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Exploring military past via servicewomen’s mail

Inspired by a story submission for the 2017 Nostalgic Treasures issue/contest, long-time Antique Trader reader B.C. shares his own appreciation for mail penned by servicewomen.

I enjoyed the Nov. 8, 2017 issue of AT and am drawn to the military letter on page 35.

I have collected such material for many years and even had the best collection known worldwide of mail during the Korean War. My section of POW mail was out of this world. I won many high awards with that in exhibit form at large national stamp shows. Items within my collection of WWII mail for the most part is pretty common with a value of around $1-$2 each. Naturally, some are pretty rare if they are from a short-lived APO location. I cannot make out where the letter comes from as I cannot see the markings on the return address

Military Mail Tells Story

Letter and newspaper clipping of Sgt. Margaret Chick

Newspaper clipping and letter (including indications of blocked out information by military censors) by WAC Sgt. Margaret Chick, the personal secretary to Gen. Eisenhower, during WWII. (All photos submitted)

My latest venture is collecting mail from WACs, WAVES, Army and Navy Nurses, women Marines, and women involved in WWII, which is much harder to find than the common mail from male soldiers who far outnumbered the women in the military. Letters from Army nurses are great items as their stations were global. Around 200 of these servicewomen did not return home, loosing their lives at their hospital stations near the front lines. I have examples from nurses stationed in Algeria, Australia, Canal Zone, England, France, Hawaii, Morocco, Netherlands, New Guinea, New Hebrides, Philippines, and a couple of other locations including those in the United States.

So far I have a one-frame exhibit of covers (16 pages long) and thought I would send you a couple of examples of the more rare examples. One should bring four figures. The first one is an actual exhibit page with a letter by a Navy nurse. As the story goes: Navy Nurse Bertha Evans was one of the two nurses stationed at Canacao Navy Hospital at Sangley Point, in the Philippines. Postmark dated May 22, 1941 from the NAVAL HOSPITAL, CANACAO, P.I.

When this hospital fell to Japanese bombs in the first two weeks of the war, the two nurses took to the ‘tunnel’ hospital on Corregidor where they met nine other Navy nurses. All became POWs in May of 1942. They were held in Bilibid POW camp near Manila. They were freed by U.S. Army Rangers in February 1945. They were the only Navy nurses captured during World War II.

Exploring History of WWII Servicewomen

The other pages are also my exhibit pages. They contain a piece of Gen. Eisenhower’s paper from his command in Europe. It is a hand-typed Eisenhower Christmas greeting from Ike to his private secretary Miss Chick, a WAC Sergeant who was with Eisenhower through the whole war. It is also signed by Eisenhower. Miss Chick was one of the first WACs sent overseas when she went with Ike to Algeria. The V-Mail letter was sent from Sergeant Chick to her parents in Toledo, Ohio. The newspaper clipping is from the hometown newspaper.

The newspaper clipping reads: On the European Front. Jan. 20th. A small group of WACs in the European theater operations can sew new service bars onto their sleeves. They were members of the first feminine American expeditionary force 191 strong — plus two women war correspondents who landed in North Africa on Jan. 27 two years ago. The original unit has been disbanded. Its members who remained overseas are attached to other WAC outfits in France, Britain, and Italy or are serving in operational jobs. One veteran who was close by when Bizerte and Tunis fell was Margaret Chick, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Russell Chick, 3413 Ursula Ave, Toledo. She was the first girl from Toledo in the WACs. Her service was as General Eisenhower’s personal secretary in North Africa. During her service she was attached to SHAEF in England, and later moved to France.

Keeping Up Communication

Her V-Mail letter was sent to her parents from APO 757 (Army Post Office), September 29, 1944,

POW Navy Nurses photo and envelope

Photo of POW Navy Nurses captured in 1942. They were freed by U.S. Army Rangers in 1945. The envelope bears the handwriting of one of the nurses, during their station in the Philippines, prior to capture.

Versailles, France, Allied Headquarters, Office of the Supreme Commander AEF. As you will notice, the military censors blocked out part of a line where she gives her location, for obvious reasons. V-Mail letters were instigated to save weight in the mail. Letters were written on V-Mail sheets and folded up and sent to a processing location where the picture on the letter on film was taken and then placed in a much smaller and lighter envelope and placed in the mail stream. The original letter was to be destroyed, and most were.

Sergeant Chick’s V-Mail reads: Dearest Mother, Dad and all — Just a few lines to say hello again. I wrote you a letter (not V-Mail) a couple of weeks ago, but in the meantime we have moved and I still have the letter. We are living now (censored). We do not live with the rest of the WACs. Pearlis, Sue, and I each have our own room, on the second floor of a house, with and hot and cold running water in each room, bath and showers and steam heat.

It really is the nicest quarters we have had since joining the Army. We live right next door to the office. It seems a little odd to be working and living in the same buildings that the Nazis occupied just a short time ago. In fact, in the office where the General’s aides sit, there is a bronze bust of Goering — facing the wall now.

Getting Messages Out Before Moving

I had Friday off and as the general was not in, two of the girls (Nana and Peralis — you can identify them on the pictures I sent) spent the day in Paris. We saw some of the sights, did some shopping and enjoyed the day in general. Paris is a beautiful city. Saw the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and the Cathedral of Notre Dame. We couldn’t buy clothes but I bought some perfume and a few other little things that I’m going to send to you and Jeanie and some others, and I hope you will like them.

Here it is October 2nd and I still haven’t finished this letter. I am also mailing you one today that I started a couple of weeks ago, so don’t be surprised when you receive it and wonder what took it so long. It is not a V-Mail letter. I wrote it and before I got it mailed we were on the move again and of course the Post Office had moved, so I still have it. If I can find the post office today, I will send it on.

Had a long regular mail letter and a book of Dagwood cartoons yesterday from Eleanor. She seems to be fine. Oh yes, and I received your four-pager telling me about Mickey’s return. I’m so glad she has come back and will sort of take care of you for me. I know how much you think of her Mom, and how glad you were to see her. I will drop her a line.

Guess I’ll send it to you because I don’t know where she will be staying.

Closing Comments

I guess there are lots of things I have forgotten to tell you, but I’ll get this letter off, anyway. Then I’ll write a better letter.

Love and kisses to all, MARGIE

Yours truly,
— B.C.
Westlake, Ohio

Letter from Gen. Dwight Eisenhower

A Christmas greeting from Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, on letterhead from the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, to Sgt. Margaret Chick, circa Dec. 1944.