January 2, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

January 2, 1943

Casablanca, Morocco

Dear Gram,

       Here we are, set up in our tents, functioning as a hospital for the last few days. Right now it isn’t bad at all despite the mud and slush that we have to slide through to get anywhere around here. However, we are lucky enough to be on relatively high ground and when it stops raining the water drains off pretty fast. We have rapidly realized that Africa is not just one big desert – probably one can find almost any kind of weather somweheres on this continent. We have had a few days typical of San Francisco foggy weather, though I didn’t think that S.F. has ever been quite as cold as we have had it here. In fact, surprisingly enough, we had a slight amount of snow fall here a few days ago.

       Fuel has been quite a problem, so we have to resort to clothes and more clothes to keep warm. There have been a lot of colds floating around because of this, but so far I have been pretty lucky, though Lois has had a bum cold for the last week. At that the gals are far better situated than we are. They are in an old girls’ school building and are at least plenty dry. However, the fuel problem applies to them as well and their building is almost constantly cold.

       I have been unofficially working in the Supply & Transportation Dept of the hospital, and as a consequence have been able to get down to see Lois more often than I would have had I just stuck around our hospital area all day. Now, however, since our hospital is getting into full swing, the amount of time we are able to be away from the area is naturally limited.

       Despite the conditions we are working under – which certainly are far from bad, it is good to be working. And though we would all naturally rather be back in S.F. it’s far better than sitting around on the east coast of the U.S. twiddling our thumbs as we did for so long.

       It’s been kind of fun trying to get things that we need in Supply because it has taxed my poor French. However, with the aid of a little dictionary and my pronunciation (which has probably been about the only decent thing I have remembered) I have been doing O.K. and am fast improving. So far, I’ve managed to get everything I have gone after.

       Water has been quite a problem here, just as has fuel. There is water, of course, but to get it out to our area is another thing and because of the fuel problem, hot water is difficult to get. We are unable to take baths or showers in our own area so we go down to town when possible to get showers. George Davis (the Supply Officer) and I have been so busy that it wasn’t until yesterday when we managed to get down for a shower ourselves. The girls have almost the same problem, though they have the facilities for showers in their place – they only have hot water for a couple of hours a day and, of course, the first one who jumps in gets showered and the others may be out of luck.

       We had quite a New Years’ Eve party down at the gals’ place. Besides our own bunch there were several officers from other outfits and with music supplied by victrola records and a radio, we did O.K.

       There naturally isn’t much to do around here but work – and after all that’s what we’re here for, but it is interesting to wander around a little in the daytime.

       Hope you all had a nice Xmas and New Years’ Day and that the New Year will be a Happier one for all.

Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter
January 7


Enlisted men’s tents in Casablanca




59th Evac. Hospital Supply & Transportation Department




Gert Brazil & Lois McFarland in Casablanca



Entry from the personal journal of  Philip Westdahl, MD, about an event René didn’t/couldn’t write about to his family:

“December 31, 1942 3AM to 5AM – we undergo our first air-raid. I put on my helmet and clothes and lie beside by cot and pray that for the sake of Georgia and our baby, everything goes well – and it does! We see only 2 German bombers in the beam of our searchlights. The spray of red-hot tracer bullets is quite a sight – one nicks the tail of a bomber but she keeps going. We spend the afternoon digging a slit-trench! We expect another reception tonight – but the Germans disappoint us. Our first patients arrived today – mostly convalescents from the hospital in town.”



Hear what Gert Brazil had to say about the nurses’ experience of the air raid…



January 7, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

January 7, 1942

No. 3

Casablanca, Morocco

Dear Folksies,

          I received Dad’s letter of December 12th a couple of days ago, and it sure feels good to be getting such mail way over her – even if it is a couple of weeks old. So, keep it up, and we’ll get it and be able to read them over and over in spare time.

        Interested in your mention of the shortage of milk bottles. We certainly see plenty of cans here – naturally a great percentage of our foods come in cans, as you have probably seen in one of the issues of Life. The so-called “C” ration is pretty concentrated stuff and not nearly as palatable as the “K” ration. The latter comes in wax-sealed packages and consists of breakfast, dinner, and supper units. Each of these units has some crackers, a can of mixed meat and egg (breakfast has beef & egg yolk, supper has veal or pork & egg white) or cheese (dinner), a couple of cigarettes, either a bar of hard eagle-type chocolate or a bar of fruit (somewhat on the order of a fruit-cake), besides some coffee or lemon extract to which water has to be added, and a couple of cubes of sugar. So you can see that it isn’t bad at all. We had that type of ration for the first few days and now we have sort of a mixture – generally regular cooked rations, however. We get a lot of stew and hash, but as it all gets mixed up in our mess kits and stomachs, anyway, the main thing that it’s enough to keep us from getting hungry.

       George Davis and I have, of course, been lucky when it comes to food, as we can occasionally drop in down at the nurses and get our stomachs filled in between meals – on semi-official business, naturally. They have about the same food there, though they seem to have a little more bread and jam than we do out here, and also they have some coffee on the stove almost all the time. Of course, food isn’t the only thing we go there for.

        Right now the whole gang is on a 30% basis – i.e. 30% off at one time only – one group off in the afternoon and another at night, and the third the next afternoon, etc. However, working with Davis I’m able to drop down and see Lois for a few minutes at least, even when I’m not off according to the schedule for that day. A truck always has to go down there with rations, to pick up the mess detail, etc. When we’re down there at night, now that we have one of our own trucks at last, one of our boys doesn’t mind coming down there and picking us up at 11 P.M., so we don’t have any more walks home like that first night we tried it.

        Incidentally, some of the guys got the devil a few days ago for being away for a couple of hours extra after they were supposed to be back – that included Dave’s major friend. And then, the day after that when I had worked for part of the afternoon when I was supposed to be off, the Col. didn’t hesitate a bit when I asked permission to be off a couple of hours after the time I was supposed to come back – he just said, “Sure, go ahead.”

            Also, as it happened, Lois was put in a different group than I was (it was done alphabetically as far as they were concerned), and it was stated that the list as made up was absolutely final and no changes would be made. But when Miss Diffley noted what had happened, she went to the Col. herself and had it changed so that we were off at the same time. Not bad, eh? It seems that his highness just gets strong likes ad dislikes and heaven help the dislikes, or heaven help those who cross him. Thank goodness we’ve stayed on his good side – and incidentally, right now I think that George and I are more on his good side than anyone in the bunch.

         Soon, of course, I won’t be devoting the majority of my time to Supply, as we are now set up with several wards. At the moment there isn’t enough work for all as we are only taking overflow convalescent cases from another hospital here, to lighten the load on them. So, the Col. sees fit to leave me rustling up supplies for a while as I know all the places in town by now and my French is improving sufficiently so that I get along pretty well in bargaining with the French proprietors. Of course, I’ve gotten the Engineers to pay for about everything we have had to buy, but at times it has been a bit difficult trying to get just what we wanted.

        We have spent most of our evenings playing bridge at the gals’ place, but last night Lois and I went to a French place for dinner and had a pretty good meal. Things are amazingly cheap over here, so I will probably be sending money back to you by cable, as there are not many things one can spent it for. We just got paid today, incidentally, and I just realize that since we landed I have only spent about $2-$3. We change some of our money into Francs and go around with wads of the stuff – 75 Francs to $1. In a way it seems a shame that the rate of exchange is so high – when you consider how really well off we are in comparison to the native people here.

        Things are better now around our camp, for we have managed to get electric lights going – we have our own generators with us – and have finally gotten enough fuel to keep everyone warm enough. We have also managed to get the mud settled down by spreading truck-loads of sand around. But, as you may remember, whenever the 59th gets its area all fixed up nicely, then they get moved out and have to fix up another area. So, that’s just what we expect again – and we won’t mind a bit.

       One certainly sees some funny sights around here. The funniest are the poor little donkeys loaded down with things in baskets or sacs over each side, with some Arab sitting on top of the load. These donkeys are so small that you would really expect the Arab to be carrying two donkeys. Then, of course, there are stray camels that are being used to carry various things around town. Another strange sight is the French automobiles and trucks. Because of the gasoline shortage they have, for some time, been using charcoal burners. So there are large boilers on each car and truck and they go chugging along the roads. They say that those burners smell so much that they are forced to ride with their windows wide open and their heads out most of the time.

        Everyone here is feeling pretty good now – still a few colds, but most are better. Gerbode was in the hospital with a little gastro-enteritis for a couple of days, but is O.K. again. Incidentally, we have a few malaria cases here, but otherwise no communicable or tropical diseases.

 Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter
January 13


Gert Brazil, Lois McFarland & Charlotte Bambino in a bar in Casablanca




Lefty, the electrician, providing electricity for the 59th Evac. Hospital




Camels and donkeys used for transportation





“Highway” in Casablanca



January 13, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

January 13, 1943

No. 4

Casablanca, Morocco

Dear Folksies,

            My last letter was written, I see, 6 days ago. I shall try to write more often in the future, but as you can well realize it’s pretty difficult to write without fear of saying something censorable. However, knowing how I like to receive mail, and knowing how you likewise like to hear, I shall try to get a note off somewhat more often.

         We are getting set up here pretty nicely now, having improved the area to a great extent, so that when it does rain now we are not wallowing around in slushy mud. We have hauled sand and gravel and have put in nice walks throughout our area. We have set up our x-ray and operating room tents but so far have not used either at all. I am still working with George in Supply as their is no operating going on, and there are not as yet enough patients to go around. The Colonel has sort of taken for granted now that I can get almost anything through various channels, by requisitioning or finagling or talking people out of things, so he seems to cook up new things for me to get every day. I kind of think that some of the 1906 heritage is showing up, though to a lesser degree.

         We continue with more or less the same routine – hustling for things during the daytime and then often in the evenings either reading a bit, going to bed early, or going over to Lois’ and playing bridge or sitting in the garden there.

         It’s pretty hard to do anything around here at night as everything closes early. And with blackout it isn’t safe to walk around much (if at all), much less with a gal, and the transportation problem is a difficult one. The gals are not allowed to ride in anything except carriages or private autos when on pleasure, but the carriages are supposed to be off the streets by 8:30P.M., and private cars are hard to get (the army having bought practically all when they first arrived here.)

         Lois and I have gone into town for dinner a couple of times – eating at places approved by the Medical Dept. of the Army, and we have had some pretty good food, however meat is pretty scarce and we have so far only had fish or omelets. The split-pea soup we had, however, along with the French bread, has been worth it, particularly with such things so cheap. For instance, two meals cost only 65 Francs, and with Francs at 75/$1.00 it ain’t bad.

         One night Lois and I were lucky enough to be included in a party at the apartment of some Majors and Lt. Colonels. The apartment was on the top floor of the tallest building here, and it was really a beautiful apartment, having belonged to a French officer and his wife. With the officer away in the Army now, these majors had rented the place. One of the Lt. Colonels is Col. William Westmoreland, who is going around with Bambi these days. He is a West Pointer of only a few years ago and was commander on the boat we came on. He is one heck of a swell fellow. We are supposed to be going out with “Westie” and Bam tomorrow night but don’t know if we will be able to.

         The girls are now working out here during the day time, and Lois has been on duty for the last several days. However, she turned up with a sort throat and slight temp. today so is back in bed. She’ll be O.K. no doubt in a day or two, but there are a lot of upper respiratory, particularly sinus stuff, going around.

         We got a message from Col. Monroe the other day and he apparently was overjoyed to hear that we were in the vicinity, and he intends to come down and see us in the near future when he gets a breathing spell. He didn’t know that he was a Grandfather, so Lois sent word up to him about that.

         Just broke open the peanut-brittle can from Blum’s that I believe Tante Marie sent us a couple of months ago when we were at Pickett. Still have the CoffeeTeen can, also from Blum’s that Claude and Paulette sent at the same time. I haven’t yet had the time to open it with ceremony befitting anything of that sort from San Francisco. Anyhow, it’s here – at the bottom of my foot-locker. And incidentally, chocolate, other than that in the K-rations is awfully scarce here. We get a lot of lemon drops and some hard sugary candy, but could stand some good stuff – preferably in cans or some such hard container – nothing fancy, but could naturally use anything along that line.

         Just heard that the gals are probably going to move out here in tents in a few days, as they have to vacate the school they are now in – it is going to be used, I believe, for another hospital. It will be kind of nice to have L. out here, but it will be kind of rugged for them, particularly the bathing facilities or lack of them. Also, from here it is going to be hard to do anything or go anywhere at night. Some of the gals are definitely not going to like it as it is so far from their Q.M., Air Corps, Engineer, etc. boyfriends to come. And there won’t be any place to entertain them like they have at present at their school building.

         Yes, we are beginning to have our own little tent-city out here. In fact, the Col. was today talking about putting in a regular barber establishment and a pressing unit in one of our tents.

         We see some funny sights around here. They have a lot of small donkeys and they load them so that you can hardly see anything but the load, and by golly the donkeys are so small you really expect the Arabs to be carrying the donkey in the first place. But no, they load them up and then climb on top of the load themselves. There are some camels around, not a great many, but they are awful dirty animals and the less I see of them the happier I will feel.

         Apparently there is quite a good deal of Typhus around here in the Arab population, but as yet none in soldiers. There are also some plague and smallpox cases in natives, and quite a bit of malaria. Malaria has cropped up in a few soldiers, but not many. All of our own men are O.K.

 Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter
January 17


Moving X-ray equipment




While René reports that “The gals are not allowed to ride in anything except carriages or private autos when on pleasure…and private cars are hard to get,” Gert Brazil managed to find a car for her to drive, as shown in this photograph near the Ecole de Jeunes Filles where the nurses are living.


Listen to what Nurse Gert Brazil had to say about Bam (Charlotte Bambino) and Westie (William Westmoreland)




View of Casablanca with the port in the distance.







René expressed his negative impression of camels, a view evidently not shared by Colonel Bolibaugh.


January 17, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

January 17, 1943

No. 5

Casablanca, Morocco

Dear Folksies,

            Here it is a not so beautiful Sunday in North Africa, but nevertheless we are relaxing a bit this afternoon, and so I have another opportunity to tickle the typewriter keys and get another letter off to you.

            We are still in the same place and are planning to have the gals move out with us in the near future. They have to get out of their present establishment and as there are no other suitable places, they are going to move to the tents we have now put up for them. At first it was anticipated that they would move out here today, but it may not be for several days now. So, we ought to have the place nicely prepared for them by then.

            Our activity has slowed down considerably, so George and I have had more time to rest in the last few days. However, things are still being built around the area and we still have a number of patients. Last night, George and I sneaked down to the quarters of some other officers we had met, and indulged in nice hot showers. Golly, it certainly felt wonderful – and when I think that I used to automatically take a shower every morning…way back when!

            Some of the officers have rented bikes at 100F per week and they are managing to get around pretty well. George and I have no difficulty with transportation, of course, and as the gals are not allowed by the Col. to ride bikes, there is not much point in my getting one, as I would only have to walk from the gals place anyway once I got there.

            Two promotions in the outfit – these were put in when we were still at Pickett – Cy Johnson is now a Capt. (head of x-ray) and Larry Hunt is now First Lieutenant.

            Lois has been ill in bed for the last 4 days with a bum sore throat. She was running some temp. but is afebrile today and should be up again in another day or two. It’s awful tough on her as she has never been ill before, except for 2 or 3 days of flu a few years ago. There have been a lot of upper respiratory infections and sore throats amongst the nurses, probably partially because they have little to do most of the time and are sitting around in that building of theirs, which is somewhat damp and cool most of the time. The officers have fared somewhat better, though a couple of them had colds for a few days.

            Yesterday, in conversation at one of the warehouses, I discovered that the 1st Sgt. there was Bill Newsom’s first cousin. Neither one knew that the other was here – more bloomin’ coincidences, eh.

 Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter
January 21


Cy Johnson, MD, is now a Captain and head of X-ray.




Ed Cane, MD on “Bicycle Row”




Bill Newson, MD and Pete Joseph, MD. René met Bill’s cousin – a first sergeant – in a warehouse in town.



January 21, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

January 21, 1943

No. 6

Casablanca, Morocco

Dear Folksies,

        Yesterday, I received Dad’s V-mail of December 27. Glad to hear that you were all together on Xmas and Mom’s birthday. Golly, Pop, when you talk of Solari’s roast beef you make our mouths water. On the boat we had some swell roast beef alright, but since then, nay!! Most of our meat is canned – Spam, etc. though about once or twice a week we have gotten some real honest to goodness meat, tongue, stew meat, pork or chicken. Nothing really to complain about, certainly, but nevertheless I can still wish for Solari’s, can’t I?

        Day before yesterday we had an interesting time. We had to go about 180 miles from here to check up on whether some of our equipment might be in this other town. We knew that some of our stuff had been there, but were not sure whether or not it had all been shipped up here to us as yet. Four of us went down in a jeep, George Davis, Roy Cohn, Ken Fadley and myself. It was quite a ride in such a vehicle, but was lots of fun.

       George started out driving. We left at 5 A.M. – having had some fried eggs and pancakes here before we took off — and strangely enough we had almost a full moon still up. In fact, at one time we were driving head-on into the moon and the moon was so bright it was worse than driving out Lake Street around sunset. It’s hard to believe, but it was certainly true and amazing to us.

       Roy drove for a while and we have now dubbed him “Killer Cohn,” for he seemed to chase all kinds of animals all around the road, killing a rabbit, and singeing the hair off a dog, a donkey, a cow, and a horse all in their turn. There were a lot of animals in the road from time to time, but they seemed to clear a path nicely when they saw Roy coming along. It was pretty cool so early in the morning, but we were bundled up pretty well and only our bottoms did the complaining. By the time we got home, they were as stiff as the seats we had been sitting on, and we felt as if we had actually ridden horseback the whole distance.

       We saw some strange sights as we drove along. Most of them we saw on the way back, as the sun had just peeked over the horizon — as we had arrived at our destination at 8:40A.M. We saw many camels and donkeys hitched to the same plow, pulling side by side, and if you don’t think that looks funny, just wait till I get a picture or two to send you. A lot of the land we saw was like California, particularly like the land above Santa Barbara.

       On arriving at the hospital in this other town, we introduced ourselves and I noted a Capt. M.C. who looked somewhat familiar, but it didn’t dawn on me that I could possibly know anyone there. But when he heard us say we were from the 59th, he perked up and asked where we were from. Roy told him we were from Stanford and then proceeded to ask who were some of the younger men in the bunch. Of course, I said I was one of them, and he proceeded to say, “I thought so!” Then I really felt embarrassed for I hadn’t recognized Leon Michels at all!!  He said he had heard from you some months ago that we were in England and consequently was duly surprised. He has been here since the beginning, his headquarters being at the same place we are and consequently he might even be working with us at some time if we get too busy. Had quite a visit with him.

 Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter
January 31


Roy Cohn, George Davis and Ed Fadley on the way to Safi with René (who took the photograph).




The donkey guides while the camel pulls the plow.




On the road to Safi — “this other town” René couldn’t name in his letter.




On the road to Safi



January 28, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

Here’s are excerpts from a letter that Lois McFarland wrote to René’s parents and his sister, Barbara (known as Bobsy).



January 28, 1943

Casablanca, Morocco

Dear Mommie, Dad & Bobsy,

        Last night was just like Xmas for us – oh golly – it was so exciting! I want to thank you all just squillions of times for the perfectly beautiful nightgown and the ever-so-much-needed white shirt. You are all darlings!

       René and I had planned on going out to dinner last nite, early. He was a little late in getting here, and then I delayed us even longer, for he’d brought oodles of mail for the nurses, and pitched in and helped sort it, so I could have all mine before we left. We finally started downtown, with about 25 unopened envelopes between us. The suspense was terrific — it’d been so long since we’d had any mail to speak of.

       When we were seated in the restaurant, they brought our consommé right away, so René said I had to eat it all before I could open any of the letters. So you can imagine how fast I downed it. And then we picked a few letters at random, and read them together, between courses. It was the mostest fun.

       After dinner, we sauntered home again thru the pitch darkness. When we got there, lots and lots of packages had arrived. I had four, and we tore into them with all the zest of Christmas Eve! Everything was so lovely and I was so excited I could hardly contain myself.

     First we sampled Bets’ chocolates. Then came Tante Marie‘s and Uncle Lous beautiful compact. Then your lovely gown. And Sally‘s and Grandmother‘s adorable p.j.s. Then my Nana’s big box of “goodies” with fruit cake, nuts, raisins, candy, dried fruit and gum, with a little writing portfolio and some stockings tucked in. The white shirt you sent me came today — and we all enjoyed the “Don’t open ’till Christmas” on the box!!

     Everyone in our quarters is hustling about getting packed. We move into tents with the rest of the unit early tomorrow a.m. I’m so used to this packing and moving business — seems that’s about all I’ve done all my life — that I finished it all in very short order.

     We are sort of sorry to leave this beautiful building, but none of us mind moving into tents. It’s what we expected when we volunteered for overseas service.

     We’re trying to arrange to rent a car, a Plymouth 2-door sedan, for $2 a day. Just for the nurses, and we’ll all chip in. We’re hoping Col. B. will approve — he hasn’t been approached yet. But we’ve no other means of transportation, since we’re prohibited from riding bikes or riding in government vehicles except on official business.

                                              With loads of love,

                                                               Lois

.

Watch for René’s next letter
January 31


As far as the Army knew, Lois was René’s fiancee, but they had been secretly married in Virginia in October 1942. Their marriage had to be kept a secret from the Colonel or, in accordance with Army regulations, he would have transferred Lois to another unit.




Gert Brazil and a friend in front of the Ecole des Jeunes Filles – the “beautiful building” Lois says she’s “sort of sorry” to be leaving to move out to the hospital area. But as she comments, “None of us mind moving into tents. It’s what we expected when we volunteered for overseas service.”



January 30, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

Here’s are excerpts from a letter that Lois wrote to René’s parents and his sister, Barbara (known as Bobsy).



January 30, 1943

Casablanca, Morocco

Dear Mommie, Dad & Bobsy,

        Here we are, out in tents. It’s not a bit bad. There are 5 of us in each one, and best friends are together. I’m in with Fran Trembley, Charlotte Bambino, Gertrude Brazil and Martha Morris. I wish there could’ve been 7 in a tent, so Pat Barry and Ag Alkire could be with us too.

       René & Col. B. & George Davis took a short trip yesterday on business, and while there had dinner with my Uncle, Tom Monroe. I wish I could’ve been with them. I’m awfully anxious to see him. Perhaps later…

     We eat our meals 30 min. before the officers. So far, I’ve seen no more of René out here, than when we were in town. We were together for a few minutes last nite, but only had time to exchange letters, and even then, I didn’t finish reading all of his.

     Tonite is our nite out and I’m hoping we can do something. The Col. has given his O.K. on our riding into town in jeeps.

     I hope this finds you all well. René and I are both in the pink.

                                  With loads of love,

                                               Lois

.

Watch for René’s next letter
January 31


Three of the five nurses who shared a tent: Lois, Gert Brazil and Martha Morris.



Hear what Gert Brazil had to say about moving into tents…