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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Winona Franklin Walker, 2003

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Object ID: WV0284.5.001

Description: Primary documents Winona Franklin Walker's career as a librarian, especially her service in Germany with the Army Special Services in 1945-1946.

Summary:

Walker briefly describes her family, undergraduate education, decision to attend library school at The University of North Carolina, first school library job in Shelby, North Carolina, and work as a civilian librarian at Fort Bragg. She discusses her decision to accept an overseas appointment with the Special Services, being assigned to Europe, and training in Paris and Oberammergau, Germany, to set up military libraries.

Walker describes her experiences as a librarian in Germany at length. Topics include: acquiring furniture and supplies, staffing and organization, her typical workday, German civilians, housing, typical library contents, benefits of civil service with the army, traveling in Europe, social life, her decision to return stateside, and her decision to leave the Special Service.

Walker also details her post-service employment, including jobs at the High Point Public Library and at four schools in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Creator:

Biographical Info:

Collection: Winona Franklin Walker 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:

HERMANN TROJANOWSKI:

Today is Wednesday, July 9, 2003. My name is Hermann Trojanowski, and I'm at the home of Miss Winona Walker in Greensboro, North Carolina, to interview her for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. Miss Walker, would you tell me your full name, please?

WINONA WALKER:

Winona Franklin Walker.

HT:

Miss Walker, could you tell me a few biographical facts about yourself? Where you were born?

WW:

I was born in South Boston, Virginia.

HT:

And when was that?

WW:

August 9, 1908.

HT:

Where do you live growing up?

WW:

I grew up in South Boston, and graduated from the high school there.

HT:

Can you tell me a little bit about your family, your parents and your siblings?

WW:

There were seven in the family; four sisters and two brothers. We were a very close family, and I was the oldest.

HT:

You grew up during the Depression, I assume, so what was life like in South Boston during the Depression?

WW:

Well, we did without a lot of things, we didn't know how poor we were, and had few luxuries. A seamstress came in several times a year to make dresses for the girls and my mother also sewed for us. We didn't know how poor we were. My father had a farm and we had plenty to eat, and he ran a grocery store, so we managed. Everybody else was in the same trouble, so we made it very well.

HT:

Did you attend college?

WW:

I went to Harrisonburg State Teachers College [now James Madison University], Harrisonburg, Virginia. Graduated in 1929.

HT:

What was your major?

WW:

History and English.

HT:

What type of work did you do once you graduated?

WW:

I taught three years, but I was not very good at that. I decided that was not for me. I taught two years in the county, and then one year in South Boston, and then I told my father that I just had to do something else. I wanted to go to library school at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And he said, “Well, we'll manage somehow.” He was determined all his daughters, all his children, should get an education.

I said, “I think I've saved enough from my ninety-dollars-a-month salary to pay my way.” So I did. I went there a year to library school in Chapel Hill.

HT:

So to get a library degree, you only had to go one year?

WW:

Yes.

HT:

Was it a master's degree?

WW:

I received a bachelor of science degree in library science. However, I received the salary of one who had earned a master's degree, when I worked in Greensboro. Legislation was changed to accept the degree as a master's.

HT:

So you were at Chapel Hill in the mid-thirties, I guess, then. Is that correct?

WW:

I graduated in 1935. I had been out two years. You couldn't get jobs then. Teaching jobs were just—you couldn't get them. So I was out two years. After graduating from library school I went to Shelby, North Carolina, to be a librarian in the high school there. I was there eight years.

Then I decided it was time to move, so I went Fort Bragg [North Carolina] and set up a library there—well, in the hospital. There were two libraries and two librarians there, and I was at the hospital number one. I was there about two years when a Special Services officer called me and wanted to know if I wanted to go overseas with the occupied armed forces.

I said no. I thought about it overnight, and I said, “If I don't go, I'll always regret it.” So I called him up and asked him if it were too late, and he said no. So I signed up to go.

HT:

So all during the war, you were at Fort Bragg, working in the library?

WW:

Just two years.

HT:

So you were at Shelby initially during the early parts of the war.

WW:

That's right. I was in New York City, ready to take off, on VJ [Victory in Japan] Day.

HT:

So that would have been August of 1945.

WW:

Yes. We were waiting there, and they said, “Wait for your orders.” So they woke us in the pitch dark, and I don't know what time of night it was, but they said, “We're ready to go.” And there was a planeload of librarians, all in royal blue suits, and we took off not knowing where we were going to Pacific or Europe. Everything was very secretive. We got out in the middle of the ocean and they said, “You may open your orders.” And the orders were for Europe. We were all very excited.

HT:

Why did they keep it a secret?

WW:

I don't know. The war had just ended. Anyway, we were headed for Paris. So we spent a week in Paris being trained how to set up libraries, and we were told never to complain, that there was going to be scarcity of everything, and if the conditions weren't to suit us, not to utter a word, that we were there to set up these libraries. And if we didn't have materials, we'd have to scrounge around and find what we needed, and make do with what we could find. That was it. We had no fine materials or anything like that.

So, we spent a week in Paris, complained that we didn't see a thing about Paris except Champs Elysées, we were so busy working. After that we went to Oberammergau [Germany], spent a week there being trained some more. We worked in a former Messerschmitt [AG] factory. They said that if the Allies had known that it was there, they would have bombed it. It was in Bavaria [Germany], and nothing was harmed there.

Then we were given a choice. They asked us, “Do you want to go to Germany or France?” I selected Germany, not knowing what I was selecting or anything about it. I think I got the choice spot, Bremen.

HT:

If we could backtrack just a minute. You said you had a week's training in Oberammergau and a week's training in Paris.

WW:

Right.

HT:

Can you describe what that was like?

WW:

That's too long ago. I don't know what they told us. For each library they would send us a basic collection. When we told them we had a library ready, they would send us this collection, and then we would get the books catalogued.

HT:

What about rooms and furniture and that sort of thing? Was that provided?

WW:

I have some pictures in there. The Germans were happy to work for us because they got paid. The others weren't getting much of anything. They didn't have much food or anything. Nothing was in the stores. But they were paid by the army. We had some good carpenters and they made library furniture for me—tables, chairs, and shelves.

I have a picture of one of the libraries. Some of them were in beautiful buildings that had not been hurt. A lot of Bremen was hurt, just bombed, but a lot of it was not hurt. Great big municipal buildings. The Red Cross had taken over some of it, and we took one room of that, a lovely room with nice furniture, just used it as it was.

One librarian went to Bremerhaven and she set up a library in a shoe store that we took over. Of course, it had shelves, so she used them. So we used whatever was available.

HT:

Were all the librarians females, or were there some men?

WW:

All of them were women. That's right. Some men were in the main office in Frankfurt.

HT:

How large was a typical library? Were they just like one room, like downstairs?

WW:

Just one room. We had German help, German women. Some of them were young girls. They spoke beautiful English. We had two in each library, and we trained them to work in the libraries. I was the command librarian of the Bremen Enclave, and I trained the German girls how to run the libraries. I worked under Special Services for a major in the army. When we went to library meetings or on leave, we received orders from the army. Frankfurt was Library Headquarters and the library director had his office there. We sent monthly reports, made requisitions for books and supplies, and met for library meetings in Frankfurt. In Paris and Oberammergau we were taught to do simple cataloging of books. We would be sent a basic collection of books, also paperbacks and Life magazines. We trained the Germans to catalog the books and work in the libraries. They all spoke perfect English and were good workers.

HT:

Were the libraries for military personnel only, or could German civilians come in?

WW:

No, no, just for the army.

HT:

What were the typical hours of the library, do you recall? Was it open seven days a week, five days a week, or evenings?

WW:

I do not remember that. I worked six days a week. I went around and checked the libraries to see how everybody was getting on, or starting another one. We had about—I counted twelve libraries, I think. There were four American librarians in Bremen. I did not run a library; I just set them up and supervised them.

HT:

So you were in charge of twelve libraries initially?

WW:

Yes. I was Command Librarian. However, the trained librarians were really responsible for their libraries. Ester Levin was librarian of the Bremen Hospital, Virginia Hansen was librarian of the library in Bremerhaven, and Winfred Webster was bookmobile librarian. I was available to help with the other three libraries if needed. So there were four trained American librarians.

HT:

Who was your boss? To whom did you report? Was it a military person?

WW:

No, he was a civilian in Frankfurt named Mr. Lieberman.

HT:

I was just wondering how the chain of command sort of worked. I mean, you reported to a civilian, and I'm assuming he probably reported to a military person.

WW:

He was civilian. He left before I did and a woman came, was in charge. She was, I guess, Special Services, just like us. He was, too, I guess.

I can tell you where we lived. Bremen had beautiful homes. Some were destroyed. It was a port, and a lot of the buildings were destroyed, and even the homes. But some were still left, and, of course, the army had taken over the best ones. We got a very nice, comfortable home, two-story house with a basement. The owners of the houses could live in them with your consent. Mrs. Stelloh had three boys, and we were glad to have her live with us. She lived in the basement.

HT:

She was the owner of the house?

WW:

She was the owner. Her husband was killed in the war. She was a very nice lady. She had lived in Lynchburg [Virginia] a year with her husband. He was a tobacco employee. So she was glad to live, of course, in her own home. The army took over many of the houses, and the Germans had to find houses where they could.

But we had nice outfit, and we had one woman named Alma Bloch living with us who was looking out for DPs, the displaced persons, the children who had no parents or family. She was getting them placed in the homes in America, and she was the only one that was not a librarian. Winfred Webster, the bookmobile librarian, also lived there.

HT:

How long did you stay in Germany?

WW:

Fourteen months.

HT:

Would you have had the option to stay longer if you wanted?

WW:

I could have. I left in October. They said the ocean got rough in the winter. I had gotten this letter from home the Christmas before. My family had written me a long letter. Everybody had written and taped it together. I had read that letter and I got so homesick I couldn't stand it. So I decided then I could not spend another Christmas away from home. So I left in October.

HT:

Of 1946.

WW:

Right.

HT:

Did you fly back?

WW:

We came back on a hospital ship. It was a very slow ship—and it wasn't anything fine. It had a lot of DPs with their children. The DPs and other passengers were not on the same deck as the librarians. We did not see them at all. It went eleven knots an hour. I understand that's very slow. But anyway, we laughed. We stopped one whole day to take on a man who was ill with appendicitis, and he needed an operation. We stopped a whole day and nobody knew it, we were going so slow. [Laughs]

HT:

Do you remember the name of the hospital ship that you came back on?

WW:

[SS] Zebulon [B.] Vance comes to mind.

HT:

Do you recall how long it took you to come back on the ship?

WW:

No, I do not.

HT:

When we came over to the United States, it took two weeks. Of course, that was in December, so it was very rough coming back.

WW:

I have no idea how long took us, but we thought we were going mighty slow.

HT:

Where did you land when you came back?

WW:

New York.

HT:

And then you traveled back to Virginia?

WW:

Yes. I started looking for a job then. I found several, but I went to Veterans Hospital, Kecoughtan, Virginia. I just didn't like that one. I don't know how long I stayed. Just a few months. I got a job as a public librarian in Greenwood, South Carolina.

Then I realized that if I didn't go back to North Carolina, I was going to lose all my retirement. You know, the state didn't count army service toward retirement. So I immediately applied and got a job in High Point for one year. Mr. Ben L. Smith, who had been superintendent of schools when I was in Shelby, had become superintendent of Greensboro city schools. He had told me if I ever wanted to come to Greensboro, to let him know. So I did, and that's when I got to Greensboro, after one year in High Point.

HT:

And where did you work in Greensboro?

WW:

Oh, me. Four schools. I followed a principal around. I worked at Greensboro Senior High School [now Grimsley] as assistant librarian for two years, and then I was at Gillespie [Elementary and Junior High School] for five years. I then went with Mr. William McIver to Lindley Junior [High School], I think I was there two years. I went with Mr. McIver to Jackson [Junior High School] when it opened. I was there for fifteen years and retired in 1973. In 1964 I received the Ben Smith Teacher of the Year Award. I was the first librarian to receive this award.

HT:

If we could backtrack maybe about the time that you were with the army in Europe, what made you decide to finally say yes to the—you say you got a telephone call from someone to see if you wanted to go overseas, and at first you said no, but then you thought about it and you said yes. What made you change your mind?

WW:

I thought I would regret it all my life if I didn't take such an opportunity as that.

HT:

Did you discuss it with your friends or your family?

WW:

No, no. I just called them about it. I'd made up my mind.

HT:

What was the reaction of your friends and family?

WW:

Well, my mother and three sisters came down to see me at Fort Bragg before I left. They were very excited. My brothers were somewhere else. One was in the army. Then I got on the train and went through Richmond [Virginia]. One sister was working in Richmond. About two o'clock in the morning, she came down with her girlfriend and met me at the train. I saw them about ten minutes, and that's the last I saw of them.

HT:

I guess you took the train from North Carolina up to New York to catch the airplane.

WW:

Right.

HT:

Were you sworn in? Did you have to take an oath or anything like that, like military personnel did?

WW:

No.

HT:

Because this was all civil service.

WW:

Civil service.

HT:

Do you recall what your rank was? Now they call it GS [General Schedule] rating. Do you know what your rating was?

WW:

I was a P-1. The director came up and raised me to a P-2.

HT:

I guess that was a different type of rating than they have now.

WW:

Professional.

HT:

Do you recall what your salary was at that time?

WW:

No. It's on my records somewhere, it seemed huge, but it doesn't seem big now. It seems mighty little. But I thought about it later.

[WW added later: I have thought about the benefits we had, those working for the army. We could travel all over Germany without paying a cent; riding the train or plane. We could ride the trolley in Bremen, Frankfurt, or elsewhere in Germany for nothing. We had a house to live in, furnished free of charge. I was assigned a jeep with a German driver. We shopped in the post exchange, where we bought things cheaper than you could find elsewhere and could not be found at all in Germany. We ate in the officer's mess. I do not recall paying for meals].

HT:

Speaking of Germany, did you take vacation trips?

WW:

Yes. I went to Copenhagen [Denmark], and then I went to Switzerland.

HT:

Did you always go with other women or did you go with groups?

WW:

Another Bremen librarian and I went to Copenhagen. An American librarian friend who worked in France, I met her and we went to Switzerland together. We had a real episode on that trip. They were changing the guard, as you say, in Bremen. The general was going off or whatever; maybe he was going home. Another general was coming in, so I went to get my orders to go to Switzerland. They said, “We can't give it to you. There's a new general coming in. You have to wait till he comes.”

So I went the next day and they said, well, he hadn't come. “You can't get your orders yet.” My friend from France had already left. She was on the way down to Switzerland.

So finally the general came and gave me my orders. I tried to call my friend in Frankfurt to tell her that I was coming and just to wait. A German answered the phone and we had a terrible time communicating. You know, I didn't speak German. We had an awful time getting together on what I wanted. So anyway, I said, “Mrs. Stelloh, I'm going. If anybody calls, wants to know if I'm coming, just tell them I'm on the way.”

I got to Frankfurt and they had changed the train schedule. The train was supposed to leave that morning. It wasn't going to leave till that night. That was another day late. So my friend was three days down there waiting for me. She said, “They think I work down here. I've been here hanging around this place, asking about you.” I was three days late. [She had a certain number of days leave]. But anyway, we finally got together.

HT:

Where in Switzerland did you visit?

WW:

We went to Montreux and Geneva. Another place. I don't remember what else. We had a real nice trip.

HT:

Did you visit any other places other than Copenhagen and Switzerland?

WW:

No. We went to Copenhagen on one trip and to Sweden. We went to the consulate in Bremen and asked them if we could go to Sweden, the other librarian and I, and they said we'll have to get permission. Sweden wasn't real open then. You know, the Danes weren't right friendly with Sweden then. So we just went on without waiting for orders to Sweden.

We went to Denmark and got our money changed to Swedish money, got into Stockholm, and I bought a lot of things to take back to my family and I spent all that money that I had changed. I went to the plane and they said, no, they wouldn't take any Danish money. They weren't that friendly [with Denmark]. I didn't have any money, so my friend gave me some money to get my ticket back. So anyway, we got back and went to the consulate. She said, “Well, your requests [for a visit to Sweden] were refused.”

We said, “Well, we've already been.” [laughter] So they didn't do anything.

HT:

What was it like living in Germany right after the war? Of course, you mentioned earlier that so many houses that had been bombed and that sort of thing. What was it like the year and a half that you lived there? Did you get a chance to meet German civilians or did you not get a chance to meet many?

WW:

We didn't meet many civilians, just those that worked with us. I had a jeep assigned to me and a German driver. He didn't speak English, so I learned a few German words, how to turn left and right, how to stop. The German girls were well trained and well spoken, and we knew them very well. And then I had a library office and I had a typist, a large room, and we worked there. I had a picture of one of them.

When the new general came, they said, “Well, you have to be out of this building by tomorrow. Move the whole library department by tomorrow.” And so it looked like we just dumped everything in the middle of the floor. You never saw such a mess.

HT:

Why did he want you to move out of the building?

WW:

Because everything was going smoothly, and they got to tear things up and do them their way. Oh, one of the worst things that I ever had to do. Grohn [Germany] is one of the little small towns. Or Lesum. I think it was Grohn. I don't know. They said, “You go over there.” We just were well situated, and liked Mrs. Stelloh so well. And they said, “You girls select a place to live.”

And of course, they were going to put the Germans out. So I went from door to door—they gave me the addresses of some places—and talked to the Germans. And they were pitiful. They told me every leak their roof had, and the plumbing wouldn't work. Of course, I knew what they were doing. They didn't want me to take over their house. So I felt worse and worse as I went down the road with the list they gave me.

Well, they changed their minds about that. We didn't move then. We moved to Bremerhaven. There was a place up there that was already vacant, so we moved into that. But we had a perfect setup in Bremen with the library department there and the libraries. I counted three, and I think there were four libraries in Bremen. So we had a good location and it was convenient for us.

Also, let me tell you about the mail. They sent old Life magazines to us. You know these big mail sacks? They would send those mail sacks over there. The post office would call me frantically and say, “We've got seven hundred mailbags down here. Come and get them. There's seven hundred of these bags.”

HT:

Huge bags.

WW:

So I had nowhere to put them. I had all these mail—you couldn't get rid of them fast enough. So I got an empty warehouse, a tiny warehouse, and as the mail sacks came in, I had two trucks, two big ton trucks, and we would go get the mail sacks and put them in that warehouse, and then we'd put them in the Special Services clubs and in the railroad stations and in the libraries. But they would just send them to us so fast, and we couldn't get rid of them.

HT:

Were these mainly magazines that you were getting?

WW:

Just Life magazine.

HT:

Oh, these were all Life magazines?

WW:

Right.

HT:

And then how did you get books and things like that?

WW:

We would write to Frankfurt and they would send us the basic collection.

HT:

Did you have other things other than books and magazines?

WW:

We had a lot of paperbacks [in Bremerhaven]. That was the only port of entry and exit for the army [in Germany]. They didn't have an army librarian for a long time, not before I left. But I think they got one eventually, because they needed a lot of work there. [WW added later: The German workers ran the library with my supervision.]

HT:

When the army guys came in to check out material, how long could they keep a book out?

WW:

I don't remember—the girls worked that out, and I just never worked in the library there. I don't know what their regulations were.

HT:

But people could check out books?

WW:

Yes. Oh yes.

HT:

I think you said that you worked in Bremen. What was the name of the unit in Bremen and Bremerhaven that you were with?

WW:

Well, it was just the 29th [Infantry] Division. I wasn't in Bremerhaven very long, and it wasn't very satisfactory anyway. We were so happy with the way we were before.

HT:

The 29th Division was in Bremerhaven?

WW:

[WW clarified later: No, I think different outfits come to Bremerhaven and stayed only a short time before leaving for home. How I became a librarian in Bremen in an interesting story. The librarians who chose Germany to work in reported to Mr. Lieberman, Special Services director, in Frankfurt, Germany. He told me he wasn't sure where I would be, either Lesum or Bremen. I should find out when I got there. I don't know why he couldn't find out for me.

After several days in Mannheim and Heidelberg waiting for orders, I was taken in a small plane to an unknown destination. It may have been the outskirts of Bremen. I never knew. There I met a warrant officer who was going to Lesum. I was glad to get a ride with him. No one was expecting me there. The Special Services officer gave me a desk in a corner of his office. I spent a couple of weeks trying to find someone who wanted a library. This outfit was waiting to go home and was not interested.

One night an officer from Bremen came to take me to a party there. I told him my problem. He said they had been expecting me for several weeks. The next day I hastened to move to Bremen. Everyone welcomed me there. I was given all the help I needed and was happy to get to work.]

HT:

Once you left Lesum, where did you go next?

WW:

That's when I went to Bremen.

HT:

And after Bremen, that's when you came home.

WW:

That's right.

HT:

What was your typical normal day like for you in those days while you were over there?

WW:

[WW added later: Perhaps I would spend half a day in the office. I would work with the typist on cataloging books, contact officials for supplies needed or additional workers in the libraries. In the afternoon I would check the libraries being organized, talk to the carpenters about making furniture, look for places where additional librarians were needed. Sometimes I'd spend half a day delivering Life magazines to the United Service Organizations, Red Cross railroad station, and libraries. I also worked with Life magazines in the warehouse, trying to keep them in some sort of order as to date.]

HT:

Do you recall, what was the hardest thing you ever had to do physically while you were in the library service?

WW:

I don't know about that. I told you about the hard thing I had to do selecting that house. This isn't especially hard physically, but I went to Bremerhaven. I would go to Bremerhaven. I had to go to Bremerhaven to check on that large library there, and it didn't have a [trained] librarian and it needed a lot of help. The driver and I were coming back and the fog was so thick, you couldn't see your hand in front of your face, and he had to poke his head out the window to see where we were. We came back from Bremerhaven like that. That was one of the things I did was check on the Bremerhaven library.

HT:

So it sounded like you did a lot of traveling within your job.

WW:

That's right. Of course, I didn't check on the American librarians much. They knew their own business. But training the German librarians, I'd check on them.

HT:

You trained the German librarians to do cataloguing and circulation?

WW:

Well, the girl in the office did the cataloguing. We had German artists. We had some great artists, and I have some pictures there. In the libraries we had lots of interesting pictures. They made some little plywood pictures of the different subjects in the library, music, history and biography. They were just lovely little pictures on plywood illustrating the subjects of the Dewey Decimal System. We used those in the libraries. And then I worked with the carpenters, told them what I wanted there. We did a lot of scrounging to get materials that were needed.

HT:

Did you have to pay for the materials?

WW:

No. If we could find it, we just took it.

HT:

How did the owners feel about that?

WW:

Well, I don't know about the owners. I don't know where we got the materials.

HT:

You mentioned earlier that you stayed in private houses. Did you have to pay rent?

WW:

No.

HT:

Did the army pay rent at that time?

WW:

I don't know how they did it, but we got the house for nothing.

HT:

Interesting.

WW:

And I just marvel now that we got all over Germany, you know, for nothing. Of course, when we got into another country, we had to pay. And they had the PX [post exchange]. A lot of the material that we got, we got in the PX, you know, because there wasn't anything in the stores. Nothing. The store windows were just bare, so we got watches and things from Switzerland in the PX.

HT:

I know they had quite a few black markets at that time.

WW:

Oh yes. Oh yes. Well, whatever I obtained, I told Mrs. Stelloh, and she was a great help to me. She knew a lot of Germans who had beautiful things. I got a lot of demitasse cups. Beautiful. I showed [an antique dealer] in town here those cups. He said they were the prettiest he'd ever seen. My family has those. I told Mrs. Stelloh that I had a big family and I wanted to take everybody something, so she just scrounged around and got me a lot of things, and I'd give her cigarettes. She was thrilled to death to get them, because cigarettes were a lot better than money then.

HT:

Right. I understand cigarettes were money.

WW:

Oh yes.

HT:

And were used as currency.

WW:

Yes. And so she was glad to help me. She used the cigarettes to get food. She gave me this nice china bowl. It was gorgeous. It looked like lacework. It was china, but it had the whole—like lacework. The Germans packed that, and it was broken getting over here. I used it a while. I had it mended, but it never was the same. It finally fell apart, but it was a beautiful bowl.

HT:

Do you recall any special stories or hilarious moments, anything interesting during your sixteen months in Germany?

WW:

Well, let me tell you about going home. This may be the end of the funny story. A bunch of us were going home, and we got to England, Southampton, and they said, “You're going to be here the whole day in quarantine.”

Well, we said, “We have never been to England. We're going to sit here a whole day?”

So one of the librarians said, “We're going to get off this ship now.”

[Five of us agreed to go with her. We passed a sailor and told him we were getting off to use the phone. I'm sure he didn't believe that. We spent the day in London and had a great time. We saw the play Crime and Punishment. We saw many famous landmarks like the Tower of London, Big Ben, and the changing of the guard. When we returned to the ship no one said anything to us. Now that I am older and wiser, I shudder to think what would have happened if orders had been changed and the ship had left without us. We were having a free trip home and had little money with us.] We weren't paying a cent for that ride home, you know. [laughs] But there they were.

HT:

Speaking of the ship, what kind of cabin did you have aboard the ship?

WW:

Oh, it was bunk beds. There were several of us. It was not anything fancy. I have some pictures. Some of the librarians look like they were seasick. I don't know how they could have been, we were going so slow.

HT:

What did you do to pass the time on the voyage back?

WW:

We'd just lounge around on the deck. The cabins weren't nothing. You couldn't stay in your cabin. It was crowded, you know.

HT:

Who all was aboard the ship other than civilians? Were there GIs going home aboard the ship as well?

WW:

I don't remember anything but the families. The German families and—

HT:

Displaced people.

WW:

Yes. When I left, things were changing. The families were coming over, and that was going to change a lot of things. The families with their children, mothers with their children, were coming over to stay with the army of occupation. So they were going to take over the homes that we had had, and things were going to be very different.

HT:

So when you first got there, there were just GIs, basically.

WW:

Right.

HT:

And then by the time you left in '46, families started coming over to be with their husbands or spouses. On the ship coming back, were there any war brides, or was it just displaced people, to your knowledge?

WW:

I think so.

HT:

Tell me about your social life in Germany. What was that like?

WW:

I was young then. [Laughs] We had a good time. I ate with the officers in the Rathaus, they called it. Great big wine barrel in the front and all. I worked very hard. I worked six days a week and I went out every night. I don't know how I did it. Went to the Officers' Club every night. [If there were any social events or entertainment I could go to them free: circus, boat ride on the river, etc.]

HT:

So you were considered officers, basically? I mean, you were not considered GIs.

WW:

Well, I guess so.

HT:

If you had privileges to go to the Officers' Club, you were considered equal to the officers, and not NCOs [non-commissioned officers] or enlisted people.

WW:

Right. Oh, you're talking about terrible things that happened, I had a footlocker and a suitcase, and my suitcase was just my things I needed every day, just a small suitcase, and my footlocker held all my clothes. Well, I got over there and I had my suitcase with me, and my footlocker didn't come, and it didn't come. Everywhere I'd go, at a different unit, I'd ask them if they'd seen my footlocker. Nobody had seen it.

It was nearly Christmas then. I'd been there three months, and I had written home frantically for a change of clothes, for civilian clothes. We could wear civilian clothes at night or anything to make a change. [One day just before Christmas I was visiting a library. I was going to eat at the officers' mess. I asked one of the officers if he knew anything about my footlocker. He said he thought he could find it.]

And he said, “I think I know where I can find it.” He came back with my footlocker. It had been sitting somewhere and nobody knew where I was, I guess. Anyway, I found my footlocker after three months. I had worn that one suit, one uniform, the whole time. I finally took it off and had it dry-cleaned and borrowed a Red Cross uniform. I didn't have another uniform with me. So I finally got that footlocker.

HT:

I guess since it was right after the war, you couldn't go out to the PX maybe or the—

WW:

[WW clarified later: We could buy anything the PX had. They had army issue clothing. I bought an army officer's coat, very nice. I also bought a Swiss Omega watch there. They had things from Switzerland to sell; the German stores were empty. I guess the GIs had gotten everything of value that was left after the war.]

HT:

You couldn't buy anything because there wasn't much there, I guess.

WW:

No. Army stuff. There just wasn't things you needed, and I just wore civilian clothes at night.

HT:

But during the day you wore a uniform.

WW:

Wore my uniform, yes.

HT:

Can you describe the uniform for me, please?

WW:

It was just a jacket and a skirt. It was a nice-looking uniform. An overseas type cap was worn with it.

HT:

I think you said the color was blue.

WW:

Yes.

HT:

Did it look like the WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy] uniform a little bit, or did it have brass on it, or was it just a plain suit?

WW:

Just a plain suit. [I think it was royal blue.]

HT:

Did you have to wear the uniform during duty hours, I mean during business hours?

WW:

Well, we did, yes. We liked to, because we liked to be Americans. We liked to be recognized.

HT:

Be identified, right.

WW:

And sometimes they'd call us “Fraulein” because they didn't know what we were. But it was a good identification.

HT:

Did you have a nametag and that sort of—

WW:

Yes.

HT:

Just typical military-type accessories.

WW:

Yes. [All of the librarians in the Bremen Enclave wore the insignia of the Bremen Enclave.]

HT:

While you were over there, did you meet any women who were in the military, any WACs [Women's Army Corps]?

WW:

[WW added later: There was one WAC who worked in one of our libraries. She is the only WAC I remember seeing. There were many civilian women in special services, working for the USO and many Red Cross women.] We had a Special Services officer who was in charge of getting entertainment. We had a circus and plays.

HT:

Did you meet any special famous people?

WW:

[Actress] Eva Le Gallienne was there. Oh, Lily Pons went over on the plane with us.

HT:

She's an opera singer, is that right?

WW:

Yes.

HT:

Was she a French opera singer?

WW:

French, yes. She's a tiny little lady, and [Charles] De Gaulle had requested that she come over to sing for him.

WW:

We just sat there, looking at her. We weren't going to bother her. She sat on the front seat alone. She came down the aisle and wanted us to give her our autographs, which we thought was very gracious. And we had the—you know what a short snorter is? It's paper money. We had paper money and we'd tape it together. You had all your friends sign the autographs on this paper money. I had long short snorter, and somebody stole that. Of course, that was good money. But I had her name on that. I could have cried over that. She signed their short snorters.

HT:

How do you spell that?

WW:

“Short” and “snorter.”

HT:

I've never heard of that.

WW:

Short snorter. And we taped it together, and I had a long string. I don't know whether my suitcase wasn't locked or what, but somebody got it.

HT:

What type of plane was this that you were on going over?

WW:

I don't know. It was a big plane, though.

HT:

It was a passenger plane, I guess.

WW:

Yes, a passenger plane. Of course, the pilot was very nice to Lily Pons. She was on her way over to Paris.

HT:

And you flew out of New York?

WW:

That's right.

HT:

Directly to Paris?

WW:

Right.

HT:

No stops in between?

WW:

We stopped in Newfoundland [Canada] and the Azores [Portuguese archipelago].

HT:

Do you recall how long the trip took?

WW:

Just stopped and had lunch one time.

HT:

Once you got to Paris, I think you mentioned earlier that you had a week of specialized training.

WW:

Right.

HT:

Were you able to go out in the evenings or on the weekend and see a little bit of Paris?

WW:

[WW added later: I don't remember doing any sightseeing. I do remember that we all complained that we didn't have any free time to see the city. We had a week of intensive training in operating libraries overseas. I guess we were the first librarians to go overseas. I was notified that I would be going overseas soon after VJ Day. The librarians were in New York waiting for orders to go to an as yet unknown destination on VJ Day.]

HT:

Do you recall what your favorite songs and movies and dances were from that period of time?

WW:

Oh, heavens, no. There are a lot of songs that'd be very familiar if you'd mention them, but I can't tell you what they are.

HT:

Do you recall where you were when Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941?

WW:

No. What was the date of that?

HT:

It was December 1941. December 7, '41. Were you working in Shelby at that time?

WW:

I was in Shelby. I don't know where I was.

HT:

What about VE [Victory in Europe] Day, which was in May of '45?

WW:

I would have been in Fort Bragg.

HT:

Fort Bragg by that time, yes. And then I think you said VJ Day was when you went overseas.

WW:

It was New York City.

HT:

Do you recall what it was like?

WW:

We didn't see the celebration. I guess we were expected to just take off anytime, and we were just there waiting. We were there for a day or two. And I don't think we saw the celebration.

HT:

I think you mentioned earlier in conversation that you did not know that you were going to Europe until you were on the plane.

WW:

That's right.

HT:

That you could have gone to the Pacific just as easily.

WW:

That's right. I think were we the first ones going over, you see. The war had just ended. So they were just working it out as they went.

HT:

When you came back, did you go through any kind of discharge process the way most military people do, or did you just request that you wanted to go home? How did that work out exactly, do you recall?

WW:

Well, they paid me whatever I was due in New York City, I guess. And that was it. I was through then with the army.

HT:

And so was that the only time that you actually worked for the federal government? The rest of the time you worked for state governments, I guess, or local governments.

WW:

[After I returned from Europe I worked at the Veterans Hospital in Kecoughton, Virginia, for several months. I guess that I was employed there by the Federal government.]

HT:

And you never considered making it a career? Because I was reading earlier about a librarian who had stayed in the service for thirty years or something.

WW:

No. [WW added later: I did not want to make a career of army library work. It was too unstable. You would make friends and in a few months they had received orders to move to another location or to go home. I wanted a life with permanent roots.]

HT:

You just wanted to come home. Do you think having worked with the army library service had kind of impact on your life right after you got home?

WW:

Well, of course I enjoyed my army service. I worked very hard, but I really enjoyed it. I made a lot of friends. I wouldn't take anything for the experience.

HT:

It sounded like a wonderful time. Do you recall what the mood—this is backtracking a little bit even more. Do you recall what the mood of the country was like during World War II? What were people thinking about the war and that sort of thing?

WW:

Over there or over here?

HT:

Here in the United States.

WW:

Well, I don't know. Of course, I was in Shelby during a lot of that time. There was a lot of rationing going on, you know. We'd go to the movies and they'd have the jackpots, you know. You'd draw a lucky number, you'd get some money, you know, and all that kind of thing.

HT:

And I guess travel was restricted because there was such a shortage of gasoline.

WW:

Yes. Oh yes. You didn't go anywhere for pleasure.

HT:

Did you have a chance to go home to visit your folks every so often when you were in Shelby during the war period?

WW:

Well, that was a terrible trip. I had to go on the bus and change in Charlotte in the middle of the night sometime, and come home. I don't know. It was a bad trip. But I always did. Not real often. Christmas and, of course, summer. And then a lot of the summers, I worked in the libraries. I worked in Cleveland, Ohio, at the Shaker Heights Library. I worked in New York City.

HT:

So you were off from doing your regular work during the summertime?

WW:

I was off during the summer, and I would find work if I could. Worked at branch libraries [in New York City on the East Side and in the Bronx.]

HT:

Do you by any chance recall who your heroes and heroines might have been during that period of time? Politicians?

WW:

No.

HT:

What did you think of President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt and Mrs. [Eleanor] Roosevelt?

WW:

I don't know. I was young then. I didn't think too much of anything, I reckon.

HT:

Well, do you consider yourself to be an independent person?

WW:

Oh yes. Our father was—we think he was the greatest father in the world. He wanted an education so much. He never got an education. He went off to boarding school—you know, they had boarding schools—with his stepbrother. Anyway, the stepbrother got homesick, so they made my father and his stepson come home.

My father never got over it. He always said he wanted to be a doctor. So he was determined that all his children that wanted to would get an education, and we did. [WW's sisters Leora and Mary went to Woman's College and Carolyn attended Westhampton College, but dropped out, partly due to her parent's financial diffuliculties.] They just didn't have the money. But the other two did finish school.

HT:

And what about your brothers?

WW:

Well, they weren't as anxious about education. One brother, Frank, went to VPI [Virginia Polytechnic Institute] for two years. He wanted to get into ROTC [Reserve Officers' Training Corps] and they wouldn't take him. He was colorblind. So he stopped and got married.

My other brother, Dan, went to Randolph-Macon Academy and Fork Union [Military Academy] Virginia.

HT:

Did any of your brothers or sisters take over the family farm?

WW:

No. My father and my mother's brother owned the farm together. My mother's brother died, and then my father died, and then they sold the farm.

Our father wanted us so badly to have an education, and we were determined we were going to do it. My one regret is that he didn't live to see me go overseas. He lived to see me in Shelby, but he was gone when I went to Fort Bragg.

HT:

And what about your mother?

WW:

My mother was living when I was at Fort Bragg.

HT:

Was she a housewife?

WW:

She had never worked. She lived after I went to Europe. She lived after I got back from Europe. She was ninety-nine and a half when she died. She saw me come back, but my father was gone then. But he would have been so proud.

HT:

Would you consider yourself to be a feminist?

WW:

No, no, no, no.

HT:

And why is that? You know, women today in the military have just about any kind of job they want. Of course, in World War II, women had very selective jobs, basically being a clerk or maybe a typist or some administrative-type work. But now women, of course, they fly planes, they go do combat, and that sort of thing. Do you agree with that sort of change?

WW:

I don't approve of all that. I think women have a place, but I don't think it has to take the man's place. I think that each one has a job to do and each one can do it, but I don't think they have to take over, have to go to The Citadel [Military College of South Carolina] or something like that to prove that they can do it. No way. I think we can do our own job and let the men take care of theirs.

HT:

While you were working for the military, were you treated well by the military?

WW:

Oh yes.

HT:

And no problems?

WW:

Overseas we were just—you know, the women, there weren't that many of us. And that was one thing about the advantage there. We were just treated royally. We really were. We felt like being an American was a great thing there, especially great.

HT:

Miss Walker, I don't have any more questions for you. I do appreciate your talking with me this afternoon. Is there anything you'd like to add that we haven't covered?

WW:

No. You know, there's a lot in there, but I can't remember what I said, what it is now.

HT:

Again, thank you so much. We really appreciate you donating these things to the project. You're a wonderful resource for future researchers.

WW:

Well, I'm so happy that it can go somewhere it will be used and valued. My family doesn't have anywhere to put it, you know. But I would like to look through there and see if I can find a uniform.

HT:

Oh, sure. We can do that. Thanks so much.

[End of interview]