December 30, 1942 – June 19, 1943
December 30, 1942
Here I am, having unfortunately been unable to write for the last 8 or 9 days. My first letter since leaving was on the 21st and I hope that by now you have received it. Unfortunately, the day after we arrived here it was decided that no more unofficial cables could be sent, so I was unable to let you know that everything was O.K. I hope that you haven’t been too worried over the fact that you didn’t receive any word from us before this. The Padre was the only one who was able to send any cables and he sent one to a friend of his at the Hospital, so perhaps that person told Mrs. Noonan and possibly you have heard via her – I hope so!!
We are allowed to tell you that we are “Somewheres in Africa.” It’s a funny place as both Alain and Claude can tell you. Right now I’m sitting in our tent trying to type by the light of two candles and a gasoline lamp. The wind is blowing so much outside that our lamp won’t work correctly and the candles have gone out on me several times in the last few minutes. I may be continuing this in the dark, so don’t be too surprised at some of the crazy mistakes I may make. Oh, Oh, it just now began to pour outside… Changed my location in the tent to a less windy spot so I may now be able to continue more or less in peace.
As our ship pulled into dock here, the band began playing. And what should they be playing but Stanford’s “Come Join the Band” and University of California’s “Sturdy Golden Bear.” It gave us a funny, yet awfully good, feeling.
We really had a wonderful Christmas Eve. We are situated out of town a ways, by a cemetery, and that first night the men were far better off than we were. They had their tents and blankets and we had nothing but what we wore off the boat — our coats and raincoats and long underwear. There was a load of hay there and we managed to fix ourselves a fairly comfortable spot. I was between a couple of bales of hay with George Davis and we were not too bad off. Then all of a sudden, it seemed as if a whole bunch of locusts descended on us, for we were practically without any hay in no time at all. What had happened was that another outfit came around and their officer told the men to take a bale for every two men — and none of our boys were fast enough to stop them and those that might have didn’t know whether we were supposed to have the hay or not. Anyhow, we spread a little hay under us, and Davis, the Padre and I huddled together and froze for the rest of the night. And that was our Christmas Eve — true Baby in the Manger stuff — but we didn’t even have the roof over our heads.
Christmas morn, Davis and I set out for town. Of course, we had no transportation other than our own feet, but we managed O.K. My prime reason for going with George was to find out where the nurses were located, but before more than a couple of hours I found myself as unofficial assistant supply and transportation officer for the outfit. Since then, George and I have been working together, and I must modestly admit, that if it hadn’t been for the two of us, the men and officers would be in quite a spot here. We worked like fiends down at the docks getting our equipment that had come with us — trying to get our bed rolls (sleeping bags) and foot lockers, so that we wouldn’t freeze at night any longer than necessary.
The way we went about things reminded me of a certain 24 year old young man in 1906 — vehicles commandeered, etc. We worked late that evening so that we had some tents and cots and blankets for the officers that night, and then finally around 10P.M., we managed to get out to the school where the gals were located. Yes, we get there only to find that all of the important ones were gone — gone to a party with the bloomin’ air corps boys. Lois had left a note that they’d be back at 11 P.M., in case we showed up. They had been told that George and I were working like beavers and they also figured that we might have difficulty finding their place – particularly at night with blackout conditions.
Well, we waited for them and around 11 P.M. they showed up and we were able to stick around until 1 A.M. Then Bishop, George, and I walked home — walked home down the middle of the streets, looking to right, left, and behind as frequently as we could turn our heads. We finally were able to bum a ride for about the last mile back to our area.
The next day George and I set out again trying to get transportation, tents, some cots and two blankets apiece. But we were still plenty cold, so we determined to get our bed rolls if it were humanly possible. Well, some of the bed rolls started to show up and then the Sgt. who was with me and I decided that if they continued showing up as slowly as they were doing, only a few of our officers would be sleeping warm that night. As a consequence, we took 5 of our men and during the 2 hours that the crew unloading the ship took off for dinner, we went into the hold of the ship and ran the elevator down to the lowermost hold and picked out the foot-lockers and bed rolls that belonged just to our bunch. By the time we were done, we were worn out and filthy, but we had located all but one of the bed rolls that belonged to us. There were a few foot lockers that we hadn’t found, but which turned up easily the next day.
Since that first day I have continued to assist George, using my rather poor, though fast improving, French to get most of the things we have needed. It’s really been lots of fun. Yesterday we opened up for business out here in the field and we are now working with patients.
I am living with George in one of the supply tents, whereas the rest of the officers are in three large tents together. The main advantage of being with George is the transportation angle — if there is any, we have access to it and control over it.
Last night there was a New Years Eve Party down at the gals’ place. It was pretty good, with plenty of port wine floating around, besides the sandwiches, etc. As Lois has told you, they have a pretty good set-up there, living in what used to be a school building. They have a nice dining room there and the only two things they haven’t got are hot water and heat – otherwise they are pretty well off.
The gals have been treated pretty royally because they were the first nurses to arrive, and the air-corps men really have swarmed around their place. The gals even had a party given for them that first night we arrived – and here we lay out in the hay freezing to death while the air-corps was taking the gals out. Such is life!
Most of the gang have been able to take time off and go into town to one of the hotels for showers occasionally, but George and I have been so busy that we have yet to taste such luxury. However, the third day we were here we did manage to get back onto the boat we came on and fineegle a nice hot shower there. But we had worked so hard and long the rest of the day – wrestling with the bed rolls and foot-lockers ourselves, that the effects of the shower didn’t last very long.
We have had some news that Col. Monroe is O.K. and having a pleasant time in Africa not too far from us, so it may be that we will be seeing him again in the months to come. It’s funny, a lot of our men have run accidentally into their brothers, brothers-in-law, cousins, etc. in other outfits that are in this neck of the woods – relatives they hadn’t seen for many months while in the U.S.
It’s funny walking around town here because one is constantly besieged by little kids asking for “Chewing gum,” Smoke,” or “Shoe Shine.” For most, that is the extent of their vocabulary in English. In one hotel someone taught the elevator boy a few words, so now he greets everyone in the morning with “Good morning, you son of a bitch!” — all that with a bright cheery smile on his face. And so it goes!
Loads of love,