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

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 WORLDWAR II, by Olga Gruhzit-Hoyt, 1995. Military women served everywhere, including Red Cross workers and pilots. Often the stories are first-person oral histories.



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 book of the day

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.

WWII Nurses Book of the Day 5/29/13


Cover photo of author, captioned “1st Lt. Prudence (Hathaway) Burns, Army nurse of World War II, stationed in Australia, New Guinea and the Phillipines

500 African-American women served as nurses in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps during the second world war. Segregation was the norm in the 1940s, and the nurses served overseas with all-Black units. This is the memoir of one of the first nurses who helped recruit other Black nurses at the beginning of the war. She began serving at an all-Black hospital at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, before going overseas to a segregated hospital in New Guinea. Spending a few months in Australia while waiting for the New Guinea hospital to be finished is one of the more interesting parts of her experience. She was instrumental in improving the lives of the Black soldiers by confronting the White commanders in charge, and made life-long friends with local families.

Prudence Burrell tells her own story by using the pseudonym “Hathaway” and relating her life in the 3rd person. The experiences are true, but the book could have been edited a bit. Still, the interesting life of a brave and caring nurse is enlightening. The book begins with her infancy and concludes with her life in retirement, including her 40-year marriage to a fellow officer.

I am very grateful to her for providing the names of many other nurses who served in segregated units in Liberia, England, CBI (China-Burma-India) and New Guinea. She doesn’t gloss over any of the experiences that were part of the life of African-Americans in the military or the United States in the 1940s. Many of the other Black nurses’ stories in my book, No Time For Fear, are told with the same frankness that Prudence Burrell related.

All the books mentioned in this blog are available used or new at or through your local library at the Interlibrary Loan Dept.

Australia in WWII

Have been fascinated with a  website from Australia about World War II. Peter Dunn has been collecting, and displaying all sorts of information about the 1940s in Australia and is always looking for more information.The website includes much about the ‘Yanks’  and all that was involved in saving that part of the world.

I find that I can spend a couple of hours looking at the various links, including locations for camps, many many unit histories, important and average military members. Listed are books, including NO TIME FOR FEAR, VOICES OF AMERICAN MILITARY NURSES IN WORLD WAR II.There were a  lot of hospital units in Australia at various times during WWII, including ones that some of my nurses were with. Edith Vowell tells that the 153rd Station Hospital may have been the first U.S. Army hospital to operate in Australia. Phyllis Simpson McGlory served with the 33rd Surgical Hospital in Rockhampton, and Prudence Burns Burrell landed in Sidney with the 268th Station Hospital. Prudence spent several months in Brisbane before assignment to New Guinea. Edith Vowell was surprised when she was leaving for the U.S. after the war ended that the ship she was on contained several warbrides from Australia. Why not?

Peter Dunn’s website is and he is on Facebook and Twitter. Check it out and see what is interesting to you.

Nurses of WWII Book of the day

by Pearl Will Haugland Taylor Bach.

Pearl wrote a small memoir of her years as a nurse where she served in Canada, Alaska, and the Philippines. The copy I have is only 30 pages, with a spiral binding. The cover photo is black and white and a little splotchy, with a smiling Pearl wearing her nurse’s cape. When did the capes stop being issued? Or for that matter, the nurses’ white cap that was issued at their graduation ceremony?

My book, NO TIME FOR FEAR,  relates Pearl’s story with regard to the war years, and she appears in three separate sections. Her memoir correctly states that she grew up in North Dakota during the lean years of the Depression. After graduating from high school, Pearl and her brother went to Tacoma, Washington, where she eventually became a nurse in 1940. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, Pearl joined the American Red Cross, which was the way the U.S. Army was recruiting nurses.

As an army nurse Pearl volunteered to work in Alaska and was stationed in Skagway, in a small clinic that was part of the buildup of the Alcan Highway. The U.S. Army acquired a hospital in British Columbia and Pearl went there where they took over for Canadians. While both were on leave, she married her boyfriend who then was stationed in California. Soon Pearl was sent to the Philippines, arriving in early 1945  after the battle for Leyte. The 133rd General Hospital was a tent hospital located in the countryside, where the patients were battle casualties and she first learned of the ‘new’ penicillin. When the war ended Pearl returned to the States just one year after she had left to be discharged and rejoin her husband.

Her variety of locations and types of nursing with the army make a wonderful story, but her own story before and after the war shows how difficult life was at that time in the history of the country.  Many of the nurses came from difficult backgrounds and,  like Pearl, had grown up during the Depression. They overcame the hardships during a time when women had few choices for their future. Nursing was the opening many of them took to get away from impoverished or unstable backgrounds, and provided a way to take care of themselves or their families. Let alone that they were given the chance to move to where jobs were located, those in the military were given an opportunity to travel around the world.

I don’t know if this memoir is available anywhere as a used book, but I cherish the copy I have. When you meet these women in their 80s and 90s, remember that there is a story to be told.