Posted in Research, WWII

The American Red Cross on the Homefront

The American Red Cross served so many needs during World War II. On the home front volunteers performed many of the tasks. Paid staff organized and supervised the activities but volunteers were the mainstay of the organization. At its peak in 1945 the Red Cross had over 36 million members and over 7.5 million volunteers, while paid staff peaked at just over 36,000. There were over 3,700 Red Cross Chapters spread across the country.

The Red Cross Canteen Corps set up on docks, in railroad stations, in airports, and on military posts to provide meals and snacks to military personnel while traveling or upon arrival at military bases. They also provided food to civilians at blood donor centers, child care centers and schools.

Red Cross Girls Working in Canteen

Home Care services assisted families of service members in many ways. One was assisting family members trying to communicate with their military loved one stationed overseas or at a distant base or helping service men and women communicate with family back home. This might be happy news, such as the birth of a baby. Or it might be notification of a death or serious illness in the family. In these cases, if necessary, the Red Cross would help the serviceman arrange leave and transportation to go home. Other services included financial assistance and counseling for military families.

The Red Cross in coastal cities assisted seamen who had been rescued at sea. These merchant marines were not in the military yet they were responsible for shipping millions of tons of supplies to the combat zones. Thousands of ships were sunk by our enemies leaving the rescued seamen far from their home ports. Also the Red Cross assisted evacuees from the war zones. Some, like the seamen, had been rescued at sea. Others arrived in this country with little more than the clothes on their backs. Red Cross volunteers provided food, temporary shelter and clothing while they got settled in the states. This service was similar to the Civilian War Relief provided by the Red Cross in war-torn countries around the world.

Prisoner of War relief included assembling, packing and shipping more than 27 million packages containing food and personal items to the International Red Cross who distributed them to 1.4 million American and Allied prisoners of war. Facilities set up in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and St. Louis, were manned by 13,500 Red Cross volunteers. These Red Cross parcels contributed to the survival of many prisoners of war in Germany where the Germans cooperated in distributing the packages. In my novel Kitty’s War, the prisoners received Red Cross parcels. Unfortunately, Japan did not work with the International Red Cross to provide packages to their prisoners.

Another interesting Red Cross service was helping the thousands of “War Brides.” During the war many American service men married women in the various countries where they were stationed. The Red Cross kept track of these “Brides” and when transportation became available gathered them at ports and accompanied them on the journey to America. Along the way the Red Cross arranged for food and housing, held classes to teach the foreign “Brides” about their new home and even escorted many of the young women and their children to their final destination.

Great Atlantic Hurricane September 1944

In addition to all these things the Red Cross set up shelters for civilians in case our country had been attacked. As they do now, the Red Cross responded to a myriad of disasters, from fires and explosions to hurricanes and tornados. Finally, one of the most important achievements of the Red Cross during World War II was their fund raising. After an immensely successful fund raising drive in 1941-42, when they raised $66 million, President Roosevelt declared March 1943 as “Red Cross Month” with a goal of raising $125 million dollars. By June of 1943 $146 million had been raised. Roosevelt called it the “greatest single crusade of mercy in all of history.”

Posted in History, Research, WWII

The American Red Cross Overseas in WWII

One of the missions of the Red Cross was to keep up the morale of the military. The Red Cross achieved this mission in numerous ways.

Overseas the Red Cross set up service clubs, some big and some small. Rainbow Corner Club, probably the most famous of these service clubs, occupied a building on Piccadilly Circus in London. It never closed and provided meals and recreation for service men and women. Overnight accommodations as well as barber shops and laundry facilities were also available in the bigger clubs. Anywhere American soldiers were stationed overseas a service club met their needs. In England Aeroclubs provided services to the many Eighth Air Force bases scattered across the English countryside. For the Navy there were Fleet Clubs. The Red Cross set up these clubs in the Pacific Theatre, too. All these clubs were manned by Red Cross “girls” and local civilians.

A new idea became reality when the Clubmobiles, converted busses or half-ton trucks, began driving the English backroads to reach American camps. Manned by three Red Cross girls and a driver the Clubmobiles provided real coffee and freshly-made doughnuts. Most were equipped with a record player and loud speaker to play a wide variety of popular records. The Clubmobiles were so successful they followed the troops onto the continent after D-Day.

All the Red Cross “Girls” who served overseas had to meet rigorous standards. These young women had to be at least 25 years old and college graduates. The intensive interview process essentially determined if the women had the right personality for the job. After passing physicals they went through extensive training in a short time which included, of course, learning to make doughnuts.

If you want to learn more about the Clubmobile girls, read “Slinging Doughnuts for the Boys” by James H. Madison who uses the letters and diary of Elizabeth Richardson. Richardson was a Red Cross Clubmobile hostess who served in England and Europe. She was killed in a military plane crash in France in July, 1945.

And there’s much more the Red Cross did during the war. I’ll cover the rest in my next post.

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Posted in History, My Novels, Research, WWII

The Many Roles of the American Red Cross During WWII

While researching WWII, I kept seeing the American Red Cross involved in a number of areas so I decided to look at what the organization did during that time. I found so much that it will take more than one post to cover everything.

First, a bit of background. The American Red Cross was founded in 1905 and charged with providing “volunteer aid in time of war to the sick and wounded of the armed forces” and with providing communications between the people and the military. The ARC was also to provide relief from suffering “caused by pestilence, famine, fire, floods and other great national calamities.”

That’s a tall order. And it encompasses a wide range of activities. In this first post I’m going focus on some of the Red Cross activities in the medical field.

Red Cross Nurses

The American Red Cross trained and certified nurses for service in the military beginning before the First World War. World War II created a shortage of trained nurses in the United States as civilian nurses joined the Army and Navy Nurse Corps. More were needed as the casualties increased, not only overseas but also in the numerous military hospitals established across the country. On the home front the nurses trained by the Red Cross filled the vacancies caused by military service and took on the medical care of civilians. Also Red Cross Volunteer Nurses Aides and Volunteer Dietitian Aides provided assistance to both military and civilian hospitals. Again, the Red Cross trained these volunteers.

Blood and Plasma

Even before the U.S. entered the war, the American Red Cross began to collect blood and process it into liquid plasma to send to England where the fighting and bombing had created a shortage. Under the direction of Dr. Charles Drew, the African-American blood specialist, that effort succeeded. After that the military asked the Red Cross to set up a Blood Donor Service to collect blood donations and process the blood into dried blood plasma that could be more easily stored and shipped overseas. Dr. Drew headed this up and before the Japanese attack in December 1941 blood donation centers had been set up across the country including a number of mobile units. The dried blood plasma saved many lives on the battlefield and the program served as a model for post-war civilian blood collection.

Gray Lady Corps, Recreation in Hospitals and Additional Supplies to Hospitals

Nurses weren’t the only Red Cross presence in military hospitals. The Gray Ladies were Red Cross volunteers who provided whatever services the wounded men needed. They might play a game of cards or write a letter home, they might run an errand or simply listen to a lonely soldier. The Gray Ladies organized ward parties, set up art exhibits or brought in theatrical performances to hospitals where men were recovering from wounds. The Red Cross set up local councils in the cities where hospitals were located to provide supplies not available through the military. Requests from the hospital went to these local councils who worked with local businesses to provide things like musical instruments, sports equipment, furniture, magazines and newspapers.

In my next novel Kitty’s brother Milton, who was wounded in Normandy, is recovering in a state-side Army hospital where he encounters nurses (many trained by the Red Cross) and Gray Ladies who help him and other soldiers. He also helps with obtaining sports equipment from local businesses for rehabilitating the wounded. In A War Apart after Guy was wounded the medics started an IV before his surgery, most likely from the blood plasma produced by the Red Cross. So you see, my research often included the Red Cross in some way.

My next post will continue with services provided by the Red Cross during World War II.

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Posted in B-17, History, Old Movies, WWII

Twelve O’clock High – The Movie

Movies can inspire and get the creative juices flowing. That’s what Twelve O’clock High did for me, creating a fascination with the 8th Air Force and their part in winning World War II. It is one of my favorite WW II movies, even though there’s no love story. Never the less, parts of my novel, Kitty’s War, were inspired by the movie.

Made in 1949 and starring Gregory Peck, Twelve O’clock High tells the story of an American bomb group flying daylight raids over German occupied Europe early in the war. The characters depict the personal struggles of the pilots and crew who flew these dangerous missions day after day. After the war ended the need to bolster the home-front morale gave way to a need to understand what had happened during the war. Many of the films made in the late 40’s and in the 1950’s were more realistic about the human cost of war.

Twelve O’clock High showed the devastating effects of continuous losses on the morale of the airmen and their leaders. To get morale and performance back on track, General Savage (played by Gregory Peck) took command with such a strict attitude that the men hated him and the pilots all requested transfers. But Savage stalled the transfers because he knew they needed discipline to face the job they had to do. While pulling the outfit together Savage became so personally involved with the men and the missions that he eventually suffered battle fatigue.

In 1942, the American Air Corp bombed German held Europe in the daylight, something the British would not do because it was too dangerous. The RAF bombed at night. The Americans faced intense anti-aircraft fire as well as deadly attacks by German fighters. Neither the Americans nor the British had fighter planes that could fly as far as the bombers so the bombers had no protection from the German fighters except their onboard guns. Later in the war, the P-51 Mustang flew as fighter protection to the target and back.

Although nominated for Academy Awards, the film and Gregory Peck failed to win the coveted award. Dean Jagger won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Major Harvey Stovall, the Group Adjutant who helped Savage win over the men, as well as introducing and ending the film with his reminiscences.

If you love war movies filled with action and tension, then Twelve O’clock High fills the bill. It is truly entertaining and informative. If, like me, you enjoy a little romance mixed it, this may not be what you are looking for.

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Posted in 276th AFA, Family, History, My Novels, Research, WWII

Oak Ridge in A War Apart and Personal Memories

The city of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was created in 1942 when the U. S. Government bought up a large section of land along the Clinch River in Anderson county for a secret defense project. Construction began immediately after the residents of the area were moved off the property, much like the Tennessee Valley Authority had done when they bought up land for dams. Many locals, as well as people from all over the country, went to work building what would become plants that separated uranium-235 to be used in the first atomic bomb.

Between 1942 and 1945 the population of Oak Ridge grew to 75,000 residents with employment at approximately 82,000. The plants ran continuously to produce the Uranium 235 needed for the secret project and construction struggled to keep up with growth. After the war ended these numbers fell drastically. By 1950 the City of Oak Ridge had a population of 30,205, still fifth largest in Tennessee. Employment decreased, too, especially in construction. But the plants continued to run producing the fuel for the atomic age.

In my latest novel, A War Apart, my heroine, Rosemary, took a job at Oak Ridge to support the war effort, earn some money and, most of all, to get away from home. She worked in the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant which used one method of separating Uranium-235 from Uranium-238. Her cousin, Martha Sue, worked in the Y-12 electromagnetic plant which used a different method for separating Uranium-235. Neither woman, nor any of the workers, knew what they were making because secrecy about the project was of highest priority.

In the 1950’s when I was a young child, my uncle worked at Oak Ridge. My sister and I visited for a week. Our cousins showed us around the area where they lived and played, then on the weekend, when our parents came to get us, my uncle showed us around Oak Ridge. All I remember is the car stopping in front of a big metal gate and Uncle John saying that was as far as we could go. When I was older, our family returned to Oak Ridge and went to the Atomic Energy Museum. I still have a dime that was irradiated there.

As I learned more about Oak Ridge I found the story of its origin fascinating. That such a highly technical and highly secret plant could be built and run in rural Tennessee sounded implausible, if not impossible. Yet it really happened. Later, I learned that many of the women who worked at Oak Ridge during the war were young women from Tennessee with no special training, just a willingness to work and follow directions. So, of course, one of these young women had to be the heroine in one of my stories. When my character, Rosemary, needed a job, Oak Ridge provided the perfect place for her to work.

In doing research for my novel, A War Apart, I primarily used three books for my research on Oak Ridge. They were “City Behind A Fence” by Charles W. Johnson and Charles O. Jackson, “Images of America Oak Ridge” by Ed Westcott, and “The Girls of Atomic City” by Denise Kiernan.

Posted in Old Movies, WWII

Christmas Movies from the 1940’s

It’s probably no surprise to those who follow this blog that my favorite Christmas movies were made in the 1940’s. Some are known by everyone and others are less familiar to anyone who’s not an old movie buff like me.

Everyone has seen Holiday Inn. If you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s a feel good musical where Broadway performers open an inn in Connecticut with a holiday theme. They put on special musical shows on various holidays while the main characters lead complicated love lives. The 1942 film introduced the famous Christmas song by Bing Crosby “White Christmas.”

Another fun Christmas movie, Christmas in Connecticut, stars Barbara Stanwick as a writer for a home magazine who pretends to be a great cook and homemaker with a husband and baby. When her publisher invites himself to spend Christmas with her at her Connecticut farm, Stanwick must scramble to create her fictional image. To complicate things further the publisher invites a soldier recovering from wounds to join them at the farm. Released in 1945 this film is still a joy to watch with characters like Sidney Greenstreet, Dennis Morgan and SZ Sakall adding to the fun.

For something a little different try 3 Godfathers from 1948. A lesser known John Wayne western tells the story of three outlaws on the run who come across a woman stranded in the desert having a baby. The three are named as the baby’s Godfathers by its dying mother and must get the child to safety in New Jerusalem. You guessed it. It’s Christmas time. This heart-wrenching tale is well worth your time.

Other favorites of mine include The Bishop’s Wife (1947) with Cary Grant as an angel sent to help David Niven, a troubled Bishop, and his wife, Loretta Young. Or watch the feel-good It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947) where a good-natured bum sneaks into a New York mansion closed up for the winter, then invites friends including ex-servicemen, who can’t find housing for their families, to stay in the house with him. High-jinx ensue. Holiday Affair, from 1949, is a Christmas love story between Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh. In The Shop Around the Corner, released in 1940, two co-workers correspond with a pen pal, not knowing they are writing to each other. The fun romance between Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan inspired the later movie You’ve Got Mail. A little known but touching Christmas movie is I’ll Be Seeing You from 1944. It stars Ginger Rogers, on a furlough from prison, and Joseph Cotton, a soldier on leave from a military hospital suffering from shell shock. They spend Christmas together trying to be normal and not let the other know of their problems.

My absolute favorite Christmas movie of all time is It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart. The first film Stewart made after his service in the 8th Air Force in World War II depicts a man in a small town who always wanted to go places and do things. Instead he’s stuck running his family business. When financial troubles arise, Stewart’s character wishes he’d never been born. That’s when an angel-in-training is sent to help him. The angel shows him what the town would have been like without him and Stewart realizes what a wonderful life he’s had. Many scenes in the 1946 film show Stewart’s real anguish as he deals with what we now call PTSD. This film is guaranteed to warm your heart and make you appreciate your life.

Have a Merry Christmas and a wonderful holiday season by staying home and watching old movies

Posted in My Novels, WWII

A War Apart Release Day

Today is Veterans Day which is so appropriate for my second World War II novel, A War Apart, released today by my publisher, The Wild Rose Press. It is a story of young people during the tumultuous and uncertain years of World War II. A chance encounter between a grieving widow, still angry at her cheating husband, and a lonely soldier headed overseas to fight the Germans becomes so much more.

I am excited to share some great early reviews for A War Apart. Perhaps these will encourage you to read it yourself.

“A lovely war-time romance chronicling love lost and found. You’ll feel like you stepped back in time to the 1940’s.”

Valerie Bowman, Award-Winning Historical Romance Author

 

“I thoroughly enjoyed this heartwarming story of life and love during WW2. Guy and Rosemary are well-drawn, endearing characters and I eagerly turned pages, rooting for their happy ending. Ms. Whitaker’s knowledge of history adds depth to every page of A War Apart. A wonderful second book from a talented author.”

                        ~Connie Mann author of the Safe Harbor and Florida Wildlife Warrior series

 

A sweeping historical saga with a unique, touching love story.

A War Apart, by Barbara Whitaker, is a sweet and refreshingly different historical romance set during WW II. The author weaves in details about the societal norms of that time and the world events of the 1940s in a natural way, transporting the reader back to that era without it feeling like a history lesson. The couple meets early on, then most of the book switches between vignettes of their lives apart, with them not getting back together until near the end. This isn’t the typical formula for a love story, but it works. We feel their love growing for each other through the letters they exchange. And we find ourselves rooting for them to work through their angst and despair and find a way to be together. I read this in one sitting and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was given an ARC (advance Reader Copy) of this book.

Lena Diaz, multi-published award-winning author

 

 

Barbara Whitaker’s A War Apart is a riveting novel set during WWII that has been researched to perfection. Whitaker brings history to life with her incredible descriptions and presents us with an entirely plausible way for two people to find love during such tumultuous times where war has pushed them apart. The letters exchanged between Rosemary and Guy were such a sweet way to watch them fall for one another and made the reunion at the end all the more exciting. This is a fantastic book that will draw you in by the heart and stay with you long after you’ve finished reading!

~Madeline Martin, USA Today Bestselling Author of Scottish Romance

Posted in 30th Infantry Division, History, Research, WWII

A Train Near Magdeburg

A few years ago my husband and I drove down to the Camp Blanding Museum to meet with Frank Towers, a WWII veteran of the 30th Infantry Division. We had met Frank on a previous visit but we didn’t have enough time to really talk to him. That day Frank told us about the train near Magdeburg filled with Jewish refugees that elements of the 30th liberated. The Jews were being moved from Bergen-Belsen to another concentration camp when the train stopped on the tracks near Magdeburg. Frank wasn’t with the liberators on that first day but he arrived the next day with orders to find housing and provisions for the refugees.

Having learned about the train from someone who was there, when I saw Matthew Rozell’s book, I had to read it.

A Train Near Magdeburg by Matthew A. Rozell is a fascinating account of both the people on the train and the American soldiers who came across the train as they fought their way through Germany. On April 15, 1945, the 743rd Tank Battalion discovered a long string of freight cars parked on a railroad track. As they came closer to inspect the train they found almost 2,500 Jewish refugees packed inside the filthy cars or hanging around the area near the train.

Rozell started with a project on the Holocaust for the high-school teacher’s students. They set up a website and began interviewing both survivors of the Holocaust and soldiers who had liberated camps. One of those soldiers told of the day his tank battalion came across the train. That soldier connected Rozell to another soldier who had made pictures that day. When the pictures were posted on the school’s website, people from all over the world responded.

The book is the result of all the interviews and research. It is a detailed account of events in April, 1945, and later when Rozell brought many of these people together, both liberated and liberators, in several reunions. The book has several sections. First, the Holocaust section contains interviews with survivors describing their experiences in the German concentration camps. The second section tells about the American soldiers in their own words. Third, the story of the actual liberation. And fourth, the reunions are described by all participants. Finally, Rozell added an Epilogue which tells of the loss of Frank Towers, the last of the liberators and the end of an era. 

Posted in B-17, History, Research, WWII

Two Memoirs of WWII Airmen

Through the COVID pandemic I’ve been reading – a lot. Two books I read were memoirs by WWII flyboys. I thoroughly enjoyed both. They were “From Farm to Flight to Faith” by Bernard O. DeVore and “A Measure of Life” by Herman L. Cranman.

Bernard O. DeVore served as the Flight Engineer on the Picadilly Special, a B-17 Flying Fortress. He flew out of Paddington, England, as part of the 325th Squadron, 92nd Bomb Group, 8th Air Force. For those who have read my previous posts, there were two WWII veterans in my hometown who were also part of the 92nd Bomb Group and flew out of Podington, Tom Brewer and Everett Holly.

Herman L. Cranman served as Bombardier on a Consolidated B-24. He flew with the 376th Bomb Group, part of the 47th Bomb Wing of the 15th Air Force, near San Pancrazio, Italy. After being established in Tunisia in 1943, the 15th Air Force moved into Italy as the Allies advanced from Sicily onto the Italian peninsula.

The two memoirs are very different yet have much in common. Both men wrote about their service later in life. While DeVore kept his story shorter yet consise, Cranman provides lots of details in a much longer book.

As I mentioned DeVore flew in a B-17 bomber while Cranman flew in a B-24. DeVore, as part of the 8th Air Force flew in the same airplane, the Picadilly Special, with the same crew for all his missions. The 15th Air Force, for which Cranman flew, rotated the men between whatever aircraft was available for each mission. Their crews were also not necessarily the same on each flight.

Another difference between the 8th Air Force and the 15th Air Force I learned about from Cranman’s memoir was the way they counted missions. The 8th Air Force originally required each airman to complete 25 missions. This requirement was increased to 30 missions in June 1944 and to 35 missions later. The 15th Air Force required 50 missions, but certain missions counted as two while others counted as only one.

Another important difference between the two stories was that DeVore completed his thirty missions and returned safely to the United States in early 1945. Cranman’s aircraft was shot down over Hungary on July 14, 1944, and he spent the remainder of the war as a Prisoner of War.

Both memoirs included the story of how they met and “courted” the love of their lives. These stories were my favorite parts. DeVore met his love when he and a buddy picked up two girls on the way to the beach near Tampa, Florida, while he was in training. They married before he went overseas. Cranman realized that a girl he’d known since childhood had stolen his heart before she moved away. All through the war and his incarceration he worried that she didn’t love him like he loved her. When he finally got home he discovered that his parents had arranged their engagement on his behalf. So they were married soon after the war.

Do you see why I love reading memoirs? Every one is different, yet so interesting. I highly recommend both these books.

Posted in History, My Novels, Old Movies, Research, WWII

Our Mothers’ War by Emily Yellin

I am always interested in women’s experiences during World War II so I was excited when I found the book “Our Mothers’ War” by Emily Yellin. This book turned out to be the best and most comprehensive book I’ve read on all aspects of women’s participation in helping to win the Second World War.

Yellin covered all the roles we normally think about – from wives and mothers waiting at home to defense workers doing their bit to women in the military. She also included other roles we often forget – like politicians, spies, prostitutes and many more.

In my first novel, Kitty’s War, my heroine joined the Women’s Army Corps and served in England and France. My next novel, A War Apart, which will be available later this year, the heroine worked in a ship yard and then a secret defense plant. In my third novel, the heroine is an Army Nurse. As you can see, I have covered several roles women took on during the war. What others will I choose?

“Our Mother’s War” has given me some ideas for future characters. Examples might include women who worked for the Red Cross, which offered many opportunities. Women worked in canteens providing companionship and dancing partners as well as food and drink. Others volunteered in hospitals helping with the wounded. The Red Cross sent packages to American prisoners of war as well as to soldiers and refugees. Women put these packages together, much like the workers in food banks today. Red Cross workers could volunteer to go overseas where they set up clubs on American bases overseas. Others worked in “club mobiles” which were vehicles equipped to make coffee and donuts and to play American records to troops close to the battlefield.

Another possibility might be a young woman working on her family farm while most of the men were off in the military. In her book, Yellin points out that the United States had their own Women’s Land Army. We’ve heard of the English version, but I didn’t know about the American one until I read Yellin’s book. Women made a sizable dent in the labor shortage on the farm.

You’ve probably seen the movie “A League of their Own.” That’s another way women contributed to the war effort. When men’s baseball couldn’t field a team, women stepped up in parts of the country to provide that athletic entertainment. And speaking of entertainment, women did everything from movies to radio broadcasts to all-girl bands to entertaining the troops in USO shows.

Women were also used as spies both in the United States and abroad. Women were dropped behind enemy lines to help resistance forces. Many others served in the government in various capacities from Congresswomen to code breakers to linguists.

The more we look the more roles we find that women took on. In my writing I lean toward the ordinary women who did extraordinary things, yet remained out of the spotlight. Almost every woman in the country did something to help the war effort.