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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Anne Schneider, R.N., Part III: "It Was Much Easier to Be Busily Engaged With One's Mind on One's Patient Than To Lie Quietly in Bed Trying to Figure Our Just Where The Next Bomb Was Going to Land"

This post highlights the third section of Anne Schneider's reminiscence of her service with Mobile Surgical Team #77, part of her work as a nurse with Oregon's Base Hospital 46 in France in the First World War. Mobile surgical teams provided skilled medical personnel to battlefield hospitals and rear areas for triage and emergency operations. Staff traveled where needed, often staying a day or two in each area. Team #77 went to the area of Chateau Thierry, where Allied offensives raged throughout the summer and her time there from July 19 to August 19, 1918.

In the first two sections of her memoir, Schneider contrasted the beauty of the French countryside and the chateau at Pierrefonds with the destruction of war and described a bombing raid.

In this third section Schneider provided more detail about her nursing work with her specialty in anesthesia. The morning after the bombing raid she was the only nurse on duty and had charge of a post operative ward. "This was one of two such wards where patients were kept until out of anesthetic and then sent on to evacuation or base hospitals." Scottish soldiers were there, she noted, wounded the night before in the German bombing she had described.

En route to their next assignment, Schneider and the surgical team tried to find a hotel with a bath, but found that baths were only possible on the weekends. "We were simply out of luck," she recalled. "But we did enjoy a wonderful sleep in the best bed that was ever made."

Schneider and her colleagues worked at Verdelot with Field Hospital 27 and then drove to a deserted chateau near Chateau Thierry, the scene of tremendous destruction from a battle on July 18, 1918, just weeks before Schneider's arrival.

"July 29 found us again on the move, this time in the direction of Chateau Thierry, where we made our home in a deserted chateau with spacious grounds. Team 77 to which I belonged was placed on night work for which I will always be grateful, for our stay was destined to be a lively one. Early in the game I discovered that it was much easier to be busily engaged with one's mind on one's patient than to lie quietly in bed trying to figure out just where the next bomb was going to land."

The nurses became adept at getting to basement shelters, a far cry from Schneider's first experience with a bombing raid where she felt paralyzed and "glued to the spot." "The nurses sleeping quarters were on the attic floor of this chateau," she wrote, "and the way we came down the long winding stairway at the call 'to the basement' beat any crack player I have ever seen putting over the deciding run in the last half of the ninth inning for speed."

Schneider described the Chateau Thierry area in the aftermath of the horrible days of battle. "Here, during our leisure hours we explored the surrounding country, vising the dugouts so recently occupied by the enemy, made comfortable by the looting of the homes of Chateau Thierry. Crossing the river on the pontoon bridges thrown across by our brave engineers in the bitter struggle across the Marne, climbing Hill No. 204 with its countless shell holes, stopping by the way to examine a broken plane resting by [the] grave of its fallen hero, viewing from its heights the beautiful valley of the Marne, at its base, the utter destruction and ruin of a once thriving city. Through Belleau Wood where hardly a tree remains unscarred, through many a valley where no stone remained unturned and back through the poppy fields of France in all glory of their brilliant hues."

Following the war the United States constructed this monument at Hill 204 to commemorate the battle, near the American cemetery at Belleau Wood.
 Anne E. Schneider, Base Hospital 46, Reserve Nurse, "Answering the Call of the Wounded: Bazoilles-sur-Meus to Soisson,"pp. 3-4, Box 9, Base Hospitals, World War I, Historical Records of the Army Nurses Corps Historical Data File, 1898-1947, Entry 10, Record Group 112, Records of the Office of Surgeon General [Army], National Archives, College Park, Maryland.

Schneider's voice adds much to our understanding of the experience of Oregon women with Base Hospital 46 in France during World War I. Fortunately, the Base Hospital collection holds other treasures that I'll share across the next posts here.

I've posted the complete text of Anne Schneider's "Answering the Call of the Wounded" on the page on this blog "The Women of Base Hospital 46 in the First World War"

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Anne Schneider, R.N. Part II: "About the Yard Were Numerous Patients Lying on Litters, As They Came From the Field of Battle"

This post continues the previous post about Oregon Base Hospital 46 nurse Anne Schneider's reminiscences of her service in France in World War I with Mobile Surgical Team #77 in the summer of 1918 from Record Group 112 at the National Archives in College Park.

In this second section of her reminiscence Schneider described points on her journey to work with Field Hospital #12 and her temporary service there. Schneider contrasted the beauty of the landscape with the violence of war. And she wrote in vivid detail of her closeness to the battle and to its dangers and of her purposeful work helping the wounded.

The group reached Lizy and found it "closed and deserted." After breakfast they took a step that emphasized their proximity to the fighting: "we next stopped at a nearby supply house and each was fitted to a helmet and gas mask (now being in the danger zone). Out in the fields we could see the trenches and masses of entangled barb wire."

Near the town of Crépy Schneider described the destruction she observed: "Hardly a house was left in this ancient city; its churches and public buildings lay scattered about its streets in heaps of ruins; its inhabitants had long since fled to places of safety; a few of its streets were kept open to the traffic of war." The scenes of war had a direct impact on Schneider. She wrote: "While waiting we saw ambulance after ambulance carrying their precious load of wounded to the rear. Here we realized that we were really needed which made us impatient to be on our way."

Their first duty post was with Field Hospital #12 at Pierrefonds. Schneider described the imposing chateau that anchored the city. It was a structure made for defense, connecting medieval warfare with her own conflict: towers, a moat, parapets, battlements that had been used to drop "hot oil, stones and burning tar upon the enemies who attempted to approach the castle." This image of Pierrefonds today gives us some sense of her awe.
"Besides the walls of this castle, we set up our surgery in a tent just two weeks after our departure from the U.S.A." Schneider wrote. "Several teams had preceded us and were busy in an adjoining building. All about the yard were numerous patients lying on litters, as they came from the field of battle, and awaiting their turn to be taken to the X-Ray and Surgery. If we were tired and sleepy from our long journey, it was forgotten through the night, as we labored and listened to the tales of these heroes."

Later that night Schneider was reassigned to take charge of a post operative ward the next morning and left the surgery for a brief rest.

"Leaving the surgery my pathway [led] in and out among a hundred litters, stopping a moment here and there to light a cigarette or tuck into the corner of a blanket just so, I soon found myself at the entrance of my billet. Hesitating a moment as I looked about, I heard the dim sound of a distant motor. I saw great numbers of Scottish troops going in to relieve the First Division. The moon was with us again, only brighter, and more wonderful than ever. Above me stood this magnificent chateau, about it the trees of a century, just below a pretty lake reflecting it all. Then my thoughts went back to those litters and reluctantly, I climbed the stairway, entering my room. I threw off my coat and stood beside the window as I unfastened my watch and reached to lay it upon the table -- Bang, the earth trembled and re-echoed with an awful roar; the glass in that window lay broken at my feet. The tiled roofing in a mad scramble forever parted from its ancient supports; my watch never reached the table, but I knew my heart must have dropped to the basement and with it every bit of human intelligence I may have possessed."

Schneider recalled feeling "paralyzed as if glued to the spot," as she connected the explosion with the German planes she heard overhead. (She referred to the Germans as "Fritz" here and in other parts of the memoir.) Someone called her to the wine cellar for safety to wait out the bombing. "After a time things quieted and we ventured back to bed."

Anne E. Schneider, "Answering the Call of the Wounded: Bazoilles-sur-Meus to Soisson,"pp. 2-3, Box 9, Base Hospitals, World War I, Historical Records of the Army Nurses Corps Historical Data File, 1898-1947, Entry 10, Record Group 112, Records of the Office of Surgeon General [Army], National Archives, College Park, Maryland.

The third and final section of Anne Schneider's Base Hospital 46 reminiscence will be in the next post.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Anne Schneider, R.N. Part I: "The Roads Were Filled With the Tremendous Business of War"

Sometime after the World War Julia Stimson, Superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps, collected reminiscences from nurses who served at Base Hospitals during the conflict. They are now preserved among the records of the Army Nurse Corps at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland in Record Group 112.

Fortunately for us, the files contain a number of reminiscences and poems by nurses from Base Hospital 46. Some of these are included in Otis Wight et al, On Active Service with Base Hospital 46 but there are a good number that were not part of that volume, enabling us to expand our understanding of the experiences of the women of Base Hospital 46 and to preserve their voices.

Anne E. Schneider, R.N.
Grace Phelps Papers, Box 3, Binder 5, Base Hospital 46 Staff Files, Historical Collections & Archives, Oregon Health & Science University. Courtesy Historical Collections & Archives, OHSU.

Portland nurse Anne Schneider was one of the authors. From the Grace Phelps Papers at the Historical Collections & Archives at the Oregon Health & Science University we learn that Schneider was born in Portland in 1877 and was a 1907 graduate of the Providence Hospital Training School for Nurses in Oakland, California. Before the war she worked as a private duty nurse and as an anesthetist.

Portland newspapers let us know that Schneider worked with volunteer medical teams that provided needed surgeries in the community.
"29 Operations Performed," Oregonian, May 15, 1917,  4.
In May, 1917 Schneider was one of the anesthetists on a volunteer medical team that performed 29 operations at the Oregon School for the Deaf in Salem to remove tonsils and adenoids. She did similar work at the St. Mary's Orphanage in Beaverton that September.

"Orphans Are Treated," Oregonian, September 5, 1917, 13.
 A year later, Schneider found herself on another traveling medical team, this one near the war front in France. On her third day at Base Hospital 46 in Bazoilles-sur-Meuse, supervisors assigned her to work with Mobile Surgical Team #77 near the fighting front. She was with the team from July 19 to August 19, 1918. Schneider wrote about her experiences in "Answering the Call of the Wounded: Bazoilles-sur-Meus to Soisson," part of the Base Hospitals of World War I collection at the National Archives.

The first part of her reminiscence tells us about the shock of receiving the new assignment even before her baggage had arrived, the task of cobbling supplies together, and then riding "up on the back of a five passenger car, one of twelve machines" in a convoy traveling to a field hospital close to the front.

It was also her first direct experience with the chaos of war. She contrasted the "tranquil scenes" in the villages she passed "where the fields were yellow and golden with the ripening grain" with the confusion of an air raid near the city of Joinville. "Out of their homes came the frightened people running hither and thither, children crying and screaming as they clung to their elders, seeking a place of shelter from these vultures of the sky, bent on their errands of misery and destruction."

Schneider provided a vivid image of the crowded and hectic route toward the battlefields: "The roads were filled with the tremendous business of war, an endless chain of motor trucks, automobiles, motorcycles with side cars and without, all with a single purpose, bent on fulfilling their bit." They regrouped after a pile-up left only six of their cars "fit for service," and drove around in the dark, lost in unfamiliar territory. "It seemed as if we were always going straight ahead and yet sometimes found ourselves running about the town in circles," she wrote, and they eventually found their way back to the road.

Anne E. Schneider, "Answering the Call of the Wounded: Bazoilles-sur-Meus to Soisson," pp. 1-2, Box 9, Base Hospitals, World War I, Historical Records of the Army Nurses Corps Historical Data File, 1898-1947, Entry 10, Record Group 112, Records of the Office of Surgeon General [Army], National Archives, College Park, Maryland.
More from Anne Schneider's reminiscence of her work with Mobile Surgical Team #77 in the summer of 1918 in the next post.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

More Letters Home from Base Hospital 46's Grace Phelps: "Many of the Nurses Have Kept Themselves 'Broke' by Getting These Things For the Boys"

Another letter home from Base Hospital 46 in Bazoilles-sur-Meuse, this one from Chief Nurse Grace Phelps published in the Oregonian on December 8, 1918.

Phelps was writing to thank Viola Orthchild, president of the active reform and civic group the Portland Grade Teachers' Association. The group sent $50 to the Base Hospital 46 nurses in France.

"Portland Teachers' Money Helps Nurses Paper Rooms," Oregonian, December 8, 1918, Section 3, 8.
Phelps turned a thank you note into a valuable historical account of Base Hospital 46 life.

"We added the $50 which you sent to a little fund which we have, and bought paper with which to paper one room in each of the four barracks occupied by the nurses.

"In this room we have a good coal stove. A fire is kept all day long. This little sitting room is used by the nurses when off duty--we have no stoves in our rooms (three nurses to a room). Besides the one coal stove in each barracks, we have funny drum-like stoves for wood--three. These rooms we have fixed up as bath rooms. Don't think we have real bath tubs. Our tubs are tin basins, bought at a nearby town.

"In supplying patients with fresh fruit, many of the nurses have kept themselves 'broke' by getting these things for the boys. It is the greatest fortune to be able to take care of these good boys of ours and when we can get something a little 'extra' for them they appreciate it so much, especially after having been without a variety, to say nothing of being without any food for days. You should hear some of the conversations about what they are going to ask their mothers, wives, or sisters to cook for them when they get back to 'The Good Old U.S.A.' I really believe people had better begin to hoard their chocolate as I am sure none of them will turn down chocolate cake."

Monday, February 9, 2015

Georgia Morse, R.N. Writes Home from Base Hospital 46 in France: "It Is No Party Uncle Sam Has Invited Us To Attend"

The Oregonian published a letter home from another World War I Base Hospital 46 Nurse, Georgia Morse, R.N., in December 1918. We can now add her voice to the story of the unit.

Georgia Morse, R.N.
Grace Phelps Papers, Box 3, Binder 5, Base Hospital 46 Staff Files, Historical Collections & Archives, Oregon Health & Science University. Courtesy Historical Collections & Archives, OHSU.

From the Grace Phelps Papers files at the Historical Collections & Archives at OHSU and other newspaper coverage we learn that Morse was a 1901 graduate of the Lakeside Hospital Training School for Nurses in Cleveland, Ohio and worked at the New York Infant Asylum before coming to Portland to supervise the Waverly Baby Home in Portland.

"Crooning of 68 Babies Welcomes Visitor at Baby Home," Oregonian, September 21, 1913, Section 5, 12.
The author of this 1913 Oregonian article on the Waverly Home, society and women's reporter Edith Knight Holmes, noted: "Miss Georgia Morse, superintendent of the home, is a remarkable young woman, with a fund of gentleness, firmness, patience, ability, and good sense. She is a graduate of Lakeside Hospital, Cleveland, and has been with the baby home for several years. She always seems to know how to meet a difficulty and her fund of ideas seems never to diminish."

"Society -- Friends of Miss Georgia Morse," Oregonian, August 6, 1916, Section 3, 4.
Morse left the Baby Home in the summer of 1916, and the Oregonian reported that she was part of a medical team at the institution "who inaugurated the methods of feeding, that the high rate of health was maintained."

Georgia Morse's letter home, published in the Oregonian on December 22, 1918, adds detail to the information we have in Otis Wight et al., On Active Service with Base Hospital 46 (1920) and from Evelyn Hill's description of the crossing. She also provides rich detail about food and living conditions with the unit.

"Strenuous is Work of Portland Nurse," Oregonian, December 22, 1918, Section 1, 16.
Morse began her letter with a description of the Atlantic crossing. "We came over on one of the largest English liners, without a convoy, only taking six days to cross. The trip was quite uneventful, as every precaution was taken for our safety. We slept continuously with life belts on -- what sleeping we did, and traveled at night in total darkness. No lights were allowed in staterooms and not even cigars or flashlights on the decks. I was not the least bit sick, but I would not like to cross again under military sailings."

The Maine Maritime Museum website has an image of what the life belt Base Hospital 46 personnel used may have looked like. It makes sense to see why Morse called this a "life belt" rather than our more familiar life jackets. The cotton covered sections had cork inside for buoyancy.

Maine Maritime Museum, "No. 17, Fashions That Float: Jackets of Life and Other Buoyancies,"
Morse continued her report: "We landed in Liverpool in July and had the pleasure of crossing England, the English Channel into France, and nearly across France. We were met at 9 o'clock one night, after two days and nights of sitting up in a day coach, with only such rations issued to us as hardtack, canned salmon and beans by our own Oregon doctors and corps boys. I don't know which was the most pleasant -- the boys to see us, or me to see our men. They had come three weeks before us and later treated us to a good steak dinner.

"It is very hard to get food anywhere in England. Ration cards are used. In France we can buy food in the restaurants at certain hours and then we have to take our white bread with us.

"Our camp is in a wonderful location in a beautiful valley, with a river winding in and out. Surrounding the camp are hills covered with dense foliage, making a perfect camouflage for aircraft.

"Our base is one of several here and we consider ourselves so much more fortunate than some of the units which remained in England, or even at the coast. We have been near enough to the line of activities to have made it quite interesting at times. Up to the last week or 10 days we did not take time to eat or sleep, for we were working 14 or 15 hours a day."

Morse referred here to the Meuse-Argonne offensive, a six-week battle that resulted in many casualties before the Armistice on November 11, 1918. Her letter had to pass through a censor, and so she could not give specific details.

She concluded her letter with rich details about her difficult living conditions and more comments about food. "Conditions over here have not been as pleasant as some of the people in the United States might think. Our quarters are boarded up barracks with paraffin on wire screens for windows. The cracks let in plenty of air through the floor, walls, and ceilings. We have no running water and no sewerage. The weather has been cold, even in August. Wood and coal are both scarce, as is water, which we can use only when we have permission.

"Food is fair. No fruits except dried prunes, apricots and apples; no desserts; butter once a day; no fresh milk; brown sugar and all vegetables canned, even potatoes, so when you are sacrificing in the States and the collection basket is passed for those overseas, remember that it is no party Uncle Sam has invited us to attend. There are thousands of us over here to feed. The French boys have been at war so long few are left to attend to the crops except the old men and the women, so you see everything we need must be sent from the United States. We have had considerable sickness. One nurse died and three had to be returned. This Spanish Influenza certainly has done its deadly work over here.

"I am so glad that I could come over and be of service and the boys do so appreciate the American nurses."

One of the advantages of having a letter written close to the time Morse had these experiences is that it may reflect those experiences more directly, less so than a memoir or interview later after the fact. Georgia Morse was direct in her descriptions of poor food, and it is interesting to note that one of her accomplishments was in the field of nutrition at the Waverly Baby Home. The editors of the Oregonian and some readers may also have seen her comments as positive propaganda at a time when the U.S. Food Administration admonished all consumers, and particularly women as household mangers, to conserve food.
"Be Patriotic: Sign Your Country's Pledge to Save the Food," U.S. Food Administration, 1918. United States National Archives.

"Eat More Corn, Oats, and Rye Products," U.S. Food Administration, 1918. United States National Archives.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Evelyn Hill: "We Are Living In An Inspiring Uncertainty"

During the First World War newspaper editors were interested in publishing "local interest" stories with war service news. The Oregonian periodically featured a section reprinting letters from Oregonians in war service sent home to family and friends. Happily, several letters home featured women from Base Hospital 46. They expand our understanding of their story and add their voices to the history of the unit.

Evelyn Hill, R.N.
  Grace Phelps Papers, Box 3, Binder 5, Base Hospital 46 Staff Files, Historical Collections & Archives, Oregon Health & Science University. Courtesy Historical Collections & Archives, OHSU.
Base Hospital 46 Nurse Evelyn Hill wrote to her family about her shipboard experiences -- both routine and unusual -- on the voyage to France in July 1918. The 105 Base Hospital 46 nurses and civilian staff members sailed separately and a few weeks later than the men of the unit. They made the crossing on a British transport ship the Aquitania and arrived in Bazoilles sur Meuse on July 19. (Wight, On Active Service, 56, 58). (I've posted the complete roster of female staff members linked at the upper right for your reference.)

"Portland Girl Assists in Coaling Steamer," Oregonian, August 11, 1918, Section 2, p. 4.
Here's a transcript, with a minor correction to the news copy error:

"One day we were taken over the entire ship by the second officer and we even helped coal the steamer -- for a couple of minutes. It almost broke our heart to see the lads stoking in the engine room, but they do not mind the heat, replying to our inquiry, 'oh, you get used to it.' Last night we had a beautiful concert and a collection was taken up for the widows and orphans of the men lost at sea. Everyone was very liberal. I felt like giving my last cent, but we had to keep a little for future emergencies.

"We have a boat drill each day, when we all rush madly to our own boat. Afterward we have a band concert and tea served in the music room at 4 P.M. In the evening we usually have a sing in the officers' smoking room.

"I can hardly wait for the day when I go on duty again. We are living in an inspiring uncertainty -- you never feel tired, yet, I go to bed and sleep like a baby. Our beds are very comfortable and our food is exceptionally good -- much better, in fact, that in the metropolis of our own United States. But these letters should not be too long for the sake of the poor censor. I saw him wading through some lengthy epistles this morning and he did not not look altogether pleased."

I'm struck by her words "we are living in an inspiring uncertainty." To me they convey her hopes for useful wartime service combined with all she did not know but hoped to discover. Her words symbolize so much of the anticipation Hill and her colleagues may have shared in the months before their arrival in France. It would be so powerful to have more of her ideas and impressions, particularly after the hard realities of hospital wartime service.

Thanks to the staff files and service records in the Grace Phelps Papers housed at the Historical Collections & Archives at Oregon Health & Science University, we know a bit about Evelyn Hill. She was born in South Dakota in 1884, graduated from the Bishop Clarkson Hospital Training School for Nurses in Omaha, Nebraska in 1905. She came to Portland in 1909 and worked in private duty nursing with patients in their homes. After Base Hospital 46 was disbanded at the end of January 1919 she served with the army of occupation and returned home, discharged from the Army Nurse Corps, in October 1919.

The Portland City Directory and the 1920 census help us round out Evelyn's family story, with help from the 1932 East Morrison Street the Oregonian reported above. Before her departure and on her return Evelyn lived with her mother Kate, a nurse and widow of Justus E, Hill, and her sister Mae, a stenographer for the law firm of Teal, Minor and Winfree.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Civilians Connecting with Base Hospital 46 Nurses: Gifts for the Travelers

As we've seen in previous posts, Base Hospital 46 personnel from Oregon in the First World War had large sums of money to raise. In addition to personal fundraising, local branches of the Red Cross and the fraternal organization the Elks helped to raise the necessary funds. Grace Phelps noted that the Red Cross also helped individual nurses purchase uniforms and equipment.

Several newspaper articles let us know that civilians were anxious to connect with Base Hospital 46 by furnishing particular items they believed they would need for their voyage to France and service there.

"Nurses to Mobilize Soon, Oregonian, January 18, 1918, 11.

In this January 1918 article we see that sisters Anne and E. L. Lang of The Dalles, Oregon sent 100 "comfort pillows" for the nurses. They seem like our own beloved travel pillows, don't they? "12 inches long and six inches wide, with a comfortable cover in dark blue, and arranged so that it could easily be changed [read wash!]" I would love to hear from anyone who knows about Mary Varney Lang, the woman in whose memory the sisters sent the pillows.

"Sweaters Gift to Nurses," Oregonian, July 13, 1918 4.
We learn from this Oregonian article that the Portland chapter of the Red Cross furnished a sweater to all of the nurses of Base Hospital 46. Given the emphasis on knitting for the war effort, it's likely that these were all hand made.

I'll have at least one future post about an additional gift to the Base Hospital 46 women -- this time curtains for their commons area at the base. And Grace Phelps, to our great fortune, chose to write the donor about what she could see beyond the curtains and in the commons.