(On American Red Cross stationery form 2247)
August 19, 1944
“Somewhere in France”
This is the first opportunity I’ve had to write a long letter in a few weeks. I’ve written mom, and given her the details of the experience of crossing the Chanel and seeing for myself the equipment strewn along the beaches. Since that time we’ve been moving quite fast. We sat down on the beach — at least close to the beach — for four days. We put up in a tent in an area used only by women and for some time we were the only women there. After a few days there, however, more Red Cross gals appeared and then on our last day some nurses came in. While we were there we tried to see as much as possible. We managed to get some transportation to towns near by about which we had read in the newspapers and believe me, I’ve never seen the distruction (sic) I saw there abouts. Mangled and torn as parts of London were, they were nothing compared to the rubble in those towns along the coast. Buildings were reduced to piles of sand and stones and in some of the towns there were no buildings or walls of buildings standing. How people survived that, I can’t see. We were stationed very near a little Church and on August 15th, the French children made their First Communion. I went in to see that because it was very picturesque. Everyone in the town turned out and the Church was really crowded. It resembled the Confirmation ceremony at St. Martins. All the communicants had sponsors with them, or at least so it looked, and the sponsors were all men. Each man carried a candle and walked alongside the child, sitting behind them during the ceremony. The girls wore Long organdy dresses that had obviously been handed down from generation to generation, and floor length veils. Somehow each one looked like Bernadette of Lourdes Must have looked when she knelt in the grotto to await the arrival of the Blessed Mother. The little boys were all fixed up in their sunday best and wore cute little satin badges on their right arms that had a long lacy fringe on. The whole ceremony was most impressive and obviously quite important to the people. The kids each got up and recited some little ditty just like we used to have to recite things at St. Martins. I couldn’t understand all of it, mostly because I don’t know too much French, and also because the kids went likkety out through their lines in typical childish sing-song fashion. I know they were saying something about this being one of the happiest days of their lives, and that they hoped they would have the grace to continue in the Catholic Religion the rest of their lives and so on. The people were very childish though — I thought that was interesting. The priest was old, but you could see he had the congregation eating out of his hand. He wandered up and down the aisle during parts of the Mass when there were intervals for the kids to do their recitations and pushed kids into line here, straightened veils, shagged other kids from the rear of the Church, and so on. I got a huge kick out of it all.
Then one day we bummed a ride with some of the Red Cross gals who were in our tent and had to go to Cherbourg. It was quite a trip but it was worth it. We wandered all over seeing as much as possible. The building Red Cross has taken over had been a German spot and still had some German writing on the walls. It was a funny feeling knowing you were in a spot that had only recently been vacated by them. The doorway to the dining room had the word “Speisesaal” written on it, and the walls were covered with German dittys. I copied one so you could give it to Mrs. LeP to try to have her translate it. Our men are busy working in Cherbourg and it won’t be long until we have that place in working order.
Our trip down to our current location was a very interesting one. The papers may say what they will but I know how the greater percentage of French people feel about the Americans. I remember reading back in England that the French hated us. I don’t doubt in the least that there are collaborators among them but the reception we got as we went along the road was unbelievable. Kids all along waved and screamed bonjour to us. Many were along the side of the roads with bottles of cider and glasses that they held up to us hoping we’d stop and have some. Others threw flowers at us — just like you see in the movies. And when they’d see girls among the group they’d go wild with excitement. I’ve been along when Nadine carried on fluent conversations with the French and I’ve grasped a lot of what they had to say from my understanding of the language. The “Boche” as they call the Germans were not too gentle with them. The Farmers tell us that the greater percentage of their crops were requisitioned — if they had so many cows, they were told they had to give the Germans a certain amount of milk regardless whether they got that much from them. The last two years have been dry for them, and the cows have not been living up to the German’s expectations. If you didn’t fulfill your order, you were taken off the farm and sent to the German factories. They didn’t allow even the farmers who had milk to make butter — all but a pound a month per family was sent to the Germans. One woman showed us the soap they were allowed. One bar for two persons per month. And it looked like sand instead of soap. It wasn’t any good, had no oil of any kind in it. Since our arrival, the French have been keeping their produce, but they’ve sent the butter and anything they can preserve to the refrigerators the Germans had in towns as warehouses for food and they’re storing it for the Parisians. From what we can gather, the people of Paris are in awful conditions and the people around here feel badly about it. One fellow said that they hadn’t really realized how wonderful it was to have us here, that they were still dazed and didn’t know what had happened to them. The roads all along have wrecked German vehicles in the ditches, and it is surprising how many of them are 1935 Fords. Most of the wrecked cars I’ve seen including trucks, seem very light and not at all like our Army vehicles. The French tell us that the German equipment was nothing like ours in either quantity or quality. If you could see our endless streams of trucks running back and forth to the front, you would see why we can almost run the Germans back into their homes. I think if I were a Boche, I’d be so overwhelmed by the numbers I’d give up. And the thing that amazes you is the fact that this is only the second month that we’ve been here — what it will be like in a few months I don’t know, but it certainly looks good. I give someone a lot of credit for planning such a thing. Sitting in England it was easy to gripe that nothing was being done, but the forces that have been combined to make this liberation of French (sic) possible indicate careful planning and foresight. I wish you could see the job the trucking companies are doing running convoys day and night — the Engineering Corps is finishing by fixing up bridges and craters in the roads — the Signal Corps is doing setting up communications — I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t see it. Makes me happy to be part of these United States.
One night when we were still down on the beaches we were able to scrounge some eggs and oranges so we had prospects of a nice breakfast. We had been treated super by our C.O. so we took too (sic) eggs and an orange over to him. We got one of the MP’s to drive us over as they were a bit away from us, an what happened but we got caught between a convoy and we held up traffic for a few minutes. It seemed funny — there we were D plus sixty some holding up a convoy coming up from the beaches in an effort to deliver eggs and oranges. When we saw what was happening we got out of there in a hurry, but it was tough going.
We’ve been really roughing it since landing here. We’ve lived on nothing but K rations and C rations and neither one are any good belive (sic) me. We’ve built our little fires, cooked our rations and in general have done a not too bad job. Our CO says we are more capable of taking care of ourselves than are our Medical officers. In a way I believe him. It is amazing how much griping men can do. The EM aren’t bad at all, but the officers are a riot. They don’t know how to do anything for themselves and they really resent it that we are capable. Some of them even ask us to get things for them. One follows us around to see if we get better care than he does. Our CO gets a kick out of it and deliberately tells the men that “That bunch of girls are less old women than you are!” We’ve even built fires to boil the dirt out of our clothes. For four nights we slept on the ground with two blankets apiece and altho it was rugged, we didn’t mind too much. One night we pitched our own pup tents and slept in them while we bivouaced (sic). Now we are in our own pyramidal tent and have our bedding rolls on our army cots for sleeping purposes. It isn’t bad at all, and having only 5 in the tent is much more convenient than having 15. I’ll send you the pictures I’ve taken of this deal, so you can enjoy it too.
Our little group seems to be getting along o.k. together, but we are still having trouble with that Recreation worker. I’m trying to get in touch with the gal in charge of us here in Zone 5 to ask her to make a transfer but so far no luck. This gal is really unbearable to live with and it is only because RC has vested authority for the group in me that we get along at all. Esther has been at Girl scout camps and on Louisiana Maneuvers and knows how to live in a tent. She loves it because you don’t have to stay clean and that is her meat. I haven’t seen her make an effort to bathe since she joined us, and she wears the same clothing for two weeks at a time. Tain’t no fun to have sech like sleeping with you. She learned to eat with a stick somewhere in her wanderings and I’m certain that were I not here to recommend otherwise, she’d make the other three kids eat with a stick too. If I had a nickle (sic) for each time I’ve heard her say “Get yourself a stick!” I’d be wealthy. I’m just hoping we can rid ourselves of her.
Haven’t had any mail in a long time, and I hear it will be longer before we get any. Mom’s package with the rayon p. js. hasn’t come yet, although I’ve told you about the suits and the nylons. Do you know if Larry ever got the boxes of cigars?
I’m tired now, so I’ll quit writing. Steve, let me know what kind of a furlough you had, and Nay, write about the kids when you have time.
At the moment our tents are pitched in a beautiful spot — a French orchard, where there are hundreds of apple and plum trees, blackberries and pears. We overlook a lovely town, and the valley is beautiful.
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The first army nurses arrived in France June 10, 1944, and landed at Omaha, according to Stephen Ambrose in “Citizen Soldiers.” He describes them as the vanguard of 17,345 Army Nurse Corps who served in ETO in 1944-45.
This letter dated August 19 is the earliest from Europe I have found. In it she says, “There we were D plus sixty some . . .”
Elizabeth and the Red Cross nurses probably arrived the first week of August. We have the letter she wrote July 23 from England, but in this later letter she says she described the crossing in a letter to her mother which would have been written between July 23 and August 19. She has been unable to write “in a few weeks” which indicates arriving in early August. If they spent four days on the beach, a few days in a tent until other Red Cross personnel arrived, then found a place to bivouac in a large tent, they may well have been in France by August 1, D-Day plus 56.
Organdy is a type of fine cotton or silk that is translucent. It is often stiffened and used for women’s clothing.
August 15 is a holy day of obligation for Catholics, the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It fell on a Tuesday in 1944.
“I remember reading back in England that the French hated us,” Elizabeth writes. She contradicts that statement. Was anti-French sentiment commonly espoused in England which had its own history of recriminatory behavior toward its cross-Channel cousin?
There is no way to determine precisely which small towns Elizabeth lived in or visited, but she does say they are stationed in Zone 5. The Allies landed on five Normandy beaches code named Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah. Utah was added at the last minute in order to be closer to Cherbourg. These beaches are considered “zones” and may well reflect Elizabeth’s knowledge or awareness of where she and the other women were stationed. She was writing this at a time that has become known as the Breakout from Normandy, August 1 to 13, 1944.
Cherbourg at the tip of the Cotentin Peninsula was the only major port in the area of the D-Day landings and was to be taken quickly, according to the plans for Operation Overlord. Unfortunately, it was not in Allied hands until June 29 and by then the Germans had methodically destroyed it. One American engineer described their efforts as, “A masterful job, beyond a doubt the most complete, intensive, and best planned demolition in history.”
Noah MacKenzie translated “Speisesaal” for me. It means dining room.
The 1935 Ford half-ton pick-up truck was powered by a flathead V-8 engine. At that time there were no body style versions. All in the brand were known by make and model such as “1935 Ford truck.”
According to amateur historian Welcome Linden Fraley, III, “Ford vehicle manufacturing facilities remained operating in Germany, northern Africa and other Axis countries during the war, much to the chagrin of Roosevelt. Henry claimed they were appropriated by the Nazis, but later discoveries led to the realization that the motor company profited from their relationship with the Nazis.”
“I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration,” Hitler told a Detroit News reporter two years before becoming the German chancellor in 1933, explaining why he kept a life-size portrait of the American automaker next to his desk. (The Washington Post, November 30, 1998, page A01.) Hitler praised Ford in “Mein Kampf” and much of Hitler’s racist philosophy reflects those of Ford, the only American mentioned in that book.
K and C field rations were first deployed to paratroops in 1942 and were designed to be used for a few days, no more. They were an attempt to provide a compact balanced meal for breakfast, lunch also called supper, and dinner under assault conditions. Cigarettes came in each. They were color coded brown for breakfast, green for supper and blue for dinner. They contained powdered beverages, compressed cereal bars, sugar and salt tablets, water purification tablets, biscuits and candy or chewing gum. The canned meat product was opened with a folding two piece metal device called a P-38 that was not quite twice the size of the American copper penny. P-38 also refers to an American fighter plane and a German pistol.
Although with time the variety increased, soldiers and, according to Elizabeth, the Red Cross were required to eat these rations for weeks at a stretch leading to complaints just as she recounts.
It appears there was personal conflict among the women. Elizabeth’s depiction of Esther’s aesthetics is amusing, but also rather amazing. Esther is the exact opposite of the character Elizabeth, and by extension the others, wish to project: that of the girl next door wearing the current fashion on and off duty, using make up and lipstick but who just happened to go to war.
Frankly, with the exception of her lack of ablutions, Esther may well be what we expect of women in the military today.
Louisiana Maneuvers were Army exercises conducted in that state in 1940 and ’41 to test American logistics, teaching, training and chain of command.
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August 27, 1944
I’m parked under the shade of the old apple tree, on a warm sunny Sunday afternoon, in France. I’m clad in my little red white and blue play suit that I wore so often on hot nights at home, and my fenny is parked on an army blanket that is folded many times. The tree above me is loaded with apples, and when I feel so inclined, I just pick up a huge branch of a dead tree that we’ve put a nail in, and I yank down an apple or two before going on with my letter.
It seems many years ago that I first set foot in France altho’ in reality it is just a few weeks ago. I’ve seen many interesting things, but I’ve not seen much as far as this total warfare is concerned. The countryside is interesting and I notice more and more things peculiar to this group of people, day after day. By the way, the place is alive with Harolds — every man here is about his size and build and resembles him strongly. All the little Harolds around me tickles me. The kids are awfully cute, some are extremely clean and well dressed, some extremely dirty and poor. Here, as in England, it seems impossible to find the happy medium. Seems that there is just no opportunity for a family similar to that of the Dirty Donnellans in this Europe. The boys and girls of most families however, wear a sort of smock the greater par of the day. I’ve seen some boys of nearly 12 in them and it seems the way to dress. They’re a peculiar sort of smock tho’ looks like a school uniform for orphans but they’re awfully cute. I’ve tried to get some to send home to the kids because I tho’ they would be unique. However, I think they are items that most mothers make themselves because the shops don’t seem to have any. Materials are terribly expensive and the people are almost without anything in their stores. The story is that the Germans didn’t allow them to make anything and four years of occupation has depleted all stocks. Most of the country folk wear wooden shoes and manage to get about fairly well in them. All the shoes in the shop windows except for a very few are made with leather tops and wooden soles, like the shoes that Marilyn Schubert bought that summer when they became popular at home. The beret is a part of most every man’s costume, regardless of age. I’ve seen many darling little outfits on children made of a knit material, obviously “fait main” which means made by hand, of something like a boucle in light pastel colors but always decorated very prettily in white angora. I saw a lovely boy of about four yesterday in a black suit with a white angora sweater just like the one I had — and believe me it made him look Byronic — remember the pictures of Lord Byron we used to have in our English books? So angelic. Really looked nice. They have awfully cute carts here too that they travel all over in. Some look comparatively new, and have sides and covers that look for all the world like the chasis (sic) of a station wagon, only they are higher, and are horse drawn. Most of the milk is delivered in carts as are many other things — like drinking water and bread. I’ve seen many carts toiling along the roads loaded with household belongings as the refugees stream back into the vicinities that once were their homes. Last week we were fortunate in being allowed to visit a town near Paris where we went into the Cathedral that was exquisite. I enjoyed looking at it as it was something I’d read about and wondered at. They really are magnificent — this one in particular was massive and the sculpture was as delicate as tho’ it had been done with tiny tools. We don’t get the effect of the true beauty of the buildings tho’ because the stained glass windows have been removed in most instances and the colors are not there to enhance the beauty of the church. Also many of the beautiful statues are taken down and hidden as protection from air raids. However, the body of the church is there, and it is pleasant going through them. While we were visiting this cathedral town, DeGaulle came thru’ and I was glad I had the opportunity of seeing him. From the looks of things, people are really quite fond of him. We were standing near our vehicles ready to depart when we saw that the “parade” was coming down our street. We knew that the people were lined up on the streets waiting for him but we thought it was best not to horn in on them. We lucky therefore, when we noticed he came right towards us. It was quite impressive — No fanfare or any kind, no escorts, no lead vehicles and nothing in the rear. Jus De Gaulle’s tall straight self with the company of two or three military men, walking down the middle of the street. It was as tho’ Roosevelt had decided to walk down the center of Princeton Avenue without any announcement. The people crowded along side of him and behind him and walked down the street after him. It was a simple gesture but it was significant I think in displaying the simplicity of the people. One woman near me ran out in front of him clapping her hands and saying “Vive DeGaulle!” And then she turned to me and said dramatically, “Il est L’espirit de France!” The way she said it and the gentle bow of recognition he gave her sent chills running up and down my spine. I’ll always remember that scene, whether or not France arises again. De Gaulle looked just like the spirit of a nation as he walked down that street, towering over the townspeople. He went to a funny little cemetery that a few weeks before had been the town square but now was the burial spot for some thirty or forty Free French. The story goes that these men helped the Americans hold the town after they’d taken it from the Germans and when the Germans were striking back. They were members of the FFI which is the French Underground. I saw some of the graves and among them were boys of 14 and 15, and old men of 65.
Because we’ve not been set up for patients, we have been going out on D. S. for the past week to a hospital considerable distance from us but one that didn’t have Red Cross personnel. We drove over every day in our jeep and returned for chow at night. It was fun and altho there are only a few patients there now, we hope to continue with the experience. I’d never been in a Field hospital before and this one happened to be a holding center for patients from all over who were ready to be evacuated by air. Its quite an experience seeing them. There are all sorts of soldiers there — Americans, Germans, French (both soldiers and civilians) English, Scotch, Irish and so on. They are taken from the battle fields by medical collecting companies, on litters, treated at an Aid station, transported on the litters to an Evac Hospital where their immediate needs are taken care of, and then sent, on the same litter to the holding unit. It was a sight, walking into the huge tents they were housed in and seeing row on row of men in various condition lying almost on the ground, sustained only by the few inches of litter rack below them. The Germans were sullen and suspicious altho’ obviously curious about American girls, but the Yanks, almost to a man, would whistle if they were at all able when they saw American women. Some of them have been here for a long time you know, and haven’t been able to say a word to a girl without using their little blue books to point the phrases out to the gals. They seemed just grateful to be able to talk to someone. We didn’t have an ounce of equipment — couldn’t give them a durn thing altho thousands of them needed just something like a toothbrush to revive the taste of life in their mouths having been racked with fever because of their wounds. We didn’t have as much as a piece of gum to give them, but for the most part they never thought of asking for anything, they just wanted to talk to someone. And talk we did. We learned a number of stories and versions of what is going on at the front — some of the accounts were obviously exaggerated depending on whether or not the soldier saw many of his friends knocked out — and some were modest accounts of exploits. Whatever the case may be, you may be certain the going is tough and the way is not cleared without paying an enormous price. I must say however, that the medics up the line are doing a good job because the men are cleaned up and not too badly cared for when they get down this far. Lots of the men had to come in without being cleaned up however, and the doctors here were working frantically getting wounds cleaned out before gangarene (sic) set in. The men hardly stayed a day here tho’ as they were evacuated by plane quickly to safer lands, where clean white beds awaited them and there is plenty of soap and water and toothbrushes and shaving equipment. The ambulance companies have the task down to a science and can load as many as 1500 patients into planes in one day. Its wonderful to see these ambulances smoothly traveling the roads to the airfield with their load of wounded, but it is thrilling indeed to watch the stream of planes getting the men aboard and then taking off with them to land them safely a few hours later where they can be well taken care of. This air evacuation is a wonderful thing — some of the men are only 12 to 24 hours away from the battlefield and they are in safe hands getting much needed medical care. And the thing that is startling is the fact that the loading is done in the matter of a few minutes from the time the patient leaves the hospital and the moment he takes off in the air. We enjoyed working there, and if nothing further turns up at this angle we shall continue to work in hospitals were there (sic) or no Red Cross girls. Some of these hot days we wanted to give the men lemonade but do you know that water and sugar are priceless items to say nothing of lemon powder or crystals. Ice is unheard of, and why waste valuable drinking water. Times are really tough. This is one of the occasions in which I myself could use Sal’s cookies, but it is so long since I’ve had any mail I’m afraid the cookies would disintegrate just sitting there in an APO someplace. We manage fairly well foraging in the countryside as it were, but we’re a long cry from the wonderful rations we had in England. Patients get good food however, and that is as it should be altho’ it isn’t everyday they get something worth while.
I’ve been unable to get anything very good in the line of souviners (sic), but I have some perfume for Sal and Nay. I’ve opened my bottle of it and it doesn’t have much persistency so I guess it isn’t much good altho’ its Roger and Gallet. I bought two lovely rosaries of (sic) Melly and Judy and intend to get some for the twins so they can have them when they’re older — made of crystal from this area — Elizabeth
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Bouclé (French: curly) is a type of yarn or fabric made from that yarn that is distinguished by its looped or curled ply.
George Gordon, Lord Bryon (1788 – 1824) was the poet with a club foot whose romantic adventures led to his death off the coast of Greece. Here is how history loops: Byron’s daughter, the mathematician Ada Lovelace (1815 – 1852) is credited with being the founder of scientific computing and the first computer programmer. The programming language Ada was named in her honor. Her translation of and notes for Luigi Menabrea’s explanation of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine was read by Alan Turing and contributed to his creation of the code breaking device that cracked the Enigma Machine.
Elizabeth’s use of the term: Byronic or ironic?
Charles de Gaulle (1890 – 1970) was leader of the Free French government in exile during the war and in 1944 became head of the Provisional Government of the French Republic. Elizabeth saw him in triumph in that capacity returning to his country.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1892 – 1945) was four times elected President of the United States and served from March, 1933, until his death. He was stricken with polio in 1921 which paralyzed him from the waist down. Thus, Elizabeth’s comment, “It was as tho’ Roosevelt had decided to walk down the center of Princeton Avenue” may be taken as a straightforward simile, as unintended irony, as plain old insensitivity or, as was undoubtedly the case which would be impossible today, unawareness of his disability. The press rarely if ever displayed his infirmity and it was never promoted. Thus, Elizabeth like many Americans, may not have been aware the President could not walk, let alone down Princeton Avenue.
Elizabeth refers to the graves of men executed by the Germans as FFI, the French Underground. That is one of many ways to refer to the people who continued to fight the Nazi occupation after France fell in the summer of 1940. “FFI” probably stands for French Forces of the Interior
D. S. eludes me. It has to do with duty or service in a field hospital, but I cannot be certain of what the initials stand for.
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(Envelope postmarked: U. S. Army Postal Service A. P. O. Sep 8 1944
Return address: 7th Conv. Hosp/ APO 4403 c/O P.M. N. Y.
Addressed to Mr. and Mrs. B. J. Greer, Morris, Illinois, USA)
Sept. 7m (sic), 1944
So very much has happened since I wrote you last that I hardly know where to begin on this letter. You heard from me when I was still in the orchard. Since that time we have been bivuacing (sic) in a field and believe me it was rugged. The weather has been pretty bad so it was cold in the tent, but you should see me bathe in a tent using only my helmet as a tub! Cold or hot water does the trick — and I can manage to get pretty clean. We are lucky in that there are only 5 of us because usually after mess at night we can talk the men into giving us some hot water — usually the clear water for the last rinse of the mess gear, but it is hot and clean — and we can bathe in that. Also, we get enough to wash our hair once a week and to do a little laundry. Since leaving England I’ve lived in those tiny seersucker blouses I made before leaving home. You know, for a year after I left home I never so much as put one on, and cussed myself often for going to the bother of making the durn things because I didn’t like the unpressed appearance of them with my uniform. Since then how ever, they’ve been a good standby. I told you I thought I’d sent one home, but later found it in my bedding roll. I’ve worn two of them constantly, rinsing them out at night and having them clean for the next day. Winnie and Edith are my size so they wore the other two and washed them constantly. Even during the grimiest sessions we had on the roads or in the fields, we managed to look clean and washed appearing because the blouses held up well. When you see an outfit of men in tents — the khaki of the uniforms plus the drab color of the tents begin to blend too well with the landscape so that all you get is the impression of a colorless blob of humanity milling about. We tried to wear our battle dress which is a pretty blue with our white shirts as much as possible because we did stand out and it did something for our own morale as well as for the men. Many’s the time I thanked my lucky stars for the blouses, and the sewing machine and form that made it easy for me to make them!
Life in the wheatfield was really awfyl (sic) (awful), after the nice time we had in the apple orchard. The only pests we had in the orchard were yellowjackiets which are bees but not honey bees — and ants. They got into everything and just bothered us no end. Also, by the way, we had quite a time with spiders. Winnie had the cot on the right as you came into the tent and until I die I shall remember her standing there every morning and every night going through the ritual of shaking her bedding out before climbing in because she usually found four or five spiders in her bed. She used to stand there shaking them and saying “Spiders! I just know there are some spiders here!” and the poor kid was usually right. But when we got to the wheat field, we had a realy (sic) messy thing with us — huge beetles and crickets. Some funny kind of beetles with a nippers of somekind (sic) sticking out the rear end. They seemed to concentrate on me, and one night I took no less than four of them off me and threw them across the room. I didn’t like squashing them in the bed because they were awfully big and made a big splash. Nice, huh? I’ve learned to sleep well on my bedding roll and it isn’t half bad. But right now we are permanently located — that is as permanent as this old war will let us be located. And from the news here it sounds like tomorrow or the next day Hitler is going to have to roll over and let Patton in to sleep with him . . . anyhow, we are situated where I’ve always hoped we’d be, only a little closer to it than I ever dared hope. (My note, not hers: Paris) We are set up from the physical view point because the buildings are here, and all we have to do is get them into the order we want them in — that is to make clinics and surgical buildings and Red Cross recreation rooms and so on. We are in permanent buildings and that meakes (sic) a lot of difference after living in tents. Our C. O. is an old army man, and he had no intentions of staying out in the cold all winter. So he has managed to take over an old German Barracks which had been headquarters for the Luftwaffe if we are believing in rumors. The buildings are about three years old and are very modern in structure. We have central heating and electricity which sounds like heaven. The Germans flooded the basements however before leaving so we have to work on the furnaces before getting heat into them. But if we are to be here for the winter, our conditions are ideal. There is a modern chateau which goes along with the outfit and it is furnished in gorgeous new French furniture — by the way, all homes of any elegance here are furnished in things like that little Gold chair I bought mom that stands near the fire place in the front room. It has taken on increased value in my mind since seeing the real French stuff here. Anyhow, we are to move into the Chateau within a short period of time, and that is where I shall live for the time I shall spend in France. The people that own it are not about — rumor (again) hath it that they are in England where they are “safe” but there are servants there so we shall be well cared for. All the officer personnel are moving in there and the Colonel says we shall have very elegant settings. It should be a pleasant experience. I’ll believe it when I see it of course, but I knew the beetles were worth the battle! The Germans left some equipment here and it is surprising that what they had was of the very best. They didn’t skimp themselves on anything, altho’ they lived luxuriously at the cost of starving Europe. Its (sic) quite an experience seeing all this and knowing they were right here less than ten days ago — or maybe within the last two weeks, anyhow, they were here not too long ago. Our current dining room (rumor, again hath it that in the near future we shall be dining in the Chateau,) was apparently a little club for them because it has a cut bar in it, with modernistic lighting effects like the ones on Sal’s medicine cabinet around it. The entire barracks, and there are a number of buildings entailed, shall become a Convalescent hospital and from all appearances shall become one of the finest in history. I can’t believe it is true, because the set-up is ideal — much better than I ever dreamed of! By the way, Wilma wrote that the 316th has moved to Scotland and they are situated in some tall buildings there that are awful, so I guess the move away from them was a good one.
The experience of living near the French people is interesting. I’m lucky to have Nadine along because she can get all sides of the picture for us and of course we are interested in finding out what they think. We ask all sorts of questions and she doesn’t hesitate to ask the people for us. We learned for instance, that many of the women in town who have been wearing colorful turbans and whom we thought were chic were gals who played around with Les Boches and when the FFI and the US Army moved in, the french villagers just got after the gals and shaved their heads to show everyone that they were not patriotic women! We are quite a curiosity to the French by the way. For some reason as a group of people they seem very naive. We become objects of much interest in an abstract sort of a way. They have a funny attitude toward this war — sometimes I feel that they have been through so much in the past hundred years with the various wars that have been fought on their soil that they are detached from it all. Altho they are exceptionally nice to us and can’t do too much for us, one feels they are bewildered by the sudden change and just react to the situation as though it is just one army moving out and another one moving in. It is pathetic too, but then I guess that is the way this old world is run. Sundays are a riot — the people flock to our fields and wander all over just as we would to Brookfield Zoo. and the ones who happen to have us close to them invite all their relatives over on Sunday and then they have a wonderful time looking at us. It makes it awfully awkward because they watch especially at meal times and it is embarrassing. The hospitals that have been active say it is tough to try and get any work done on Sundays because the people crowd around so. We seem to be just curiosities to them. One Sunday before we left the orchard some people came over with a picnic lunch and ate it right under the tree by our tent. They had been there the week before and knew there were five of us, so they planned the next week’s meal with us — not telling us of course — and brought enough food for us to eat with them! It was awfully cute of them when you know that their food is at a minimum. They had a couple of cans of sardines they’d saved for four years to celebrate with and they felt we were enough of an occasion to open them! They also brought two extra bottles of wine — one red and one white fizzy kind (like domestic champagne) and insisted that we drink it with them. They’d made a peach cobbler kind of pie that was delicious and we loved having it. But they were so completely child-like in their feeling that we were there and would like to have a picnic with them — we did appreciate it. I don’t know if I wrote and told you about visiting the town where the people insisted on our staying at a lovely hotel for dinner, opened a bottle of wine for us — no it was an aperitif — and delicious. While we were eating they sent some little kids in to see us, beautiful children of nice families and they had a huge boquet of flowers with them to present to us! It was thrilling to see them and to enjoy the experience. We were the first American girls they’d seen and believe it or not as we wandered through the town we had a regular collection of people about us following us! They insisted we have sugar in our coffee and on our desert at this hotel, altho we knew they didn’t have too much, so the next day we drove back to return the sugar to them and the man who owned the hotel, and had lived in England before the last war, so therefore spoke a little English, cried when we left because we had been so kind in returning to them with the sugar as compared to the treatment they’d received when the Germans were here. They told us that when the Germans left, they cleared out in a hurry but they had told the townspeople (officers had lived in the hotel too,) that the reason they were leaving was they wanted to be closer to their work, not that the Americans were coming!
Since writing this I’ve been able to visit other Cathedrals and to compare them, and I finally got to the famous Notre Dame. It is a huge place, too colossal to be lovely, I think And it has been made into a money-making proposition, so it isn’t nice. They sell rosaries and postcards and souvenirs in the church, and then charge admission to the sacristy to see the monstrances (sic) and chalices they have there. Also nuns of the St. Vincent order sit inside the church door with baskets to collect money in — so it isn’t very pretty. However, it is a wonderful piece of architecture. It is tremendous but altho it is twice as high, something about it reminded me of the interior of St. Bernards. They have those high balconies all around that are so unusual in churches. It seems strange that De Gaulle could have walked down the aisle with snipers trying to nip him, and not be hurt. It is thoroughly possible for snipers to be hidden in the place because of its size and the nooks and cranies (sic) about it. I looked for bullet holes about the pillars or the pews or somewhere, but there were none. I don’t see how the incident happened myself, but if that is what the news stories said, it must have been true. While in the town of course we tried to buy as much as we could — and I am now the proud possessor of some of Guerlain’s Shalimar and Kriss perfumes some of Schiaparelli’s Shocking, Chanel’s No. 5., and some of Molyneaux perfumes. I visited all of those places and had lots of fun doing it. All my life I dreamed of going into Schiaparelli’s and buying one of their lovely creations — or at least of trying them on. We found their house, and Nadine who has lived here, knew the sales ladies — also she learned that her step-mother’s sister had been in there recently to buy two hats, so on the strength of old-friendship we plowed in and tried on the dresses! It was heavenly to be in dresses again, and we reveled in it. I had on a beautiful navy blue linen dress that was made just gorgeous. Very tight fitting bodice with an unusual neck line and small puffed sleeves, and then an open work embroidery skirt that was quite flared and full. It had little blows of linen sewn on it and the open work was in clusters to resembel (sic) bunches of grapes. They had a satin underskirt made into the thing to waylay need for a slip and to show up the openwork. Inflation has hit the place terribly of course so the dress cost about $300. also, for devilment, I tried on a lovely black satin number that was designed primarily for a b – – – – and looked just like one. It was a slinky job with pink button down the front. The salesgirl looked at me when I asked for it and said, “You try zees on for a joke, no?” knowing full well I knew what kind-of-a-woman would wear it. It fight (sic) very snugly about the waist had a terribly tight skirt that fit too too well all about the hips and then had about a foot of gathered fullness down at the bottom, just about a foot above the knew. The funny part about the whole business, however was the fact that we were in battle dress which meant leggings and high shoes, and we couldn’t take off the shoes because we’d take too long to get dressed again. The result was that we just lowered our slacks to about our shin bones and stood there looking beautiful in Schiaparelli’s loveliest down to our shins and from there blossoming out in fallen pants and terrific boots and leggings. I know the people thought we were nuts but they got quite a kick out of it. By the way, our underwear was horrible — shapeless panties from the P.X. and warm woolen undershirts — at Schiaparelli’s! When we found that Nadines (sic) relatives were alive and well, of course she had to visit them. We said we’d sit out in the jeep and eat our K ration lunches while she visited. She agreed, and we proceeded to open our lunch and take part. We must have been quite a sight, because again many crowded around us, and twice Nadine’s relatives came down to ask us to come up to their house. We knew they were trying to be polite because they don’t have much food here — certainly not enough to feed others, so we said we’d continue to eat. Finally we agreed to go up to use the bathroom anyhow, and when we did we were very embarrassed. I’ve told you that Nadine is a gal of means — but had no idea of how much means myself. Her relatives lived in a scrumptious place much more palatial than our spot on Michigan Blvd, and they had a man-servant come to the door to welcome us. We were received in their vestibule which was a huge mirrored spot, and then led into a gorgeous parlor that was furnished in the most luxurious French furnishing. They are loused with dough, and I don’t doubt they disliked the idea of the Americans eating their lunch in the street outside their door! When we finally came downstairs again, we found our jeep surrounded with people who were dying to see us — and we drove away with so many people standing there I had stage fright. But the whole experience was fun.
Last night I had another type experience — I saw Bing Crosby in person. It just happened by accident that we heard he would be in our vicinity so of course we wandered down to see the program. It was a USO show but it was awfully good. We heard earlier in the day that he and Fred Astaire were around and that they didn’t have hot water in the hotel they were staying at so they came down to the Chateau we intend to occupy soon where they bathed in luxury. Interesting sidelight. But we actually were in on the deal when they arrived. The place was just crammed with G.I’s and there was hardly room to move. We wandered in late, that is, after all the seats were taken, so we had to stand. When the men saw us — just 5 gals, they started to whistle and shout — those who saw us knew who we were and just carried on, but you should have seen the others who just stood up and looked all over trying to see what the others were enjoying so. I’m sure they expected to see Bing Crosby’s whole family back there and were disappointed when they found it was just 5 gals. Bing was good — wore G. I. outfit including field jacket, and a fatigue cap all the time. He chewed gum all the while, talked a mile a minute and sang with the wad of gum in his mouth. He sang that “Swinging on a Star” song from “Going My Way” and “Whte Christmas” among other things. Fred Astaire was just passing thru’ and met Bing so he came on for a minute but didn’t do much because he was obviously afraid of crabbing Bing’s act. Bing razzed Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra all the while, and was really quite good. He looked just as he did when he was in the Road to Morrocco and I thought of mom while he was up there — she’d have enjoyed seeing him. He had the rest of the show — some gals and so on with him, but they weren’t too good.
I’ve been trying to get Xmas gifts for people but again it seems impossible to get anything very good. I think I can find something for the gals all right but the men are another problem. I’ve sent the rosaries for Judy and Melly already and today made arrangements for P.X. items for the other kids but I don’t know how I’ll manage the rest of you — for me, if you could get me a comb from the drug store, one of those colorless Phro-phy-lac-tic jobs I’d appreciate it. I lost some teeth out of mine on the journey over here, and would like a new one. Also, I’d love to have a jar of the $5 Vita-Fluff if John is able to get it for me. And if possible, John would you get me the name and address of the distributor so that the gals here could send for it — they all could use it, and love it, but mine isn’t going to hold out long with everyone using it — I don’t think I’ll need anything else unless some fancy panties if you can find them — they’d do a lot for my morale — haven’t seen lace or ribbons since I left home. Has Denny headed overseas? If he needs money I wish mom would give him $25 or $50 of my money. I know how much junk you have to buy when you head this way and it takes lots of money. — while I think of it I saw a lovely pair of panties in a shop one day and thought I’d buy them but learned they were $90! I finally got some mail and was glad to hear from everyone. Mom’s letters arrived well, and Sal’s two page job came — would like to hear from Steve about the furlough, sounded like fun. Also, received the pictures of the twins and thought they were wonderful. Bought some stamps for John and spent about $6 on them — guess they ought to be good. They threw in a French catalogue but you’ll need a dictionary to read it. Its all in French. About Sal’s question concerning my lud-o-vud-e life — if I could make that very decision for myself, I’d be a lucky girl — but neither of them know my indecision. It’s time to quit now — bought some Gody prin in an old shop and only paid 75 cents a piece for them. I’m having fun — will write again soon —– Elizabeth
(Handwritten post script on the reverse of page 4) Your answers to my questions more than satisfied me. Thelma (?) writes she sent the rug to you — hope you receive it. I didn’t mean for you to have it but guess I’ll let you keep it. Decided I’d like one for myself when this is all over & thought I’d use the one I sent Mom. Mary’s material is on the way too. Glad that’s over! Thelma’s dad was thrilled with B’s letter & was glad you’re interested in the dog. I’m delighted myself. I’ll send Mrs. Claiborne something for her interest. Elizabeth
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“Seersucker” is cotton material woven in a manner that produces bunching which looks wrinkled. This texture keeps most of it away from the skin allowing for air circulation and heat dissipation and the added side benefit of never needs ironing. Elizabeth has just discovered and now sings the virtues of such material which she originally abjured.
Judy Schmid, publicist for BingCrosby.com, supplied this 1944 schedule for Crosby:
“September 6, Wednesday. Entertains at an army field hospital at St. Mere Eglise with Fred Astaire. Bing and Fred record some dialogue for subsequent use in the weekly radio show American Eagle in Britain.”
Therefore, Elizabeth and her friends saw Bing and Fred in Sainte-Mère-Église which is generally accepted as the place the Normandy invasion actually began at 4:30 in the morning of June 6, 1944.
“USO show” refers to the United Services Organization which was founded in 1941. Its purpose is to provide “a home away from home” for enlisted men and during WW II Hollywood was eager to demonstrate its patriotism. Celebrities performed in front of the men and women in Camp Shows sometimes in dangerous locations under battlefield conditions.
“Road to Morrocco” 1942 with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour and Anthony Quinn.
This letter is six pages, nearly 4,000 words and a great example of Elizabeth attempting to record incidental moments as well as large ones.
Reverse reads: Winnie, Edith, Esther & Harriet (Happy) Anderson at bridge
between our quarters & chateau, Etampes.