Letters from the Alice Griffin Collection: Part III (July & August 1943)

This is the third 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 neighborhood 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.)  Due to formatting issues with webpages, paragraphs are presented without the original indentations and with gaps between paragraphs not found in the originals.  Links to other letters mentioned in the explanatory text are included in some cases.


July 2, 1943

This V-mail is presented in its entirety.  It discusses familiar issues with mail delivery, and attending an ostensibly forbidden enlisted dance (escorted by an officer to boot!).  There’s also a follow-up about the skits mentioned in her June 8, 1943 letter.

All–

Rumor had it that our mail isn’t going out for a while but I’m still writing every day.  Dot received letters from her sisters saying that they hadn’t heard how she liked her packages – my goodness she has mentioned it in letters galore – – in fact Ruth Dot & I answered letters all together one night & Dot passed the remark that she was so thrilled with the packages that she couldn’t stop writing.  Their mail certainly isn’t connecting.  Dot & Kay Donahue & I went up to a dance last night with three other nurses- – enlisted men’s dance & we had a very nice time.  It was over at 11 and then one of our officers escorted us home.  They had a four piece band and it really sounded swell.  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.  I’m going up today and get a frame for Pete’s picture so I can hang it on the wall – – it’s getting dirty-and Jimmie & Claire said if I don’t do something about the family pictures, they’d have to move out.  We just have on small [desk top?] and our trunks.  We have the trunks one on top of the other to save space.  You see to climb into my bed (cot) I have to climb over Jimmie’s & part of Claire’s before I hit mine – no room.  I’ll be writing again

Love to all Alice


July 3, 1943 (First V-mail)

Hi Muth & All-    Just another change of APO but we’re not changing– A.P.O. 364.– this is the latest one.  […]  Guess the mail will be held back for a while seeing as you haven’t received any for a long time – I write every day.  It’s too much of a chance they would be taking, sending the letters because after all they don’t censor every single one.  I have to get going & clean my room now.  Did I tell you to reach my bed I have to climb over Jimmie’s & part of Claire’s– – the clothes problem is bad – our clothes are so crowded that they get terribly wrinkled.  Gee Pete must be cute – bet he’s a handful now too.  Hope M&J have a swell time in Phillie.  Hey what’s the idea of trying to make me jealous Muth – I’ll fix you when I get home.  I would have given anything for a crax & cheese sandwich & a cup of hot tea before retiring last night.  We have the tea but not the hot water & they took our little stoves away from us – fire hazard or some foolish damn nonsense.


July 3, 1943 (Second V-mail)

This V-mail announces the arrival of Griffin’s long awaited evening gown.  Originally, the nurses were told not to pack eveningwear when going overseas, but quickly tried to obtain them once they arrived.  Griffin announced she was mailing a money order for the gown around April 17, 1943, and she had received a letter by May 21, 1943 that it was on the way.  While other packages including newspapers arrived several times after that point, it seems by June 15, 1943 she was being told that it had taken a detour through Casablanca.

Hi Muth & All-    Just received my evening gown & things – – it is absolutely “tre-jolie” as the maids say.  I’ve showed it to everyone & Ruth was going to put a notice on the board in case I missed anyone  – the devil.  It hits just perfectly except for length – the bows are swell & so are the shoes – – all look wonderful.

[…]

The dress was shipped with some ice cream, presumably dehydrated.  

I’m going right to town on the ice-cream tonight – the small one.  You see we have a frigidaire for cultures & I’ll put it in there.  Oh I had such a swell time opening the package & trying the things on – – thanks a million – one & all.

An undated letter sent around August 18, 1943 revealed she got in a bit of trouble for what she did with the ice cream: “The last can I took on night duty & put it in the Frigidaire at the lab – got caught & caught Hell so I’ll wait awhile.


July 4, 1943 (First V-mail)

This V-mail, presented in its entirety, was addressed to Griffin’s sister and brother-in-law, as well as their young son, Peter.  Presumably Can Club is Canadian Club whiskey.  It would seem the orders forbidding local produce had been rescinded or disobeyed.  Despite how much Griffin wrote about the food she was gorging on, she had still lost 15 lbs. in her first five months overseas.

Hi Marg, John & Peter- Hope you’re saving a qt of Can Club for me.

Writing another line tonight.  How did you people spend the fourth.  We had quite a nice time – danced to the phonograph at a villa.  Couldn’t get anything to eat but there was plenty of champagne (louzy) and wine.  I had two glasses of wine the whole evening but everyone else with the exception of my escort & myself was real high.  I don’t drink but just one or two glasses of wine a couple of times a week.  We all had a swell time.  Tonight Ruth Dot & I are staying in and we are going to celebrate with the small can of chocolate ice cream.  Haven’t received Neil’s & Peter’s pictures as yet – haven’t heard from your Marg for weeks.  Did you have a nice vacation– write and tell me about it.  I’m going to have that Spiffy evening gown shortened tomorrow & then have the kids snap my picture– – the figure is real slim now in comparison – 118 lbs.  Dot is on her sixth plum now– they have them by the hundreds – – I’ve had three.  Guess this is about all there is to write – no more excitement or news.  We’re getting tired of this town after most six months.  Just think going on seven months since I’ve been home – Seems years.  Be seeing you.

Loads of love Alice


July 4, 1943 (Letter)

This short letter is presented in its entirety.  Salmon and green peas are a traditional Fourth of July meal in New England.  This is the first time that Griffin’s letters specifically mention Villa Rivaud, a popular venue for dinners and parties held by local U.S. Army units.  Previous letters refer to unnamed villas, so it might not have been the first time she had visited it.

Villa-Rivaud
Old postcard of Villa Rivaud’s entrance (Silverman Family Collection)

Sunday, July 4th

Hi all–

Fourth & no fireworks.  Had the morning off & slept.  Got up for 630 Mass & then right back to bed again without even eating breakfast.  The kids called me for lunch at 1150 but instead of Salmon & fresh peas we had C rations – now I don’t know why they couldn’t have sent to the states for nice fresh salmon & green peas.  We have decided we’ll use one package of ice cream tonight to celebrate.

We had a sort of party last night.  All the kids who had dates met at the Villa Riveault [sic] & we really had a swell time.  Couldn’t talk Ruth & Dot into going out, though.  We are all staying in tonight- hope too many don’t discover my Ice cream.  I was thinking last night of the carnivals at Neponset – fireworks etc – – bet there were none this year – next year though we’ll all celebrate together – and how.

Did Pete have fireworks or could you get any this year.

I’m finding it hard to think of things to write so.  I’ll close & then send a V mail later today.  Take care & I’ll be seeing you.

Loads of love


July 4, 1943 (Second V-mail)

This V-mail—addressed to her mother but intended for the entire family—is presented in its entirety.

Hi All-

Sent a regular letter earlier today so this is just a note – – this will perhaps reach you long before the other.  We are having a show tonight “Crossroads”  I’ve seen it twice but seeing as it’s the Fourth, we’ll celebrate.. Between writing this & having an argument with the boys, I’m having a heck of a time.  The Limies [sic] ride me about Ireland & then we have a free for all.  It’s a beautiful day today & hasn’t been too hot for quite a few days now.  I’m going to keep reminding you of our third change in A.P.O. and I’d still put 700 with 364 – – just a change in P.O. not us.  We were going to move but our orders were changed and now we’re staying.  If we don’t move by Sept we’ll just about die.  Everyone was so thrilled when we were told to get ready & then you should have seen our faces when the orders were cancelled.  Our morale will be way down if we stay here more than a couple of months more.  It’s a nice town & we’re extremely lucky in regards to living quarters but you know us.  I’ll settle down when I get home, but not here for the duration.  Happy 4th All.

Loads of love

Alice


July 6, 1943 (V-mail)

It’s not clear what picture the following V-mail refers to (if the picture survived at all) but it seems to be a studio portrait like the one displayed below.

Griffin-Portrait-crop
Alice Griffin in a portrait that she sent to her sister; though the edges of the writing were cut off (possibly to fit it into a frame) it may have once said “with love Griffie”.  Given the ribbons on her uniform, though, this photo was probably taken in 1945. (Courtesy of the Feeney Family)

Hi Muth & All.                Had my picture taken again yesterday.  They take just one shot & you take a chance whether or not they come out good.  […]  I’ll get them tomorrow & send tomorrow night.  I’ll send the proof to you.  We also get the pictures back today of the porcupine.  Ruth & Dot have theirs taken this week some time.  We had a swell lunch last night – – I stole a loaf of bread – Jimmie had some sardines that came from German prisoners – we got some lukewarm water & Nes Cafe & had sardine & cucumber sandwiches.  I go on nights tonight – curses.  Keep on writing those nice, long, newsy letters Muth – they are swell – get one about every 3 or 4 days – other mail is louzy but yours come thru fine.


Undated Letter (Almost Certainly July 6, 1943)

Although dated only “Tuesday”, this letter mentions the same porcupine picture as the V-mail above.  The detailed description of the picture makes it possible to be certain that this is one of the few photos mentioned in the Griffin letters that have survived to the present day.

Griffin-Photos-039-A
Griffin feeding a porcupine in Algeria (Courtesy of the Feeney Family)

Dear Muth & All.

Have started my night duty & will have even less to write about so guess it will be just V mails for a month.  Got the pictures back today & the ones with the porcupine are cute.  Who says you can’t get strange pets in Africa.  The picture came out very good.  I’m sitting down feeding it with a medicine dropper & some of the pts watching me.  I’ll send one when the kids all see it.  One of Ruth & I came out good too.  One of me alone with working uniform on – – I look like a hog – honestly these uniforms are just awful – – hope there’s an improvement on the brown & white striped when we ever get them.  As yet our O’D s [sic] haven’t even arrived in Africa.

I slept this p.m. and had a nice dream about home – one bad thing – – Peter wouldn’t pay any attention to me – the brat.

Field-Griffin
This may be the unflattering uniform Griffin was mentioned in the excerpt above, though this particular photograph looks like it was taken at the compound in Caserta, Italy in early 1944. (Courtesy of the Griffin Family)

The following excerpt mentions a formal planned for the 32nd Station Hospital officers’ quarters at the Hotel Transatlantique.  The letter indicates the last was prior to Colonel Theodore Burstein suffering a heart attack in April 1943.  Although Griffin’s June 15, 1943 V-mail indicated that she had doubts about the future of her relationship with Jack, this is the first instance in which she told her family that they would not see one another after his departure from Algeria. 

We’re having a formal Sat – our first at the Hotel since our first col got sick quite a few months ago.  Boy will I be dressed up– –  Jack is coming & I know we will have a swell time.  I’m glad they didn’t go out before because I sure have a wonderful time with him & he is just grand.  And as I won’t seem [sic] him after he leaves this area I’m always glad to see him.  I had a date with him six months after the armistice was signed but I cancelled that & told him it would end in Africa.  Some day I will show you his picture.

We – Jimmie & I – Claire Ruth & Dot (if she’s not on nights) are going to the rest camp when we get off nights.  They’re improved it a lot & the kids like it now.

[…]

I’ll write a V mail tomorrow night.  Don’t bother saving the letters now, Just the first ones.  Be seeing you

Loads of love.  Alice


July 7, 1943

This V-mail includes a description of one of the so-called Axis Sally broadcasts (probably by Rita Zucca in this case).  By most accounts, German propaganda broadcasts were so far off the mark that servicemembers would listen to them largely for the comedic value of the propagandists’ absurd statements.  (There was also accompanying music.)  The broadcast Griffin wrote about apparently targeted Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr.

It’s just midnight & I heard a noise like hundreds of people moaning – it was a herd of sheep & goats being driven by the Arabs – hundreds of them & they were all bleating & grunting & groaning – seemed funny in the middle of the night.  Heard a German propaganda program tonight & it was a riot.  The girl is American – by her voice – speaks English perfectly.  They said that if we listed to Roosevelt we would have bull instead of beefsteak and if America continued feeding all nations, we wouldn’t eat next year.  Also that Foreign nations are eating better & America worse than they have for a year.  Then they said if we continued buying war bonds so that Morgenthal [sic] & all the other Jews in Washington could get rich, we’d be needing “pennies from Heaven” then they played the Song PfH.

Muth even if you aren’t getting my mail, I am still writing every day & never miss.  Sent Mr. B my picture & the negative is there for you – – you can have it developed if you want to.  Got 60 new pts. on my two wards tonight so I have been very busy tonight.  I do hope the mail starts coming to you soon.  They’ve stopped because of lack of ships going back.


July 11, 1943 (First V-mail)

This V-mail to Griffin’s sister, Margret, and her family is presented in its entirety.  The letter expressed the common expectation that that war would be over by 1944.  With only one side of the correspondence, we are left to imagine what upset Griffin’s mother about Jack.  

The letter also mentions the sirocco, the scorching wind that blows north from the Sahara across North Africa and the Mediterranean.  Willard Havemeier recalled that the Red Cross operated a swimming pool in Tlemcen.

Hi Marg, John & Pete.             Come on & keep those letters coming – production has slowed up – very badly – so get on the ball you two.  Well things have started humming so maybe we’ll be back within a year – we all hope.  I’ll have a few Canadian clubs and then get started on my [unclear, looks like “starics”].  Muth must be all upset about Jack from the V mail I received – – the kids howled – wait until I tell him because I told him that Muth would throw him out if he came around – – I wouldn’t though.  It’s hot as Hell here – the sirrocco [sic] has hit.  It will last 3 days to three week – if it doesn’t stop in 3 – weeks, it will last 6 wks – then 9 – Glory be to God if it ever lasts nine – even three we’ll just have to drag ourselves around.  Thank goodness I don’t mind it as much as the other kids.  With the heat has come all kinds of new bugs & new bites.  It’s really embarrassing to have to scratch your can in the middle of the street.  Went swimming in a pool that they have opened here – – it is swell.  We are going up in the morning about 9 am if we can thumb a ride.  How does Pete like the water now.

Be Seeing You

Love    Alice


July 11, 1943 (Second V-mail)

This V-mail to Griffin’s other sister, Catherine, is also presented in its entirety.  The C.Y.O. Marksman was presumably a Catholic Youth Organization newsletter or magazine.

Father-OConnor-Jan-13-1945
Griffin loaned her copy of the C.Y.O. Marksman to Chaplain William V. O’Connor, seen here in a detail from a group photo at the 32nd Station Hospital’s party celebrating two years overseas, January 13, 1945 (Courtesy of the Hills Family)

Hi Cath.     Just shooting off a V mail – my pts are all settled down – for the night – supposedly.  Received the C.Y.O. Marksman today and it was real good.  I hadn’t time to read it thoroughly before I came on duty and I let Fr.– or rather Chaplain O’Connor read it tonight– so I will go over it bit by bit tomorrow morning.  We have a swimming pool now Cath – -isn’t that swell.  It’s quite a walk up hill so we are planning to go up each morning at 9 (while the temp is only about 100) and if we have luck we can thumb our way.  We usually have luck though.  It’s the only social life while on night duty with the exception of the night we have off a week – you see it’s too darn hot to get up in the afternoon & walk or shop.  We were six hours ahead of you in time so I reckon as supper is just being started – Sunday and all.  We’re having meat & pot for supper tonight.  We complained to the Col – last night we had hard tack & [either “tomatoes” or “potatoes”] – night before – C ration with H20 – etc – so we sent in a written complaint and results are good.  See it takes our crowd or part of us to get on nights & get results.  Jim – Wanda & I are all on.  Write soon you brat.   Love Alice


July 11, 1943 (Third V-mail)

This V-mail was addressed to Griffin’s mother.  It mentions several other nurses: Dorothea LeCain, Kathleen Donahue, Ruth Donovan, and Emelda Dickson.  

In the following excerpt, Griffin shut down her mother’s prying about the Tank Destroyer officer, Jack, by telling her (and not for the last time) that she “won’t see him after he leaves this area.”  Throughout the extant correspondence, she would waiver from that position only once.  

Dear Muth.  Red your V mail of June 28th today but still haven’t heard from Marg & very little from Cath – they’re slipping.  By now you perhaps know that I received the evening gown – do hope you didn’t get another.  If so, save it till I get back.  It fits just perfectly and as we didn’t have the dance last night, we will have it Wed and that will be my night off for this week – swell huh.  […]  Dot and Kay Donahue have terrific burns – they both had yesterday off and went swimming at Beni Saf – it’s a long drive & they were exposed to the sun too long.  The surrocco [sic] has hit (guess that’s how you spell it) and the heat is awful terrible – – when there’s a breeze it’s a very warm one & does no good.  I haven’t minded it too much – – just started last night.  Nothing to “fess up” about Jack except that I won’t see him after he leaves this area.  I do like him very much but still say this is Africa.  He came down yesterday about four and took Ruth, Dixie and I swimming – then for a cold glass of wine.  Then home – I got dressed and he & I went to eat then way up on the mt. to see the sunset – (beautiful) then to a villa dancing.  I wore my new dress (OD).  Had a wonderful time.  So don’t worry about your little Alice.  Love A.

Griffin-Mts
This photo of 2nd Lieutenant Griffin is consistent with the outing described in the excerpt above and with the description of a photo taken by Jack as mentioned in a July 29, 1943 letter: “The other is one he took one night about 8.30 with the mountains as a back-ground.” (Courtesy of the Griffin Family)

July 12, 1943 (First V-mail)

This V-mail was addressed to Griffin’s mother.  It’s not known who Lieutenant Long was, but he does not appear to have been a member of the 32nd Station Hospital.  He might have been introduced in another letter, now lost.  It’s possible that he was Lieutenant William C. Long, an officer who served in Jack’s unit, the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion.

Lt-Long-894th
Message sent by Lieutenant Long to the commanding officer of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion during combat at Anzio on February 5, 1944 (National Archives)

The fantasia pictures might have been from the March 19, 1943 festival for Mawlid, as mentioned in a program in Frances Rubin‘s collection.  The photos, like so many others mentioned in the letters, appear to be lost.

Hi Muth and All-         Hold the fort Mrs. G – those weren’t my films that took the pictures– I’m going very carefully with mine.  I used one film & the others sparingly.  Didn’t you even get the ones of the fantasia – they were swell – […]  There’s a swell shot of me in that group with all the Arab soldiers (the band) and me right in the front.  The other pictures don’t mean much to you, but they mean an awful lot to me – memories – and pleasant ones too.  Went to bed at 1030 today & at 12 the kids woke me up- – Jack had a day off and was down to take me out.  First we ate and then went to the pool swimming, then we shopped for things for his niece and three nephews – then we picked Ruth up and went swimming again – also Lt. Weiner, Jimmie & Lt. Long – we sure had fun.  Then we all went to the French officers club for cold beer (2½ 7°) then out to eat and back on duty.  One of the most pleasant days in a long time.  Jack is really the best pal I’ve found here.


July 12, 1943 (Second V-mail)

This V-mail was addressed to Griffin’s sister, Catherine, and contains more detail about the pool.  The ring is probably the same one mentioned in the June 3, 1943 letter.

Our swimming pool is in the stadium in town – in the open.  Some of the boys got one of those rubber boats, patched it, blew it up and we have more darn fun in it.  We were tipping each other out and going to town in it.  I even was diving and I haven’t for years.  Can’t swim like I used to though – either getting old or too many cigarettes.  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.  Hope he doesn’t leave for a while because we get along swell and after he goes, I shan’t see him any more – – fun while it lasted though..  When Jack’s two pals come down – Jimmie – Ruth join us & the six of us have so much fun – swimming dancing etc.  I have just one more V mail for now – we’re supposed to have only two a week.  I don’t think you people are getting all my mail – do you get one for every day?


July 13, 1943

This V-mail mentions Hampton again and elaborates on his connections to the film industry.  A 32nd Station Hospital wardman, he wrote the skits that the nurses were rehearsing in the June 8, 1943 letter.  The uncle mentioned would seem most likely to be Hollywood producer and director Benjamin Bowles Hampton (1875–1932).  I was also unable to find any film or films named Baby Mad and Master Johnny in the Internet Movie Database, nor any credited actors named Hampton who appeared in a film with Rudolph Valentino. 

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 was promoted to private 1st class on June 19, 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.”

Hi Marg & John.  It’s one thirty a.m. and here goes my last V mail until I can hook some more.  Have had a very interesting talk with my wardman for the last two hours.  He has been telling me what happened to Betty Compton, Jack Mulhall, Pearl White and all the old time actors & actresses – also the ones now.  He writes the prologues for stories etc – –played in pictures until he was 18 yrs of age – he doesn’t brag – is just interesting – Cath would just love to hear him tell stories.  His uncle was Benjamin Hampton who succeeded in making pictures after the third try.  This Hampton started out when he was six playing the boy’s part  in one reel pictures “Baby Mad and Master Johnny.”  He’s played [with] Will Rogers – Rudolph Valentino – Betty Compton etc – really very interesting.  How’s Young Pete doing – hear he has no tan after all his visits to the beach.


July 14, 1943

Wednesday – 3 a m

[…]

I am very busy on my wards now & will not have too much time to write – next month we’ll be even busier.

Were you able to get any developing paper.  Claire has let me use so much of her private stock that I hate to ask her for more -.- she’s almost at rock bottom.

No mail came today so perhaps V-mail will arrive tomorrow.  Went swimming again with the kids today – or rather yesterday.  We have to get our sleep in between 9 & 1 during the day because it is absolutely impossible to sleep after 1 – too damn hot.  Then we try to cool off until 4 and from 4 to 6 we go swimming – – we got out in the street & the first jeep that passes we ask them to take us up the pool – we’ve been very lucky & haven’t had to walk.

There are two million dogs barking outside & cats fighting – a rooster is crowing and I’m still scratching – in fact I don’t think I’ll ever stop until I get home – – they get me more than anyone else though & that’s what makes me mad.

Haven’t r’cd any Posts for a week or so tomorrow or next day I’ll get a whole bunch.  The Mass. Boys I have are all waiting for them too so you see they make their rounds.

[…]

Ruth had a tooth pulled today so she couldn’t go swimming.  Dot goes back on duty – her sunburn is better – Jimmie is waiting for both Dot & Kay’s sunburn to get completely better & then she’s going to blister their cans for staying in the sun so long.


July 15, 1943

This letter is the earliest in the collection that has words cut out by the base censor.  Griffin finally had an occasion to wear her new gown at an outing; the hotel mentioned is undoubtedly the 32nd Station Hospital’s officer’s billet, the Hotel Transatlantique.

15th July

Thursday – 12 mid _

Hi Muth & All –

Letters perhaps won’t get to you so fast the last few days & next few because I haven’t any V mails for now & no air mail envelopes.  They are coming in Monday & then I’ll have plenty again.

The dance was a huge success last night – it was to celebrate our six mths foreign service.  I was complimented time & again on how nice I looked – – thanks to you people.  Dot – Ruth, Jimmie & I went up [censored, about three or four words] first time with Jack & 3 other boys – we ate there & then all had champagne to celebrate our six months – Dot just took a sip – she doesn’t like it.  We ate there & were the French women & officers ever complimenting our gowns.  Then back to the Hotel for the dance which ended @ 12.30 then Jack & I went back up to the [censored, one or two words].  After all I have just one night a week off & I’m not going to bed at 1230 and Jack’s time is an hour behind our so he had only 11.30.  Went to bed at 4 and got up at 12 – went swimming & then came back to bed at 3..  That pool certainly is a God send —don’t really know what we’d do without it.

We had those old beans for supper tonight & we didn’t eat them – so I saw a can of tuna fish in the kitchen – I swiped it – the other kids swiped some bread & we’re having tuna fish sandwiches a little later.  I’m telling you between Ruth & I, we do very well on the food end.  By the way, one of the flowered hankerchiefs [sic] Mrs. Donovan sent me, just matched my evening gown, so I wore a gold bracelet, & had the hankie hanging from it – it looked swell.

Jack’s unit was the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion. 

Jack’s outfit is giving a dinner tomorrow night for 12 officers in his outfit that were promoted.  They want 15 nurses so Claire – Jimmie – Ruth – Dot – Virg & K Donahue – Wanda & I head the list – per usual.  One of the girls said she’d gladly relieve me so I can go until 11pm – not bad, huh?  I’ve been on ten nights now & although I am quite busy so the time goes fast, I still don’t like it.

The next excerpt would seem to indicate a group picture was submitted to the Quincy Patriot Ledger, but I have been unable to locate it, if it was indeed printed.

No mail came in today but we’ll get some tomorrow.  Did the picture go into the Quincy paper yet?  Claire, Jimmie, Kay & Virginia were riding us a couple of months back because they all got clippings with their pictures in their home town papers – so Dot Ruth & I are just waiting to receive the paper with the N.A. picture so we can say “Well not only do our papers have our pictures in it – but others also – you see we’re broadminded.”

Received a letter from Margie, written in Phillie – she says she writes every Sunday night & it’s the first letter since I received the Easter pictures—months ago so now I know, all the mail isn’t coming through.  Yours all get through O K though Muth.


July 20, 1943

I’m not sure what Griffin meant by “black V mail” since the results look the same as any other (at least when enlarged from the microfilm).  Maybe the original was printed with black ink instead of the usual red?

Dear Muth & All-     Have been very lax this last week about writing letters but really have been busy- – and you know how night-duty is.  This is the black V mail – I’ve never used it before.  […]  Mail is still quite bad, but we manage to have a few letters dribbling in so we really don’t mind.  Got another load of pts last night & my hand is cramped from writing.  They told us you didn’t have to write up as much in N.A. but someone was fooling.  […] Well it’s six a m & I still have loads to do – just wanted to dash this off so you’d know why I wasn’t writing so much.  Be seeing you by this time next year.  Loads of love

Alice


July 22, 1943

Written at 2 a.m., the second page of this four-page letter is missing.  This is one of several letters that indicates Griffin’s mother was advocating for her daughter and the other nurses stateside, though exactly what those efforts pertained to is unclear.  (One response from the A.N.C. suggested that at least in part, it concerned uniforms.)  The other two mothers involved aren’t disclosed, but Mrs. Griffin seemed particularly close to Ruth Donovan and Dorothea LeCain’s mothers. 

Although World War II now is uniquely hallowed in American memory as “The Good War”, the anecdote in the passage below is a reminder that not everyone supported it fully (either due to residual isolationism, pacifism, or possibly even fascist sympathies).

Hi Muth, Cath, Marg & All.

Received a letter from Cath today or rather yesterday & I’m still laughing.  Gosh what the three A.N.C. mothers are going through for their daughters.  We’re really getting a kick out of it.  Did you know that the group was told the night before last that there was going to be a publicity campaign and I yelled out – “Bet Mrs. G. had something to do with it.”  Everyone howled – although most of them don’t know you in person Muth, they know you.  I read the letter to Ruth & when she heard what Mrs. Le Cain said to the woman about this not being the war of 1776 or Civil war or 1914, she went into spasms – she said “good for her.”  Dot hasn’t read the letter yet but she will.  We said if we were home, we’d die of embarrassment, but over here we don’t care and rather enjoy hearing about it.

[…]

From the reports we’re getting, our boys are doing a fine job.  Wish I could tell you people all about it but I can’t – – naturally we get news first hand & know just what’s what in some cases.

In addition to providing an exchange rate of 50 francs per dollar, the following excerpt gives the prices of quite a few different luxuries.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator gives some pretty astounding figures in equivalent December 2019 values: $103.38 to $118.15 for one of Jack’s visits (maybe he had to purchase his own fuel if he wasn’t on official business?); $97.47 for a bottle of champagne; $88.61 for a meal; between $221.53 and $265.84 for a couple to have a night out; $14.77 for a watermelon!  Of course, as Griffin pointed out, the fact that the U.S Army provided all necessary food, housing, and transportation somewhat compensated for the high prices of goods.

Had gazelle on my night off – was it ever swell.  Jack shot 10 & brought some of the meat down & we took it up to a villa & cooked it.  Had cuke & tom salad [with] it – darn good – also had champagne.  As I told Gertrude, every time he comes down it costs him 7 or 8 dollars & he’s down twice a week.  Everyone spends money like water over here.  Now Champagne is 330 francs per bottle – that’s $6.60 – a meal is about 300 francs – that’s 6.00 – so for two people a night, it’s about 15 to $18.00 and it means nothing at all here – – we never have to pay for anything ourself [sic] thought – except laundry & fruit & vegetables – that’s where all our money goes.  Watermelons are 50 francs ($1.00) melons are the same – all things are very high & adds to a lot.

As mentioned in one of Griffin’s July 11 V-mails, the Marksman was a Catholic Youth Organization publication.  Section 8 referred to discharge due the recipient to being “unfit for military service.”  Usually this was due to mental health reasons, as indicated by Griffin mentioning neuro psychiatric (N.P.) in parentheses.  C.C.D. stood for Certificate for Disability for Discharge.  

Griffin’s comment that “I haven’t decided what [medical condition] I’ll get” is ironic given that she had already learned of a serious health condition back in April that she was concealing from her family; if not for her drive to serve, she probably would have already been back in the United States by the time this letter was written.

Got my second Marksman tonight – very good & also interesting.

[…]

Cath, I don’t think you’ll see us in Nov but by spring – maybe.  If we aren’t home by next summer, Ruth is going to get kidney trouble – Dot says she’ll buck for a section 8 (NP) and I haven’t decided what I’ll get – as yet – then we’ll all get C.D.D. and go home.  You should hear Ruth practicing how she’s going to yell.  But she was holding her stomach until I reminded her that kidney trouble  bothers the back – so now she holds her back.  Guess this is all for now.  I’ll write again soon.  I have so many letters to answer – I’ve been slipping.  Be seeing you.

Loads of love – Alice


July 23, 1943 (V-mail)

It’s not entirely sure what the “A.N.C. campaign” mentioned in this V-mail is, but there is an August 25, 1943 letter in the collection from Major Mary G. Phillips (Assistant Superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps), a reply to a letter by Griffin’s mother on August 18 about what seems to be a complaint regarding difficulties in procuring nurses’ uniforms.

Jimmie’s birthday is next Thursday – we are having a great big party – six girls have theirs this month but everyone is mostly celebrating Jimmie’s.  Found this V mail so thought I might as well send it.  Have been writing regular letters so they may be slow.  How’s the A.N.C. campaign?  I only have 12 more nights – thank goodness.  We now have 45 wards – how’s that?


July 23, 1943 (Letter)

Griffin’s blasé attitude about bedbugs in the letter below is interesting (if cringeworthy) from a modern perspective.  

Haven’t been up to the pool for a couple of days because I’ve been sleeping 10 – 12 & then again 3 to 6.  I’ll be so glad when I’m off nights.  Ruth & Dot have cots to sleep on now too – the bed bugs just refused to leave their beds.  We got our cots quite a while ago.  We said that you people would make us delouse ourselves before going in the house.  But when in Rome, do as the Romans do – so what’s a few bedbugs.  It’s too warm so they multiple – as fast as they are killed.

Things are very quiet on my wards tonight – too quiet for my own good.  I’ll perhaps get 50 odd pts about 3 a.m.  This light is awful – it’s only about a 20 watt & the lampshade is a tin can.  Last night I had a headache from writing so I’m stopping with this letter tonight.


July 24, 1943

Hi Muth & All

Just another note before I start my work – only nine more night [sic] after tonight – think I’ll last that long?  Things are quiet now – for a while at least.  That is everything except the bedbugs & they’re as busy as ever – day & night.

[…]

Some book is just off the press that says we should beat Ger. by Spring or possibly 1943 if the pushover is big enough – hope it’s true.

Had to finish Verna’s letter in a hurry last night because I was called to the O.R.

One of the pts is cutting me a piece of watermelon – it’s practically green but what’s the dif.  [Top margin of the last page of the letter states: “Bottom of page has watermelon juice on it”]

Went swimming this pm but […] then Virginia Donahue [sic] crushed her foot in a home-made diving board – and I had to come back with her.  No bones broken but nice & black & blue – will she be sore tomorrow.  Just had the watermelon & told the pts if they heard moaning in the middle of the night it would just be me with colic.  Things are very expensive over here – I bought a little melon this morning & it cost 25 francs – that [sic] 50¢ – – and when you see the thousands around here it seems awful funny, but there’s nothing that can be done about it.  I eat everything I can get my hands on – plums – melon – tomatoes – just everything – also drink the water & have never had a sick day.


July 25, 1943

The following letter provides quite a lot of information about Elizabeth H. Samoska, who served briefly in the 32nd Station Hospital before returning home to the United States.  Quarters 6 is a reference that appears throughout the Griffin letters; contextually, it seems to refer to a group of nurses, most likely those who shared quarters at Fort Devens in the fall of 1942.  The letter also mentions Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, where the 32nd Station Hospital staged for about two weeks prior to shipping out to Algeria.

9 more nights and then days again – whoopee

Hi Muth & All,

We had the most delicious dinner tonight – an honest-to-God-pork chop – one each – and also canned peas & French Fried potatoes – then to top it off – chocolate ice cream.  Everyone most fainted but we were pleased – our first pork chop in seven months – tomorrow is our six months anniversary in Africa – – and as far as we were concerned Kilmer was really in foreign service.  So Ruth eats everything on her plate & then demands to know when we were going to start eating.  We heard from Samoska (qts 6) you know she was married on her leave in Dec when we all had them & before we left Kil. she told them she was pregnant but they told her she was just trying to duck for ser – so she came along.  She froze – hopped – climbed in & out of trucks – roughed it with all of us – talk about spunk.  So at 5 months they finally made preparations to send her home.  Now she writes that she is going to have twins – they certainly traveled.  She tickled & so is her husband – who is lucky enough to still be in the States.

We all went swimming this afternoon – water was good – then had a glass of nice cold beer which we are used to now & then back to a delicious supper – – what a morale builder.

Hagelshaw-Negatives-M10s-Crop
M-10 tank destroyers being transported through the streets of an Algerian city (probably Tlemcen) circa May 1943.  Several Tank Destroyer units were located near the 32nd; the Fifth Army had a Tank Destroyer Training Center nearby, outside Sebdou. (Courtesy of the Hagelshaw Family)

The following paragraph was important clue to identifying Jack, since the reference to him having an M-10 proved he was an officer in a Tank Destroyer unit, something hinted at in the June 22, 1943 letter.  That he had his own M-10, combined with a later clue (in a letter written circa August 8, 1943) that he had a company commander, strongly suggested that he was a platoon leader.

Tues night I’m off again so Tues afternoon I’m going to the desert to visit Jack’s place & ride in his M10 – the last ride didn’t materialize[,] hope this one does – in fact I know it will.  His whole outfit has been restricted since last Tues because 4 of their enlisted men caused a riot by peeking under the Arabs head covers.  We sure have missed them because the 32nd goes out with the group of them – we take over the different outfits as they come & go but we like this one best.

The propaganda program is on again – honestly it’s a riot.  This is all for now – have to get to work.


July 26, 1943

News traveled fast to Algeria after King Victor Emmanuel III dismissed Mussolini on July 25, 1943.

Hi All–

Heard at 2 a m that Mussolini had abdicated and we were all thrilled but the news tonight said that Italy is under martial law – but at least there’s unrest there and that helps our side some.  From what I hear & read the natives are very nice to our boys & if you had seen the happy faces on the I. prisoners (hundreds) that we have seen you’d know that they didn’t want to fight.

[…]

Tomorrow night is my night off so I am going out to Jack’s outfit tomorrow night for dinner – two women & a thousand some odd men – wow.  Then I only have six more nights.

The following excerpt refers to changes instituted under Lieutenant Colonel Harold L. Goss after he assumed command on June 23, 1943.  It is also the first hint of the discord which would later see morale plummet.  

I take Griffin’s boast that Lieutenant Colonel Goss was easy on the nurses because they were “a bunch of Hell cats” with a grain of salt, given that he was a World War I veteran with a clear record of operating the unit as he saw fit.  Dr. Louis Linn recalled of Dr. Goss in 1998: “He felt that everything we were doing was wrong and he instituted drastic changes in every detail of the hospital operation, almost on the day of his arrival.”  Still, though there is some circumstantial evidence that a number of medical and administrative officers left the unit because of conflict with Lieutenant Colonel Goss, the same is not true of the nurses. 

If Griffin’s assessment was embellished, I can only speculate as to the reasons.  Potentially, Lieutenant Colonel Goss could have been more satisfied with the nurses’ performances than those of his male officers.  Principal Chief Nurse Helen W. Brammer might have also helped act as a moderating influence.  This was perhaps hinted at in a September 22, 1943 letter in which Griffin wrote of Brammer: “She takes an awful lot for us I think.”

Today starts a new time routine for us – no long days – one afternoon every other week – no half day on Sunday.  So naturally we are up in arms – -we sent a lot of pts out and the last few days have not been busy at all – everyone is griping.  Funny what a difference one man in an outfit can make.  At present everyone is grumbling including pts – maybe we’ll be having another C.O. before long.  Boy can he lay down the law.  They don’t effect us directly because he says we are a bunch of Hell cats & the officers a bunch of mice – – in other words we’re not afraid of him.  In fact, we’re not afraid of anyone – bold brats that we are – but it gets us places.  I made a promise a few months back that I wouldn’t ever gripe again if a wish that I wanted was granted so I am still “happy go lucky” because I got my wish.

An outing with Elizabeth McGaulley was—not surprisingly—derailed by Griffin’s appetite.

I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself.  I’m hungry all the time.  McGaulley & I started uptown today & per usual I was starved so we stopped into the Bucket of Blood – gave the owner a sob story & had “steak” salad & two egg omelets.  The steak was about 2 by 2 inches but it tasted good.  We left there at 445 & at 630 I sat down to our regular meal.  I don’t gain any weight – still 118 – but one of these days it’s going to sneak up on me & I’ll pile it on all at once – then my clothes will never fit.

[…]

Dot Le Cain got pictures of the twins & are they ever cute – they’ve grown so of course she showed “her twins” a couple of times to everyone.  I’m still waiting for the ones of Peter & Neil and no one has ever sent me a picture of Cath.  That request is awful old.

Guess this is all for now.  I’m going to answer the other letters I got today & call it quits.  Love to all.  […] Toodlooh & I still say Spring of ’44 we’ll be back

Loads of love

Alice

P.S. Ger Prop. program is on again and the music is swell – truly.


Undated Letter (Probably July 28, 1943)

This letter was only dated “Wednesday” but seems to be a follow-up to the July 25 letter.  She described the M-10s as a tanks rather than tank destroyers.  That’s an understandable description, one sometimes even used by Tank Destroyer men themselves.  The M-10 was designed around the M-4 medium tank’s lower hull and had a turret, like an ordinary tank. 

The letter also provided an important clue for determining Jack’s unit: Griffin stated that his unit fought at Kasserine Pass and Bizerte during the Tunisian campaign.

894th-TD-Jeeps-Tunisia
Detail from an image (Signal Corps Photo #167572) of 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion jeeps operating during the Tunisian campaign in 1943.  According to Patrick J. Chase’s book Seek, Strike, Destroy, the photo was taken on February 25, 1943.  He wrote that there were “Wrecked American halftracks in foreground and town of Kasserine in background.”  (National Archives, courtesy of TankDestroyer.net)

Couldn’t ride a tank yesterday – it’s forbidden now for girls, but I did go to the desert & had a very nice time.  It’s very quiet out there –I arrived at 10 (their time) 11 ours and read until one – it was so nice & quiet I could have stayed there a couple of days.  It’s not the real sandy desert so there were some scrub trees there.  I sat in the shade of one of them – the sun is extremely hot but there’s always a breeze and the men said it got very cold at night.  The Col. let J have the afternoon off & as they are still off limits to our town, we had to find another town.  We picked one that seemed rather large & went there thinking there would be a Red Cross but there wasn’t a thing – we did find a place to eat, though & then started back – – it took us about 3 hrs to get back – didn’t get home until 1 a.m. and we sure did have fun.  The road was so bumpy and their jeeps are practically falling apart – after traveling through Bizerte[,] Kas Pass etc – then on top of it all we sang every song under the sun – what noise.

The identity of the second animal that Griffin and Jack cruelly decided to chase isn’t clear—maybe one of the species of gerbils or other rodents native to North Africa.

Then we decided we’d chase animals – the first was a rabbit that ran in front of us – we chased that until it ran off the road – the next was a marapat or some name like that –  a small-rat like animal that hops like a kangaroo & looks something like one – only small.  Then come a porcupine – so we got out & chased that – carried it to the light and tried to make it straighten out – all it did was roll into a tighter ball.  Crazy nuts but we had fun.

Tomorrow is Jimmie’s birthday and we are having a dinner tomorrow night – stag.  One of the kids is relieving me until 10 p m – -don’t know what we’ll have but I do know we’ll get soaked plenty- – there are fifteen going – dollars to doughnuts we’ll have to pay five bucks each – it’s only once in a life-time we have to pay though so we don’t mind in the least.  I’ll tell you tomorrow night what kind of a time we had.

Although the Germans and Italians used several English-speaking female propagandists (collectively known as Axis Sally), the broadcaster in the following excerpt is probably Rita Zucca (1912–1998).  She broadcast out of Rome and was documented to have opened her shows with the line “Hello suckers!”

Good news so far about the Italians – hope it keeps up.  You should have heard the German propaganda program tonight.  They said “Italy is still at war” and proceeded to tell all the ships that had been sunk etc – which is of course a lie.  Then the dame comes on & says “Hi suckers – who’s taking your girl-friend out tonight – you don’t think she’s sitting in waiting for you while you’re away fighting do you.”  It’s a good thing the boys laugh at her because she sure comes out with some awful things.  She’s a louzy singer too.

Things otherwise are the same here.  We can’t tell our soldiers from the French ones now – they have uniforms (summer) like ours – our jeeps, tanks etc and yesterday when we were in that town we stopped what we thought were American soldiers – Jack asked them where to eat & they couldn’t speak English.  So I told him to let me do the picking next time.  Then we saw three more and I said “Well I know they’re American” So I asked them – they were French to[o] and did he have the laugh on me.  We finally found where to eat from a little Arab boy that spoke English perfectly.  The kid showed us where to go, then said to me – where do you come from – I told him Boston – he said “oh Mass.”  Then Jack asked him where he was from and he said “Me, I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio”  We just got a kick out of some of the kids – they sure learn fast – much faster than we speak French.  We know just enough to get along and that’s all – in fact that’s all we want to know – English always has an always will be good enough for us and if anyone speaks French, Spanish, or Arabic to us when we get home, their life won’t be worth a cent.  They are helping us with the war, and are our Allies etc but we’ve just had enough of foreign languages.


July 29, 1943

The following letter party mentioned was apparently for Ella JamesEmelda Dickson might have also been a guest of honor.  Both of their birthdays fell on July 29.  Mr. B appears to be a Mr. Bianchi who was a friend of the family.

Thursday –

Hi Muth and All        July 29

Had the birthday party tonight and what a wonderful dinner we had – absolutely delicious.  Melon with Martini – some kind of croquettes – chicken & boiled potatoes, ice cream and then fruit.  There were sixteen of us – stag – and we ordered the dinner a long time ago.  I don’t how yet how much it was as I had to leave after we ate, but I can imagine.  Black market stuff sure costs money – it was worth it though.  Ruth, Dot and I went up a little early and decorated the table – it looked swell and it’s the first party we’ve had with decorations – thanks to you – we all said that it seemed the most home-like dinner and atmosphere yet.  The next big celebration will be when six of us have birthdays in October- we drank a toast to that tonight – don’t know [unclear] we’ll be celebrating in Italy or France – hope it’s Italy because Italian, I think, is much easier to learn & maybe I can look up some of Mr. B’s relatives.  The news the past few days have given us a grand feeling – hope it continues.

Griffin-Photos-039-B
Griffin in Algeria. This is probably not be the specific photo mentioned below, but it seems likely to describe the same “sad sack” uniform!  Based on the tents, the photo was probably taken while the unit was in staging. (Courtesy of the Feeney Family)

The pictures enclosed were taken by a British Boy – aren’t our uniforms just awful – – sad sacks.  Hope our next ones give us a little oomph.  I have two more pictures of me to send home when I have them printed – Jack took them.  One is a closeup of me sitting in a chair in back of our quarters – I had stuck my tongue out at Jack and he snapped it quick but not quick enough– you should see the freckles.  The other is one he took one night about 8.30 with the mountains as a back-ground.  It’s really good – I have my O.D. dress on – the prints won’t be ready until Wed or so.  Then a couple more of camels – so I’ll ship them as soon as they come.  Ruth also has some good ones of us drinking coco-cola [sic] – the one bottle that was issued to us about a month ago.  You know we don’t even miss those kind of things now.  We still miss milk though so line up a few qts for me when I get back.

Griffin-Mts
This photo of 2nd Lieutenant Griffin is consistent with the outing described in the excerpt above and with the description of a photo—implied to have been taken by Jack—mentioned in a later letter. (Courtesy of the Griffin Family)

I went swimming today for about a half hour – 5 minutes in the water & the other time getting the sun.  The freckles are really awful but what’s the diff our skin really isn’t too bad for not having hot water.  Mine very rarely breaks out and then only one pimple or so.

Well all, I’ll be writing again.  Take care and be good.  I’ll be seeing you – Spring 1944

Loads of love

Alice


July 31, 1943

The following V-mail is presented in its entirety and mentions pictures of Alice’s nephew, John Peter Queeney, Jr. (1942–2020), and her cousin, Neil Callahan (1942–2019).  Mitch was a nickname for a friend of Griffin’s, a nurse at Cambridge City Hospital named Alice Shea.  

Dear Muth & All – Received Peter & Neil’s pictures today in Margie’s nice long letter – boy are they ever growing and cute.  Marg & Gert both look very well too.  They were swell pictures.  Also received another letter from you – one from Mitch – Eunie – a group letter from the kids from C.C.H. – also 11 Boston Posts June 4 – 9 and then July 6 – [7 or 9] and in between.  The hot weather has started again – it’s only been about 90 & 100 the past two weeks but tonight the air is just still and it’s so muggy.  This will perhaps last through Aug. & Sept.  If it gets a bit cooler I’ll answer the letters, otherwise I’ll wait a while.  Yes we have mosquito bars on our cots and sleep under nets.  Dot received her bathing suit, caps etc today.  She was tickled.  Now she has the only two bathing caps in the outfit and is the envy of all.  I never had one (don’t need one) but the kids that did have them have had poor luck.  The intensive heat cracks them and all are split.  I’ll write a little later.  Love to all

Loads of love

Alice


August 1, 1943

Jeep breakdowns during beach outings, as mentioned in this V-mail, seems to have been a recurring theme.

Dear Muth – Went swimming this p.m.  Some boy came after Dot so Jimmie Ruth & I piled in the back seat of the jeep (which had not seat).  [sic]  Jack & two other boys appeared on the beach a couple of hours later so we had a nice afternoon..  To get there you have to ride all around mt. roads & then up a side road where you have to cross a stream on a home-made ferry – an awful lot of fun – just a big plank with railings and you have to keep pulling a cable to make it go.  We took pictures and also took some at the beach.  Well the jeep broke down on the way home & then we really had to go when it was fixed because it was late.  Was and am I ever sore – also J & R – from banging up and down – there’s not a decent road in NA


Undated Letter (Likely August 5, 1943)

This letter, presented in its entirety, was dated only “Thursday” but references a social event mentioned in the following letter as well.  The neuro psychiatric (N.P.) ward and the military newspaper, The Stars & Stripes, are mentioned.

P.S. Mr. Sutor – manager – gave me the money for H.C. – also some lovely French perfume for myself – pre-war.

Thursday

All changes in APO mean nothing

Dear Muth.

Was going to write a nice long letter but I’m a bit tired so guess it will have to be tomorrow.  I have so many to answer and I’m not quite in the mood for writing.  Am sending 4 pictures with this letter & will send more in later ones.  Will also write to Margie tomorrow and enclose a couple.  It’s only 9 pm & I’m all ready to creep into my cot under my little mosquito netting – some fun.  I’m still exclaiming over my packages – everything was so swell.  We were having a formal Sat nite but it’s been postponed a week.  I was going with some col that Claire asked me to go with, so I suppose I have to go out anyhow.  Jack can’t ever come to town, just sneak in to pick me up and then we have to go to another town, the nearest of which is 60 miles – some fun.  They aren’t coming off restrictions neither for the rest of the time they are here so a lot of us have to do an awful lot of traveling.  There are about 15 of us that go around with 15 of them and you should see the conivering [sic, maybe supposed to be “conniving”] we have to do.

I’m on an N.P. ward now – not strenuous physically as the surgical ward I had & only 1/10 the pts but give me surgery any day-  I’ll be going back though.  The boys were rather down & they thought I could cheer them up.  So what – I play monopoly with them.  It’s down the other building though & I don’t like the walk.  And then I read the Stars & Stripes and it said the weather in August was going to be very much hotter – so the bunch of nurses just groaned.  It’s been between 100 & 120 ° part of July.  It comes gradually though, so what’s the diff.  I’m going to sleep while it’s quiet – Jim – Claire & Ruth have gone out – I wouldn’t go.

Loads of love   Alice


Undated Letter (Probably August 8, 1943)

This nine page letter, dated only Sunday, is presented in its entirety.  I strongly suspect that it was written on August 8, 1943, due to the line that a group including Griffin are to “leave for rest camp next Sunday”; an August 14 V-mail establishes that the vacation in question was scheduled for August 15.  That same V-mail states “Haven’t seen Jack for a week – he’s been in his tent with a terrific burn that he got last Sat on the beach.”  That fits with the events of this letter.  

I consider this letter to be among the finest in the entire Griffin collection for its vignettes into the nurses’ lives and diagram of their quarters at the Hotel Transatlantique.  The letter alternates between the present (relaxing and getting ready to watch a movie) and the story of a trip to the beach with Jack and friends, concluding with a stern warning to Griffin’s mother, who was caught gossiping about Jack.  As a side note, the clues in this letter proved indispensable for determining Jack’s identity.  

The beginning of the letter mentions three of Griffin’s closest friends (Ruth Donovan, Wanda Dabrowski, and Claire LaBonne), along with Cecelia Gallant and Principal Chief Nurse Helen W. Brammer.

P.S. The picture was wonderful

Sunday

Dear Muth & Cath –

Wrote to Margie today just a note because I forgot to enclose some pictures.  I shall tell you about my day off.  It’s cooled down a little and I am sitting on the back porch.  Just finished washing my hair – the water was absolutely black – because I didn’t wear a cap in the salt water & then part of the road coming home is just a mass of red dust.  Wanda did it up in pin curls so I should look pretty tomorrow.  Tonight is stay at home night.  Claire is writing on our porch.  I just finished drying Ruth’s hair & she has gone to have Wanda do it up.  Gallant & Miss Brammer are chatting on the porch next door.  We are the only three that have them.  I’ll draw you a picture.

Griffin-letter-poss-8-Aug-1943-9-pgs-2
Drawing of the Hotel Transatlantique grounds in Alice Griffin’s letter.  Click here for a larger view. (Courtesy of the Feeney Family)

[Drawing of Hotel Transatlantique grounds including living arrangements labeled “Our wing”: Room 1: “Three Kids”; Room 2: “Jim”, “Claire”, “Me”; Room 3: “Ruth”, “Dot”, “Virg Don”; Room 4: “Kay Don”, “Wanda”, “Dot Whitsell”; Room 4: “three Kids”; Room 5: “Closed Bar”.  In front of the nurses’ quarters: “Rose bushes no roses now”.  Also labeled: “Dining Room”; “Large Porch”; “other wing no piazzas”; “I might as well add to it” with “Garden”; “Fish Pond” with “1 frog – minnows”; “Bushes”; “Palms”; “palm trees”; “Small Pool no water”; “Bird Cage” with “no birds[,] Bunnies”; “cherry trees all gone”— presumably the cherries, which Griffin mentioned collecting in her June 6, 1943 letter, not the trees; “plum trees”.]

Nice layout eh what.

Griffin-letter-poss-8-Aug-1943-9-pgs-2-Room-Assignments
Detail from the drawing of the wing of the hotel with Griffin’s quarters.  Ella “Jimmie” James, Claire LaBonne, and Alice Griffin shared one room; Ruth Donovan, Dorothea LeCain, and Virginia Donehue were next to them; Kathleen Donahue, Wanda Dabrowski, and Dorothy Whitsell in a third room. (Courtesy of the Feeney Family)

It seems new movies were slow to get overseas (or at least to arrive in the interior of Algeria).  You Were Never Lovelier was released on November 19, 1942, before the 32nd Station Hospital even shipped out.

Tonight we are having a movie in the garden – it’s the third one we’ve had here.  That’s the reason most of the kids are in.  You were never lovelier – Rita Hayworth & Fred Astaire.  It’s the latest one we’ve seen.

Pardon while I light a cigarette & open the marshmellows [sic] – the kids & myself can’t wait.

Given Griffin’s independent nature, I get the sense that, when Jack told her in the next excerpt that she “wasn’t going out with any Col”, he was being playful rather than controlling.  The passage also indicates that Jack’s unit went overseas in 1942.  That was an important clue for determining his unit.  Of the Tank Destroyer units deployed to North Africa in 1943, only a handful had been shipped to the United Kingdom the year before.  Based on additional evidence (equipment, battles during the Tunisia campaign, and later deployment to Italy), I concluded that the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion was the only unit to match all the clues in the Griffin letters.  Indeed, the 894th shipped out from New York on August 6, 1942.

Well Friday night Jack appeared on the scene – seeing as they are restricted to town I was surprised.  Earlier in the week we had planned to have a dance Sat (last night) and I was going with a Col. that Claire wanted me to go with.  The dance was cancelled Thurs but Jack didn’t know it.  So Friday when he came he said he had all day Sat off because they were a year over-seas.  It’s the second day he’s had off the first was the day I met him 3 months ago.  So he said I wasn’t going out with any Col – they were all too old – too fresh etc.  I went to Miss Brammer & asked her if I could have Sat off too for my day for the month, which she granted.  She even asked me if I wanted to go to Oran overnight but I told her no.  It’s a dirty place & I wanted to go swimming.  So I got a date for the boy who was with Jack & off we went to a town about 50 miles from here only to find it closed tight.  The ride was good anyhow– bumpy but we’re used to that.  There’s a nice villa in this town where we can dance & eat – it’s too bad they can’t stay here.  Well we got home about one – it takes a couple of hours to go that far.  They hid the jeep when we got back & we went out on the back porch until 4 am – talked & sang (in low voices)  Meanwhile I opened the cookies & cheese crackers.  I sent the boys to the hospital to sleep and I was up bright & early @ 7.30, went out to have breakfast & there they were waiting for me.  To continue later – the kids are waiting it’s 10pm.

The next paragraph continues the story of the outing with Jack and friends, starting with a visit to the Red Cross.  Although Griffin’s letters often referred to members of Jack’s unit accompanying them on outings, this is the only instance in the extant letters in which she gave their names.  A man named Newt was described as Jack’s company commander.  The excerpt also refers to “Hale” and “Bud”.  It’s not made clear whether they’re the same person (or even whether he’s a member of Jack’s unit).  

Although I will elaborate more on my methodology in a future article about the search for Jack, I was indeed able to identify the officers in the passage below as Baker D. Newton and Warner “Bud” Hale.

Captain-Baker-D-Newton
Captain Baker D. Newton circa June 1944 (Courtesy of the Newton Family)

Baker D. Newton (1918–1961) was born in Boydell, Arkansas, the twelfth child of Frederick and Mary Newton.  During the next few years, the family moved to Louisiana and then Oklahoma, before finally settling in Ferriday, Louisiana.  Newton was an R.O.T.C. cadet at Louisiana State University before the war.  He also obtained his M.S. in Physical Education in 1941. 

According to his military records, 2nd Lieutenant Newton was commissioned as an 2nd lieutenant in the Infantry Branch on May 21, 1941.  He went on active duty with in the U.S. Army on August 25, 1941 and was assigned to the 94th Antitank Battalion (which became the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion shortly thereafter) .  By December 25, 1941, he was a platoon leader in Company “C” of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion; his name appeared in a program for a Christmas dinner the company held that day.  He was promoted to 1st lieutenant around June 20, 1942 and served as company executive officer, probably in Company “C”.

Newton was awarded the Silver Star Medal for his performance during the Tunisian campaign.  The citation, dated June 21, 1943, documented several exploits, all of which occurred in the same day.  The citation stated that during an artillery bombardment, “he went from foxhole to foxhole distributing magazines and joking with his men”.  (In a letter to his mother, Newton said that he actually waited for a lull in the bombardment to make his rounds!)  Then “he established an observation post” under heavy fire, which resulted in the silencing of an “enemy artillery battery.”  When one of the unit’s M-3 tank destroyers (a half-track with a 75 mm cannon mounted) was hit, he helped lead the effort to extinguish the fire: “Small arms ammunition was exploding while he assisted in putting out the fire by shovelling [sic] sand.”  He was promoted to captain on May 3, 1943 and took over as commanding officer of Company “C.”  

A February 6, 1944 article by Daniel De Luce of the Associated Press—printed in papers nationwide—described how Captain Newton and his men repulsed a German armor attack in support of British infantry during the Anzio campaign.  Unit records confirm that Company “C” of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion knocked out four Tiger tanks during the German counterattack.  That was an impressive feat, given that the Tigers had both far more powerful cannons and heavier armor than Captain Newton’s M-10s. 

Captain Newton transferred to the 805th Tank Destroyer Battalion around April 2, 1944.  He continued to serve as a company commander in his new unit until he became his battalion S-3 (operations officer) on January 11, 1945.  He remarked in a letter to his family that the new position “increases my life expectancy more than somewhat.”  Captain Newton earned a Bronze Star Medal for his actions during a battle near Magnacavallo, Italy on April 23, 1945.  On May 18, 1945 he was promoted to major and became the 805th’s executive officer.  An August 18, 1945 news item in The Times-Picayune indicated that now Major Newton had earned a Bronze Star Medal in Italy.  After the 805th was deactivated around November 14, 1945, he went on terminal leave until leaving active duty effective March 16, 1946.  

On June 29, 1947, Newton married his wife, Sue (1925–1998), in Vidalia, Louisiana.  The couple had one daughter.  He became a teacher at Ferriday High School in 1948, teaching English, journalism, and speech.  He remained in the reserves until April 1956.  He died in Louisiana, aged 42.

Warner-Hale-London-1942
Warner S. Hale in a photograph taken in London, 1942 (Courtesy of the Hale Family)

Warner Stephens Hale (1920–2002), nicknamed Bud, was born in Statham, Georgia to Dawson and Estelle Hale.  Hale attended the University of Georgia before the war.  It’s unclear when he joined the U.S. Army, but he was overseas in London by 1942.  He eventually reached the rank of captain, serving in Company B of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion.  According to an October 17, 1944 news item in The Atlanta Constitution, he earned the Bronze Star Medal for his performance in Italy.  (He also earned the Purple Heart and the Air Medal, which was sometimes earned for performance as an observer in a reconnaissance aircraft.)  Hale’s two brothers also served; 1st Lieutenant Emmett Hale of the U.S. Army Air Forces was killed in a plane crash in 1944.

After the war, Hale returned to the University of Georgia and graduated in 1947 with a bachelor of science in chemistry.  Hale married Irene Slaughter (1925–2007) in 1950.  The couple raised four daughters.  According to his obituary in the Athens Banner-Herald, he “was in the homebuilding and development business in the Athens area for many years and was a past president of the Athens Homebuilders Association. ”  He died in Athens, Georgia, aged 82.

Pictures aren’t ready so I’m back.  We ate & then started out – stopped at a town at 10 a m, had a sandwich & coffee at R.C. & then went back a way to the beach.  It’s only about an hours ride but we stayed a [sic] R C quite a while.  Hale went back to get Virginia who was off for the afternoon & Newt – Jack’s C.O. of his company was coming out [with] Ruth.  We were going to stay on the beach until 4 & then go to a town & eat.  Jack & I talked – then went swimming came out on the beach & I went to sleep.  When I woke up he was asleep too.  It was terrifically hot and 330 pm.  We couldn’t understand where the kids were – & us without a jeep and miles from no where.  So we moved up in the shade of a little scrub pine with bugs galore crawling & [illegible] over us – I went to sleep again & Jack had to wake me because the sun or rather the shade had moved.  Then we wondered some more where the kids were & I was hungry.  It was 630 & I couldn’t understand where the day had gone.  At seven the other appeared– 4 in one jeep.  It seems that the jeep we had been in had broken down & Virginia & Bud had to hitch back to town to get someone to fix it.  As they were going back they passed Newt & Ruth.  Meanwhile 20 miles further their jeep broke down & no one passed.  They had to sit & wait until V & Bud came back which was 630, explaining why they didn’t arrive at the beach earlier. They were all exhausted but the water refreshed them.

Newton-Collection-Jarvie-and-Newton-Tlemcen-retouched-slightly
Jack (left) and Captain Baker D. Newton (right) sitting in a jeep with a local civilian in a picture taken in Tlemcen, Algeria in the summer of 1943 (Courtesy of the Newton Family)

In the following passage, Jack makes a reference to “The breaking waves dashed high”, a line from—and alternate title to—“The Pilgrim Fathers” by Felicia Dorothea Hemans.

By then the waves were just dashing in and where the rocks jut out at both ends of the beach it was really beautiful.  Jack said it reminded him of “The breaking waves dashed high etc.”  The sun was just a red ball of fire when we left & we started for home– I was truly hungry.  We stopped at a town to eat and everything closed once more.  Guess we’re the ones who keep our town open.  When we got back it was midnight.  Ruth had a can of cheese in her room that she had snitched at one time & we pinched a can of tuna fish from Dot – – took some of Claire’s Nes-Cafe – then they watched while I sneaked in the kitchen & stole a loaf of bread & found some meat left over from supper.  Did we ever eat – Jack & I with no dinner & supper & the other kids with me no supper.  Anyhow I had one glorious day – my best long day since N.A.

In addition to the usual circle of friends, Marion Huckins is mentioned in the next passage.  The visit to the rest camp ended up being postponed until September 1943.

We – Ruth – Dot Virginia – Huckins & I leave for rest camp next Sunday – they stopped for a month, you know because we were too busy.  We just got a new batch of pts but only 200 came so we’re all set – we usually get 4 or 500.  Even so, Miss Brammer says we’re going anyhow because we need the rest.  They have had Italian prisoners working on the rest camp and they have fixed it all up.  They even have a place on the back to buy sandwiches & lemonade – isn’t that wonderful.  Whoever thought up the rest-camp was an angel because we sure will be glad to get away for a week – it will be a physical as well as a mental change because we sure had to readjust ourselves.  I’ll bet you know how it is.

One can only imagine Mrs. Griffin’s reaction at reading the conclusion to the letter.  Alice had learned that her mother had been gossiping (and evidentially exaggerating the seriousness) of her relationship with Jack, and told her in no uncertain terms to knock it off.

Muth, if I don’t write as much now it’s because there isn’t too much to tell – in fact there’s practically nothing.  The only man I go out with is Jack and he gets in once & sometimes twice a week & if I keep writing about him, you’ll expect me to be bringing him home with me and as I wrote before I shan’t see him after he leaves– this is Africa m’lady.  I’ll tell you all about him when I get home though but until then – you’ll have to wait & don’t run around telling the neighbors etc that I’ve fallen in love.  You see Ruth got a letter from her mother asking if I was really in love – you’re supposed to keep those things to yourself.  Ruth just looked at me with that certain look & said “She should see you.”  That’s all for now – be good you two monkeys.  Loads of Love

            Alice


August 11, 1943 (First V-mail)

This V-mail is presented in its entirety.  The regular letter mentioned in this V-mail appears to be lost.  The girl mentioned is presumably a local civilian.

Dear Muth & All-    Sent a regular letter today & finally found some V mail so I’ll dash this off too.  Received the cards from you & Cath – kids got a kick out of them.  It’s a question now whether we’ll go to rest camp Sunday – they say they can’t spare Ruth and I will not go without her – if we can’t fix it up – we’ll wait another month.  We have our bedrolls all ready to go – so we are rather disappointed but we’ll go later – maybe even Sunday.  I told you in the letter what I needed for Xmas – leave it to me to get my orders in on time.  I had morning time today and was going to do my washing but I just plopped on the bed in my pajamas and wrote – it’s too hot to do anything.  I gave them to the girl to do and I’ll pay her.  I won’t be able to send anything for Xmas – they charge 250 francs ($500), for the smallest things over here & we won’t pay it – anyhow we wouldn’t have the money.  So guess they’ll have to wait.  Love Alice


August 11, 1943 (Second V-mail)

Hi Marg &  John – It’s 9.30 p.m. and I’ve just finished reading on the porch – it’s a little dark now.  We were going to have champagne tonight but it’s a bit late now so we’ve decided to turn in.  The kids were trying to pull all my gray hairs out but they got disgusted – I have too many.  I really don’t know where they all came from but I guess I’m getting old.  So if you see a rather youngish girl with gray hair getting off the boat, it will be me.  How’s the young addition coming along?  I hope he still likes the water next year because I don’t want to take him swimming and have him yelling with fright.  […]  We were all ready to go to rest camp Sunday but Ruth can’t go so I’m waiting until she can – quite a disappointment for both of us but we’ve learned to be patient and only swear for an hour.  Ruth broke the only decent ashtray they have when she heard the news – smashed it to smithereens.


August 12, 1943

This letter, presented in its entirety, mentions the on-again, off-again rest camp visit, as well as a visit by Griffin’s young French friends, Nicole Messiah and Janine Ganascia.  Presumably, Captain Nace Cohen‘s offer to “take over for” Ruth referred to her anesthesia duties.

Aug 12, 1943

Hi All–

Am all ready for bed – just had a “HOT” bath (once every two months-) and I feel wonderful.  They told Ruthie today – finally – that she could go to the beach with us so we’re all set again  Whoopie.  I haven’t sent Muth’s birthday present yet but I will before I go.  The painting if for Auntie’s present – don’t tell her what she’s getting.  It’s an oil painting on heavy linen of the angelus (not framed) and although it’s not a good one it kind of took my eye and there’s really nothing else around.  I hope you like yours Muth I do – I sure did a lot of arguing to get it at the price I wanted because they jip [sic] the life out of you if they could.  I told you people about Xmas presents in a former letter, that I would not be able to give any but I know you’ll understand.  We’re taking our pup tents, bed rolls, blankets, etc with us Sunday – the pup tents are for shade on the beach – we live in larger tents – we’re so excited about going.  They have Italian prisoners working around the camp so I will sprout [sic] my limited Italian.  The word I remember must be from pick-up sticks is “Stupida.”

Janine & Nicole came to visit me & it was just after supper.  I knew they were coming so I saved two cookies and then gave some coffee with it – they were tickled.  They both have heard from some of their relatives that have escaped through Spain from France.  I have met two of them & you should hear what they went through- – of course they are French-Jews, so it was hard.

Ruth is sitting next to me smoking so I stop every now & then to talk.  We are both very sleepy so soon I shall creep out under my little net & go to sleep.  She feels so much better now that she knows she can go.  Last night I told Miss Brammer I would not go unless Ruthie did.  Capt Cohen has offered to take over for her while she’s gone.  He also just came in with a cocoanut bar for each of us – delicious by looks – I’m going to eat mine while I’m in bed looking at the stars.

The following passage also refers to Lieutenant Colonel Goss‘s strict handling of the unit.

Now when a lapse goes by without my getting letters, I’ll know that they’ll catch up so I won’t scold.  But such a long time went by when I didn’t hear & yet Muth’s were coming through.  It’s the worst feeling in the world not to get letters & nothing drags the morale down so much.  At about that time the new Col. was going right to town on all of us and we heard that we were taken off the alert & wouldn’t be moving yet so you see everything was wrong— but it has righted itself now.  We are very tired of this town now & are very anxious to move but we’re trying to be patient and still working rather hard.  The news is swell.  Now they are going to set up a radio system in Oran so we can get broadcasts right from there-  news three times a day – and recordings in between – with no advertising.  You should see the crowd gather around the radio for the news at night.

Well it’s 11.10 pm – I’m going to bed it’s 510 at home & dollars to doughnuts you’re running around at the last minute, Muth getting Cath’s supper.  Hello & goodbye to all of you.  See you in the Spring.

Loads of love  Alice


August 14, 1943

This V-mail references the planned rest camp visit and a sunburn Jack probably got in the outing mentioned in the August 8 letter above.  It’s unknown which officer’s departure is described as being similar to Colonel Burstein‘s.  No officers left the unit permanently that month, though Dr. Raymond Hall was hospitalized at the 21st General Hospital from August 9–28 and left the unit that fall due to poor health.  Lieutenant Colonel Goss commented in his 1943 report: “It is unfortunate that the unit had so large a turnover in officer personnel due to illness.”  

Hi Muth & All-    Just a V mail unit after I get to the beach – we leave tomorrow and we’ve been busy washing & packing.  I hear Muth that they wanted you to speak over the radio – tell me more.  I went to a French circus last night [illegible] rather louzy but we had a good time.  Had the nicest milk chocolate bar with ooey gooey caramel inside – delicious – British rations.  Ate the whole darn thing toot sweet before anyone asked me for a bite.  Haven’t seen Jack for a week – he’s been in his tent with a terrific burn that he got last Sat on the beach.  I’ll only see him a couple of times more now because I go away for a week & then it’ll be time for me to go.  Ruth, Dot[,] Virginia & I were packing & gabbing until quite late last night – until Jimmie shooed us to bed.  Another one of our officers is going home – he had a heart attack – just like Col. Burstein – it makes the sixth one – guess the nurses can take it.  I’ll perhaps get a letter from you today.  Loads of love to all Alice.


Undated Letter (Probably around August 18, 1943)

This letter has no date or day of the week listed.  I originally thought it might be the missing August 11, 1943 letter mentioned in a V-mail sent the same day, but if so, the August 5, 1943 V-mail from Griffin’s mother arrived in record time.  (Ten days or more was more common.)  The line that “We’ve unpacked because we won’t go to rest camp yet” would make this letter fit well between the August 14 letter that they were packing and the August 19 letter that mentioned, in passing, that the rest camp visit was cancelled.  The August 19, 1943 letter also mentions two nurses being responsible for 163 patients, possibly indicating that it was sent around the same time.

Dear Muth,

Received your V mail of Aug 5th today & am scribbling an answer off before I go to bed.  It’s ten past 10 & I was going to do so much tonight & haven’t done a thing so far.  Ruth just went over for an emergency & Claire & Jimmie are writing.  We are very busy now so I won’t get so much writing done.  […]  I now have 163 pts on my ward – one other nurse & myself.  It’s good being real busy but no letters to write on duty now.

We’ve unpacked because we won’t go to rest camp yet; we’ll be going again soon though.

Mary is probably fellow army nurse Mary O’Dowd, whose letter to Griffin’s mother is published in the Introduction to the Alice Griffin Collection.  The unauthorized use of the freezer from the last batch of ice cream probably pertains to the batch mentioned in the July 3 letter.

Received two cans of ice cream from Mary today.  Still have one can left, we’re waiting to find a place to freeze it.  The last can I took on night duty & put it in the Frigidaire at the lab – got caught & caught Hell so I’ll wait awhile.

So Pete’s afraid of the vac.  Or is he just putting on so Margie won’t make him clean the rugs.

[…]

The kids said I’ll have to raise my allotment if you keep sending things to them.  Don’t know what it is this time, but we’ll know when it arrives.

I haven’t sent your present yet, but I will – supposed it will get there for Xmas instead of birthday.

Have to close now & I’ll write again tomorrow.

Love to all & tell Pete not to be a scaredy cat.

Loads of love

Alice


August 19, 1943

This V-mail mentions one of expanded sections of the 32nd Station Hospital in Tlemcen.  In his 1943 report, Lieutenant Colonel Goss wrote of these additions: “When in June the bed capacity was further increased to 1,000 the roofs of Building ‘A’ and Building ‘D’ were put under canvas and screening; later wood and tar paper roofs with closed sides and plastiglass windows were set up.”

Hi Muth Cath Marg & All –     Dashing this off – sent a short air mail last night.  […] It’s a bit cooler today – thank goodness.  I work on the roof with 163 pts so you can imagine how hot it gets even if it is covered with tenting.  We call it the “Pent house”.  I got a towel from the px and seven other kids who didn’t need theirs got them and now I am going to have a beach robe made with a good – – Ruth has one & they’re swell.  We haven’t been to the pool for over a week because we’re usually too tired now when we get off duty but we’ll quite down again.  It’s just like a civilian hosp – with runs of busy & quiet times.  […]

The space limitations of V-mail are apparent in the following passage, which suggested that Dorothea LeCain had an adventure or sorts (it’s not clear if the message scrawled in the margin was facetious, but apparently she was going to be riding in Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark’s car!), the story of which may never be known.

One of the nurses got mad when our Sunday trip was cancelled & had some col call our col requesting she go to Algiers for a few days.  We’re mad at her but glad that Dot went with with [sic] her – no nurse travels alone.                 Love Alice

[Left margin:] DOT RIDING IN STYLE – GEN CLARKE’S CAR

[Right margin:] SHE’S GOING TO BRING US BACK PRESENTS


August 24, 1943

This V-mail, written at 1 a.m., is presented in its entirety except for what was scrawled in the margins.

Dear Muth & All – This is the 3rd V mail I’ve started in last few days & could not finish them.  We are really terribly busy & I just haven’t the time.  We got 387 pts tonight starting at 730 so a bunch of us had to go on back – and just now returned.  So you see we are busy – have over double the amt of pts we are supposed to have in the hospital & are enlarging more – we certainly are tripping the light fantastic.  The best part of it is no one is crabbing about all the work and that’s the best morale builder going.  Yesterday I received 14 letters from July 6 on – 3 from Cath – 1 Marg (a super nifty long one) and 4 from Muth etc.  I will answer at a later date.  If you can find a thermos bottle anywhere I can use it – also more of those cotton pants.

I haven’t been able to find the article which presumably mentioned Griffin; it might be in The Boston Post.  I’ve also been unable to figure out what “throw your gas out the window” means, at least assuming it was a figure of speech during the era.

Article in paper was good but for heavens sake keep my name out of publicity.  You go ahead doing anything you want Muth but don’t mention my name.  By the way, I had no inkling you had been sick, but I’m very glad everything in x-ray turned out O.K. – – you know nothing stops us Griffins – – so you keep well and throw your gas out the window.  Ruth bought a radio & it is swell – they have a new station in Oran for broadcasting.  Will write later.  I’m exhausted.  Good night & lots of love  Alice


Undated Letter (Probably August 26, 1943)

This letter is presented in its entirety.  Although it was dated only “Thursday”, Captain Lowell Vinsant‘s journal recorded that Al Jolson’s visit to the 32nd Station Hospital occurred on August 25, 1943.  The powder for coloring lemonade was requested in a May 29, 1943 letter.

Thursday.

Dear Muth & All.

Well, here I am finally writing.  Its ten past nine and I’m all ready for bed.

The package with the drink-powder came last night.  The candy was in good condition –. Nestles disappeared toot sweet.  The cuff links were swell and we pounced on the magazines, although we haven’t had time to read them yet.  The hospital is a little more quiet but we are still quite busy – no time for fooling.  Did I tell you I went to Oran over-night Saturday– first one I’ve had.  Jack drove four of us down and we had a swell time.

We met four fellows from Jack’s outfit after we had dropped the kids at the R.C. club where we sleep so the five men & I went to the officers club & what do you supposed we got – – steak sandwiches and they sure were delicious.  In Oran you can get good things to eat but we are still having louzy mess.  The kids and drs squawk all the time but my friend here goes ahead and eats everything – – with the exception of the beans (supposedly Boston ones.)  One of the doctors said yesterday “Griffie – do you mean to tell me you’re really going to eat that crap”  I said certainly & dug right in.  Ruth says my appetite will leave me when I die at the age of 100 yrs.

I do hope you are O.K. Muth – – keep that way & for heavens sakes – don’t worry about us – we try so hard to let you people know we really are happy and still you worry – – what can we do to prove it to you!  Why we have ten & twelve men swarming us each night & back there the girls are crying for them.  We have jeeps to hop into & what else can we ask for.  We’re all taking a jeep home with us.  They are the bumpiest darn things and I love them.

Before I forget.  Muth, could you send me some seidlitz powders.  I take right after you in the old gas department & when I get an attack, the kids rub me like we used to you and after a while you hear a rumble of thunder & whoops up it comes.  Why couldn’t I get your vitality instead of your gas?

In another example of changing timetables, the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion didn’t begin shipping out for Italy until the end of October 1943.

Rubin-Jolson-Tlemcen
Al Jolson performing at the 32nd Station Hospital (Courtesy of the Mann Family)

Jack & his crowd go in 3 weeks at the latest.  We all will miss him because he takes us all anywhere we want to go – even if he only does get down once in a while.  Now yesterday was the end of his leave – I had a p.m.  We had planned on going over to another town and get some more hassocks but for some unknown reason I was vomiting all yesterday morning so I didn’t feel up to going there.  It’s a very hot place & no place to swim or eat so I suggested the beach.  The first thing he said was “Go round up the ones in your crowd who have pms – we’ll take some blankets and you can have a swim & sleep on the beach.”  Jimmie & Wanda had pms so toot sweet they were ready & off we went.  By the time I had the swim & sleep I felt wonderful & back we came here – only to have roast beef for supper. You see Al Jolson was visiting – and eating mess with us – then he gave a show for the boys which was swell.  It’s the first movie star we’ve had here because we are too far from Oran – it’s not too much in mileage but the roads are very winding & bad.  We don’t even like to go there too much.  I’ve been twice in six months.

Although usually referring to soldiers, the abbreviation in “G.I.” in the next passage stands for gastrointestinal.

The kids are all out tonight but I didn’t want to go.  Claire told me to get right to bed or I’d hear from her tomorrow so in I’m getting as soon as I finish this.  Boy, even a half day of G.I.’s take it out of you.  I’m darn lucky – the other kids had them for 2 & 3 days & I break out about 3 months later for just half a day.  Most everyone is immune to it now because you rarely see a patient getting them & we used to have about 200 at a time.

I’m trying to think of more things to say but there isn’t much to tell.  I’m really ashamed for waiting so long before writing.  Just one V mail the first of this week – that’s bad.  I know you’ll understand though & I’ll dash off at least a V mail every day now that we are a little lighter.  Tell Marg – Gert Auntie and the rest I’ll be dashing letters off this week.  And for heaven’s sake, tell Peter there’s a war on & to take it easy on the eggs.  He must be awfully cute by now.  I got some pictures of Neil & Uncle Dave.  Neil has grown so – – but my goodness Uncle Dave has grown old looking or is it just the picture – the kids noticed it too.

I’m on my way to bed now so goodnight – there’s a war so I can’t have my cheese & crackers.

Love to all from me

Loads of love

Alice


August 29, 1943

This V-mail is presented in its entirety, except for notes scrawled in the margins.  The negatives Griffin mentioned losing in this letter were later found, according to a September 14, 1943 letter.

Hi Muth, Cath & All –      Another V mail – if I don’t fall to sleep when I get off duty I’ll write a letter tonight.  I over-slept this morning & didn’t get the kids called for Mass.  I went because I had morning time.  The pictures of Claire, Jimmie, and I in evening gown will be ready tomorrow – hope they are good.  I’m very sorry the negatives of me in my O.D. and beige dress got lost because they were really good.  Muth your Aug 20 letter arrived here Aug 27 and your Aug 4 arrived today, so you see they get here in crazy order too.  No more damns & Hells m-lady – I’ll just leave blanks.  The candy-krinkle bars – peppermint etc arrived in good condition – in fact it’s all gone by now.  The powdered drinks are wonderful too.  The other packages will tag along.  If you send Xmas packages put “Do not open until X mas” so I can tell which is which.  If we are still here X mas Eve I owe Ruth a quart of champagne and if we are gone – Ruth owes some to me.  We all hope to be gone but by looks of things, we’re staying.  For two weeks we were all ready to go & boops [sic] we got orders to stay.  Well at least we’ll have a week of rest in the near future.  Love to Cath, Marg, you & all.

Loads of love

            Alice


August 30, 1943

The “gen hosp outfit” mentioned in this letter refers to the 46th General Hospital; according to Principal Chief Nurse Brammer‘s 1943 nursing report, its personnel covered 32nd Station Hospital members’ vacations in August and September of 1943.  

Just received two packages, one with my O.D. hat & one with onion writing paper from Mary & Caroline.  Envelopes are already stamped with air mail stamps, pretty swanky huh.  The hat is tops, fits swell & looks swell.

We got rid of 100 pts last night & are now only 800 or so in a couple of weeks maybe we’ll be a little lighter & go to the beach.  It doesn’t matter anyhow now as long as the gen hosp outfit will relieve us – – we can all go together.

Wed. night ten of us are one year in the army and we are giving a party for all the nurses – – we’ve been swiping stuff for weeks.  It doesn’t seem possible it’s a year & yet it seems ten years.  If we’re not home in another year, we’re going to start bucking for section eights – – the whole eight of us – – one won’t buck or go home without the other [sic] naturally.

[…]

Gee there really isn’t a heck of a lot to write about now.  If we’d only move, I could writing bushels again describing another country but everyone is sick of Africa (both sodiers [sic] & nurses) and you can’t write about a country you don’t like.  Now you take America, for instance, we could write realms on that.

[…]

The reason Griffin described her as “one of the few real French” isn’t entirely clear since there were plenty of French people living in Tlemcen at the time.  Griffin may have described her that way because, as stated in Griffin’s September 3, 1943 letter, the woman was Parisian.

I have to get on the ball & do a little work now.  Did I tell you I have a nifty hood & jacket comb – made from Turkish towels – Madame is now making me bra & shorts to match.  Her daughter embroidered initials.  She’s one of few real French – very lovely – & husband dead.    Loads of love Alice


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


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Last updated June 26, 2020

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