Diary (Excerpts) (1942)

Jump to ER's description of her visits to Londonderry and Glasgow

26 October 1942

Monday morning we went down to breakfast and I felt guilty because I had not remembered to tell Tommy that English breakfasts were not served but were put on a side table in hot dishes with lams under them and each person was supposed to help himself. It was very different form the old days when there would have been dishes of eggs, cold meats of various kinds. There was, however, some bacon, cooked tomatoes, some porridge, I think, coffee and toast, with some garden grown fruit which made up the meal.

We started out with Mrs. Churchill in a car (which the United States Army had insisted I should use during my visit, and it is driven by a man from Scotland Yard.)

Our first stop where Col. Hobby and Lieut. Bandel and Mrs. Wateley, head of the Auxiliary Territorial Service met us was at Maidenhead. The girls of the Auxiliary Territorial Airforce were lined up in the rain for us to inspect them. Of course, having sent my big bag back to London, I was obliged to go without any rubbers or rain coat and obliged to wear my feathered hat. It was stupid of me, of course, not to have kept the proper clothes, but I made up my mind that had or no hat, I must make the inspection oblivious of weather.

We were taken first to the room to see the charts and general system of operations for sending pilots to pick up a plane at a factory to fly it to its destination. After it was delivered the pilot would be picked up by another plane and taken to some other place to pick up still another plane or return to headquarters. A large part of this service is done by women. They fly practically every type of plane, even the big four motor bombers. I was interested to find among these women that there was one Polish woman and several American women brought over by Jacqueline Cochrane. I went from lane to plane and spoke to each woman standing beside the plane she flew.

The women who drove the tractors looked more sensibly and comfortably dressed for the weather of this day. Then we visited the repair shop where there were a few men, but primarily women who were doing repairs and the re-servicing of planes, as well as working on machines and making new parts.

The minister of Aircraft Production, General Llewellyn, after his short introduction, asked me ot say a few words to everyone gathered together in the hangar. Then three cheers were given for me and for Mrs. Churchill.

We were given tea before we left Maidenhead for Guilford. Here we went to an induction and training center for the ATS. First we saw a physical training class in one of the gyms. Then we went through some recreation rooms and the canteen. The chairs in the lounge room were very comfortable, stuffed chairs. The buildings all were simple and made of wood, and every place was cold because of orders against having heat until November 1st.

We lunched at the Officers' mess, having the same food that was being served everywhere else. The lunch consisted of soup, beef and kidney pie, the inevitable Brussels sprouts, salad, cooked fruit with a sauce made out of beaten milk.

Ten we went to see the sergeant, who had once been a chef in London and who was now teaching cooking. The women are trained for two weeks at cooking small meals which they are obliged to eat themselves, then two weeks in making things out of left-overs and two weeks cooking out of doors on stoves which they built themselves out of old used tin cans, rubble like broken bricks or stone, all held together by mud.

Then we went to the sergeants' quarters where they had a nice dog as a mascot, a billiard table of which they were proud and which was a bone of good natured contention because the officers' quarters boasted no such luxury. We saw their mess, rooms and recreation rooms and their sleeping quarters. We visited the Chapel where services are held for Protestant denominations and where the attendance is voluntary. The Roman Catholics and Jews are allowed to go to the nearest church outside the camp.

We saw another physical training class and as second gymnasium. A good many groups of new recruits marched from place to place. I finally saw the sleeping barracks with ablution units, consisting of bathtubs, showers, toilets and washbowls. There was another room for a laundry and we were told there were dryers somewhere nearby.

We also visited the hospital but the girls only receive treatment here for minor ailments such as colds, stomach upsets, etc. every girl is given a physical examination—her hair is inspected carefully and I saw three girls having it done and this inspection is done several times to make sure that no bugs are left in the hair. There are cases of nerves which do not get better and when the doctor decides that nothing can be done the girl is discharged from the Army.

There is an out-patients' clinic and most serious cases are taken to a large hospital nearby. I asked if a Wasserman test was required in the entrance examination and I was told that only two cases of venereal disease had been found in this station. It seems to me that they should have this test and the doctor in charge agreed with me. They have had very few abnormal sex cases and they take refuge in subterfuge and do not discharge for this reason if it is necessary to do so.

We then went to a second camp, Camberley, where the girls are receiving instruction for motor transport work. They are taught to repair and keep repaired the heavy trucks they drive. We saw the dispatch riders and saw the canteen and rest room and sleeping quarters. Some of the women sleep in nissen huts. I had a brief press conference under the shelter of the repair shed and perhaps because the press was so wet and weary, they asked very few questions.

Here we were again given tea and started on our way back to London. There we went to the American Red Cross nurses' club run by Mrs. Anthony J. Biddle and her committee. It is very attractive, cold, however, as everywhere else. A nurse is in constant attendance since nurses often arrive in a state of complete exhaustion and they even have hot water bottles for the beds. A nurse wanting a real rest can find a refuge in one of the single rooms. This club also extends hospitality to the junior officers who when I was there, had no club of their own in London. The Red Cross has now opened one or two for threes officers. The young man can use the recreation rooms and lounge rooms, writing desks, etc., and get a very good meal for two shillings. This canteen has the advice of Dr. Solomons who is one of the best known and most successful dietitians in England and runs the Government restaurants. She even makes money on her two shilling meals and still everybody feels they have had enough to eat and that it has been good.

From the Club we went back to the apartment where Ambassador Winant and Elliott were waiting for me. Elliott stayed the night, but had to leave at six a.m. and promised to return on Wednesday to go tot the p play. The Ambassador seemed pleased with my visit so far but we only chatted for a few minutes as we had to dress and leave at a quarter before eight for the dinner which the Ambassador was giving. Secretary Morgenthau called for us and took us to the dinner which was for Americans who were invited to meet me. After the Ambassador brought each person up to talk to me and tell a little about his work. We were home a little before eleven and settled down to do the column and some mail.

No evening have we been to bed before one and nearly always later but we have had breakfast at 8:30 every morning.

I found the Ambassador's dinner particularly pleasant. Many men whom I like were there, Philip Read who is president of the General Electric and working over here as Averill Harriman's Assistant; General Eisenhower who sat on my right, Bill Phillips who I was particularly glad to see again and who seems happy to be at work again.


11 November 1942

At eight-thirty we had breakfast with some privates from the women's military organizations [this was in Londonderry], and at nine-thirty we inspected the Naval Base. In one repair shop the men presented me with two ash trays, one marked for the president—"The Boss"—and the other inscribed to "Rover."

We stopped at eleven a.m. in the Londonderry Square for the Armistice Day celebration. I placed the wreath given by the American Forces and was followed in the observance by an endless number of other people, including Lady Montgomery, whom I felt it a great honor to meet. She looks like her famous son "Monty," and there is plenty of character in the lines of her face."

The lord mayor asked me to sign his book, and then we were off again to visit the Naval Hospital. At the ceremonies there I was presented with a shillelagh and a cane for the president.

The people of this part of Ireland are much less restrained than the people in England. The crowds got out of hand and the police seemed unable to cope with them as they crowded around us, whereas in England a polite request from the "bobby" is all that is needed.

The Naval Hospital here, which is very well managed, is set up in Nissen huts, with private rooms for officers and for very sick men at either end of each hut. I never realized how compact a kitchen could be created in a Nissen hut; there is not too much space, but just enough. This is true, too, of the operating room.

The doctor, Captain Davis, told me to tell Admiral McIntire that all he asks is to be let alone. He likes his job and is getting on wonderfully. He seems to have very good corpsmen, and to object strongly to Navy nurses. He says women have no place in the services, especially in Londonderry, because he can find no place to house them. One gathers from his conversation that he does not like ladies.

After a luncheon at which I sat next to the Bishop of Derry, we left at once by air for Prestwick, Scotland, landing there at three-forty-five, in time for tea. Then we started for Glasgow, stopping to see some women's institutes on the way. At one place the women presented me with some Scotch shortbread for my husband. (They had saved scarce ingredients to make it, and he was deeply touched when I gave it to him.)

In Glasgow we went first to the American Red Cross, inspected it rather thoroughly, had a little time to rest, wrote the column, had dinner, and then I had coffee with some of the soldiers, which was really fun. Then we went to the opening of the Merchant Marine hostel. I went over that from top to bottom, and then said a few words over the radio. I am deeply grieved that two seamen whom Bob Trout was to interview over the air, were cut off because the other speeches were too long.

By nine-thirty we reached the C. & J. Weir Company factory and spent an hour going over it, then drove through a dense black-out to the Rolls factory. Here the women working on the eleven o'clock shift, some seven hundred and fifty, were gathered together in one room. After we had been through the factory I made a rather brief speech, but the gentleman following me complimented everybody on the platform until I thought we were never going home to bed. We sat through five speeches. Finally we reached Lord Weir's house about twelve, where we met some of the members of his family, were served refreshments, talked a little while and at last went to bed. I wondered if I would ever be able to get up in the morning, for I was weary and my feet didn't seem to belong to me.