered to abandon the grounded vessel, Delamain was washed off the deck and it is thought he struck one of the sub’s propellers very likely rendering him unconscious bringing about his death by drowning. Also drowned was Seaman Joseph Kosman, his body was never found just a Capt Webb's was never found.
His body and that of another sailor, Machinist Mate First Class Harvey W Giles, were recovered and buried with as much honor as could be done at that time. Their bodies wrapped in American flags with grave markers made from driftwood, the two stricken sailors were buried in the sand on the beach, their graves piled with rocks and driftwood to prevent the remains from attack by animals.
Almost immediately an urgent dispatch was sent by the Navy Department to the families of the men lost. A copy of the one to Delamain's mother, Louise Delamain, is seen below.
Delamain's Service File includes a memo from the Navy to send similar dispatches to Harvey Giles father, John Giles, in Norfolk, Virginia, and one to Joseph Kosman's father Jack Kosman, (many newspapers report the spelling as 'Kaufman') in New York City. There had to have been one sent to Lt. Cdr Webb's family as well, but no record of it appears in these documents.
The Navy exhumed the bodies of William Delamain and Harvey Giles from their beach graves on March 27, 1920, and placed them aboard the USS Glacier AF-4, a stores ship that operated out of San Diego for return to the United States. In a rescue effort and/or to look for the bodies of Lt Cdr Webb and Seaman Kosman, the Navy sent divers to examine the wreck of the H-1, which had sunk by this time. Neither body was ever found.
Delamain's body was subsequently returned to College Point and on April 8th, 1920, interred in the family plot near his father and grandfather in Cedar Grove Cemetery in Flushing, Queens, New York. Seaman William H. Delamain was just a few weeks shy of his 19th birthday when he died.
William Delamain appears to have been a good son. He had an allotment of $25.00 a month taken from his pay and sent to his mother, Louise. In light of the fact he was making only $31.00 a month, this amount was a sizeable portion of his monthly income at the time. He also had made sure that his mother and siblings would be taken care of if something had happened to him. William had taken out a $10,000.00 insurance policy that the Navy paid his mother and family in monthly installments of $57.50 for twenty years until March 13, 1940. That must have been most welcome during the hard years of the Great Depression.
The Navy also paid $100 toward his burial, a fixed fee set by Navy regulations at that time, but that didn't cover the full charges of $147.00 submitted to the Navy by Louise Delamain for his burial at Cedar Grove Cemetery. She also was beneficiary to $323.50 that Delamain was due as an “Adjusted Service Credit” for his WW I war service and death while on active duty that was awarded her in October of 1924.
William never had the chance to marry or raise his own children due to the unfortunate and fatal error in navigation made in the middle of that night in March 1920. I'm sure the family felt his loss even as his thoughtfulness continued to help them keep the family home and feed and clothe them through the Great Depression.
William's brothers and sisters went on to live long lives. Here is what is known for the rest of the family:
Eleanor, b. 1899/1900. RIP March 1987 Southold, Suffolk, New York, married to Owen Joseph Meegan in 1923, a young man who worked in the accounting department of the L.W.F. Engineering company, an early manufacturer of 'aeroplanes' located in College Point. daughter Kathleen b. circa 1925
Robert, b. 1903. RIP August 1972 Stewartsville, Warren, New Jersey, married to Agnus Beulah Rush, she was Born in 1905 died on December 29th, 1984.
Madeline, b. 1905. RIP December 1984 Pen Argyl, Northampton, Pennsylvania. She never married.
Charles, b. 1906. RIP October 1981 Villas, Cape May, New Jersey. He married Marjorie Hahn on 4/14/29. She died 9/23/97 in Cape May, NJ
Body recovery later that month. The body of William Delamain is on the left and the body of Harvey Giles is on the right in this photo.
Photos from the private collection of Ric Hedman. Colorization by Ric Hedman.
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Ric Hedman & David Johnston
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