Female Lieutenant 38th General Hospital Egypt 1944

This letter was written by a Lieutenant, who was a nurse with the 38th general hospital. She was writing to her parents. From the letter…..

Dear Mom and Dad,

   We hadn’t received any mail from the States in 10 days, and your two letter which came today took about 3 weeks. A V-mail from Wilson took 10 days.
   Your mentioned Johnnie and Aunt Mary in your letter but didn’t give me the address of either of them.
   The Capt. Cheledon mentioned in the clipping used to be with us. I guess you are getting the same new of the Invasion that we are and news we hear first hand is from the fellows who come down from Italy and the nearby islands there and they seem to feel that things are going well. Everybody around here feels so relieved that the Invasion is finally started, as long as it had to come. It certainly was kept secret. I had a letter last week from a Colonel in England and he didn’t seem to have any idea of when it would begin. Of course, he couldn’t have said if he did know, but he mentioned that he didn’t.
   We had an outdoor dance on the tennis court last week and it sprinkled a little rain for the first time in months. Fortunately, it was toward the end of the evening.
   Vera  was in the hospital for a couple of days last week with sinusitis and this week Dick is in. This is a bad climate for sinuses, too sandy.
   I have signed up for leave for the middle of July. I don’t know yet whether I’ll go to Alexandria or Palestine. One of the other girls is due to go at the same time so we are going together. I’m glad to go with her because I think she is one of the nicest girls here.
   Wilson was a big help to you on his leave. He is getting to be domestic these days.
   There was an Air Corps Pilot sitting on our porch waiting for the bus last night and I had met him one time a couple of days ago, so I talked to him while he was waiting. He was telling me about his wife and baby and about being a teller in a bank. He said flying was a long way from that job. In the course of the conversation I mentioned about Johnnie and how badly he felt about washing out and he said he knew how ti felt because for awhile he didn’t think he would pass. He says some fellows never learn to fly just like some never can play the violin. He said now and then one gets through who doesn’t really have the knack of it and when he gets in combat he loses all confidence in himself and before long he starts to drink heavily and he is really worse off than if he had washed out in the beginning and tried something else. This fellow doesn’t drink at all and his buddies think he is a swell guy. I told him that and he said that he didn’t know it and that he thought maybe they considered him a wet blanket. He has been out on a lot of raids and I asked him how he was feeling. He said pretty good so far but it can’t end too soon. For one thing, he’s got to get home to see the new baby.
   I have been doing a little baking every couple of days, but hey are going to move our stove to another ward where they need it to boil dishes. The ward boys don’t like that idea because they thin it’s time I learned to cook. They are always poking their nosed in the kitchen and I tell them I never liked anyone around while I was cooking. They say maybe it would have been a good idea to let you hang around and give me a few pointers. Pretty funny.
   McCartney is in the hospital again with another boil but he looks all right otherwise. He gave me a couple of AC papers the other day and he says he has some more. I saw him at Chapel yesterday, too. I was with five patients three of them colored.
   Well, I guess I’ll have a coke. We get our supply each Friday and keep them in our rooms except one or two which we mark with our names and keep in the Mess Hall refrigerator. We can have as many as we want. Last summer there wasn’t one in all of Egypt.

Goodbye now,  


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I casually happened upon this letter while searching on a different subject, and was quite surprised to read about "Vera" and "Dick", as they are my parents. Although both have now passed, they told enough stories about their experiences at Camp Huckstep that I can even guess at the name of this letter's author, whom I will refer to as MG.

Here's the stories behind the letter. MG and Vera were US Army nurses who had enlisted as part of a group formed around medical staff at Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia. MG was from Atlantic City, NJ, which would explain her reference to "AC papers". They were stationed at the Army's 38th General Hospital, which -- from its opening soon after Halloween, 1942 -- was the largest such hospital in North Africa and the Middle East, with around 1100 beds. It was located at Camp Russell B. Huckstep, just east of Cairo, Egypt. Also at Huckstep was the Army Air Corps' Payne Field, which is today Cairo International Airport.

The original purpose of the Huckstep complex was to support the war in North Africa. The supply depot and truck/tank ordinance repair facilities there supported both American and British forces fighting the Italians and Germans, including Rommel. But, by the time this letter was written in 1944, the war had moved into Southern Europe, and operations at Huckstep were diminishing.

Vera was the hospital's chief psychiatric nurse, and she told poignant stories of her patients, who had been injured in tank battles and aircraft that had limped back to base. Along with Benghazi, Payne Field was involved with air raids against the Ploesti oil refineries, and some airmen returned with severe burns and shell shock, today referred to as PTSD.

On the good side, Huckstep was a modern base, removed from actual combat and with good facilities. Exotic Cairo was a streetcar ride away, and had clubs, cinemas, and nice hotels, including the legendary Shepheard's Hotel and the Continental-Savoy, where Dick and Vera spent their honeymoon.

Dick was the commanding officer of both Camp Huckstep and the Middle East Service Command. He had first briefly met Vera on the ocean liner Aquitania (a sister ship to the Lusitania), on the long journey from the USA to Suez, Egypt (via Brazil and South Africa to avoid German U-boats). They were reintroduced by friends at Huckstep, and would be married at the base chapel a few months after this letter was written.

Also in the near future was Dick's transfer to work with the Greek government in exile, in Maadi, Egypt. By October, 1944, he would be moving to a liberated Athens, upon the Germans' retreat from there. As Commanding Officer - US Forces in Greece and Albania, he would be away from his new wife, who remained at Huckstep. They would remain in Athens and Cairo until June of 1945, when they would fly back to new duties in California, where Dick commanded a school that trained Army civil affairs officers for the eventual occupation of Japan and Vera served as a nurse at Fort Ord. In January of 1946, they would be separated from the military, and returned to civilian service. Vera retired from nursing, and Dick eventually became the board chairman of a Fortune 25 company. He died in 1979, and Vera in 2008 at the age of 93.

MG returned to nursing in New Jersey, and our family would occasionally visit her on trips to the Jersey shore. My sister still has a stuffed lama given to her by MG. MG never married, and died in 2010.

Jim H. said...

Wow!!!

I want to thank you for telling the "rest of the story". So many times, I read letters, and wonder how their lives turned out. I also wonder about the parts of their stories during the war, that couldn't be told in letters, because of censorship.
The information you shared, should be very helpful for anyone researching information on this particular hospital, or the area in general. Thanks you very much.
Jim