Search This Blog

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.