Veteran’s Testimony – Harriett McRay LeCours 203d General Hospital
I have long carried around a box of letters written by me to my parents during World War 2. My mother, with typical foresight, had sensed that one day I would find them of value. She was right about that. However, it has been only in the past few months that I have really studied my letters written to the folks on the homefront.
What I have found is, more or less, the thoughts and activities of a daughter embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The accounts as written tell not of military secrets or historic happenings but rather of the day-to-day life in the Army Nurse Corps and, specifically, life with the 203d General Hospital.
Therefore, I have written this account just about as I find events chronicled in the letters to my parents at home. Any added information given in the letters and enclosed in parantheses is for clarification or explanation.
July, 1991 – Harriett McRay LeCours
Service in the Zone of Interior (ZI)
10 September 1943
Dear Mom and Dad:
Well, I’ve done it. Filled in all the papers and took the physical exam at the Portland (Oregon) Air Base. Think I passed all right. Then on September 14, will raise my right hand and take the oath to carry out all the duties in the Army Nurse Corps. I guess all those War Bond rallies and watching the troop convoys on the highways finally got to me. Will soon be singing “I’m in the Army now!”
17 September 1943
I’ve arrived at my final destination: Camp Callan, California. This is an Anti-Aircraft Replacement and Training Center (pretty new too, I think) and it’s located outside (north) San Diego in an area they call Torre Pines. The Camp is quite near the shoreline, and so we get some of the ocean breezes and a bit of fog too. But in general, the weather is very pleasant and I like it. The Camp has a sort of pleasant, leisurely atmosphere – although I know it certainly isn’t dedicated to leisure!
Today I received some uniforms, some white shoes and “Blues.” You know the Uniform of the Army Nurse is Navy Blue – and I got some Black Shoes that don’t fit too well. A very nice Assistant Chief Nurse named Lieutenant Jorgenson devoted an hour or so explaining the facts of Army life to me. I hope all the other Power People are as nice as she is because while I’m not really homesick, this is a long way from home, familiar places, friends and family. I guess this is sort of a typical Army Base-wooden-one-story buildings and the Station Hospital itself has long screened-in ramps with various wards and departments located along the way. Some shrubs etc. help break up the otherwise rather monotonous flat, sandy land around us.
4 October 1943
Got paid today. Total of $91.00 for the portion of the past month that I was here. Thirteen dollars went back for board. I’ll keep the rest to pay for a custom-made Uniform etc.
I hate to admit it, but I have a cold and a reaction to the Typhoid shot we had to have. I reported for duty on my assigned ward (a post-operative unit) and was really happy that I was off duty at noon. We also had Tetanus Toxoid and Smallpox Immunization. When I feel better, I think I’ll like the Army again.
10 October 1943
It’s surprising how much easier it is to write letters when I don’t have to pay the postage! I am three cents richer with each letter I write. This is one of the benefits of being in the Army – it’s great!
Please don’t worry about my going overseas. Coming in assigned to a Hospital – mine is the 203d General Hospital – means we go, if and when it does. We are getting really smart at drill; can keep in step and do a “column left” like nobody’s business!
21 October 1943
Am sitting in my new easy chair with my feet on the footstool. We got new beds – with springs even – today too. Dressers are supposed to arrive next week.
After saying we could wear our new Olive Drab Uniforms we hear now they are forbidden. And I just finished paying for mine too. It is custom-made and cost $70.00. We hate these old Blues, and I was issued an overcoat today too that is slightly large.
Sunday we are doing some preparation for overseas duty. That is what they tell us anyway. We will go to a Del Mar Health Club where we will practice jumping into the water in full dress with a life preserver on. Then we go to the Del Mar pier – and jump into the ocean in the same outfit. I think they will have some lifeguards there though, just in case we flounder, panic or something. Monday night we played basketball at Eninitas. Fun, but we weren’t too good. Maybe we were tired from the six-mile hike we took the day before.
16 November 1943
Finally have all my issued Blue Uniforms etc. and am sending some clothes home for storage. Have to go to a training film today on gas and decontamination. If I didn’t need your assistance, I don’t think I would tell you this. But when I arrived back at Camp Callan from my trip to San Bernardino I found 13 of us had been issued foot lockers and nine have already left on emergency leaves of five days. The other four of us will go next and Captain Merrill says we will probably leave about November 26. I will fly both ways. Could you wire me some money to help with my plane fare? I will pay you back, of course. And when we return from leave, we might go someplace else for more training. We just don’t know. All this is very HUSH HUSH, of course – don’t tell anyone!
6 December 1943
Had a good trip down after leaving Oregon. There wasn’t any plane to take out of L.A. so had to ride the bus down, and I was very tired when I reached Callan. We went to the movies in San Diego the other night; at last I have gotten to see “So Proudly We Hail.” Good, but over-dramatic.
8 December 1943
More training to toughen us up for??? We have now “done” the infiltration course just like the GIs. We dressed in fatigues (men’s, of course) and hopped in a truck and were driven to the firing range. They issued a first-aid kit and told to get from one end to the other. We slithered along on our bellies because there was live (so they said) ammunition whizzing over our heads. We encountered barbed wire and trenches and other obstacles. All this accompanied by a Japanese voice over a loudspeaker which made taunting remarks, in pidgin English, about “you poor American GIs.” Along the way we were supposed to help someone else who was “injured.” I put a bandage on someone’s arm and then got out of there as fast as I could …
12 December 1943
Called off duty at 10 a.m. and have been busy since. We are going somewhere. Sending a suitcase home and will make out an allotment slip.
14 December 1943
All packed up, I hope. We leave tomorrow at 12:07 from Del Mar. There are four of us going – Martha Belew, Vivian Munsell, Dorothy Baltzo and me. We had to get clearance on this Post from all departments to show we don’t owe any bills. I think I have enough money for the trip – $60.00 in traveler’s checks and a $75.00 partial payment and reimbursement at the end of the trip.
Preparation for Movement Overseas
19 December 1943
New York, here we are! We came in on the Broadway Limited, Pennsylvania RR out of Chicago.
Supposed to be 17 hours but we were 2 hours, 30 minutes late. We had nice accommodations – two adjoining bedrooms. This train, though is filled with civilians, the one to Chicago was filled mostly with service people. But this one has lots of civilians. All old boys with business suits and stern faces and they weren’t very jolly at all. I’m not sure they liked having us on their train.
We’re staying at the Hotel Edison tonight and then out to the Camp tomorrow since we aren’t due until 4 p.m. on December 20. Vivian Munsell got off at Philadelphia where she will visit her mother and join us at the Camp RR station in the morning.
We had to travel in our “Blues” – which we don’t like much but will admit the overcoat with the inner lining does feel good. It is cold. Here is a poem we picked up along the way…..
I’ll travel a lot in the Army
But no matter where I roam
The one thing I’ll try like Hell to do
Is beat my dog tags home!
23 December 1943 (Camp Kilmer, New Jersey)
Gee, this Army is really fussy. They didn’t like it because we spent our extra time in New York. However, we haven’t been court-martialed – yet, anyway. We are pretty tired and have done a lot of walking since arrival.
Our quarters are adequate – just like the food. We are going to a Christmas Service in a little while and I’ll be thinking of all of you at home. Note change of address to “203d General Hospital, APO 9301, c/o PM, New York, NY”. Merry Christmas!
26 December 1943
Martha says we should all settle down and write a few letters so here it goes. Expect a big, fat barrack bag full of shoes, coats, uniforms etc. which will arrive C.O.D. as I can ship it no other way. We had a big Christmas dinner yesterday, turkey and all. We are busy, busy all the time and have lots of new supplies. (an entire wardrobe was issued including cotton Seersucker work Uniforms, shoes, fatigues, leggings, helmet, pistol belt, canteen etc. In addition there was a set of impregnated clothing, gas mask, eye shields, jar of vesicant ointment, barrack bag, bedroll, even a can of meat)!
I opened one present I had – just to keep the spirit! Did you send other packages? If not, wait until I tell you to send it. And tell me a few things in it so I may write and ask you for them. Sounds a bit strange, but I understand you can take my letter to the Post Office and show it, if necessary. Otherwise, I hear they may not let you send a package but a “request” may help make it O.K.
28 December 1943 (first censored letter to arrive home)
Not much new I can tell you except that we are kept busy all the time (this was the day before embarkation and we continued sorting and stowing away our recent acquisitions). Have a Happy New Year!
17 January 1944
Somewhere in England (actually this was Petworth, Sussex, our first stop in England after debarking in Scotland and traveling south).
Got some airmail stamps today. V-Mail is supposed to be faster but those little bitty sheets don’t give much space. But I can tell you that we live in a very damp place these days and the weather is much on the wet side. We do calisthenics in the mornings beneath some big trees – oaks, I think, and they drip water down on us. I guess those exercises are supposed to keep us in shape because we don’t have much to do here. I thought once we hit land after the boat trip over, we’ d be busy at once, but now I know what they mean by the Army saying “Hurry to Wait.”
We live in quarters of various sizes and my friend, Esther Meng, who is always next to me in the alphabetical lineup, and I are lucky because we share part of a Nissen hut. These are buildings built of corrugated steel which have concrete floors – named after a British Engineer, Mr. Nissen. We have a little stove for heat and a couple of very nice enlisted men keep us supplied with coal. The coal produces a lot of soot though and they have had to clean the chimney a couple of times.
We sleep on some wooden beds with “biscuits” – straw filled mattresses. They are pretty hard to sleep on and not too warm. I am glad to have the hot water bottle you told me to bring. That with my canteen filled with hot water, help put a little warmth in the GI blankets we use. I would guess the temperature is not so cold, but there is so much dampness that it really penetrates.
19 January 1944
Yesterday we had our first pass and went into town, riding a double-decker bus. The countryside is lovely with history written all over it. Funny little houses with crooked roofs which appear very picturesque.
We can buy no food or clothing so it doesn’t leave much to shop for. But I bought a book on the British Empire for 7 shillings 6 pence (about $1.50) and a calendar for 9 pence (about 16 cents). Some vinegar to use for hair rinse, some wave set and a glass. All these things I carried in my pockets and arms all day since there are no sacks in the stores.
Then we ate dinner in a small cafe, which had no heat, of course. We shivered but we were hungry and had a thin slice of boiled ham with parsley sauce, something that tasted like flour mixed with bacon grease, mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts, soup, a roll with no butter, tea and a jam tart. Cost: 2 shilling, 10 pence, about 48 cents.
People are so nice to us, and we notice there is no big rush to get places. People placidly “queue” up for a bus and there is no pushing or shoving. Some just stand and read their newspaper while waiting. Why are we Americans always so impatient???
22 January 1944 (still in Petworth, Sussex)
My roommate went to town and brought back a little brush to keep the stove and hearth clean, some water softener, a clothes line and some toilet paper! The latter is not very good but every time we go to the latrine we carry it with us and bring it back. She also got some sort of cellu-cotton to use for Kleenex as they don’t have any in the PX and we get only a box a month anyway.
Did I tell you we washed our shirts by hand and then “ironed” the collar, cuffs and front part with a canteen full of hot water. Worked fine. Someday the rest of our belongings will catch up with us.
P.S. We had an orange for breakfast this morning.
25 January 1944
It’s Christmas in England tonight! Your package came and I have to admit I am a wee bit homesick. Thanks so much.
The fellows had to take the chimney down again and it was loaded with soot. We are burning compressed coal dust now since the coal supply is gone. Very dirty. But I have learned to be a good fireman.
Some of us went to tea last night given for a few Officers and Nurses by the Women’s Institute of a nearby village (this was Petworth). The people were so nice to us and want to be helpful. They are very grateful to the US and think there is no one quite like FDR!
29 January 1944
It is the weekend and we can’t travel on buses or trains during this time so some of us are going to walk into the village tonight to the movie. We are used to the blackout now.
We have a bit of trouble getting our clothes washed and it’s only by taking off a piece at a time – washing it, drying it and putting it back on that we keep half way clean. But our belongings will catch up with us one of these days. And we should also start getting our weekly rations of chewing gum (1 pkg) and candy (1 bar) etc. soon. Most of us have some candy bars left from the boat trip over when we could buy them by the box at about 3 cents apiece. I might say that we did eat a lot of candy on the trip over since we were served only breakfast and dinner. So lunch consisted of an orange or apple (saved from breakfast) a candy bar, gum and Lifesavers.
2 February 1944
It was easy getting to London. A bus to the train station about 10 miles away. We boarded the train from the side – there are no conductors – and they punch your ticket when you get on and off.
In London we queued up for a taxi which took us to 10 Charles Street, just off Berkeley Square. For 4 shillings 6 pence (about 90 cents) we got a good bed for the night. Nice clean sheets and even two pillows! There were six beds in our room. The bathroom was really antique; the toilet bowl was blue with flowers all around it, and, of course, the pull chain for the flush. The houses in the area once housed the aristocracy of England. Now the Red Cross has taken them over for the US military. Good snack bar too with Pepsi Cola. They have a restaurant too. After one eats in English restaurants for a while, one learns it pays to look up places like the Red Cross for food.
We walked down Bond Street to Oxford Street and went to the Officers’ PX. Z bought some underwear (od, of course) gold bars, flannel pajamas. Also a “torch” which is necessary to get around in the blackout in London. We bought tickets to a musical comedy “Strike a New Note” and enjoyed the show. They sang a song that went…”I’m going to get lit up when the lights go on in London” …sort of a catchy tune too.
Back through the blackout to 10 Charles Street – dinner and to bed with a December 29, 1943 copy of the New York Tribune. Good reading too. Caught up on the state-side news.
10 February 1944
We had a show in the Post Theater last night. It was put on by the Service Unit, an all-GI cast. As good as the London show I saw. This was called “Stars without Garters” and we laughed so hard, we cried.
It is colder now and almost snowed once. I keep warm in fatigues, cotton stockings and ankle socks over those with field shoes. An old blue sweater under the fatigues.
26 February 1944 (Swindon, Wiltshire)
A change of scenery. We have moved and are now billeted in English homes in ones, twos and threes. My friend, Esther Meng, and I live in this little room on the third story in a rather nice home. No heat, of course. Although they gave us this little electric heater, but I can still see my breath in the room.
They asked us down to sit by their fireplace, which I did this afternoon. Considering they have no choice in the matter of taking us Americans into their homes (a spare room made them eligible for American intruders) we think this family has been very hospitable. There is an elderly mother, two grown sons and a housekeeper who comes in daily.
The mess hall is about six blocks away – in tents. We get our food in a building and carry it outside and into a tent which has one gas stove for heat. Then we have this hall that is sort of a Headquarters – called Bradford Hall. When we go there, we all compete for a place next to the stove. My friend Tilly Ryan says she has “chili blains” all the time. It is so very cold!
27 February 1944
We are now quite comfortable sitting with our “family” in the afternoon or evening by the fire – the one warm place in the house. In exchange for their hospitality and tea, we give them our rations of cookies (biscuits to them) and matches, candy or anything else we think they’d like, and soap. It is rationed for them.
9 March 1944
Would look as if spring might find England after all since it is a lovely day outside although quite cold. As usual, I’m hugging the fireplace in the drawing room. The cat is asleep in one chair by the window in the sun and Mrs. Masters is in another chair soaking up this precious bit of sunshine. I’m eating a lemon with salt on it. A large supply came in for the civilian population and I had once mentioned I liked to eat them with salt. So nothing would do but for me to have one.
Also at mess this morning we had fresh eggs and fresh oranges. Our first since leaving the ship.
We certainly have to toe the “GI line.” Sometimes it is as if we never do anything right. Either our hair is too long, the skirt too short, our coat not buttoned properly, always something. Our Chief Nurse enforces all the Regulations and we mostly comply …but grudgingly.
At night we usually listen to Lord Haw Haw (this was a man named Joyce) on the “wireless”. He comes on from somewhere in Germany. He talks about “the vulgar Yankees” and “The American Army of Occupation in England” and “The Jews of Wall Street.” He says the US is just playing Great Britain along for its own benefit.
Now – a few items you might send me and please wrap them in some paper sacks if you can: about 6 or 8 clothes pins, some rubber bands, some Dorothy Gray Pancake makeup, and some toothbrush fillers. I can use the sacks for shopping they have none here, of course. And I forgot to tell you that I bought a bicycle. It is wonderful to have one and I can ride it to the mess hall.
Martha Belew and I went to tea out in the country the other day. A nice lady asked us to come to her house. It was a thatched cottage and she said it was 300 years old. No central heating, of course. We wore warm clothing.
19 March 1944
(Broadwell Grove located near the Cotswold village of Burford where a Hospital was being completed for our use and, we thought, was to be our permanent home for the duration …)
Yes, we’ve moved again and it’s good to be settled in what should be our real hone for awhile. Soon we should be able to plan and work schedules. It will be good to work again, too.
Here we are living in huts cottage style. Each hut accommodates eight female personnel – so we have eight cots (fair beds too, compared to some I’ve slept on recently) and two dressers to share among us. That gives us each a drawer apiece! A real luxury. Then there is a table and one chair. And, of course, our little coal stove in the middle for the needed heat.
The floor isn’t too clean as we have no broom right now. But we did “GI” the place yesterday for inspection: footlockers at the foot of the bed, suitcase on top of the locker, helmet hanging on right with gas mask on it, canteen and pistol belt on the left side of the bed. Clothes hanging buttoned (left sleeve out) in certain order on wires since we’ve no other place just now. Numerous items left in the bedroll which is placed under the mattress and blankets on the bed – just so.
The ablution hut is just across the road from our hut (#B8), but some girls have about two blocks to walk – or ride their bikes as they choose. Now I can have more than two baths a week (if I get to the hot water in time.)
In our English billets we were entitled to two famous “5 inch baths” a week. But our family said we could have all we wanted – and, strangely enough, they were sorry to see Esther and me leave.
Last night Vivian Munsell and I took a short bike ride to the nearest village. Fine going downhill where the town is located, but not so good going back. The people in the village are quite proud that not a new house or building has been built in the last 400 years (this is Burford and like most Cotswold villages, it is built down in a valley near the water source). We went into one of the hotels with low ceilings, stone floors and an old fireplace. Then we found the only public telephone in town and I tried to call my friend but couldn’t even get an operator. A native villager said it is very difficult to get her to answer on Saturday and Sunday nights.
Today, Carol Spensley, a hut mate, talked me into going on another reconnaissance tour to another small village further away. We managed a ride in a jeep (Carol was always good at getting rides). We have a system, you know. First we go into a hotel and store and ask questions. We get to know people this way and make contacts. The lady told us about the bus schedule and we will use that information. Here we are – already asking how to get out of here!
Guess what is coming in on the radio now? “Baby Snooks and Daddy.” Really a good program. We usually get some old German-controlled station giving out a lot of propaganda – mostly directed to the people in Ireland.
24 March 1944
We now have a broom but with the dust on the floor and the soot from the stove, it doesn’t help much. And we are having fire trouble.
After going without heat for two days (cold, too) we finally got a new stove. Fine, except we have no kindling and starting a fire with coke and paper is not easy. Methinks we will have to go-a-wood-gathering in the woods today….
Now you might think calisthenics at 06:45 a.m. each morning is fun – but you are mistaken! We all hate it and furthermore there’s nothing scientific about the exercises or benefits. Our best exercise these days is getting on our bicycles and peddling into the village for an evening. We can go to ‘The Bull’ (a pub) and have a drink of some sort. Please not the beer, it’s lousy.
29 March 1944
Carol got two loaves of bread in town the other day and with the aid of a little maneuvering at the mess hall, we have bread, jelly and coffee. The bread is all soy bean flour, not too bad once you’re used to it.
The Hospital still isn’t ready and we all feel sort of “housebound.” We would feel better if we could do some purposeful work. Or if we had a pass and could go somewhere. I could have had one today, but it is so gray and wet outside that I couldn’t bring myself to venture out.
We sent out some of our laundry. Came back looking pretty good, but a few mixups here and there. Virginia Burke got a pair of men’s shorts and the wrong pair of fatigue trousers. Judy McDonald got size 32 pajamas while she wears a 38. I got all mine back, but my coat (dry cleaned) had a few extra spots added.
5 April 1944
We are trying to clean the wards of the Hospital, but cleaning materials are hard to get. One mop, one bucket, GI soap and a piece of old towel – plus rusty water. The wards are heated with coal stoves and not too bad, but English equipment is not up to American standards … There’s “Mairzy Doats” on the radio now. It’s the latest song over here. Monday night we heard Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Bob Hope and a lot of good music.
6 April 1944
The Traveling PX (mobile Post exchange) is here today and tomorrow. I somehow spent £4 (about $16.00) since I had to get sheets (tired of sleeping between blankets), pillow slips, a new tan sweater, a slip (od rayon), a pair of leather gloves and 4 pair rayon hose (56 cents a pair). Then I got a pair of brown moccasin shoes which came in a box plainly marked “Montgomery Ward.” We patiently await the word that they are NOT to be worn with Uniforms….
And we are now working at making 80,000 dressings. We have a lot to go. Equipment is coming in slowly but we still haven’t much to clean with. Tomorrow is inspection for our hut. We have changed “ETO” to “ETI” – European Theater of Inspection.
9 April 1944
It’s a damp rainy England here and Easter was dark and wet. For dinner we had chicken fricassée, boiled potatoes, pickled beets, string beans and apple pie. But please delete the beets when I come home. We have them all the time here.
11 April 1944
Thanks for the package. No letters though! I’ll send this letter for ‘If real, to see if it is slower than airmail’.
Vivian Munsell and I went to town today (Swindon) on a shopping errand for the Nurses’ quarters. We returned with an Ambulance loaded with ironing boards, clothes racks, washboards and tea kettles. And a loaf of bread. We often talk of what we’d like to eat when we go home. It ranges from a tall glass of milk with a piece of chocolate cake with lots of icing to a hamburger with onions and a coke. US Armed Forces are not supposed to drink milk here because of the high rate of TB in English cattle.
We’re tired of making dressings. We feel as if we are in the Red Cross instead of being in the Army. On the wards, we have a little more cleaning material and with the help of the ward men and a little elbow grease, we are doing better. The implement intended for cleaning bedpans is quite unique. There is a stream of water which spouts straight up with great force and while I was cleaning the brass handle the other day, I accidentally pushed it down and literally drenched myself – to the amusement of the enlisted men.
Vivian and Carol and I took a bike ride the other night to another quaint village with a stone bridge, thatched roofed homes and some ancient ruins (this was probably Minster Lovell). Then we got a ride home in a GI dump truck – into which we loaded our bicycles. We often get rides in Army vehicles. One night the MPs brought us home in a jeep – not in line of duty, however.
P.S. It is now Double Summer Time (this was an hour added on to daylight saving time).
17 April 1944
Am on the ward now. No patients but we must stay here and it is boring. We did all the rearranging and cleaning we could. Now we sit. You asked what we wear on duty. We wear the Brown and White cotton Seersucker Dress, Brown Russet Shoes and a tan sweater. We usually wash our own caps and I am glad I brought some starch. English starch is not good. We can now send our Uniforms to the laundry and that helps. It takes 10 days. The GIs will wash our coats for us, if we find the right person. That helps too.
22 April 1944
Spring has sprung, the grass has grown; I wonder where the flowers is? Today the weather is lovely. I’m sitting here in the open doorway of our hut and watching a lively GI baseball game out on the “green.”
As summer comes on, these long evenings of “Double Summer Time (one hour added to daylight saving time) are wonderful and it is light until 10 p.m.
We didn’t pass inspection this morning. They said the floor was dirty, we didn’t worry much though. There is so much “inspecting” that we develop thick skins about it. However, we washed the floor again; still looks the same to me.
Haven’t been able to say much about our ocean trip, but there were about 250 women in our section of the ship (USAT Brazil). The cabin held three (four?) sets of bunks-three to a set. The bunks were canvas and quite comfortable. We had a bathroom for 18 girls – so frequent lineups. There was fresh water in the tap in the mornings – hot salt water for showers. Very unrefreshing. It was dark and depressing in the cabins so we would spread a blanket in the corridor and play cards, sing or chat. There were also some male Officers in our section and they were nice fellows. There was one room where we could dance at times to a phonograph – but it was really confined in there and once I almost felt seasick. So we lefts didn’t want to waste any time being sick.
4 May 1944
Must tell you about the bicycle trip Mary Mack, Virginia Burke and Jeanne Greenside and I took. We had a 24-hour pass and set out an our bikes with our toothbrush, comb, etc. in our Musette bag on our backs. Rode 15 miles and came to a signpost pointing towards home (Burford) saying “7 miles.” We were disgusted. Then a Lieutenant rode up and said he knew where we could get some tea. Sounded good to us; we were hungry and tired. Later a Major and a Captain on bicycles joined us too.
We had tea and cheese sandwiches at a little hotel on the banks of the Thames. But the four of us didn’t quite know where we were going to sleep that night. The Captain and the Major thought they knew where we could stay. It was in a small village about 10 miles up the road (Uffington) and they knew the lady who ran the inn. Meanwhile, another Lieutenant (male) joined up and off the eight of us went down the road. We reached the inn at 9 p.m. and made arrangements for two of us to stay at the inn and the other two across the street in a private home.
Now we were hungry again, so this very gracious English lady in the private home made us a lunch – Spam, sausage rolls, boiled eggs, fresh lettuce, bacon bread and jelly and a glass of beer. Afterwards she played the piano and we all sang until 10:30 p.m. when the fellows had to go back to their Camp. We rolled into two great wide, soft beds and slept the night away. Breakfast in the morning of poached eggs on toast. We started back to our Camp with everyone telling us the shortest way home. In rural England it is very easy to go in circles since there isn’t a main road.
But we managed and even stopped for refreshments. We would have liked a good old coke, of course, but settled for a Shandy. This is half lemonade, or Squash as they call it, and half beer. Really not too bad. We arrived home about 4 p.m – tired and sunburned but pleased with our adventure (this trip had taken us to the “Vale of the White Horse” which was the setting of the Tom Brown series, popular about this time).
May have a lot of training going on now (no patients) for there are some outside Nurses living in the wards. I have been helping the Assistant Chief Nurse and mostly ride my bicycle around looking for people.
Spring seems to have taken a week off – it’s raining – but maybe it’s like the Englishman said when we asked if summer is coming. He said “You’ve had it. You just slept in that morning.” But the countryside is lovely, lush and green with sheep grazing contentedly here and there.
Mary, Virginia, Jeanne and I decided we would take a look at city life. So we hitched a ride in a civilian car, then a 2 1/2 ton truck and finally an Ambulance. Then we took a 4:30 train into London and arrived for dinner—–Officers’ Mess in Grovesnor House. This is supposed to be the largest Officers’ Mess in the world – so they say. Well, we found some Officers we knew and one of them belonged to a private club – The Coconut Grove. You know, one of those with the little windows in the door and the man saying “Joe, sent me” or something like that. Anyway, it was a lovely place with nice cushioned seats, a smooth dance floor and, best of all, not crowded. Two orchestras were playing and they traded off without a break in the music. Had a cheese sandwich before they whisked the food away at midnight and left a bottle of liquor on the table – to mix your own. Really too bad they closed the place at 4 a.m. but we went back to the Red Cross and had four hours of sleep before we had to get up and catch the train at 10:45. (Later learned this particular club was a favorite of the Duke of Windsor – in his early bachelor days.)
Some of the girls have planted gardens alongside their huts. Now they have carrots coming up.
Am so glad you were able to find that od dress I asked for, Mom. Well, $19.95 may be quite a bit to pay for a dress, but all Army clothes are expensive. If it doesn’t fit me, I know there will be someone to whom I could sell it.
25 May 1944
A big day today. We (Nurses) were in for a review for Major General Paul R. Hawley (Theater Chief Surgeon). It was quite an impressive sight too – abut 1500 nurses on parade and we looked good even if I do say so. Am breaking a rule now by building a fire. We are not supposed to have fires in the stove from the 1st of May to the 1st of October, but it is cold! Besides we have to brew our tea and coffee, don’t we? Blackout shades are drawn but it is still light outside. We now have an easy chair.
4 June 1944
A “Pem” tastes a little like a creme soda, but has some spirits in it – and forget-me-nots floating on top! The pub where we had the drinks had a great English bulldog lounging in front of the fireplace. When the seat beside me was empty, he jumped up, put his head in my lap and wouldn’t get down until he was pushed down. There’s always an animal of some sort around in the restaurants, tea shops and pubs (bars). Quite often it’s a big cat.
7 June 1944
I hope you are as happy about the Invasion as we are. The sky was absolutely alive with planes the night previously. We had a D-Day celebration at the club last night. Quite noisy, in fact.
We’ve been able to see several Shakespearean plays (Stratford-on-Avon) and they are very good. Hope to see “MacBeth” soon – my favorite. Tilly Ryan and I went to town yesterday and each got a permanent. Then we wanted to shop, but it was closing day in this town. All stores close one day a week – and this was it. So we ate dinner at a hotel – roast pork, potatoes and spinach and a dessert. They never serve water – or napkins – with the meals.
16 June 1944
The war is a little closer to us since we have now gotten our first patients. A lot of them have shrapnel wounds – and stories to tell. They are so young!
19 June 1944
Went on the ward Sunday a.m. Twenty-eight patients in Saturday night and we had them all out again by 2 p.m. Sunday. These were British so we sent them on to their own hospital. Monday we received over 300 casualties from France. They have had some treatment and first aid, but there still is a lot to do. They also have interesting tales to tell. Some have souvenirs of German mess equipment, money etc. They tell of women snipers and of being in wet shoes for 17 days. Sometimes we do not have the right equipment to treat them, but they are getting good food and have clean beds.
It’s 9:30 p.m. and the sun is shining brightly. Came out about 7 p.m. for the first time today. It’s impossible to go to bed early these days when it is light until about 11:30 or so. We never seem to make it before midnight – so we usually need a bit of bunk fatigue in the daytime.
26 June 1944
The General was here the other day and inspected the Hospital. Came to our ward and talked with the boys. Seemed very pleased with our Hospital, and it is nice – even if I do say so! Our fellows have really fixed it up, with concrete roads, shrubs, flagpole etc.
Carol Spensley, just finished giving us a description of London and the pilotless planes. She was in yesterday, but didn’t stay the night. She said she saw a pilotless plane (buzz bomb) go over, heard the explosion – and decided it was time to get in a shelter. She said it’s really a sight to see the people sleeping in the subways with the trains roaring by. It was quite an experience, but she was happy to be back here with us.
The camp dog, Beansie is taking a back seat with the new black and white kitten which moved in at the mess hall.
Seems to be thriving on powdered milk.
3 July 1944
Busy, busy. Getting patients in, moving them around, filling out forms, etc. And it all has to be “GI.” The boys are good patients, but they can’t get away with thinking just because they’ve been to France that they don’t have to help us! We have broken limbs, gunshot wounds, shrapnel wounds which tears off the flesh like wallpaper. However, because of decent first aid, rapid evacuation etc. they arrive back here in pretty good condition.
6 July 1944
Torrents of rain for the Fourth of July in England and still raining. Today we heard the cleaning establishment where we send our dry cleaning was hit by a pilotless plane so am minus two sweaters. Just glad I didn’t send my tailored suit too.
11 July 1944 (Topsham Barracks, old English Navy Billet, near Exeter)
We’ve moved again and were sorry to leave our Hospital. Have a nice board bunk, top row and a straw mattress – again. We arrived here weary and, most of all, hungry. Bless our mess department though, if they didn’t scurry around and set up a kitchen and in nothing flat we had a hot dinner in the late evening of fried eggs (fresh) corned beef, string beans, lettuce, corn, bread and jelly, canned apricots and coffee. It was wonderful. Plus a pep talk from Colonel Baker – to keep our spirits up.
16 July 1944 (Camp C-5, marshalling area near Winchester)
News is limited. Getting in plenty of bunk fatigue (this was the time of processing for the Channel crossing). Some Nurses were housed in an old church. We ate our meals in a large wooden building with signs above the tables which said “Don’t Spill Swill On The Tables.” Then we washed mess kits outdoors in large barrels of hot water. There were some abandoned bunk beds in front of the church and we lounged around on these, taking in the warm sun.
Saw the movie “Claudia” last night but it was so stuffy in the building, I almost fell asleep. Had a nightmare afterwards about bombs falling from the sky. (there was a “buzz bomb” attack, the motor is heard overhead, it stops and there is complete silence until an explosion occurs – somewhere, then we understood what the English people had been experiencing the past few months).
23 July 1944
Vive La France! We have arrived. But don’t worry about us – we will be safe. We boarded a ship (Duke of Wellington) and crossed a choppy Channel. It was a British boat and they were very nice to us. The Nurses had cabins and either beds or cots. Some of the Officers were forced to try out hammock sleeping. And a lot of people were seasick, and took the seasick pills we were issued. I was lucky though. We came ashore in a landing craft – in the rain. Our biggest problem is getting ourselves around with all the stuff we wear and carry. We dress in fatigues, warm clothing underneath and over this wear a combat suit which is sort of a lined coverall affair. Very warm but we look like teddy bears. Then over this a combat jacket. Then pistol belt with canteen, helmet and liner, gas masks and a musette bag (everyone stuffed them full of makeup, bottles etc.) Then we carry two blankets, a raincoat and impregnated clothing. Big load. You should have seen us getting off the craft – via canvas chute. We were lucky to get a ride to the Camp for the troops had to walk. Very muddy and unpleasant journey.
The countryside looks somewhat like England but, of course, lacks the well-kept appearance. Most buildings are all but ruins. Even so, we saw French people, children along the way who waved to us, usually with the “V” for Victory signal. Lots of activity everywhere, the Army at work. After reaching our present Camp, an annex to a Field Hospital where we do have tents with cots for sleeping, we devoured a warm C-Ration dinner.
Took a bath in our helmets and to bed. A cot is not the most comfortable bed in the world, but better than the ground which is very damp and we have to keep everything we can off it. The French people and children are in and out of our Camp. The kids can already say “Gum Chum?”.
Money comes in Francs now, so-called. Invasion currency: 500 Francs equal $10.00. Big notes of money that don’t seem like money at all. No coins. Yes, I sold my bicycle for about £30 before we left England. Carol Spensley and I just took a walk through a nearby town, one whose name you have seen mentioned in the papers. It was a total wreck. Still we saw people sitting on their doorsteps and even some geraniums growing in a pot. Must stop, get a helmet full of water and do some washing.
30 July 1944 (outside Cherbourg, Tourlaville Camp)
We moved again. Somewhere across the road a negro (it’s an all-negro camp) is playing “Sugar Blues” on a trumpet. Carol has done her washing and it’s on a clothesline between two trees. Hot in the tent so I will move outside soon.
Our Hospital will be in this area when they finish laying the foundations. Now we are back to waiting again. Living 20 to a tent. No latrine yet. Now I have seen everything with a straddle trench! We lay our bedrolls on the cots and outside of the fact that we’ve stored everything with bumps and lumps in them, they are not too bad for a mattress. This field is cleared of mines as are most in this area. But the Germans left their marks with the supplies they left behind – ammo, guns, helmets etc. We are warned against souvenir hunting though because of booby traps and mines. Tillie, Millie and I were walking down a road the other day and a GI was taking two German hand grenades out of a hedge. So he neutralized them and gave us each one. Sort of cute gadgets. I’ll bring it home. (I did – and years later buried it very deep in the earth)!
Drinking water comes in Lister bags and is heavily chlorinated. Washing water is brought in big cans and we’re lucky to have a heater and hot water out in the front yard.
Last night we went to a movie at a nearby Air Base. Those Jerries had fixed up the nicest Officers’ club – hardwood floors, beautiful bar with mirrors. Lovely overstuffed chairs which the fellows said they found scattered all over the area. One in a foxhole with three empty bottles at the foot of the chair. By the way, the show was a good one – “The Song of Bernadette”…. Some GIs just went by in a truck and seeing me writing this letter, they yelled out “Dear Mom!
4 August 1944
Hot in France. Every meal is a picnic. We sit on the ground with our mess kits and my 1918 canteen cup. O.K. when the sun is out but in the mornings we take our raincoats to sit on. And some days it rains – like yesterday. Awful.
We ate standing up. Took a helmet bath. Yesterday though we had nice hot showers down the road about two miles. Have movies on the Post now, in a tent!
The girls are getting permanents in town for 150 Francs ($3.00). Some of the Nurses have gone out on detached service; the rest of us sit and wait. With the bees – they are really a problem. Have had three stings now and must be really careful when reaching in my Musette (have candy in there.) The bees also are a bother at mealtime; they like canned fruit too.
14 August 1944
We really are enjoying the beach and swimming. They provide us transportation by truck back and forth from Camp. More room in the tent with some personnel out on detached service. We continue to find all sorts of souvenirs. Surprise at noon today – tables and benches for us at mealtimes. The Colonel (Turner) had a lobster dinner in an adjoining field the other night and I went. With this outdoor life, we didn’t dress for dinner – wore the usual fatigues.
21 August 1944
A perfectly awful day in France. The rain is coming down in torrents and we have to close the tent up. Gets very stuffy and dark. And I have a French cold so life is not rosy right now. Ronnie (Estelle Ronzca) has bites all over her body – they gave us flea powder but I haven’t been bothered as yet.
However, I have a bee sting on my thumb. They get so thick in our tent and now I’m wondering where to hide the fudge you sent.
Yesterday we saw a second Flanders Field – rows and rows of white crosses. Gives one a funny feeling inside and you know this war is for real. We also saw lots of German prisoners working under guard. They looked very complacent – probably happy to be out of combat. There is a story that one Allied guard counted his prisoners one morning and found he had five more than he was supposed to have.
We have not heard from our favorite tank outfit – the Sixth Armored. They are supposed to be “out there” somewhere.
2 September 1944 (Hospital site at Garches, Seine-et-Oise Department)
Have to pinch myself. Here I am sitting at a desk, by a big window, my own bed with a feather pillow and my own wardrobe with a big mirror. Next to it is a sink with hot and cold water – and it’s all in my own room! I think the 203d General Hospital hit the jackpot this time for I am certain there isn’t a nicer setup in the whole of France! You should see the Hospital – buildings, modern, lawns and trees, tile and brass, dishes for eating (with flowers on them too!) It is almost too much. We are afraid someone will tell us to move on.
You’ve really had a lot of sympathy for us during our first days in France. But this makes it all worth it. We left our old Camp (Tourlaville, outside Cherbourg) in the rain. What a mess that was – rolling bedrolls in a tent with 19 other people trying to pack. Then they removed the tent and we sat out in the rain. We ate our last meal there – sitting on a box in the rain. Loaded to the eyebrows (we carried our own suitcases this time too) we got on the train which was a Hospital Train, built to carry patients but not personnel in such large quantities anyway.
Ours was the first train over these tracks, following the departure of the Germans. On the whole train there were 64 seats and we were lucky to get one. Others simply sat on their suitcases. Came night and we couldn’t see sitting in that seat so Tillie Ryan, Mildred Priddy, Estelle Ronzcka and I found a small dressing room in the rear of the car. Ronnie and I slept on a blanket on the floor while Tillie and Millie slept on the table (an examining table). Two of the Officers joined us, on their blanket, on the floor.
Please-no more K-Rations, is all I can say. The second day out we bartered with the natives out the windows (train going very, very slow) – cigarettes, K-Rations and gum for tomatoes, pears, apples, cucumbers. One old lady even brought down a bottle of Calvados (a wild, wild liquor!) and passed out drinks. We even had loaves of bread. The next day Ronnie and I were sick and couldn’t eat a thing. Lots of diarrhea going around too and only one toilet in the area. Then the work train ahead of us hit a bad rail and derailed four cars. So there we sat for 24 hours before we could move on. On the next track sat three cars of PWs. We looked at them and they looked at us. Supposedly one of them tried to escape and those bullets were flying around. We got off our train and tried some cooking over fires.
We were all so dirty – and tired – and wondering when it would end. Then we finally were rescued off the train by our own trucks and brought here. All the way, the French hailed us joyfully, throwing kisses, screaming. We all felt like Eleanor Roosevelt reviewing the troops. When we arrived here, we couldn’t believe how lucky we were. What an ideal spot for our Hospital!
4 September 1944
We are getting ready for patients. In fact we have some already. But there is much cleaning to do first. I spent the morning working on a Westinghouse refrigerator – “Made in the USA.” There are still German signs on the walls- “Ausgang” – exit and “Eingang” – entrance. They left stacks of books behind and I want to try my college German out on some.
We have French maids in the quarters and they run around like mad, trying to please us. Looking for furniture to suit our tastes. The English were nice to us, but the French really seem to want us to feel at home. We will be working 12-hour shifts at first.
14 September 1944
Now we are down to 10-hour days. We are all anxious to get into “the city”. They say there is nothing like Paris and people come back with all sorts of perfume. The chief available product, I guess.
23 September 1944
Back to 8-hour days now. Much better as I can feel like doing something after the work day. I’m on B-3 now (H building, 3rd floor) and it’s about getting patients in – and getting them out. We have a capacity of 199 beds on the floor, but we usually run abut 139-150. Lots of work going on all around. The mess department probably makes chow for 2500-3000 people daily. Good food, too. A while back, our mess rations were all but depleted, I guess. One meal consisted of a slice of bread, a piece of cheese, a sort of meat dish, and water. Bad when you don’t have coffee in the Army! Then the Hospital Rations came in and things improved.
Lots of German patients. I guess they are retreating so fast they’re leaving their wounded for us to pick up. We tried to clean them up – but they were really dirty! Most are cooperative but some, especially the Officers, are very sure they are winning the war. When the patients come in off the field, it’s a little difficult at times to tell whether they’re Yank or German. So one of the girls, very skeptically, said to one on a stretcher … “Speak English?” He replied, very irritated …”Hell, yes. What do you think I am?”
See the lights went on again in England September 17 – they must really like that.
I can use my college German with the French too. After four years, most of them speak some German. I was trying to tell the maid about some washing the other morning and we stumbled around trying to understand each other. Finally she said “Parlez-vous le Boche?” and we settled it in German. “O.K.” is the word, or phrase, most of the Germans pick up first. I told one young kid it was “O.K.” (the next time I came into the room he says “O.K. Chick”). The maid says about 120 German Nurses lived here.
27 September 1944
The radiators have no heat in them and there will be none, they say until November 1. And it is getting colder.
Big day yesterday. Fred Astaire was at the Hospital and I’m enclosing his autograph. He was so nice to the patients. Patients coming and going in 500-1000 bunches. Much confusion – and paper work.
1 October 1944
It is not getting any warmer in either quarters or the Hospital. We wear all sorts of layers of clothing to keep warm. But keeping busy helps us forget about the cold and we are busy. A week or so ago they brought in bolts and bolts of material to the quarters. We could make our selections for curtains, bedspreads etc. – can get some of the maids to make them up. Someone said they were bolts of mattress covering material.
We have been taking our washing to a Polish family who live behind Lafayette Park which is across the road. The park is dedicated to soldiers who were killed in WW 1. Estelle Ronczka speaks Polish well so she talks for us. These people are so poor, but they always offer us some sort of food. We take them our rations plus extra soap.
Now it is too cold to bathe the patients in the Hospital. We can wear our fatigues on duty, but we hate to do that. So it’s; wear the uniform, underwear, sweater and combat jacket on duty. Warm on top, but cold below! We are being issued Arctic overshoes. Thank goodness for the hot showers at the Hospital.
There is a bathtub in the kitchen on each floor in quarters. Brew a pot of coffee while taking a bath! The lights go out frequently so we use candles. And it’s getting dark early. When I come off duty at 7 p.m., up the path on the hillside, it is really dark. I have learned to use my flashlight after several collisions with trees.
12 October 1944
Everyone is out looking for an electric heater. There are some around and I hope my friends find one. But they put such a drain on the electrical circuits – that’s why the lights go out all the time. The French are gathering the chestnuts; it is autumn all right. Many trees here.
17 October 1944
The heat came on in the Hospital, day before yesterday. Still none in our quarters. Am on night duty now. Long 12 hours. We are getting in a lot of diphtheria, especially among the Germans.
28 October 1944
We’re doubling up in our quarters so Estelle Ronczka has moved in with me. I guess we’re getting some Nurses on detached duty. We have an electric heater for the room now; it surely helps. The leaves are falling outside and it is clear and cold – but very pretty in our area. Rumors of heat for quarters soon.
We turned in our mess gear the other day, the two blankets and gas masks. The blankets are to go to combat troops up on the front where it is really cold.
14 November 1944
We have heat in that radiator for the first time! Maybe we won’t have the electricity going off and on so much and, best of all, it is warm. And I’m off night duty at last. But will miss the fellows on the crew at night. They were great.
1 December 1944
The 8-hour day often stretches into 12. So busy on the ward. The telephone ringing all the time – forms to fill out – patients coming and going. We laughed when we first came here and they said the Germans put 4,000 patients in here. We are not laughing now. Lots of pneumonias and colds. I have no time to know the patients for I’m too busy with book work. It’s wet and cold. I even wear my rubbers like a good girl although as a civilian I wouldn’t be caught dead in them. The heat is on 4-11 p.m. now but we manage.
19 December 1944
Have a slight running nose and no wonder with the ward full of it. We are so busy and the war news is not good. Thanks so much for your packages. I have had to open two already – helps morale! I drew the food committee for the Christmas party on the 23. One of the ward men gave me a little artificial Christmas tree so we have it on the desk. My shoes are wearing out and they have none at the Quartermaster Supply Depot in Paris.
26 December 1944
Christmas was better than last year. We had a party in quarters on the 23 and I was in charge of the food. It was late getting here, the ice cream too hard to serve and I got to bed at 2 a.m. and had to be at work at 7 a.m. the next morning. The weather is cold, the ground frozen and the nights very clear. On Christmas Day, the Red Cross hung a stocking on each patient’s bed during the night and the patients really enjoyed this. We had a good Christmas dinner. Thanks for all your presents. You are wonderful parents. We are so glad the war news is improving, but we are as busy as ever in the Hospital.
21 January 1945
Am no longer a Shavetail. Received my First Lieutenant promotion which means a raise in pay!. Tillie and I went into Paris today and it was very cold. We had good rides though – rode in a Weapons Carrier on the way in and home in an Ambulance. Our best news is that the ANC has a new authorized coat – Beaver coats. They are wool fitted and this really is the first time we can feel dressed up in a coat. The raincoats were all-purpose and looked it. Units who have been in the ETO a year or more have priority. So we went to Quartermaster Supply and each got a Beaver coat for $28.00.
8 February 1945
To answer your questions: we have about 83 Nurses in our unit although we stand to lose some because some units are coming over without Nurses. We have also lost some of our Officers – the younger ones to the front and the older ones back to the General Hospitals. Now we also have some new Nurses here with us from other units on detached service. We miss having our own close-knit unit, as we did before.
1 March 1945
This will be our 14th month in the ETO and at pay time we received two “Hershey Bars” for overseas service. One bar equals six months. I am on night duty – again. Just finished making a batch of fudge and passed it around. The census is very low so I could take a little time out.
5 March 1945
The weather is getting better. And our hill will be lovely when all the leaves are out on the trees again. Yes, with that $16.00 raise, my pay will be about $205.00 per month; $21.00 goes back for board, $6.60 is for insurance and $100.00 for my allotment – and the rest I can spend!
11 April 1945
Spring is really here. The grounds are beautiful, the flowers and shrubs are blooming. Ronnie and I took a walk the other evening and the homes around here are really quite nice.
Now we are receiving returning American Prisoners of War. They have some interesting tales to tell about black bread and soup for meals – 200 men to a barracks meant to hold less than half that number. They are thin and underweight, malnourished. The other boys in the ward shower them with their rations. After delousing, showers, shaves and haircuts they looked much better. Our new PX is supposed to have cokes and ice cream sodas any day now.
15 April 1945
Lovely outside. Emily Whiton, and I just returned from a nice evening walk where we enjoyed smelling the lilacs in bloom. Today we attended a Memorial Service for President F. D. Roosevelt. We are all shocked by his death, and General Eisenhower has proclaimed a 30-day period of mourning so there will be no social functions during that time.
11 May 1945
Just returned from a leave to the Riviera. Where but in the US Army could you spend seven days on a world famous playground for $3.00? Now to get the red nail polish off. It was a 26-hour train trip; our cooks made us sandwiches. Two Nurses in our compartment had none – so we shared (reluctantly). And we were afraid to drink the train water. After each stop we noted the wet spots on the box cars of the next track – and knew we had French men on our train! It was the Hôtel Belles Rives for us, Juan-les-Pins, next to Cannes … The Carlton Hotel, the Miramar and a VE-Day celebration at The California Hotel with a whole ballroom for our party. The lights are on again.
21 May 1945
Rumors aplenty. Nurses have all been reclassified with a hasty physical and almost all Nurses are 1A. Now it’s common for people to say “Are you original 203d?” – we have been added to – detracted from – so much. The Hospital is full and we think they are evacuating everyone to our Hospital. Censorship is lifted and we can tell you that we are in a suburb of Paris, called Garches.
23 June 1945
It’s hot but the Hospital is cool. Patients – restless and harder to manage. They lie out in the sun almost all day and complain because they aren’t home yet. No, believe me, there are a lot of patients left in Paris and we have about 2500 of them. Am on nights again. Stays light until about 10 p.m. some of the fellows are noisy and disturb those who need their sleep. Our footlockers arrived – from England. Rumors, rumors as to what is next. Vivian Bunsell volunteered for the CBI Theater (China, Burma, India) and Carol Spensley went with SHAEF Headquarters to Germany. Never thought I’d say it, but we are tired of France and we want to go home!
Counting points, of course, and I have 42. Not the lowest, but also not the highest. A sign downstairs says they don’t have enough volunteers for the CBI – wonder what that means?
4 July 1945
It’s a lovely Fourth of July in France. They have built a big stage at the bottom of the slope with red curtains and all the trimmings and there is an all-day program for patients. My friend, Estelle Ronzcka is getting married next week to her MP boyfriend. The wedding is at the Madelaine (built 1806) in Paris. It has not been easy; they have to be married twice, once by the French Government and once by the US Army. They are giving her a weeks’ leave – nice.
12 July 1945
Farewell, Paris. But I guess we were ready to go and morale has gone up 100% since we turned our Hospital at Garches over to the 36th General Hospital unit. Our last week was a nightmare. Every half hour or so, someone was opening the door to our room, saying “This isn’t a bad room at all – how are the beds?” The incoming unit didn’t like the way we did things – and we didn’t like the way they were doing it. Peculiar how you can complain about your own outfit, BUT let someone else try it! I had to move Ronnie too – she’s still on her honeymoon.
So – here we are, living in a big ward of 50 beds. This used to be a Reform School, so we understand. Most of our Administrative Officers are still with us – including Colonel Turner, who asked if we wanted to move into Nurses’ quarters when they left (place was used by another US Hospital) – but we said no. The Chief Nurse has relaxed a bit here too – that has helped. No fast rules, we can get up when we please, get a train to Paris – or just sit. We went into Paris the other night and saw a play – Anna Neagle in “French Without Tears.” But I will say, this is a hot, hot place – called Le Pecq.
20 July 1944 (Le Pecq)
No letup on the heat. Only a thunderstorm now and then. Still we are at leisure. The Louvre Museum is now open and Tillie, Ronnie and I visited it today. It was sort of dark, quiet and musty smelling. They recently brought out the treasures from storage during occupation …Venus de Milo, Whistler’s Mother, Mona Lisa etc. I came home early by subway, train, walking and GI truck – we are really out in the country here. But one good thing is that we have our own GI cooks again. Rather than the French as we did in the later months at Garches.
From here, what? They raised the CBI points to under 55 (I have 47 now). But the war seems to be going better “over there.” Maybe we’ll be lucky.
26 July 1945
Greetings from your daughter who is among the thousands of “unattached, unassigned” people in the ETO. The remaining 43 of us (all 203d) reported to the 813th Hospital Center for reassignment. We loaded into 2-ton trucks, stopped for lunch at Château Thierry and finally reached the 813th Hospital Center. They didn’t expect us, had no room (thank goodness – what a horrible place) and so fed us and sent us on to the 77th Evacuation Hospital, some 40 miles down the road. But they did have tents, showers ready for us there. We had driven 180 miles that day in the GI truck. So here we are – 20 people to a tent and it’s too hot to do anything but lie on the cot. Food is good, but too hot to eat.
1 August 1945 (Reims, France)
178th General Hospital. No one seemed particularly glad to see us arrive. In fact, five of us have no room. We are on five cots in their “drying room.”
5 August 1945
We’ve been here a week. Not good, not bad. Hospital is built American style with smaller wards. Their busiest day is like my easiest day at the old 203d. This Hospital was supposed to have been built by Rockefeller. Rumor says our unit didn’t need to be broken up as it was – and we could have all gone home together. The war news over there sounds good …. maybe the end?
19 August 1945
Looks as if the war with Japan is over, but don’t know how it helps our homecoming plans. Ronnie (Estelle Plocica) left Monday for Germany where she will be stationed near her husband, Joe, who is with the Army of Occupation. Now we are out of the “drying room” and I am sharing a room with Ebba Carlson. Good company too. We are sort of living out of suitcases because we hope not to be here too long. Is gasoline off rationing now?
6 September 1945 (178th General Hospital, Reims, France)
We have a new Commanding officer and who is it, but our own 203d Gen Hosp Colonel Turner! We’re happy to see him and had dinner at his table tonight. Have 55 points now, as everyone else does. No, don’t send any Xmas presents …. I go on night duty again. It won’t be hard – two wards of 36 and 55 patients. We have PWs for ward men, but life is really dull here. Reims offers nothing but an historic Cathedral.
16 September 1945
Was awakened out of my sleep today (still on nights) by loud shouting in the hall. Orders for 55 of us (40 of us are 203rd) came to join units being processed to go home. About 10 leave Monday to join the 21st General Hospital while the rest of us will join the 46th General Hospital (Oregon unit). No more sleep after that news.
20 September 1945 (Besançon, France)
This town is near the French-Swiss border. Rather pretty, nestled in the foothills of the French Alps. Maybe we can get a leave to Switzerland from here while the processing of our records is going on. We’re in the Hospital area of the 46th General Hospital. Understand this was once used by Napoléon’s soldiers. There is a cobble-stoned courtyard surrounded by the buildings. Back to wooden bunks with slats as springs. Nothing fancy about these quarters, but we’re on the way home!
3 October 1945
Yes, it is Fall here. But at least we now have steam heat in quarters. And the food is good, fresh eggs, oranges, bacon, toast and jam for breakfast. Rolls too, they have their own bakery. We returned last night from two days in a little village, Jugne, in the French Alps. The Hospital sent coal with us – for heat – and all our rations. We stayed in this hotel which was clean and had wonderful beds with feather puffs. Driving the cows back and forth to hillside pastures was the peak of daily activity for the villagers. Cows had noisy bells too and we awakened each morning to the tinkling of cow bells. We walked to the Swiss border and they let us cross to a little café for coffee or beer. We’re still waiting to go home.
18 October 1945 (Berne, Switzerland)
Where, but in the Army, could you get a tour of Switzerland for $35.00? Today we went to the top of Mt. Niesen, 7,500 feet. Not the tallest, but still great. Interlaken tomorrow by boat. Quite cold here and no heat in the rooms. We dry our “undies” we wash by putting them between our inner cover and the feather bolster at night. We’ll be coming home soon!
25 October 1945 (Camp Carlisle, France)
Moved again. This time to the Nurses Assembly Area outside Reims. Four of us arrived last night about 9:30 p.m., really weary. This camp holds about 1500 Nurses, or as Ebba Carlson says, “That’s a lot of yapping females.” Ebba and I have a room in the brick barracks with two beds and two bedside tables. Plus a pot belly stove. We must be up every morning by 8:15 a.m. and stay out until 11:30 p.m. so the PWs can clean the floors etc. They are also supposed to bring us firewood and the other morning Ebba caught one of them trying to steal our hard-come-by kindling and she certainly told him off – in a combination of German and English. He understood too.
We are still waiting. It can’t be too long now. We’re good at waiting at this stage of the game. We’ve had lots of practice in the Army … At least we know this has to be the last stop on this side of the ocean. So we read our books, stand in long lines with the rest of the female Army members. We are attached to the 46th General Hospital for processing for going home. We’re coming!
(early November the group sailed aboard the Italian liner “Vulcania”. Dressed in our Class A Uniforms, carrying our Beaver coats, we were taken by bus to the port of Le Havre where we walked up the gangplank. On board ship, which had been a luxurious pleasure ship, we had comfortable quarters, wore the famous Mae Wests again and bided our time until we reached the New York Harbor. Here we were greeted by striking Long Shoremen so our debarkation was delayed a bit. Again, we went to Camp Kilmer where we had a few days of freedom and could legally make a trip to New York. Visits to the big department stores were a treat, and I managed to meet a very important GI who had reached the States before me. At Kilmer we raided the PX and lines formed for that all-important (free) call to say “Hey, I’m home again”. Nurses from the west coast were boarded onto cargo planes (bucket seats along the sides) and arrived at Camp Beale, California for more processing about two days later. Then it was a long, tiring train trip up north to Oregon. And I was home in time for Thanksgiving dinner with my family).
The authors would like to thank Dan Leary (ASN: 39232383), (X-Ray Technician) who initially collected the original text from which this Article is derived, in his collection of
203d General Hospital Testimonies entitled “203rd GH: An Anthology of Members.” We would also like to thank him and his family for their kind donation of some of
the images which appear in this Testimony.
The authors would also like to recommend the excellent website dedicated to the 203d GEN HOSP, which includes a detailed history and a plethora of images relating to the unit. It can be found here.