This is the fourth 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.
September 1, 1943
This letter is presented in its entirety. It is quite rich in personnel details during a period in which the unit’s records are quite fragmentary. It seems likely that most if not all of the 14 nurses who joined the U.S. Army on the same day were part of a larger group of 25 that had been working at Fort Devens, Massachusetts in the fall of 1942 prior to joining the 32nd Station Hospital in December.
The letter indicates that Dr. Louis Linn was still with the unit, though he transferred to the 51st Station Hospital prior to December 31, 1943. His first child, Judith (1943–1989), was born on August 25, 1943. Even such important news still took six days to arrive. Dr. Linn would not meet his daughter until he returned home in the fall of 1945.
The letter also establishes when Dr. Candler Willis departed the unit and describes some of the ways the Red Cross supported troops in Tlemcen. In addition to the local center, the letter also mentions that two Red Cross workers were assigned to the unit. Although I know very little about the unit’s attached Red Cross workers, two known to have served alongside the 32nd Station Hospital in Algeria are Dorothy Clark (Roy, 1913–1996) and Lillian Burns.
Sept 1, 1943
Well Mrs. G & All –
One year in the Army today – does it seem possible? We are having a celebration tonight – there are 14 of us. Lt. Linn heard yesterday that his wife delivered a baby girl – we’re celebrating that – – Lt. Willis is going back to the states – – a far[e]well party and it’s Ivy Bosworth’s birthday – so you see we have quite a lot to celebrate. We were stuck in regards to food so I went to the R.C. and they are giving us cheese – bread – jam & coffee. The boys rave about the R.C. and they certainly are doing a swell job. Why in our hospital there are just two workers for a thousand pts – they come around every day – each boy gets a pack of cigarettes – they are supplied with ditty bags – soap – face cloths – candy – movies – games – and the same in the R.C. up town. Hope the party tonight is a success. We are getting a few hundred pts tonight so I hope they don’t come in until the party is over. We’ll be busy as the Dickins again. They have cleaned out all the pts from Sicily so we are getting them. We had two quiet days anyhow.
The following passage describes a rumor which seems to be just that. Only one member of the unit, Elizabeth McGaulley, is known to have ended up in the Pacific Theatre, after first transferring to the 33rd Field Hospital (rather than rotating home).
Muth, there’s a rumor around which seems to be authentic that one officer, nurse, and enlisted man from each outfit may go home every month & they will be replaced. In case you hear this, don’t expect us. You see if you leave, you’re out of the outfit – you’ll perhaps go home – be there a month & then go to the Pacific. You don’t get back in your outfit again. And while we’re here we might as well stick it out. We won’t be home for X mas or might not even the spring but when we go, we want to stay.
By the way, a special service colored band has been here all week. They play in the hosp. every day – played concert music for us out back last night & will play for a dance for us Sat. They play on the square in town every night between 6 & 7.30 and they are tops. They leave next Sunday.
The following passage mentions Griffin’s young French friends, Janine Ganascia and Nicole Messiah.
You wanted to know what to send the kids for X mas- -I think a tie for each or else a pair of [brown?] socks for each would be good or else a powder mix – if the [sic] are still as cheap as they were last year. Also could you send two slips – for Janine & Nicole – not expensive ones but with a ribbon through the top if they have them. I am sending a money order for $10 tomorrow – or rather a cable. Also if there is time some X mas cards – if not, ship it – If I don’t get going now, I’ll never get up to the R.C. for the food. Be good, all of you and very soon I’ll sit down & write all those letters that I should. Seems as if we get off duty & it’s time to go to bed.
Love to All
Undated Letter (Probably September 1, 1943)
This letter, presented in its entirety, was likely also written on September 1, 1943, based on the references to the celebration mentioned in the first letter of the day and because of a reference in the September 3 letter which may describe this one: “Also sent a M.O. for ten dollars day before yesterday for housecoat & slips.”
Another undated letter (likely written August 5, 1943) has a postscript that “Mr. Sutor – manager – gave me the money for H.C. – also some lovely French perfume for myself – pre-war.” Griffin’s Uncle Dave was the grandfather of her young cousin Neil Callahan, who was frequently mentioned in the letters.
Dear Muth –
Dashing this off – got paid this a.m. and I want you to get a slip for Nicole & Janine if you can – nothing expensive. The other is what is for housecoat – that was already paid for by Sutor – I want to give J & N. [theirs] for X mas. Nicole’s father was in an accident & will be in bed for 2 months – he looks very much like Uncle Dave – same age – gray hair – tall etc. He’s in a hospital in Algiers but they have plenty of money so they can afford it. I’m dashing this off to get the letter in the mail with the M.O. We’re all set for tonight – got some cheese – jam – coffee & milk (evap) – also bread from the R.C. We can’t get any from our place. Will write tomorrow. Love to Cath & All Alice
September 2, 1943
This is another very interesting letter that is presented in its entirety. Ella James and Wanda Dabrowski added their outrage about the patients’ rations being slashed as a postscript. It appears the cut was only temporary, as indicated by a September 21 letter that stated: “Pts are getting more to eat now”.
Sept. 2, 1943
Hi Muth –
Just finished a big meeting about mess and got no where – – in fact we were told that rations have been cut. For ourselves we don’t care but the patients want more food and just can’t get it. We’ve been fighting for months but the orders from Washington say that food is cut down. We are absolutely tearing – we’re feeding every darn foreigner in the world and have to ration our boys. We are all so mad we could screech. Those boys are sick and need it what with perspiring in the heat etc.. I hope the ones who get back talk plenty but I suppose it won’t do any good. Well enough for that.
We had a very nice party last night and the celebration was a success – one year in the army. We got the food from the R.C.- couldn’t get a bite from the army. I still say if they navy can feed why can’t the army. Guess I’d better shut up and stop writing because I’m in a terrific mood – as are all of us. I’ll write tomorrow when I’m in a better mood. Muth will you find out if patients get a ration or ration & a half per person. We were always told 1½ rations – just sort of find out – and let me know.
Be seeing you before not too long.
Loads of love
I am mad too. Jimmie
September 3, 1943
Neil was Griffin’s young cousin, Neil Callahan (1942–2019); Peteen seems to have been a nickname for her nephew, Peter.
Don’t know if the letter I wrote last night will get there but I blew my top – still mean it tho – – Jim & Wanda also added a note.
There are all kinds of bets flying around here on whether we are going or staying – don’t know who’ll win. Time will tell.
Hope you get the pictures of me in evening gown – not too bad. As soon as I get all dressed up, will have pictures taken in both beige & O.D. Did you ever get my picture taken by photographer. I sent five quite a while back & no one has mentioned them – sent the negative to you Muth. I do want so badly to get something for Neil & Peteen but there’s not a darn thing to get for kids.
The custom clothing made out of Turkish towels was first mentioned in Griffin’s August 30, 1943 letter. The reason she stated the woman wasn’t French-Jewish was that Griffin’s other local friends were.
The French lady has finished my shorts & bra out of towels – the kids are all having them made too. She is without doubt the nicest madam. She’s about 38 – has a daughter 16 and a boy 14 – husband has been dead 8 yrs – she’s real Parisian – not French-Jew – she’s always neat and clean & has picked up so much English from us. She is the seamstress – hired by the hospital & does our work extra – can she sew? With the extra money we give her, she has hired a professor for the daughter for the summer. The daughter speaks French – Arabic – Spanish – Latin – but no English.
Word did indeed reach the 32nd Station Hospital quickly about Operation Baytown, the first Allied landings on mainland Italy, as mentioned in the following passage.
One of the little maids that works here got married this week – she’s Spanish & just 16 – imagine – Well, we’re in our second year in the army now – three days over. And we head early this morning that the invasion of Italy had started. I guess we get the news before you people – or do we – it started @ 2 am & we knew by 9. Sicily we saw them preparing for & knew but this was a surprise to us – we knew it was coming soon but not this soon. I do hope the Vatican isn’t damaged.
I have an afternoon off tomorrow – don’t know what I’ll do but I imagine it will be go to bed. It’s still very hot in the afternoon but the nights are heavenly – The natives said this is the coolest summer in about 20 yrs – aren’t we lucky- – but boy when that rainy season starts again.
The kids got the biggest kick out of Cath explaining about getting the perforated shoes because of the dry weather – – they said they’d perhaps get here the first day of the rainy season. I’m dying for them to get here. You see Claire & Jim had brown sport-shoes with them – so I wear Claire’s when she doesn’t. Jimmie’s just swim on me – Claire’s I float in but they manage to stay on.
Mrs. Patten writes me all about Peter too – she said she gets the biggest kick out of Cath & Peter talking for hours.
Well, time to eat so I’ll close & write later. With lots of love.
September 9, 1943
This V-mail, presented in its entirety, was written at a rest camp, almost certainly the one in Ain el-Turck. There had not been any word from Griffin about the rest camp since the letter sent around August 18 indicated that the visit had been postponed. Since no extant letters announced that the visit had been rescheduled (and there is a gap of almost a week), it might tend to suggest that either some correspondence is missing or their departure was too sudden to write home about it. Griffin’s good friend Ruth Donovan is also mentioned.
Hi Margie, John, Pete etc – How are you doing – received you letter – write me more as time goes on. I hear that Pete is all poison bites – the poor kid.. the kids here are, but they are used to it from the time they are born. Have had a very nice time this week & have done just about nothing. Went down on the beach for only an hour or so today & then came back up to my little tent & read – sun gets too hot for comfort. The other kids stayed for the afternoon and are ever red tonight. Well, Italy has given in & now we can really go to work – wish they’d hurry & finish up cause I’d like very much to go home – – when the other kids are ready but not before – we’re all very anxious to see good old U.S. but I think we’ll have an African accent – – or something. Went out with Ruth & a couple of boys last night & the night before – we don’t go out until 9 or so & curfew here is 12 m.n. – after all these months we come on a vacation & have a curfew but you see there are 1,000 new nurses & 500 wacs & it really is tough getting used to the life (old timer here) so I guess it’s the best thing. No champagne & good meals to eat at villa as here in the city like there are in our mountain home – we really are regular mountaineers now – will write more later. – I keep saying that & I will get around to it.
Loads of love
September 10, 1943
This V-mail was also sent from the rest camp. “L.C. Taylor” refers to Lieutenant Colonel Ruth I. Taylor of the Army Nurse Corps. She is presumably also “Col T” in Griffin’s September 12, 1943 letter.
Hi Muth, Cath & All– Another V mail – still not in the mood for writing – just enjoying myself completely with all the cares of the world behind. They sent our mail down today and also packages – my shoes are wonderful and did I need them. The cookies are opened & half gone already – they were swell too. Got the […] developing paper etc – took many pictures this week – two rolls and I was in about every one – but you should see the outfits. Muth this isn’t a reprimand but don’t tell L.C. Taylor the things I write to you about our C etc. We, as you know, are well able to take care of ourselves & we don’t have to write to anyone – you should know us by now. Go and see her all you want, have your little chats because I know you enjoy her company or you wouldn’t talk to her so much but keep our gripes out of it. It’s sure swell that J & Miss Brammer’s uniforms are on their way – Jim is tickled & is writing soon. We think we are having our uniforms issued soon. Wish we could spend another whole week here but you know there’s a little thing that we came over here to do & reckon we’ll have to go back to it. […] The Italian prisoners here are very happy about the surrender.
September 12, 1943
This letter describes the rest camp in further detail. As mentioned in the letter, Ain el-Turck is located near Bouisseville, where the 32nd Station Hospital was in staging from January 27, 1943 until moving to Tlemcen on February 18. The high level of military activity she described in Oran may be due to Operation Avalanche (the largest of three operations involving in the invasion of mainland Italy), which began September 9, 1943. C.C.H. is most likely Cambridge City Hospital, where Griffin worked before the war.
Well Muth & Cath, Marg & All –
Here we are back again in full stride and really very much rested in spite of the fact that we could have stayed another week. My nose & forehead are both peeling & I look a mess but I feel swell.
As I told you we started out last Monday arriving at Camp, in afternoon & I never saw so many females in all my life – they were everywhere – talk about country gals going to the city -well we were it – tents by the hundreds – Ruth Dot Wanda – K & V Donahue & I in one tent & Jimmie & Claire & three other kids across the way – another bunch next door etc – 22 of us. We had one swell week – did nothing but rest – went to dances 3 different nights but we’re home (tent city) by 12 – you see we mountain gals aren’t used to the bright lights of the city. We were in the same area where we were bivouacked last Jan for 3 weeks but has it ever changed – trucks – jeeps etc rolling by by [sic] the hundreds – lights on now – water etc – hot in day – rained 3 nights. When we were there before, there wasn’t a single light – couldn’t light a cigarette after dark – alerts most every night – now it’s like an open city. Before there was just [unclear, looks like “brs”] – now they are everywhere. We took quite a few pictures & naturally Alice E was in them – had one taken in O.D. had [sic] & dress – hope this one comes out well.
All week we just lounged around in shorts or slacks, food was excellent – even had steak – plenty of food around Oran. Met 3 more kids from C.C.H. & it was like a grand reunion but they left the next day.
The sea is really very beautiful. Where we were it juts way in with mts jutting out on either side. A mist comes up very early in the evening & stays until 9 or so in a.m. – no flowers around.
That Principal Chief Nurse Helen W. Brammer was waiting up for the return of her nurses despite all the delays is illustrative of her leadership style.
Yesterday we were told to be ready at six to start back in truck & that would get us back before or about 10. Well 6 came & seven & finally at ten the truck with other girls arrived. By this time it was dark but we started gaily on our way & arrived home at 2 am with Miss Brammer still waiting up for us. We were cold & tired but glad to be back – there were no seats in the truck but we were very comfortable on bed rolls with blankets over us. The moon was almost full & just a few stars out – perfect night for an air raid but naturally nothing happened.
So far the war news has been O.K. – wish we could go ahead & win without any more fighting. You see we know all the ones who are in it now – infantry – Tank Destroyers – tanks – air corp – one & all. Before we met them when they came back – now we know them before they go.
Now for as Cath says “The Business end.[”] Rcd 4 airmails this week – also 2 from M & 2 from C. and many more. I’ve let my mail get so far behind that’s it’s awful but now I’ve got to be good and catch up. Packages came galore this week – have been chewing on kisses until I’m most sick – cookies last 2 days – but came just at right time – I got all the corner ones out first. Hard candy will be saved for Xmas – everything in A, condition. Oil paper a good design & well needed – Papers both Sun & Daily coming thru with flying colors. Both shoes fit swell – 2nd pair today & I have them on right now – wore the others to dance. Candles good – in fact everything swell – birthdays all year round. I won’t open birthday gifts – I promise. Our uniforms are going to be issued this week – not complete but parts anyhow – my ones from states look swell. Thanks to you Muth the kids have got notices from [unclear, looks like “Filenes”] things are on the way. But remember, don’t tell Col T. about our gripes because those are things that go on everyday & if it isn’t one thing it has to be another. We’re just one happy family but everyone seems to like us to we get along.
The new uniforms look awfully cute – duty seersucker – will send pictures home when we get them. Honestly if Peter can’t say Aunt Alice soon with all the snaps around, he should be ashamed. When I told the kids about his running away to the store for ice cream they said “we wonder who he takes after?”
September 14, 1943
The following V-mail is presented in its entirety. Mother hen Ella James made Griffin clean their room. It also mentions the difficulties associated with the hasty expansion of the 32nd Station Hospital’s facilities 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.” The missing negatives were mentioned in an August 29, 1943 letter.
Hi Muth, Cath, Marg & All– Was going to write a regular letter but I’m really tired after cleaning the room with Jimmie (first time in months) — tried to skip next door a couple of times but she caught me & dragged me back – she did most of the cleaning but I did help some – Claire’s on nights. (The Brat) Received much mail & many pkgs. this week – no music yet. I’ve sent my requests for Birthday & Xmas – don’t worry I wouldn’t forget. I think I am having some Xmas cards made here – the man is closed but opens Sept 20. After all the yelling we’ve done about hot weather it poured rain all day & was freezing. My little 163 bed pent house was soaking – the tent covering leaks all over – middle everywhere – the sides aren’t covered & it poured in there also. Then there’s a pipe like we have connected to our gutters that opens into the ward & the rain poured out of that in torrents – hope it stops tonight. We are getting parts of our issues now – my rubbers & raincoat fit well – but so far I’ll have to have the others taken in. The kids all said to say Thanks a million for the work you have done. Will write tomorrow. P.S. I found the negatives of those pictures Jack took and will forward.
Be seeing you all
September 16, 1943
Hi Muth, Cath, Marg & All–
It’s a beautiful fall day and after 3 days of constant pouring rain, it’s a relief. We bought some grapes and Ruth said they even tasted as if they had been frost bitten – they were delicious.
The next passage mentions relief personnel from another unit. According to Principal Chief Nurse Brammer’s 1943 report, during visits to rest camp in August and September, “our places in the hospital were taken over by a group of officers and nurses of the 46th General Hospital who had been assigned to temporary duty”.
We have girls from a new unit helping us out – 22 of us went last week to camp & the rest are away this week. After Sunday ten of the new girls will stay on for a couple of weeks because as would be expected, we will have many pts – – this is their first stop after Italy and then we send them to other hospitals – as a result we are admitting, cleaning, & discharging continuously.
Jim & I have long days today – slept until 9 – Claire came in & served us coffee etc (in bed) and then we got up & had our hair done – then lunch & Ruth has a p.m. so we are all in my room – Ruth’s [unclear, possibly “snoring”] — Jim’s washing & me writing one measley [sic] letter – now I have a secret – we are fenagling a jeep at four o’clock and the three of us & Wanda are going for a ride around town – we won’t be able to go far because we’ll have to watch for the M.P. but it’s the first and only time we’ve had the chance to take one ourselves. We’re going up town & have our pictures taken, then out to the cascades to take pictures. Muth you can’t say now that I’m not having pictures taken. Wait until you see the close up– of me in my beige dress that I’m sending tomorrow – just my face to my waist – freckles all over with a big grin on my puss because I had just finished sticking my tongue out at Jack & that was what he snapped but I pulled it in just a second before. The one in my OD is good with mts in the back-ground.
Dot’s mother wrote & said that we were not to send any Xmas presents home but Muth we can’t anyhow – we don’t have the extra money & things are too expensive over here for nothing. I’m having French cards made though, so I’ll be able to send some.
If there’s a sale on silk stockings or fine mesh ones, will you ship some over – the kids won’t let me wear the cotton ones out at night – say that they spoil my snazzy outfit – Claire & Jim both donated a pair or else I couldn’t go out with the gang – see what I have to go through over here.
I’m sending my blue uniforms home when I get my full issues – the coat is nice & warm without the buttons, Muth.
September 17, 1943
We had a very nice time yesterday and you should have seen the expressions of the people when they saw Jim driving a jeep. Some of mouths dropped open & others would just point. We really had loads of fun. Then we went way up mt. to Villa Rivaud & had a glass of wine each- – it tasted very good & was a good apetizer [sic] for our supper. Stayed up there for most an hour talking to two Cath. Chaplains & finally started back – certainly a very restful long day.
I believe N.P. stands for neuro-psychiatry. The reason the city smelled bad was because it had open latrines.
I’m relieving one of the girls on N.P. ward today while she has a long day – -my ward is having a roof put on. Guess the storm we had was similar to our line storm that we have at home. Everything smells very nice around here now – I mean the earth – not the town – although we’re used to smells by now. We’re hoping as long as we have snow here in Dec that it will snow a lot & not just dribble.
How’s Pete getting along – still running away and snitching cake?
You’d think it was spring I feel so dupey today – it’s like our very warm spring weather at home.
Well there’s a General & Col. coming to inspect so I’ll have to close now – we have more inspections here than we ever had in states but we don’t mind them – always ready.
September 19, 1943
At the time the letter was written, the Fifth Army was embroiled in fighting near Salerno during the invasion of mainland Italy.
Sending home a few more pictures – hope you get them. I haven’t time to write much today and there’s not much to write about.
Things are swell & so is the news. Firth Army you know were right near us – they were the ones we were going with – sure would have been in the middle now. Guess we stay here.
September 21, 1943
Dashing this off – have just finished supper & I pleasantly full. We have a surprise for tonight too – V. Donahue’s dentist friend that she went [with] in Devens just arrived & he is visiting for a few days. He has a quart of good Rye for us & as we never have any of that stuff we are going to enjoy it. He will be going back & forth from now on [with] pts.
Did you get all the pictures – I hope so. How did you like me in my glamour coat of towels?
Believe it or not, we are going to get 3 more days off. We can’t go anyplace because we drill now and it would interfere with it. So I am going to sleep my three mornings & have an Arab bring me my bkfst in bed. Maybe I’ll get to go gazelle hunting – I’ll let you know in a few weeks if I shoot 7 or 10 – me who doesn’t know how to hold a gun.
The following passage mentions Lieutenant Colonel Bernice M. Wilbur (1911–2005), Director of Nursing Service for the North African Theatre of Operations. See notes to Griffin’s June 30, 1943 letter for further biographical details about her.
Col Wilbur, who is head of the A.N.C. made a visit here – came last night at 10 pm & left after lunch. We were supposed to have a meeting with her @ 8 30 but they were late arriving so we waited until 9 45 & then went out to eat. She arrived right after we went out the gates. She had two Captains and then a male Col. Boy we’ve had more inspections in the last two mos– doesn’t even bother us now.
The next paragraph is a somewhat sheepish postscript to Griffin’s letter on September 2, 1943, which expressed outrage that rations for patients were being cut.
Pts are getting more to eat now – guess that meeting we had did help some. Should have waited a while before writing.
We had more fun drilling yesterday – most of the kids – as every one in the army does – griped but my crowd mostly like it – Claire says she hopes it takes the fat off of her rear. Only one complaint for me – my darn legs are too short & I was second in line – Claire was in back of me & she said she had to take small steps so she wouldn’t fall over me. Next time, the kids are going to get me stilts.
Hope by this time you have my requests for Birthday & Xmas gifts. We’re going to have a party next month – Ruth & I together.
Claire Jimmie & I had a big clothes rack made for our room with a place for our shoes – hats & clothes. We really needed it & it was $44 but well worth it – – only trouble is our door will only open part way now. What a relief though to have it.
Guess this is all there is to jabber about. How’s Peteen– – any more tricks. After the last big convoy came in, we got letters every day for 2½ weeks– now we are spoiled & as we haven’t received any for 3 days, we’re praying that another one comes. Packages came thru swell in that last convoy – hope the next one is as successful. Jimmie has written to her sister for a fruit cake like she made for us last yr– I think it’s the one in Canada.
September 22, 1943
This V-mail is presented in its entirety. The “bucket” is undoubtedly the Bucket of Blood, a restaurant first mentioned in her April 17, 1943 letter.
Hi Folks – Am on duty and am going to snap off some V mails for a while. Had a nice time last night. Went to the bucket for food last night – after we had two small drinks of Rye each. We were home again by 11 p.m. and what a wonderful night’s sleep. Am going shopping some day next week and do some bargaining. I’ll let you know how I come out. Keep sending developing paper if you can still lay your hands on any. Claire’s supply is exhausted now so we have to depend entirely on those small boxes. My shoes are wonderful – not one bit of trouble – wear them marching and not a sign of a blister. The dressy shoes I’ve worn a lot too, and they don’t give me one bit of trouble. I am off duty @ 4 pm today, but then comes drill until supper (530) so guess we won’t do much of anything. We have a bit more pep now that the hot weather has gone. Will write soon.
Love to All
September 25, 1943
The “relief nurses” mentioned are presumably from the 46th General Hospital.
Hi Muth, Cath & All,
It’s a nasty day or rather night – has been raining & foggy. This is the last day of my 3 days vacation. Dot & I told Miss Brammer we could just hang around indefinitely so she said it was a good thing we were starting work tomorrow.. Those relief nurses are staying until everyone has their 3 days & by that time their hospital will be set up & they’ll go back. You know what, I didn’t even get out of bed today. Claire woke me at 9 30 am & gave me a cup of coffee & I went right back to sleep again. She woke me at 1 30 pm & shoved some dinner under my notes but it was C rations so I just took a few bites & went back to sleep again. At five I woke up, washed[,] got dressed, went to supper & was even too lazy to go out on a date with the kids. I’m going to write this & read but I don’t think I’ll read long. Tonight we get an extra hours sleep – we set the clocks back.
The next passage mentions the departure of Dr. Lewis M. McKee. Dr. McKee’s daughter recalled that his letters home mentioned this same deterioration, so his departure certainly was not pretextual. However, as the rest of the passage indicates, the departures of several officers may have been due to conflict with the unit’s new commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Goss. The supply officer referred to is probably 1st Lieutenant Robert C. Brenneman and chief dentist referred to is almost certainly Captain Earl Shindell.
Griffin’s account is supported by the journal written by Captain Lowell E. Vinsant. Dr. Vinsant was initially sympathetic to Lieutenant Colonel Goss, “Who immediately took things in hand and apparently treated everybody equal.” Dr. Vinsant wrote of conflict between what he described as a clique of officers (who had joined the 32nd Station Hospital back at Camp Rucker, Alabama) and newcomers to the unit. Like Griffin, he wrote that morale had deteriorated because of the infighting.
In his December 31, 1943 report, Lieutenant Colonel Goss wrote (whether ironically or not): “It is unfortunate that the unit had so large a turnover in officer personnel due to illness.” He also wrote: “The Administrative Staff at this time is capable and efficient.” That line would seem to imply that it was not when Dr. Goss took over, but a 76-year-old document can only be parsed so far.
The reason Principal Chief Nurse Brammer “looks like the wrath of Gods” in the letter isn’t entirely clear. It may refer to an illness mentioned in a letter that is now lost (perhaps supported by Griffin’s September 29, 1943 letter, which reported “Miss Brammer looks awful but today for the first time she looks a little better.”). Given the content of the rest of the paragraph, though, it might also suggest she was showing the strain of the unit’s internal difficulties.
Another one of our doctors have gone back to the states. He was a swell egg – Lt McKee from N. Carolina. The country just didn’t agree [with] him & he lost 45 lbs. He was one of the best & liked by all. Our mess officer & supply officer & chief dentist have gone & they say there are two more doctors going. They say this last group were shang-hied out. We wonder when he’s going to start on the nurses. As far as we can see the 32nd Stat is just about at rock bottom & the morale is even lower if that is possible. It’s a funny thing though Qts six is just as peppy & happy and we still get along swell. I’m so glad we have such a good gang. Miss Brammer looks like the wrath of Gods but never complains, never says a word – – we thinks she’s one grand person. How she puts up with the gang of us I don’t know, but she seems to like us.
The party mentioned in the following excerpt was for the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion, as indicated by a September 29, 1943 letter that mentioned that “Jack’s outfit is giving us a dinner tomorrow night”. A V-mail, also sent September 29, suggested that Jack had better luck recruiting nurses for the party than Griffin did!
We are all (nurses) invited to a dinner dance at the Villa Rivaud next Thursday. A T.D. outfit is giving it to us and we are going to have gazelle. The manager says for the boys to catch them Wed & bring them back Wed afternoon so he can soak them in wine for 24hrs before they are ready to cook. I hope we’ll all have a good time – – you see I had to go around & get the girls & it’s like pulling teeth – the gazelle got them though.
Jimmie & Wanda have gone to Oran for the day – they end their vacation. Heaven only knows with this weather what time they’ll get home. The fog in the mts is wicked.
They had a dance here at the hotel last night. I sat outside most of the night singing with a bunch of the drs – one of them gave a speach [sic] on St Paul & he sure was funny. You know when these southerners have had a few glasses of wine, their drawl seems more pronounced and it makes it all the funnier.
September 27, 1943
This letter was stamped with a Boston postmark dated October 30, 1943, suggesting that was when it was transferred from military to civilian postal authorities.
It is very cold here now. I go out at night with a sweater & my overcoat – some change, huh. The night nurses run around wrapped in sweaters & overcoats all night long. It’s much better than the heat tho, at least we can wrap up. I wonder just how much colder it will get. I suppose in the mts, it will be very cold. Maybe in some package I should have some snuggies, huh. And also do they still have those pjs with the feet – if it’s like last winter, we won’t have heat to amount to anything so I reckon I’ll need ‘em – I wear my flannel pjs & socks now – sissy that I am. The days are beautiful. The sunsets & sunrises were never too beautiful here, but they sure are now. The time went back an hour so now we are just 5 hours out of the way from you people. We do hope we’ll be home for daylight saving next year.
The next passage makes a reference to Blue Hill Avenue in Dorchester. Back then, it was one of Boston’s premier shopping areas. Other letters indicate that 1,000 francs would have been worth about $20.
Received a package yesterday with housecoat, films & cheese crackers. The housecoat is swell but the kids have brought the Bluehill Ave out in me and either I keep it myself or get 1,000 francs for it which I could do very easily – what do you think? You see now that there are so few troops around here you can get anything you want now for cigarettes, soap & things like that. We can’t wear civilian clothes at all now so maybe you people will get Xmas presents after all. If they arrive a little after Xmas they’ll still be presents. I’m going to have something made for Peter & Neil – maybe silver identification plates or something to that effect. They do good work & for a bar of soap I can get it done – honestly we’re awful now but we got cheated so much that we’re just getting backs.
Mail still hasn’t started come thru – a V mail now & then but that’s all – must be going on two weeks now. Can you just imagine the deluge that will come – owah.
As with so many other photos mentioned in the letters, the ones of Marion Huckins appear to be lost.
Huckie in the pictures is Marion Huckins. She’s worked around Boston but her family (sister) is from Greenfield. She’s the one that was in the Army a month & was sent overseas. She’s 43 and had a very bad pneumonia last winter or rather spring. She’s wonderful now and tickled with foreign service.
The lieutenant mentioned in the following passage is probably the dentist mentioned in the September 21, 1943 letter. The excerpt also mentions Ruth Donovan and Dorothea LeCain‘s mothers, as well as Chaplain William V. O’Connor.
We have a quart of Rye put away for egg-nog for Xmas Eve. If the Lt comes back he is going to bring us more – we’ll know by Nov or so. We have Xmas all planned. We’re going out & get some fir & decorate the whole lobby. Can you folks send some Xmas decorations? Tell Mrs. D & LeC too, in case Dot & Ruth forget. Everyone is going to stay in & we’re going to start saving food & maybe we’ll have enough by then. We’re going to see if Father O’Connor will have a midnight mass – I think all will go –
September 29, 1943 (Letter)
This letter, presented in its entirety, also has a Boston postmark: November 12, 1943.
Sept. 29, 1943
Hi Muth & Cath
Your Sept 15 V mail just arrived. Nothing but V mail has come thru for 2 weeks but there are rumors that there is a convoy in now so maybe in a day or so – We’d like to get some but after we felt so bad last time and then getting a big pile all at once, that will happen this time.
Our pt count is very low in comparison to what it has been for months.
The following passage describes the plan for the dinner dance at Villa Rivaud, held by the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion, that was mentioned in Griffin’s September 25, 1943 letter. Jack’s magnanimity is on full display is on full display in the following passage. Helen is probably Helen Harrington, who was a nurse at Cambridge City Hospital who worked with Griffin.
Jack’s outfit is giving us a dinner tomorrow night and as Jack knows all the nurses and they all like him he was elected to arrange the party. He can come to town 2 nights a week and for the last 2 visits we’ve been busy arranging things. Then last night when we had planned to skip up the Villa & dance, I took salts by mistakes & lived in the John practically all the time up there. We have invited one of our Captains to be our guest tomorrow night. I found out Sat that way back last April he had done me a big favor – – the only reason he told me was he was a bit high. So Jack thinks he should come along and he is tickled – you see we are having gazelle. Then last night I was telling Jack about Helen H’s collection of Salt & Pepper shakers & how she would like some from N.A. When we got back to the hotel he pulled out a glass S & P set [little drawing of like t-shaped object] (not shakers) and said – there’s # 1 on Helen’s N.A. collection & I’ll have # 2 next week.
This is my fifth letter this morning – mostly short ones. I haven’t been in the mood for months – I hope this keeps up because I really do owe an awful lot – and I don’t like people to get angry at me.
Miss Brammer looks awful but today for the first time she looks a little better. She takes an awful lot for us I think. We used to slip out without ties etc but now we are model pupils. Most of the kids have their uniforms now – I haven’t but I have plenty to wear & mine will be all the newer when I get it. I’m not taking my shoes until I’m sure they are a perfect fit. These brown ones that your people sent are perfect. You know my feet were right straight on the ground. I couldn’t get into my other pair of blacks although they were new. I’m sending my blue uniform & overcoat home as soon as I get my others. Take the buttons off the coat & wear it because it’s swell & warm. Please don’t wear the shoes even if they are new because they are too fecky [sic] for you.
As far as I can tell, the music isn’t mentioned in any previous extant letter. The item for Helen W. Brammer is presumably the dress she requested in Griffin’s May 11, 1943 letter.
Now about the packages – the music is perhaps in this new convoy. The biege [sic] hat did arrive – shirts also – everything perfect. Jim & M Brammer’s have not arrived but are also on this convoy more than likely.
I have one boxy of cheese crackers left and Dot said if I don’t hide it she’d just have to eat them. I told her never to ask – just to go right ahead.
Everyone is thinking about Xmas now & we want to have one swell time Xmas Eve. We’re going to crayon decorations and have a tree. Do you think a set of lights could get here safely. If you sent one, also Mrs. Donovan & Mrs. LeCain one set – then you people wouldn’t miss them. No blackout in this town since the N.A. campaign ended because we aren’t on the coast. The other kids who have families are going to write home too. So you see we shall have fun.
I’m sending a picture of a chapel that is way up on a hill tucked behind a French fort. J. discovered it and took the picture for me. He said he doesn’t know who’s on top because he hasn’t had religion since his bible days so we’ll just have to skip the name.
About the rations, the pts are getting enough now. When I get back remind me to tell you about the argument I had with a Col. in Oran. He said “You certainly have your figures down pat in your mind, haven’t you” I said that I certainly had & they were staying not only in my mind but going on paper. After ½ hrs arguing we were friends again & had a very swell time the rest of the dance.
The story Lieutenant Colonel Goss told in the following excerpt may explain why his daughter chose not to postpone her wedding (in August 1945) by a month so that her father could attend it!
Jack went to see our CO last night to get permission for us to stay out after MN tomorrow because a dinner for 70 is going to take a long time. These Arabs are so slow and we want to dance later. But the answer was no. Then he went on to explain all about his daughter asking to go to the movies on a weekday night & how he wouldn’t allow it etc etc. All this time I was waiting to catch J downstairs in case he might get thrown out. He walked out though.
It’s unclear how the 32nd Station Hospital got its nickname of Alcatraz, as mentioned in the next paragraph. Although it would seem to suggest patients were treated strictly there, another possible explanation might be that Tlemcen is a walled city.
The pts who have left this place call it Alcatraz and when we were down in Oran when anyone asked where we were from – we’d say the 32nd – and they’d say Oh Alcatraz. Things travel faster here than they do in a small town.
Griffin elaborated on the reason six nurses requested transfers in her October 29, 1943 letter. She suggested that the nurses were eager for a more challenging assignment and wanted to transfer to evacuation hospitals.
Two of our nurses go home after next Thursday – that’s 6 altogether – one has awful migraine headaches which are much more frequent in this country so I hope Mary doesn’t reach here. Six of our nurses have asked for transfers but we kids are all staying and sticking together. If they ever do separate even one of us we shall go home – just like that. Ruth going to develop a kidney – Virginia – a cough – Jimmie says name it & she’ll develop it – I thought I could swing it with my flat feet if I yelled enough.
Well, time for me to do a little more work. I’ll be writing again & just say a prayer that I keep in the mood.
Loads of love
P.S. Please send me a large jar of cold cream – I need it.
September 29, 1943 (First V-mail)
This V-mail mentions Ruth Donovan and Dorothea LeCain’s mothers, as well as the party for Jack’s unit described in the previous letter. 35 nurses would have amounted to between 64% and 70% of the 32nd Station Hospital’s nurse staffing (which decreased from 55 to 50 nurses during the course of the year), though it seems they still had extra staffing from the 46th General Hospital. Based on the table of organization, it would probably have been a date for every officer in the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion!
Hi Muth & Cath – Wrote you a 9 page letter today […] Requested one set of Xmas lights from you – also told you to call Mrs. D & L.C. and ask them to send one each. You see most of the kids haven’t families like we have. The ones who do have sent home & requested Xmas decorations. I think we’ll still be here Xmas by the looks of things. Wish I could be home for Pete & Neil’s Xmas but that[‘s] just wishful thinking – next year. Jim – Wanda – Ruth & I just walked up town – went to the R.C. and now we’re waiting supper. We’re all gathered in our room and I’m trying to concentrate – without avail. We are now wearing overcoats during day & sweater & overcoats at night. I told you most things in letters today. Big time tomorrow night – 70 people. J & I arranged the affair so I hope it’s a success. We got 35 nurses to go and that’s the largest amt we’ve been able to get for anything – you might know J. did the asking. Well guess I’ll go to mess now – rumor has it that we’re having meat.
September 29, 1943 (Second V-mail)
This V-mail was sent to the Pattens, the Griffins’ next door neighbors at 18 Londale Street in Dorchester. The “boy” mentioned is presumably Jack.
Hi There – Hope you had a swell vacation. Henry must be awful brown after beach & Camp. Jae will go to Camp next year won’t he. Tell them I am going gazelle hunting in a couple of weeks – I’ll let you know the results – – we go way out on the desert. They boy who is taking me says I won’t have nerve enough to shoot them but I have to take it as a sport and see how many I can get. The Arab holidays are about ended thank goodness. It’s the Ramadan & lasts throughout Sept. You can hear them all night long. They fast all day & eat, wine, and dance all night – crazy things.
As I was coming to work this noon the road was blocked by hundreds of sheep & rams – had to wait about 10 minutes until the shephard [sic] got them climbing up the hill. They sure do smell to the high heavens. They have them marked with big blobs of paint – red – blue – green & etc. I hear that my Peter is a little devil to manage now – guess he’s a Griffin.
October 2, 1943
This letter mentions 1st Lieutenant William A. Carey, Jr.; it’s unclear if his remark was supposed to be facetious.
Just came back on duty & I could hardly make it – the Arabs’ big day after one month of religious ceremonies – the Ramadan. They go just absolutely crazy – small groups go together up to the Arab town & one or two in every group is jumping & hopping around with the perspiration just pouring off of them & their eyes just wild. It’s awful but fascinating to watch. Lt Carey said they are hopped with [marijuana?]. I got a couple of pictures but the Arab leader asked me not to take the crazy ones so I didn’t – I value my life too much. The whole town is in an uproar. We though Mohammed’s birthday celebration was something but they are much [unclear] this time. We’ll be glad when it’s all over.
The next passage would suggest that the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion was about to move in preparation for shipping out to Italy later that month. Indeed, according to Patrick J. Chase’s book Seek, Strike, Destroy: The History of the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion in World War II: “On October 8, a movement was made from Sebdou to Staging Area #1 near Fleurus, Algeria.”
Jack goes next week but he will go to another city for a while. He sure has been good to me – but as I said before I shan’t see him when I get home. He hasn’t only been good to me but to all our crowd but of course a little extra attention showed to me.
The following paragraph references the morale issues that were also discussed in Griffin’s September 29, 1943 letter.
My crowd all got together the other day & gave each other heck for the way we let our morale sink so we have improved muchly & I hope it stays that way – everyone tells me that if I lose my smile the outfit’s morale will really go – so I haven’t lost it – I don’t even want to. Ruth’s birthday is in one week – I hope her presents come too. Forgot to bring pictures over – will send tomorrow. We have a swell map of the war & keep tacks on the movement – keeps us busy.
October 3, 1943
The Red Wilson mentioned in this letter seems to be a sergeant from Dorchester rather than the 32nd Station Hospital’s own Evelyn “Red” Wilson. I have not been able to determine who Bill Mulligan was, though it’s possible he was Virginia Donehue‘s “dentist friend”, mentioned in the September 21, 1943 letter.
J stopped by for ten minutes @ noon – I will see him & then tomorrow for the last time – the kids said if I moped they’d kill me but I told them that they knew that I knew it would come soon & it’s been longer than I thought it would be – six mos. Such is life.
Went to Mass at the Cathedral today with Bill Mulligan (Virg. Don. boyfriend,) and Kay Donahue. Bill & his platoon may come to us on Detached Service. If so, Red Wilson will be coming to work here for a while because he is Bill’s Sgt. I will certainly be glad to see him because he’s someone I really know and not just someone who knows some one that I might have heard of. I’ll get all the dirt from Dor. They have been living in tents so Bill said they’ll all be glad to work here so they’ll have decent living qrs until they go back.
We don’t know yet what’s going to happen to us – maybe we’ll still be here when the war is over. I’ve got to the point where I’ll be satisfied to stay for a while because I’m getting plain lazy and hate the thought of packing & rushing around again. We aren’t very busy now.
Virginia Donehue was visible holding a camera in at least two pictures in the collection of Dr. Irving Weiner. Her daughter recalled that during her youth, she recalls seeing her mother’s wartime pictures, but they disappeared at some point.
I’m sending some snaps along that V Donahue took. She has a candid – they are very small but when she gets home she’ll have them all enlarged.
Paper came thru – good -both kinds used. Doesn’t make much different [sic] what kind as long as it’s developing paper.
Although it may seem hard to believe now that anyone from Boston would bet on the Yankees winning the World Series, Griffin’s string of winning wagers remained intact when the Yankees defeated the Cardinals in five games.
Ruth heard from Anne today & Anne told about all the [unclear] shrieking etc when Italy surrendered – over here we just said isn’t that swell – one little step – but there’s still a heck of a lot of ground to cover before we can get home. It’s funny we have bets flying all around where they’ll strike next- when etc – – the best thing we do is bet on things. I have a bet of a carton of cigs with one doctor that N.Y. will win against St Louis in the series – and I bet his Pal a dinner.
October 5, 1943
Red [sic] a letter from a former pt. who is now in Italy & he says conditions are bad there. He was going up in the hills & there had been no Americans there – they met families of Italians coming down who had left their homes in ruins. He said the hate of the I for the Germans just burns all over them – and the I’s were really starving. They had some cans of C rations in their jeeps & they divided them & the kids were still hungry & looked under every thing in the jeep for more food. Those damn Germans certainly have done an awful lot to fill the world with hatred.
I don’t think I’ve sent a piece of the money – so it’s enclosed. If the 1,000 or 500 francs weren’t worth so much money – I’d love you to see one – they are very large & very beautiful.
We played bonanza tonight and about 10 Jack dropped in on his way home from one of the cities – he’s going to try to make it tomorrow night – if so Jim & Wanda – Kay & the bunch will all go up the Villa with him.
Ruth isn’t feeling very well, but for Heavens sake don’t tell her mother – she had enough worries & R will be all better before this letter reaches home. Her glands are kicking again but not as bad as C.C.H. She’s Mrs. Astor & gets tea & toast – they gave me permission to give her two dropped eggs on toast for supper so I went to the kitchen – got them looking very nice & brought them in – only to find that she doesn’t like dropped eggs – boy did I ever go to town on them – the first I’ve had & you know how I love them. I’m going to try to work it tomorrow again, if R’s neck wasn’t so sore, I’d wish she’d stay sick – that’s the only excuse we can have for going in the kitchen.
Peter must be a regular Tyke now – I don’t see how Margie can keep ahead of him.
Alice Shea was a good friend of Alice Griffin’s and named one of her daughters Alice-Marie in her honor.
So you people say no Xmas presents – well if I can swap things I will – I can get an adorable small leather pocketbook fore [sic] Alice Shea & Anne She for one bar of soap & one box of Chuckles – but Peter & the boys have me stumped – there’s nothing – how would Peter Neil & Chuck like a donkey or a dirty old goat?
October 8, 1943
The major mentioned who was treating Ruth Donovan was probably Robert O.Y. Warren, Chief of Medical Service.
Hi Muth, Cath, Marg & All.
Did you have a good birthday Muth?
We heard the world series direct from the states – how do you like that? Since they opened the radio station in [censored, but a previous letter said it was Oran] & Ruth bought the radio, we have had a grand time. Ruth feels better today but the Major wants her to stay off another day or so.
I went up to the R.C. today – they may close down because we are the only ones left in town – but Bob Khans is staying on so there’ll always be coffee. We’ve had so much company since April that I think we’re going to be very lonesome. All the ones we knew have gone and already we’ve heard of casualties among the ones we’ve known – that’s the hardest part. We got [censored] pts in from Italy a couple of days ago but none too seriously injured like were for the two times before that. There were shrapnel & gun shot wounds but no serious ones. They say that the morale of the Germans isn’t as high as it was in the N. Af. Campaign and if the German morale slips, we’ll do O.K. Just think – the 13th of this month we will finish 9 mos foreign service & start our tenth month – doesn’t seem possible & yet it seems years since I’ve seen you people.
Had a night-mare last night – one of those like I used to have when I was a kid. There was the most hideous looking guy chasing Jim & I & Jimmie was ahead of me – the guy went to grab me & I was screeching for you and both Jim & Claire were pounding me to wake up. Jim said it was an awful hour of morning to be waking people up and I told her if she didn’t run so darn fast I wouldn’t have had to yell. So we had a cigarette & all went back to a peaceful sleep.
Well guess this is all the news I have for today. I’ll be writing again tomorrow. It’s raining cats & dogs – we have a lot now and I go to bed at night with Mrs. Mac’s woolen socks on & also my bathrobe Helen gave me – Ruth & Dot are just as bad. Claire & J make fun of me & want to know what I’m going to do when it really freezes – – I’ll fool them & climb in with someone. The days are beautiful when it isn’t raining.
October 9, 1943
Sandy is probably Catherine Sanford; there were no known women in the unit with the first name of Sandy or Sandra, but Sanford’s son confirms that his mother had that nickname.
Dashing a few lines off before I go to mess. Opened my presents last night – it had been rainy & dull & we were sort of low so I decided to open them. Ruth & I were off duty & we went to town. The things were swell – the slippers fit to a tea – the insignias needed & the food has been put away for tonight – Ruth’s birthday – so now I’m glad I opened them. No more men around here now you know, except the doctors, so we should spend many quiet nights at home – seeing as we are 100 miles from the big city.
As you see I am using the paper Verna sent.
Saw Cabin in the Sky last night and it was louzy – whoever censored a picture like that.
October 12, 1943
This letter describes the last time that Griffin saw Jack prior to his unit shipping out for Italy. According to the exchange rate described in other letters, 20 francs would have been worth about 40¢.
The censor cut out two mentions of Oran but missed a third. Griffin was probably describing a visit to the Fort and Chapel of Santa Cruz.
Hi Muth, Cath, Marg, & All.
Just arrived back from a most pleasant p.m. Sun. Long Day Mon & a.m. today. Visited [censored] – and really had a wonderful time. Met J. Tuesday @ 3 p.m. He had his driver so we went way up the top of a mt. where that French Fort is and also the Chapel I had the pictures of. It was a beautiful, clear day & we were watching the port & also the city of [censored] for about [1?]¾ of an hour. I didn’t realize Oran was so large & crowded – but also compact so it looks small. Then we drove back to the city – sent the driver back to camp & Jack and I went to see Holliday [sic] Inn. – – it was perfect – but White Xmas got me – you know that was #1 on the hit parade when we left. From there we went back to the officers club where you can get sandwiches coffee wine & beer. We skipped the wine & beer but doubled the sandwiches, bought extra ones and made dagwoods – had two each & two cups of coffee. Then we thought we’d take in a show again – officers club is just crowded and I don’t care for it. So off we trotted, cut down a side street & passed a tent – with a French circus going on inside. We skipped under the flap and they saw us and welcomed us – 20 francs each. It was much better than the one I saw a few months back – everything in French – but we got the drift. We laughed so hard that the clown started playing up to us. Then they had a horse with two men inside. The darn thing came out of the ring & sat on my lap. There were two cute little French kids that had been sitting next to Jack about 3 & 5 yrs and you couldn’t see them for dust. The audience howled – half soldiers & half French. The horse left & J called the kids back. So after the circus J walked me back to the R.C. and then went back to camp. I don’t know if I’ll see him again or not – I’m so glad I could make connections to see him. There will be no goodbyes and I will not know when the last time will be – I have a feeling it was last night. He’ll write when he lands safely and that will be the last of our correspondence or meetings. I certainly had one swell time and I sure hope he makes it O.K.
Rcd a package from Gert today with Devil food mix walnuts & jelly-[marmalade?] – am I ever dying to get that made up – especially right now because I’ve had nothing but sandwiches for two days – it said Happy Birthday from Neil Francis.
The next passage is intriguing, if ambiguously worded. It’s not clear who the men who stopped by the Hotel Transatlantique actually were, since Griffin seemed to doubt they were civilians. Ignoring the dash, it would seem they were sending the Jewish refugees to Libya.
Jim & Wanda came to [censored] yesterday – they had a ride down in a Ford V 8 – city slickers. Two supposedly civilian defense workers stopped at The Hotel for lunch & the kids asked them if they could drive along with them. They are over here arranging to have the Jews who
came from Libyaescaped Germans – sent to Libya – it’s a wonder they aren’t taking all refugees over to the U.S. The men enjoyed their work – said it was interesting.
October 13, 1943
The following letter is presented in its entirety. Mulligan was presumably Bill Mulligan, mentioned in Griffin’s October 3, 1943 letter.
Oct 13 th
My goodness – I received another package today – cheese – Pic – [Mus?] – Tuna & Devil Ham. We had Chili today which I hate and I’ve had so much gas the last couple of days. I’ve been afraid to eat much – so this afternoon I am going to have a wonderful – d ham & chest sandwich & a cup of tea. Muth don’t send any more cheese because Mulligan says it is very hard to get and that means Cath & you are going without it – I appreciate it but would appreciate it more if Cath & you were having it instead of me.
Ruth doesn’t look very well – maybe it’s because her tan is almost gone – but I do wish the color were a little better – – she says if we aren’t home by Feb – she’s going to start bucking so I told her if she went back – I’d be right behind her – we have all kinds of talks and I sure couldn’t miss them. Don’t mention her looks to Mrs. D – – I’m most sure she’ll pick up in a week or so. She’s back on duty now & feeling much better.
The picture I’m sending was taken a couple of months ago – just found it mixed with my stationary. We all went up the Villa one afternoon – Ruth – Jim – Dixie – J & I and J snapped this. We had a big talk that afternoon – disgussed [sic] the whole war – where we thought the invasions would be – etc.
There were no known members of the unit named Short, so it might be a nickname. Griffin was apparently collecting on her World Series bet mentioned in a September 29, 1943 V-mail and her October 3 letter. Since the stakes were previously referred to as a bottle of champagne rather than dinner, she might have made more than one wager.
Red Cross here closed yesterday because there are no more troops here – just our hospital unit & they don’t service are for that [sic] – we have two RC workers for the pts. Anyhow we made a daily trip to town for coffee – and lately they have been having little doughnuts – I think we’ll miss the club more than anything else. They had a piano that someone was always banging on & we’d stay for a half hour or hour. – but that’s that. If we stay here for the winter we’ll be sunk – there’ll be no way to go to the Villa & that’s our only other means of entertainment outside of the one show a week. Guess we’ll just have to be typical mt. girls & go to bed at 8 pm – the thing is we get to talking through the nights we do stay in and before we know it its 12MN. Last night we had a meeting at 8 and at 8 30 I was in bed & sleeping by 8.45. Tonight I should collect the dinner that Capt short [sic] owes me – I bet on the Yanks – – the only thing is we have no transportation & we’ll have to walk up the mt. Wanda is coming [with] one of the other drs. Imagine we’ll have salad – omelette – bread & wine and if we are lucky, we’ll get some nice tough meat which I always finish to the last bite.
Despite all the ink Griffin devoted to how much food she was eating in Algeria, the following passage indicates that she had lost 21 lbs. (9.5 kg) in the nine months since she left the United States. C. presumably referred to her sister, Catherine.
Well guess I’d better stop the chatter. Thanks loads again for the stuff & remember cut the cheese. I forget if I left any clothes home but tell C. to wear em if I did. By the way I’m 117 from 138 at Kilmer so all we did is swap – I want the red plaid of Marg’s when I get back or a new one just like it in blue plaid – don’t forget.
October 14, 1943
This V-mail is presented in its entirety. Jack’s departure from Algeria is mentioned near the end of the letter. This is consistent with Patrick J. Chase’s book, which stated that various companies in the 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion shipped out for Italy between October 14 and 25, 1943.
Hi Muth, Cath, Marg & All– Just dashing a line to let you know that other birthday bundles came today – my gosh is there any more food left at 14 Lonsdale. It’s really wonderful – I’ll surely put on the pounds now. Honestly you guys sure are wonderful to me and I want you to know I do appreciate it and some day I’ll make it up to you. Tell Ellie the cards are beautiful. I also received a pack of letters from Aug (last) & first few days in Sept. See the mail was held back & now it’s coming galore. Went to dinner last night & had a swell time – won my bet. Where do you suppose the kids got the films. Hold back on any more for a while – I have enough to last forever. Ruth got a swell family snapshot – I want one too. Muth I hope you’re right about the war being over by spring but gee you know the rainy season starts next month – in fact it rains three times a week now and that’s bad. J has gone so I heard today. Well I’ll be writing a letter tomorrow. So until the spring. Lots of love to all Alice
October 15, 1943
The circus was mentioned in the October 12, 1943 letter. Mitch was a nickname for one of Griffin’s friends, Alice Shea, a nurse who worked at Cambridge City Hospital.
All packages arrived as I wrote in V mail & I couldn’t wait – delicious. Take it easy though Mrs. G – you know you people are rationed. The kids & I were all screeching with each package I pulled out –
Am sending our circus tickets along – just for a souvenir – I’ll have you know we were in the best seats – all for 20 francs each –
I sent a small leather pocketbook off to Alice & Anne Shea today. Poor Anne – although Mitch says she’s quite happy – and very spoiled. Mitch likes her new house very much.
We aren’t busy now – we get the pts from Sicily & Italy but as yet we haven’t got too many. When the big thing starts we’ll be plenty busy – hope it’s over with soon after it starts.
We all had to go to a movie of the war last night – it’s to be continued next week. It was very interesting after the picture we all gathered in my room and had tea – crackers, jelly & cheese. Ruth & I won the race in eating & I think Dot was a close second – you really don’t know what a Godsend they were.
The next passage refers to Griffin’s young nephew, Peter, and cousin, Neil Callahan.
I’m still looking for something for Pete & Neil but I can’t find a single thing – there’s not hide nor hair of kids things at all except those pocketbooks.
Cath – the kids say the play set-up sounds good but they say if you only knew half the things that happen over here you’d be able to write six plays – and we aren’t fooling. It will take weeks to tell you the crazy things that go on and we wonder if we are going to be able to sit still when we go home after running around here in jeeps – doing crazy things etc. I know I’m going right back to 14 Lonsdale & spend the rest of my life drinking milk and eating pies cakes & cheese & crackers. Each day I’ll get a little fatter.
J has gone so there’ll be no more traveling here & there – no troops left here at all – Red Cross closed tight – the enlisted men miss it because they used to go over every night. We kind of miss our daily walk up there for coffee & lately they had small doughnuts that the Arab boy fried & we’d get them hot from the grease – good too.
October 17, 1943
This V-mail was dated October 16 in the header but October 17 in the body of the letter.
Hi Muth, Cath, Marg & All – Started this last night & just got as far as the address – one of the drs. wanted me to go out for dinner so I went. Don’t enjoy the food like I used to – fascinating at first even if it was tough, now it’s just plain tough. At one place though they always have soup & I love soup so I always suggest going there. Dot’s light fruit cake arrived yesterday and was thoroughly enjoyed by all. We made tea & had some olives, cheese crackers then the cake & tea. The cake came through in excellent condition. I was going horseback riding today and all dressed to go – so what happened – the rain came down in torrents. Gee it sure can rain now and we hate to see it come. We’re [illegible] a movie tonight – Gentleman Jim – I’m dying to see it. They had Dr. Jekyl [sic] & Mr. Hyde last week – I didn’t go – too gruesome. Jimmie & Claire went to Oran yesterday pm & came back this am – it’s worth the very long ride – lots of movies there & a dance on Sat.
October 18, 1943
The doctor celebrating his birthday was probably Dr. James Gilbert Eblen, who was born on October 25, 1906.
We’re not feeling so good tonight – just had a stimulating dose of typhoid – and it ain’t good [muh?] dear people. So what do I do – go out to the kitchen & make the cake mix [with] frosting & nuts which Gert sent. We decided to celebrate Ruth’s & my birthday again – for about the sixth time. Saturday night the 8 of us are going out [with] 8 rebel doctors – one of whom has a birthday the 25th too. Every little get-to-gether, we call it R & my birthday celebration.
I have a day off & so has Jimmie next Wed so we are going to [censored] else you can do and we don’t mind the truck ride any more.
I have a few things for yuse guys but they won’t be mailed for a while.
Don’t send any more films but I’ll need more developing paper if you can get it without trouble – All you sent was perfect.
October 21, 1943
The name of the city that Griffin visited with Ella James—excised by the base censor—was probably Oran. The letter would also seem to indicate that the 46th General Hospital nurses were departing.
Hi Muth, Cath, Marg & All
Heard from you people a lot again the last couple of days – early sept & also Oct 17 V mail from Muth. Have been on a trip to [censored] with Jimmie. We had to start back at 6 30 am so we’d be back on duty at 12 30 noon – we left yesterday and stayed over night. We were in a ¾ ton truck coming back & it was so cold in the side seats, we sat plunk on the floor so the wind wouldn’t hit us. We’re a couple of lame sad sacks on duty now but it does us good to get to [censored] once in a while. You see we’ve been having a day off a week for the past 3 weeks – those nurses who relieved us for vacation are still here. Now that we are all nice & spoiled, they got a call this p.m. that they are to report back because their hospital is opening.
We’re (two hrs later & I forget what I started to say.)
I did mean to tell you that shortly after we started our ride the sun came up & it was beautiful – By the time we reached here, it was quite warm. The oranges will start coming next month – it’ll be good to have them once again – it’s been a long time. We eat green tangerines now – they are awfully sour but they are good.
The following paragraph mentions the punishment that Lieutenant Colonel Harold L. Goss handed out to nurse Kathleen Donahue and one of the unit’s attached Red Cross workers, Dorothy Clark (Roy, 1913–1996). In Donahue’s case, at least, it was due to fraternizing with enlisted personnel.
Lieutenant Colonel Goss’s solution to Donahue’s request to be released from confinement to quarters a day early may seem cruel, but he could simply have said no. Making an exception could have opened the floodgates for members of the unit to ask for leniency when punished; allowing Donahue and Clark off a night early in exchange for repeating the week of confinement ensured that nobody would request it for anything but the most important circumstances.
[Arrow pointing to the next paragraph with the following note] P.S. – punishment is all on the up & up – same anyplace in Army but we just thought it was funny
4 of the kids are on restrictions for a week confined to their rooms. Two went to a town 40 miles from here & didn’t sign out – – the other two (Kate (Fire) Donahue was one) went to the enlisted men’s dance and someone left a note signed anonymous on the Colonel’s desk telling him about it. Well anyhow Dot Clarke (RC worker) & Katy’s boyfriends came up last night to bid them goodbye before leaving & Kate sent to the Col. to ask him if she could go out seeing as it was her last night on restrictions. He told her yes if she thought it was worth starting another weeks restrictions for. The answer from Kate was yes so out she went & now she’s in for another week. So Dot did the same thing.
The next passage describes Principal Chief Nurse Helen W. Brammer‘s reaction to walking in on a friendly wrestling match between Griffin and Donahue. Presumably the reason Griffin had to hide Donahue’s face was that she was supposed to be confined to her own room next door to Griffin’s. (See the August 8, 1943 letter for a diagram.)
The other night Kate & I were wrestling in my room & I got her by the head, [swinging?] her on the floor & sat on her. Miss Brammer came in to see what the commotion was & I had to sit in front of Kate’s head – so she wouldn’t see her face.
I think she knew because she laughed & walked out. She’s an all right Joe.
There are some rugs in town here – they are really good rugs & were to be shipped to France but then war came. None of the Americans would buy them because they don’t have too much money here. Now the man is afraid they’ll be moth eaten & is selling them quite cheap. I think I’ll get one for the house – maybe. They are tan-white & brown design known all over as being special from this town. I’ll go down to the Arab quarters & sell something to get the money – I hope I do it before everyone else gets the rugs bought up. They have a cotton base – I’d love to get a real nice one & buy new parlor set.
Will write tomorrow – be good all of you & I hope you feel better by now Margie.
October 23, 1943
This V-mail was written at 1 a.m.
Hi All – Just got in from a dance that we had here & not too bad. There were 10 boys from a town near here – air corp – and they came over. We miss the gang that [had?] been here for four months. […] Things are just running about the same – not busy at all and of course we like that because it means there aren’t too many casu[a]lties. The war is going very slowly but at least we are going ahead. Ruth is feeling fine – in fact we all are. We all had a personal interview with Miss Brammer yesterday & she gave me a very nice compliment. She said that I was the highest morale builder in the outfit and she didn’t know what they’d do without me. She also told Jim & Claire that our gang was tops in regard to morale & to keep it up – So you see I guess we are all O.K. As soon as I get my O.D. complete I’ll send my footlocker home with all extra stuff in it – I won’t be needing it. Well I’m going to bed – Take care. Expect to be seeing those pts I used to make 4 o’clock tea for.
October 24, 1943 (Letter)
The person who mailed Griffin a Christmas card was presumably another nurse (perhaps Blanche Stewart McQueen, who was mentioned in Griffin’s June 6, 1943 letter).
Sunday Oct 24
Hi Muth, Cath, Marg & All
Well I received a Xmas card today from a girl in England & I darn near died – imagine Sending cards Oct 12. I’m sending mine Nov 15th but not before.
We are going to have a big party next Sat – the whole outfit – they issued each one 4 ounces of scotch & 2 ounces of gin. I have promised my scotch to two of the officers but I’m going to make two Tom Collin’s for me. Ruth is giving her gin away & keeping the scotch – we’ll both chisel on Dot because if she smells either one she’ll be tight. I go on night duty Tuesday night but I’ve asked for Sat off.
Although she spelled it “goons”, Griffin was almost certainly referring to the Moroccan soldiers serving with the Free French Forces known as Goumiers (sometimes called Goums for short). The Spahis were Algerian cavalry who also served with the French.
We have very few pts now. The rumors we hear. We are definitely moving I’m almost sure but where – no one knows. This town is all French now & French soldiers, including the goons and spahis so there’s no use to stay here. Our rumors are – Sicily – Italy – England – India – & a town 50 miles from where we are now stationed. Any one of them could be true & we’ll never know until we get direct orders. But heavens if we go to this other town we might just as well lay our little heads down & sulk for the rest of the war because it is near absolutely nothing and it means another two hours longer drive to Oran – where there is a lot going on. So we hope it’s one of the others.
We played bonanza last night & I was winnies [sic] – 5 francs. Then at 10 p.m. some of the doctors appeared & we danced to the phonograph. By the way – we never got the music but the piano has gone anyhow. The guy who rented it to us had a chance to sell it so he did.
The next passage is a retelling of the tale of the inadvertent double date that Griffin first recounted in her June 22, 1943 letter. There are some subtle differences in the story. In the original telling, Griffin described both only as men from a Tank Destroyer unit, whereas this letter explicitly names one of them as Jack. Also, in the first version, Ruth Donovan only “just laughed & wouldn’t help” Griffin, whereas in this telling Donovan eventually did help Griffin patch things up.
I don’t know what they are having all that training in the states for the nurses for – it’s all a lot of nonsense as far as we can make out & we’ve talked to nurses who have been bombed etc. What they should teach them is how to take a bath in the middle of winter in a tin can or helmet & how to take care so that you don’t get your dates mixed – that was our greatest difficulty. Skip out the side door with one while a second one was sitting waiting for you & a third on the way. I’ll never forget the time I was caught – the one & only time – & for months I had been laughing at the kids & telling them if they were wise they wouldn’t get their dates mixed. Well I was sitting in the lobby one afternoon, talking to an officer that I had promised to go to a dance with that night – I had been out with him about 4 times previous to that. Well Jack walked in & came over & sat down on the other side of me – I had forgotten a date I made with him. So I introduced them & the three of us sat – one glaring at the other. Finally I excused myself & went in & asked Ruth what the devil I was going to do because I wanted to go out with Jack. All she did was laugh but she came out to have a glass of wine with us & I got Jack aside & told him I had made a date with the other one. So I had no peace after that – Jack would just look at me & laugh. We got it settled though, Ruth took Jack for ten minutes while I told the other guy that I had made the date with J. first. So we settled it by my going with the first one the next afternoon & evening. So you see.
It’s raining cats & dogs today – yesterday it was beautiful. Every long day Ruth has it rains.
Louise wrote & told Ruth that Mrs. Donovan had a heart attack – what’s the story – or was it just plain fatigue.
Anyhow we’re having roast beef tonight so you people can have your old lobster – cheese etc – we’re big stuff tonight. And maybe we’ll have French fries with it – so no one can make us jealous.
The food last week was wonderful. Every time we had some Ruth & I would say it was to celebrate our birthdays. We never had so many celebrations in our life. When Dot’s cake came, Ruth & I said it was really supposed to be for us & Dot was running around yelling –“Well my mother made it & sent it to me & it’s my cake” So Ruth would just look at her & say Dorothea – it’s our birthday this month” – we’re really very crazy but harmless. Maybe you people won’t even recognize us as relatives when we get back.
Well all, I’ll stop raving now – take care & don’t let Peteen get too big before I get back. Hope you’re feeling O.K. now Marg. Cath – how’s the play?
Maggie – I’ll be 29 tomorrow – you sure are getting old.
October 24, 1943 (V-mail)
The following V-mail is presented in its entirety, although a small portion at the bottom was lost when the original V-mail was photographed back in 1943. Based on a family tree I found, I believe the letter refers to Nicole Messiah’s cousin, Martine Gueron (1942–2006), the daughter of Georges Gueron (1910–1995) and Nicole’s sister Jeannine (1919–2015). Griffin’s other young French-Jewish friend, Janine Ganascia, is also mentioned.
Hi All- Sent a 9 page letter today but thought I would scribble off a Vmail for now- I now have 24 letters to answer & I don’t know how I’m possibly going to do it. Not that I haven’t the time – we have plenty of that now but I seem to write & write & never get caught up. It’s a louzy day and yesterday was beautiful. I took a walk up to the park – couldn’t get that lazy Donovan girl to go with me – then I went across the street to visit Nicole. Nicole was out but her sister was in with Martine “Pete’s age.” Then Nicole came home – then 3 other relatives – then Janine and her mother & 2 cousins so I decided it was too much for me listening to the French so Nic – Jan & I took Martine & a couple of other kids walking in the park. Wish we’d be here for Xmas but I doubt it – so I’ll win 2 bottles of champagne. Ruth is fine and eating swell – weight is same as in America. [Bottom cut off in original V-mail]
October 25, 1943
This V-mail is presented in its entirety except for a partially legible note scrawled in the left margin. Griffin’s Uncle Dave and two nurse friends, Mary O’Dowd and Caroline Paine are also mentioned.
Hi All- Well here I am 29 yrs old – fancy that & if I were home I’d be having a nice cold cut & salad supper and a party. Does U Dave get any ice cream even if I’m not home. And you know what – the package Mary & Caroline sent ages ago for my vacation arrived today & also the packages sent by you people with the sweaters – butterthins, etc. So you see I’m glad I opened my other pkgs before. Ruth & I were both off this afternoon – she usually sleeps but she said for once she’d stay awake because it was my birthday. Well we were freezing cold so Ruth decides she’ll see if there was any hot water for a bath to see if she could get warm – and while she was out I fell asleep. She sure did wake me up when she came back. We got some hot water & made tea, opened the butterthins and ate almost the whole box between us. Ruth’s appetite is better than I’ve ever seen it since we left – and she gained back the weight she lost. By the way, for another present I got the rest of my outfit – coat was most important – we also got fatigues & field coats – hope it means something. Happy Birthday to me. Lots of love – Alice
[Right margin:] We are also having a masquerade Sat night for Halloween
October 26, 1943 (V-mail)
This V-mail is presented in its entirety. Hucky or Huckie was a nickname for Marion Huckins. It appears Judy referred to Julia Brosius, who was mentioned in Griffin’s October 28, 1943 letter as the new dietician who was among the women that had signed the present.
Hi Muth, Cath, Marg & All– Wrote a V mail last night but it was before the kids threw a party for me. They had one of those French cakes that taste awful but they had it covered with fudge frosting – one of the kids got the mixture. They had cookies & sardines on butter thins & candles napkins etc from my supply. Also a bottle of champagne – then they had two onces of scotch for me that the R.C. girl sent over and what a swell time. The qts 6 kids with Hucky – Judy & Brammer gave me one of those large leather portfolios like – Cath’s. I never could seem to save enough money to get one for myself and everyone uses them – but I’m just as bad as I used to be and 10 bucks seemed an awful lot to save. So you see with my packages – all, I did very well. Then we had our weekly show at 9 pm which was good “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” The weather is freezing – we fill our canteens with HOT water and warm the beds – wear socks – sweaters etc. Oh this mountain air.
October 26, 1943 (Letter)
Oh my gosh is it ever cold around these here mountains. Ruth now wears her red underwear to bed. Heat in hotel goes on in Dec but if there’s the same amt. as last year they might just as well save the ton of coal they use and leave it off.
We thought we were going but now I guess we stay until spring.
My party last night was swell – – may the next one be home.
I’m all finished my work – Col. just made rounds so we have water on for tea.
[…] I go on nights tonight so maybe I’ll get caught up. Then is when I’ll truly freeze – I don’t see how or why they make buildings of stone – just now I’m working in a former garage. I’ll take the cold any day though to the heat that we had this summer.
How’s m’ pal Pete coming along? I wonder how he’ll like his new sister next year. I supposed he’ll have her nice & fresh – – hope she has the same smile that Pete has.
Well guess it’s time to close – I’ll be writing again. Take care & I’ll be seeing you in the funnies. My hands are sort of numb.
Lots of love
October 27, 1943
This V-mail, written at 3 a.m. has various messages in what appears to be the handwriting of different individuals (presumably the other nurses in Griffin’s social circle).
HAVE A SWELL THANKSGIVING NO. 14
GREETINGS FROM THE [arrow to] Star Boarder
I have three floors to visit now. Not bad
Be sure Pete gets his fill!
Can Margie cook good?
Be sure & have cocktails!
I’ll have Rye & Ginger
October 28, 1943
Hi Muth, Cath, Marg & All
Just dashing off a line before I go to 11 o’clock mess. This is my 2nd night on & I only have 26 more. Mrs. MacGibbons woolen socks are a God-send. In fact I put them on last night before I went on duty & haven’t taken off since. Wore them to bed today & all. Ruth says she’d hate to be living in with me in about 2 mos.
I’m enclosing a snapshot that Jack took in [censored] about a month ago. His camera is swell and could take any kind of candid shots. It was his that took the one of the camels, chapel, the two of me that you liked etc. This one was taken standing on the sidewalk looking up at the sign. They have it right on the square at the main drag – pretty good don’t you think – –only they left Boston out.
I’m glad you liked the pictures – am I getting in enough of them?
I’m dying to hear from Sullie – I know she’s gone & I have her A.P.O. but I don’t know where she is. If she’s in Sicily, I can fly over some time but I can’t make England. Naturally if she’s in the Pacific, I’ll never see her until I get home. By the way the kids who are in Australia & have been overseas 16 mos are getting home – so if they do the same here, we have only six more mos to go – imagine that.
The man referred to as Jeffries in the letters may have been Roy Jeffrey, as discussed in the introduction to Griffin’s April 17, 1943 letter. The new dietician was Julia Brosius, who joined the unit on September 21, 1943.
Jeffries is on night duty in this building too. We have a lot of fun at mess at night – 4 nurses & 4 wdmen eat together in the mess tent. The boys were talking about clothes tonight and they said when they came over here they were the best dressed soldiers & now they had a hard time keeping even 2nd place. I was thinking of what Cath said about Grace & the shoes. The shoes & clothes here are bought with paints but the place is filthy with them – before when we first came here wasn’t a thing in the windows & now they are packed.
I’m very proud of the leather portfolio the kids gave me – everyone has admired it. I have to laugh – you people are the ones who send me the food and I’m the one who gets the present & the swell party. It is signed by Ruth, Dot, 2 Donahues, Wanda, Claire, Jimmie, Miss Brammer, Huckie and a new Dietician who came about a month ago, so you see it makes it all the more valuable.
So you saw the governor Cath – did you recognize him? [Illegible] is our play coming along. I am packing my things tomorrow to ship home so maybe the uniform will get there in time to use it. Ruth’s & Dot’s will perhaps go to their house about the same time so you can borrow theirs to if you need them.
Margie – your Pete sure is a smart boy to carry Muth’s birthday cake like that. I received a V mail from Muth – dated Oct 16 today along with air-mail from Cath & Muth – dated Oct 8 so that lets you people know how it runs – not bad. You see there’s a convoy in. By the way, I don’t know where all these ships get sunk that you people write about because we certainly don’t hear about them and we get first hand information about everything.
The following two paragraphs discuss in depth the issues pertaining to the 32nd Station Hospital’s location (now that combat had switched from Tunisia to Italy) and heavy attrition. References to Quarters 6 abound in Griffin’s letters and seems to have referred to Griffin’s group of close friends who all served together (and presumably, roomed together) at Fort Devens before joining the 32nd Station Hospital.
We’re getting lower & lower on patients but they say we aren’t going to move so I don’t know what the devil the story is. We’ve gone from [censored, about three words] in no time. It seems silly to cart them all the way up here and then send them back again in a week or so. We used to be the half way mark in N.A. but we aren’t any more because they’ve closed up so many bases. But then we have such a perfect set-up here & have put so much work & repair into it that they just wouldn’t walk out & leave it. We were all excited again when we thought we were going to leave but we’ve calmed down again.
Two more nurses went today to a general hospital – that’s eight in all– – and the same amount of officers have gone back. One of the nurses has arthritis of the spine – she’s 43 & never should have been sent in the first place & the other is going to have a baso [sic] metabolism done. Both, I imagine, will go back. The outfit sure seems to be cracking up and what does quarters six do – – gets more healthy every day. Jimmie was either 39 or 40 on her last birthday & she has more pep than the whole outfit put together with the rest of my gang – including me – close seconds.
Well I’ve raved on enough & I’ll close now. Take care all of you, and be good.
Loads of love
October 29, 1943 (V-mail)
This V-mail, written at 3 a.m., is probably the most heavily censored letter in the entire Griffin collection…so much so that it looks like the censor even obliterated some words that he didn’t intend to. It is presented in its entirety (mainly to show just how unreadable a censor could render a letter)! Camp Kilmer is mentioned, where the 32nd Station Hospital staged in the weeks prior to shipping out for Algeria on January 14, 1943.
Hi All – 3 a.m. and I’m just about freezing. We just admitted [censored, about three or four words] I got [censored, about two or three words] to fill my two wards. Honestly for [censored, one or two words] have to do about [censored, probably one word] hours of [looks like the writing was partially obscured, perhaps by spilled ink from censor] & my hands are just about blue. I have on snuggies – shirt & pants – a blue sweatshirt (long sleeve) that I bought at Kilmer – then my uniform – then Verma’s brown sweater – then my cape & to top if off – a blanket – besides cotton stockings – woolen socks & heavy shoes. Miss Brammer is going to ask if we can wear slacks because it’s the bottom end that freezes mostly. The kids have a stove going over in the huts so now that my work is finished & the patients are snoring I’m going over for a while.
The next paragraph mentions Dorothy Racicot.
By the way, could you people record a record for me? Racico [sic] got one yesterday and her mother, sisters, broth- in law all spoke & then her nieces & nephews sang a song. Ruth is going to request one also & then I suppose Dot. Racico’s was Hockey dockey – a happy birthday but ours could be Happy N.Y.
October 29, 1943 (Letter)
This letter had a post office mark for Boston dated December 9, 1943 and is presented in its entirety. In addition to the usual circle of friends, the letter mentions Velma Drolet.
Oct 29–11 pm
Hi Muth, Cath, Marg & All
It’s 10 55 and I’m waiting to go to supper. It’s a bit warmer tonight so it makes it nice.
I have tomorrow night off for the masquerade and I’m lucky because we have 350 more pts coming in tomorrow & they’ll perhaps land there at night. We were wondering about transfers to an evacuation unit but 6 of the girls put in for them & were refused so that settles that.
Wonders will never cease – we have Ruth Donovan playing cards – she who didn’t even know a club from a spade. We have to form our own entertainment now that we haven’t got the tank destroyer outfits around but we’re managing very well. This winter it will be just like living in a real mountain town where one doesn’t know much what’s going on. The snow doesn’t start until Dec and it finishes the end of January so maybe we’ll still be able to go to Oran once a month.
Velma Drolet got her alumnae paper today & some nurse had written from Sicily telling how she and her pal got the orders mixed and instead of landing 4 or 5 days after the invasion, landed in the first wave. It was a very interesting letter. Then one of our pts was telling us about two nurses who landed in the first wave with them by mistake. He said they worked all the time and when a barrage would come over they’d jump into their slit trench. So it must have been the same two nurses. Those girls in evac units work & work and that’s why we’d like to get there.
Nurses in the Pacific are starting home after 16 mos so we only have 6 more to go and maybe we’ll make it – that would be June – and whoever says the war will be over by then I believe is wrong (Mrs. G) unless of course the Germans just plain give up.
As far as we know now we are staying here until March – suppose we’ll be all nice & fat and rested – I reckon I’ll be up to 140 lbs again and then my size 14 will have to be exchanged.
Enough chatter for now but I’ll be continuing tomorrow night.
Take care all and don’t forget that ice-cream prescription Margie.
Lots of love
The postscript is in different handwriting, probably Ella James’s.
Apples were great. Send some more if possible
Love to the gang
October 31, 1943 (Letter)
The following letter is presented in its entirety. M.B.S. stands for Mediterranean Base Section, which the 32nd Station Hospital was a part of during its service in Algeria. For further information about Lieutenant Colonel Bernice M. Wilbur, Director of Nursing Service for the North African Theater of Operations, see the explanatory text attached to Griffin’s June 30, 1943 letter.
The letter mentions four nurses receiving their 1st lieutenant bars. They were the unit’s supervisors and were actually promoted effective October 22, 1943: Emelda M. Dickson (Operating Room Supervisor), Catherine H. Houlihan (Night Supervisor), Margaret M. McCormick (Supervisor, Medical Section), and Rita G. Moore (Supervisor, Surgical Section). Until that point, Principal Chief Nurse Helen W. Brammer was the only nurse in the unit with the rank of 1st lieutenant.
Colonel Merlin must be Dr. Samuel A. Merlin (1901–1980), a doctor who lived at 390 Geneva Avenue in Boston.
October 31, 1943
Hi All –
What a party we had last night – it was a party to top all parties and I’m not fooling. We had a masquerade for Halloween and I haven’t had so much fun in ages. We made every doctor dress up and we borrowed some very old French costumes and also some very beautiful Arab ones and really went to town. Everyone was a little high but no one was drunk. I laughed so hard all night that I thought my insides would pop out.
Then the big surprise of the evening was three M.B.S. inspectors came up with Capt Parsons who is assistant to Col Wilbur and four of the kids were given their first lt bars. We knew they were getting them but didn’t know it was to be last night. They are the four who have been assisting Miss Brammer and they certainly deserve them. The Col. from M.B.S. comes from the corner of Tonawanda St & Geneva Ave & has his office at Fields Corner – his name is Dr. Merlin. So coming from Boston, he had a good time. And the four visitors said it was the most entertaining party they had been to in N.A. Everyone just acted crazy and did just what they wanted to.
I’m assuming “sed. powder” stood for sedative powder. Based on Ruth Donovan’s joke, it would have seemed to be used for childbirth.
I haven’t seen Ruth Donovan so funny in ages. The party ended at 12 and we all trotted into our rooms. Then I heard Dot & Virginia yelling & on going next door found Ruth pitching everything on the floor and Dot & V trying to stop her – so I sat on Dot’s bed & helped Ruth. The two of us still had too much energy left. Ruth decided we should take a sed. powder so in we trotted to my room & took one. We heard music & went out to the dining room and a crowd had sneaked back in and were dancing so that was just what we needed to work off our energy. We kept the doors closed & the Victrola on low and danced until 2 a.m. One of the kids was supposed to call us at 6 30 for Mass but she had set her alarm for 5.30 instead and called us all at 5.30. We didn’t discover it until we were part way dressed – about 15 of us. So back we went to sleep. Miss Brammer came by at 6.30 and we were wide awake & talking – Jim, Kay & Claire & I were sitting in Ruth’s room. – – a cat (kitten) had climbed on her bed. So Ruth said “Look Miss Brammer, Griffie gave me a sed. powder & I delivered this.”
It is now 8 a m – I have been to Church, had my breakfast & I’m out on the back porch. It’s a very lovely day but it is warmer than it’s been for weeks and I’m afraid it means rain.
Got a package from Ella yesterday with 4 boxes of candy. Scottie left two days ago to go back to Scotland in a hospital near his home but the A.N.C. did justice to the candy. I’ll write & thank her tonight.
We are now admitting 350 pts – most of them litter so I reckon we’ll be busy for a while. (this pen is louzy) I’m going back to bed as soon as I finish this.
You said in your letter yesterday Muth that you weren’t getting much mail – I’ve been writing every day & you’ll perhaps get them all at once – they really need the ships for more important things & we realize it so don’t mind in the least. I’ve been receiving a lot of packages.
By the way, I have started packing my uniform to go home. I am also sending a dish for you Muth, one for the Bianchis – one for Gertrude, Auntie, Mgt, and a couple of Arab hats. Also a purse that Jack gave me that is to be put away as is. Seeing as I won’t see him any more it will be a nice souvenir.
My portfolio the kids gave me is working out fine – the smell is almost gone – I’m very proud of it – it’s a beaut.
Well gang – time’s a wasting so I have to crawl into bed -I’ll be busy tonight.
Toodleooh & I’ll be seeing you.
Loads of love
October 31, 1943 (V-mail)
The following V-mail is presented in its entirety. The gifts she requested were likely intended for relatives of her young friends Nicole Messiah and Janine Ganascia. Unfortunately, if Griffin’s mother shipped the items, it seems unlikely that they arrived before the 32nd Station Hospital left Tlemcen around December 8, 1943 and shipped out for Italy a few weeks later.
Hi Muth – Wrote a regular letter today & have written every night so you’ll get them all at once. We are now (starting tonight) wearing slacks on night duty. Muth, I know it’s awfully late & it will perhaps never get here but could you send some things from the 10 cent store – a couple for a six year old and a couple for a two year old – both girls. They have no toys and although the kids have nice homes they just don’t manufacture things like that any more over here. I think the 6 yr old would like a picture book to look at. Not dolls, they have those left over – also they have fur animals. But just a couple of things from the 5 & 10 and I’ll give them to them after Xmas as I know they won’t get [illegible]. Rcd. candy from Ella today. Mail not so good but we realize they need the ships for more important things. Love to all
The Alice Griffin Collection
Introduction to the Alice Griffin Collection
Letters from the Alice Griffin Collection: Part I (March & April 1943)
Letters from the Alice Griffin Collection: Part II (May & June 1943)
Letters from the Alice Griffin Collection: Part III (July & August 1943)
Letters from the Alice Griffin Collection: Part IV (September & October 1943)
Letters from the Alice Griffin Collection: Part V (November & December 1943)
1st Lieutenant John S. Jarvie: Jack in the Alice Griffin Letters
Last updated April 8, 2020