The Doughnut Sweethearts
A firsthand account from a WWI lassie
by Alice McAlister –
Some time ago, New Frontier received the diary of Alice McAlister, one of the Salvation Army “lassies” who served during World War I on the front lines in France during the retreat of the German forces. Alice served with her sister, Violet; they were in their mid-twenties. The wtwo came to be known as the “Doughnut Sweethearts.”
New Frontier thanks Mildred Mendell (aunt of Lt. Colonel Doug O’Brien, Northwest divisional commander), niece of Alice and Violet, for editing the diary and sending it to us.
Note from Mildred Mendell: Early in the 20th Century, The Salvation Army was scorned by the public because of their seemingly bizarre methods. “Open air” meetings were very out-of-the-ordinary, and the use of military terms and marching down the streets on parade to the beat of the drum were a far cry from the dignity and reserve of the established churches. World War I and The Salvation Army’s conribution in that struggle seem to have changed this attitude. People now realize their “war” was against Satan, and their efforts to relieve the poor, the downtrodden and those who are in the grasp of the Great Deceiver! It was for this purpose that my two aunts, Alice and Violet McAillister, volunteered to go to France during World War I. They were in their mid-twenties at the time they were counted among the many other Salvation Army volunteers; however, Alice had the forethought to keep a diary.
The diary was first transcribed in 1998 by William Francis of Massachusetts, but Alice’s side notes were difficult for Mr. Francis to fit into the story, and were hard to read at times. My effort now is to make the diary more readable without altering Alice’s words. Violet was called home to heaven in 1939 from Grand Rapids, Michigan, where her son, Harry Booth, still lives. Alice lived a long life and passed to her reward in Sacramento, California, and her daughter, Joan Striplin, survives her in Roseville, California.
Here then is the story of The Salvation Army “lassies” who were called the “Doughnut Sweethearts.”
March 31, 1918“AT SEA”
Left New York today on the Rochambeau. Couldn’t see much of the harbor as we were not allowed on deck. I think we will have a fine time and I don’t expect to be seasick. Our bunch are not very lively, but I think we will get along okay and have a good time. Guess I’ll just put down their names:
Ensign Price (in charge of the party), Ensign and Mrs. Kittle, Ensign and Mrs. Libby, Ensign Curtis, Adjutant Hall, Ransom Gilford, Earl Crawford, Mrs. Springer, Captain Saunders, Captain Ramsey, Ensign Symmonds, Ensign Williams, Ensign Anderson, Violet and myself.
April 12, 1918“FRANCE”
Didn’t get much written on the Rochambeau for I was having too good a time. The weather was ideal and I was on deck most of the time. Never missed a single meal the whole trip and the only thing that bothered me was that it was so long between meals, at least it seemed so to me.
We had our first visit down to “Storage” where 700 soldiers were packed in like sardines. The Salvation Army folk got up a petition to let the soldiers come up on deck for a couple of hours each day and all the passengers agreed to stay in their staterooms during the period, but the ship’s officers refused our request. We felt so badly because conditions were awful for those poor boys. So, every afternoon, we Salvation Army folk went down to the poop deck and sang songs and tried to entertain them as best we could. Violet preached the sermon on Sunday, and there were ministers there who listened and congratulated her.
It was night when we sighted land and everyone was so excited, we all stayed on deck quite late waiting to see the pilot come on board. Our boat finally reached the landing place after what seemed an unmercifully long time. Our gang plank went down and the great crowd of people started to make their way to shore. As we looked at the beautiful farming country and everything so green and lovely, it was hard to believe that so much of this wonderful country is laid to waste by this terrible war. We found Colonel Barker and Paul Parker waiting on the shore, so while they attended to our luggage, we stood and watched the soldiers pass by. They all saluted us and many of them even stopped to shake our hand and thank us for the services held on board. We finally got away in some busses and as we rode along to the depot, through the town, the American soldiers waved their hands and shouted to us. Three of them came and jumped on the step of the bus and said they just wanted to look at some American women. They hadn’t seen any for such a long time. One of them very proudly displayed a cross he had worn for brining in three German prisoners.
The next morning, we found ourselves in one of the most beautiful rivers I have ever seen and we enjoyed the beautiful scenery the whole day for we didn’t land until about five thirty in the evening. All along the shores of this river are farms and as our boat came in sight, the women and children (there were very few men left) came running down to the shore to wave their hands and give us a welcome to beautiful France.
We had a great time getting to Paris. The trains were so funny. There were seven single women in our party and it was fearful and wonderful how we all managed to pile into one of those compartments, but at any rate, we managed to reach Paris. For two days we have been taking in this wonderful city, but we are soon leaving now. Most of our party have gone already. We were quite delighted on reaching here to find a lot of the girls we knew who were changing their appointments. You may be sure they were glad to see us.
April 20, 1918“FROISSY”
It has been several days since I wrote the preceding pages in Paris and a good many things have happened since then. We left Paris over a week ago with our trunks loaded with tents and provisions and after a couple of days we finally located in a town called Courcells with the Third Battalion of the 18th. We found the officers very agreeable and they did everything in their power to make us comfortable. Lieutenant Archer, who is Colonel Griffith’s Adjutant, insisted that we eat in the Officers’ mess, so we had a very pleasant few days there.
Our tent is very nice and quite comfortable as we were not at all surprised that it was packed to its utmost capacity. The Victrola certainly did valiant service, for it never ceased from morning to night. Violet and I worked very hard at the canteen and did a big business for a couple of days. Then one morning, beholdour whole outfit left town and, of course, we had to follow. The trucks with Ensign Hickey and Ransom Gifford came and loaded our tent and supplies, so we were soon packed and moved on to another town to pick up some more of our fold. Finally, we were on our way again following our regiment.
We are now in Froissy where the Divisional Headquarters is located, and just waiting to find out where they are going to make a permanent base so we can get located. Yesterday was a dreadful day. It snowed and was awfully cold driving. Violet and I rode in the truck with Hickey and Howard Margetts. We wrapped up in blankets and tried our best to keep warm, but, believe me, this is the coldest country I have ever struck. Our trucks landed in this funny little French village about three in the afternoon. The staff met us and some of the others went to hunt up a place for us to stay, which is a pretty hard job as the place is full of troops, both French and American, and everything is full up.
They finally got hold of an old dance hall, and we moved in some provisions and set up our canteen. We did quite a business for the first day. We were nearly starved by that time so some of the men went out to try and get something for our supper, but no one would sell us anything, not even a loaf of bread. We felt quite up against it, but we had a create of eggs in our truck so Captain Margetts finally persuaded a lady to cook them for us. We took some jam, but still there was no bread in sight. After we were seated at the table, a French soldier, seeing our dilemma, took pity on us and gave us half of his loaf left from his supper.
I wish you could have seen us eating at breakfast this morning. We all stood around the counter in the canteen and ate hard French bread and “canned willie” as the boys call the canned corned beef. Some breakfast! This is surely camp life. We eat when we can get anything and sleep any place we can find room. Last night Vi and I had a room, but there was nothing in it and they had to carry up our cots and blankets for us to sleep on. This is the life alright, but I am enjoying it immensely and mighty glad for the experience. We are only about fifteen miles from the scene of the worst fighting that has ever been known in world history. Last night we could hear the guns booming and booming all through the night, and aeroplanes are a very common sight in these parts.
This morning there were great long lines of soldiers passing by our place on the march toward the front. Poor fellows, they looked all in for I expect they have had a long hike. There has been some terrible fighting on this British front lately and we heard yesterday that the French had driven the Germans back and taken two towns that the Germans had previously captured. We hope and pray that they will be driven back and not allowed to come in and destroy the beautiful country. It is very pitiful to see the refugees coming along the roads with all their household goods packed into little carts and the poor women and children walking along behind, perhaps driving a few poor old cows and horses. One sight I saw that made my heart sick was an old woman, apparently very sick, being hauled along on a wheel barrow while the others walked an hauled the household effects in a two-wheel cart. The way the women of France have to work is terrible. They are just like horses. These poor people are certainly feeling the effect of these four years of war. God grant it will soon be ended before our own country is plunged into such deep mourning and awful grief as France.
This little house is a haven for our soldiers even though we very often are without much food. There is always the piano and Victrola which are in almost constant use, and there is the bog room with plenty of tables and writing paper and whatever reading matter we are able to get. There are gmes too that are in constant use. We serve the Headquarters Troops, 1st Engineers Signal Corps and any of the infantry that are not in the trenches at the moment. Many boys are very sad and it makes our hearts ache for them. We find out that many have not heard from home in months and they are consumed with anxiety over their loved ones. Some say bitterly that their folks don’t care about them or what happens to them. Others hid their troubles behind smiling faces and make fun out of every hardship. One cannot help laughing at their antics even though our hearts are full of grief. One of the boys had seen a leg hanging from a tree.
There is an Officers’ Mess across the road from us and although we make a special point of not fraternizing with the officers, they begged us to come and have dinner with them on Sunday evening. I must confess that the thought of a really good dinner was a temptation. The sketchy meals we had been having from time had much to be desired, so we decided that this once we would go. They asked us to bring our guitars and sing for them which, of course, we were glad to do. We had just finished dinner and started our song when suddenly a big shell exploded in the street outside. Everyone jumped, of course, and our song died in our throats. Then, just as suddenly, we started to sing again and everyone dropped back into their seats. It seemed as though a spirit of peace was with us as we finished our hymn. I do not think that we were particularly brave, but simply sustained at that moment by a Higher Power.
When we had finished, the officers gave us a wonderful but reverent ovation and we all went to our quarters feeling somehow that we had found new strength and courage to meet whatever might come. We were shelled through the night but with very little damage and no lost lives.
At the back of the house we are using for our canteen, there is a long glassed-in porch with a glass roof. A huge grape vine grows here and spreads its branches along under the glass. We use this porch for a kitchen and this morning, about 5 a.m., I slipped into my clothes and went out to stoke the fire for breakfast. I had not yet put my hair up and it hung in a long braid down my back. Suddenly, I heard a tapping on the door and turned to find a young lieutenant standing there. He apologized for the intrusion and said he happened to be passing and saw me there and the long braid reminded him of his little sister. Suddenly he was so homesick he simply had to talk about it. He told me then of his family, how close they had always been to each otherhis dad, his mother, his adored little sister. My heart ached for him and after he was gone, I prayed that God would be with him and bring him safely home again to those he loved so much. Yet he was only one of thousands who are lonely and homesick.
This town is getting to be a very hot place and it is rumored that our Headquaters will probably move back to another town. Well, the rumor was correct. We are moving back a little to a place called Coutigney. Here we are after a wild night on the road with shells bursting around and our own artillery almost bursting our eardrums. En route, someone realized a gas mask was missing and we had to go to another town to get one.
The people of the village surely must have had to vacate at a moment’s notice. The house allotted to us is all furnished. The people must have fled with only their personal clothing and whatever they could gather together on such short notice. The dishes and food are still on the table where apparently the noon meal had been interrupted. We have a nice bedroom for once, with real furniture. Lovely French Provincial, too…twin beds and all the comforts. Poor people! Just think of strangers sleeping in their beds and using their things. We will try to take very good care of everything, and I hope nothing will be destroyed by German guns.
There are so many aeroplanes flying overhead. One comes every day to hedquarters with mail, etc. We knew the time of his arrival and very often ran outside to wave to the pilot whom we knew. This morning, I rushed out when I heard the plane, but apparently it was not our mail pilot and just as he was overhead our anti-aircraft battery let loose and before I could move, a large piece of shrapnel fell at my fee. I picked I up, but it was so hot I could scarcely hold it. You may be sure I rushed into the house fast. That was a lesson not to run outside when aeroplanes were overhead!
Things have been going well with our troops. Montdidier is taken and another town. It seems our soldiers have covered themselves with glory. We are being relieved now and it is rumored that we are going to a rest area for a little while.
The rumor was correct. We packed our things and are on our way. We don not know where, of course. After we left Coutigney, we saw five weary looking doughboys plodding along the road and asked if we could give them a lift. They gladly piled into the back of our truck and were soon fast asleep on top of the tent folded on the bed of the truck. By noontime we had reached a small city and decided it was time to eat. Our truck driver, Howard Margetts, went looking around for a restaurant, but there seemed to be no place except a rather swanky hotel dining room, so we decided to eat there. We wakened our sleeping doughboys and told them we were going to eat. When we entered the hotel, they protested that they were not in any condition to eat in such a place and I’ll admit, they were right. They were unshaven and covered with mud, but we insisted and found a place where they could wash and tidy up a bit. I must confess we did not look like much ourselves and when we went into the dining room and saw the showy table linen, the waitresses and especially a group of very well dressed French officers and their ladies, I must say our hearts almost failed us. Then, I thought, “what do we care about these polished young French officers who have probably never seen the inside of a trench in all their lives?” So we lifted our heads and marched proudly in with our doughboys who had just left the trenches. We had a fine meal and all felt much refreshed when we started on our way again.
We left our passengers at the appointed place and proceeded on to a little village where The Salvation Army Zone Headquarters was located. The HQ was a very large tent camouflaged among some trees on a hill outside the village. Here we had our dinner and as it was a beautiful evening, we carried some boxes outside for seats and some of the truck drivers got out their instruments and we proceeded to have some music. We sang and sang and gradually the shadows lengthened and a beautiful fool moon soon appeared covering everything with an eerie light. There was a large meadow just below our hill and suddenly we noticed a stealthy movement there. One by one the village people stole into the meadow and without a sound started to dance to the music. We played and sang on and on, scarcely daring to stop for a moment for fear of spoiling the lovely sight before us. It was like the fairy tales of our childhood…the women and children and old men in their quaint costumes. After awhile they all slipped away as quitly as they had come and the moon smiled down on the lovely meadow. We felt as though it had all been a beautiful dream. I shall never forget that night and shall always thank God we were able, for a short time, to dispel the gloom of war and give pleasure to people who knew very little pleasure on those dark days of sorrow and hardship.
The next day, we climbed to the top of that famous hill which had been bombed. We went into a church that was a total wreck. Everything was shattered, but the French held the hill. “They shall not pass,” was their motto. The forest all around was only stumps of trees that had been cut down with shells from long range guns. It looked as though a great saw had passed over them and sawed them all off at the same height. But it was now time for us to proceed on to our next assignment.
We stopped in a small village near Verdun and billeted with an old French lady who seemed very sad and sulky. It poured rain so we could not go out. We had not set up a canteen as we were told our stay would be short. Our dream of rest for a few days was short lived. The Marines and the Second Division had stymied the tide of German advance at Bella Wood and we were called into quick action to cut off their retreat at Soisson. So we followed on in a small pickup truck with dear old Billy Hale as our driver. As we passed through villages, the French people swarmed around us crying, “Bon! Americans! Bon! Americans!” They stopped u many times and kissed us on each cheek in the French manner.
Finally, we got away from the village and were traveling through very hilly country. The curving road wound downhill for us and in one place we could look down and see the road below us. There, to our great surprise and excitement, we saw what appeared to be a whole regiment of German prisoners escorted by some very proud American doughboys. There were very high ranking German officers in the lead. As we watched the doughboy who headed the parade, he took off his coat and handed it to the high-ranking officer to carry it for him. We couldn’t help laughing at that swaggering young rascal, but I shall never forget the look of indignation on that proud German face. I confess, I felt a little sorry for him. From then on, the news of American victories were almost gratifying, but they were all hard-won at the cost of thousands of lives and incredible suffering.
By evening we reached our destination in a village called Morte Fountaine. The billeting officer of the Headquarters Corps had reserved a house for us. I’m sure there was not much choice as the whole village was filthy beyond words. Algerian soldiers had occupied the place before us. It seemed that most everywhere we go we must clean up before we can occupy. Our house had no furnishings and the floor was covered with straw, which, no doubt, had served as beds for Algerian soldiers. The straw, of course, was inhabited with “cooties,” but there were many willing hands to help us clear it out and burn it. We also found in the kitchen the putrid bones of the beef that had been eaten by our predecessors. They had evidently cut the raw meat from the bones and just left them there on the floor. We found signs on all the walls in the village saying, “Bewarepolluted water! Do not drink!”
Finally, we got our place cleaned out and moved in some writing tables, Victorla, etc. and put out writing paper and whatever supplies we had, and the boys dropped in whenever they had a few moments to spare.
We noticed that a lot of ambulances were passing our door all the time, and decided there must be a field hospital close by. I went out to find it and a block away, I turned a corner and there it was! Five or six large tents overflowed with wounded men and many on stretchers were outside because there was no more room and not enough ambulances to carry them away fast enough. My heart was sick at the sight and I hunted up one of the doctors and asked if we could be of help. He explained that there were so many more casualties than had been expected, they just couldn’t handle them fast enough. He said, “If you girls could just try to keep them happy somehow until more help comes.” They were even using trucks to transport the slightly wounded in order to have ambulances for the badly wounded. We assured him that we would do everything possible to help. We telephoned our own Headquarters and asked them to send some trucks to help with transporting wounded men, also to send us mosquito netting, if possible, to try and keep the flies off the wounded men. Then we both went back to the hospital armed with wash basins and cheese cloth. We started in on the poor fellows lying outside where the flies were swarming over them. We washed away the mud and blood and made them as comfortable as possible. I stopped by a boy whose arm was in a sling. His leg was in splints and his head bandaged until only two bright eyes were showing. I said, “Well buddy, you certainly goy it, didn’t you?” He said, “Oh, they peppered us up a bit, but saywe gave old Fritzie hell!!” Later Captain Howard Margetts and Captain Loren Corless came with two of our trucks and began the work of transporting the wounded back to hospitals. They brought us the mosquito netting, which we proceeded to spread over the poor fellows to keep off the flies. Each day we worked methodically going through the tents washing hands and faces and cheering them as best we could.
One day I was working my way up one side of a big tent full of wounded lying on litters. A boy said, “Sister, my buddy is very badly wounded and he is on the last litter on the other side. Will you take care of him first? I can wait.” I walked down the long row to the last litter and looked down into the face of a handsome young boy, probably no more than eighteen or nineteen. Blonde curly hair clung to his forehead where beads of perspiration told of his suffering. He seemed to be murmuring something and I knelt down beside him and leaned closer to hear. He was saying, “Mother, Mother.” I laid my hand gently on his damp forehead and said, “What is it, son?” His eyes flew open and looked long and earnestly into my face. Then a light seemed to dawn in his eyes and his whole face lit up with joy and he exclaimed, “Mother! I knew you would come. I knew you would come.” I took his hand in mine and he closed his eyes again and seemed to sleep, but presently he was speaking again and I leaned forward to listen. He was saying, “Mother, I want a drink.” I rose quickly and went to the bag of water hanging in the end of the tent. I brought water and some cotton and moistened his lips and swabbed out his mouth for I could not let him drink as he had a machine gun bullet in his abdomen. He made a face and said, “It tastes awful!” I knew it did. It tasted of some horrible disinfectant for no water anywhere around us was fit to drink. It was hauled in, in barrels. I bathed his face and hands and tried to make him comfortable. Soon he opened his eyes and said, “Mother, couldn’t you bring me a drink from the spring?” The spring! Immediately I saw what I felt sure he was seeing. I was a small girl again, running through the garden to a little vine-covered house where a spring welled up continually and overflowed in a pool built around it in which were the large covered crocks containing butter and milk. I trailed my fingers in the cold pool and drank of the refreshing ice cold water welling up from the depth of the earth. A spring of water in this place of dead fountains? I thought.
Suddenly my eyes were streaming with tears and I rushed down to the door of the tent praying as I had never prayed before, “O God, we must have waterice cold water from a spring.” I lifted the flap of the tent and looked up and there I saw hills surrounding us on every side. Suddenly it seemed as though a voice spoke in my mind. “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help.” Of course! There must be water somewhere in the hills. I went flying across the compound to where our little Ford pickup stood and to our faithful driver and protector, Adjutant Billy Hale. “Billy, Billy!” I cried breathlessly, “Do you see those hills yonder? Well, somewhere up there, there is a spring and we must have waterice cold water from a spring.” He looked at me and said, “My girl, if there is water in those hills, I will find it.” He loaded a 25-gallon tank and some buckets in the pickup and started off. I returned to my work with a glad heart feeling sure that it would be so. I washed faces and hands and said words of comfort and cheer and returned often to look at the lad at the end of the litter. He seemed to be sleeping and then as the afternoon wore on, the tent flap lifted and I beheld the beaming face of Billy Hale. I rushed outside and there in the back of the pickup truck was a large tank of the most delicious, coldest water I had tasted in many a day.
Billy said he went back along the main road looking for some trace of road leading back into the hills and finally he saw some cart tracks and he turned to follow them. They led a long, long way into the hills, but finally came to an end beside a spring of water gushing up out of a rock. He took his bucket and proceeded to fill the large tank and here it was. The most unbelievable had happened. I carried some of the water back into the tent and knelt beside the boy and whispered gently, “I have brought water from the spring.” I moistened his lips again and again and bathed his hands with that wonderful cold water. He sighed his content and slept again. I gave the wonderful cold water to all who were able to drink and moistened the lips of those who could not. The doctors and hospital corps men came to the truck to drink and marvel. “Where did you get it?” asked a doctor. I said it came in answer to prayer for a boy who begged his mother to bring him a drink from the spring. Then I told him about lifting my eyes to the hills and that Billy Hale had been led to the spring.
Everyday while we were there, Billy brought the water down from the hills. We happened to have a crate of lemons in our possession and so every spare moment we had, my sister and I squeezed lemons and so the water was made into lemonade to the delight of all concerned. My young lad was taken away to a hospital and my prayers went with him. I hope that God spared his life to go back home to his mother, in Indiana, I think it was.
Some German prisoners were brought in. They were stretcher bearers and on their sleeve was the white band with a red cross on it. They were put to work there at the hospital as we were very short of stretcher bearers. We watched them day by day working hard and long. At first our own boys gave them a wide berth. They muttered under their breath about the square heads and the miserable Huns! But, after a while, they began to offer them cigarettes when they thought we were not looking.
One day we were brought a crate of oranges by one of our trucks as they returned from carrying wounded back to the hospitals and of course we took them to the hospital for distribution. We told our hospital corps men to help themselves and to give some to the German prisoners, too. They scoffed at the idea, but we knew they really didn’t mean it. Then one of them muttered, “Oh, the poor devils, how would we feel if we were in their place?” And so the oranges went around to the enemy too.
The German planes were coming over very often and we could hear the bombs exploding. But of course, they would not touch the hospital, we believed. We were sleeping in a cave at night for it was not thought safe for us to sleep in the village. One night, very late, as we climbed the steep road leading to the cave, suddenly a German plane swooped down over the road. We jumped under a tree. It was so low we could see the insignia on the plane. We held our breath for it was flying right toward the hospital. Then we heard the bomb explode and our hearts were sick thinking of all those wounded boys in the tents. Then we heard another one. A regimen of Scotch Kilties had been marching along a road close by and we heard them singing as they marched. Evidently the Germans heard them too and the second bomb dropped in their midst.
When we got back to the hospital we found the bomb had missed the tents and landed on a corner of a building that was being used for a kitchen across the road. An ambulance was standing in the yard and the driver was taking a short rest after long hours at the wheel. He came out of his ambulance holding a large bath towel in his hands. “Look,” he cried, “See that big hole in the side of my ambulance? Well, this towel was hanging inside and it saved my life.” Embedded in the folds of the towel was a huge piece of shrapnel probably five or six inches long. He said, “My girl gave me this towel and now I am going to take it back to her as a souvenir.”
None of our boys were hurt, but many of the poor Kilties were wounded and brought into the hospital for treatment. One of the Scotsmen had a hole in his breast pocket. In the pocket was a report of the retreat at Soisson: “Great loss of life. Thousands of prisoners were taken. They have covered themselves with glory.”
After weeks of horrible fighting and slaughter, our outfit was relieved and it was rumored that we would be having a few days rest. That actually did happen. Eventually, we landed in a quiet little village and the billeting officer had a real nice place for us with three French ladies who were sisters. We had a bedroom with a huge bed, feather mattress and down puff to cover us. However, the window opened on a little courtyard in which were chickens, ducks and pigs! The ladies were most anxious for us to take our meals with them and we were very glad to have some home cooking after so many months of makeshift meals. The house opened directly on the street and there was a hallway that ended in a large family room. There were two rooms opening off the hall, the front room with the window opening on the street had been their father’s work shop. A shoe shop, I imagine, but the father is dead now and the room is not used. Next room we were surprised and very much amused to find was for the cow. She was brought in each evening and taken out again in the morning walking sedately down the hall and out the front door to be tethered in a field outside of the village.
The family room was a large room with a huge fireplace taking up most of one wall. It was large enough to hold a big log. Bundles of twigs were used to start the fire under the end of the log and all meals were cooked on the hearth in long legged iron pots. I had heard my mother tell of just such a fireplace in her home in Canada, when she was a girl. However, the meals were delicious and we enjoyed them immensely. There was a long dining table in the center of the room and on the three sides were alcoves with curtains across them that contained beds. There were step stools before each, for they were high up on the wall. Here the three sisters slept.
Sugar and flour were very scarce for the French people and were rationed, of course. We brought them sugar and flour from our canteen supplies and they were very pleased. As we were due to leave very soon, they decided to cook us a very special dinner. The “piece de resistance” was to be a cake made with our flour and sugar. They did not have an oven, so the cake was taken to a neighbor for baking. The great day came and the feast was on the table. We were about to be seated when a knock came at the door. To our amazement, each sister snatched up the special foods, including the cake, and put them under the beds in the alcoves before answering the door. We did not know what it was all about, but it became quite evident as a man entered the room saying that he was some official who had evidently gotten some rumor of extra food and came to investigate. Our French was not good enough to keep up with the rapid flow of speech with all the sisters seeking to explain and placate the gentleman. Finally, he took a very reluctant departure and the door closed behind him, with sighs of relief and finally laughter. The food was hastily withdrawn from its hiding place and we sat down amid much gaiety from our friends and enjoyed a wonderful dinner.
The next day, we bid them goodbye with real regret and winky French kisses on each cheek and sorrowful “au revoirs,” then we were on our way once more. After a few days, we stopped in another village. We had no idea how long we would stay, but we put up our canteen anyway. We were well behind the lines of battle and for the first time in a village where there were French people. We found that across the street there was a vin shop and we did not like to see our American soldiers go there. So we put up a big sign outside, “Cold Lemonade,” and pretty soon the place was filled with boys having lemonade and doughnuts, which we had made under very primitive conditions. They said, “We really didn’t want to drink that stuff, much rather have lemonade.”
We stopped at The Salvation Army Headquarters and saw some of the other girls, then went on to where our hospital was setting up its tents. General Summerall had asked us to continue working with the hospital unit whenever possible. Everything being in readiness at the hospital, we decided that we would go out and watch the great Barrage. We knew our artillery would be putting on a show that night. There were to be twenty-seven miles of guns standing hub to hub, or so we heard. What a sight it was! And what a noise! We stood all night in drizzling rain and watched that awesome sight. Back at the hospital in the morning we found very few wounded as the day wore on it was evident that our soldiers were getting farther and farther away, and not meeting with the resistance that had been anticipated. So we packed up and moved on toward the front. Mont Sec had been taken and our soldiers were in hot pursuit of the retreating Germans. The roads were full of shell holes and in one place we had to wait until the engineers repaired the bridge. We were close by Mont Sec and while we waited, took a look at that hill. Beyond it was a “no man’s land” and as soon as the bridge was finished we were the first to cross itinto “No Man’s Land.”
By evening, we were in a town called Nonsard and our soldiers had just cleared out the last German machine gun nest in the tower of the church. We chose a building for a canteen and unloaded our supplies. It wasn’t much of a place for there was a large shell hole in one side as big as a door, but most of the village was in complete shambles. It was still a pretty hot place and we wondered where we would find sleep. We came across two Red Cross men with a rolling canteen, and they told us they had found a dugout. It was only big enough for two but they insisted that we take it if we wouldn’t mind them sleeping above ground and coming down in case of bombs coming our way. We agreed very gratefully and carried our sleeping bags into the dark hole and went to sleep, feeling quite safe because we knew our Red Cross friends were above at the entrance of our shelter.
The morning soon came and we found a great line of soldiers waiting at the canteen, so the busy day began. Late in the afternoon a German long range gun got a line on us and suddenly there was an explosion that rocked the whole place. A large shell had hit the building, right next to us! We all scattered as fast as we could (gas and shell) into the ditches in the field outside the village. They kept shelling for awhile and finally word came from Headquarters that the town must be vacated. We retrieved our sleeping bags and went out into the woods surrounding the village. We stopped with the sanitary train and the commanding officer assigned us to a little cabin and put a soldier outside our door to guard us. There were huts all through the woods that had been occupied by the Germans for so long. They had really made themselves comfortable. We spread our bedding rolls on a couple of stretchers the C.O. had sent down for us and were certainly much more comfortable than the hard floor of the dugout. In the night the aeroplane came over and our planes and the anti-air craft batteries let loose on them. There was a battle in progress, however we had to be satisfied. It was a queer feeling, though, to be lying there with aeroplanes overhead and not knowing when a bomb might be dropped on us. There was no place to go, and no doubt, one place was as bad as another. The sanitary train folks were wonderful to us, but after a couple of days we felt we must get into the town to see what was happening to our canteen. The C.O. was reluctant to let us go and a Y.M.C.A. man and a Knights of Columbus man told us there was no use worrying about our supplies for they had been in and everything had been taken except some writing paper. We said, “Well, we’re glad if the soldiers had helped themselves because everything we had was for them. Our greatest concern was that we were not there to supply them.” Later that day, the C.O. sent a soldier with a pickup to take us into town and there was everything just as we had left it! Not a thing had been taken! However, there was a large hole in the wall and the door was not locked.
Divisional Headquarters had moved into another section of the forest and General Summerall had left word that we were to follow. So we packed up our supplies and our sanitary train soldier took us to our new location. A nice little log house was reserved for us which had undoubtedly been used by the Germans for a canteen, because there was a sign over the door made of twigs which said in German, “Comrade, Step In.” We gladly stepped in and set up shop with the help of many willing dough boys who were very happy to see us once more. The heating stove was taken out very carefully and carried some distance from the house and then emptied because they feared some hand grenade or other explosive might have been planted in the stove. Finally we were settled in and a stove set up outside so that we could do a little cooking for ourselves and make chocolate or coffee for our soldier boys.
There were huge dugouts all through that beautiful forest and walks everywhere made of small tree branches nailed together. There was also a building full of medical supplies and we were told there was everything from the smallest finger splints to the very fine surgical instruments. The Germans had fled in such a hurry, they did not have time to take much with them. Unfortunately, they knew that forest too well and treated us every night to bombardments by aeroplane. Fortunately for us there were huge dugouts big enough for whole companies of soldiers all through the woods with entrances in a great many places. One was only a few steps from our canteen and when the planes were overhead we ran for it as fast as we could go. It was deep in the earth with a long flight of stairs going down to it. Then it was like a long tunnel lined with double deck bunks on either side. We would not sleep down there, of course, but I am sure we would have had nothing to fear, but we stayed in our house until the alarm sounded. Then we went down until the raid was over. Being in a big forest we found that field mice were very plentiful. We thought it advisable to put our bedding rolls on top of the tables if we didn’t want company that night. However, the little wood folks ran over our roof at night sometimes making such a racket one would think horses were galloping about.
My sister took a terrible cold while we were here and she would not hear of me calling the doctor because she felt he would send her to the hospital and she did not want to leave me alone. So, one of the boys from the infirmary brought medicine and we had aspirin. Another boy brought me a large quantity of mustard from the company kitchen and buckets of hot water. I have her mustard foot baths and put mustard plasters on her chest and dosed her up with medicine. Although her bed was a hard table top, we finally pulled her through and in a week she was fine again. While here, we couldn’t always make doughnuts because we could not get flour and sugar a lot of the time, but always made chocolate and cooked whenever we got supplies.
In the meantime, our infantry was steadily advancing and we were further and further into German territory as the enemy retreated. Our men were now in the Argonne Forest and we were anxious to get back to our hospital. Our progress was very slow as the Germans had wrecked roads and blown up bridges as they retreated. One of our huge trucks had been sent to move us forward so we were traveling quite slowly and often had to wait for hours as the roads were choked with artillery moving forward and troops on the move. One late afternoon, we found ourselves not far from a small village and as there seemed no chance of moving on that night, we decided to walk into town and see if we could find a place to stay. We noticed a great deal of activity around the church and stopped there to find it was being used as an evacuation center for the wounded. The place was full of them on stretchers everywhere. We hunted up the officer in charge and told him we were stranded on the road and offered our services to him. He said as soon as the wounded they had were evacuated, they would not be using the church, as a Field Hospital had been set up close by. He said if we wanted to work through the night, he was sure we would find plenty to do and that our help would be most welcome.
We started out in drizzling rain (it had been raining for days) and saw the tents of the hospital on a slight rise in the center of a big field. We started out toward it but found ourselves sinking in deep mud. My sister lost one of her rubbers and we were laughing at our dilemma with my sister standing on one foot. Then we heard someone say, “Listen, I’m sure I heard girls laughing,” and presently through the gloom we saw two soldiers approaching. They looked at us in astonishment and one said, “Gee, American girls.” We explained our trouble and they cried, “Oh, just wait a minute.” Then they tore off and returned in a few minutes with a stretcher. They opened it up and invited us to sit on it, thus we were borne into the presence of a very astonished doctor. We told him we were stranded in the town and the doctor at the church had suggested we offer him our services for the night. Our offer was gladly accepted and we proceeded to the tents on a tour of inspection to see what was most needed to be done.
It seemed that before they could get properly set up, the wounded had come so fast they couldn’t properly take care of them. There were ticks that were supposed to have been filled with straw for the wounded to lie on while waiting for ambulances, but there hadn’t been time to fill them. They were wrapped in blankets and lying on the damp ground. There was a huge pile of rubber tarps in the back of the tent, so with the help of a soldier we went through the tents placing the rubber on the ground with a dry blanket on top, placing the wounded boys on it and covering them with the other half of the rubber tarp. It was bitterly cold and our soldier boy rigged up a 25-pound lard can with one side cut out and filled it with lit candles. It threw out a surprising warmth and we were able to stop occasionally and thaw our numb fingers. It took us all night to go through the tents and make the wounded a little more comfortable. I recall a young officer badly wounded who kept crying out, “Oh, my men, my men! They are all shot to pieces!” My heart ached for him.
In the morning we went back into the village and as there was no choice of moving on, we felt we must find some place to rest. There was a basement in a building to the church and although the floor of the room above was gone and there was a hole in the wall above, we decided to put our camp cots down there and get a little sleep. While we slept, another Army truck came into town and a Salvation Army man, Captain Holbrook, decided to unload his supplies on some tables in the street above us and serve the boys who were passing that way. So it was that we were awakened by the voice of a soldier saying, “Look down there, American girls sleeping.” Of course we hastily got to our feet and went above to find out what was going on. The town was alive with soldiers, some on the way to the front, some on the way back, but still no vehicles seemed to be moving. Our own truck had finally inched its way as far as the town but nothing seemed to be moving beyond. As far as we could see in either direction, everything was at a standstill, only a narrow lane through which the ambulances continued to carry their precious burdens back to the hospitals in the war.
It was late afternoon and we found there would be no possibility of getting any farther that day, so we went into the church again and talked with the officer in charge of evacuating the wounded. The church was almost cleared of them. He showed us a deep alcove in the back of the church and suggested we put our cots in there as it was very secluded and we would be perfectly safe. The men would be there through the night. We got some food from our truck and made a meal of sorts for ourselves and the driver. By that time it was dusk and when we came back again candles had been lit on the altar and they shone upon a picture on the wall above. A wonderful painting of the Ascension and in all that demolished church it had miraculously escaped destruction. But as we looked, we noticed there was a shrapnel hole in the very heart of the Christ. As we gazed at that beautiful painting, we could not help buy feel that truly His heart must be broken as He looked down upon a world of people who were supposed to be His followers and how far from His teachings mankind had wandered. While we were putting up our cots and trying to make our little corner as private as possible, some soldiers came and asked us if we would sing for them and of course we were happy to do so. While we were getting our guitars from our truck, they built a fire on the stone floor in a sheltered place, for it was a cold, wet night. They found some boxes for us to sit on and we started to sing.
I forgot to mention that another Salvation Army woman had come into that town in the late afternoon, and we had invited her to share our “bedroom.” She was a Mrs. Springer, a missionary who was giving her sabbatical year leave to work in France with the American troops. She was a dear motherly person whom I am sure the boys must have loved. We had not seen her since the day our ship landed in Bordeau. However, we started to sing and soon there was a great crowd around us, all eager to hear and join in the singing. It was really wonderful to hear them! We tried to fill every request and fortunately they were mostly for hymns that most Americans are familiar with from childhood. As the evening drew to a close, my sister suggested that we all join together in saying the Lord’s Prayer. Very reverently that great crowd of soldiers prayed together. Months later, when we were in New York, a letter came from the wife of a Colonel Fitzpatrick enclosing a copy of a letter received from her husband with a perfect description of this gathering. I quote the letter here, for it surely gives to the Army a glowing tribute to the respect given and esteem in which they are held in the hearts of the soldiers. [Editor’s note: Unfortunately, the letter was missing.]
The next morning the roads were still blocked, and we were getting pretty anxious to get on to our Field Hospital. We came across a signal corps boy whom we happened to know, and he said he was going over back roads with a two-wheel reel cart carrying a telephone cable up to the front, and if we thought we could stand the rough trip, there was room for the two of us on the seat with him. We were delighted to get any kind of conveyance that would get us where we wanted to go. We stowed our bedding rolls under the seat and climbed aboard. To say it was a rough trip would be putting it mildly! The road was rutted with shell holes and devastation was on every side of us. The carcass of a horse was hanging in a tree. In one place there was a hole so deep that we had to drive down in it and a man with a team of mules pulled us out on the other side. Finally, we reached our destination and with very thankful hearts, and with very stiff backs and limbs, we descended from our high seat.
The hospital tents were already set up, and the field kitchen force were in the act of cooking supper, and we were very hungry! The tent was in a clearing in front of a high hill in which was a huge dugout which had been built by the Germans and the same as some we had been in before as we drove out the Germans and occupied their former quarters. The only unfortunate thing about them was that they had been built for shells coming from the opposite directions. The face of the hill, on our side of the hill, was cut away to make entrances to the tunnel leading back to the dugouts underneath the hill. On one side was built a large room of native stone, which our doctors had turned into a dressing room and there was an entrance to the dugout from this room, too. The dugout ran the full length of the hill and was lined on each side with double-decker bunks. At the end there was a room with a door in it, and although I am sure it was intended for officers, it was given to us. We very gratefully set up our cots, spread our bedding rolls on them and made ourselves as comfortable as possible.
How can I ever describe the busy days at that Field Hospital! Our division was no hard at work driving the enemy back farther and farther toward their own country. It was that great drive in the Argonne Forest. The tents were filled with wounded and ambulances were going and coming continually. In the Dressing Room my sister was helping give tetanus shots and making a purple “T” on each forehead to signify that tetanus had been given. I was working in the tents at my usual job of washing mud and blood from faces and hands, administering drinks of water or moistening lips of those too badly wounded to drink. Sometimes we worked far into the night, then snatched a few hours of sleep and were up and at it again.
One day, as I worked in a tent, a big shell suddenly landed in the open space in front of the tents. The Colonel’s car was standing there and it was almost completely covered with mud and rocks. Immediately we began carrying the wounded into the dugout. The shells were coming about every twenty minutes, but the tents were finally emptied and a Sergeant said to me, “You had better get inside now.” I hastened across the intervening space to the door when a shell landed right where I had been standing a moment before! Fortunately the ground was very soft from continuous rain and the shell had sunk deep into the earth before it exploded. However the windows were shattered and rocks, some as big as a man’s hand, came hurdling into the room and although the wounded were on liters all about the floor, no one was hurt. Then began the work of getting these men back into the dugout. We all worked furiously for we knew that another shell would come in at least 20 minutes. It did, and it tore off one corner of the building. Then another came landing right on top of the entrance to the dugout just as the Chaplin, taking my sister and I by the arms, said, “Ladies next,” and just as we were ready to step over the threshold, the shells exploded bringing down heavy timbers, rocks and dirt. Just a step and we would have been underneath it all. The officers and hospital corps men just stood there looking at us and realizing how near tragedy had been. Major Maynard looked around the room and said, “Men, you have just witnessed a miracle and I believe God has spared us because these two girls are with us.”
Fortunately, there was another entrance to the dugout and we all went inside except that hard-boiled Traffic Sergeant who stood in the middle of the road quite unperturbed (to all appearances) and directed the ambulances away from the hospital until we were sure the shelling was over. The next day, we went about our work as usual. Ambulances brought in the wounded and others carried them back to hospitals after their wounds were dressed. It was inevitable that some would die before they could be taken away to hospital in rear. One day the Chaplain came to tell us he would be conducting a funeral that day for about 25 who died. He asked us if we would come along and sing…Of course, we would, so we climbed to the top of the hill where a long trench had been dug and the dead placed therein. It was a heartbreaking sight. We found it difficult to keep back the tears. When the little service was over, the Chaplain turned to a single grave, a little apart from the others, and said, “This grave contains the body of one of our enemies. It made me realize that we all are the children of God, no matter how wrong we may be. I recalled that on every German uniform butter were the words, “Gott Nuit Bus [?]” so they apparently believed that God was with them and that their cause was right. We were very glad to get down from that hill for aeroplanes were around and shrapnel was in the air.
That day, an ambulance came in with the driver badly wounded. He had driven with one hand, his ailing arm having been badly shattered by flying shrapnel. There was a huge hole in the side of the ambulance and when we took the patient out, we found his head had been completely severed from his body by a large shell fragment. Our days were often made sad by the dreadful sight of men so badly wounded and we prayed for the day when it would all be over; and from the reports, it would not be long now for the Germans were really on the run. We knew their resources must be getting low for sometimes prisoners had a kind of black bread in their pockets. One of the doctors, curious to know what it was made of, tried to analyze it and decided that it contained quantities of saw dust. We found also that they were using some sort of paper bandages. Many of the prisoners were very young boys, some not more than 15-years-old, so their manpower must be getting low also.
One afternoon in the midst of our busy life, word came to us that we were chosen to return to the United States to make speeches and help raise money for the United War Drive, which would provide funds for all the welfare organizations working in France. We were horrified at the thought and broken hearted at the idea of leaving our beloved hospital just when our Army was on the very threshold of victory, but there was nothing for it but to obey orders, much as we wished to refuse. We really were quite a mess, too. Our uniforms were spotted with mud and blood and we felt we were not fit to be seen, though we were assured that new uniforms awaited us in Paris.
The doctors and hospital corpsmen were very reluctant to see us go too, but they came to our rescue with a bottle of ether and tried to clean the blood off our uniforms. Finally, we bid them all a tearful farewell and were driven away toward Paris. Another girl had been chosen too, Adjutant Helen Purviance. We knew her best of any of the girls as she was with the Ammunition Train and closer to us than any of the others.
The prospect of returning to the United States was certainly not the joyous thing to us that it would have been to many a soldier, but orders must be obeyed. So now our only thought was to get there and do our bit so that we could get back to France as soon as possible. Our reception in New York, of course, was wonderful for everyone wanted to hear, first hand, news of what we had been doing. After a few days in New York getting our instructions about lecture tours, etc., my sister and I headed for northern New England where Bert (Colonel Widgery) was Divisional Commander of the area. It was now the first part of November and while we were on the train traveling north, the news came of the signing of the Armistice. We were glad to know that the fighting was over, but our hearts were sad that we were in the United States instead of over there. The whole country seemed to go mad with the news and in many of the lines we passed through, we saw effigies of the “Huns” or “Fritz” hanging on the telephone poles or in the stations we passed.
We began our speaking tour in Bangor, Maine, where the largest building in town could not possibly hold the crowd. We were told that about 2,000 people were now turned away. We traveled from town to town by car speaking to large crowds two or three times each day, and in the large cities to enormous crowds in the largest buildings available. We were entertained in governors’ mansions and the homes of many rich people. We spoke in high school auditoriums to two or three thousand students back in New York. There were afternoon gatherings in the homes of the very rich attended by the so-called “400.” We also attended service club luncheons and a “smoker” where my sister prefaced her remarks with, “This is our first experience of a ‘smoker’ and if we had known what it would be like, we would have brought along our gas masks!” This was in celebration of the gathering of a mile of pennies by one of the service clubs. The pennies had been tied up on the flat bed of a truck we had ridden up Fifth Avenuesitting on top of the pennies.
We spoke in a large church in New Rochelle, New York, one Sunday afternoon and afterward stood for an hour or more shaking hands with people. At the very end of that long line of well-wishers an old colored lady came sailing down the isle, her good black face wreathed in smiles. She took my hand in her two huge black ones and said, “Honey, I hopes dat ou’ll always have a nice downy pillow to lay yo’r soft head on.”
From New York we went to Washington, D.C. and were entertained in the home of some people by the name of Walch. There was an afternoon gathering arranged for us, which was attended by the elite of Washington, including senators, cabinet members and Vice President of U.S. Marshall.
At night we addressed an audience overflowing a huge auditorium seating 13,000. Back in New York again we attended many other functions and Helen Purviance was back again, too, from her tour of Upstate New York and her home town of Poughkeepsie where she was royally received. Helen and I made doughnuts in The Salvation Army Soldiers and Sailors Hut in Times Square and had our pictures taken surrounded by crowds of servicemen in our forces. We went on board one of the big battleships there in the harbor and made doughnuts in the galley. The sailors were really delighted and sorry that they had not had Salvation Army girls around in battle.
It was getting on toward Christmas and we hoped against hope that they would let us return to France in time to spend Christmas in Germany with our old First Division boys, but there was no such luck and we were kept busy with more speech making here and there. Then it was Christmas Eve and we had word that the first troop ship bringing soldiers home would arrive in Hoboken on Christmas Day and we were given instructions to meet the boats. So, Christmas Day found us on the pier waiting and then we learned that the ship was not going to be allowed to dock because it was Christmas Day. So there we were, the three of us, alone in New York City on Christmas! What a day! Our home was in California, so no choice of seeing family and friends. We had dinner in a restaurant and put in a long day as best we could.
The next day, which happened to be Sunday, found us at Hoboken again waiting on the pier for that ship to put in an appearance. We had been told that we could use our own judgment as to what we would do for the arriving soldiers, but none of us seemed to have the remotest idea what we could do. We felt a bit worried when we saw the Red Cross there with a rolling kitchen with hot coffee and rolls, which, of course, was very acceptable for it was freezing cold. The Y.M.C.A. was also there with cigarettes, etc. However, we felt that we would surely find something to do when the boys arrived off the boat. We went and stood on the end of the pier and waved a welcome to the boys. As soon as they saw our uniforms, there was such a cheer that went up from that ship, it fairly shook the pier. Wave after wave of “Hurrah for The Salvation Army!” It was certainly a wonderful tribute to the work of our Army girls and men in France.
As soon as the first boys were off the boat a boy called out, “Hey, sister could you get us a newspaper?” That was all we needed and then three of us rushed out to Hoboken and bought up every news stand in sight! It is a long drawn out process unloading a troop ship and it meant standing in line for hours and hours before they could be off to Camp Dix. While we passed out newspapers, someone asked me if I would get him a telegraph blank. That gave me another idea. I got a whole bunch of telegraph blanks and went up and down the line asking if anyone wanted to send a wire. Of course, hundreds of them did. In the afternoon, so tired we could hardl walk, we made our way back to Headquarters with about 300 telegrams. Since man of them were scarcely legible we decided to sit down at typewriters in the deserted Field Department (it was Sunday and no one was about) and so we started to type, I had what I thought was a very bright idea. I said, “Why don’t we change these telegrams around and say, ‘Your son, _____, arrived from France today. Proceeding to Camp Dix, N.J.” and sign it “The Salvation Army.” My sister and Adjutant Purviance were a little dubious, and they were both officers (I was just a probationary), and they were afraid we might get in trouble since I involved a lot of money. I argued that we had been given permission to do whatever we saw fit for the soldiers, and besides, “Think what it would do for The Salvation Army.” It was almost dinner time when we were finished and we were dead tired. We sent the wires, had our dinner, and went to our hotel for welcome hot baths and bed.
The next morning, I must confess that we made our way to Headquarters with some misgivings, but we needn’t have worried for before we arrived, wires had come from all over the U.S. thanking The Salvation Army for the news of their sons. After that, we met boats every day and the printing department at Headquarters printed out the message on the telegraph blanks and all the soldiers had to do was to fill in their name and the name and address of their parents. Thus thousands of telegrams were sent by The Salvation Army to parents all over the country and even one to Honolulu.
Finally, we received the joyful news that we could return to France and in February we embarked on the troop ship “Sybony.” It was a very rough trip and for the first and last time in my life I was seasick. Some kind of a shaft was broken and lay all day in the trough of the sea, rolling from side to side. Eventually we reached Paris once more and had all our hopes dashed! Instead of going to Germany to our dear old First Division, we were sent to Embarkation Camp at St Nazaire. What a disappointment! But by this time we had learned to be good soldiers and we knew we would find plenty to do for it would take a long time to get all the soldiers back home. With the excitement and anxiety of the war over, the boys were restless and homesick and certainly needed to be entertained. We arrived in St. Nazaire and found Adjutant and Mrs. Hickey in charge there. There was a huge canteen and a large aeroplane hanger for meetings and entertainment. There were a dozen or more girls therepart working in the canteen and the rest of us making doughnuts. We made them everyday by the thousands and gave them away in the afternoon with hot chocolate. Our canteen was next door to the delousing plant and very often great long lines of boys stood for hours waiting in the street for their turn to be deloused, to get clean outfits, etc. They were often very weary having marched a long way, so we always made it a point to be on hand with coffee and doughnuts, no matter how late at night, and often it was.
The Salvation Army, along with other welfare organizations, spent lots of money sponsoring soldier shows. They were certainly worthwhile too, for there was so much talent in the Armed Forces: magicians, first class actors and comedians. What wonderful shows they put on! I remember one particular show, “The Pink Stocking” comedy. Adjutant Hickey provided the money for costumes, wig, etc. It was a riot. There were chorus girls (all doughboys, of course). They wore pale blue and pink silk “teddies” with a striped “merry widow” hat box around their middle and the lid for a hat! They had beautiful wigs, blonde, brunette and redheads. They were the funnies things I ever saw. If you can imagine the huge muscles on hairy arms and legs and their enormous feet! They danced and sang “Little Marie she grew and grewparli vous” ending with the line “She’s not a girl at all, but a bow-legged man!” We all laughed ourselves sick and the soldiers screamed and howled for more. Then there was the leading lady! She (?) wore a pink satin formal with a long train, a beautiful blonde wig and sang a song in a beautiful falsetto voice. Many of the boys in the audience would not believe it was really a soldier boy. It was all good clean fun though, and brought real joy to everyone who attended the shows. There was another soldier show too that was really wonderful. It was called “A Buck on Leave.” After a time my sister and I received orders to proceed to Brest “Camp Pontenazen” where we were to be in charge. This was a huge camp housing 90,000 men. It was like a city of tents and huts.
We had a large aeroplane hanger for canteen, kitchen, etc., and two hangers put together for entertainment and religious services. It was not quite as nice a set-up as St. Nazaire had been, for their canteen had been a more substantial structure and here was a huge canvas aeroplane hanger with one end partitioned off for a kitchen. There was no sink and water had to be carried out in buckets often for dishwashing, etc. Our hearts sank a little as we viewed the dismal kitchen. Our predecessors had been an elderly couple and evidently not go-getters like Adjutant Hickey in St. Nazaire.
Our first day there, a group of officers came into the kitchen on a tour of inspection. They were not too impressed with what they saw, but we told them that we had just arrived and assured them that we had many changes in mind. They were exceedingly nice and were very disturbed that we had no sink and were not connected with the sewer. They told us that if we could get a sink made, they would send a crew of workers down and connect us with the sewer. A soldier boy working in our kitchen volunteered to build a wooden trough and line it with iron, if we could get hold of a sheet of galvanized iron. Of course, we jumped at the chance and soon got hold of the needed materials and very shortly the sink was in place. Groups of soldiers were soon digging a trench and laying pipe to connect us with the main sewer. The inspection officer came to give us the job his approval and he asked us if we had any showers for our girls (there were nine girls). We reported that we had to go to the officers’ club for baths, so he said they would soon remedy that.
Our living quarters was a large hut formerly used as a portable canteen. It was divided into sleeping rooms with a good sized sitting room in the front end. Our good friend, the inspector, sent down a group of carpenters and built a bathroom at the back end of our sleeping quarters. They put in three showers and a row of wash bowls. What a joy that bathroom was to us! We found the kitchen rather dark. There was a store room partitioned off on one side and quite a good sized dining room on the other. With the soldier assigned to us and our own girls, we were about 25 in number for every meal. Our kitchen detail consisted of five boys who were in the brig and came every morning with a guard who spent each day sitting in the kitchen guarding his prisoners. There were four young fellows who helped with making doughnuts and pies and a real honest to goodness cook, an older man, who cooked meals for our large family. My sister was the officer in charge of our whole operation, but I was in charge of the kitchen. I supervised the work and with the help of our cook, Edwards, made out the menus for the week and went to Brest to purchase supplies. They called me “The Boss” but I always had a hand in the making of doughnuts and pies.
One of my first projects was to clear out the store room, cut windows in the canvas, and sew wire screening over them to keep out flies. We cut out three sides and left the piece attached at the top so it could be rolled down in case of rain. Then, at the suggestion of our cook, who had been a fine chef in some of the big hotels in Chicago, we built a bench around two sides of the store room at a height suitable for rolling out doughnuts and pie crusts. There were two large field ranges in the kitchen and we found it somewhat inconvenient trying to fry doughnuts in large kettles on top of the stove. I wished there could be some arrangement for another stove in our doughnut room, but couldn’t think of a possible solution.
Across the road from us there was a huge Army kitchen and underneath a long shed. There were long rows of huge iron pots on vats filled with boiling water for the soldiers to wash their mess kits after meals. One of our boys said to me, “If you could get one of those big iron vats, it would be wonderful for frying doughnuts.” I saw at once that it would exactly fit our need. They had been used by the French army for making stew and each had a little compartment underneath for making a fire. So I went across the street and looked up the mess officer and explained our need and asked him if they had an extra that we might use. He said, “It is not permitted me to give anything away from this kitchen, but there is an extra one out in the back of the kitchen and it could possibly disappear when my back is turned.” So I went back to my kitchen and reported, and there were immediate volunteers to appropriate a stove for our doughnut kitchen.
Now we were ready for action. In a large tub, one boy mixed the dough and turned it out in several piles along our work bench. Many of the Army girls came to Camp Pontenazen on their way home and helped in the kitchen and canteen. Among them was Hannah Schofield, now Ms. Colonel Hofmann. The boys rolled and cut, and a couple of the girls placed the doughnuts on cookie sheets and passed them along to two boys who were attending the frying and stoking the fire. The huge vat held about 75 doughnuts at a time and as they were fished from the fat with long sticks, two other boys packed them into large boxes and carried them to a built-in cupboard that our cook had suggested and soldiers had built. It held three thousand doughnuts, which our new efficient little kitchen turned out every morning before lunch, and twice a week, three hundred servings of pie. (Teresa Brunner, Mrs. Frank, Mrs. Perkins, Miss Watkins, and another lady were among our preliminary personnel.) What a busy place that kitchen was!
The cook and I went to Brest every Friday to buy vegetables and meat. Our Army commissary had only beef and found that even the fish and crabs we bought from the French were very expensive indeed! They had one price for the French and another for the Americans. When we protested, their answer was, “Americans have plenty of money.” One day a soldier said to me, “Why don’t you try to buy from the Navy? They have everything!” So cook made some delicious lemon pies and we started out to find Commander G. of the Navy. I explained to him our need. We had 25 people to feed and could get only beef from our Army commissary. He was very nice indeed and gave me a card to buy from the Navy. He said for me to come each Friday and he would give me the pass. We brought in a couple of lemon pies which made the office personnel sit up and take notice! And with many thanks we made our way to the docks. The Navy personnel there treated us royally and asked if we would like to see the cold storage room. Of course, we would, so they wrapped great sheep-skinned coats around us and we went into that amazing place! It was huge beyond any imagination and every kind of meat and fowl one could think of was there! It made our mouths water! Think of having roast lamb and roast pork and turkey! We hadn’t had any such food during our whole stay in France. We left our other three lemon pies with the Navy boys, much to their delight, and went back to camp rejoicing with such good things to eat.
One of our other projects in our new appointment was to fix up the girls’ rooms and our little sitting room. Again a soldier made a suggestion that we were able to adopt. He said there was a whole warehouse full of hospital beds that had never been used, so we went there and found the officer in charge very cooperative. He couldn’t give us the beds, of course, but could loan us enough for our girls, so each room got a nice comfortable bed instead of the makeshift things we had been sleeping on. Each girl was encouraged to fix her room up as best she could and with our steamer rugs for spreads, they all looked very cozy. We found boxes could be converted into dressing tables and we could curtain off an area for closets. Curtains at the small windows made on my portable sewing machine brought back from the states made things look cozy. My sister took over the living room. There were two cabinets made of plywood which had been intended for storing dishes. We painted them and set our yellow tea set on top of one and books on the other. With the help of soldiers, she had managed to find furniture here and there: a wicker chaise lounge, some fairly comfortable chairs, a table or two and it really began to look like something! She bought some yellow silk in Brest and made shades for the two light bulbs which hung down from the ceiling at each end of the room.
When all was finished, we were very proud of our accomplishments and although none of us had very much time, we could gather there after the canteen closed at night and just relax. How busy we were! The canteen was crowded continually! There were plenty of tables and writing material, Victrolas and the piano. We never lacked for music! The canteen was a “serve yourself” affair. Everything was put out in shallow baskets: toothpaste, tooth brushes, razor blades, etc., candy and sometimes nuts. The girls kept the baskets filled and took turns at the cash register to take purchases and receive payments. In the back of the room was a library of sorts and films could be left to be sent for development. Also, the “librarian” could sew on service chevrons or mend a tear in a coat.
Back of the canteen building was a large auditorium made of two aeroplane hangers put together. It seated 3,600 and was used for entertainment except on Wednesday night and Sunday night when we conducted religious services. On those Wednesday and Sunday nights the place was packed, and those who could not get in hung in the windows and filled the doorways! What singing! I guess wenone of ushad ever heard anything like it! Imagine 3,600 men singing at the tops of their voices! My sister and I sang, too. She had the wonderful voice. I just sang the second part, but the singing reached the hearts of the men.
We sometimes gave an invitation for those who would like to witness to their Christian faith and it was thrilling to see hundreds of men stand on their feet and testify to their faith. Then at the end of every service, as is the custom in The Salvation Army, many left their seats and came and knelt in the orchestra pit to confess their sins to God and find pardon. Often there were as many as fifty!
On Sunday mornings we had church service in the canteen for the benefit of our personnel, especially on account of our kitchen crew who, of course, could not come to the eening meeting because they were prisoners and had to go back to the Brig as soon as work in the kitchen was finished. We had a personal interest in each boy in our employ and especially for the ones who were in the Brig. Most of them were not in any serious trouble. They had gotten fed up with sentry duty, four hours on and four hours off continuously day after day, and had gone A.W.O.L. down to Brest. It got them six months in the Brig, but they seemed to think it was worth it. The cook, it turned out, was in for getting drunk. He was really a wonderful cook, but he told me he was fed up with Army cooking. Same old thing all the time! Here, in our kitchen, he could make wonderful pies and cakes and things he could really use talents on. When his six months were up, he came to me one morning and asked me if I would see if he could be assigned to cook for us permanently. Of course, I was dismayed at the very thought of losing him, so I went to our camp welfare office to Major Rogers, and asked his help in keeping him for our cook. He went to the Men’s Company Commander and came back with a rather long face. It seemed the Co. C. said we certainly could have him and good riddance, as he was continually drunk. Our dear old welfare officer was afraid we wouldn’t be able to manage him once he was out of the Brig, but we assured him that we could manage him and we did not expect to have any trouble. He reluctantly agreed, but he warned our cook that if he ever gave us any trouble, he would be the one he would have to account o, and he would surely give him the works if he ever let us girls down.
So, we kept our cook and all went well until one day he asked if he could have a pass to go into Brest. I was very reluctant to have him go, but could hardly refuse as the boys employed by us were allowed to go. I went to the boy who had charge of our cars and who always did the driving when anyone went into town, and I asked him to have an eye on E___ and see that he got home without getting into any trouble. The evening wore on and finally the canteen closed, but we couldn’t go to bed until we knew the boys were back and E___ was alright.
Finally, close to midnight, I heard the car drive in and we went out to find the boys trying to smuggle E___ into the bunkhouse before we saw him. He was very drunk and we were heartsick. The next morning I got up at 5 a.m., as fries had to be started and preparations for breakfast for our large family of 25. We were supposed to eat promptly at 7 a.m. and I had no intention of disrupting our routine. I cooked the breakfast with the help of many willing hands. I was sure that cook would never be able to navigate for some time. Work went forward in the kitchen as usual and about 11 a.m. a very repentant and shamed faced cook entered the kitchen. I did not say a word of censure, but asked if he was feeling better and told him I kept the coffee hot for him. He was literally killed because I did not scold him. He told the other boys he would rather have been horse whipped than to be treated with kindness, but the kindness paid off.
That night we conducted the evening service, we saw him come in and take a seat on the aisle not far from the front, and when the invitation was given at the end of the service for those who wished to come forward for prayer, the very first one to leave his seat was E___. He was really in earnest and repentant and gave up drink for all time. We kept in touch with him for years and when my sister was very ill, he came to her home and insisted on taking over the work and the care of her husband and three small boys. Some years later he came to see me in California on his way to the old soldiers’ home in Sawtelle.
One of our other prisoner helpers was H___. He was only 21-years-old, but was in serious trouble. After a time, I learned his story and because I believed he had been very wrongfully accused, I spent every spare minute for months trying to help him. He was sentenced to 10 years in Levenworth. It seemed that while his company was in action at the front, he was very ill and could scarcely stand on his feet. His sergeant was killed and later his company commander accused him of desertion in the face of the enemy. It seems he had gone back into the lines and was wounded and in hospital for some time, then was placed in a casualty company and was in Brest ready to sail for home, where his own division came into camp and he came face to face with his old company commander who accused him and had him arrested. Then the company commander sailed for home and left him there to be tried with no one to take his part of to believe his plea of innocence. So he worked in our kitchen for six months waiting for sentence.
One day, a young second lieutenant came into the kitchen and called him out in front of everyone and told him off in front of all the kitchen help concluding with the remark that he was, “yellow.” I knew that every boy in the kitchen wanted to punch his nose, but no one dared because of that yellow second lieutenant bar on his shoulder. I followed him out of the kitchen and told him what I thought of him and that I was going straight to Headquarters about it. He said, “You keep out of this.” I said, “Don’t you tell me to keep out, because I am not afraid of that yellow bar on your shoulder.”
I put on my hat and went straight to Headquarters. I told our welfare officer and a number of other officers what had happened. I told him the boy’s story and I also told them I did not think he had had a fair trial, for I had read the proceedings and I knew there had not been the number of officers required on the jury.
A young marine captain came forward and asked me to let him see the papers. He said he was a lawyer and would gladly write up the case for me, which he did, proving the whole trial was irregular, etc. We had to wait a long time because the Company Commander, General B., was on leave and no one had authority to do anything about it except to try to keep him in camp as long as possible.
One Sunday morning while we waited, the kitchen help were in the morning service, and as the invitation was given for those who wished to be prayed for, a couple of the kitchen boys came and knelt down at the front. I saw the expression of sadness on H___’s face and I walked down and sat beside him and said, “H___, wouldn’t you like to pray and ask God to help you?” he said, “Yes, I would, but I am Catholic.” I said, “I am not asking you to give up your religion. Couldn’t you be a better Catholic?” He said, “Yes, I could,” and he got up and waked down and knelt at the altar.
There were long heartbreaking months before he was finally free. He had to leave us and go back to the states, but I told him I would not give up but would do everything in my power to get him free.
It so happened that a Salvationist lawyer who had been in France with the Army came into camp on his way home. As soon as I found out he was a lawyer, I told him about our boy and he said, “Give me the papers. I have others, too, that I am going to look into as soon as I get home. Later he wrote me that he had looked up the Company Commander who was by that time out of the Army and in civilian life. He told him about the boy being sentenced to 10 years in Levenworth and that he was taking the case up with Washington. He had him read the trial and the subsequent case written by the marine captain lawyer and he admitted that he had no real proof that what the boy said about having permission from his sergeant was not true. He said, “It is the only blot on our company record,” and he admitted his hasty action and signed papers to that effect. Then all that had to be done was to send the papers to Washington, and after a time the boy was restored to duty and was honorably discharged in six months.
Months later, when the boy was at home and a free man, he wrote me in his letter of thanks that he had always felt that God was with him ever since that day when I had urged him to kneel at the altar and pray. This was, I think, my greatest experience and it has always been a great satisfaction to me that I was able to keep a young lad from spending 10 years in the penitentiary.
Another Sunday morning, a young chaplain was in our little service and after it was over he came to me and asked if he might talk to me for a few minutes. We sat down at one of the tables in the canteen and this is what he told me. He had been brought up in a very religious home and when he finished college, he entered the seminary. As soon as he had finished, he entered the chaplaincy and eventually landed in England with some of our American troops. He made the acquaintance of an English chaplain, an older man and a Rector of the Church of England. He admired this man very much. He was a fine speaker and a thoroughly good man. However, he smoked. Our young chaplain did not, but he thought, “If this fine man sees no harm in smoking, why should I?” So, after awhile he too took up the habit. Unfortunately, he could not seem to quite his conscience in the matter and it dampened his spiritual life. When he attended our services and saw the influence we had with the soldiers, and how they came and knelt at the altar, he felt that he, somehow, had not had the influence over the men that he hoped to have. He wanted to know what I thought about smoking and why the English chaplain could seemingly smoke with a clear conscience and he could not.
I said, “Well, you were brought up to believe that smoking is wrong and that no Christian should indulge in a selfish, useless, harmful habit. Whereas the Church of England and also the Catholic Church apparently see no harm in it. Your conscience hurts you because you know in your heart that you believe it to be a harmful and sinful habit.”
He said, “That is true. I know it now and I shall stop it here and now and seek the Lord’s forgiveness.” He told me he had been in the service when I had spoken to a lad who had gone forward and knelt at the altar. So, I told him about H___ and his problem, and explained all I had done to try and get the boy released. Then he asked me to let him have a copy of the boy’s trial and he would see what he could do when he got home. He was true to his promise and wrote to a number of people, including a Catholic Priest in whose parish the boy lived. He sent me copies of the letters he had written and also that he had made his peace with God and was assistant pastor in a Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri.
Another time a young lad came in the kitchen and introduced himself to me. He was the son of Salvation Army officers. He asked if he could talk to me for a few minutes so we went into the dining room and sat down at the end of the table. This is what he told me. He was just 18 when he enlisted and went to camp. Being a well brought up boy and a Christian, he knelt down beside his bed in the dormitory to say his prayers as he had done all his life. Apparently, it caused an uproar. Shoes came sailing across the room and all kinds of jokes and laughter greeted him. He was continually ragged and called preacher and good-goodie. It went on for weeks while he continued to say his prayers. The officers tried to encourage him and tell him not to pay any attention but finally he couldn’t take it any longer. His anger boiled over and he threw up the whole idea of trying to be a Christian in their midst. Now the war was over and day and night his conscience bothered him because many of those boys in his company had been killed in action. He felt a great burden of guilt that he had not been faithful to his bringing up and that he had not helped those boys to find God and forgiveness. It was a pretty heavy load of guilt he was bearing, and how could he face his parents after being such a failure?
All I could do was to tell him that he must confess his sins to God and seek His forgiveness. So we knelt down there in the dining room and I prayed for him and he prayed for himself, and I believe found pardon. He wrote to me after his return home and said that he had determined to devote the rest of life to service in the Army. He could not undo the past, but he could dedicate his future life to God. He went to The Salvation Army Training School and became an officer. He is staff officer whom many would know if I should mention his name.
We finished up our work in Brest at Camp Pontenazen, closed our canteen in a deserted camp and sailed for home on the troop ship Agamemnon with all the last Americans to leave France. It was a very crowded ship with soldiers and some officers sleeping on deck and standing in mess lines for food as the dining room could not possibly hold the crowd. It was a wonderful trip full of fun and laughter. All kinds of entertainment. Everyone was in high spirits because we were going home at last.
Someone on board wrote a song to the tune of “My Bonnie lies Over the Ocean.” Here are the words, compliments of the Ark Aggie Daily News:
My Aggie is crossing the ocean,
She’s out on the de-ep blue sea;
And after this journey is over,
It’s fini old Aggie for me
Chorus: Fini old Aggie for me, oui, oui!
Fini, old Aggie for me.
Old Aggie has mess lines for dough-boys,
And louse from six until five.
With crackers and cheese a la mess-kit,
She’s trying to keep us alive.
When Aggie leaves Camp Pontanezen
To start for our fair U.S.A.,
Why don’t they decooterize Aggie
And drive all her cooties away?
I’ve been through the Battle of Tours
A medal I won at Paree.
But the struggle on old Agamemnon
Will mean a citation for me.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 1919
Arrived in New York at 10 a.m. Were met by Brigadier Griffith and after much delay were hurried off to a bog meeting in Madison Square Garden, in connection with the bog war drive. After that, went to Chelsea Hotel and got a little much needed rest. Bert (my brother-in-law) came to New York to meet us and spent a few hours with us talking over our plans for the campaign and by the looks of things, I should say we are to have a very busy time.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 1919
Shopped this a.m. and went to drawing room meetings in the afternoon with commander. Sang some little trench choruses and made a big hit. Afterwards, another meeting at some fashionable ladies’ club at the McAlpin Hotel. Returned to our hotel much fatigued and wanted to hide, feeling as if we would like to sleep for a week.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 1919
Today, we went to luncheon at the home of ex-ambassador Morgantheau and Violet and I were the center of attention. We sang and Violet spoke. There were about 150 or so people of the wealthiest in New York, and of course it was a “swell” affair. The ladies all waited to have the “honor” of shaking hands with us. Afterward had interview with Mr. Leffingwell and reporters.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 1919
Spent morning shopping and had to speak in Wannamaker Auditorium in afternoon. From there, caught a train to Wycoff, N.J., where we spoke and sang at big mass meeting. Got back to Roosevelt with Brigadier Cassler in machine at nearly 2 a.m.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 1919
Left Brigadier Cassler’s on eight o’clock train. Had many things to attend to at Headquarters. Went to big mass meeting at Mt. Vernon at night where we spoke and sang again. Everybody in the East seems to have read of us and seen our pictures. All want to get a chance to speak to us.