British Women Organists – 30 May 2021

Playing Upon Versus Playing With the Organ: The Reception
of the Organ Recital in Victorian England
Part 2

Elizabeth Stirling certainly was not the only organist to play at the 1862 International Exhibition whose choice of music raised some eyebrows among fellow organists. A correspondent signed ‘An Organist in the North’ complained to the Musical World in August 1862 of having heard organ music quite unsuited to the character of the instrument at the International Exhibition. His list included operatic overtures and scenas, Scotch airs and ‘pieces of a similar character, which no lover of organ music could for a moment defend’. The correspondent concluded, ‘If we are to have organ performances and adaptations, let us have something compatible, and let us have at least one-half organ music in each programme.’ 13 At that time, music from opera fell within the popular tradition and was not considered appropriate organ repertoire by those of the classical music tradition.

Elizabeth Stirling (1819 – 1895)

A letter from correspondent Solidity to the Musical Standard aired a similar grievance. He asked, ‘Can you or any other readers, explain why some of our gentlemen organists misuse their opportunities at the organ in the exhibition, by selecting for performance pianoforte music (or at all events arrangements totally unfitted for the instrument.’ Solidity was ready to banish organists who performed operatic compositions and whose programmes lacked any pretension to organ music ‘to play on a no-pedal pipe, or no-pedal organ, for a month as purgatory’. 14

Yet another letter writer who signed himself A Manchester Organist responded to An Organist in the North with the horror story of a polka seen in the programme of a celebrated organist. He continued: ‘If it is a matter of public taste, and if the state of public taste is really so bad, it is high time that something should be done to improve it.’ 15

A correspondent who signed himself A Lover of Organ Music wrote to praise organists who performed the classical music for which the organ was best suited. He offered a recital programme of organist William Bexfield as the ideal, which included a Handel overture and chorus, preludes and fugues of Bach and Mendelssohn, a Mozart Andante and extemporaneous variations on ‘God Save the Queen’. 16

Clearly, correspondents did not object to all music arranged for organ, but only to arrangements of popular music. Many organists, Stirling among them, found a suitable middle ground in well-written arrangements of ‘serious’ music not originally for the organ. Best prepared his own ‘Arrangements for the Scores of the Great Masters for the Organ’, published by Novello and reviewed in the Musical World in 1856 as ‘able and appropriate’. 17 As for other arrangements, such as operatic overtures and popular tunes, played on the organ, the correspondent signed A Lover of Organ Music declared emphatically, ‘Things of this description are as bad as they can be, instead of the organ being played upon, it is played with!’ 18

The letter writer An Organist surely must have thought Stirling was playing with, not upon, Willis’s organ when, in September 1862 at the International Exhibition, she again included in a recital, by desire, ‘”All among the Barley” arranged as a waltz (!!)’. Three other works – ‘an offertoire by Wely; a Fugue of J.S. Bach’s; and Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus ‘ – completed Stirling’s programme. 19

‘A WALTZ ON THE ORGAN!’ correspondent An Organist decried, prompting a spate of letters targeting the recitalist’s choice of repertoire. A letter writer who signed himself A Churchman sought to clarify the correspondent’s objection to Stirling’s waltz arrangement by evoking the music of Mendelssohn as his standard when he wrote:

‘An Organist’ refers to Miss Stirling’s ‘Waltz’ from the ‘Barley’ part song. That is to put as a question of that lady’s taste in playing such. In the Handel week, Miss Stirling played at Exeter Hall Mendelssohn’s organ accompaniment to ‘Israel in Egypt’. Think of some of Mendelssohn’s organ music; for I assume the objection is, that the waltz is too quick for the organ, not the accusation as to harmony. 20

But A Churchman obviously had missed the point. Correspondent An Organist wrote to the Musical Standard to correct the impression that ‘my objection to a Waltz on an organ arises from the tempo – that is not the fact’. His letter rekindled the controversy: I am well aware that much of Mendelssohn’s organ music is in quick time, but any one can at once perceive the suitability of the music to the instrument. This is not the case as regards a waltz, and never will be while it retains its ‘rum tum tum in the bass, and a jiggy melody in the treble.’ 21

The concluding remarks of the correspondent signed ‘An Organist’ were an affront to Stirling’s musicianship: ‘That organist can have but very little love or regard for “The King of Instruments,” and must be totally oblivious of what is due to its majestic tones, who can willingly use it for the exposition of such trash, as is ‘reeled off’ from a ‘Grinder,’ or any instrument of a similar kind.’ 22

It was correspondent Pedals, not An Organist, however, who had the last word when he wrote: ‘Of “waltzes” on organs, I speak with sorrow and heartfelt regret; for indeed, I feel that it is hardly possible for organ playing to reach a lower depth than that, or for the grandest of all instruments to be prostituted to a baser use.’ 23

The complaints about Stirling having played a waltz on the organ seem somewhat unfair, given that the programs as printed in The Times specified that the piece was included by desire. Although The Times did not indicate by whose desire a part song arranged as a waltz was requested for an organ programme, one can surmise that persons who had enjoyed singing or hearing Stirling’s popular part song would have reacted favourably to hearing the familiar melody as part of her organ recital. If published accounts of performances of Stirling’s part songs are indicative, the ‘ever welcome’ ‘All among the Barley’ was her most frequently sung vocal piece. 24 To organ aficionados, however, the organ performance of the part song as a waltz would have been a travesty.

To understand why choice of organ repertoire elicited such strong reactions among readers of the Musical Standard, one must perhaps look beyond the organists themselves to the overarching purpose their recitals were intended to serve at the Crystal Palace, the International Exhibition and other large-scale exhibitions opening periodically in nineteenth-century London. Describing the use of the Gray and Davison Handel Festival organ built and installed in the Crystal Palace in 1857, Michael Musgrave explains that, like the Palace military band from which it sometimes drew its repertoire, the organ ‘both welcomed and accompanied visitors, and, as with a religious service, it could harmonize with the atmosphere – even help to create it through choice from the very wide repertory that was coming to characterize the use of the modern orchestral instrument’. 25 The organ recital became a means of articulating events.

Just as an organ performance by Frederic Archer in 1872 at London’s Alexandra Palace ‘excited but feeble interest’, because ‘the entertainment was only intended to fill up a gap between the time of the horse races’, one also must place the organ recitals at the International Exhibition in context. 26 The organs on display were located not in concert rooms but in large open spaces. Recitals would have attracted dedicated listeners and passers-by alike among their audiences. Finding music to satisfy this diverse gathering of individuals, often en route to competing events, was not easily achieved, especially given the high moral purpose to which some held the International Exhibition itself.

The Reverend Anthony Thorold, rector of Saint Giles in the Fields, spoke for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge when he advised readers to use the International Exhibition for edification and spiritual growth, not for idleness and frivolity. Liberally citing Scripture as his authority, with missionary-like fervor Thorold addressed the ultimate salvation of the visitors who, when viewing the Exhibition, should ‘feel that they are in a Christian land’. 27 Given that Thorold was speaking for others who shared his opinions, many would have expected organ recital repertoire to contribute musically to the Exhibition’s high moral purpose. Stirling’s waltz, like the polkas, Scotch airs and popular operatic tunes of her colleagues, did not meet this exalted criterion.

Because of its association with the church, the organ was held to a high standard of repertoire. As a one-person band, it could serve as a musical missionary, much like Louis-Antoine Juliien’s popular Promenade Concerts of the 1840s and 1850s, to bring ‘Music to the People’, the catchphrase of what George Bernard Shaw considered a rather smug Victorian ideal that sought to expose individuals of the usually middle and upper-lower classes to the edifying and uplifting moral effects that music was thought to provide. 28

But unlike Julien’s concerts, in which dance music, especially the quadrille, was ‘a spoonful of sugar’ to sweeten doses of Beethoven and other classical composers, organ recitalists were expected to lure their listeners with music that evoked only the sanctuary, not the street. To do otherwise conjured up the pipe organ’s distant cousins, the barrel organ of the organ grinder and the hurdy gurdy player, whose renditions of popular songs, dances, hymns, marches, and excerpts from opera and oratorio ranged from ‘the tolerable to the unbearable’, to use Richard Middleton’s description. 29

The counterpoint of two of Stirling’s recitals, both of which received criticism – one in 1857 for music too serious, and one in 1862 for music not serious enough – highlights the existence of two distinct factions within the organ world, as within the larger concert society. Each had its own views of what constituted good musical taste. Best may have had a winning formula for his organ recitals at Saint George’s Hall, but the recitals at the exhibitions served a particular purpose that set them at odds with recitals in churches or even in town halls.

That purpose may have been acknowledged eventually, but it did little to end the controversy over the appropriate organ music for the different locations. Organists still were choosing sides long after the International Exhibition had closed. Writing for the Musical Standard in 1885, for example, organist Edward Turpin extolled the virtues of the ‘compact selection of classical and better-class popular music’ heard at the weekly Bow and Bromley organ recitals compared with ‘the rubbish so extensively played’ by organists at the International Exhibition in South Kensington. 30

Just who should be the arbiter in matters of musical taste concerning organ recitals was not addressed directly by contributors to the music journals of Victorian England, but the assumption was that this was not a decision to be left ‘by desire’ to uninformed listeners.

 

For Part 1, see the Blog posted on 1 May 2021. For more about Elizabeth Stirling, see Elizabeth Stirling and the Musical Life of Female Organists in Nineteenth-Century England (Ashgate 2007). The book currently is out of print but may be found in libraries and purchased from used book sellers.

Notes

13  An Organist in the North, ‘Sir, As a contrast’ [correspondence], Musical World 40 (30 Aug 1862): 553.
14  Solidity, ‘Organ Music versus Piano: International Exhibition’ [correspondence], Musical World 40 (6 Sep 1862): 30.
15  A Manchester Organist, ‘Sir, I was much pleased’ [correspondence], Musical World 40 (6 Sep 1862): 569–70.
16  A Lover of Organ Music, ‘Organ Music v. Operatic’ [correspondence], Musical Standard o.s. 1 (1 Oct 1862): 57.
17  Review of W.T. Best ‘Arrangements for the Scores of the Great Masters for the Organ’, Musical World 29 (13 Sep 1851): 586–87.
18  A Lover of Organ Music, ‘Organ Music v. Operatic’, 57.
19  An Organist, ‘Sir, A Waltz on the Organ!’ [correspondence], Musical Standard o.s. 1 (1 Oct 1862): 58; and ‘Miss E. Stirling’, The Times (London), 25 Sep 1862, 1d.
20  An Organist, ‘Sir, A Waltz on the Organ!’, 58; and A Churchman, ‘Sir, I am surprised’ [correspondence], Musical Standard o.s. 1 (15 Oct 1862): 73.
21  An Organist, ‘Sir, I am sure’ [correspondence], Musical Standard o.s. 1 (15 Nov 1862): 105.
22  Ibid.
23  Pedals, ‘Sir, The Lovers of organs’ [correspondence], Musical Standard o.s. 1 (1 Nov 1862): 88.
24  ‘Brighton’, Tonic Sol-fa Reporter, July 1859, 105.
25  Michael Musgrave, The Musical Life of the Crystal Palace (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 147.
26  ‘On Saturday last’, Musical Standard n.s. 3 (28 Sep 1872): 203.
27  Anthony W. Thorold, The International Exhibition of 1862 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, n.d.), 17–18.
28  George Bernard Shaw, Shaw on Music; A Selection from the Music Criticism of Bernard Shaw made by Eric Bentley (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor, 1955), 305–307.
29  Richard Middleton, ‘Popular Music of the Lower Classes’, in The Romantic Age, 1800 – 1904, ed. Nicholas Temperley, The Blackwell History of Music, vol. 5 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1988), 79.
30  Edmund H. Turpin, ‘The Bow and Bromley Institute’, Musical Standard 4th ser. 29 (26 Sep 1885): 198.

 

British Women Organists – 1 May 2021

Playing Upon Versus Playing With the Organ: The Reception
of the Organ Recital in Victorian England
Part 1

I invite you to put yourselves in the shoes of a nineteenth-century Londoner who, on an August afternoon in 1863, is strolling through South Kensington’s International Exhibition, which had opened earlier the previous year. As you approach the building’s northeast transept, the sounds of an organ drift through the air. You gravitate with the crowd toward the source of the music, an imposing instrument on display built by the firm of Forster and Andrews. The recitalist whom the Victorian audience heard on that occasion was Elizabeth Stirling, who, at age forty-three, was a well-known organist in London. As advertised in The Times, she was playing ‘(by desire) her popular part song “All among the barley,” arranged as a waltz.’ 1

Elizabeth Stirling (1819 – 1895)

London’s 1862 International Exhibition, like the 1851 Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace, gave England’s organists increased performance opportunities outside the church. Their recitals fueled a debate in the press concerning what music could appropriately be played in this extra-liturgical setting. At the root of the debate was the purpose organ music was expected to fulfil.

Performances by Stirling, who played both at the Crystal Palace in 1857 and at the International Exhibition of 1862, prompted several letters to the editors of England’s music journals. The correspondence offers a means to explore issues surrounding the reception of the organ recital in Victorian England.

A lengthy organ recital by Stirling at the Crystal Palace in October 1857, on a Gray and Davidson instrument, featured three works by Bach, a Handel concerto, a Mendelssohn sonata, an Andante by Wesley and one of her own compositions, the Air with Variations in A Major. 2 Having eagerly arrived at the Crystal Palace to hear Stirling, for whose musical talent she had the highest respect, a correspondent with initials J.J,B. found Stirling subjected to a series of insults. J.J.B. attributed the small and rather unenthusiastic audience to unfavourable weather and the severity of Stirling’s program. But other conduct was not as easily dismissed. To accommodate the Crystal Palace Band concert to follow, Stirling was obliged to begin her recital fifteen minutes earlier than announced. When her program ran longer than expected, the band members allegedly began tuning their instruments in order to bring it to a close. When that ploy failed, they then called ‘Stop – Enough’ and began to hiss, compelling Stirling to end her recital prematurely. 3

Proud that one of her own countrywomen was considered competent to perform in the Crystal palace, J.J.B. was appalled at such treatment of a lady. Her appeal to the editor of the Musical World, who, the correspondent knew, was ‘ever ready to defend the weaker sex, and give them praise and honor where it is due’, elicited two opposite responses. 4 George Grove, Secretary to the Crystal Palace, explained that the cause of the disturbance stemmed from impatient audience members rather than the band, and offered an apology. Given the length of Stirling’s program, he admitted, the band concert should have been scheduled to start thirty minutes later. Grove absolved Stirling of any blame and expressed ‘regret that a lady, and one of such distinguished ability as Miss Stirling, should have been subjected to such an indignity’. 5

The other respondent was not as conciliatory. The audience had assembled for the band concert, not to hear Stirling play, explained a correspondent with the initials W.W., who identified himself as one of the hissers. They had tried all means to stop Stirling’s recital, he explained, such as applauding forcefully to drown her out. They had come to hear music that pleased rather than confounded them. Referring to his perception of the sound of an organ, W.W. concluded: ‘I hope Miss Stirling will take the lesson, and not again weary out the patience of persons who go to the palace for pleasure, and prefer orchestral music to incessant, tuneless, though perhaps scientific noise.’ 6

The organ clearly suffered an image problem in the ears of listeners not accustomed to hearing its music played in recital. Organs were heard in church, where organists played sacred music for the benefit of congregations of worshipers, and on the street where organ grinders cranked out secular tunes to the amusement and annoyance of people within earshot. They also were heard in concert in the shops of organ builders. But the organ had not yet come into its own as a recital instrument.

A major step in the popularization of the organ recital was achieved in the nineteenth century with the building of grand town halls with their magnificent organs in England’s northern cities and elsewhere. According to the Musical Standard, these buildings served as musical centers ‘sanctioning not only interesting but instructive recreation, as a stepping stone to the higher study of art’. 7 Expanding on the possibilities of the organ built for the Glasgow City Hall in 1853, for example, the Musical World claimed:

Those who used to take delight in hearing or practising the current popular music, whether sacred or secular, will, now that the organ has been erected, have an opportunity of listening to the sublime choral harmonies of Handel, Haydn, and Mendelssohn, accompanied by the only single instrument which can give them proper effect, and they will learn to appreciate the solemn and severe grandeur of the world-renowned fugues of Johann Sebastian Bach. 8

Among the cognoscenti, the organ was seen not only as an instrument to impart musical knowledge, but also as one to effect social improvement through the elevation of listeners’ musical taste. 9 Yet although organ recitals slowly were gaining popularity in England, they apparently still could not match the appeal of a rousing band concert.

The most famous of the town hall organ recitals were those at Saint George’s Hall, Liverpool, where W.T. Best presided at the organ for forty years beginning in 1855. Best’s programmes, which were well received, led the Liverpool Mail to conclude after the first year that ‘it is quite possible for the highest class of music, judiciously collected, to please large audiences’. 10

In Best’s programmes, organ arrangements of vocal and instrumental works of the great masters outnumbered pieces originally composed for organ. Audiences were more likely to hear transcriptions of Handel arias and choruses than Handel organ concertos, and to hear the slow movements from Beethoven symphonies arranged for organ rather than Bach organ preludes and fugues. On the lighter side were operatic overtures and ‘reminiscences’ arranged as lengthy fantasias. 11

The ideal mix of serious and lighter music to please an audience was not easily resolved, in part because of the vagaries of musical taste, polarized in the nineteenth century into classical and popular music traditions. Classical music, exemplified in German instrumental music and fugues, could enlighten and educate its listeners but needed an acquired taste to appreciate. Popular music, represented by operatic and dance tunes, entertained and required little knowledge to enjoy. 12 Given their penchant for musical morality, middle-class Victorians for the most part embraced the classical music tradition.

Stirling’s tastes apparently were toward genuine organ music falling within the classical tradition. She especially favoured the music of Bach, though an occasional ‘chestnut’ that audiences had come to expect made its appearance in her recitals. It is thus of particular interest that Stirilng’s organ repertoire at the 1862 International Exhibition sparked a round of letters to the editor of the Musical Standard concerning bad musical taste. The reaction to her choice of pieces serves as a vantage point from which to examine possible pressure on organ recitalists to compromise between two opposing schools of thought. One favoured serious music originally for the organ, the other wanted lighter music with more entertainment value. This is the topic of the next Blog.

Notes

1     ‘Miss E. Stirling’, The Times (London), 12 Aug 1862, 1d.
2     ‘Crystal Palace: Organ Performance’, The Times (London), 9 Oct 1857, 1b.
3     J.J.B., ‘Miss Elizabeth Stirling at the Crystal Palace’ [correspondence], Musical World 35 (17 Oct 1857): 663; George Grove, ‘Miss Stirilng at the Crystal Palace’ [correspondence], and W.W., ‘Miss Stirling at the Crystal Palace’ [correspondence], both Musical World 35 (24 Oct 1857): 679; and J.J.B., ‘Miss Stirling at the Crystal Palace’ [correspondence], Musical World 35 (31 Oct 1857): 695.
4     J.J.B., ‘Miss Elizabeth Stirling’, 663.
5     George Grove, ‘Miss Stirling’, 679.
6     W.W., ‘Miss Stirling’, 679.
7     ‘Town Hall Organs and Borough Organists’, Musical Standard n.s. 14 (23 Mar 1878): 180.
8     ‘Glasgow City Hall Organ’, Musical World 31 (29 Oct 1853): 691.
9     Nicholas Thistlethwaite, ‘Sebastian and the Steam Trumpet’, Organ 56 (Oct 1977): 80.
10  ‘The Organ Recitals at St. George’s Hall’, Liverpool Mail, 6 Sep 1956, 3e.
11  Ibid.
12  William Weber, ‘Mass Culture and the Reshaping of European Musical Taste, 1770–1870’, International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music 8 (Jun 1977): 16–17.

To be continued

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 10 Apr 2021

In Memoriam
World War II Army Flight Nurses

Jenevieve (Jenny) Boyle Silk, who died in June 2017, was the last living of the 25 World War II US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed in 1986 for what became Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II. I clearly remember each of my interviews with these remarkable women and still can picture them and hear their voices when I think of them.

Twenty of these interviews are now digitized and available as audio recordings on the Imperial War Museum website. Access the interviews here:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/search?query=judith+barger&filters%5BwebCategory%5D%5BSound%5D=on&pageSize=&pageSize=

 

My short remembrances are in the order in which I interviewed these former flight nurses.

 

Frances Sandstrom Crabtree (1920–2006)
816 MAES, Europe

Frances Crabtree née SANDSTROM (Saint Luke Hospital School of Nursing, Spokane, Washington, 1942) had worked in obstetrical nursing after finishing nurses training. Eight months later she entered the military and was assigned to Fort George Wright in Spokane, where she had charge of a women’s outpatient clinic until she was accepted for flight nurse training at Bowman Field. Frances graduated from the flight nurse course on 21 January 1944 and with Jenny Boyle, Brooxie Mowrey, and Louise Anthony was assigned to the 816 MAES for duty in England prior to D Day. Frances was featured on the front cover of Air Force magazine in October 1944 after magazine staff spotted her in a hotel lobby on a layover in New York City from a flight that had originated in Prestwick, Scotland.

Covergirl Frances Sandstrom. (Author’s Private Collection)

My interview with Frances – the last of my interviews – was a serendipitous one. Hilda Chamberlain, whom I had interviewed earlier in the day in Spokane, WA had told her friend Frances, who lived nearby, about the interview prior to my arrival. Frances, who had flown as a flight nurse in Europe during World War II, said that she’d like to be interviewed, too. So I drove to Frances’s house that afternoon for one last interview. Having had one such request to be interviewed fall through, I was delighted that Frances was true to her word. Chatty and enthusiastic about her time as a flight nurse, with minimal guidance needed, Frances would have talked for hours had I not stuck to my two-hour time frame. Afterward, Frances and her husband treated me to a casual meal – a most pleasant way to end my interviews of World War II flight nurses. Frances died on 11 February 2006 at age 85.

 

To listen to my interview with Frances Crabtree, click on the link:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80011368

Interviewed 21 June 1986, Spokane, WA
Learn more about my interview with Frances on the Blog for 18 Dec 2016.

 

 

 

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 20 Mar 2021

In Memoriam
World War II Army Flight Nurses

Jenevieve (Jenny) Boyle Silk, who died in June 2017, was the last living of the 25 World War II US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed in 1986 for what became Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II. I clearly remember each of my interviews with these remarkable women and still can picture them and hear their voices when I think of them.

Twenty of these interviews are now digitized and available as audio recordings on the Imperial War Museum website. Access the interviews here:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/search?query=judith+barger&filters%5BwebCategory%5D%5BSound%5D=on&pageSize=&pageSize=

 

My short remembrances are in the order in which I interviewed these former flight nurses.

 

Hilda Halverson Chamberlain (1914–1993)
826 MAES, Pacific

Hilda Chamberlain née HALVERSON (Henrotin Hospital School of Nursing, Chicago, 1937) worked as a visiting nurse, then moved to southern California to work as an industrial nurse with Douglas Aircraft. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, when she was told that she was frozen in her civilian job and could not join the military, she joined anyway in 1942. Asked what made her want to join, Hilda replied: “Well, it made me mad that somebody could tell me that I couldn’t go do something else, although being an industrial nurse was a very lucrative job and paid well – nice benefits. But it made me mad, and I was still thinking about Pearl Harbor, and I got madder and madder.” So Hilda worked all night, then drove to Santa Ana to take her physical for the military, which she passed.

After entering the Army in 1942, Hilda was sent to Hammer Field, CA as her first duty station, followed by assignment to March Field, also in CA. Hilda always had liked to fly, so she applied for flight nurse training, was accepted when at March Field, and traveled to Bowman Field, KY for the class that graduated on 26 May 1944. Her training, Hilda said, was “excellent … we were ready for anything, physically and mentally.” Hilda initially flew domestic air evacuation missions in the US before her squadron, the 826 MAES, was assigned to duty in the Pacific with home base at Hickam Field, HI near Honolulu.

Eventually Hilda and the other nurses in her flight of six were sent to Saipan to air evac patients from the different islands – Okinawa, Guam, the Philippines – back to Honolulu. Hilda remembered irregular hours and long flights up to sixteen hours on which, if no patients were on board, she learned to sleep “real good” on the floor of the plane. Her mind, however, was not always at rest, for, as she explained, “you’re geared, as a nurse you’re always thinking, what can you do for the next person.”

On one of her memorable missions from Leyte in the Philippines, the Japanese had just made a raid on the airfield. Hilda picks up the story: “It had been raining as it often does in the tropics, and we got our patients off as fast as we could, the sergeant and myself. And then I heard somebody say, ‘Where’s the nurse? Is the nurse all right?’ And I was down in the mud trying to cover this young soldier’s head wound. … I didn’t want it to get muddy.” So she sprawled on top of him to keep him safe. “Here I am, all muddy,” she said, “and they teased me. They said, ‘Oh, we’d have never found you!’”

Asked what helped her the most to get through her duties as a flight nurse during the war, Hilda replied, “I think my training – nurses training and at Bowman. And I got what I wanted, you know. I would’ve done anything, ’cause that’s what I wanted to do.”

 

To listen to my interview with Hilda Chamberlain, click on the link:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80011346

 

Interviewed 21 Jun 1986, Spokane, WA
Learn more about my interview with Hilda on the Blog for 20 Nov 2016.

To be continued

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 20 Feb 2021

In Memoriam
World War II Army Flight Nurses

Jenevieve (Jenny) Boyle Silk, who died in June 2017, was the last living of the 25 World War II US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed in 1986 for what became Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II. I clearly remember each of my interviews with these remarkable women and still can picture them and hear their voices when I think of them.

Twenty of these interviews are now digitized and available as audio recordings on the Imperial War Museum website. Access the interviews here:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/search?query=judith+barger&filters%5BwebCategory%5D%5BSound%5D=on&pageSize=&pageSize=

 

My short remembrances are in the order in which I interviewed these former flight nurses.

 

Adele Edmonds Daly (1914–2005)
891 MAES, Pacific

Adele Daly née EDMONDS (University of Minnesota School of Nursing, Minneapolis, 1935) worked as a staff nurse at the University of Michigan hospital, then traveled to California, where she worked first at Stanford University Hospital in San Francisco, then in Palo Alto as a hospital and later a clinic nurse. When all the physicians in that practice went into the military after the war began, Adele decided that she would, too. Her brother-in-law was a pilot, and Adele felt under some pressure to serve in the armed forces. She joined in September 1942. Adele heard about flight nursing during her first assignment, at Hamilton Field, CA, and in just under a year, she was on her way to Bowman Field, KY for flight nurse training. She earned her wings on 26 November 1943 with Lee Holtz, Helena Tynan and Lucy Wilson as classmates. All four flight nurses were assigned to the 801 MAES and sent to the Pacific to replace the original cadre of 801 MAES nurses who were rotating back to the US.

Adele recalled having little with which to work once she started flying air evac missions. Medical supplies were limited – plenty of morphine, but fewer bandages. What she was exposed to at Bowman in flight nurse training was helpful, Adele said, but she added:

Except that I think that we never realized that we’d have so little to do with. And I feel fortunate that I went to a school of nursing when I did, because we had to improvise. That was one part of our training, was improvising. And it’s something that you have to have experience with, because you didn’t have everything to do with. You know, all this fancy equipment and everything that even in those days they had, you didn’t have it.

And sometimes, little work to do, which came in spurts. “You did a lot of sitting on the ground, too, and that meant patience,” Adele said. “Many things affected your takeoff – the weather, for instance. … The people in control of the flights decided that you couldn’t leave – why, as I say, there was a lot of sitting on the ground waiting to take off.”

What Adele remembered most was that she often was alone in flight with no medical technician to assist her, on the ground for layovers when she was the only woman on site. These were her worst experiences during the war. Once when working a flight alone, a psychiatric patient got loose from his litter and grabbed Adele at the neck. But just at that moment the crew chief came out of the cockpit into the cabin, she said, and helped her subdue the patient. “Crew chiefs played a big role in patient care, really.”

Adele recalled one layover when the plane in which she was deadheading with no patients on board had to remain overnight on an island, and the site lacked facilities to accommodate a woman. She wanted to sleep on the plane, but that was against regulations, and they wouldn’t let her sleep where the men would sleep. They found a place for her in a tin equipment shed with a cot. Adele continues the story: “And I wouldn’t sleep in there unless somebody slept with me. So it ended up it was the pilot. … But it turned out real funny. They made a big joke of it, and of course they razzed the pilot unmercifully. … I imagine he made a big story about it, and that was fine.”

But this was an unscheduled layover. For the most part, Adele said, the flight nurses always were considered a part of the team, with the pilots and the crew. “And they always made sure, I think, that you had a place to go, that usually there were some medical people. And they had made arrangements for you to stay someplace. But they were very good about that.” But even scheduled layovers had their challenges:   “Bougainville, oooh! That was a place we often remained overnight, and they had a place for us to stay. But there they had so many crawly things! Lizards and snakes. I don’t know how you can prepare yourself for something like that, because I’d always been terrified of them.”

When asked if there was anything she might like to have been different about her time as a flight nurse in World War II, Adele replied that she would have liked to be better prepared in psychiatric nursing. Perhaps recalling her close call when the crew chief came to her rescue, she added that the more nurses knows about psychiatry, the better they can deal with people in such a traumatic situation. It’s helpful to know, she said, “if nothing else, for your own self.” Adele died in 2005 at age 91.

To listen to my interview with Adele Daly, click on the link:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80011342

Interviewed 20 June 1986, Palo Alto, CA
Learn more about my interview with Adele on the Blog for 16 Oct 2016.

To be continued

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 30 Jan 2021

In Memoriam
World War II Army Flight Nurses

Jenevieve (Jenny) Boyle Silk, who died in June 2017, was the last living of the 25 World War II US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed in 1986 for what became Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II. I clearly remember each of my interviews with these remarkable women and still can picture them and hear their voices when I think of them.

Twenty of these interviews are now digitized and available as audio recordings on the Imperial War Museum website. Access the interviews here:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/search?query=judith+barger&filters%5BwebCategory%5D%5BSound%5D=on&pageSize=&pageSize=

My short remembrances are in the order in which I interviewed these former flight nurses.

 

Miranda (Randy) Rast Weinrich (1914–2005)
803 MAES, China-Burma-India

Randy (Miranda) Weinrich née RAST (Saint Anthony Mercy Hospital School of Nursing, Pocatello, Idaho, 1936) worked for a year as a private duty nurse after earning her nursing diploma, then in central supply at Mercy Hospital, Denver for over three years. After war was declared, she entered the army on 15 April 1942, “because,” as she said, “my brother was in the service,” and she thought if he got hurt, she “would want to take care of him.” Her first duty assignment was as a staff nurse at the AAF station hospital at Will Rogers Field in Oklahoma City. While there, Randy applied for the flight nurse program when the opportunity arose. After successfully passing the physical exam, Randy was sent to Bowman Field, KY, where she stayed for about nine months, working on the staff of the School of Air Evacuation for four months while waiting for a slot in the flight nurse course, from which she graduated on 14 May 1943. Assigned to the 803 MAES, her squadron remained at Bowman Field another four months in active training before shipping overseas to the China-Burma-India Theatre (CBI). Randy recalled daily marching, firearms training, and hikes with full gear.

On arrival in the CBI, three of the four flights in the squadron were billeted at Chabua, India. The fourth flight, to which Randy was assigned, was sent to China. The six nurses in Randy’s flight were scattered all over China; Randy was stationed at Kunming. In theory, the other nurses in China would bring patients to Kunming, and Randy then would fly with the patients over the Hump – the eastern end of the Himalayan Mountains. In reality, however, there was not much flying because of limited gas and supplies and unpredictable weather over the Hump. Randy flew “on demand,” and when not flying, she worked in the AAF dispensary at Kunming.

Randy was a flight nurse for fourteen months. She didn’t know what to expect, but liked it.  She thought flight nursing unique for its time, for men could be wounded and in a matter of hours would be back at a hospital. It did wonders for the solders’ morale, she said. When asked what helped her the most during her time as a flight nurse in World War II, Randy answered, “My religious background.” For one thing, maybe things aren’t really as bad as they are on the surface, she explained. Tomorrow they’re not as bad as they seemed yesterday. “I did the best I could, and then I left it in somebody else’s hands.”

 

Interviewed 19 Jun 1986, Hemet, CA
Learn more about my interview with Randy on the Blog for 24 Sep 2016.

To be continued

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 26 Dec 2020

In Memoriam
World War II Army Flight Nurses

Jenevieve (Jenny) Boyle Silk, who died in June 2017, was the last living of the 25 World War II US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed in 1986 for what became Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II. I clearly remember each of my interviews with these remarkable women and still can picture them and hear their voices when I think of them.

Twenty of these interviews are now digitized and available as audio recordings on the Imperial War Museum website. Access the interviews here:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/search?query=judith+barger&filters%5BwebCategory%5D%5BSound%5D=on&pageSize=&pageSize=

 

My short remembrances are in the order in which I interviewed these former flight nurses.

 

Jocie French (1911–1995)
811 MAES, Europe

JOCIE HUSTON née FRENCH (Levi Memorial Hospital, Hot Springs, AR 1939) worked first in a doctor’s office, then in a veterans hospital before joining the army in 1942. But when war was declared, as Jocie recalled, “nobody wanted to stay in Veterans [Hospital]. I had everything packed.” Her chief nurse said that because of the freeze placed on staff, no nurses could be taken from the Veterans Hospital to serve in the army, but the doctors told Jocie otherwise: “’Oh, you pay no attention to that. You start writing letters, because this is no place for you during war.’ So I did. I got in at the time that I was supposed to.”

Jocie  was assigned first to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri for two months, then was sent to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to help open a new hospital, where she heard about flight nursing, quickly signed up, and was accepted. But it was six months before nurse staffing was adequate to release her to attend the flight nurse course. Finally in June 1943 Jocie was on her way to Bowman Field with the class that graduated 13 August 1943. She crossed paths with Grace Dunnam, who was preparing to take her 806 MAES nurses to England. But Jocie’s squadron, the 811 MAES, destined for England as well, had to wait at Bowman Field until December to travel overseas “for there was no place for us”.

When asked if any particular patients or air evac trips might have been more difficult than others, Jocie shared a time “we were getting a load of patients, and the flight surgeon was at the scene. And he said, ‘Well, now, this boy’s jaw is wired together, and the weather is going to be bad going back. If he gets sick, you’re going to have to clip these wires.'” Jocie continued:

My stomach began churning, because I’d never clipped wires, and I didn’t know what would happen to the patient’s mouth if I did have to. And we had no ground contact once we got in, but we were allowed to give morphine. That was all we had – I mean, they didn’t have the modern drugs – and we didn’t have to have a doctor’s order to give it [morphine] if we felt it had to be given. So I thought, Well, I’ll just give you an eighth of a grain of morphine. I did, and the blessed little fellow slept all the way over, and everybody else on that plane got sick.

By the end of the flight she wished she’d given all the patients morphine.

Asked if she had any advice to pass along to nurses who might serve as flight nurses in wartime, Jocie replied, “Oh, gee. Most certainly to learn everything you can before you go. But I would still say, ‘Go,’ I really would.” She gave the example from a flight in a plane carrying blood and medical supplies to France. Just as they got to past the coast of England, the crew chief or perhaps the copilot

came back and said, “Get into a parachute.” And he was getting into one. We’d lost an engine. And so you asked me did I ever feel inadequate. I kept thinking, Do I get out of this parachute before we hit the water? Because I knew we had been gone long enough to be over the Channel. Or do I hit the water with the parachute? … So then is when I really wished I’d remembered a little more. But fortunately we had just gotten over the Channel, and there was a base right in England on the Channel, and the pilot turned around and went back there.

Jocie was happy as a flight nurse; her philosophy was that “we had a job to do, so we did it the best we could”. But, she mused, ” f I ever came back in a second life, I would like to go now and fly in the big planes.”

To listen to my interview with Huston, click on the link:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80011349

Because of a malfunctioning tape recorder, the interview has poor sound quality.
It gets better as the interview progresses.

 

Interviewed 18 Jun 1986
Learn more about my interview with Jocie on the Blog for 4 Sep 2016.

To be continued

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 6 Dec 2020

 In Memoriam
World War II Army Flight Nurses

Jenevieve (Jenny) Boyle Silk, who died in June 2017, was the last living of the 25 World War II US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed in 1986 for what became Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II. I clearly remember each of my interviews with these remarkable women and still can picture them and hear their voices when I think of them.

Twenty of these interviews are now digitized and available as audio recordings on the Imperial War Museum website. Access the interviews here:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/search?query=judith+barger&filters%5BwebCategory%5D%5BSound%5D=on&pageSize=&pageSize=

 

My short remembrances are in the order in which I interviewed these former flight nurses.

 

Brooxie Mowrey Unick (1920–2005)
816 MAES, Europe

Brooxie Unick née MOWREY (Garfield Park Community Hospital School of Nursing, Chicago, 1941) began her nursing career working at a psychiatric hospital but decided that she wanted a chance to travel, so she applied to TWA for work as an airline hostess. She had passed the first two interviews in Chicago and was waiting for word about going to Kansas City for the final interview when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Brooxie explained:

And while I’m waiting for this final interview, December 7th came along. And so I kept waiting and got through the holidays. And in January, in the mid-West, you always get the doldrums because of the weather. So I got to thinking about it, and I remembered the letter I’d had from the airlines saying, “We’re awfully sorry. We have to change our program, because the armed forces need registered nurses now.” They wished me all kinds of luck. So I got to thinking, The armed forces need me? Okay.

She was just being patriotic, Brooxie said; she hadn’t heard about flight nursing at the time. Brooxie applied for military service, joining in 1942. She was given two choices for initial assignment, one in Michigan and one in south Texas. Since Brooxie wanted to travel, she chose the Texas base, which happened to be an Army Air Corps field. An assignment near Dallas followed six months later, during which time Mowrey applied for flight nurse training, was accepted, and traveled to Bowman Field, KY in November 1943, graduating from the flight nurse course on 21 January 1944.

As a member of the 816 MAES, Brooxie joined Jenny Boyle, Louise de Flon and Frances Crabtree to travel with the squadron to England prior to D-Day. Once overseas, the flight nurses initially had little to do, so they were sent in pairs to bomber bases – mostly to B-17 and B-24 squadrons – “with the idea that – it sounded grand – in an emergency, become familiar with the plane, so if you had to use the plane for evacuation, you could”. At those bases the flight nurses attended the early morning pre-flight briefings, then worked in the base medical facility until time for the planes to return. Brooxie picks up the story:

And then when the planes came in, we’d also be on the flight line. And then as soon as most of the planes were in, one of our jobs – we got, at least I got a kick out of it – would be after their initial debriefing, they would get a shot of whiskey, and I would like to pass out the whiskey. And it seemed to give them a lift by doing it. … they’d reach for the glass, and it was kind of a double-take when they saw who was there.

Brooxie recalled a memorable mission during the Battle of the Bulge when first weather, then German strafing delayed take-off with patients.

And I was standing there alone in the door of the ship talking to one of the crewmen, and the Germans came over to strafe again. And I was thinking, Hey, we’re lined up nose to tail. And I don’t know what’s in all those supplies along the side. If it hits one of them, I’d better get out of here. So, I jumped out, and I was running for an open field. But I remembered at the time reaching in my pocket and taking gloves out, because I thought, Now, when I get out there, I’m going to hit the dirt. And I don’t want to hurt my hands. And when they finally did bring the patients back, we just got them on as fast as we could so we could get out of there. And it was the next day.

When asked if she thought her training had prepared her for her flight nurse duties, Brooxie quipped, “Maybe in small ways. But it didn’t work out. … There was a lot of nice theory, but it doesn’t always apply.” But Brooxie, like her flight nurse colleagues, found a way to make it work out. As she put it:

Well, it was a case of the situation was there – you had to make the most of it. You certainly weren’t treated to silk sheets or anything – you didn’t expect it. At least I felt I was doing a credible job and all. A lot of people can win a war besides shooting a gun, and the ambulance drivers, the clerks that take care of the paperwork – which, unfortunately has to be done. But everyone has a point. And I can’t think of anything I would change.

 

To listen to my interview with Brooxie Unick, click on the link:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80011368

 

Interviewed 25 May 1986, Satellite Beach, FL

Learn more about my interview with Brooxie on the Blog for 14 Aug 2016.

 

To be continued

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 14 Nov 2020

In Memoriam
World War II Army Flight Nurses

Jenevieve (Jenny) Boyle Silk, who died in June 2017, was the last living of the 25 World War II US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed in 1986 for what became Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II. I clearly remember each of my interviews with these remarkable women and still can picture them and hear their voices when I think of them.

Twenty of these interviews are now digitized and available as audio recordings on the Imperial War Museum website. Access the interviews here:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/search?query=judith+barger&filters%5BwebCategory%5D%5BSound%5D=on&pageSize=&pageSize=

 

My short remembrances are in the order in which I interviewed these former flight nurses.

 

Agnes Jensen Mangerich (1914–2010)
807MAES, North Africa

Agnes Mangerich née JENSEN (Grace Hospital School of Nursing, Detroit, 1937) worked at Henry Ford Hospital for about two and a half years until she joined the Army in 1941. The military was recruiting nursing students “like mad,” Jensen said, so she decided to give Army nursing a try for a year. She joined ten months before Pearl Harbor was attacked and was assigned to Fort Benning, GA, where she was given some training in anesthesia. Agnes did not learn about flight nursing until she was already in the military. She and another nurse saw something posted on the bulletin board about nurses for air evacuation and decided to change their ward “from the floor to the sky – Let’s join air evac.” Agnes applied, was accepted, and left for Bowman Field, KY in May 1943, graduating from the flight nurse course on 2 July 1943 with Dorothy White as a classmate. Slated for the 809 MAES while at Bowman Field, Agnes volunteered to join the 807 MAES, which was short of nurses, to start flight nursing sooner. The 807 MAES traveled initially to North Africa before relocating in Sicily.

Recovering from a bout of dysentery, Agnes could have stayed in quarters the day she and half of the squadron’s flight nurses and enlisted medical technicians were loaded on a plane to fly from their duty station at Catania to two bases in Italy to set up air evacuation from those locations; Agnes was among those going to Bari. They never made it, for their plane encountered stormy weather, a radio malfunction, and German anti-aircraft fire. When their fuel ran out, the pilots had to make a forced landing in Albania behind enemy lines.


Agnes Jensen (right) and flight nurse colleague at 26th General Hospital, Bari, Italy
after return from Albania [USAF Photo]

Agnes recalled the moment she resigned herself to the inevitability of the situation: Well, we’re either going to hit a mountain or run out of gas, one or the other. She was scared but, because sleep always had been her forte, she glanced at the others, settled into her bucket seat, and thought, This is it, … Well, what the hell. I’d rather be sleeping. The crew chief was injured on impact, but the downed crew members all survived the landing. They spent the next several months evading the Germans while making their way to Allied territory, where the crew were taken by boat to Bari, Italy – Agnes’s original destination – for medical checks at the 26th General Hospital before returning to their squadron. Agnes wrote about their experiences in Albanian Escape: The True Story of U.S. Army Nurses Behind Enemy Lines (University Press of Kentucky, 1999). She died in 2010 at age 95.

To listen to my interview with Agnes Mangerich, click on the link:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80011352

 

Interviewed 25 May 1986, Cocoa Beach, FL
Learn more about my interview with Agnes on the Blog for 24 Jul 2016.

To be continued

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 24 Oct 2020

In Memoriam
World War II Army Flight Nurses

Jenevieve (Jenny) Boyle Silk, who died in June 2017, was the last living of the 25 World War II US Army flight nurses whom I interviewed in 1986 for what became Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II. I clearly remember each of my interviews with these remarkable women and still can picture them and hear their voices when I think of them.

Twenty of these interviews are now digitized and available as audio recordings on the Imperial War Museum website. Access the interviews here:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/search?query=judith+barger&filters%5BwebCategory%5D%5BSound%5D=on&pageSize=&pageSize=

 

My short remembrances are in the order in which I interviewed these former flight nurses.

 

Dorothy White Errair (1920–2015)
807 MAES, North Africa

Dorrothy Errair née WHITE (Providence Hospital School of Nursing, Detroit, 1942) had already decided on military nursing so that she could be a flight nurse. Although she’d never been in an airplane, Dorothy thought, That’s it. That’s just what I want. She worked first for six months as an industrial nurse in Detroit to prepare herself better for “whatever I might come across in the military. And I was right,” she said, “because it was your emergency work, your emergency responses, you never knew what was going to happen the next minute.” Supplies were minimal, and in most cases a doctor was not available. Dorothy specified flight nursing when she applied to the Army, and after working as a hospital nurse at George Field, Illinois, her first duty station, from January to May, she was accepted for flight nurse training at Bowman Field, KY and graduated on 2 July 1943. Agnes Jensen was a class mate. Dorothy was assigned to the 807th MAES, as was Agnes, with initial home base in North Africa. When half of the flight nurses and half of the air evac technicians in her squadron were flown to Italy to begin transporting patients from Bari, Dorothy was not among them; Agnes was, and her experiences on the ill-fated flight will be the subject of the next Blog.


Dorothy White. (USAF Photo)

 

Dorothy and the remaining 807 MAES flight nurses essentially did double duty until their squadron mates returned. The plane had gone down in Albania, but all the crew escaped safely. After a month, the squadron knew they were alive but not when they would return. Dorothy continues the story:

So, we just looked – many times standing on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, and you’d look across, and you knew they were over there someplace. And it was like you were willing them to come home and making a bridge – a little air bridge sort of like a rainbow – so that they could climb over. But it was a very bad time for us, but we still worked so hard during that time. The work, of course, helped us to get through it. But in the back of your mind, you always knew – you just kind of had this tight feeling between your shoulder blades – that, Where are they? How are they? How are they surviving? Is everybody all right?

Their homecoming at the mess hall where the remaining squadron members were gathered for lunch was a joyous occasion.

Dorothy’s comment about flight nursing – “So I knew what I wanted, and I went after it, and I got it” – sums up her work as a flight nurse. Whether stranded in Naples with a planeload of patients, or on board with a load of psychiatric patients between Bari and Malta at night when St Elmo’s fire mimicked fire on the wings, or fashioning an oxygen-delivery system from a funnel and a rectal tube for a patient with a sucking chest wound, or faced with an aircraft in Italy that had just offloaded a cargo of mules, or with an aircraft interior covered with glossy photos of nudes, she took the bull by the horns –  or in the case of the photos, a box of Band-Aides – and did something about it. Dorothy died in 2015 at age 95.

 

To listen to my interview with Dorothy Errair, click on the link:

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80011347

Interviewed 24 May 1986, Cocoa Beach, FL
Learn more about my interview with Dorothy Errair on the Blog for 4 July 2016.

To be continued