Return to Thames Ferry Company and World War I
In 1916 William Alexander returned to his first employer, Thames Ferry Company, as Engineer aboard the Governor Winthrop, still making its regular crossings between the City of Groton and the New London landing near present-day City Pier. Not surprisingly, the 1919 conversion of the first rail bridge (below) to a road bridge led to a decline in ferry patronage. The Company held on for a decade, however, and the last crossing took place in 1929.
Mr. Alexander almost certainly witnessed the visit of the German commercial submarine Deutschland to New London in November, 1916. Although the submarine was deliberately shielded from public view while at the State Pier, local mariners would most likely have gleaned information about the mysterious visitor missed by the general public.
By 1917 it was becoming clear that the United States could not avoid entering the war in Europe, and in April, not long after Mr. Alexander had returned to the Ferry Company, the nation declared war on Germany. A week later he joined the U. S. Naval Reserve Force with the title (equivalent to a rank) of Machinist.
Also that year the Navy leased James J. Hill's Wacouta, which served as the U.S.S. Harvard until returned to her owner after the war ended. William Alexander's work on the Wacouta's machinery had been carried out in 1915, almost two years before America entered the war. The atrocity of the torpedoing of the Lusitania by a German U-Boat on May 7 off the coast of Ireland near the end of a crossing from New York, with huge loss of life, was in the forefront of the news in the summer of 1915, and it's possible that Hill was discussing even then the possibility of a lease with the Navy.
1917 also saw the commercial submarine Deutschland taken into the German Imperial navy when deteriorating relations with the U.S. precluded any more undersea commercial voyages following the bizarre New London port call the previous November. Deutschland was quickly fitted with guns and torpedoes and sank 42 Allied ships in 1917 and 1918.