3,000 MILES TO A HOSPITAL
BY ELIZABETH M. PHILLIPS

On Going Overseas

For the past three weeks I've been wearing the uniform of a WAC officer preparatory to beginning my assignment as the first colored woman overseas was correspondent.

Being a "first" carries with it a lot of thrills, but I've found that it also has its drawbacks.

First, I was to go by commercial airlines and now it's by Army transport. Just waiting for a telegram to say, "Report for duty" takes patience. For three weeks I have expected any day to be my last one here.

A correspondent has the rank of captain and learning how property to return a salute has been a hard job.

I missed my first one because I intentionally looked in another direction to avoid the embarrassment of not knowing how. GI friends have helped me over that hurdle, but I am scared, worried or nervous.

Two months ago, three of us journeyed to Maryland's Eastern Shore city of Preston, where a mob had just burned the home and tavern of a colored business man and then forced his family of eight to flee for their lives.

We walked amid angry white people who, I'm convinced, would have attacked us were is not for the presence of State police.

A trip to the European Theatre of War could never be any worse.

Over there I'll not be shot at because I'm colored, but because I am an enemy.

What can a woman do overseas? is another question that I've been asked frequently.

No one can tell which stories were written by females and which by males.

So I hope to do the job of a regular was correspondent and, in addition, get into some places where a man can't go.

Relatives and friends of GI's stationed near or in London and Paris have loaded me with names and addresses with a request that I look them up and write back and tell how they're doing. They added, "with a woman's touch."

In addition, I'll be concerned with how our soldiers are faring overseas, what they're thinking and, as far as censorship allows, what the places are like where they are staying.

I want to discover what England and France think of our boys as well.

I've been planning for this trip since last April when I had my first inoculations against smallpox, yellow fever, typhus and lock jaw just like other GI's bound for overseas duty.

My baggage includes a typewriter, Army Air Forces overseas bag, which is packed to the gills, and a musette bag, gift of the local NAACP, all of which contain GI clothing; no fancy stuff!

Other than that, I'll probably have to wear trousers like the average male soldier.

Friends inquire as to how I'll be able to manage with my bags, but I recall that it is nothing more than carrying a week's marketing, so I guess I'll get along.

This assignment has taught me something about Maryland voting laws that I did not know. A citizens planning to leave the country can NOT vote by absentee ballot.

Only arrangements are for GI's, the supervisor of elections informs me, so mine is one vote neither FDR nor Dewey will get.

I arrived in London Friday, the same day that Prime Minister Churchill admitted in Parliament that enemy V-2 long range flying bombs, had been dropped in England.

My trip over was made in a smooth-flying Douglas C-54. It took 26 1/2 hours. I landed in Prestwick, Scotland, Thursday, spent the night, then made the two-hour journey to London the next morning in a transport.

An English general, a U.S. general, GI's, three women civilians bound for overseas work with the OWI and Father A.J. McHugh, formerly of St. Mary Seminary, Baltimore, now an Army chaplain, were on the plane with me.

Several hours after arriving I was dressing in a special room at the Red Cross Club for women officers when I heard an ominous sound which I thought was an air raid siren. It was, but Londoners are so used to the flying bombs that they go about their business. I went to the caretaker's quarters in the cellar, and she informed me that there was nothing to fear.

The V-2's are said to contain a ton of high explosive and can be fired at a range of from 210 to 250 miles. It is believed many have been launched in Holland. A peculiar aspect is that they fly so swiftly through the air from 60 to 70 miles above the earth, that it is impossible to warn of their approach. I have not seen any yet nor am I hunting them

Since Sunday I have been confined to an Army hospital here, suffering from neuralgia of the left arm and leg, which rendered both semi-useless. Expect to be out in a couple of days.

Mr. Churchill says the aerial bombs have been dropped at widely scattered points and damage and casualties are not so heavy. Enemy attacks have been in Southern England. London itself is still blacked out. Residents work about the dark streets with flashlights.

Bomb victims sleep on makeshift beds in the underground.

Despite the ravages of war, most Londoners appear cheery and confident of an early victory.

I shared a special room in a Red Cross Club my first night here with two nurses: First Lt. Alice McCoy and Second Lt. Mae Quinerly, both of Virginia. They were here for a two-day visit.

Other GI's seen are: Steward's mate 3/c Charles M. Pickney of New York and Charleston, S.C., who has been in the service over two years; Pvt. Fred Evans, Rocky Mount, N.C., who has been in twenty-three months and celebrates his eighteenth birthday November 27; also Lt. James Bowman, Chicago, injured twice in France, who was just released from a hospital where he has been since July. While there he was visited by the queen and celebrated a birthday. He hopes to be back in America by Christmas.

I also met Seaman G2/c Edward Street, 19, of Chicago, who has been over just six weeks; James Jackson of Camden, N.J., auditor with the Red Cross, and James Worthy of Jersey City, an entertainer who has been playing clubs and camps here since 1939.

I am on the inside of an American hospital unexpectedly.

I lost the use of my left hand and I could not type or button things. Upon arriving here, I was sent to the 150th Station Hospital in London.

Naturally I am upset that I should have come 3,000 miles to get into a hospital bed.

The trip over was hell. First, we went to Newfoundland which was cold, then down to the Azores which were hot, up to Scotland, and then by plane to London.

If they will let me out of here soon, I want to visit the colored nurses stationed in this country, maybe five miles away by train and maybe some of the other troop installations, although I have been told that I have been accepted in the French war zone but can't leave this week.

Although all my life I have heard and read about how things are different in England, everything is very strange here, nevertheless. I have heard Englishmen in America, but their accent didn't strike me there as it does here. I want to so a story on that. Then the spelling--"tyre" for "tire". Instead of saying "keep to the right except when passing," they say, "except when overtaking..."

I have heard all about the money, but I must keep remembering a pound is four dollars, not 16 ounces. I have made some tragic mistakes but I am catching on fast.

This is a first-class hospital, warm with clean linen, just like those at home. They say, though, it is the only one like it here.

Here is Mrs. Minnie Street of Louisville, Ky., widow of the well-known insurance executive who died recently, H.L. Street of Mammoth Life Insurance Company. She has been assistant director of the Red Cross here. She suffered acute appendicitis and peritonitis and is now recuperating. She has been overseas six months.

Also in the hospital is Pvt. George Williams of New York. He ate a green apple and had a stomach ache. He is on his way back to France for duty with a signal corps unit. He has also completely recovered from a Nazi sniper's bullet received when he was on a telephone pole stringing lines.

Also in the hospital is Pvt. Milton Shaw of Los Angeles, clerk and typist with a quartermaster truck company, who has been here since September, 1942.

In civilian life he was an entertainer and member of the Four Tones and was in the movie "Harlem in the Prairie." He hopes to get home soon so he can see his 3-year-old son, Herbert.

It is cold as heck here. I have to tell you again that Uncle Sam takes good care of the sick GI's--three meals a day of good American food, soft beds and plenty of hot water. And there is no jim crow.

Enlisted men and women are housed together in wards. Officers of all colors are in private rooms. At night, walking patients can attend free movies.

There is a radio on each floor which can be heard all over the place. It is constantly tuned in to the American stations.

These darned V-2 robot bombs are enough to scare you to death. I haven't seen one yet, but I have heard them fall several miles away. They sound as if they are right outside.

 

Copyright 2001-, Terry Muse
Revised: December 30, 2001
URL: http://black_and_hispanic.tripod.com/blackhistory/
Contact: Terry Muse