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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Base Hospital 46 Banquets Here and There, Part I: "It Was As Though We Had Been to the Benson, or the Multnomah, or the Portland [Hotel]"

Another of the First World War reminiscences from Base Hospital 46 nurses in Record Group 112 at the National Archives without a specific author is a wonderful piece titled "Banquets Here and There." Likely written by either Chief Nurse Grace Phelps or her successor Eleanor Donaldson, the memoir of food and commemoration highlights the importance of celebrations in the life of Base Hospital 46 and the importance and rarity of great food.

Banquets, the author notes, are "linked by tradition with large, brilliantly lighted rooms, flowers and music, wonderfully decorated tables scintillating with glass and silver, and -- after a glass or two -- with wit." One thinks of men and women all dressed up, with "'soft footed waiters' in the background."

Contrast that with the picture most Americans on the home front -- engaged in conserving food for the war effort -- must have had of members of the American Expeditionary Force in France, "sitting under a bursting shall consuming "canned Willie" [corned beef, also known as "bully beef"] and hard-tack. Sadly enough, the picture is too often a real one -- lacking only in a few details which the uninitiated could not be expected to picture."

Otis Wight's On Active Service With Base Hospital 46 features a poem titled "My Bully Beef" written by a nurse. It gives us a picture of the bland and monotonous bully beef in the Base Hospital 46 diet, quite a contrast with the two banquets in this feature.

"My Bully Beef," Wight, On Active Service with Base Hospital 46, 182.

But there were banquets at Base Hospital 46 and this memoir details two of them -- one on October 19 and the other for Thanksgiving. 

Lieutenant William G. Sutton of the Sanitary Corps joined Base Hospital 46 in the middle of August and gradually took over all of the food service for the unit. (Wight, On Active Service with Base Hospital 46, 123.) On October 19 he provided a "real banquet" for the nurses, not at all diminished by the sheets used as tablecloths nor the "hob-nailed boots of the members of the personnel who acted as waiters."

The menu for the nurses' banquet attests to Lieutenant Sutton's power to access supplies in addition to his culinary skills:

Lobster Salad
Queen Olives
Consomme Clear
Banana Fritters with Wine Sauce
Breaded Veal Cutlets with Mushrooms
Mashed Potatoes
Cream Sugar Corn
Mince Pie
Cup Cakes
Fresh Grapes
Blanched Almonds
Bread and Butter
Hot Chocolate

"The food, -- Oh! that food," the author of "Banquets Here and There" gushed. "Words utterly fail me."

After the food and speeches, the nurses left the mess "as though we had been to the Benson or the Multnomah or the Portland [Hotel]."

"View of the Arcadian Gardens, Multnomah Hotel,"
Next up -- a Thanksgiving banquet.

"Banquets Here and There," p, 1, 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.