Take time to remember forgotten heroines

By Regina Villiers.  Originally published November 26, 1997 in The Suburban Life, added November 12, 2017.

The World War II V-Mail and postcard were sent to Cleo Hosbrook by servicemen during the war. They now belong to the Madeira Historical Society.

Since this is the month to honor veterans, and the column before this paid tribute to World War II veterans, this column honors women on the home front in World War II.

In this war, perhaps, as in no other, people all across the country were united in the war effort.  Every thought centered on the guys doing the fighting, and every person made sacrifices to give them support and to provide what they needed.

Companies and factories switched from their usual manufactured goods to the making of ships, planes, ammunition and everything essential to carrying on the war.  Women went to war by taking over the jobs in the factories.  They became “Rosie the Riveter,” and without them, the war could not have been won.

Raw materials and goods went to the war effort, directed toward the most essential needs.  This meant not much was left for consumption on the home front.

An equitable rationing system was set up, with coupon books, containing stamps and points, being issued to all civilians, including each child and all members in the family.  There were stamps for sugar, coffee, meat, butter, eggs and other goods.  Without the necessary stamps, you were not allowed to purchase these items.  Women coped with this by cooking and providing for their families with what they had.  Eggless and sugarless “war cake” recipes sprang up.

It was hard to buy a pair of shoes.  All supplies of rubber and leather were going to the war.  Family shoe allowances went to the children.  Grownups wore their shoes to extinction.  Awls and shoe lasts were pulled from grandma’s closet to re-sew and re-sole shoes.

All coal, gasoline, and fuels were severely rationed.  Car owners were issued stickers to place in their rear windows.  An “A” sticker could buy little or no gasoline.  A “B” sticker could get slightly more.  A “C” sticker car belonged to someone who was doing essential work, or was running a car pool to get workers to essential jobs.  There was no joy riding, or running to the mall.

The social structure of the country changed too.  With the men and boys in service, those left behind learned to lean on each other.

Wanda Gardner remembers this most about the war.  She was still in high school.  “I remember there were no dates,” she said, “because the fellows were all gone.  But we girls made our own entertainment.”

Betty Ward did what many young wives of the era did.  She followed her husband, Russell, to Arkansas to live near the base where he was stationed.  She still remembers the long train ride, alone, to Little Rock.  “I was scared,” she said.

She lived there, as did other young wives, in a rented room.  The young women ate their meals at a nearby restaurant, where home cooked food was served on long tables. You could eat all you wanted, and the price was 35 cents.  They could go to a movie for 10 cents.

Betty got a job there in an eggplant, candling eggs.  The eggs were dried and powdered to send over seas to servicemen.

Betty stayed in Little Rock for a year.  When Russ was sent to Brownwood, Texas, Betty followed.  There, she and the other wives lived in a college dorm, for six dollars per week.  For one dollar more, you got kitchen privileges.  There was no refrigerator, and they would walk to an icehouse to buy a block of ice.

By the time they got back with it, in the heat of Texas, it would be mostly melted.  They did their laundry by hand on a scrub board.

These young Army wives formed deep friendships that have lasted all these years.  Betty still stays in touch.  “We were like a family,” she said.

When Russ was sent overseas, Betty went back to her parents’ home in Columbus, Ohio.  By then, she had a baby son, Jim, who Russell didn’t see again until his son was two years old.

When the husband of Betty’s sister, Mary, went to war, Betty went to Mansfield to live with her sister.  They didn’t have much and had to get by with little.  Betty had a car, but no money for gas.  Just before the country went to war, Russ had bought a new 1941 Ford club coupe, with radio and heater, for $910 cash.

“But we didn’t mind not having much,” Betty said.  “Nobody had much.”  You didn’t mind not getting things, because you knew the soldiers were getting it.”

“People helped people,” she said.  “Neighbors stuck together.”

Betty lived with Mary in Mansfield for two years till the war was over, bringing their husbands home.  They would spend a big part of their time writing letters, and they’d get a 5-cent ice cream cone.  “That was our treat,” Betty said.

Mail from home was important to soldiers in faraway places.  Everyone was urged to write to them to improve morale.  Soldiers’ letters home were called V-Mail and were reduced-size photocopies of their letters.  Betty has V-Mail Russ sent to her, and she still has a scarf he sent her from Japan.

A woman, who asks to be anonymous, because she says her memory is “frivolous,” has memories of nylon stockings.  Nylon hose has come on the market in 1939 but were not made during the war.  All nylon was made into parachutes.  After the war ended, nylon stockings appeared again and caused near-rioting among would-be buyers at stores.

By then, Ms. Anonymous was in college, living in a dorm.  Her mother brave the nylon stocking lines an managed to by a pair, which she immediately mailed to her daughter away at college, making her daughter the most envied girl in the dorm.  Maybe in the entire college.

But Ms. Anonymous was generous.  She’d loan the stockings to other girls when they’d have big dates.  The pair of hose made all the best rounds, and was seen at all the best places.

Women in WWII were largely unsung heroes, just doing willingly what they had to do.  The war couldn’t have been won without them.