Friday, June 20, 2014

Olive King, her ambulance, and a fire in Salonika

Olive King and her ambulance
Australian War Memorial
P0 1352.002 

"On the afternoon of August 18, 1917, a fire broke out in Salonika, which was now swarming with soldiers from Serbia, France, Britain, and Italy, as well as colonial troops from India, Indochina, and North Africa. Olive, seeing the fire from a distance and longing to have a closer look, was thrilled when she was ordered to assist. Driving into the city she found it a place of utter confusion as panic-stricken people fled with whatever goods they could rescue from the terrifying roar of the flames.
Olive, at times only yards away from the fire, worked all night rescuing people and their possessions. Moments after one Serbian family climbed into her ambulance, their house caved in with a deafening crash. Olive kept saying to herself that it was all 'too dreadful...too frightening to be really happening.'"
Excerpt from "Olive King: Adventurous Ambulance Driver" from Women Heroes of World War I.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Harriet Boyd Hawes and the Smith College Relief Unit

The Smith College Relief Unit, Harriet Boyd Hawes in front, 2nd from left.
Sophie Smith Collection, Smith College

Word counts being what they are, I had to exclude a few great stories from Women Heroes of World War I. Harriet Boyd Hawes was an exceptional American who, before the U.S. entry into World War I, worked tirelessly to save the lives of survivors of the Great Serbian retreat. She then returned to the United States to organize what became known as the Smith College Relief Unit, pictured above. The following is an excerpt from the unpublished chapter:

...Harriet was very pleased when President Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war against the Central Powers in the spring of 1917. In April 1917, she spoke by invitation at a luncheon of the Smith College Club of Boston. She used her opportunity to suggest a new idea: sending a privately-funded relief unit to France composed of Smith College alumnae. She praised Smith College for having many notable traditions but added that “no tradition can be better than that of united public service.”

What would be the purpose of the Smith College Relief Unit? Harriet was still in touch with French relief organizations who alerted her to recent occurrences in the north of France, in the areas of the Oise, Ainse, and the Somme. A few months earlier in February, 1917, the Germans, who had been occupying those areas for two and one-half years, suddenly decided to retreat. But before doing so, they forced most able-bodied French people to evacuate with them, destroying as much as possible beforehand and leaving only the elderly and the women with small children. Why? One German explained it this way to one of the people they were forcing to march with them: “You are to work. The aged, the women, and the children are to be an embarrassment to the French who are coming and will encounter nothing but ruins and people incapable of doing anything for their own nourishment. For nothing will remain of your houses; they will be blown up.”

The Smith College Relief Unit would take money and supplies to the devastated areas and provide food, supplies, and materials with which to help the locals to rebuild their lives. Although the Germans were gone, the Smith College Unit would still be taking quite a risk. France and Germany were still at war and the Grécourt area was considered a war zone: the Germans might return at any moment.

But thoughts of danger were far from the minds of those who had just heard Harriet speak. By the end of the luncheon Harriet had raised $4,000 dollars. She continued to raise money – eventually totaling more than 30,000 -- for the unit that was soon officially affiliated with the American Fund for the French Wounded. She was hesitant to become the unit’s first director, as she felt that perhaps a younger woman should do that, but agreed in the end.

They were to be assigned as a relief center for approximately 11 villages adjoining the area of Grécourt – the name of an ancient French estate that was now a village where they would set up their base. The French army and the government had requested this site for the Smith Unit because it was one of the most devastated areas and also because it had been the best wheat-growing district in France; the government hoped to get the wheat fields back in working conditions in order to relief the current French bread shortage. Their mission would be to assist the civilians who had been devastated by the occupation and destructive retreat of the Germans.

In August, 1917, 17 volunteers -- representing 14 different graduating classes of Smith College -- sailed for France. While waiting in Paris, finalizing arrangements for their trip to Grécourt, they noticed that the men in Paris were either missing limbs or wearing military uniforms. Most of the women wore mourning clothes. A completely depressed attitude hung over the city and the general attitude of the Parisians was that it was just a matter of time before Germany won the war; that America had joined too late.

Six of the initial 17 unit members reached Grécourt in September, settled themselves into what remained of the old chateau, and got to work. They visited families in the various destroyed villages, listened to their sad stories of dead and lost sons and daughters, helping the villagers build temporary housing while distributing food, clothing, and furniture, some of it provided by outside sources and some of it what they had personally gathered...

Quoted excerpts from The Ladies of Grécourt.

More on the Smith College Relief Unit: 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Madeline Zabriskie Doty and the German Spies

Madeline Zabrisky Doty during the war
Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College
When Madeleine visited a friend at the American embassy in Berlin, he warned her to leave, that her presence would make trouble for them at the embassy. "I shall...break no rules, cause no trouble," she replied, "but I'm in search of the truth, and as a free American citizen I mean to talk to every one I can from the Kaiser to Liebknecht [a vocal peace activist and cofounder, after the war, with Rosa Luxemburg, of the German Communist party]. Her friend, joking that he thought the Kaiser would be safer than Karl Liebknecht, warned her again that she would be watched constantly.

He was right. "The funny thing about German spies," Madeleine wrote, "is that they dress for the part. They are as unmistakable as Sherlock Holmes. They nearly always wear gray clothes, a soft gray hat, are pale-faced, shifty-eyed, smooth-shaven, or have only a slight moustache, and carry canes."

One night, Madeleine and a new companion, a German woman who was a Social Democrat, gave the spies a chase all through Berlin. "We jumped from one car to another. It proved an exciting game. Once we went up to a gray-clad man, and asked him if he wasn't tired. But spies grow angry when spoken to. German officials have no sense of humor. If they had, I wonder if there would have been a war."
But constantly being followed eventually took its toll. Madeline wrote "I feel exactly as though I am in prison. I acquire the habit of looking out of the corner of my eye and over my shoulder. These spies are as annoying to their countrymen as to me. The people detest them. They grow restless under such suppression. Free conversation is impossible, except behind closed doors..."
Excerpt from "Madeline Zabrisky Doty: 'Germany is no place for a woman'" from Women Heroes of World War I.

Mary Roberts Rinehart: Mystery Writer in No-Man's-Land

Mary Roberts Rinehart in 1915
Mary Roberts Rinehart Papers, 1831-1970,
SC 1958.03
Special Collections Department, University of Pittsburgh
"After passing an area where there had been extremely heavy fighting and where a major was now posted, flat on his stomach, with a machine gun pointed toward the German lines, the journalists and their hosts came to the most dangerous part of the trip. They were to walk straight out into no-man's-land upon a slippery four-foot-wide path made of sandbags, covered with twigs, that rose out of the midst of the water.

Their destination was the 'shaking, rocking' tower of a ruined church, now being used as a Belgian observation post, 400 yards from the Belgian front lines and only 600 feet away from the Germans. The journalists had been given only one warning: 'If a fusee goes up, stand perfectly still. If you move they will fire.' But the Germans wouldn't need a fusee to see them that night; the moon was very bright. Mary suddenly regretted her decision to wear a khaki-colored coat. 'I shone like a star,' she recorded in her diary. She felt that 'a thousand rifles' were 'picking her out.'

After a moment's fearful hesitation Mary stepped out onto the pathway and walked out to the tower..."
Excerpt from "Mary Roberts Rinehart: Mystery Writer on the Western Front" from Women Heroes of World War I.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Henriette Moriamé, the British soldiers, and the German Hussars

Henriette Moriamé
Courtesy of Vincent Boez

"Louise's friend and neighbor Henriette Moriamé brought the six wounded British soldiers to her large home while Louise busied herself finding food for them in the deserted village while watching for signs of the impending German invasion. German airplanes flew back and forth over the village while a troop of German cavalry could be seen from a distance on the top of the hill, approaching into the valley village. Finally, at noon, a regiment of Death's Head Hussars -- a particular branch of the German cavalry -- entered the village in triumph..."
"When the Germans saw the British uniforms that the women had washed and spread on the lawn to dry in front of Henriette's home, they demanded entrance..."

Excerpt from "Louise Thuliez: Because I am a Frenchwoman" from Women Heroes of World War I.