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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Letter from Helen Bolling Potts to Mary Channing Coleman, 1944

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Object ID: WV0234.4.001

Description: Letter written by recent graduate Helen Bolling (Potts) to her former professor Mary Channing Coleman on 18 September 1944. This letter discusses the difficulties that the Red Cross Clubmobile or "donut wagon" women faced while serving in France during WWII, such as living in tents and foxholes, and not being able to bathe for long stretches of time. Bolling also notes that the Parisians, who were still wearing "smart clothes", found the Americans rather fascinating, and describes her visit a school Hitler established to promote physical perfection in children. 2 pages, typed, on carbon paper.

Creator: Helen Bolling Potts

Biographical Info: Helen Bolling Potts (1919-2012) of High Point, North Carolina, served overseas with the American Red Cross during World War II.

Collection: Helen Bolling Potts Papers

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Jackson Library, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Full Text:

American Red Cross

The Continent

September 18, 1944.

Dear Miss Coleman:

I had received the first Alumnae Bulletin in two years a few days ago before I had an opportunity one day to go through a school set up by the Nazi Socialist state, and the combination made me think so very much about those days back in 1939 when we used to sit on the second floor and discuss all the problems of education and physical education that we thought would one day meet in our work-a-day world. So just as I used to do in student days I wanted to tell you the story as I’ve seen it. Perhaps those students working now will see answers those of us here in the middle of it can not see.

I am still on a Clubmobile…..that’s the same glorified term for a donut wagon……and we still make donuts and coffee, only now we hand them out to fighting men along with the candy, cigarettes, newspapers (when we can get them) writing paper, music and a lot of chatter. Our sixteen months in England helped a great deal in preparing us, but everyday we learn a lot more about what the men in this army want in the way of recreation, so we continually try to dream up new ideas. We came to France on D plus 40, so we’ve lived right in the field just as the soldiers do. At first it was fox holes and pup tents, and you wished many times you were in the same physical condition as when you left school. We drive our own two and a half GMC trucks, and live in battle dress. It’s Girl Scout Camping on a grandiose scale and no running to town at the end of the week; showers are a luxury and XXX one day a Countess on whose second cow pasture we were bivouaced offered us the usage of her bathtub for an hour, and we almost mobbed her. We’ve even learned to laugh at what one of my crew members calls “cow excrement.” This frequently covers the field in which you are to live and must be shoveled away before you can pitch the tent. Still as we talk with the men, and hash over all the things we see, we all wonder what we’re going to do about these conditions as they exist. Certainly in the daily rush of the fighting the men have little time to think about solutions; the few girls around with the ANC and the ARC are just as busy, and after reading the few publications we can put our finger on, we wonder if those planning back home realize just what we do face.

We found quite near a bivouac area we visited the other day one of the schools established by Hitler’s state for the “Child and the Mother.” When I saw the equipment, the physical setup, and remembered my own experiences and struggles for just part of that in our own schools, I really began to just wonder at how we will ever combat this system even after it is settled with force. Let me describe the physical set up as I saw it, and tell you the little I could learn through my G.I. interpreter from a woman who had been left behind.

The school was housed, true enough, in wooden buildings unattractive and barren like from the outside, but inside another story. As we entered we found coat hangers at graduated heights for children from about two to six, with very attractive pictures to designate each….only on the boys side all of the pictures were of planes, guns, tanks or some such. The next room contained a sand table, aquarium, tables of varying heights and walls suitable for pictures. Of course in the process of its being turned into sleeping quarters all the pictures had been removed. The next room had only facilities for feeding the children, but what a complete set up. The washing and toilet facilities were installed in suitable sizes in the middle of the building. A very large room covered in the back of the building. At one end were stacked basket weave cots, and at the other piles of wooden guns, dumb bells, and apparatus equipment. Obviously a large combination game and rest room. The last room was piled with debris of movable equipment…evidences of craft work, story books, maps, geography books, and even coveralls mixed in with dabs and streaks of paint on them. We rummaged through the books and even in Andersens Fairy Tales and Fables the moral of the story was “Always the glory of the Fatherland”. The maps were composite pictures of Europe labeled “Our Glorious Fatherland.”

From the woman where we found that the children came there at the age of two and remained until six. They spent the entire day there, and were boarded out at night with families in the town as their own families had been sent deeper in the country to work. I asked about their games, and was told that two-thirds of the day was spent to achieve physical fitness for glorification of the country. They were taught according to my G.I. interpreter “she means games like cow boy and Indian only with wooden guns.” The girls used the dumb bells and remember these children were only two to six. I hope that I’ll see a great many more of their schools as I think there is a great deal to observe from them. But enough of that side.

The girls will all probably be glad to know that Paris still is, and in a big way. When we were there we felt quite dowdy in battle dress, leggings, and helmets among the smartly dressed Miles. Even so we were practically mobbed as we were among the first American girls they had seen, and they were much more curious about us than we about them. Never in all my life have I felt quite so much like the goldfish in the bowl as we did all day that first day….we were surrounded all day, and the display of emotion was even more than we expected from a frenchman. They have certainly done well with their war time economies in the way of dress and smart clothes are still in great evidence along with perfume even of Chanel Cinq and Shalimar varieties.

My best to all the girls left that I knew, and I’m hoping it won’t be too long before I can be home and say hello in person. My very best to you, and my deepest appreciation for so many of the ideas you passed along to us. I wish I could enumerate how many times they’ve popped out in so many forms.

Most sincerely,

Helen Bolling,