This is the second installment of five articles featuring excerpts from the letters written by 32nd Station Hospital nurse 2nd Lieutenant Alice E. Griffin in 1943. Griffin sent the letters from Tlemcen, Algeria home to her family in the Dorchester nefighborhood of Boston. For more information about Griffin, her family, the nurses who appear most frequently in the letters, and details of the transcription process, please see Introduction to the Alice Griffin Collection.
To recap briefly, these are excerpts I found particularly interesting from a historical or storytelling perspective (though some complete letters are noted). Omissions are indicated by “[…].” For clarity, my contextual notes attached to the letters are bolded and italicized, while the letters themselves are within blockquotes. (Depending on the viewing format, this may cause them to display indented, or italicized with a bar on the left side.) Links to other letters mentioned in the explanatory text are included in some cases.
May 2, 1943 (First V-mail)
Griffin sent three V-mails on May 2, 1943: a two-parter addressed to her mother (Muth), plus one more addressed to her sister Catherine (but intended for the entire family). They are presented in their entirety. The first V-mail is quite tongue-in-cheek, with Griffin talking about going straight home to Dorchester after the war and her group of nurses heading to Cape Cod for the rest of their “vacation” if the weather in Africa doesn’t improve! “M&J” presumably refer to Griffin’s sister, Margret (Marg), and her brother-in-law, John. She also referred to their young son, Peter, as “his majesty”.
Hi Muth –
Received your letter of April 1, last night and I want to let you know I am definitely not joining the regulars, because I will have to stay over here- – I’m heading for Dor. after this is over and staying right there to have my little cup of tea at night and using a nice comfy first room on the right – ahem. M&J can go out every night & we’ll take care of his majesty – – that is if he isn’t too much of a brat. My gosh it has been raining here for ages – –I’d like to go without stockings, my feet would be dryer, but I’m a nurse. We’ll give it another week and then if it doesn’t stop we’re going home – – it’s so silly to spend so much money for a pleasure cruise to Africa and then have it rain. We have quite a bit more time left for our vacation, so we think we’ll go down to the ‘Cape – – the whole eight of us and finish up down there. We had a very nice dance last night – enjoyed by all- – I’ll tell you about it in a continuation of this – – “to be continued”
May 2, 1943 (Second V-mail)
Griffin took the second letter a little more seriously. The Sixth Army was actually deployed to the Pacific Theatre, so it’s unclear what organization the officers were really from. My best guess would be that she meant to write either the Fifth Army or the VI Corps.
As in previous letters, Griffin demonstrated a special affinity for other soldiers from Boston; she claimed that she worked to prevent Brennen (as mentioned in the previous installment, he is probably Joseph I. Brennan, Jr.) being transferred for that reason alone.
Last night it was an invitation dance – we invited (or rather our C.O.) 30 officers from the 6 th Army. Leave it [to] Ruth – – she got the only young one – the others were mostly full Cols [drawing of bird insignia] & Lt Cols. Jimmie & I told them they should wear Lt’s bars & relax – – they loosened up after that and we danced and sang the rest of the night. Ruth works right on the next ward so we see each other quite often- -we always have to have time out for a “butt” every so often. Dot & Jimmie & the kids are up the other hospital. I think you people had better send V mail after all – it gets here much quicker & then you can send others in between. I’m going to get an awful flock at once because there are a lot missing. Ruth & Dot really write home a lot – not every day like me but at least every other. Ruth feels awful because her mother & Dad thinks she hasn’t written but one of these days they’ll get a bunch. Brennen is fine & Ruth & I read all his Boston Globes – we chat a lot with him. They were going to transfer him but I requested he stay on my place – heck the only Bos. Will you send small packages under 8 oz every so often, just anything at all. Ruth’s going to ask her mother to also. Never mention African rain – ugh – it’s been going on for weeks.
May 2, 1943 (Third V-mail)
Despite the delay in their arrival, newspapers from home always seemed to be worth their weight in gold.
Although most of the 32nd Station Hospital’s patients were American servicemen and women, as this letter indicates, they also treated soldiers from other allied nations and occasionally, civilians.
Hi All –
Had to write again right away to tell you that I got two Boston Posts today (tonight) and were they ever good to see. I got them @ 7 p.m. and Ruth & I are still on duty – – so Ruth is devouring one while Brennen is devouring the other until I finish this. My hand is cramped writing charts– thus the errors. I just gave up some of my teaballs. I have 15 English pts & one from Scotland – along with the others. The E & S have been just dying for tea and I knew how much I liked a cup of tea so I went over to my room & got them some. We have a pot bellied stove & they have a tin can of water on it and they’re all sitting around watching for it to boil. I’ll close now & whoever sent the paper thanks a million. I’m going to devour them tonight. Will write soon again.
Love Alice –
May 3, 1943 (First V-mail)
This V-mail was addressed to Griffin’s sister, Marg, and her brother-in-law, John. The reference to New Jersey describes Camp Kilmer, where 32nd Station Hospital personnel staged from December 29, 1942 until they boarded ships at the New York Port of Embarkation on January 13, 1943. Nurse Dorothy E. Mowbray described Kilmer as “a plot of red mud” in her November 23, 1944 article printed in the Wilmington Morning News.
Hi Ya –
Dashing off another V mail. I didn’t think it could rain so much in any country. Ruth & I just went over to lunch and the water is just gushing down from the hills – – the color is redder than it was in N.J. We really won’t know how to act when the hot weather comes or what to do when we can put dry stockings and underwear on – – but we’re happy little morons and laugh about it– – that is when we’re not cursing. Now if we had a small bottle of rye or scotch it would do wonders. Do they still have those small nips – that they used to sell? I don’t need any more clothes once I get my three packages and we have a requisition each month. Virginia Donahue had her folks send her some perfume & it came over very safely. So what do you think of that. How is my big nephew making out- – if that picture doesn’t come soon I’ll just bust in two. I have a small present for [He?] & Neil – – I’ll send them along soon. You should see how my Posts are being read. There were eight of us in my room last night reading them and you should see the list that still wants to read them. They’ll be worn out before the last person gets them.
May 3, 1943 (Second V-mail)
This V-mail, presented in its entirety, was written at 11:30 p.m. after receiving her long awaited package. Its contents included the picture of her young nephew that she’d requested and scarves (apparently gifts for some of the other nurses). Although the cookies were supposedly going to be “saved for a special occasion”, as it turns out, they lasted exactly one day!
Hi Muth & Cath, – will write long letter tomorrow
Gee thanks loads and loads for just everything. I’m so excited I can hardly write. We haven’t received the follow up letter, but we will. First I pulled them apart to find Peter’s picture and then I went to town on the rest. Honestly I never enjoyed anything so much in all my life. The chief nurse and all the kids were in watching me open them – the fudge was gone in 5 minutes flat, but the cookies are being saved for a special occasion. It was wonderful – superb etc. Oh yes, the scarfs were swell and the kids were thrilled. They said “Leave it to Mrs. Griffin – she’s tops” We tried (all) the dress & suit & all fit perfectly – so we can wear one another’s. Ruth got her two boxes and everything fits swell. I got some more Boston papers and even a Sun April 11, Post – – I’m the most popular kid going with those papers. We really needed the bundles because mail has been bad coming thru and it has been raining for weeks. At 6 tonight, the sun came out and now everything is grand. Will write soon.
Loads of love
May 4, 1943
Griffin seemed to be extremely lucky in winning wagers on a variety of subjects, ranging from World Series victor to a bet about when the hospital would move, though the topic in the following excerpt surely must be the most trivial. Another letter indicated that 20 francs was worth about 40¢.
Another few lines today. Ruth and I have a bet that the sun will and won’t still be out at noon. It has been flicking in and out, but it is now 11 45 and sun shining brightly – so I guess I’ll win 20 francs. You see we both have a p.m. and we’d like to go bike-riding. We hardly know what up-town looks like – we’ve been in for so long.
The following passage contains more information about the celebration when the packages arrived followed the previous night. It is interesting detail that in this case, the packages got through even when mail was held up.
Well, last night after all the excitement we tried on everything. – – eight people. No one could get into Ruth’s. The stockings were a Godsend – – I didn’t have any white ones left – – I have a pair on today. Jimmie got her package from her sister and gave me the white stockings that she got – – Jimmie’s still on her first bunch. The scarfs were super appreciated by all – – we were doing a scarf dance. Peter is sitting on the desk here in front of me as big as life. Is that ever a natural picture. I’m going to get a frame like I have for the wedding picture so it won’t bend & get dirty. Don’t his teeth look swell – – and leave it to the hair to be standing on end. We’re saving the cookies for a big celebration– – the fudge went – toot sweet. Boy last night was better than any Xmas. You see most of our bunch got packages and it was a circus. Now we’re waiting anxiously for Dot’s. More mail will be in tomorrow we think. I’m sorry I can’t answer your letters because the mail just isn’t coming through. April 10 th was the last and that seemed ages ago – – same with all of us so we ought to get a big batch at once.
Brennen is reading all my papers now – – I’ll collect them when we go off duty.
The paper mentioned in the next excerpt is the May 1, 1943 issue of the 32nd Station Hospital’s newspaper, The Weekly Diagnosis. The entire issue can be viewed here; the full page of Don Sudlow cartoons mentioned in the excerpt (the third page of the issue) can be viewed here.
The nasty side effects of the antimalarial drug Atabrine were frequently mentioned by other members of the 32nd Station Hospital as well. Dwight McNelly wrote in his manuscript:
At mealtime, usually noontime, we downed the bitter yellow pills as we left the mess hall. About the second night, all hell broke lose. Boy were we sick! The rush was on for the latrines!
Similarly, in a September 26, 1998 letter to Willard Havemeier, Earle S. Metcalf recalled:
Do you remember when we first started taking Atabrine to reduce the effects of malaria in Tlemcen, Afrique du Nord, the little bright yellow pill which was so bitter? How after the second day of taking it so many of us were so ill in the Hotel Des Voyageur? [sic] The commander of a tank destroyer battalion near Sebdou called and wanted to hospitalize the entire battalion! Then we received orders to stop taking the pill until new orders were sent. The dosage was cut in half, but still some members could not tolerate the pill. Instead, they were given a large white lozenge-type pill, and they got along fine. At the end of the malaria season when we could stop taking Atabrine, a notice was posted to the effect that all who were not able to tolerate Atabrine in the yellow pill were taking Atabrine in another form in the larger white pill!
Oddly enough, despite the aggravation caused by antimalarial prophylaxis, Lieutenant Colonel Harold L. Goss‘s December 31, 1943 report entitled “Medical History of the Thirty Second Station Hospital” stated: “Tlemcen was in a non-Malarial district; the mosquito offered no problem.”
I am going to send you a copy of our monthly paper – – we have only had this copy and we are rather busy so we mightn’t have any more. Take a good look at the atebrine [sic] cartoons – – it’s true to life – everyone was sick – vomiting, diarrhea pains – everything – – you should have seen the lines on the corridor all night long. The same thing happened yesterday, but we were wise and feel excellent today. We have to wear our gas masks on duty every Wed am. so that’s what the other cartoons are for. If they continue the paper, we will have a page in it. I see my money orders are going through O.K. Now remember, starting the first of next month, you people will get $110. Will you please take some of it and put it towards taxes. I still have two excellent hands & feet and a nice strong body to work and I won’t need it – so please use it – – I can read how prices are etc. Will write again – have to finish my dressings – Loads of love Alice
May 5, 1943
The next letter is presented in its entirety. Not surprisingly, the cookies that arrived on May 3 did not last long. It’s not clear what the subjects of the small photographs Griffin mentioned in the letters were; most of the photos mentioned in her letters do not survive. However, the print of the British patients above might be one of them; the original is quite small (possibly a contact print), only about an inch long.
Card games like Bonanza were a popular pastime for servicemen and women during World War II. Apparently Ruth Donovan was the exception; Griffin claimed in an October 29, 1943 letter: “Wonders will never cease – we have Ruth Donovan playing cards – she who didn’t even know a club from a spade.”
Just a short note before the mail goes. I opened the cookies last night – too much of a temptation. I am sending these pictures because they are so small, I’m afraid I’ll lose them. Brennen is reading away on my papers – – I hardly have chance to see them myself, the line is so long. The sun is shining brightly today so I think I’ll hike myself out & get some pictures taken and then the roll can be packed away until I get home. We played Bonanza last night & I won ten francs. Jimmie & Dot lost five each – – we still can’t get Ruth to play. She’d played 3 times and she says that’s enough for a year. I’ll write soon again. Love to all.
May 8, 1943
This letter mentioned that Griffin received a gift of shoes from an unidentified colonel, apparently a member of a unit stationed nearby. A postscript note described them: “The slippers are thin white leather with real brocaded gold”. Griffin’s letters indicate that nurses were often the recipients of gifts from officers that they hadn’t known very long, not just men they were involved with romantically. Although these gifts weren’t necessarily unwelcome by themselves, the nurses did not like it when the gifts came with the expectation of dates in return. (As the following letter indicates, though, they weren’t necessarily adverse to socializing with gift-givers who didn’t demand quid pro quo.)
Muth, I got the most beautiful pair of Arab shoes last night – A Col gave them to me as a gift. I know for a fact that he paid $22 for them (at a bargain) because he mentioned earlier in the evening that he had bought 5 pairs of shoes for $110 and he got them at a bargain. I am going to send them home because I don’t want to leave them here. I was really thrilled, because he was so nice to give them to me. Most of them expect you to go out with them when they give you something (which we won’t do) but Jimmie, Claire & I and three of them just sat in the dining room & talked & laughed for about 3 hours. We gave them sandwiches and they had some beer so we had a swell time. It was good to have the beer, even though I don’t care much for it[,] because the water here isn’t good. Wait until you see the slippers – they are serperb. [sic] Today at 4 30 when we get off duty, they are going to take us to the desert and show us some camel caravans & living places. We sure are lucky.
May 9, 1943
The following excerpt describes the outing agreed to in the previous letter. The unidentified officers proved generous with civilians encountered on the trip, not just nurses. It’s not clear what unit they were assigned to, but Griffin started to write “comma” before crossing it out and writing “real car”—it’s strictly speculation, but she might have been starting to write “command car.”
This is a very beautiful day in Africa – the sun is just as nice and the air as cool – really wonderful. Yesterday was nice too and Jimmie Dot & I rode out to the desert with three officers – – in a
commareal car – army of course. We saw camels, an oasis and just about everything. Then when we got to the last town available by car, we got out to look at a small monument there and I don’t know where all the Arabs came from. The major gave them all cigarettes and you should have seen their faces – – even through the dirt they looked happy. There was a foreign legion outpost on the outskirts and it was very quaint & clean. Then on the way back we stopped at another small village to eat. The place was run by a very nice French woman & she took us into her private dining room, took out lovely plates, hauled out the best silver & glasses and we had a very nice meal– –the wine was really good too. We had barley soup, and the peas & stewed lamb (delicious) and then white French bread. (it’s usually dark) Then we had egg omelette followed by oranges and dates. It really was the grandest meal. The major gave the woman a bar of soap, her daughter some gum drops & you’d think he’d given them a million dollars.
On the way out to the desert we saw the washing place just outside one of the village. The natives were washing clothes at a spring, [stomping?] away with their feet. Then a short way farther on we saw a group of wells – spring water and the women were toting the barrells [sic] of water on their back – – the men of the town were very kind– – they’d help the women load the barrells on. Glad I’m an American.
May 10, 1943
The pictures taken at this barbeque mentioned in the following letter, like many others mentioned in the letters, appear to be lost. After the barbeque, Griffin had her long-delayed first horseback ride, with not altogether unanticipated results.
Just dropping another line today. We – Jimmie, Claire, Wanda & I went to the barbecue yesterday. The other kids had gone last time so they didn’t come.
It was at a farm that they had it – there were 20 altogether. We ate at a long wooden table & bench and they put the damn lambs on the table – heads & all – on the poles just as they had cooked them. It made me feel funny at first but I soon dug in. No knifes or forks or anything, or even plates. You’d just reach over, tear a hunk of[f] – eat it – – in your other hand you had a hunk of bread.
After eating, we went horseback riding and my horse ran away and plop I fell off. I have the nicest sore spots today but other than that, no effects. The kids all ran over to pick me up because I was laughing so much I couldn’t move.
We retired quite early last night & I felt like an old lady coming on duty this morning. Of course the boys all gave me the ha ha – – they knew that I was going riding.
I had loads of pictures taken – gee I wish I could send them home. One was taken of me biting the lamb before they ate it – – another of me holding a baby lamb and a dog – – a couple with the horses, etc. Jimmie had a wonderful time riding. She rode bareback & saddle too – you see she was brought up on a farm in Canada so she can ride –– I’m just a city gal.
The following excerpt concerned a bottle of perfume that Griffin accidentally broke. As it turned out, Ella James was more annoyed that Griffin asked her family to replace the broken bottle of perfume than the accident itself; Griffin stated in another letter (probably written June 24, 1943) that James “gave me Holy Hell” when she found out.
Then in some package will you send a small bottle of “My Sin” perfume. I broke Jimmie’s bottle and she said forget it but perfume can not be had here so I won’t say anything but it you can get some, stick it in anywhere. It was a tiny little bottle.
May 11, 1943 (V-mail)
This V-mail discusses a package Griffin sent with various items: the slippers from the May 8, 1943 letter, presents for Griffin’s sisters Margret and Catherine, and silver rings and brooches she mentioned purchasing in her April 18, 1943 letter.
I’m not entirely sure what the points system she mentioned in the letter is, but contextually it would seem to refer to limitations on what her family could send in packages.
When this article was first published, I believed that this letter was the first mention of the Tank Destroyer officer named Jack, though it precedes the others by several weeks.
Subsequent evidence came to light proving that this could not be the same Jack, who did not arrive in the Tlemcen area until around May 27, 1943. The description of the Jack in the May 11 V-mail as “my young friend” may indicate that he was actually a local child, presumably named Jacques; indeed, that would make sense within the context of her request for her family to send him a very small blouse, which simply would not make any sense as a present for a serviceman. After all, soldiers were provided uniforms; if Griffin wanted her family to send a serviceman a present in thanks, it would probably have been something he couldn’t easily get overseas, not clothes.
Based on this evidence, my best guess is that the Tank Destroyer officer named Jack was first mentioned in either Griffin’s June 3, 1943 letter; if not, he is definitely mentioned in the June 6 letter.
Hi Muth –
Just finished packing and addressing a box. It has the slippers in it – will you save them for me – you can put them on exhibition of course but take care of them afterwards – $22 is a lot of money– – but I didn’t buy them. Then there are two babooshkas for M & C for next winder made by a French woman. The very small purse is what my young friend Jack gave to me with the bunny. He must have saved a long time because he’s very poor. I’d like you to give one of the small rings to Mitch for me & the others can wait until I get home but anyone can wear them & also the brooches. They are silver & it’s about the last they have here.
I need some mustard if it doesn’t take any points. I would like an O.D. silk blouse if they have them.
Can you send a blouse or something for Jack without points. Size 12.
Loads of love
May 11, 1943 (Letter)
This letter jumps around quite a bit; excerpts of particular interest are listed below, with quite a few sections omitted. It mentions Griffin’s regret at missing her nephew’s first birthday party. It is also the first letter to refer to Principal Chief Nurse Helen W. Brammer.
So Peter had his party – I sure would like to have been there – – it must have been a riot.
Miss Brammer – our chief nurse heard Jimmie & I talking about uniforms & wanted to know if you people would be kind enough to send her a dress when she sends her money order – which won’t be for a few days. I guess her mother is quite old and she lives in a town out west.
From a historical perspective, the following passage is the most important part of the letter. It captures very well the difficulties associated with the 32nd Station Hospital setup in Tlemcen. The two main hospital buildings were located in schools across town from one another. These buildings were supplemented with Nissen huts and a warehouse, which increased the hospital to 750 beds. In June 1943, additional enclosures and tents were added to the roofs of some of the hospital buildings, bringing the bed count up to 1,000. Despite this added capacity, the unit had the staffing of a 500-bed station hospital. Adding to the strain was the fact that, during the year, the T/O (Table of Organization) for a 500-bed station hospital revised the number of nurses downward from 55 to 50. C.C.H. almost certainly refers to Cambridge City Hospital near Boston, where Griffin worked before the war.
I’m working in the [Nissen] huts for the day – boy can they ever hold patients. We’re up to 750– – I wrote to Peg Forsythe & asked her what they’d do at C.C.H. with that many & only 50 nurses – – they’d go crazy. The patients that are up & around do an awful lot of work. I won’t let them have passes, unless they work – it’s a riot. They wished me a Happy Mother’s Day last Sunday. And do you know what those brats did – – you see each time they go on pass they bring me back flowers or a couple of tomatoes or onions or something small. Yesterday they came back with a piece of newspaper with a present wrapped in it – – they said it was the only thing they could get and they hoped I liked it. I opened it (in front of 60 pts) and do you know what they had bought me – – a lace brazier [sic] – bright orange that they bought down the Arab quarters. I almost died– then they said they couldn’t get a size forty but was 34 all right & if not they’d return it & get another.
May 12, 1943
This V-mail indicates that Griffin worked in the same ward with Velma Drolet. In seems likely that one or more letters from this period are missing, given that that Brennen is doing better, even though no extant correspondence stated he had pneumonia. It’s unclear if the missing letter or letters vanished in transit or were lost in the 76 years that followed.
Dropping a line before I go to lunch. We just had official inspection and they told Drolet & I that our ward was the neatest in the hospital. Swell-eh – but I’m worn out keeping after the boys to get the work done. The blokes are devils. Then we took pictures. I took one of Ruth & one of Dot & I and one of Jeffries & I and then a lot with the patients. Brennen is up and around now and fine – pneumonia all better. If anyone can get more films I need some – finished now. Went to bed nice & early last night & read for quite a while – Jimmie went right to sleep. We’re going out to dinner tonight @ 8 p.m. Ruth went out last night & had steak.
May 14, 1943
This V-mail did not undergo the microfilming process. It’s unknown who Paul was, although two previous letters related difficulty in going to visit him in Oran, so it seems he might have been a family friend.
Had a very swell time yesterday. Had my day off and went down to see Paul & the boys. Had Canadian Club, Soda, & Ice – then they bought me my dinner – chicken tomato etc. Paul is good but will not be around there for a long time.– The ride was swell and here I was as big as life sitting on a sack of boxes & mail bags in the back of a truck – – and me all bruised from the horse Sunday.
By the way, I had Coke yesterday – – in fact carted a whole case back with me and also some Candy – nestles & butterfingers.
Undated Letter (Circa May 15, 1943)
This undated letter apparently references the case of Coca Cola that Griffin obtained in Oran on May 13, 1943 and was probably written within a few days afterward. This approximate date is also consistent with the surprise of the German prisoners who thought they’d won the North African campaign, which ended with the surrender of the last of the Afrika Korps in Tunisia on May 13, 1943.
2nd Lieutenant Herman C. Needles told his grandson that several 32nd Station Hospital officers tried to control the tree rats with pistols, until the U.S. Army began asking questions about why a non-combatant unit was expending so much ammunition!
Won’t be much of a note because I’m at that stage where my head keeps dropping and my eyes closing – – and it’s only 12 noon and I went to bed early last night. A darn rat kept me awake though & I wouldn’t put the light on and chase it out so finally it knocked over a box of round candy balls we had & it didn’t take Jimmie long to wake up. – – bare feet & all. But it came back & started all over again after she had gone to sleep — the brazen thing. You see they’re in the trees out back & we don’t have a window in our room just a door that leads out back – so I suppose they just drops [sic] down & then stroll in to see what they can find. There are millions of lizards, big & small out there but I like them – – but rats – ugh.
Saw loads of German prisoners & they think German has won the African Campaign – really. Then they shouldn’t understand why two of our officers were talking with two French officers because The French aren’t friendly with the Americans & are at war with them. They really fill those boys up. They’re very bold & daring but the I.’s are all nice.
We all have the runs today – you see I brought a case of coke back from Oran with me & last night we had a party. We bought – cucumbers – tomatoes – radishes lettuce – onions – had some mineral oil & vinegar and made sandwiches & pigs out of ourselves. We spent almost 300 Francs for the vegetables and the six but it was worth it – – only today we have the runs & Ruth went to Oran early this am and will have to have the truck stop every few minutes I suppose. I went to sleep in my time off so I hope it stops by then – – no one’s sick but it’s just a nuisance.
May 16, 1943 (First Letter)
The following letter is presented in its entirety. The “Surgeon General” mentioned likely refers to Colonel Howard J. Hutter, Surgeon, Mediterranean Base Section, rather than the Surgeon General of the United States Thomas Parran, Jr. or Surgeon General of the Army James C. Magee.
Hi Cath – Muth – Marg – John – Peter All.
How’s that? Just a few lines while I’m keeping an eye on the door for the Surgeon General – he’s coming for inspection & everything is slicked up.
Thought this little clipping on Atebrine [sic] was pretty good– – oh boy what a job it does on everyone – – we just skip it now- – there have been more poems made up about it that I think it will be a high spot of this war.
Everything is just fine and so am I – – – in fact I am wonderful. Ruth went visiting yesterday & came back with Hersey Bars – we don’t get them any more so we sure are going to town on them.
I received your letter of May 3, Muth and Peter must be a devil biting your leg like that. Remember when Margie had the habit of biting?
I’m surprised that you only got 4 letters in all that time because I write almost every day – sometimes twice. I reckon as maybe I’m writing things I shouldn’t. The incoming mail isn’t censored but ours 1 in 25 going out is. New orders about packages again. The evening gown sounds swell. I’ll write tomorrow.
Loads of love
May 16, 1943 (Second Letter)
This letter is presented in its entirety. The Sergeant Barney mentioned is Technician 4th Grade Albert I. Barney, Jr. Based on a variety of sometimes contradictory records, it appears he was born in Seekonk, Massachusetts in 1912. By 1915, his family had moved to Providence, Rhode Island, where his father eventually became a fireman for the Providence Fire Department.As of April 1930, when he was recorded on the census, the younger Barney was living with his family in Cranston City, Rhode Island and working as a shipper in a chemical plant. He is almost certainly the Albert Isiah Barney, Jr. living in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, who was working for the Downey Flake Doughnut Shop in Providence when he registered for the draft on October 16, 1940. His enlistment record states that he was working as a fireman in Hartford County, Connecticut when he was drafted. He entered the U.S. Army in Hartford on June 15, 1942.
Barney’s name appeared on Transfer List No. 955 (August 31, 1942), a list of men assigned from the Medical Replacement Training Center at Camp Pickett, Virginia to the 32nd Station Hospital. According to the 32nd Station Hospital’s morning reports, he was promoted from private 1st class to corporal on February 2, 1943. He was later promoted to technician 4th grade on April 8, 1943. Technician 4th Grade Barney was transferred to the 2612th Engineer Firefighting Platoon on December 7, 1943. According to the B.I.R.L.S. file, he was discharged from the U.S. Army on November 16, 1945. Barney was living in Providence, Rhode Island as of 1958, when his father died. It appears that he later moved to Florida, where he died, aged 65.
This is also the first letter since April 20, 1943 that mentions Griffin’s young French friends, Nicole Messiah and Janine Ganascia.
May 16, 1943
Hi Muth & All,
I’m exhausted – didn’t get in until quite late last night – they had a party for one of the officers in another outfit that we’ve known since we’ve been here – – he was promoted from Captain to Major.
Got up early for Mass and then this p.m. went to a sports event at the stadium. One of our boys – Sgt Barney ran 6 miles in 38 minutes. He comes from Providence and has a lot of trophies & medals. Then our boys played the engineers in soft ball. They had a basketball game and two soccer games. We were all tired but happy at the end.
It is now 6 30 p m & I’m going to bed early – so are Dot Jimmie & Ruth – – Claire is on nights. I’ll be going in soon – darn it. When I do though Janine & Nicole are going on a couple of picnics with me in the morning. They are going to the U.S. after the war. They both are quite well off and their older sisters traveled through Europe so they have both been promised trips when the war is over. It doesn’t help much for them to have money now, because they can’t travel or buy clothes.
Vegetables are out in all their glory now. We spend all our money buying cucumbers, tomatoes, cherries, lettuce, etc. We make sandwiches until they come out our ears.
This is my second letter today. I write practically every day.
It is beautiful out now – doesn’t get dark until eight or so and then the moon is very bright. Last night the party was at a villa way up in the hills – or mts – and what a beautiful spot. Janine – Nicole & I walked around there yesterday on my time off. Then we stopped at Nicole’s house on the way back.
Guess this is about all for now – I’m going to get undressed & see if the kids will play cards.
Miss Brammer’s requisition is here – I thought Cath could get the things & send them if she is better. No slacks or shoes for me.
Love to all.
May 18, 1943
I have about 40 pictures all developed that I can’t send home but they are beauts & you people surely will enjoy them – real Arab dancers – barbeques – me with horses – scenery – everything. The paper isn’t very good and they may curl but I think a book will keep them straight.
Who made the bureau scarfs. They are swell but Muth you sure didn’t do them. They’ll make the place look swell.
Last night we all stayed in and gathered in Ruth & Dot’s room, put a candle in an empty wine bottle, put the lights out and sang our fool heads off. We all saved our cookies from supper & had cookies & lemonade. I do hope the lemons don’t run out too quickly because they are real good. We were told we could have a pair of shoes sent without a coupon. The kids all had some sent so I think I should too. Just broke in my last pair of white GIs & my feet are a sad looking mess. So if you could get me a nice pair of comfortable brown shoes – pumps or anything but I have to have a little heel because I’ll wear them for best.
A French woman is taking my uniforms up for me – I forgot to tell you to send thread so she had to use white but it looks good. So help me we spend most of our money on vegetables & fruit & the rest on laundry & sewing but it’s wonderful to find someone to do it – you know me. Tell Cath to keep her eye out for films still – I’ve already used the 3. Take care all of you now and don’t get sick again. I am just wonderful.
May 19, 1943
This letter was addressed to Griffin’s sister, Margaret, and brother-in-law, John. See the explanatory remarks for Griffin’s March 19 letter for context about Griffin’s views of the local Arab population.
Hi Marg & John –
You know what I need – yes, some oil cloth so Margie if you see any floating around the 5 & 10 wrap some & send it, huh. Also a couple of candles. The low fat ones don’t work so well so we’ve been putting some tall ones in empty wine bottles & they work swell. We don’t need requisitions any more.
Boy you should see the flowers around here. Millions of all kinds of roses everywhere – but they haven’t any odor. In fact the only odors around here are dirty sheep, goats, and Arabs. We keep away from all.
Then we have just about every fruit imaginable – cherries, plums, lemons etc and all kinds of vegetables. There are thousands of acres of grape – vines but we never say grapes any more – just veno. I drink very little wine now, just when I eat out and then it’s compulsory for international relationships – the host & hostess are insulted if you don’t drink wine.
How is my Fresh little nephew who bits my poor old mother on the legs & then laughs. He must be a holy terror – – that’s the way I like them. You should see the brats here. Every time they ask for things now I won’t give it to them unless they say Merry Xmas. They don’t know what they’re saying but what’s the dif.
The boys are getting mess – I’m hungry because it’s almost time to eat. As I gaze at the dishes I can see SPAM – potatoe [sic] & canned beets. I never eat the meat any more – there’s enough vegetables & fruit around & we’re tired of Spam – canned beef – & small hard weenies. Don’t know where in Hell the meat is that you people can’t get because the army over here certainly never see it. May that’s what Spam is made of. We are very lucky on account of we are invited out to eat a lot – in fact we refuse a lot of invitations to different places for dinner. Tomorrow Claire, Jimmie & I are going to a friend of our chef’s to eat. Ruth & Dot have to work. You should see the cook when they give him canned stuff. He gets so mad and he swears like a trooper (the boys taught him in English). He’ll stamp his foot & say J.C. so I thought him to bow his head. He says his only religion is a bar, but he bows his head when he curses – – his pronunciation is a riot.
May 21, 1943
I am sending the pictures without military scenes down to the base censor – if they can be sent home O.K. and if not I’ll get them back. Did you get the others? My evening gown should be here some day this week – I’ve received the letter saying it was sent. So far, we have yet to hear guns & bombs go off – haven’t witnessed a thing – we all want to move on – I hope we do – see we’re wanderers at heart and want to see the world before we go homing. [sic] Had a very delicious Tom Collins before dinner tonight – it was delicious because it had ice & lemon in it and some powdered sugar that V Donahue bought with her – – the French Gin isn’t very good. We swapped an old flashlight that Ruth had for it – – we’re getting pretty good at swapping.
We all have an invitation to a dance tonight at a villa – don’t know how we’ll all fit but nevertheless we will – it’s formal & I’m wearing Jamesie’s new cotton evening grown that her sister sent her – – then I’ll wear my white moccasins – I’ll clean them up.
The patients are all up and around now so I took the whole bunch of them to the show this pm – R.C. and the picture was “Untamed” Pretty good in comparison to some we’ve seen. It’s an Arab or French movies [sic[ that they hire and we scratched all the way through it, but we’re used to that by now – there are more damn bugs and rats and lizards in this place than there are in the whole U.S.A.
Last night we went to bed at nine pm – imagine that. We had a practice air raid alarm & it was early so we went to bed. Honestly we stay in so much now at night that it’s disgusting – – not that we don’t have 5 or 6 chances to go out each night but we just don’t want to. We’re going to the dance to night & to a party at 4 tomorrow – – even Ruth & Dot haven’t been going out for [nigh?] onto 3 weeks.
May 22, 1943
This V-mail was addressed to the entire family. Nurses, being officers, could not openly socialize with enlisted personnel (except, it seems, accidentally during practice blackouts). Griffin wrote in an October 21, 1943 letter that two nurses had been disciplined for attending an enlisted men’s dance.
Another line today – – it sure is a beautiful day – we had a beaut of a thunderstorm just before we went to the dance, but it cleared up- – track wet though. We were dancing about 1½ hours and the men weren’t very good – – then we had a practice blackout and a Lt came up and asked me to dance – then in about 5 minutes another and they were all swell dancers. Then the blackout was over & the lights went on & I discovered I had been dancing with the enlisted men of the ochestra. [sic] It was swell and they were darn good dancers. Their Col. was there though so they couldn’t continue. The ochestra was the best yet. You see there’s a whole bunch of men back for a rest – and these boys with them. Everyone had a good time and we were home by 1 – – party tonite.
May 23, 1943
This V-mail, presented in its entirety, was addressed to Griffin’s sister Marg and brother-in-law John; although apparently about the same dance as the previous V-mail’s, she emphasized different aspects to them.
Received V Mail of May 5 last night or rather 330 this a.m. Had a swell time at the dance and had ice-cream – it was swell. It was really a very nice dance – – in a [Nissen] hut and the orchestra [sic] had just come from the states so we heard all the latest songs – – White Xmas was first on the Hit Parade when we left Devens and we haven’t heard new ones since. They are all very slow though. Why don’t they get going on some peppy ones? We were saying that there hasn’t been a real snappy song since Praise the Lord and Dot LeCain piped up with “How about Yankee Doodle Dandy”? And she was really serious – – so we explained to her how old that one was. The dance was to celebrate the boys being on foreign service one year and we certainly did celebrate. I played the drums and all those things that go with it and then I sang two solos. Everyone clapped & wanted an encore but I wanted to dance so I directed the o[r]chestra until they got going again. Honestly sometimes I wonder if I am quite sane but I have a good time and everyone likes my company so what.
May 24, 1943
This V-mail is presented in its entirety. It references the departure of Colonel Theodore Burstein, who was relieved by Lieutenant Colonel Gayland L. Hagelshaw on May 23, 1943.
Hi Muth & All-
Have a few minutes before the mail leave [sic] so here’s a dashed off note. We are to get mail every day now per order of our new Col– the other one had a coronary and is going back as soon as he is better. Jimmie – V Donahue – Ruth – Dot & I went for a swell walk about eight o clock last night. I took them up and showed them the tree in the park that has the red roses way up the tree as far almost as the tree is. It’s a beautiful sight. Then we cut through the flower garden & down a path through another park. Ruth wanted to know where I ever found the place– Janine & Nicole showed it to me. Then we went on to the town and had coffee at the red cross. When we got home we made lemonade and had a nice sandwich between us. I have a sore mouth from eating so many tomatoes – lemons etc but I figure we won’t be able to eat them for long. Had some small fruit yesterday- they were small things that tasted like peaches but weren’t. Well, I’ll write tomorrow- take care & don’t let Peter bite the legs too much. Think my gown may come tonight. Be Seeing you all.
Loads of Love
May 27, 1943
This letter mostly concerns an outing that Griffin shared with Ruth Donovan, Ella James, and Virginia Donehue to a town on the Mediterranean Sea. Although the town isn’t identified, my best guess would be Béni Saf, because Griffin’s June 16, 1943 letter stated: “We’ve been invited to a villa at Beni Saf but we’re still trying to get permission.”
Hi Muth, Cath, Marg & All –
Thought I’d write & tell you about the lovely afternoon Ruth, Jimmie, Virginia & I had yesterday. The other kids were working & we had P.M.’s. We had the time and nothing to do – no transportation. Well, we happened to see a Navy truck in front of the hospital & as they are on the ocean, we decided we’d see if they’d take us so J. R & I went hunting for the doctor. I saw him & went up to ask and those devils R & J weren’t in back of me at all– – but I asked anyhow. He said he’d gladly drive us out if we didn’t mind being crowded so we ran over and got into our suits and slacks and off we went–.. it sure was crowded for a long drive but it was worth it. The water was swell – our first since we moved up here and did we have fun. Great big waves – it’s usually calm – and then we went in a rowboat – the enlisted boys took us. We were supposed to attend a meeting last night at 8 but we were having too much fun & we couldn’t have made it anyhow. Then we had mess there & a nice cold glass of beer – – Then they took us up to visit a Frenchman who owns practically the whole town – what a beautiful place they have. There’s the man, his wife, daughter(16) and son. They treated us like queens & got out the very best wine they had. They have a beautiful (American) radio & Victrola combination. The Vic plays 12 records. So we danced for a while & then went out to watch the sunset over the water. It certainly was lovely with the water, mts, & red sky. We had to leave after that and the man said he’d like us to come live there next month. He speaks English & he said in the town where we are now we’d perspire all the time but in his house we would be nice & cool and could go swimming – – he thinks we can take time off just like that. We promised we’d go back in a couple of weeks, though. We will if we can get transportation. We arrived home @ 11.45 pm – very dusty & tired but very happy. The navy [men?] sure treated us nice – oh if we only had a car.
The next excerpt mentions a new schedule instituted by Lieutenant Colonel Hagelshaw, although the details aren’t completely clear. Presumably Griffin was working five hour shifts, swinging between day and afternoon shift? It seems unlikely that she would describe the C.O. as “very nice” if they were swinging between five hour days and seventeen hour evening/night shifts!
Our new C.O. is very nice & as we are not [busy] now he has put us on 9 30 to 2 30 off one day & 2 30 7 30 the next – alternating.
Cath wants the No of money orders but I have allotted $110 – I won’t be sending any more. I pay 6.45 for insurance now and we spend the rest on laundry, fruit & veg. & boy are they good. We’re all getting very tan now & boy am I freckled.
The following passage mentions a pair of officers that Griffin served with at Lovell General Hospital—located at Fort Devens, Massachusetts—in the fall of 1942 prior to joining the 32nd Station Hospital: Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Nash and Captain L. Gertrude Thompson. Dr. Nash (then a major) was also mentioned in the Mary O’Dowd letter displayed in the Introduction to the Alice Griffin Collection.
According to the 1942 Lovell General Hospital yearbook, Major Joseph Nash held the position of Assistant Chief of Surgical Service. His permanent address was listed as New York City. He graduated from Fordham University in 1922 and from medical school at New York University in 1926. He was commissioned as a 1st lieutenant in the U.S. Army Medical Corps on June 8, 1926 and promoted to captain on December 24, 1941. Based on a handwritten alteration to the yearbook, it seems he was probably promoted to major sometime in 1942 (and based on the letter, he was probably promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1943). He was also described as “Fellow of American College of Surgeons, Diplomate of American Board of Surgery. Assoc. Visiting Surgeon, Bellevue Hospital; Asst. Professor of Clinical Surgery, N. Y. Univ. Med. College.” In spite of this wealth of information, because of his common name, I have been unable to learn anything else about him.
Captain L. Gertrude Thompson (1894–1984) was born in New York. Census records indicate that the L. stood for Lillian. A May 8, 1945 article in The Sun (Baltimore, Maryland) by Maurine Brooks stated that Thompson attended nursing school at Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington, D.C. According to the 1948 Official Army and Air Force Register, she was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps on March 13, 1922. She was promoted to 1st lieutenant on July 15, 1941 and captain on July 15, 1941. After leaving Lovell General Hospital (probably sometime in 1943), she was assigned to the position of Principal Chief Nurse at Walter Reed General Hospital. According to the article by Maurine Brooks, “The head of the 217-woman nursing staff at the hospital is a veteran of 26 years Army duty, who has herself griped because she was born too late for overseas duty in the last war and too early for it in this one.” She was promoted to lieutenant colonel (apparently skipping the rank of major if the register is correct) on December 10, 1943) and retired on October 31, 1947.
Received a letter from Lt. Col. Nash from Devens the other day and today a letter from our former chief nurse at Devens, Capt Thompson – both very newsy letters –
May 29, 1943
Haven’t heard from you people for a while but I’ll get them all at once. Last time – I guess about a week ago – Dot Ruth & I all heard the same night so we all ought to hear again soon. The V mails don’t get here any quicker than air mail & we don’t like the V mail.
It’s very hot here now – a dry, dusty, and hot heat. We don’t go out in the daytime unless we’re going swimming. If I can get to a town about 50 mi from here, I am going to get some leather hassocks to send home. I didn’t get any here because they are 20 & 30 dollars. Over at the other town, they are $6.00 so I will get one a month – they really are nice.
I don’t think all my mail is getting there so if you read something in one letter & you don’t know what I’m taking about it’s because there’s something missing. I have written every day with the exception of 3 or 4.
I was initially confused by the next excerpt, which implied that ice cream was being shipped with the dress, but apparently dehydrated ice cream was a thing during World War II.
My papers are coming in swell – – wish the darn evening gown would come so I can get the ice-cream – boy will that be good. Do they still have those powdered coloring for cold drinks in the summer, if so I’d like some of those to [sic] – boy can I ever keep you busy. You see the chocolate & crackers aren’t being sent now because of the hot weather so we have lemonade instead & they are getting dry so we’ll need coloring.
May 30, 1943
Today is Memorial Day and as I am working this morning, could not join the big parade to go to church. Ruth, Dot & I all went to 6 30 Mass. Certainly doesn’t seem at all like Memorial Day – – no hot dogs, balloons etc to have at the cemetery.
Ruth & I have a chance to go swimming again – – the other kids are on duty again – – guess we’re just plain lucky. We’re very tired because we didn’t get home from the formal until 2 00 am. The ride is a good two hours over & 2 back but we decided it was worth it. The dance last night was in a cement building with a cement floor & no lights. So they drove the cars up to the doorways and left the headlights on. Then we sprinkled [unclear, looks like fauna] on the floor & it was pretty good. Ruth hasn’t been going out much lately – – we took a good hour trying to talk her into it – – in fact all of us stay home a lot. I won’t go out all week now. There are at least five dates for each one of us at night if we want them but we mostly stick to our rooms, unless a dance comes up – or a dinner. Vipers – aren’t we?
I have been unable to identify the naval officer named Prescott described in the next excerpt; the 32nd Station Hospital’s 1st Lieutenant William A. Carey, Jr. is also mentioned.
Peter still growing like a weed? Have you seen Mitch lately or Helen & Sull.? Did I tell you there was a C.O. from the Navy at dinner one day by the name of Prescott. Guess he had quite a big political wedding years ago – married a girl by the name of White. I didn’t see him but Lt Carey gave or promised him some of my Boston papers. Those papers sure do travel.
I found the reference to “Hoodsies” in the postscript below interesting, since according to the Hood Dairy website, the “Hoodsie cup”—half chocolate, half vanilla—had “been motivating kids to clean their plates since 1947.” An inquiry to the Hood Dairy on the discrepancy received this response from Susan Fuller of H.P. Hood Consumer Affairs: “They were around earlier than 1947 (this is the date the company chose because they became popular).”
P.S. Next month is Dorchester Day – do you think I’ll be able to get an armful of Hoodsies – hope they still give them to the kids.
June 1, 1943
It seems that the Mediterranean Base Section banned local produce due to concerns about disease (something elaborated on in Griffin’s June 8 letter), but it is unclear whether Griffin actually obeyed the order! “Cuke” is slang for cucumber.
I received an envelope with two cards in and and [sic] 3 pieces of very pretty (much needed) plaid ribbon for my hair. Had an American movie last night – (Appointment for Love and we howled all through it.[)] Another order came in from our Base that we were absolutely not to eat any tomatoes – cukes – cherries etc – now I ask you – – we eat so many tomats etc that we wouldn’t know what to do if we couldn’t eat them – we are the healthiest looking individuals going. I’m going to be ashamed to get off the boat and meet you people I’m so black and freckled – but at least, tell Margie I haven’t put on weight – so that’s sumpin.
I wrote to Auntie and told her if she could snitch a couple of chocolate bars anywhere to send them on – I’ve been dying for one – nothing like nerve but I knew if she could get a couple she would – for her darling niece. They stopped the chocolate bars and all kinds of cookies and crackers more than a month ago and you know me. Jimmie & Claire used to give me their one box of cheese tidbits that we used to get weekly & now I’m completely spoiled & lost.
June 3, 1943
The town mentioned may be Oujda, Morocco, based on a reference in a June 28 V-mail which likely refers to the same shopping expedition: “We visited Oudjda one day & I bought some hassock covers down the real Arab quarters.”
Went to a town about 50 miles southwest of the town where we are yesterday & the darn truck broke down – it took us two and one half hours to get back– we were dusty & dirty but well satisfied with our purchases. I got two hassock covers which I will send home– one for Marg & one for you Muth. Then I got a camels hide case for Cath to carry her plays around in – it’s good and stiff so it should hold a lot. We bargained & bargained with the man – we went way down in the real Arab quarters – had to get a special pass from the provost marshall [sic]. I paid 300 francs fore [sic] one and 400 for the other hassock & I got home & the kids had exactly like the 300 one that they paid 1,000 francs for.
The man who gave Griffin the ring in the following excerpt isn’t specifically identified. It may be the Tank Destroyer officer known as Jack. In a July 12 V-mail to her sister, Catherine, Griffin wrote:
Jack has another present for me – don’t know what it is but I killed him for getting it– it’s something from Oudjda. The ring he gave me is real gold & very lovely – I killed him for getting that but he just laughed and said he liked to buy things for me.
If both letters describe the same ring, it could seem odd that she wrote about the same gift in letters a month apart. It’s possible that she avoided identifying him by name in the June 3 letter so that her family wouldn’t assume that things were getting serious with Jack. Or, there were just an awful lot of officers in North Africa who liked giving Griffin rings!
[I] got another present yesterday – a very lovely real gold ring with an old fashioned ladies head on it. It is very odd and very nice. The night before last Jimmie, Ruth, Wanda and I went out with four officers and they were really very nice and we had a swell time – singing & acting crazy. They came down again yesterday at noon to ask us if we’d go out tonight and we told them yes. My friend shook hands when he left and in my hand was a ring box with the ring – – I didn’t want to take it but he said he bought it for me and wanted me to. I have it on so I think I’ll send my silver one home- I don’t want to wear two. – – so look in the box.
June 6, 1943
Although usually used as shorthand for “olive drab” in Griffin’s letters, O.D. in this context would mean “on duty.”
This is the earliest letter in the collection which mentions Jack beyond any doubt.
June 6, 1943.
2 a m
Hi Muth & All
I’m working tonight 12 to 7.30 and I’m not a bit sleepy. The nurse who is usually on got sick and as my date couldn’t come because he had to be O.D., I volunteered to work – I’ll have all day tomorrow off and Jack will come tomorrow afternoon. He really is a very nice boy but he’s only here for a week or two – curses on the luck. If he comes early enough tomorrow, we can perhaps go swimming.
Ruth, Jimmie, & Wanda have gone out with the other three that we were going with – – they wanted me to go along but I wouldn’t. Wait until they come back and find me working.
I oiled my hair today and went to wash it – no water. When the water finally came on it was stone cold but I washed it anyhow and Dot did it in pin curls. The curls looked swell but is my hair ever oily- – it will wear off in a few days. Everything is very dry & dusty now so the hair is too – – and you should see the tan & freckles we are getting. Ruth is dark too but the sun is so hot it tans you right up & Ruth is fit to be tied. By the last letter she got guess her father isn’t so good.
Dot has gone to a formal tonight – she looked very nice – we didn’t want to go because it wasn’t given by the outfit the boys that we were going with are in so of course outsiders weren’t allowed.
I haven’t received my package with the ice cream & gown in but I’m not alarmed because I know it will get here sooner or later. I’ve been wearing Jimmie’s cotton one– –honestly that girl would give me the shirt off of her back. She makes me go to bed early the nights I stay in and is always after me to pick up my things, take care of my money etc. Sometimes she’ll be telling me to do this or that and we can hear Ruth & Dot howling in the next room & then Jimmie laughs. You see her kid sister is my age & she put her through training so I guess it’s that. So she’s taken right on where Mary & Helen left off – no need to worry about whether or not I’m getting along.
Blanche Stewart (McQueen, 1914–2005), mentioned in the following excerpt, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts. According to her obituary in The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, Massachusetts), she “earned a nursing degree from New England Baptist Hospital School of Nursing” and served as “a surgical nurse in the Army Nurse Corps from 1942 to 1945.” She reached the rank of 1st lieutenant. She married another officer, Cyril P. McQueen (1912–1997), in Redding, England in 1943. The couple had one daughter. She lived in Lenox, Massachusetts prior to her death, aged 91.
Got a letter from Blanche Stewart & she was getting married the following week – she’s in England (the fat girl with dark eyes & hair that I worked nights with at Devens.[)] You can’t get married over here you know without permission from both col’s and then it has to go through channels – takes about two months.
Oh by the way, the four of us and three boys were right out in our own back yard tonight picking cherries – jealous – even if we haven’t got ice-cream, we have fruit. Can’t describe the country cause it’s all brown & hot now. Be seeing you after duration & 6 mos
The closing references the common term of service for servicemembers during World War II: “Enlistment for the duration of the War or other emergency, plus six months, subject to the discretion of the President or otherwise according to law”.
June 8, 1943 (V-mail)
This V-mail mentions the reactions to the caricature that Griffin had shipped earlier; unfortunately, the drawing itself is lost to history. The “ring man” may be the Tank Destroyer officer referred to as Jack or another unidentified man mentioned previously in the June 3 letter.
What do you people mean poking fun of my good caricature – why that was done in a store window with everyone watching. It’s too hot now to write as much. You see the only time we go out now is back & forth to the hospital and then at night when the sun goes down – – who said a breeze comes up at night in the mts. It’s hotter than Boston ever was. Have been out with my ring man twice since then – I think he’s pretty nice- but he’s 60 miles away & can’t come much.
June 8, 1943 (Letter)
This letter is presented in its entirety.
Tuesday June 8,
Wrote a V mail today and wasn’t going to write for a while but it rained for 5 minutes today & made it a little cooler.
Things are just swell but the flys & mosquitos aren’t so hot. We are absolutely forbidden to have tomatoes – cukes & things now so guess that’s that – too many cases of diarrhea – but I still say it’s the flys & not the fruit.
The man who wrote the skits, identified only as Hampton, was described in Griffin’s July 13, 1943 letter as a wardman at the hospital. She also wrote that he was a former child actor and the nephew of Benjamin Hampton (presumably—but not definitely—Benjamin Bowles Hampton (1875–1932)).
When this article was first published, I wrote that I was unable to identify the 32nd Station Hospital’s Hampton. I subsequently obtained the 32nd Station Hospital’s July 1943 payroll records, which included a Private First Class John S. Hampton (service number 39024340).
John Sugg Hampton was born in Asheville, North Carolina on May 15, 1906 (the son of John Hampton, a physician, and Emma Hampton, a nurse). He might have been the John S. Hampton living in Asheville who was working as a file clerk at an advertising company at the time of the 1930 census. When he registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, he was living in Los Angeles County, California and working as a teacher at Fairfax High School. He entered the U.S. Army on March 26, 1942 at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro, California. Though the fact that he was living in California at the time he joined the Army is a curious detail, I was not able to confirm either that he was a child actor or that he was related to Benjamin Bowles Hampton. Private Hampton joined the 32nd Station Hospital from the 804th Tank Destroyer Battalion on June 5, 1943. He left the 32nd Station Hospital for rotation back the United States on June 14, 1944. One year before his death, he moved to Greenwood, Mississippi, where his sister lived. His obituary in The Greenwood Commonwealth—printed the day after his death on January 29, 1985—stated that “He worked twenty five years with the Veterans Administration in Los Angeles, where he retired in 1970.”
In a July 2, 1943 V-mail Griffin wrote that the skits mentioned in this letter weren’t actually performed: “Cath we never did go on with those skits–had two rehearsals & it was too hot– the perspiration just dripped – so we put it off for the summer.” No extant correspondence mentions whether they were performed in the fall.
Ruth Donovan’s nephew was able to shed some light on the line in the following excerpt that “she still thinks about her father a lot & wonders if she did the right thing.” Donovan’s father, William F. Donovan (1884–1945) was in poor health when she went on active duty. After she went overseas, she did not see him again prior to his death in early 1945.
By the way we are putting on a few skits for the pts some time next week and although they are very short they promise to be good. The boy who wrote it also wrote the scenario for Mutiny on the Bounty a [sic] other things. His name is Hampton and he’s good. Ruth is my mother in one small skit and she said “For Heaven’s sake I’ve been playing mother to you since the last of Dec and now look what happens.” I’m glad she’s in it because she still thinks about her father a lot & wonders if she did the right thing. We do have an awful lot of fun. Just now Dot is having her turn at diarrhea so she won’t be in the plays — after all there’s no John at the City hall. Dot is the last – but not the least – – she’ll be all over it in a couple of days. By the way Alice E is now 122 lbs – pretty good huh. Jimmie says you wouldn’t mind but I disgrace them when we go out to eat — eat all mine & anything that’s left over and I go from 137 down to 122 and feel fit as a fiddle.
The following excerpt mentions Ann Bach (1906–1976), another of Ella James’s sisters. Three of the James girls (Ella, Ann, and Winnifred, who was mentioned in Griffin’s March 25, 1943 letter) emigrated from Canada to New England before the war.
Jimmie says to be sure & write her sister if she doesn’t send a check to cover what’s over. She has mentioned it in two letters to her sister but possibly the letters might not get there. Mrs. Anne Bach, Melba Inn – New Canaan Conn. So don’t be afraid to write – did you ever get the pictures?
Claire LaBonne had at least four brothers, so it’s unclear which one is mentioned in the following excerpt. L. Daniel LaBonne (1912–1994?) was mentioned in Griffin’s April 24, 1943 letter. LaBonne’s father, George managed a meat market; the family had fruit trees for their own personnel use, rather than as part of the business. George’s business is considered the predecessor of LaBonne’s Markets, which still operates four grocery stores in Connecticut.
Claire’s brother has planted some trees in their orchard & Jimmie, Claire & I are all having one named after us – so you see we really are quite popular. He says he doesn’t believe in monuments for the dead – just trees for the living.
Well all, guess this is about all for tonight. Time for me to turn in. I’ll write again soon – pray that it keeps cool.
I’ll be seeing you.
Loads of love
June 12, 1943 (V-mail)
This V-mail is presented in its entirety. Though it mentions three guidebooks, the only extant one in the collection is an English-language guidebook to Tlemcen, where the hospital was based in Algeria. It’s unknown if that’s one of the guidebooks mentioned in the letter, though if it was, describing it as a town they visited (rather than where they were based) could be a way to satisfy regulations on censorship.
Hi Muth & All,
Sent a small package last night – two books of towns we have visited and then a guidebook of a very nice little town we visited. I think you people will like them – we couldn’t send them before but now that the war here is over, we can. The booklets are hard to get but if I find more interesting ones I’ll send them on.
Jimmie Claire & I had more fun this morning. We’re getting rid of things and the girl who does the work here has been wearing black right along. She’s only 21 and looks 35. So off came her black sweater and skirt – on went my red & white seersucker dress – a red ribbon around her hair and lipstick. She looks like a different girl – [five?] years in mourning we told her was stupid. Our seamstress was here too and Claire & Jimmie gave her their white seersucker uniforms. They think we are all so carefree and they think it is wonderful. So Claire told her we would have the whole town changed over – the woman said we already [unclear] So when we soon leave we’ll at least [unclear] we’re Americanized the place – most [unclear] speak Eng now. Will write soon Loads of love. Alice
[In right margin:] THE SNAPSHOTS ARE STILL BEING LOOKED AT. They’re swell.
June 12, 1943 (Letter)
This short letter is presented in its entirety. The photos mentioned, like so many others, appear to be lost.
Hi Muth & All,
Am sending these pictures and will you give one to Dot’s & Ruth & Jeffries’ mother. You see we haven’t enough paper to print. For all but I thought they’d enjoy having them. After the war we are going to make prints of all pictures.
Jack couldn’t come down last night so I was in bed at 9 p.m. and wide awake for church at six. It’s so hot now that you feel like a drowned rat and all tired out by 5 p.m. Hope the next place will be cooler. Honestly we’re never satisfied but when the temp is 90° at 2 a m in the mts, it’s something.
Guess this is all I have chance to write – I’m on alone this a m (Sunday) with 42 pts & 18 of them bed pts – we’re gradually discharging them though. Did you get my other pictures — of the fantasia & the barbeque.
June 13, 1943
Ella James continued her “mother hen” routine in this V-mail. As the next letter reveals, they didn’t actually go to the rest camp discussed in this letter. The aside to Cath about planting probably refers to the seeds Griffin requested in her March 15, 1943 letter.
We are getting ready to go to a rest camp for five days – how do you like that? The whole gang of us are going together to a villa on the Med. Sea – rich bitches. You see we have been quite busy and now our pts. are all being discharged so they thought a vacation would do us good before we start again. Jimmie is yelling away for me to get my things picked up, Ruth is reading Stars & Stipes, Claire is writing and we’re all laughing at Jimmie. She mad at me because yesterday she washed my hair & did it all up in pin curls & now it looks like the devil. Does Margie miss her suit? I wore it today – sure looks fine since I lost that extra weight. Cath we haven’t planted the things because they won’t have time to grow. Hope your garden comes along OK. Red [sic] a V mail from Muth & Air mail from you today.
June 15, 1943 (V-mail)
This V-mail is the only instance when Griffin directly addressed Jack’s feelings for her. Perhaps for that reason, it is also the first instance of Griffin telling her family that, in regard to the relationship, “in Africa things are different”. Griffin used some variation on this phrase several more times, apparently to communicate to her curious family that the relationship wasn’t that serious. The phrase, which has a vaguely “What happens in Vegas” vibe to it, suggested that Griffin saw the relationship as two people enjoying companionship under the extraordinary circumstances of being overseas during wartime, but that she did not see a future between them.
We aren’t going to the rest camp – we don’t want to because they are in tents and we’re very comfy how we are – might as well take advantage of it while I can.
Jack came over last night and we had a swell time dance in the lobby to the Victrola. He likes slow waltzes so naturally I like the way he dances. He’s really very nice and says he is very much in love with me but in Africa things are different although I do like him more than anyone I’ve ever met and I only see him twice a week.
June 15, 1943 (Letter)
Hi Muth, Cath & All–
I am sending ten dollars in this letter as a little gift for Cath– – she’s to buy something she really wants and not to be spent for bills or anything. Orders from 2nd Lt Alice E Griffin. I’ve had it for quite a while and as it will be many months before I can use it I would like that big sister of mine to enjoy it.
I’m a bit perplexed by the following paragraph. It’s documented that nurses and officers from other units (the 46th General Hospital in particular) substituted for 32nd Station Hospital personnel during vacations. However, if it is referring to that kind of arrangement, it’s unclear why the six nurses would be described as coming to the 32nd for a “rest”. It’s also unclear what Lieutenant Colonel Gayland L. Hagelshaw was getting a big kick out of (nurses not wanting to go on leave?). It does appear that unit morale was higher under him than his successor, Lieutenant Colonel Harold L. Goss.
Well the first group of kids arrived back from the rest camp today – after a two day stay so that finishes it – none of us will go. And to top it off we have six nurses coming here tomorrow for a rest and they’ll keep coming here until their unit all has their vacation. Do you wonder we don’t want to leave. Our new Col got the biggest kick out of it – he is just swell and everyone is so happy – just one big family.
Washed my beige dress the other day & it came out swell but I didn’t notice grease on the back of it until it was all ironed. The grease is from Jack’s jeep – which has been all around the fighting line so I don’t wonder it’s dirty. He usually makes sure that the seat is well covered but one night we dashed out for lemons & I didn’t bother waiting. Jeanne – the maid here is going to fix it now.
I’m going to Nicole’s house Sat night at 830 for dinner. They have a beautiful home & they all speak English. I’ve been up there a lot for tea but never to a real dinner – – I suppose I’ll be full.
The telegrams were swell. Ruth & I both got them today. Sure was a surprise. I won’t be able to send one because only 8 out of the whole outfit can send them a month –so 400 telegrams to be sent and I have good connections with home – I’d rather let the others who need to get them in first.
June 16, 1943
The reference to the villa in this V-mail may be the same one mentioned in Griffin’s May 27, 1943 letter.
Jimmie & I got a permanent today and they’re not bad – in fact mine looks better than any I’ve ever had in the U.S. – – hope it doesn’t grow too fast – and only 120 francs ([unclear].40). Miss Brammer told me she wanted me to be booked for the rest camp for Monday and I flatly refused– I’d be going with another bunch & I don’t want to go anyhow – none of us will go. We’ve been invited to a villa at Beni Saf but we’re still trying to get permission. The owner his wife and son live there and it is a beautiful spot – we could have the use of his car too and our own crowd are the ones that were invited – we may [wiggle?] it yet. It isn’t up to our chief nurse or col. or else we’d have permission by now. Cath – don’t bother with the digest because Jimmie & Ruth already get it. I would like to have the Ladies Home Journal, though – -I really do miss that magazine. So if there’s any way possible, send it along. In time, I think our A.P.O. will be changed but it will always catch up with us.
June 17, 1943
The villa mentioned in this V-mail might be Villa Rivaud (later a common venue for social engagements) but that’s not confirmed.
Just left the ward to run out & watch the French soldiers parade – band – horses & all. They are all reorganized now I guess – gee you should have seen all that went by – just like a parade for Bunker Hill Day – only no free eats & drinks. Did I mention that we are having a dance tomorrow night – just 15 couples and it’s going to be at a villa at the top of a mountain. Jack’s company is giving it and naturally he will be here. I told Jimmie & Ruth I was going to kick them right in the pants because now I can’t even sing a song without them saying “Is that for Jack”? And you know how much I love to sing. I wrote to Mrs. O’Dowd right away as soon as I got her address. Stayed in last night and the night before. Only go out two nights a week now. We stay in and the time goes so fast. It’s light here until 10 p m so time flys. We always manage to get something to eat – I eat two helpings about every meal, 4 in between & I still stay 120 lbs – good huh? Red – M26th & June 3rd Air mail.
June 19, 1943
This V-mail describes the party mentioned in the June 17 V-mail.
Ruth Donovan was listed with the assignment of Anesthetist on the unit’s December 31, 1943 roster; this letter would seem to suggest she had only recently taken on that assignment. If so, that would be consistent with Principal Chief Nurse Helen W. Brammer’s 1943 “Report of Nursing Activities” which stated that, while the unit was in staging at Bouisseville, Algeria in late January or early February 1943: “It was at this time that the possibility of training a Nurse as an anesthetist was considered and five Nurses started a theoretical course on the subject.” Although Donovan’s obituary stated that she graduated from “University Hospital School of Anesthesia in Cleveland, Ohio”, this probably happened after the war; she graduated from nursing school at Cambridge City Hospital School of Nursing on March 11, 1942, shortly before she joined the U.S. Army.
We had a very nice dance last night – Ruth – Jimmie – Kay D – Wanda & I all went. There were about 15 couples & we all enjoyed ourselves immensely. It was given at a villa way up in the mts. Jack was over and now he’s gone – so that’s the end of a very nice companion– – so this is war and things just go over – wonder who I’ll meet next that I like as well. I have a boy here now who is a question of an emergency – append – Ruth is busy now – they are doing another emergency. Since Ruth’s been giving anesthesia she’s been very busy but she loves it.
June 20, 1943
This V-mail, written at 1 a.m., is presented in its entirety. Circumstantial evidence strongly supports the likelihood that Nicole Messiah’s brother, mentioned in this letter, was Albert Messiah (1921–2013), or his brother André (1920–2006). (Nicole is linked to these men by several family trees.) The only clues to his identity in the letter are that he had been in the army for three years, had not seen his family during that time, and spoke English.
In June 1940, during the collapse of France, Albert and André escaped to England and joined the Free French Forces in July 1940. In a 2009 interview, Albert Messiah stated that he participated in the Battle of Dakar; he served in Africa until sometime in 1944. André’s also served in Africa and both Messiah brothers served with the French 2nd Armored Division during its operations towards the end of the war; both reached the rank of lieutenant. In his 2009 interview, Albert commented on the irony that he, a Jewish soldier, helped to capture Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest” (the Kehlsteinhaus, near Berchtesgaden, Germany). After the war, Albert Messiah became a physicist, studying at Princeton and the University of Rochester, authoring a book about quantum mechanics, and working in the field of nuclear energy in France. Shortly before his death, he was made a commander in the Legion of Honor.
If the family trees are correct, there still isn’t enough evidence to say for certain which brother the Griffin letter referred to, given the similar outlines of their military careers. Albert’s postwar studies in the United States would tend to suggest fluency in English, but that would not necessarily rule out André.
Update: Shortly after this article was published, I posted this letter on a site that includes profiles of members of the Free French Forces, including Albert Messiah. I was subsequently contacted by Alain Godec, who provided the photo displayed above. He wrote that based on the date of the letter, “this can only be the older one André Messiah who was in an anti-aircraft unit : SA28 (Section d’Artillerie 28), which later merged into the 22e GCFTA (anti-aircraft regiment)”. Godec explained that: “The younger brother Albert Messiah (based on an interview I had with him) at that time was still in Bangui (Oubangui-Chari) with the BTO (Bataillon de l’Oubangui-Chari).” He also told me that both brothers escaped from Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France on June 22, 1940 aboard a Polish troopship. He said they “had to disguise themselves into polish soldiers and learn a few polish words to be able to get on board because the French authorities were controlling who got on board and as per the new collaborationist government, no French citizen was allowed to leave France or to join a foreign army.”
Dr. Nace Cohen is also mentioned in the letter. Dr. Cohen’s son told me that his father spoke Ladino, or Judaeo-Spanish, a language spoken by Sephardic Jews. Albert Messiah mentioned in the 2009 interview that his paternal grandfather was a Sephardic Jew; if this was the grandfather mentioned in the letter, it would make sense for Dr. Cohen to be speaking with him in Ladino. Spanish and Ladino are mutually intelligible, so if my theory is correct, Griffin may have mistaken Ladino for Spanish.
Hi Muth & All
Dashed off a V mail this noon and here’s another one. Am sitting on the edge of my bed – already to hop in. Two of the doctors & I were invited up to Nicole’s house for dinner tonight and what a delicious dinner. Nicole’s brother who is in the French army–and home for the first time in 3 years – was there. Her sister speaks English very fluently as does the brother and Nicole is coming right along. Capt Cohen was speaking to the grandfather in Spanish – another group was speaking in French and another in English (Jimmie just came in). We had cold broth first – then chopped peppers & tomatoes & other stuff baked in a pie shell (something like [pritsa?] pie) then pan baked potatoes & lamb– then some very delicious pastry and fresh figs – apricots etc just as they were picked from the trees. Coffee was served outside and we certainly had a lovely evening. I have the morning off tomorrow but I’m getting up a [sic] 6 for church & then going back to bed. Guess this is all for now – I’ll write again tomorrow. Love to all of you Alice
June 21, 1943
This V-mail is presented in its entirety.
Hi Muth, Cath, Marg etc
Just a few minutes to dash off a V mail today – the first day of summer – phooey[,] hot weather started ages ago. We must have rain – sun etc when you people do by your letters but many degrees more here. My ward is rather cool though because the building is brick. Jimmie has a nice hot walk up a hill to work and Claire works in the Nissen huts where it’s very hot – Ruth in the O.R. so I guess I am the luckiest one in regards to being cool. They gave Dot Sulfaguanidine for her diarrhea & on the eighth day she got a reaction from it and temp shot up to 104 – -you should have seen her face and body – we howled she looked so funny. So help me that girl just gets over one thing & gets another – but nothing serious. We’re invited out to dinner tonight – you see they have many rest camps around here now and the officers have nothing to do so a bunch of them invite us out quite frequently to eat. It’s a race to see who gets the food first – flies or us and then you have to shut your mouth quick before the flies run in and take it out again. And do they bite – I’m bitten from head to foot. Good thing Pete isn’t here [with] his light comp. I’ll write tomorrow. Loads of love Al.
June 22, 1943
Griffin told a slightly different version of the amusing story recorded in this letter—about her inadvertently scheduling a date with two Tank Destroyer officers at the same time—in another letter, written on October 24, 1943. In the October telling, she specifically identified Jack as the second officer involved. Also, though Ruth Donovan threw her to the wolves in the June version of the story, in the October telling, Ruth eventually helped Griffin get each of the men alone to smooth things over by scheduling new dates.
Hi Muth & All
We’ll see how long this takes to get there. Haven’t written a regular letter for a while. It’s a bit cooler today – hope its [sic] stays like this – only about 100°
Had myself in a fix yesterday and Ruth just laughed & wouldn’t help me out. A boy from the TDs who I’ve been out [with] a few times came in & asked me if I’d go to a dinner dance with him – all the kids were going so I said yes. We were sitting in the lobby talking with another boy from another TD outfit came in – I had forgotten that he was coming down – it was really very unexpected and embarrasing. [sic] So I went into Ruth & told her my troubles & she howled her head off and said “Now you figure it out – you[all?] laughed at Jimmie, Dot & I enough.” So out I went again and we went up town – all this time one glaring at the other. Came back for mess & the kids all smirking when I went into the mess hall with them. So finally I got the first one aside – told him I couldn’t go to the dance but if he could come down Wed afternoon I’d spend my p.m. with him (a great honor) and maybe we could get transportation to the beach. So that took care of that situation. But now he’s coming Wed the other one is coming Friday again & all I want to do is go to bed early and tell all men to go to Hell for a while. First we all go out for a couple of weeks and then you can’t drag us out of our rooms – I tell you we’re crazy. We hate to refuse because everyone has been swell to us but there has to be an ending some time — can’t work & play too for a very long stretch.
Heard something funny from a boy who was up at the front. He told me that after everything was over & they were marching the prisoners along to put them in camp, our boys were razzing them. One of the prisoners turned around and said – “Why should you razz us? We’re going to your country, America, and you still have to go to Europe and fight?”
Take care – and by gosh if we take care of Europe like we did Africa, why we’ll be home by Xmas. Wonder just where we’ll go next – it won’t be too long.
June 24, 1943 (V-mail)
This V-mail was addressed to Griffin’s sister Marg and brother-in-law John.
I hear Pete is a famer now – gosh I’ll bet Cath has fun with him. Guess what we had for dinner? Fresh potatoes – the first since January and did we pounce on them & were they good. We usually don’t eat the others – guess maybe that’s where the 15 lbs came off of me. And then another surprise last night for all of us was a bottle of Coke each. You’d think it was Four Roses. We took pictures drinking it and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Undated Letter (Probably June 24, 1943)
The following letter was dated only “Thursday”, but it must have been written on June 24, 1943, based on Griffin mentioning that Lieutenant Colonel Goss had assumed command the day before.
I have been unable to locate the articles about Frisi or learn anything more about her. They may have been printed in the Boston Post, which (to my knowledge) has not yet been digitized for papers printed during World War II.
Also received a lot of papers – up to May 18th. In one of them were some letters in diary form that Frisi, a girl we knew had sent home. Of course we all pounced on it, because her picture was there too.
You want me to write immediately about whether my packages arrive in good condition but I can’t because there aren’t any as yet. You see, naturally the convoys aren’t coming over like they use to and therefore the packages aren’t. They’ll get here sooner or later. They sound awful good though. When they all get here, there’s nothing else I need. Jimmie killed me for replacing the perfume. She saw the note and gave me Holy Hell. I opened the letter at the supper table and the note fell out. Thought it was a picture at first.
This letter indicates there was talk of the unit turning into a general hospital. With the completion of an expansion that same month, the 32nd Station Hospital now had 1,000 beds—as many as a small general hospital—but still only had the staffing of a 500 bed station hospital. The fact that most of the patients were battle casualties being transported by air or rail from the front lines also meant that the unit was largely acting in the capacity of a general hospital rather than a station hospital (which ostensibly were intended to provide medical care primarily to local garrisons). Charles M. Wiltse wrote in The Medical Department: Medical Service in the Mediterranean and Minor Theatres that: “In the Mediterranean the station hospital in practice was often indistinguishable from the general hospital, although a larger proportion of its patients were apt to be service or other rear echelon troops.” Of course, there challenges inherent in that a station hospital lacked both the staffing and special equipment of a general hospital. In any event, the unit did not change classification during the war.
We had [a party] the other night because our Col. II 2 [sic] has been transferred. The first went back to the states. We’re sorry this one has gone because he was swell. The 3rd one just came yesterday, so we don’t know about him yet. Also we don’t know if we’re staying or leaving. If we turn to a general hosp, we’ll stay. Wrote on two sides of that paper by mistake – hope nothing is cut out. Have any of my letters been cut?
Dot is out of the hospital to-day & will go back on duty tomorrow.
Ruth received a letter from her father & was tickled.
Mrs. P is probably the Griffins’ neighbor, Mrs. Patten.
Mrs. P. told me Peter is wonderful – also that his hair is too beautiful for words. Hope he doesn’t have to let it grow.
We have a German prisoner on the ward as a patient. He’s awful sick and only 19 yrs of age. He was very honory [sic, maybe supposed to be “ornery”] at first but he has been so sick that he’s glad to get the care and is very nice now.
The man in the following excerpt is almost certainly John L. Lewis (1880–1969), president of the United Mine Workers of America. Both isolationist and antiwar before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Lewis’s decision to strike in the middle of wartime made him one of the most reviled men in the country by the time Griffin wrote this letter.
Boy, that coal strike is something. Everyone over here is tearing – and I’m afraid Lewis wouldn’t be alive two minutes if any of our boys who have been up at the front could get a gun pointed at him. It’s the main topic of conversation whenever they read a paper.
Just at present there are fourteen flys on my legs– I keep kicking but it doesn’t do any good – they are the freshest things – and there are millions of them. Have never seen so many in all America than you see in one house here. And do they bite. Can hardly see our legs with the bites.
Well, this is just a lot of gab – not much to write now. Country is all yellow & dry – flowers are practically all dead. Quite cool today – about 90 – so that’s why you’re getting a letter –
June 26, 1943 (V-mail)
V-mail regarding a change in Army Post Office. Letters sent before this one gave the A.P.O. as 700; the change to A.P.O 542 was short-lived, as a July 3, 1943 V-mail indicated that the 32nd Station Hospital had changed again, to A.P.O. 364.
June 26, 1943 (Letter)
I’m awaiting for my packages still. Claire got 4 today but there wasn’t a darn bit of candy in them and our tongues were hanging out. So I hope mine arrive soon. Had ice cream last night & was it good – – we had to eat it fast before it melted and boy did we.
There still isn’t much to write about – – we had potatoes the other day and were they good. Eight of us girls went out to eat the other night and boy oh boy was it good. We had a salad – then chicken croquets – then steak and French fries (pot chips). Of course the steak here isn’t all like our steak, you have to chew & chew and then practically swallow it whole but we’re used to it when we go out and we really like it. Ruth ate & ate – I thought she would never stop – also – Jimmie. You see they had been swimming in the afternoon, had eaten @ noon & it was ten at night when we were eating. Ruth is up to 105 again – 5 more pounds & we’ll start calling her fatso. Jim & Claire gained a lot but it is coming off Jim fast with the hot weather.
Well guess this is all for now. Regards to one & all. Can Peter say much now[?]
June 28, 1943
This V-mail is the last time the patient named Brennen (probably Joseph I. Brennan, Jr.) is mentioned in the collection. It also describes a shopping trip to Oujda, Morocco—possibly the same one mentioned in the June 3 letter.
By reports our letters aren’t getting home very well. Received a letter from Brennen today & he had been in the hospital again but ready to be discharged.
We visited Oudjda one day & I bought some hassock covers down the real Arab quarters. Would like to get to Casablanca, Algiers & Fez some day but I don’t think we’ll ever get there – – transportation has been cut right down. Passed through Tlemcen the other night just as an Arab wedding procession was starting up to a small Arab-town – the weddings last three days & such hooting & yelling & crazy music – we could hear it a long time. They had red & blue lights (torch) and were throwing fire crackers all around. It’s 11pm & still extremely hot [with] not a bit of breeze – mts & all. Cath – if you have a few minutes & Muth will you write to Jimmie just any just any kind of news or gossip.
Love – Alice
P.S. Margie – haven’t heard from you for weeks – get on the ball.
June 30, 1943
This V-mail marks the last appearance of the French chef, commenting amusingly on the 32nd Station Hospital’s penchant for rapid turnover in commanding officers: Colonel Burstein relieved by Lieutenant Colonel Hagelshaw on May 23, 1943, followed by Lieutenant Colonel Goss assuming command on June 23, 1943.
Hi Muth & All – Hope this gets in for the mail today – I’ll write quickly – Had the nicest time last night. The engineers invited us up to see their movie & then had coffee, lemonade, and cake for us afterward – then danced for a while & then home. Neither Ruth or I could sleep – scratching too much & at 3.30 we were out on the back porch having a cigarette – my eyes are like slits today but I have a p.m. so it’s O.K. We have a new C.O. – wow – nuff said. The last one was swell but he only stayed about a month and was transferred. The French Chef said – “Sometimes I think Americans are crrrazy – – 6 mos – 3 cols – maybe 1 year – 10 cols – phooey.”
The letter also mentions Lieutenant Colonel Bernice Marion Wilbur (later Alexander, 1911–2005). Wilbur was born in Brockton, Massachusetts. She graduated from nursing school at New England Deaconess Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts in 1933 and joined the U.S. Army on November 11, 1943. A May 21, 1943 article in The New York Times mentioned her rapid advancement during the war:
Miss Bernice M. Wilbur, who nursed Lieut. Gen. Lesley J. McNair and was flown with him from North Africa to the United States, has been promoted from a first lieutenant to a lieutenant colonel, the War Department announced today. The Army nurse’s rank now corresponds to her position as Director of Nursing Service for the North African theatre of operations.
Lieutenant Colonel Wilbur married Lieutenant Colonel Stewart F. Alexander (1914–1991) in Algiers in the spring of 1944. The couple raised two daughters. She died in Park Ridge, New Jersey, aged 94.
Oh yes we had ice cream last night too – showing off. Col Wilbur – chief of the A.N.C. in NA – was supposed to visit but she couldn’t come – sent some captain in her place but we had the ice cream anyhow because it was all ordered & then very light French doughnuts. All the I.C. we wanted & I had 3 heaping saucers full – the kids are still gaping at me.
The Alice Griffin Collection
Introduction to the Alice Griffin Collection
Letters from the Alice Griffin Collection: Part I (March & April 1943)
Letters from the Alice Griffin Collection: Part II (May & June 1943)
Letters from the Alice Griffin Collection: Part III (July & August 1943)
Letters from the Alice Griffin Collection: Part IV (September & October 1943)
Letters from the Alice Griffin Collection: Part V (November & December 1943)
1st Lieutenant John S. Jarvie: Jack in the Alice Griffin Letters
Last updated August 17, 2021
One thought on “Letters from the Alice Griffin Collection: Part II (May & June 1943)”
Hi Lowell…so great to be able to read these letters…journals from the past. They give us an idea of the day to day happenings! I still cannot believe all the information you have been able to collect! Again…THANK YOU!!! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!!!
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