Around the turn of the century, my grandmother came to a tiny Iowa town to work in the grocery store. We have only a dark photo showing her inside the establishment, but it’s possible to imagine how things went the day my Grandpa, a local would-be farmer, walked in and met her.
With no scrapbooks dating that far back, the details have been left up to our imaginations. Still, the wedding photograph below reflects positivity, especially compared with some stern-faced one from this era. Knowing this couple in their later years, I can picture a not-so-instant falling-in-love.
By the time I hung around their farm as a teen, the opposite aspects of their personalities stood out. Invariably, Grandpa shivered and turned the thermostat up. Grandma promptly turned it down. Just one small but constant action taking place in their everyday lives each winter.
But they agreed on many points. Work hard and whatever you do, do NOT waste a penny. At the end of each long day, go to your rest with hope for the new day coming.
They had worked nonstop to make a life here, having lost a farm during the Great Depression and earned back the land through intense physical labor. Grandma knew work from the age of eleven, when her mother died and she hired out to clean other people’s houses. This couple also produced six children–five girls and my father.
During my youth, these aunts and uncles came ’round for the holidays and brought cousins to play with. By then, this farm family survived World War II as well, with their only son/brother serving four long years. So much for the “only son of a family farmer” exemption.
Across the nation, a similar story played out among family after family. But many of them lost the son or sons and daughters they sent off to war. As Veterans’ Day approached, and Thanksgiving, many an empty place was set at the table.
It’s that time of year. I’m pausing to remember and be grateful for the sacrifices made, and for all the good we enjoy today.
Peggy Ellis join us today with the second edition of her book of stories written by World War II women. So much to learn here! Peggy’s giving away a signed paperback to one commenter (U.S. only). Thanks so much for honoring these women, Peggy!
From 1939 through the end of World War II in 1945, we learned war is not only bombs and battleships, firearms and foxholes. War demands support from people on the home front. That is the basis for Challenges on the Home Front, World War II.
Throughout history, women have held pivotal positions but too often without acknowledgement. This generation of women, through sheer determination, held the family together during the Great Depression and immediately accepted and conquered the challenge to hold their nation together during a devastating world war.
These women refused to revert to their subordinate role at the end of the war. With the support of President Harry Truman, they led the charge for gender equality which led to the equality movement of the 1970s and still affects us today.
From the time Germany and Japan declared war on Europe and the United States until total surrender in 1945, people who had dealt with the difficulties of the worldwide Great Depression now faced more deprivation and uncertainty. Women carried a major burden: the need to maintain their homes and families while taking the places men had formerly occupied in the workforce.
To do this, they had to overcome the centuries-old belief that a woman’s place was only in the home. The term ‘Rosie the Riveter’ originally applied to women working in airplane factories but came to represent various previously all-male workforces.
Challenges offers stories from eight home fronts: Belgium, England, Finland, Germany, The Netherlands, The United States, Wales, and The West Indies. These first-person stories were written by individuals, not based on interviews.
Fifteen-year-old Miss Junior Red Cross Marie cared for wounded soldiers in a veterans’ hospital; at sixteen, Lucy earned silver wings as an official plane spotter; Ann was the first female to join the boilermakers’ union; Ardis taught sailors how to bake. Billie gives us unforgettable poetry. Challenges contains many more stories of women whose efforts still affect our lives today.
I have tremendous respect for a generation of women, my writers’ group helped me meet my dream of giving voice them. We contacted people we knew who had lived in other countries during the war. I emphasize that these individuals wrote their own stories.
I originally prepared this for Women’s History Month, but some entries come from men—I only specified no battle stories. This second edition contains the original, including era photographs and additional stories. On a 2019 cruise, one of the speakers was a British authority on WWII, and my conversations with him enhances this edition.
Perhaps these stories will encourage you to research your family’s experiences during the years when women took on new challenges and proved themselves, indeed, to be “The Greatest Generation” as newsman Tom Brokaw labeled them.
This year, Peggy Lovelace Ellis celebrates fifty years as a writer and freelance editor. She continues both professions. She has published in many nationally-distributed magazines, had a regular column in the RPG Digest, ezine and print for 15 years, and published in the Divine Moments series, Merry Christmas Moments (2017), Christmas Stories (2020), and Broken Moments (2021). For four years, she produced and edited a 15-page monthly periodical for local readership. She compiled and edited three anthologies for her writers’ group: Challenges on the Home Front World War II (Chapel Hill Press, 2004; Second Edition, 2020), Lest the Colors Fade (Righter Books, 2008), and A Beautiful Life and Other Stories (Righter Books, 2010). Each contains her short fiction, memoirs, and research. She also published a book of her own short stories, Silver Shadows, Stories of Life in a Small Town (2021).
Progress–don’t we love it? The unfolding of my Amarylis blossom (Thank you, Karen Currie!) starts ever so slowly, but one day, voila!
Next week, I’ll be in Texas Hill Country on a book tour for LAND THAT I LOVE. Stops include the public libraries in Wimberley, New Braunfels, Boerne, Comfort, Mason, Brady, Kerrville, Bandero, and Junction.
If anyone lives in the area and would like times of the events, please contact your local library or mention this in the comments. I’m grateful for industrious library directors doing the ground work for these talks and for readers hungry for an intriguing, satisfying World War II story.
Looking forward to meeting all of you! And if any of you would be interested in a free e-copy of Land That I Love in order to post a review on Amazon, B&N, GoodReads, etc., please include your e-mail in a comment.
Thanks for your support–I hope your desires for 2022 are off to a good beginning. And here’s the same blossom about two hours after the first photo was taken. PROGRESS!!
Anne Clare visits us today with her latest novel. I’ve read WHERE SHALL I FLEE, and find this heroine especially credible because she seems rather bitter and unlikable at first. There are always reasons for this sort of veil people wear, and Anne did a great job of helping me care for this spunky WWII gal. Of course, her path holds even more difficulties, but cheering for her make-do attitude through them became a joy. Leave a comment for Anne if you’d like a chance to enter her giveaway of one paperback copy (U.S.) or e-book.
There are few times throughout the year when the longing for home and family is stronger than around the holiday season. I’ve lived more than 2,000 miles away from my hometown for nearly 16 years and I still find myself wistfully thinking of crunching across the snowy road to the little country church for the Christmas Eve children’s service, anticipating the after-church treat of a brown paper bag containing peanuts, an orange, an apple, and a bit of candy.
However, I’ve had the blessing of creating Christmas traditions with my own family in the comfort of our home. How much stronger must have been the holiday longings of the U.S. military personnel serving overseas during the long years of the Second World War—far from home with no certainty of when, or if, they’d be able to return.
There are many stories from those years of ways people tried to keep Christmas. Stories of soldiers throwing parties for local children and orphans. Stories of turkey and the trimmings served up in mess kits. Stories of POWs combining what goods they had to create some semblance of a celebration.
Today, Gail has kindly invited me over to share just a few of the stories from the United States’ four Christmases at war.
Christmas of 1941 found America still reeling after the December 7thattacks on Pearl Harbor. War had come to the United States.
Pearl Harbor was not the only location to be attacked. While thousands of Americans enlisted in the military and began looking for ways to help on the Homefront, others were facing the realities of war head-on.
Wake Island was assaulted on December 8th, but the small band of defenders—449 Marines along with some Navy personnel, radio operators, and civilians—had held off the Japanese invaders. On December 23rd, however, their resistance was crushed. The survivors would spend Christmas 1941 as prisoners of war.
On the Philippine island of Luzon, American and Filippino troops had been engaged in their own struggle against invading Japanese forces. On December 23rd, General MacArthur made the decision to have these troops pull back and move their defense down onto the Bataan peninsula.
Lieutenant Frances L. Nash, a U.S. Army Nurse who had been stationed in the Philippines, spent her Christmas Eve and Christmas Day continuing to serve in the surgery and destroying documents. On Christmas night, she and the other surgical staff were loaded on small ships and evacuated across Manilla Bay to the light of burning ships and buildings. On May 6th, the American forces in the Philippines would finally surrender, and Nash, the other nurses she served with, and thousands of troops would spend the next three Christmases as POWs.
Though the Philippines had been lost, the war in the Pacific theater raged on. By Christmas of 1942, American troops faced off against Japanese troops in New Guinea and struggled for the island of Guadalcanal.
In November the Allies had stormed North Africa in a move dubbed Operation Torch. By Christmas they’d made progress, but home was still very far away. The nurses in the Army hospital at Arzew tried to make the holiday memorable for their patients. The Red Cross helped to provide gifts which the nurses supplemented with homemade candy. They decorated the wards using ornaments cut out from old plasma cans, hand-painted holly and candles, and an evergreen tree decorated with tinfoil from the X-ray department. Worship services brought the Christmas spirit to young men and women far from home.
Not all of the troops who served were on the front lines for Christmas. According to the National WWII Museum, over 500,000 U.S. personnel celebrated their 1943 Christmas Day in England. Even without the imminent threat of an attack, Christmas away from home was difficult.
“On Christmas Day, Captain George Nabb Jr., of the 115th Infantry Regiment wrote home to his wife and young son that “it doesn’t seem like Xmas in the least. We do have the day off and have had an excellent turkey dinner.” (Bamford, 2019.)
War still raged in the Pacific, and the Allies had opened a new front in the Mediterranean, crossing over into Italy in September of 1943. The slog up and down the cold, muddy mountains was difficult for soldiers and support staff alike. However, the nurses once again worked to make the holidays festive. The 95thEvacuation hospital, serving casualties from the fighting around Monte Cassino, decorated their wards with strung up rubber gloves, colored penicillin bottles dipped in Epsom salts for “frost,” and tin stars, while “Santa” circulated, passing out gifts to the patients.
In spite of primitive cooking conditions, the nurses even managed to make homemade fudge to share. Candy making in a war zone was no easy task. Nurse Claudine “Speedy” Glidewell shared her recollections of the process in the excellent book And If I Perish: Frontline U.S. Army Nurses in WWII.
“When there was an air raid or a shelling, she and her tentmates would jump into the foxholes they had dug under their cots. They kept a suitcase nearby and pulled it over the opening of their foxholes to stop or slow down any shrapnel that might come their way. If anyone had to get out of her foxhole for any reason during the air raid or shelling, the other nurses would holler, “Stir the fudge!”” (Monahan 228)**
After the successful “D-Day” Allied landings in Normany on 6 June 1944, hopes of a speedy end to the war ran high. Perhaps, some thought, the troops might even be home for Christmas.
However, the war in the Pacific went on, and fighting across Europe was fierce and long. Then, just before Christmas of 1944, Germany launched one last great offensive.
On December 16th, the German army pushed hard against the thin American lines spread out through the Ardennes forest. This attempt to split the Allied forces created such a dent in the American lines that it became known as “The Battle of the Bulge.”
Freezing temperatures and brutal fighting—including at least one incident of SS troops killing captured American soldiers—turned December of 1944 into a nightmarish struggle.
Once again, the staff of the hospitals were a key part in providing some Christmas cheer to the wounded who visited them. The 128thEvacuation Hospital set up in Verviers where V-1 rockets sailed overhead with the tell-tale “buzz” of their motors. Hearing the motor was a good sign—when it stopped, one knew that the bomb was about to fall.
“At 0800 Christmas Day, the 128thEvac officially opened to receive casualties. One hundred eighty-three wounded and ill soldiers were brought in that day…Patients and staff sang Christmas carols together, shared the Christmas meal, participated in a mass, and exchanged small gifts mostly created from personal items donated by the nurses.” (Monahan 421) **
The Battle of the Bulge would not end for another full month. The Allies would not declare victory in Europe until May 8th. After that, the war in the Pacific would drag on until August, with Japan signing the official surrender documents on September 2nd.
However, though there would still be struggles ahead and terrible losses, by Christmas of 1945, America, though still rebuilding, and though still waiting for some of its men and women to come home, could say that at last it was celebrating a Christmas at peace.
****Monahan, Evelyn and Neidel-Greenlee, Rosemary. And If I Perish: Frontline U.S. Army Nurses in WWII. New York. Alfred A. Knof, 2003. Print.
New Book Blurb:
When she had signed up, she’d thought she was ready. Ready for a combat zone. Ready to prove that she could be brave. The sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, stronger and longer lasting than any bout of seasickness, foreboded that maybe she had been wrong.
Lieutenant Jean Hoff of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps and infantryman Corporal George Novak have never met, but they have three things in common.
They are both driven by a past they’d rather leave behind.
They have both been sent to the embattled beachhead of Anzio, Italy.
And when they both wind up on the wrong side of the German lines, they must choose whether to resign themselves to captivity or risk a dangerous escape.
Where Shall I Flee? follows their journey through the dangers of World War II Italy, where faith vies with fear and forgiveness may be necessary for survival.
Sometimes a the most humble of objects can be used to great advantage. This proved true during WWII when kapok became unavailable to stuff the U.S. Navy’s life vests. Thinking outside the box led to using milkweed floss for this purpose.
Across the Midwest, counties launched campaigns for schools to compete for the most floss picked. I have met some of former students who vividly recall school letting out so they could scavenge the fields and ditches for this valuable white stuff.
A couple of years ago, with milkweed becoming scarce, I stopped along the road so our granddaughter could enjoy the feel of this fine, shiny floss.
Of course, we discussed the need for more milkweed for our monarchs, and the unique role its floss played during World War II. History lies right around us every day!
In August 1945, the world was lifting its head in hope, like this sunflower. We’ve been waiting all summer for the tightly closed blossom to open and shed its brightness on a corner of our property.
Over the past few days, the plant has shown signs of being the bright spot we expected. But in ’45, our nation had been at war four long years. Over 400,000 American GIs had sacrificed their lives, and at least 75,000,000 people had perished worldwide. Seventy-five MILLION!
It’s difficult to imagine the scope of the devastation, impossible to comprehend the gargantuan changes this war caused. But in August of 1945, the U.S. Navy was preparing to receive the formal Japanese surrender on board the USS Missouri. September second in Tokyo Bay–V-J Day.
The war truly had come to an end. What a riotous celebration occurred that day all around the world, profound loss mixed with tears of relief.
In a few days, our blossom will be fuller, more complete. But sometimes it’s good to think about preludes to a culmination. Last night I completed my latest novel, about a British citizen who emigrated to Texas Hill Country before World War II. Seeing the war through his eyes as his homeland suffered so much gave me fresh insights.
Always more to learn about this rich, intriguing era!
Throughout World War II, hundred of thousands of families awaited letters from their loved ones. Theirs was not a pandemic with social distancing…many of their sons, brothers, husbands, and dear friends were so much further removed.
This random sampling from a host of letters saved by a woman who eagerly kept watch on her mailbox gives an idea of the way an Iowa soldier moved around. Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, Olympia, Washington, and in 1945, the generic U.S. Army A.P.0. That postmark might have meant almost any location, but in ’45, possibly Japan, where fierce battles still raged.
And so, with no alternative loving hearts waited and prayed.
Letters play a significant role in my novels, not necessarily by plan or forethought. But as characters’ lives have developed, written correspondence with paper and ink were so much a part of life in those fretful days. Letters arrived and replies were sent. The process took weeks or even months, and many of the messages were censored. That’s just the way it was.
For those who have missed out on the joy of receiving a handwritten missal, the importance of letter-writing may be difficult to imagine. That’s a part of entering into the Greatest Generation’s daily lives, fears, hopes and joys.
Daisies offer cheer–their bright faces touch our hearts. These gorgeous specimens greet us when we look out a certain window or spend time in our back yard. But I had no idea of the significance of daisies during World War II until today.
When Nazi forces occupied her country, Her Royal Highness Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands found refuge in England. At the time the Nazis invaded, daisies were blooming in Holland. As a reminder of Holland’s resistance to the occupation, the Queen encouraged Dutch refugees to wear daisies (margriets in Dutch) on their lapels.
On January 19, 1943, when Queen Wilhelmina’s only child, Crown Princess Juliana, delivered her third child in Ottawa, Canada, she named the infant Princess Margriet. The Canadian Government passed a law declaring the Princess’s hospital room international territory, allowing the tiny princess, the first royal child ever born in North America, to inherit her mother’s full Dutch citizenship.
This new baby became a symbol of hope and inspiration for the Dutch people, many of whom faced starvation in the long months before their liberation, accomplished through the sacrifice of Canadian troops.
July brings so much beauty. We’ve been enjoying all the colors of the spectrum in our courtyard garden.
Hollyhocks’ velvety petals woo us to their side of the garden.
Tomatoes drip after a sudden shower.
And something we’d rather not see. Potato bugs, gnawing an incredible amount of leaves. We’ve picked them off, smashed them, and applied de-bugging powder. We’ve sprayed on some nasty stuff guaranteed to rid the poor potato plants of these varmints.
But underneath some leaves, there’s another color: orange. It’s potato bug eggs. ARGH!
Masses of them, and out of focus, but you get the idea. Will we ever win this war? This one is nothing at all compared to the war I research, fought back in the forties. Women working in the Women’s Land Army, though, may have battled insects like these.
At this point, I have my doubts we’ll win our little battle. But that’s July…not everything is roses. Still, the world is definitely full of color!
After my last post, Janet Estridge wrote to tell me that about ten year ago, she and her husband toured the USS Alabama. In the gift shop, they met Colonel Glenn Frazier, a soldier on the Bataan Death March back in 1942.
On the cover with his fellow soldiers, he’s the only man wearing black trousers. He told Janet that when they rousted them out of bed he grabbed the trousers closest to him–everybody else wore brown.
Janet wrote, “When I saw your article I just had to tell you what happened to me.” I’m really grateful she took the time–it’s great to learn another tidbit about the war.
Colonel Frazier died in 2017–what an honor to meet someone taken captive in Bataan in April of 1942. Survivors of the enemy camps were liberated in January of 1945, and came home to recuperate. Some lived “normal” lives, but surely their terrible ordeal never left their minds.
We owe them such a debt of gratitude. My father-in-law was eighteen during the liberation, and like most WWII veterans, he rarely spoke about his role in the Raid on Cabanatuan prison camp until later in life. I’m glad his story surfaced during the last years of his life, and that he was able to hear “Thank you for your service.”
If you know a World War II veteran, I hope you make the most of the opportunity to chat with them. My desire is that readers of All For the Cause will experience deepening respect and appreciation for all who sacrificed.