Books by and about WWII Nurses

Looking for info about your grandmother, or aunt, or father who went overseas with a hospital unit in WWII?
Many books have been published by the military members who were there, or the families who come upon a collection of letters written in the 1940s. That is how my book, No Time For Fear, was begun.
The letters my aunt wrote, and her family saved, tell a lot about the people she lived with in tents, sloshed with through the mud in chow lines, and spent months with in France and Japan. For instance, anyone who wants to know about members of the 166th Station Hospital can learn from the letters and interviews in my book. You will read about the atmosphere, hardships, and feelings expressed in that chapter. The other chapters lead the reader all over the world, in hospital ships, evacuation planes, and POW camps.

The above is the link for the booklist in this blog.
Nurses are the focus of my book collection, but the corpsmen, doctors, and the many others who were important members of these medical units will have similar experiences. Each book has some references to the content. Often the title will tell what unit or location the group was in.  I have had requests for info about someone who was with a particular hospital unit, or in France or New Guinea, and these places are noted for each title.
Many of the books are out-of-print but your local or university library can find them through the Interlibrary Loan Dept. They also can be found online from Used Book Dealers, including I usually get the book from the library first to see if it is informative before buying it.
When looking for a particular unit, or ship, or name, I try to search online, usually adding “WWII”. Most of the info I have needed will come through a link that way. I am happy to try to help locate information as well.
Thank you, dear readers, for being interested in these wonderful people.










Civilian POW Nurse Returns As Army Nurse

This is a unique memoir told by a U.S. Army nurse who returned to the Philippines in 1945 after being imprisoned there at the beginning of the war as a civilian with her family.
(Excerpt from the book jacket): “Born and reared in Shanghai, Dorothy Davis Thompson was the daughter of an American businessman. In 1937 she left Shanghai to attend nursing school in New York. Shortly thereafter, the Japanese invaded China, and her family fled to the Philippines. Graduating from Columbia University, she rejoined her family in Manila. Manila fell to the Japanese New Year’s Day, 1942. Thompson and her family were taken prisoners and interned in nearby Santo Tomas. Putting her nursing skills to the test, Dorothy managed to establish a hospital in the camp. Twenty-two months later she herself was ill enough to be released with her mother in a prisoner exchange.”
When in the U.S., Dorothy was commissioned in the Army Nurse Corps, and eventually in January 1945 was able to return to the Philippines with the 49th General Hospital. Reunited with her father and sister at Santo Tomas, she worked with the internees and patients that had been recently freed, while the Japanese were still shelling the compound. This is a well-written book that shares unusual experiences not usually told by the POWs. Dorothy relates how she felt, what she saw and did, with heartfelt sincerity. She lived through the first days of the Japanese attack as a civilian nurse, alone in the hospital after all the military staff had departed. Engaged to be married, she found out in 1945 how her fiancé had died. Descriptions of the work and frustrations is excellent, as well as including all the varieties of people she encountered throughout the years.
This author is amazed that after first interviewing so many nurses for my book, NO TIME FOR FEAR, and reading more than 100 books about and by WWII nurses, there is yet another story to be heard. If the readers want to find this or any other book in this blog series, please check out the titles through the Interlibrary loan department, or it can be purchased used through and other used book dealers. If any readers are interested in the book list, please respond.

Army Nurse’s Harrowing Sea Journey

While involved in other assignments, an unusual story attracted my attention, once more bringing the fall of the Philippines to the forefront. Having interviewed many of the nurses who were imprisoned in 1942, this is an adventure that had gone almost unnoticed, at least by this writer.
Floramund Anna Fellmeth, born in Chicago, became an Army nurse in 1936, after graduating from an advanced surgery program at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. Assigned at first to Fort Warren, Wyoming, she was anxious to see the world, and in 1940 volunteered to serve in the Philippine Islands. She spent 14 months on Corregidor as the surgery nurse, then transferred to Fort McKinley near Manila. Meanwhile, the families of most military personnel in the area were being sent back to the States, as the Japanese threat was building in the Far East.
War became a reality December 8, 1941, when bombs were dropped on the military bases throughout the islands. Anna and the other nurses cared for the wounded while eventually being sent to hospitals in Manila. Patients were evacuated to Bataan and Corregidor as Japanese troops advanced toward Manila. December 26, General MacArthur withdrew his troops to Bataan along with the medical personnel, but Anna was asked to remain behind.
In her own book, An Angel’s Illustrated Journal, Anna writes,” General MacArthur, under the auspices of the Red Cross, wanted to evacuate as many patients as possible aboard an inter-island coconut husk steamer called the Mactan. He said one Army surgeon and one Army nurse would accompany the wounded soldiers and oversee ten Philippine Islands Red Cross nurses as well as a half dozen Filipino doctors.”
The Mactan was readied for the trip, which was planned to take 300 wounded to Australia, and sailed out of Manila Harbor the evening of Dec. 31, 1941.
Described in her book as a decrepit ship, inter-island rusty steamer, nearly everyone doubted her seaworthiness in stormy ocean waters. The twenty-seven day adventure saw the ship fight through storms, wind, and fire, with patients filling every available space, including on deck. Supervising ten Filipino Red Cross nurses, Anna tells of being the only one who kept track of the medication and administered the meds to the patients day and night.
This is an exciting story of WWII. After reading Fellmeth’s book I found references to it in another and that a book was written about the trip in 1979. But this book, by the one Army nurse to survive this trip, and who avoided being captured by the Japanese, should be read. None of the difficulties and sadness is left out, and the ending is heartwarming, as Anna remains in Australia after they landed, to serve as Chief Nurse for the incoming Army nurses who followed.
The following books are available through Interlibrary Loan at local and university,  and through, as well as other used book sources.
An Angel’s Illustrated Journal by Floramund Fellmeth Difford
Mactan: Ship of Destiny by William L. Noyer
At His Side
by George Korson

Belgium the Battle of the Bulge

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: STOP THE CLOCK by Muriel Phillips Engelman is a personal memoir of a nurse who saw up close how the winter of 1944-1945 changed the war in Europe.

With the 16th General Hospial, Muriel recalls from memory and letters crossing the English Channel a few weeks after the D Day invasion of Normandy and having to wade ashore. From a letter:  “I wouldn’t want my mother to worry though frankly, I’m scared silly and for the first time in my life I’ve lost my appetite.”

Liege, Belgium, became the base for the 16th after following the war through France, caring for patients in tent hospitals. A chapter titled “A Wartime Christmas” is described as anything but Merry, and again mentions the fear of the intense bombing and the serious conditions of the patients.

This is a personal memoir, and much of the book takes place in her after-the-war life. Well-written and entertaining, this is a recommended book, available through Inter-Library Loan and

North Africa and Italy WWII Nurse


A Half Acre of Hell, A Combat Nurse in WWII, was written by Avis Dagit Schorer years after the end of the war, but with the clear memory of experiencing war at its worst. The  book tells of her almost 4 years as an army nurse with the 56th Evacuation Hospital, sometimes referred to as the  Baylor Unit.  After 6 months in North Africa, the 56th landed at Anzio, a 17-week battle in Italy where the hospitals were bombed, and six army nurses were killed. German bombers purposely targeted the tent hospitals marked with the red cross.

Other hospitals in the area were the 93rd EH, 95th EH, 33rd Field Hospital, as well as British units. The 15th EH, 38th EH and the 11th EH took over when the previous hospitals were hard hit by bombs or moved on to other combat stations. It is estimated that 200 army nurses served on the beachhead at Anzio.

On an LST in the Anzio harbor, the nurses waited to land when a red alert sounded and battles between German planes and Allied antiaircraft guns lasted the night. Kept from landing on the beach, Avis relates, “It was obvious we would spend another night on the ship. I could not fall asleep, and wondered if our lives would end on the ship in the Anzio harbor.”

Avis Schorer relates her experiences with great writing. The 56th set up their tent hospital near Nettuno, with red crosses on a white background marking the tents. The next several days there were air raids that caused much loss of life and equipment.

This book tells the horrors of war through the eyes of nurses without glossing over details, earning the hospital’s title “Hell’s Half Acre”. It is one of the best memoirs of a WWII nurse in my collection of books. Previously mentioned in this blog is The 56th Evac Hospital, by Lawrence D. Collins, M.D. which is another highly recommended book about the Anzio experience.

The books mentioned are often out-of-print but available through and the public or university library system.









American Women in WWII

Military nurses of WWII are what these posts are usually about, but several good books have included nurses along with what most American women were doing either because of, or to help with the war effort. Following are short summaries of some I have collected (because they include nurses). They all were not Rosie the Riveter, though many did take up factory work and other jobs that men were not able to fill. For research, or just information and good reading, check these out of the interlibrary loan dept. of your local library. Some are still listed as Used/New on

OUR MOTHERS’ WAR, AMERICAN WOMEN AT HOME AND AT THE FRONT DURING WWII by Emily Yellin, 2004. Including personal interviews, letters and diaries, this book covers most of what any American woman did during war years. The author’s  mother was a Red Cross worker in Saipan when the war ended, and left many letters for the family to find after her mother’s death. Letters such as those have inspired many an author, including me. Emily Yellin relates the war time experiences of  women who came into their own, and had courage to take advantage of new opportunities to go on with lives afterward.

CELEBRATING WOMEN IN WWII, OR WHEN WAS THE HONEYMOON? by D Baltzo, 1993. Cartoons and GI humor pertaining to Army nurses. (Booklet)

 WOMEN AT WAR WITH AMERICA, PRIVATE LIVES IN A PATRIOTIC ERA, by D’Ann Campbell, 1984. The author writes of the women of the early 1940s. She was Dean at Indiana U. and begins with the military acceptance of women in all services, including nurses, and covers pretty much any aspect of the era.

HER WAR, AMERICAN WOMEN IN WWII by Kathryn Dobie and Eleanor Lang, 2003. These are personal stories of women leaders of the 1940s as well as the average woman. Lt. Marta Gorick writes to a friend after her troopship, on the way to North Africa, was hit by a German torpedo, “It was the wee hours of the a.m. and I had just gotten to sleep when I heard this distinct thud and there was no doubt in my mind as to what had happened. The engines stopped and there was a dead silence.”  Lowered to lifeboats, the passengers were picked up hours later by a British destroyer.

THEY ALSO SERVED, AMERICAN WOMEN IN WORLD WAR II, by Olga Gruhzit-Hoyt, 1995. Military women served everywhere, including Red Cross workers and pilots. Often the stories are first-person oral histories, including nurses who served in countries not usually mentioned in other reports. In December 1942 Susan Eaton travelled to Palestine and Iran, with the Persian Gulf Command and the 256th Station Hospital  where patients included Russian pilots, and local impoverished Iranians. Reba Whittle is the only WWII nurse POW in Germany. Excerpts from her astonishing diary are included.



CBI Forgotten War

The term “Forgotten War” is often used when the China Burma India Theater of War is mentioned, but many books are being published by pilots and historians, explaining the U.S. role in the complexity of that war. The CBI chapter in my book, No Time For Fear,  barely touches the variety of locations and roles nurses played there.

A great website that follows WWII day-by-day will interest the historians and families of veterans who relate to that war, and you will find it at Today’s page (Feb. 1, 1943) tells of the New Delhi conference on that date when Allies planned their offensive against the Japanese occupation. I was honored to add a note about the medical help that was involved throughout this “forgotten war”, which took its toll among the U.S., British, Chinese, and Burmese civilians and military.  You will likely become hooked to check the website daily.

“My WWII Nurses”

It has been wonderful to hear from 3 of the nurses from my book, No Time For Fear, this month. All in their 90s now, they are still good at recalling the WWII days they served overseas.

Ernestine Hess NNC was interviewed for the PENSACOLA NEWS JOURNAL, and the WWII Museum in New Orleans will preserve the story in its collections. “Hessie”, as she was called while on the hospital ship USS REFUGE, is one of the nurses on the cover of our book. Along with other nurses on board they are shown standing at the rail, and over the years I’ve been told by many how much the cover photo means to the reader. The REFUGE served in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, bringing patients from the war zones to the U.S., before being sent to the Pacific theater. There they picked up the patients, treating them on the ship, and leaving them at larger hospitals throughout the Pacific theater.  For more info about the REFUGE see HOSPITAL SHIPS OF WORLD WAR II by Emory Massman.

Hessie’s story is told in my book along with other nurses who served with her, Helen Miller, Esther Wallenga, Bessie Glembocki and Elizabeth Staats. I loved interviewing them because I had no idea how the nurses on ships went about winning the war.  In addition to the patients’ stories,  and experiences of being at war on a hospital ship, they relate the humorous experience of King Neptune’s Court, which was the initiation of first-timers crossing the equator at sea.

Leviatha Nelson ANC was one of four nurses in my book who served with the 167th General Hospital, stationed near Cherbourg, France. As the war in Europe ended they treated mostly German prisoners as patients. Their location gave the nurses access to the villages nearby, and some even went to Paris.  The hospital group shared an unforgettable twelve-day ride on a troop train through France on their way to returning to the U.S. The other nurses who served with Vi in the 167th GH were Janet Haddon, Florence Brandvold and June Noreen.

All three of the nurses I am featuring were in different branches of the military, and Charlotte McFall was a Flight Nurse with the Army Air Force. First developed in 1942, flight nursing was a new aspect of caring for casualties.  Charlotte served in the Pacific theater, usually picking up patients in war zones throughout the many islands and bringing them back to hospitals on other islands, mostly  in Hawaii. She survived a crash landing on Eniwetok island with little more than a sprained ankle. The plane caught fire and others suffered burns. One of the most moving stories she relates is meeting a plane in Saipan. On the plane were nurses who had been imprisoned in the Philippines by the Japanese for almost three years and were their way back to the U.S.  Suffering from malnutrition, the nurses’ uniforms hung on their thin bodies, and Charlotte remembers that there wasn’t a dry eye in the hangar where they were welcomed.

The one thing that these three and most of the others said when they were first telling about the life-changing experiences they shared around the world, was to wonder  “what happened to that boy.” After the many years, they couldn’t forget.















Pearl Harbor Nurses

“I was asleep that Sunday morning on the hospital ship Solace out in the middle of Pearl Harbor, “in the stream,” as we say. COMMAND BATTLE STATIONS! was the first thing I heard.” Agnes Shurr was a U.S.Navy nurse on December 7, 1941, and recalls that day in my book, No Time For Fear, Voices of American Military Nurses in WWII.

Wounded were brought on board almost immediately, by sailors who went out in boats to pick up injured and wounded out of the water. The medical crew on board worked through the day without stopping, and late at night finally sat down to eat. Agnes states  “I hadn’t been aware really of the seriousness of our own situation. Around the table, it began to dawn on me that we were really in a precarious and dangerous position in the harbor.”

Valerie Vaubel Wiskerson, U.S.Navy nurse, was serving breakfast at the Navy Hospital, “when I heard a horrible explosion. I looked across the water at the hangar on Ford Island. It looked like it was picked up into the air and dropped down — PLUNK! There was nothing but smoke where there had been that great big air plane hangar with all the planes sitting in a row.”

“Hearing the explosions, I ran outside and saw the red sun on a plane that was coming in so close that I could see the faces of the pilots. I rushed to the hospital,” Sara Entrikin, U.S.Army nurse remembers, “Casualties were coming in fast and furious because the barracks were right along the runway and that’s where the bombs hit first.”  At Hickam Field, Sara said, there were only seven nurses and wounded had to be moved to Tripler Army Hospital because they were overwhelmed with patients at the small facility. “Soon there weren’t enough ambulances so the local people drove patients in their cars.”

Mildred Irene Clark Woodman, U.S.Army nurse, heard the planes overhead and recalls, “I saw planes coming through the pass in the mountains between Honolulu and Schofield. They flew so close I could hear the radio communications between pilots.” The hospital at Schofield Barracks was hit, states Irene, “even though the hospital had a large red cross on the roof, according to the provisions of the Geneva Convention. In a short time the nine operating rooms were extremely busy, while patients waited for care in the corridor. Early the next morning, several of us had the chance for a quiet moment and we talked quietly, since there were rumors that Japanese were landing parachute troops. The subject of being captured came up and each voiced her plan. Two indicated they would walk into the sea, others would hide in caves, some would go with their friends to prison, while others stated they would fight to the death.”

The brave military nurses, and there are more to each of these oral histories in the book, along with nurses stationed at Tripler Hospital, were all volunteers  without military rank, uniforms other than the traditional white dress and cap, and little pay. They all continued to serve, and in my interviews there was a memory of “I wonder what happened to that boy…” when they described a patient they had cared for later in the war in a tent, or on a ship, or in an airplane.

My interviews took place when these women were in their seventies, but clearly recalling an experience that was not foreseen when they decided to become nurses in their late teens, and twenties. I still hear their voices.





Heroic flight nurses of WWII

When I find a new book like this one, Angels on Board, Heroic flight nurses of World War II, written by Nancy Polette, it is like hitting gold!
Sixteen true stories of experiences that these brave women went through have been brought to life very skillfully by this author. She adds conversation to the exciting retelling, and I can verify that she is not exagerating.
I was able to read the story of Lt. Charlotte McFall to Charlotte at her home in Sun City, Arizona. She is 98 now, and kept nodding very expressively while I read her story as told in this book. Her plane crash-landed on a coral runway on Eniwetok Island in the Pacific, and Charlotte was able to escape through the fire. All crew members made it out alive. Additional experiences are told about Charlotte also, and she agreed with every word.
Nancy Polette has been writing children’s stories for years, but recently published two books about WWII nurses that are true in every detail, yet told in an exciting and adventurous way, so that any age reader would enjoy it. Her other recent book, Angel in Fatigues, The Story of Colonel Ruby Bradley, is a biography of one of the brave nurses who survived being imprisoned in the Philippines during the war.
Among other nurses in Angels on Board, is Lt. Jeannette Gleason, who had to parachute over China; Lt. Agnes Jensen, one of 12 nurses who survived a crash-landing behind German lines in Albania; Lt. Reba Whittle, the only flight nurse to be a German POW; and Lt. Elsie Ott, the first U.S. flight nurse.
It is a tribute to these brave women who served during WWII that authors are still writing new books that honor their memories. Several others in this book are among the oral histories in my book, No Time For Fear.
Both of the books by Nancy Polette should be in school libraries, as well as any other place that sells books.