Red Cross Nurses 1941

  • Before Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7,1941, twenty-nine American Red Cross Nurses volunteered for duty in England to help staff an installation for the study and treatment of communicable diseases under wartime conditions. At the time, graduate nurses were asked to join the ARC, which was recruiting for the Army Nurse Corps.Ten of these nurses, who were still civilians, sailed from Halifax aboard the Norwegian merchant ship Vigrid in a British convoy in June, 1941. On June 24 the ship was torpedoed by a German submarine and sunk. Wearing lifebelts, the nurses were lowered into lifeboats – two in one boat, and four each in two other boats, along with other passengers and crew.
  • One lifeboat was rescued by an Allied ship, after 12 days of drifting in the open sea, cold and hungry. The four nurses were taken to Iceland, and eventually returned to the U.S. Drifting for 19 days, the lifeboat with the two nurses was rescued by a destroyer, and all taken to England. The four nurses from the Vigrid in the remaining lifeboat were never found.
  • June 27, three days after the sinking of the Vigrid, the same convoy was torpedoed by another German sub. Seventeen nurses were aboard the Maasdam when it was hit, and all safely abandoned ship. Two nurses lost their lives at sea, and the other 15 were rescued by two Norwegian ships and taken to England.
  • After war was declared by the U.S., the hospital in Great Britain was taken over by the U.S. Army, and many of the nurses volunteered for the Army Nurse Corps, and remained in the European theater of operations.
  • George Korson’s book, AT HIS SIDE, The Story of The American Red Cross Overseas in WWII, tells the story of these two ships., is another excellent source.





Army and Navy Hospital Ships

More U.S. Army hospital ships than U.S. Navy hospital ships during WWII?
It’s true. Emory Massman’s book, Hospital Ships of World War II, is a terrific reference with many illustrations and histories. Simply put, the army wanted to have their own ships, and by the end of the war had 24, five of them named to honor army nurses. Four doctors were honored as well.

Aleda E. Lutz                                          John J. Meany
Emily H. M. Weder                                  Jarrett M. Huddleston
Frances Y. Slanger                                  Charles A. Stafford
Ernestine Koranda                                    Louis A. Milne
Blanche F. Sigman

Massman’s book names many of the army nurses who served on ships, most who were very surprised to get that assignment. In my book Margaret Carlson Larson served aboard the USS Dogwood both in the Atlantic and Pacific. The USS Comfort, jointly operated by the army and navy, was attacked by a Japanese Kamikaze plane where 29 people were killed, including six army nurses.
U.S. Navy hospital ships served everywhere, with navy nurses and crews. USS Solace was in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and served the rest of the war in the Pacific theater.  Ensign H.C. ‘Pat’ Daly wrote the history of this ship in a book titled, The U.S.S. Solace Was There.
Front cover of my book features U.S. Navy nurses at the rail on the Refuge, which also served in the Atlantic and Pacific. Included are interviews with nurses of the Solace Refuge and Benevolence  .

Three blogs that share the story of the USS Comfort:




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

The Road Back, A Pacific POW’s Liberation Story

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

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.















Dietitian in WWII

by Caroline Morrison Garrett

Nurses are the subjects of this blog, but a new book is written by a dietitian who worked at Walter Reed Hospital, as well as other hospitals. This was a field I hadn’t found covered in any stories before, and what an important job!
Written well, with anecdotes that could have taken place yesterday, I was fascinated by the many aspects of this position. Not only did the author have to decide on the food that was available, how to use it, and include all the different dietary needs of the patients, but get it served on time and hot. There are German prisoners of war as kitchen help, women servers who fail to show up, the kindest patients, and some who won’t eat or tell anyone why. General Patton visited his son-in-law, and lived up to his controversial reputation.
Caroline Garrett begins the book when she entered college at Woman’s College, University of North Carolina, and more than 100 pages tell of that experience. Graduating on June 5, 1944, the news was announcing the landing of troops in Normandy D-Day. She arrived in Washington,D.C. in August 1944.
Conversations and incidents are plentiful and the author tells of the trunk full of letters and cards that her mother saved over the years. Many letters were written and saved, and my aunt’s letters were the impetus to get my book published. Once I began to write about my ‘Auntie Raine’, finding more than 100 other brave nurses became my purpose for NO TIME FOR FEAR. I almost hated to stop looking for them as the book neared publication. Since then, as speaking and writing about the book took place over the years, more nurses and their families have come to me. What a blessing these women were.
This book is very entertaining, as well as informative.

Navy Nurse Memoir Stateside

by Elizabeth Kinzer O’Farrell

Most of the books I have collected are about or by WWII nurses who served overseas, but this is by one of the nurses who cared for the wounded who returned and were treated in military hospitals in the States. There aren’t many books written by U.S. Navy nurses, granted there were far fewer of them than the army nurses. 14,000 navy nurses versus 60,000 army nurses is the usual estimate of World War II who served the military.
Elizabeth Kinzer O’Farrell was based at the Great Lakes Naval Hospital and the Glenview Naval Air Station Dispensary from May 1943 until April 1945, doing general nursing and not working with returning wounded from the war. As she states, her next assignment to St. Albans Naval Hospital in New York “was an introduction to … the reality of war and the consequences for those who survived it.” She recalls, some sixty years later, individual patients who returned to try to regain their lives after the wounds of war.
A course in Physical Therapy followed in 1946, along with an apprenticeship program led her to the U. S. Naval Hospital in Corona, California. She found this to be a very rewarding career for her in the navy. In addition to treating the wounded and paralyzed veterans, there was also the care of polio patients in physical therapy. Reassigned to Great Lakes in Illinois, Elizabeth eventually found the work in naval hospitals to be easing up because of the end of the war, and resigned in 1948.
Memoirs, especially written so many years after the experience, seem to be more thoughtful than detailed, as I found when interviewing the nurses for my book. They see the broad picture, and it is probably influenced by their more recent experiences in life. They are all brave for having signed up, not knowing where the next few years would take them.