In Her Words

Letter from Margaret Beumer to Louise Knapp, February 11, 1942

Many nurses in the 21st General Hospital were graduates of the Washington University School of Nursing. The unit’s chief nurse and others maintained a correspondence with their friends and associates at the Nursing School to keep them abreast of news from the army unit. Some of the letters were published in the School’s Nurses Alumnae Association Bulletin.

Margaret Beumer was a 1928 graduate of the School of Nursing. She served as an unofficial historian of the nurses, keeping up the correspondence with the school’s alumnae and writing summaries of the unit’s experiences in Algeria, Italy, and France.

In this letter to Louise Knapp, director of the School of Nursing, Beumer relates details of the nurses’ trip from St. Louis to Ft. Benning and their first weeks of training.

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Letter from Margaret Beumer to Louise Knapp, 2/11/1942, p. 1

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Fort Benning, Ga.
Feb. 11, 1942

Wash. Univ. Alumnae,
St. Louis, Missouri
Dear Miss Knapp,
      Have been slow in writing, but waited, to be able to tell you more.
      Our trip here was quietly made and we slept well into the morning of the first day.
      During the next day an Ensign in charge of a group of petty officers asked Miss Spaulding’s permission to allow her girls to come back to his car and talk with the boys. A petty officer of the Navy rates as a corporal and sergeant of the Army. Miss Spaulding graciously refused.
      We were warmly welcomed by the Drs. of Unit 21 and Capt. Anderson (chief nurse here at Post) on arrival Sunday night at 11:00 p.m. We had sandwiches and coffee at the Mess Hall. I forgot to say that we made to post from Columbus in ambulances.
      We have our quarters in two large 33 bed wards or barracks. We do not mind our “goldfish privacy” in the least, and all of the girls are most congenial.

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Letter from Margaret Beumer to Louise Knapp, 2/11/1942, p. 2

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Our locker trunk is at the foot of the bed, one small bedside table near head of bed, suitcase beneath. What few Civilian clothes we have plus uniforms hang above and to right of bed overhead. It is A-3 building. We call it Apartment 3.
      First two days were spent getting our Army insurance, filling out numberless records and identifications. Next day we received our helmets, gas masks and kits with aluminum closed aluminum plate with aluminum spoon, fork, knife, and can opener. We haven’t had a gas mask drill as yet. No duty.
      Wednesday we has our pictures taken in groups of eight (alphabetically) for Dr.’s identifications of entire nurse group.
      Thursday we went on duty 7-3:00 p.m. as assigned to various wards. One walks miles, it seems, to reach her ward. We worked very little as wards are adequately staffed by Post Army personnel. We observed Army routine, especially the “paper work” – records various slips etc.
      That night at 8:15 p.m. we had an air raid alarm and blackout. It was their first surprise alarm here at the Post. We were told to report to our wards immediately. You can only guess what a scramble, fumbling and falling over things

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Letter from Margaret Beumer to Louise Knapp, 2/11/1942, p. 3

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we experienced. Small, inconspicuous, dull red lights partially light the long connecting hallways to wards. It lasted about 30 min. and we were just arriving as the raid came to an end.
      At present, we work from 7-12 Noon each day. The afternoons are spent at the Recreation Hall attending lectures by Drs. of the Unit 21, in drill etc.
      Monday afternoon we were invited out to the 2nd Armored Division. There we observed an old huge tank of World War I, a new anti-tank gun, a thirty caliber-gun firing from 1-500 times per minute. When barrel becomes too hot, it is inaccurate. Then we saw the new 14 ton and 28 ton tanks. The former travel 25-50 miles per hour. The latter are known as M3 or medium tank. The 14 ton are lighter and travel faster. We had the unusual opportunity of riding in both. All of us went for a ride through the woods, through ditches, up and down steep slopes, mowing down trees occasionally. It was done with perfect ease and no loss of speed. They ride unusually well; the springs

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Letter from Margaret Beumer to Louise Knapp, 2/11/1942, p. 4

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are remarkable. We wore padded helmets – no injuries or casualties, I think much to the surprise of the 2nd Arm’d.
      We were then entertained at the 2nd Arm’d Officers Club by their officers, that is, two of them. We were all served by the Colonel and Capt. with one “Diesel Cocktail.” Definition of a diesel cocktail: it starts with a bang, maneuvers to the attack, and ends up in the maintenance shop! Its ingredients are a military secret. We were then served with coffee and tea cakes, relaxed, then back to the post in a troop trucks. An exciting day!
      We have four girls here from Savannah, Ga. and twelve (I believe) from LaGarde New Orleans. They have had at least several months of Army life, one has had more. They were very antagonistic toward us at first for various reasons, but are now beginning to feel like part of the Unit, and life goes more smoothly.
      We now have our Caduceus, lieut. gold bars and U.S.’s, Army

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Letter from Margaret Beumer to Louise Knapp, 2/11/1942, p. 5

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caps, capes and overseas cap.
      Thursday afternoon we received most of street or dress uniforms. The jacket is navy blue, the skirt somewhat lighter blue (and fits beautifully) two light blue and two white shirts. We have a navy blue wool muffler, blue wool gloves, gray suede gloves. We have six white uniforms, (straight up and down) that fit only fairly, six medium blue seersucker field uniforms, identical in make to the white uniforms. We wear black shoes and black or neutral hose. We haven’t received our overcoats as yet. We wear black man’s tie, and tied as such.
      We are still wearing our civilian clothes here.
      There is a great deal of opportunity for dating here. There are many different officers. It is said that the Infantry and Arm’d Div. consider Unit 21 manna from heaven.
      We are learning to drill this week. We are learning – “about face,” “right face,” “left face,” march, left and right column, march to the rear, hand salute with and without numbers, March, Hut, two, three, four etc. We do not

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Letter from Margaret Beumer to Louise Knapp, 2/11/1942, p. 6

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salute anyone, and no one salutes us, but we must know how. We are addressed Miss __X__ , ma’am, Miss etc. rather than lieutenant etc.
      Capt. Anderson (chief nurse) and various officers of the Post, also nurses, have been most hospitable, and we all like it here. It is a beautiful Post.
      We all love Miss Spaulding. No one has heard or feels any exception to that. She is so capable and pleasant as well as attractive. Girls from the other hospitals feel exactly as we all do. We all think a great deal of Col. Cady too.
      I have written rather fully and yet feel as though I’ve covered the events or news poorly. I’m sure news will be more brief later too, but will surely try to cover!
      We want to thank all of you for our wonderful “send off” from St. Louis and your great interest in us. It would be grand to see all of you, and we can’t help but confess twinges of homesickness. Regards to all of you from members of Unit 21.
                  Margaret Beumer

We would like to hear from you. Please forgive my delay.