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"Then Why on Earth did You Come Ashore?"

In 1925, following fleet maneuvers off Central America and joint air-sea-land maneuvers with the Army in the Hawaiian Islands, Robert E. Coontz, the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Fleet, took a dozen battleships and 44 other warships and auxiliaries on a protracted cruise to the antipodes. The armada visited Samoa, Australia, and New Zealand, after which the main body returned home the way it came, while the admiral took his flagship and a cruiser squadron home by way of Tahiti in what was the Fleet’s busiest year between the world wars.

Everywhere the fleet went the Americans found themselves welcomed with open arms, and often with open bottles as well, much appreciated by Uncle Sam’s sailors and marines, as there was no Prohibition “Down Under”. There were parades, rowing races, lawn parties, rail excursions, native dancers, receptions, parties, baseball games, ceremonies, and more, including several elopements and a number of desertions. 

In his memoirs, Admiral Coontz recorded an amusing incident that took place at one reception. On the eve of the fleet’s departure from Wellington, Prime Minister Gordon Coates of New Zealand invited Coontz and his senior commanders to a party, asking him to select eight junior officers to attend as well. 

The party was a great success, the American officers meeting and mingling with many of Commonwealth’s prominenti, and thoroughly enjoying themselves. At one point during the proceedings, Coates, in a jovial mood, was chatting with some of the young American officers. Fixing his eye on a young marine, the only representative of his service among the junior officers, Coates asked

“Lieutenant, there is a question I should like to ask you."

"Yes, Mr. Minister," replied the marine, "what is it?"

"Can you tell the difference between a New Zealand girl and a lamp post?"

The young marine reddened, thought for a moment, fidgeted a bit, and then said, "No, Mr. Minister, I don’t.”

"Then," quickly said the Prime Minister, "why on earth did you come ashore?", causing considerable laughter, and further embarrassment for the young officer.

 

FootNote: Robert E. Coontz (1864-1935), a native of Mississippi, graduated from the Naval Academy in 1885, and went on to a successful, and often very unusual career in the service, fighting Indians and Russian poachers in Alaska, service in the Spanish-American War, the voyage of the Great White Fleet, Commandant of Midshipmen at USNA, command of a battleship, various administrative posts, and command of a battleship division in the Pacific Fleet after World War I. He crowned his career with service as CNO, 1919-1923, and then as CinCUS, 1923-1925, in both posts demonstrating a commitment to new ideas and new technologies. Coontz retired in 1930, and wrote an interesting memoir, From the Mississippi to the sea, (Philadelphia: Dorrance, 1930), and the highly amusing True Anecdotes of an Admiral (Philadelphia: Dorrance, 1934), He is sorely in need of a biography. 

 

The duc d'Aumale Returns from the Wars

Henri Eugène Philippe Louis d'Orléans (1822-1897), the duc d'Aumale, was one of the five sons of Louis Philippe, who reigned as “Citizen-King” of France from 1830 to 1848. A multi-millionaire in his own right, having at the age of 8 inherited fr 60 million from his godfather the duc de Condé, the young man had an excellent education, and, as was normal for royal offspring, was commissioned a second lieutenant of infantry in 1839, at the age of 17. D’Aumale saw action in Algeria in 1840-1841, but becoming seriously ill, returned to France for a time, with a promotion to lieutenant-colonel of the 17th Light Infantry. He returned to Algeria with his regiment in 1842, and later that year was promoted to “maréchal de camp” (brigadier general). He particularly distinguished himself during the pursuit of Abd El-Kader in May of 1843, which earned him a promotion to lieutenant general and command of the expedition to capture Biskra, a city in southeastern Algeria near the Tunisian frontier, which he accomplished successfully.

With the end of serious fighting in Algeria in 1844, d’Aumale was ordered home with his old regiment to take part in a victory parade.

Camped on the outskirts of Paris with other returning troops, the duke and his regiment made careful preparations for their part in the parade. But where everyone else donned their finest gear, after polishing it to stellar brightness, the duke dressed down. Maunsell B. Field, a young American making the Grand Tour, later wrote that the duke’s "uniform was very seedy and his boots covered with mud," which proved an enormous hit with the crowd as he marched down the Champs Élysées at the head of the 17th Light Infantry.

FootNote: Afterwards. Appointed governor of Algeria in 1847, d’Aumale was exiled when his father was overthrown early in 1848. He settled in England, but travelled widely, wrote extensively, and became a noted collector of books, art, and women. On the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War he offered his services to Napoleon III, but was rejected. After the defeat of France in early 1871, he was allowed to return and was elected a Deputy, and was shortly restored to duty as a major general, He commanded a corps for a while, and then in 1879 was appointed inspector-general of the army. When all members of former reigning families were barred from France in 1883, he again went into exile. Allowed to return in 1889, largely because he willed much of his fortune to France, he lived the remainder of his life quietly, pursuing women and his artistic interests.

 


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