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 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.