Letters from the Alice Griffin Collection: Part V (November & December 1943)

This is the fifth and final installment of 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.  All letters were written by Griffin unless specifically noted.

November 2, 1943

The following letter is presented in its entirety.  Jack Hemsworth appeared on the 1940 census as a 68-year-old neighbor of the Griffins in Dorchester.  Mrs. O’Dowd is presumably the mother of Griffin’s nurse friend, Mary O’Dowd.  Mrs. MacGibbon, previously said to be in poor health, had knitted Griffin some woolen socks that she described as “a God-send.”  

Oranges & tangerenes [sic] are out now – not ripe yet – one more month.  We eat them green – sour but at least good, picked some off a tree myself Sunday – won’t know how to live in the City when I get back.

Nov. 2, 1943

All Souls Day.

Hi Muth, Cath, Marg, & All.

Was off last night but had nothing to do so just hung around.  Today I’m all slept out.  Went to Mass @ 8.45 (had Papa – Jack Hemsworth – Mrs. O’Dowd and Mrs Mac Gibbon prayed for) and then took a walk around town & looked in shop windows.  Went to see a couple of the nurses that are sick came back & made some tea and then cleaned the room.  Now I’m still not sleepy but I don’t feel like writing so this will be my only letter – I’ll write some more tonight when the pts go to sleep.

The “pride & joy” mentioned in the following passage is Ruth Donovan, one of Griffin’s closest friends in the unit.  C-rations were canned foods and did not enjoy a reputation for being overly palatable.

Muth you really should have Mrs. Donovan reprimand her pride & joy – I eat anything that’s put before me and that brat said “That Griffin girl could eat a piece of moldy bread for dinner & say ‘gee this is good’”  Now is that any way to talk about a good respectable Dor-girl – I really do though.  Today we had C rations and I started eating & finished the whole plate – I happened to glance up & a bunch of the kids were looking at me and shaking their heads – – they had left most of theirs.  The only thing is it doesn’t hold and by three o’clock I’ll be starving – but that is always remedied with Mrs. G snacks that are so wonderful.  I received the first of my Xmas pks today containing – “lobster!” tuna – cheese olives & crackers – oh boy.  Muth I’m sending the tuna back with my uniforms (try and get the lobster) and any can stuff like that is going right back to youse guys because they are high points or what ever the dickens you call it.  I really appreciate it but keep the canned goods, huh!

Mail isn’t coming thru with the exception of a couple of V mails but I can wait.

An undated portrait of Dr. Irving Weiner (Courtesy of the Weiner Family)

The next passage mentions 1st Lieutenant Irving S. Weiner and 2nd Lieutenant Herman C. Needles.

By the way Muth, will you call up Mrs. Singer at 20 Wilder Street, Dorchester.  Her brother is a dentist in our outfit and one of the best liked men in the outfit.  She tried to send him food and they wouldn’t accept it.  He is Dr. Lt. Weiner and we call him nothing but Junior.  He did me a big favor about a month ago by taking me to Oran – a four hr drive down & same back – and he & Lt. Needles had to turn around & start right back again – just to do me the favor.  So I’d like you to call her & say hello, I think he’d be pleased – – you know everyone in the outfit knows you.  One of the girls said today – “How’s your mother doing with Washington these days Griffie?”  Dot fully expected to be in the guardhouse by now and me with her but I guess we won’t be.

The next passage mentions the military newspaper, The Stars & Stripes, which was published in several different editions for various regions.

Sending these poems that were in the Stars & Stripes – – for the first one – – “ain’t it the truth” – about the rushing around etc.  The second one is sort of sob stuff and certainly not the feeling we have – the third is certainly true.  Also am enclosing the negative I thought I had sent before that Cath thought was lost – came across it today.  Now that you have the negative (or have you) of me and the mountain – do you think they could enlarge that a bit & color it – not for me but the view – I like that too.

The letter seems to be mostly  to Muth – Cath & Marg but tomorrow night I’ll write you each separate letters.

Loads of love to all.

[Top margin on page two:] P.S. The box with my uniforms won’t be ready for a week & I don’t send the dishes – too heavy & nothing to wrap them in.  One will go and that’s all.  It is just a cheap thing but fruit can be kept in it – if you have any.

November 3, 1943

This V-mail mentions Griffin’s young nephew, Peter.

Hi Muth & Cath – Here’s that lazy bones daughter & sister dashing off a few lines.  I hate night duty so I don’t think I’ll get very many letters written.  In fact, I addressed some V mail two weeks ago & haven’t written it as yet.  Received a very nice pkge from Mrs. Mulowney with oodles of nut hershey – also bobby pins – powder & puff – emory boards – sticks – and a pkge that you add water to and it makes noodle soup.  Then as I told Marg – I received Peter’s gift & also your gifts for the kids – but they can’t open them until Xmas – – I opened Peter’s though, they fit & look perfect.

November 8, 1943 (First V-mail)

The night before last we all went out to dinner.  They had turkey & we had two helpings of everything.  As a result I didn’t stop tossing all night – so after this, I’ll just eat light thank you.  Maybe the turkey was too much for us.  The guy did a swell job on it – 8 bucks for each plate or rather dinner – the poor fellows who had to pay, but they didn’t seem to mind.

The following excerpt refers to a “Clinical Conference” held in Oran on November 6, 1943.  A number of photos of the conference survive in the collection of Dr. Gayland L. Hagelshaw.  Two 32nd Station Hospital nurses—2nd Lieutenants Velma A. Drolet and Ruby E. Milligan—modeled nurses’ uniforms there.  Although Griffin stated that Claire LaBonne also attended, she does not appear in any of the photographs from the Hagelshaw Collection.

Exhibit on dental prosthetics manned by a Private First Class Mario Gregary at the medical conference in Oran held on November 6, 1943.  All displays included text in both English and French. (Courtesy of the Hagelshaw Family)

They had a medical convention the last couple of days and Claire had to go as interpreter.  She came back and [censored, about six to eight words] but will [censored, two or three words] until about [censored, probably one word] and seeing as that is less than [censored, about two or three words], the whole outfit is happy.  Me – I’ll miss my comforts – guess I’ll have to carry my cate-bed with me.  At least we are staying for Xmas.

November 8, 1943 (Second V-mail)

The following V-mail mentions the recent departure of Cecelia Gallant, one of several nurses who left the unit during 1943 due to poor health.

Hi Muth & All – just dashing off a V-mail feeling a heck of a lot better tonight than I did last night.  […] My goodness I’m getting more pkgs than letters lately – won’t I be swell on X mas day.  We don’t know if we’ll be here, but where ever we are we’ll eat.  Ruth is getting all kinds of food & the others too so we’ll certainly be happy.  By the way, if you get a call from Cecelia Gallant within the next couple of months, be sure and invite her out.  She has arthritis of the spine so had to go home- she’s a girl of about 43 and she is going to go out & visit you for sure.  Have a cocktail in the house to serve her.

Undated Letter (Probably November 10, 1943)

This letter, dated only “Wednesday”, was pinned to the first page of Griffin’s October 29, 1943 letter.  The line “Just think Thanksgiving this month” suggests that it was probably written on November 3 or 10; if it were written on the 17th she probably would have worded it that Thanksgiving was next week.  I lean towards the letter having been written on November 10, since it would have taken time for word to arrive about the October 22 newspaper, though Ruth Donovan’s mother could also have been given some advanced notice by the paper that the photo would be running at a future date.

Griffin holding an unidentified child (possibly Martine Gueron, though I have no solid evidence to support that theory) in Algeria. (Courtesy of the Feeney Family)

“Part of the family up the hill” would seem to refer to Nicole Messiah’s family.  Messiah’s cousin, Martine Gueron (1942–2006) is also mentioned.  She was born the same year as Griffin’s nephew, Peter.  According to a family tree that I found, Martine was the daughter of Georges Gueron (1910–1995) and Nicole’s sister Jeannine (1919–2015).


Hi All –

Sending home a few pictures that don’t mean much to you but I want to have them.  Part of the family up the hill – there are all names & families & I have a hard time keeping them straight.  I have a lot of fun with the young kids – they jabber in French – me in English – Martine is a month or so older than Pete so she lisps anyhow and we get along fine.


The next passage mentions that Ruth Donovan’s mother told her that there would be something printed in the Quincy Patriot Ledger.  It was a portrait of Donovan in uniform with a brief biography of Ruth and her brother and sister.

Ruth rcd a V mail from her mother today which told her to look on page 12 of Quincy ledger on Oct 22 – Ruth is sweating it out – she doesn’t know if it’s a letter or picture.

Rcd another bundle today with presents to girls from Muth & from Peteen to me.  Wouldn’t mind being along to see his first Christmas.  I’m really bad on Christmas writing & soon I have to start my cards – I’ll be so glad when the day comes & I don’t have to write a single letter.

Just think Thanksgiving this month & We’ll be 10 mos over here by then & 11 mos away from home.  Sure would like to deliver that Spring stuff Muth but the only way it can be done is if the German morale cracks or Russia comes through.  Wonder if we’ll have turkey – if we are still in the same place, we should, if not – guess we won’t.  I’d rather go turkeyless and move.  Heck I want to see [censored, two or three words] before I go home.  After all I can’t go on describing Africa all my life.


I’m working in the huts tonight & there is a pot-bellied stove in each one – about 2 feet high but boy do they throw the heat – Would like to work here every night.  [Censored, about four our five words] tomorrow – please send cookies.  Loads of love Alice

As it turned out, the 32nd Station Hospital did indeed move prior to Christmas, but the nurses did get turkey after all.

November 11, 1943

Photographs appear in several collections of 32nd Station Hospital members which, although not labeled, almost certainly depict the Armistice Day ceremony mentioned in the following letter.  Some are presented below.  

A group of 32nd Station Hospital nurses marching in Tlemcen, including Ina Bean, Ruby Milligan and Ella James. It appears the group includes one of the unit’s attached American Red Cross civilians (Lillian Burns or Dorothy Clark) as well. (Courtesy of the Weiner Family)
32nd Station Hospital nurses marching on Armistice Day in Tlemcen.  Griffin does not appear to be visible, but she mentioned in a later letter that she was in the back of the group.  (Robert Silverman Collection)
32nd Station Hospital nurses marching in Tlemcen, possibly entering the Place des Victoires.  The group appears to include Dorothea LeCain and Ruby Milligan. (Courtesy of the Weiner Family)

Dear Muth, Cath, Marg & All

Had to dash off a line because it’s Armistice Day & we just had a SWELL dinner.  We had pork chops – believe it or not – and twelve visiting French officers.  This morning at 11 – all the nurses who could be spared – also the officers and 50 enlisted men marched up to the Square of Victory and stood at attention (saluting) while the American & then French taps were blown and wreaths placed on the statue – I believe you people have a picture of the statue.

Detail of a photo that I believe depicts the Armistice Day ceremony in Tlemcen’s Place des Victoires, with the wreaths mentioned in Griffin’s letter at center.  The World War I memorial appears to be just outside of the photo on the left. (Courtesy of the Weiner Family)
Dr. Irving Weiner posing in front of Tlemcen’s World War I memorial; based on him wearing 1st lieutenant rank, it was probably taken prior to the ceremony. (Courtesy of the Weiner Family)
Detail from a 1942 map of Tlemcen, Algeria printed by the U.S. Army Map Service.  The 32nd Station Hospital officers’ billet at the Hotel Transatlantique is visible, as is the Place des Victoires where the Armistice Day ceremony took place (Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas at Austin)

Several months after this article was first taken, a photo of Griffin and all seven of her closest friends finally turned up.  Griffin’s young friend Nicole Messiah is also mentioned in the next excerpt.

We took pictures galore – quite a few of just the eight of us and then loads of the different groups in the outfit.  It is 1 pm and I am well-fed but exhausted.  I have to go to bed and get up at 3 to test my gas mask in the chamber.  At 4.30 I have to go to Nicole’s house for tea – celebration so they’ll have a lot to eat.  At 7.30 I have to be on duty – wow.

The long elusive photo of all eight nurses, presumably taken on November 11, 1943.  Standing from left to right: Virginia Donehue, Claire LaBonne, Kathleen Donahue, Wanda Dabrowski, and Ella James. Kneeling from left to right: Dorothea LeCain, Ruth Donovan, and Alice Griffin. (Courtesy of the Geragosian Family)
This photograph was likely one of the group photos mentioned in the letter above.  Standing from left to right: Claire LaBonne, Dr. Irving Weiner, Dr. Howard A. Laile, Kathleen Donahue, likely Angela Carone or Goldie Kauffman, Ella James, unknown. Kneeling from left to right: Virginia Donehue, Dr. Ralph Zimet, Wanda Dabrowski. (Courtesy of the Weiner Family)

November 12, 1943

This letter is presented in its entirety.  It mentions Marion Huckins and Principal Chief Nurse Helen W. Brammer.  Griffin discusses her birthday present (a portfolio described in her October 28, 1943 letter).  Earlier letters suggested that some leather goods were cheaper nearby Oujda, Morocco.  The Branchis seem to have been family friends of the Griffins.

November 12th .

8 30 p.m.

Hi Muth, Cath, Marg, and All.

Red two letters from Muth today – Oct 16 & 25th and also one from Marg, Oct 15 th – first letters besides V mail for a while.  Packages are coming thru in good style & good condition.  My goodness you people won’t have any money left for yourselves.

Muth you wanted to know details of my party – by this time you’ll have received them.  My case is swell and the smell has almost gone – I keep all writing material in it.  Rcd it from the seven others in my gang – Huckins & Miss Brammer.  It set them back about 30 bucks because I know they bought it in this town & they are more expensive here than in Morocco & we can’t get over there for a while.

Margie – – I will go up and get Peter another hat – I’ll also send some more along with it in case you want to give any away – that is if there are any left.  They will have to wait until the [unclear] of the month though.

Got a lot of birthday cards too – Peter’s much improved in his writing.  I hope the Branchis read my letters because you people are the only ones I get real long ones written too. [sic]  I have so many to write, it’s an impossibility.  The paratroopers are giving us a dance tonight and here I am working.  I had my evening gown washed and it came out swell.  [In blue ink, so probably added later:] I need some warm snuggies.

I had a very nice time at Nicole’s yesterday.  We had tea with tangerine in it instead of lemon.  Try it, it’s good.  Also some kind of sweet bread and date cake.  Nicole’s sister said that the cake is supposed to be made with cherries but as they hadn’t them, dates were used.  I stayed about two hours and then had to leave to come back on duty.

Tangerines are swell here now – oranges are quite sour but we eat them.

Flowers are everywhere, all kinds and colors of roses and our fall flowers are out.

It’s not clear who Ella is (clearly not Ella James, who was usually referred to as Jimmie), but Scottie seems to have been a Scottish patient who was mentioned to returned home on October 29, 1943, per an October 31 letter.  The remarks in blue ink appear to be someone else’s handwriting, presumably one of Griffin’s friends.

I received a letter from Ella today with one for Scottie enclosed.  I’m trying to get his home address so I can send him the candy & letter.

Well folks guess I’ll close now – too much talk going around and I can’t concentrate.  I’ll write tomorrow.  Cath – you [unclear] were running around the country.  Hope you had fun – Will be seeing you.  [Blue ink:] Please send some more cookies, huh?

Loads of love


[Blue ink:] All the girls send their love and thank you

November 16, 1943

The following V-mail, presented in its entirety, is the last time that Jack is mentioned in the letters of the Alice Griffin Collection.  Unlike other letters in the collection, it seems to have been intended for her sister alone.  It is the only time in the extant letters that she waivered in her decision to cut off communication with Jack after his unit left.  That the letter provided Jack’s date of birth (November 16, 1914) proved vital in establishing his identification beyond all doubt.  The letter would seem to imply that he sent her a medal he’d earned, though it’s unknown what that would have been, since his personnel records were lost in the 1973 fire.

Dear Margie – Just arrived on duty and thought I would drop you a line.  Heard from J. today and he arrived in Italy safely and is now in combat.  He sent me the most beautiful Mother of Pearl and Silver cross on a very fine silver chain from that country.  There was also a medal hitched to it.  Margie, just what am I supposed to do – I ask you – have to decide myself anyhow.  Gave him a send-off three weeks ago and he promised me he’d only write one letter saying he’d arrived safely but instead he continues – what a man – he really has me running in circles.  Today is his birthday (29) and the kids all wrote him a letter.  You see Jimmie received a pint of Hiram Walker in one of her packages and we all drank to Jack’s birthday.  Seeing as we hadn’t had any for so long, it made us a little foolish.  I’m sending them just the same, Margie.  Saw some more hats for Pete but we’ll get them after the first of the month – it’s a draw – whether or not we’ll be in tents for Christmas but doubt very much it will be Italy although I’ve sent to Verna for addresses.  Who knows – France or England.  Loads of love to Pete & John – Alice.

1st Lieutenant John Scott Jarvie—Jack—was killed in action on May 29, 1944 during the breakout from Anzio.

Lieutenant John S. Jarvie (left) and Captain Baker D. Newton (right) sitting in a jeep with a local civilian in a picture taken in Tlemcen, Algeria during the summer of 1943 (Courtesy of the Newton Family)

November 19, 2019

The following letter, presented in its entirety, also mentions Ella “Jimmie” James.

Nov 19, 6am

Hi Muth, Cath, Marg & All –

Oh my gosh, it’s cold.  It’s been snowing all night, after pouring rain all day yesterday and now it’s that awful icey [sic] slush about 2 inches deep.  To top it off we just had a tiny bit of coal for the stove in the wards and the darn stuff got wet.  So Alice E. here just wrapped herself in a couple of comforters – climbed on a bed and had a very nice warm comfortable night – I hated to get off this a.m. though.  As you can see we are not at all busy and won’t be for a while.  You really would howl if you could see the outfits we wear.  I have long G.I. men’s underwear on with a slit and a button in back.  When I put stockings on, they sag way down over them and I look like Billy be Damned – Rcd a Nov 3 Air Mail from Muth yesterday. [In blue ink, probably added later:] Please send me some cold cream, need it badly.

Did I tell you Jim & I are getting a three day leave when we get off nights & then our long day too.  We are going to try to get somewhere but whether [sic] conditions are awful and it doesn’t look as if it were going to clear.

Well I have to go find a place to get warm.

Will write tomorrow.

Loads of love to the bunch of you


November 20, 1943

This V-mail mentions Helen Harrington, a nurse who worked with Griffin before the war at Cambridge City Hospital.  She is also probably the Helen that Jack got a present for, as recounted in Griffin’s September 29, 1943 letter.  The hotel mentioned is the 32nd Station Hospital’s officers’ billet, the Hotel Transatlantique.

Hi Cath and All.   Just dashing off a line – heard from both you & Muth yesterday    Oct 20 or so.  Cath you said not to open my X-mas presents until Christmas but on account of a bunch came through soaking wet – I have to.  […]  I have saved the ones from you, Muth & Margie that were wrapped, but that’s all and the food is being saved.  We have snow inches & inches deep here now and gosh but that hotel is cold.  I’ll never live in the mountains in the winter again.  Helen Harrington’s sweater she knit for me is a Godsend.  […]  Ruth, Dot, Virginia, two of the doctors, & myself build a snowman yesterday afternoon & then had a snowfight – it was fun.  Oh yes, tell Muth I can’t check up on Hogan because we are just about isolated here until we go and we can’t use phone.

Although this is presumably a different snowman than the one mentioned above, the photo was almost certainly taken during the same snowstorm.  The photo appears to have been taken at the Hotel Transatlantique.  The caption in Ruby Milligan‘s album identifies the subjects, from left to right: “Phil” Hansen, Dr. Lowell Vinsant, Elizabeth McGaulley, and Dr. Irving Weiner (Courtesy of the Hills Family)

November 22, 1943

The following letter mentions a 32nd Station Hospital wardman, most likely Roy Jeffrey, as discussed in the introductory text to Griffin’s April 17, 1943 letter.  Griffin’s Uncle Dave was the grandfather of her young cousin Neil Callahan, who was frequently mentioned in her letters.

Hi Muth, Cath, Marg & All –

Just got my patients settled for the night – or rather until 12 and then I have a few more things to do.

The snow is almost gone because it has rained all day but it is just as cold as ever.  Ruth   Dot  & Virginia have just finished their 3 day leave – – they spent most of it in bed to keep warm.  Jim – Claire, Wanda, Kate & I start ours tomorrow. – hope it stops raining.  Ruth wears heavy gloves all the time now – in fact she didn’t even want to take them off to eat supper, but she had to.


Goodness, if people don’t stop sending me things, I won’t know where to put them all.  Oh my gosh – I’m a bit wet.  Jeffries just past [sic] by and sprinkled some water on me – so we just had a jolly fine tussle – – he’s an awfully good kid — he has charge of all the ward men up in this building – on nights.

Would you like to know what my outfit is tonight.  One heavy G.I. undershirt – one pair of longies (Cath’s ski pants) – one pair of high woolen socks – one heavy blue shirt (formerly Cath’s) one wool sleeveless sweater – one brown coat sweater (GI) Mrs. Mac’s socks over the others and Jimmie’s old white shoes – (they are big & fit over socks)

4 a.m.

Have been busy playing cards with Jeffries and others – I skinned them – boy will I ever join U-Dave’s Sat nite games.

I meant this letter to be a bit longer, but now – it’s time for work so I’ll have to close – Will write tomorrow – Take care Margie.

See you all next year.  Love


November 26, 1943

It’s not with certainty who the new mess sergeant mentioned in the letter was, but the lieutenant was 2nd Lieutenant Chester C. Remspeck.  He had joined the unit on October 12, 1943 and assumed the duty of Mess Officer five days later.  The “new dietician” was 2nd Lieutenant Julia Brosius, who joined the unit on September 21, 1943.  

Hi All of you –

It’s the day after Thanksgiving and we had a very nice one at that.  We really had a very nice dinner – that new mess lt. and the new sgt are sure on the ball.  We also have a new dietician and she’s right on the ball – ditto.

Jim, Claire, Wanda, Kay and I are on a three day leave & the day before yesterday went to a town about ~100 miles from here but it was too big to suit me – we’ll just have to move to the country when I get back – I’m so used to it now.  Also I’ll never enjoy going to Dennison’s when I get back – remember how I used to like to see that place. – the other kids yes, but me-no.

Perhaps wanting to avoid upsetting her family, Griffin conspicuously avoided mentioning the death of 2nd Lieutenant Rachel H. Sheridan two days earlier.  However, her December 20, 1943 letter later alluded to the fact that the paratroopers and U.S.A.A.F. men mentioned in the excerpt below helped cushion the blow: “We met the bunch of them Thanksgiving Day after hearing some very bad news, and they were swell – invited us to their mess and then we in turn went back with them to ours that night.”  The villa mentioned is presumably Villa Rivaud.

We arrived back yesterday and were invited to stay there for dinner – ours wasn’t until six last night.  So we had turkey with the paratroopers and air corp @ noon.  Then the three other kids started back to our own place & Jim & I stayed there & saw a football game.  The major I was with is a typical Irish American – he went to West Point & used to play on the team there.  Yesterday he played & he certainly was a riot – he got put out of the game after the first quarter for fouling.  The officers played the enlisted men & the score at the end was 0 to 0.  After that they took Jim and I back and we invited them to dinner – ours was much nicer – – then we went up to the Villa dancing.  It’s been a bit warmer the last few days and at long last they put a small pot bellied stove in the lobby and what a wonderful difference.

By the way, I’m winning a bet I made with Ruth so we will both drink the champagne she pays me – – guess I’m still lucky on my betting.


I haven’t written for a couple of days as we’ve been busy on our leave.  Tomorrow at 3 the air corp is calling for us again.  This major is really a swell scout – – he’s married but he’d like me to meet his brother so much – he knows the brother would like me and we’d make a wonderful pair – this went on & on.  They really have been awfully nice to us.  We want Ruth to come with us tomorrow but she doesn’t relish the 50 mile drive – Jimmie & I are ready to go anyplace at the drop of a hat.  Ruth says we’ll both need a week to re-cooperate after out 5 days off – and she ain’t just a jiving – but at least we made contacts and got places.


Tomorrow morning I have an awful lot to do – have to get my clothes clean for a change – wash my hair & have a  [shirt or skirt] put up etc.

December 1, 1943

The following letter is presented in its entirety.

Dec 1, 1943

Hi Muth, Cath, Margie & All.

Well, here I am finally sitting down and writing a letter – if I can think straight I’ll see if I can write a nice long one.

I sent some pictures to the base censor today – if they will not go through, I’ll get them back.  They have tightened up on mail very much.  In Cath’s letter, she said all of mine weren’t getting home but I still want you to know that even if it’s just a V mail, I write every day I was on night duty for a month and had nothing much to write about, outside of the fact that we have been very busy lately – but really very happy.

Neil was Griffin’s young cousin, Neil Callahan.  Mary O’Dowd and Caroline Paine were also U.S. Army nurses who served with Griffin at Fort Devens in 1942.

We are all opening our packages as they come, and Christmas, although a bit early this year is lasting a long time and we’re getting an awful kick out of it.  Today I received a package from Neil – also one from Auntie and Uncle D – one from Mary & Caroline – one from C.C.H. alumnae and two from Mrs. G – one of which had return address – K.M. Griffin – for shame Mrs. G – it’s spelled with a C.  Gosh I don’t know how I’m ever going to get the thankyou notes written.  I can’t possibly do it now but even if they are a couple of months late, I’ll do them.

The pictures mentioned in the following passage are presumably from the Armistice Day ceremony on November 11, 1943.  Griffin’s copies appear to be lost, though there were several photos in at least three different collections that appear to have been taken that day.

Now for the pictures – – I am not in very many but I wanted the copies of all of them so I got them – it was really a lovely day and we were so glad because we didn’t have to wear our coats – we wanted to show off and I reckon we did a pretty good job of it.  The marching was really good.  I can’t keep up with the long strides as Dot and the other tall ones lead – – you should have seen us three small ones at the end, but anyhow we kept in step and did ourselves pride. [sic]

The Branchis, mentioned in the following passage, seem to have been friends of the Griffins who lived near Fort Devens; it appears that Griffin wasn’t able to get back to Dorchester for Christmas 1942.

Thanksgiving was a simply wonderful day.  We arrived back from A—– just in time to eat at an air corp and paratroopers outfit and then as our dinner wasn’t to be until night, we watched a very amature [sic] but enjoyable football game before we started back here.  We arrived back just in time for our dinner here.  We really had a very nice leave and were warm enough because we were away from this mountain air.  Christmas we will also have a wonderful time, regardless of where we are – you know the horrible eight so I guess you’ll realize that.  Boy I wish I could spend it with the B’s as I did last year – by the way, I know I’ve asked in another letter but if I had Mr. B’s sister’s address, I’d like to send her a thankyou note.

Ruthie paid me a debt that she owed me – a lovely bottle of champagne – it was really good – now I have one more bet to collect – same kind of a bet so I’ll have another bottle of champagne.  We divided the one last night so we didn’t get too much and as it was Miss Brammer’s birthday we toasted her – also made little open sandwiches with donations from home on tope – honestly you unholy three, you sure do make our lives happy over here – don’t think there’s another family as swell – of course Ruth & Dot say the same and sometimes we argue as to which of the three families are the best.

If we ever move from this place to another, we can only take our bedroll and one piece of hand luggage (suitcase) – now I ask you where will we put all our things.  I won’t leave a darn thing behind, ever, so I’ll bet my bedroll won’t hardly tie if that ever came to pass.

I started this letter 4 hours ago and am just finishing – now do you wonder that I don’t get all my mail answered.

Peter’s picture is just about the best Christmas present I could ever have received.  He’s grown so much and suppose he’ll be taller than I before long – hope he takes after the Queeneys in height.

Well I’ve got to close now – but I’ll be writing again.  I’ll see you next year some time.  Love to all the neigh[b]ors.

Loads of love


December 2, 1943

This letter was addressed to Griffin’s sister Margaret and brother-in-law, John.  The “wedding pictures” mentioned are presumably from their wedding, since Griffin herself was unmarried at that time.

Hi Margie & John –

Just received letter telling about Johnnie’s accident – I do hope everything is OK by now – and anyhow John you wouldn’t be a good Irishman if you had all your teeth.

You asked what we would use for a tree Margie – well we’ve had our eye on one all summer but things are changed around now so I guess we’ll just have to take Ruth or Dot and decorate them.  We’re going to have one Hell of a fine time though wherever we are.  Mail came in very well yesterday and my Christmas pkgs have been excellent – oh boy that food.  I’m running around with an Irish major at present but I’ll just have to stop because I certainly can’t keep the pace that those horrible harps do.  They don’t even give me time at night to rest a few minutes before they are yelling for me.  We are in such an uproar and at such a tension that I trot myself out and have a wonderful time – there is usually anywhere from 4 to 10 couples.  We sing our fool heads off and really have fun.

Gee, Peter’s picture is swell.  I’d give a thousand dollars to be able to see him for even five minutes or Xmas – – everyone in the outfit knows about him and they all thing he has grown an awful lot since the last picture I got.  My wedding pictures & Pete’s go with me wherever I go.

December 3, 1943

This V-mail, presented in its entirety, mentions a gift from Janine Ganascia and Nicole Messiah for Griffin’s young nephew, Peter.  That Griffin was sad to leave her friends alludes to the fact that, as recounted by Principal Chief Nurse Helen W. Brammer in her “Report of Nursing Activities – 1943”: “On November 29, 1943, an official order was received to evacuate all of our patients and to begin packing equipment and supplies.”

Hi Muth, Cath, Marg & All–    Just finished singing Xmas Carols – felt in the mood – the bunch of us.  Presents have been coming thru very well, but everything is so mixed up I can’t answer now.  Went to tea at Janine’s house – they gave me a ring which I shall send home and also a hand-knit hat & mits for Peter – the mits won’t fit but I’ll send them anyhow, I was so tickled because clothes & yarn are practically nil to them.  I really appreciated the thought & we had a very lovely tea party.  I’ll be sorry to leave them but war is war & we must carry on.  You won’t get this letter for a long while but I’m still writing.  We are one & all very well & chipper & keeping up the morale of the 32nd.  So I’ll close now & write more soon – I’d give anything to be able to talk & tell you all about our experiences.  Be a seeing you – hip – hup & cheerio.  Loads of love


December 6, 1943

The event mentioned in this letter was probably the same one Chief Nurse Brammer described in her 1943 report: “Our last organizational dinner in Tlemcen was held on December 4, complete to steak, champagne, and after-dinner speeches; followed later in the evening with a formal dance.”

Hi All –

Things are still busy around here.  I’m thru for the present but you should see Jim, Claire, Ruth, Dot & the others – it’s really funny.

We had a dance planned the other night for the para-troopers but our drs. decided it should be a closed dinner & dance & only the outfit should attend.  Naturally our kids were a bit peeved because most of us had dates – so a bit of friendly rivalry went on and Dot LeC & V Donahue composed a song which I am enclosing – we’ve had a lot of fun with it.

I went to Janine’s the other day & she & Nicole gave me a ring – also a cap & mittens they had made for Peter.  The mittens would only fit a new baby but yarn is rationed for them so I was quite pleased.  I have a package ready to go home with them in it.  The ring is in wax paper so don’t throw it away by mistake – also a small souvenir for Branchis – UD – Joe & John – not much but I haven’t sent them anything – names are on them.

The weather here has been sunny but still quite cold – snow has all disappeared.

By the way the para-troopers are writing a song for us which they will bring down tonight – if they get it together I’ll send you a copy.

Just thing tomorrow is Margie’s birthday – wonder what next year will bring.  It sure has been a crazy mixed up year for everyone – but this war will be over some day.

Happy birthday, Marg – don’t you wish you were spending it with us – it’s really nice to see the world and not have to pay for it.

Well I have to get going again and continue my work so I’ll bid you all ado & write tomorrow.

This letter mentioned a song composed by Dorothea LeCain and Virginia Donehue, with some indication that the paratroopers would be writing a song of their own.  Most likely, the song below—the only one in the collection—was the one written by the nurses.  The only reason for doubt is that it was separated from the letter.  The fourth line was edited from “Till the paratroops arrived” to read “Till we troops did appear”; the rest of the song refers to the nurses as “we” and the paratroopers as “they” or “them”.  Without this change (perhaps for rhyme or rhythm) it would be pretty clear it was being sung by “we nurses with out verses”.

In a hotel, in the mts
Dwelled some nurses, sweet & fair
Well protected by the medics
Till we troops did appear,

Oh my Dr!  Oh my Dr!
Oh my Dr!  please stand by
Please protect us
Heaven bless us
For those troopers have arrived

First they came, they saw, they conquered
Every nurse danced off her feet
For the Irish, with their blarney
Were too much for them to beat

Here they come in all their splendor
Shiny boots & high morale
What those super-duper troopers
Won’t go thru to catch a gal

When in combat, when they’re jumping
They are strong & brave & bold
But when they come down to [censored, presumably Tlemcen]
We say Whoa Geronimo

When they jump into the prop blast
And mal-function is their doom
But we nurses with our verses
At our feet they gladly swoon


Tune of Oh Clementine

December 8, 1943

As much ink as Griffin used discussing whether or not the unit was going to stay in Tlemcen or not, their departure seems to have come without much fanfare (unless one or more letters announcing the departure were lost).  The following V-mail, presented in its entirety, describes the nurses’ accommodations while waiting to depart from Algeria.  Chief Nurse Brammer wrote in her 1943 report:

On December 7, the organization boarded a train at Tlemcen.  Arriving in Oran the next morning, the Nurses were transported to MBS Staging Area Number 3; the officers and enlisted personnel to MBS Staging Area Number 1.

The men of the 32nd Station Hospital shipped out for Italy on December 15, 1943.  Upon arrival in Naples on December 19, 1943, they entered staging near Bagnoli.  The 32nd Station Hospital’s female personnel would follow on December 28, 1943.

Hi Muth, Cath, Marg & all –   the other kids have gone over to the John so I thought I would dash off a few lines before we trech [sic] off to the show.  Instead of three of us together now, we are four to a tent, so Wanda is with us and Kate D with the other three – but we are right next door to one another – still.  The weather is nice and although it gets quite cool after the sun goes down, it’s nothing like mountain weather.  Tomorrow I’m going to sit down and check on that list of bundles for you.  I rcd an awful lot.  I sent a bundle home yesterday – it has an extra cigarette holder in it so maybe Cath or Ella could use it.  Don’t worry about my spending the money because it was extra we made selling things.  I also bought a book-folder & a very thin writing folder for myself and I still have 30 dollars left from my pay – good – huh.  Margie – Can’t get Spahi fez you wanted.  Will write tomorrow.

Lots of love – Alice

Virginia Donehue Letter (December 12, 1943)

This letter, presented in its entirety, was written to the Griffins back in Dorchester by one of Alice Griffin’s good friends, Virginia Donehue.  In the letter, she refers to the Quarters Six group of friends as “the horrible eight.”   She was apparently writing the letter during charge of quarters duty, presumably keeping watch of comings and goings in their particular section of the staging area.  The major mentioned is likely the paratrooper or U.S.A.A.F officer mentioned in the November 26, 1943 letter.

December 12, 1943

Dear Griffin Family:

I feel as though I shall be permanently indebted to all of you for the dozens of kindnesses which you people have displayed.  Alice received 8 more packages yesterday and included were ankle socks, candy and books for each member of the horrible eight.  Mine was a crossword puzzle book and though I’m strictly in the amateur class I’ve already solved almost one.

Things aren’t half bad here.  Though it’s been some time since we’ve enjoyed the luxury of a tent and mess kits we have adjusted pretty well.

During the night it seems as though the four occupants should get out of bed and each hold down a corner of the tent but confidentially I think that each of us would rather blow away than get out of bed.

Your daughter, Mrs. Griffin, has a sad major chasing her all over North Africa and though she enjoys his company she spurns his advances.  Very independent that Griffie.

Well my C.Q. duty is about up and Ruthie is to relieve me so I’ll pack up my writing utensils and head back, through the rain, for our tent.  Thanks again for being so very thoughtful and don’t think we’ll forget it.  We will probably throw a party that will shake your house from its’ [sic] foundation.  We are about to teach them to swing the classics.



Undated Poem by Margaret I. Griffin

Although many of Alice Griffin’s letters are written to “Muth” (Margaret I. Griffin), this is the only item in the collection that is in Mrs. Griffin’s own hand.  It is undated, but I have included it her based on the supposition that it might have accompanied some of the holiday packages.

Alice E. Griffin posing with her mother in front of the Griffin residence at 14 Lonsdale Street, almost certainly taken in 1944 or 1945.  (Courtesy of the Feeney Family)

Well, old gang from “Quarters Six”
How are you doing – up to old tricks –
Galloping over the desert in trucks
Which Alice compares to my Plymouth de luxe!! (brat)


But jokes aside take good care of the boys
And help them recover their old-time poise,
Thanking God in His goodness you have chose the way
Of helping – not destroying – the God-given way


And when it is over and you return from homing
From attic to cellar you will find good roaming
With whoop-la and song and “the gang’s all here,”
From Cape Cod to the Berkshires a welcoming cheer.


With a smile on my lips and hope in my heart,
I am thankful, dear girls, you are doing your part.

Alice’s Mother

December 13, 1943

Hi Muth, Cath, Marg & All –

It’s 10 15 am & I’ve just climbed back into my little cot again.  Claire, Dot & I got up at 6 30 am today to go to confession & com. but after hiking for ½ hour in the pouring rain, we discovered it was a French Mass & priest – – so we stayed for Mass & will attempt to see the chaplain in some town today.

It has been raining steadily for four days without a letup but as I received eight pkgs yesterday and one of them containing nice – warm pjs, I am quite contented.  I put the pjs on  last night with Mrs. D’s bright red bed socks (heavy underwear under p.j.s.[)]  When I got up this am I put a sweater and the lining to my coat right over the same clothes (also fatigue suit) – then my raincoat, shoes and rubbers and went off to church that way – nothing like hiking to church in your p.j. – but they are so warm, I hate to take them off.

Another pkg. had the Xmas decorations but I didn’t take them out, I’ll wait for a while.  Another had the cake which I reckon Mrs. S. made and we disposed of half of that-  I gave the kids a piece each & the rest we’ll have later.  […]  Also another from Cath and then Jimmie got the two & I got the others with the kids things in them – Dot wore her socks this a.m.  I do hope you people don’t mind us opening them now – we really are getting a lot of enjoyment out of them.  There’s one think [sic] I’d like you to do and that’s tell everyone that a bit later I will get all the letters answered.  I haven’t even written to Mary & Helen for a while.

We went to the cutest French church yesterday, & made a wish – the churches in Africa have just one priest as the others are all in the French army.  The church was really nice but they still didn’t sit, kneel & stand when we did.

Muth, we all got your Xmas cards yesterday and where did you ever get such lovely one – we were all pleased with them – mostly the individual notes on the back.

I’m enclosing a couple of snaps we took a few weeks back – note my Christmas slacks – – I don’t think we’ve had hardly a sunny day since.  The Sea reminds me of Winthrop beach during one of those awful Northeast storms – it just lashes & lashes until you’d think it would just about eat you up – I like to watch it though.

December 15, 1943

The following letter is presented in its entirety and probably refers to Oran as “a city near here.”  The third paragraph is one of the most evocative in the entire collection.

I love to hear about Pete’s antics – keep it up

December 15

Hi Marg & John.

This is the first good day we’ve had in a week, boy talk about your N.E. line storms, this has it beat all over.  The sea has been roaring like a lion and I am very thankful I was on land and not out in the middle of it.  A couple of the tents blew down but there was no one in them – we had ours all tied up nice so we were quite comfortable.  Wanda had the worst luck, because she woke up in the middle of one night to find the rain dripping very nosily on her face.  Claire & Jimmie were dripped on a bit but my corner was nice and comfy.  It’s a heck of a lot warmer than those darn mts. and now that the sun is out we’ll really settle down for a while.

My first four days here were very busy ones as some major came down to see me and brought a couple of his buddies with him.  It was raining cats & dogs so we usually spent the afternoon at a club they have here for us (drinking unaged beer) singing and acting crazy.  Then at 5 we’d go to a city near here, stay until & then come back to the club, which closes at 11 pm– then into my cot & fast asleep and start in the next day at 12 noon.  They are a swell bunch and I had a wonderful time and we were sorry to see them go back, but they’ll be down again.

Ruth & I sat on the top of the steps last night watching the sea & waves.  The moon was very bright and there were hundreds of stars out.  Ruth said that when they were kids they used to sit on the beach at Chatham & say “If we get going right out & keep on, we’ll get to Europe and Africa” – never thinking some day we’d land in Africa.  We are now almost a year over-seas – does it seem possible that so much could happen in a year – gosh what a crazy, yet wonderful one.

Ruth Donovan (seated at far left) with her family on Cape Cod.  The photo was likely taken in Dennisport, Massachusetts circa 1928. (Courtesy of the Donovan Family)

I got the Xmas decorations Muth sent and although I just looked at the box and left them packed, I’m dying to use them.  I told Ruth, even if we had to take a broomstick & hammer nails in it, we’d make ourselves a tree, although I doubt if we’ll have to do that – all depends on what’s what.  Maybe I’m wishing I could spend it with the B’s as I did last year.

Well kids, have to go now – and dry my clothes from that nice rain.  Lots of hugs & kisses for Pete and also to the two of you.  I’ll write again.

Loads of love.  Alice

Ruth Donovan Letter (December 15, 1943)

This letter from Ruth Donovan to the Griffins back in Massachusetts is presented in its entirety.

Dear Mrs. Griffin and Cath,

Decided it was just about time I sat myself down and expressed my appreciation of your many kindnesses to the gang of us.  And especially your very nice Christmas gifts.

Cath, you’ll never know how opportunly [sic] your soxs arrived.  I believe we were all down to our last clean pair.  We all put them on immediately, (even [illegible] Miss Brammer) and the day was saved.  The ones we took off – just up and walked themselves to the laundry bags.  But seriously, it just happened that we all got caught with “our pants down,” and the continuation of the Griffin luck in the form of packages from 14 Lonsdale St. really gave us a needed lift.

Griffi, Jimmy and I took a long walk this afternoon, with camera in hand.  Got some shots that will interest you and they can go at the beginning of your collections.  It will be a while though, before we have them developed.

As a result of our afternoon tour, Grif and I turned in to bed at 8 00 p.m. – to spend a quiet evening writing letters – it’s not but a few minutes after nine and Alice is peacefully “pounding the pillow.”  Jimmy, with her abundant store of energy was up and off again tonight.  She can make us all look like sissies.

Mrs. Griffin, we all have certainly enjoyed your many packages.  The Army keeps us well fed – but there’s always that hollow spot, that can be filled only by something from home.

Wish you could be with us to sit in on one of our tea-parties, know you’d enjoy it.  But one of these days, the [unclear, looks like “right”] of us will throw “one,” especially for you, and admit you into our clan.

Do have a nice Christmas and we’ll be thinking of you all.

My thanks to you both,


December 19, 1943

Despite what this letter indicated, it didn’t end up being necessary for them to put up a Christmas tree in a tent.  Principal Chief Nurse Brammer’s report stated:

Our Christmas holidays were made pleasant in a Villa, in the Staging Area.  Donations from each Nurse decorated the Villa, complete with Christmas tree and lights.  We pooled our “food gifts” and held open house in the true Christmas spirit.  Dinner on Christmas Day was partaken apart from the male members of our organization, as they had already departed from North Africa.  The turkey, although eaten from mess kits, proved a very enjoyable feast.

The letter is presented in its entirety.

Dec. 19, 1943.

Hi Muth, Cath, Marg & All –

Just six days to Christmas and it’s been a beautiful Sunday morning.  The bunch of us went to 9 30 Mass at the French Church – more like on of the Chapels they’d have for the summer people at the Cape.  We had a swell fried chicken dinner again and everything is just fine.  We haven’t had any mail for over a week but we don’t let that bother us – we’ll get it together.

We just opened the box of Christmas decorations and we have our eye on a tree which we will put up tomorrow – we have connections in the tent for the lights but I’ll have to ask first.  We are trying are darndest to get enthused about Christmas and we’re doing a pretty good job – – it’s funny though without decorations all around & no shopping & rushing around.  It has rained every day so far but the last few days it’s been nice at least for a few hours.  It was pelting last night and beautiful this morning – now it’s 1 p.m. & the clouds are hanging way down over the mountains and the sun has gone.  Ruth & Dot saw the tree we want and tonight after dark we’re going to sneak out and get it – – if we were home we could buy one but so far I haven’t seen any.  We were thinking of putting the tree in an empty tent and then we can all gather in there Christmas Eve if we are still located in the same place.

Well guess there’s nothing much else to talk about today so I’ll close.  I’m not writing every day now, but I’ll start again after New Years.

S‘long all & I’ll scribble off a note again.

Loads of love Alice

December 20-21, 1943

This is the last extant letter in the Alice Griffin Collection, and is presented in its entirety.  All subsequent letters, written from the end of 1943 until her return to the United States circa July 1944 are lost to history.  I did find a record of a Mary A. Metivier (O’Brien, 1917–1999), although her connection to Griffin is as puzzling now as it was in 1943.

Dec 20 –

Hi Muth, Cath, Marg & All

Well we just got loads of mail today – and I also received 5 more packages -for which I thank you loads and loads once again.  And before I forget, would you write and tell me quick who Mary Metivier from 38 Willoughsby Rd in Milton is – I received a very lovely package from her today and I’ve racked my brains – the writing isn’t familiar & neither is the name – so for Heaven’s sake – help – but don’t tell her I forgot because it just isn’t being done.

Now about the packages – all the decorations have arrived & although we didn’t chop the tree because it was too near someone’s front lawn, we’ll get one by hook or croak, if we are still here.  Weather has been very nice – cleared up finally yesterday afternoon & lovely today.  It’s nice because tents aren’t too nice in the rain although we didn’t gripe – we’re all over that stage.  The gloves are just wonderful & I was badly in need of them as I lost one of my wool OD ones on the trip – they fit very nicely.

The men listed in the following excerpt were either paratroopers of U.S.A.A.F. men mentioned in Griffin’s November 26, 1943 letter.  The “very bad news” Griffin alluded to was the death of 2nd Lieutenant Rachel H. Sheridan.

Pat – [Gurf?] – Clance & Soup [or Sorip?] came down yesterday and they are coming down to spend Christmas with us if we are still in this spot.  I’m glad because Jim & I were saying we’d like to have them spend Christmas with us as they’ve been so nice and it makes it nice for them also.  We met the bunch of them Thanksgiving Day after hearing some very bad news, and they were swell – invited us to their mess and then we in turn went back with them to ours that night.  They always put an o in front of all our names & I am known as O Griffin now – Claire is O LaBonne – Ruth – O Donovan etc – they are nearly crazy but a lot of fun –

Alice Griffin’s sister was pregnant at the time; Griffin’s objections to her niece being named Alicia seem either exceedingly modest or facetious, especially considering her mother and sister were already named Margaret!

Now for Margie – received your letter Margie about the new arrival being named Alicia – don’t Margie – stick to Margaret Lizbeth – its [sic] sounds awfully nice and you’ve wanted that name for so long – – and anyhow I’ve already told the kids I was having a new niece in April – namely Margaret Lisbith.  It’s swell to think of me Marg and it’s a big enough thrill

con’t – Dec 21

to be Godmother without naming it after me.  So Margie – heed – and don’t think about the name – just make sure Cath knows the creed – ahem.

It’s a beautiful day again and I hope my washing drys – we have been catching up a bit.

I wasn’t able to find much information about the nurses mentioned in the following excerpt, though it appears that, like Griffin, they worked at Cambridge City Hospital before the war.  

The cathedral mentioned is probably Cathédrale du Sacré-Cœur d’Oran.

A hospital ship came in and Marion Williamson and Gerry Di Tomasso from our hospital were on it.  So Ruth – Dot – myself & those two talked and talked.  Beatrice White is also on the ship but I haven’t seen her.

We are all going to Midnite Mass on Christmas – to a very lovely Cathedral in a city near here – – wouldn’t it be swell to be going to St. Paul’s.

Cath – you had us in stiches with that letter about Peter tossing pans around. –  he must be a holy terror.  And by the way Miss – – I got a picture from Mrs. Donovan – the clipping of St. Marks and I almost didn’t recognize you at first – was that the pin I sent that you have on?  You have your hair up again I see – it looks nice – how about that picture I want Cath.  Tell me more about the play.  Muth, you were asking about the Halloween party – I wrote in detail and also mentioned it in another one so I guess it just didn’t get there.  Did you have a pleasant visit with Mrs. [Mullauney?]?  I would have given anything to see the expression on your face when that woman remarked Peter as an angel in Whites that day.  By the way, today I saw my monkey again – it’s awfully cute so maybe I’ll come home with a monkey on my shoulders – beware.

I hear from Eunice very frequently and I’m so sorry I couldn’t get that hassock covers for her – it was impossible.

We haven’t seen our officers for a couple of weeks so I can’t tell you how they are – – its [sic] does us good to be away from them for a while – we’ll appreciate them more when we meet again.

Well, Jim, Ruth & I are going to the big city now to see if we can’t get figures for a crib – I thought I saw some last week.  Tell Vern I’ll want the addresses.  I have to get dressed now – need to make the transportation.  The very Merriest Christmas & Loads of love.                     Alice.

Postscript: After the Letters

The Griffin letters end here, shortly before the 32nd Station Hospital shipped out for Italy.  Presumably, she kept up her prolific correspondence until her return to the United States, but these letters were lost during the decades that followed.  Since Griffin’s letters cannot tell the remainder of her story, I will attempt to do so briefly here.

Griffin had concealed some very important news in her letters, undoubtedly so as not to worry her family.  Around April 1, 1943, a routine physical detected signs of a previously undiagnosed heart condition.  Considering that she was only 28 years old, the news was a shock.  Doctors at the time suspected the cause was a previous infection, most likely rheumatic fever.  Griffin was examined from April 10–16, 1943 at the 12th General Hospital; her condition was considered stable enough that she was allowed to return to duty.  Principal Chief Nurse Brammer rated her performance in North Africa as “very satisfactory”.

2nd Lieutenants Alice Griffin and Ella James in transit (probably either taken in Algeria or Italy in December 1943 (Courtesy of the Feeney Family)

Griffin departed from Oran, Algeria with the rest of the 32nd Station Hospital’s female personnel on December 28, 1943 aboard the U.S.A.H.S. Shamrock.  They arrived in Naples three days later, where they rejoined the rest of the unit in staging near Bagnoli.  On January 10, 1944, the 32nd Station Hospital moved to Caserta and began accepting patients on January 15.  Although more comfortable than a field or evacuation hospital, conditions were still harsh.  Griffin pointed out later at an Army Retiring Board hearing that when the 32nd Station Hospital began operating in Caserta in January 1944, the buildings didn’t even have windows or doors!  (Lieutenant Colonel Goss had written in his 1944 report, “Medical History of the Thirty-Second Station Hospital”, that the local populace had stolen them between the German withdrawal and the arrival of the Allies.)

This photo was taken in 1944 at the 32nd Station Hospital compound in Caserta, Italy.  From left to right: Unidentified, Alice Griffin, Claire LaBonne, unidentified, unidentified, Ella James (Courtesy of the Feeney Family)

During the course of 1944, Griffin’s condition worsened, though her devotion to duty was so strong that she tried to hide it.  When in obvious discomfort due to her heart condition, she told worried colleagues that it was just “gas” (something Griffin joked that she was well known for, according to a letter probably written on August 26, 1943).  Eventually, however, she reached the point where she could conceal her health no longer.  Both Chief Nurse Brammer and her fellow nurses began to worry.  Major Robert O.Y. Warren, Chief of Medical Service for the 32nd Station Hospital, wrote in a May 17, 1944 memorandum to Lieutenant Colonel Goss that “It has become increasingly evident that Lt. GRIFFIN is unable to carry on.”  He continued:

It has become apparent to the Chief Nurse that she no longer carries out her nursing duties as well as in the past.  While she professes to feeling very well, it is the expressed opinion of her fellow nurses that she is not well.

Despite her concerns, Chief Nurse Brammer rated Griffin’s 1944 performance as “satisfactory.”  Griffin was hospitalized at the 23rd General Hospital on June 1, 1944 and eventually transferred back to the United States.  She arrived in Charleston, South Carolina on July 18, 1944 aboard the U.S.A.H.S. Thistle and was briefly hospitalized at Stark General Hospital.  She departed for Massachusetts on July 22, 1944 and was hospitalized at Lovell General Hospital at Fort Devens, Massachusetts from July 23, 1944 until September 6, 1944.  Remarkably, she recovered enough that she was, for a period of time, able to return to limited duty.  From September 6, 1944 through December 5, 1945, she worked in several assignments at Lovell General Hospital.  (Details aren’t completely clear but this apparently included general duty nursing, service in the Surgical Ward, and work as a supervisor in the Orthopedic Ward.)  She was promoted to 1st lieutenant on February 7, 1945.

Alice Griffin and Edward Feeney on their wedding day (presumably at their reception) in Ayer, Massachusetts (Courtesy of the Feeney Family)

After returning to Lovell General Hospital, Griffin apparently met her future husband, Technician Fifth Grade Edward T. Feeney, a member of the hospital’s Military Police detachment.  The couple was married at the Lovell General Hospital Chapel at Fort Devens on June 23, 1945 at a ceremony officiated at by U.S. Army Chaplain D.J. Foley.  By the time of the wedding, several 32nd Station Hospital nurses had rotated home and were able to attend, including Ruth Donovan, Catherine Houlihan, Ivy Bosworth, and Ruby Milligan.

Group at the Griffin-Feeney wedding. From left to right: Unidentified (wearing glasses), Ruth Donovan, Catherine Houlihan, unidentified (wearing hat with triangle pattern), Ivy Bosworth, Ruby Milligan (looking down). (Courtesy of the Feeney Family)

In her final efficiency report, Major Eileen K. Murphy, Chief Nurse at Lovell General Hospital, rated Griffin’s performance as “excellent” and described her as

A cooperative and willing worker.  Very interested in her patient’s welfare.  Assumes responsibility and very well liked by co-workers and subordinates.

Alice Griffin in a portrait taken in 1945 or 1946 (Courtesy of the Feeney Family)

Griffin underwent several Army Retirement Board hearings, the last of them on November 16, 1945.  The purpose of the boards was to determine whether she should remain on active duty and, in the event that she found unfit for further service, whether her disability was considered to be in the line of duty.  When the board asked her to describe service conditions that might have aggravated her health, Griffin replied:

It was rainy and cold and wet and snow over there from January until May.  During the summer of 1943 I worked up on the roof of the school building.  We had about sixty patients, and the temperature was 103º.  I asked to be taken off it, but I was kept on until I had to be taken off a month later.  We had rain, cold, and snow again in November.  When we got to Italy we really worked.  We washed down all the walls.  We were told we would open in a week, but that afternoon we had word that we would have to open that night.  We got five hundred patients that night.  We worked about sixteen hours that day.

The U.S. Army’s final findings, as indicated by a January 12, 1946 memo written by Lieutenant Colonel R.K. Farnham of the Medical Corps, was that Griffin was “Physically unfit for limited service” and that “the cause of said incapacity is an incident of the service”.

Detail from a photo of the 32nd Station Hospital reunion in New York City in 1962; Alice Griffin (Feeney) is in foreground on the right hand side wearing a white necklace. (Courtesy of the Hills Family)

1st Lieutenant Griffin left active duty in the U.S. Army effective April 30, 1946.  Several months later, she and her husband welcomed the first of three daughters.  Her heart condition caused difficulties for the remainder of her life and she endured several surgeries.  In spite of that, Griffin’s daughter, Cathy, told me:

As weak and frail as she may have been at home, she never complained about her health.  She smiled whenever she looked at me and anyone.  She smiled at the milkman, mailman, neighborhood kids, strangers, storekeepers…I mean everyone.  When they left her they were happier.

Griffin attended 32nd Station Hospital nurses’ reunions in October 1948 and October 1956, as well as a reunion for the entire unit in October 1962.  Not long after, on July 28, 1963, she died, aged 48.

The Alice Griffin Collection

Introduction to the Alice Griffin Collection
Letters from the Alice Griffin Collection: Part I (March & April 1943)
Letters from the Alice Griffin Collection: Part II (May & June 1943)
Letters from the Alice Griffin Collection: Part III (July & August 1943)
Letters from the Alice Griffin Collection: Part IV (September & October 1943)
Letters from the Alice Griffin Collection: Part V (November & December 1943)
1st Lieutenant John S. Jarvie: Jack in the Alice Griffin Letters

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Last updated June 18, 2020

2 thoughts on “Letters from the Alice Griffin Collection: Part V (November & December 1943)

  1. Just remembered you asking me to tell you about Gertrude Singer. She was one of my dad’s older sisters and lived in MA her entire married life…a good portion in Newton, MA. She and her husband, Sam, had one son, Arthur, who now lives in CA. My dad was the youngest of 7 children…. 4 boys and 3 girls.

    Sent from my iPhone



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