Third Unit of Telephone Operators Arrive in France - 1918
Third Unit of Telephone Operators to Go to France to Serve with General Pershing behind the Allied Lines and Help Carry on the Business of War. The Telephone Review, May 1918. GGA Image ID # 19225056a1
The third detachment of telephone operators to serve under General Pershing in France has arrived safely, according to a cable received from "Over There" on May 9. As you can imagine, they are welcomed with open arms by their comrades who preceded them, and no doubt have al ready accustomed themselves to their new quarters and duties. In the Stars and Stripes, the official paper of the American Expeditionary Force, and edited weekly in Paris, we find an account of the reception accorded the telephone operators' units that have arrived in France. Behold their announcement!
HELLO GIRLS HERE IN REAL ARMY DUDS
Signal Corps Colors Adorn Hats of New Bi-lingual Wire Experts
THEY HAVE SERGEANTS TOO
Company of 33 Regulars Represents Half of States of Union
Uncle Sam Presents "Hello Girls !"
A Melodious, Mirthful, Extravaganza in Three Coils, Produced for the First Time in France, under the auspices of the A. E. F. Protective and Benevolent Society for the Suppression of Huns, in the Theatre de Guerre. Performances in both French and English. Assisted by a chorus of 33— COUNT 'EM, 33—Real American Telephone girls, representing half the States in the Union, and able to get anybody's number the first time —including the Kaiser's.
Such, in brief, might well be the hand bill announcement heralding the arrival in France of the vanguard of the Hello Girls' detachment, which has come here to handle switchboards, adjust switches, calm and sooth irate C. O. S.—at long distance who are trying to cut in and tell the Quartermaster just what they think of him, and to disconnect promptly any brusque and over-military persons who persist in saying Cochon!, or "________" when they hear an undue buzzing on the line. In short, the phone girls — 33, count 'em, 33—are here to take the phone-using portion of the A. E. F. by the ears, and put it in its proper place.
They arrived just the other day and like everything else that's new and interesting in the army—yes, they're in it, too —they were lined up before a Signal Corps camera and shot. Grouped about the base of a statue in a little Paris square, they pre sented a pleasing sight. (American girls always do.)
The ladies of the line wear a real Army costume, save that their campaign hats are dark blue and that they have shown great originality by substituting the skirt for the more conventional O. D. breeches and putts. Their hat cords, those lovely orange and white things that the Signal Corps wears (so suggestive of fillets of orange blos soms), are the real thing. So are their but tons. And they've got it on the rest of us in that they know how to sew on those buttons when they come off.
Their insignia, too, are real and terrifyingly complicated. The rank is indicated by arm bands. An Operator, First Class, wears a white brassard with a blue outline design of a telephone mouthpiece. A Supervisor, who rates with a platoon sergeant, wears the same emblem with a wreath around it. The Chief Operator, or "Top," has a wreath, a mouthpiece, and blue lightning flashes shooting out above the receiver— which is most appropriate for a "Top."
But the "Top" says those Jove-like light ning flashes don't mean anything in particular. To be sure, she will insist on discipline, if it's required, but thus far she hasn't had any occasion to let loose thun derbolts at the heads of her charges. No, the girls will not have first call at 6:15 and reveille at 6:30, the way the doughboys do. Fancy asking a hello girl to do up her hair in twice that time!
The 33 were selected after a drastic combing-out process, after a call had been sent out for 150 bi-lingual operators and had been answered by 1,750 applicants. All 33 are equally at home to "Voulez-vous me donner le Capitaine Blanque," and "Lemme speakta Cap'n Blank, please!" They can answer with "Oui, mon Commandant, attendez un moment," or "Yes, Major, just wait a minute, please." In short, they are capable, plus.
A bystander, who hadn't been properly introduced to the group, proffered some chewing gum and was promptly and prop erly squelched.
Members of the Third Unit of Telephone Operators for France Who the New York Telephone Company Secured. (Left to right): Miss Marie B. Belanger, Rochester; Miss Marie L. Beraud, West Hoboken; Miss Louisette Gavard, New York; Miss Margaret Hutchins, New York; Miss Suzanne Coheleach, New York; Miss Suzanne Beraud, West Hoboken; Miss Frances Des Jardins, Pembroke, Ontario. The Telephone Review, May 1918. GGA Image ID # 1922531634
A Wonderful Experience
I Just have to fall back on the -Isame old saying, 'It is going to be awonderful experience,' " writes Elsie Hunter, one of the Telephone Operators' Unit No. 3, now safe in France. She is right. All the best things of life are those that we earn. She and the other girls in the units are giving their services to Uncle Sam and his boys, and in return they will have an experience that will be almost priceless in after life. The many pictures and associations that are theirs for the "duration of the war" will be woven into the tapestry of their life, and will serve as a background for the future.
The girls who had visited France before, find the France of today quite different from that of yesterday. Everything is grim business of war. The world is no longer care-free.
Miss Frances Bigelow Paine, a member of Telephone Operators' Unit No. 1, writes of her interesting trip over, and tells of how they slept in their clothes during the time in the danger zone, with portholes closed. Itwas more exciting than comfortable.
In one of her letters, Miss Georgette Schaer, also of the same unit, gives us aglimpse of her work in France. She says that it is on the P. B. X. order, but in the French language, of course, as they connect with French lines and order the numbers in French. She states that, though they have bombardments, a person gets used to them and takes them very indifferently! A little piece of advice also is enclosed in her letter,—which is for the girls who are studying French to practice hard on their numbers, and to practice listening and talking rapidly over the telephone.
These and many other letters have been relayed to us by friends and relatives of the girls who are serving at the war switchboards in France. All give little side-lights on the life of the operators in France. As we are all very much interested in their fortunes in France, we should appreciate receiving similar letters from time to time from others.
Miss Ester Fresnel, of New York, writes some very interesting letters of her impressions of France, and incidentally of the American Army. They are certainly most encouraging —and appreciative. The picture she draws of the conditions under which the girls are living in France is very attractive, showing, as it does, the care and fore thought exercised by the United States Government in seeing that the girls are well taken care of.
All interested in the organization of these units for service in France will enjoy reading the following letters which she wrote to her parents, and which are representative of many others that have reached us:
March 29, 1918.
For the past week or so I've been trying to write you every day, but we've been so much on the qui vive that it has been impossible. And now, I've so much to tell you that I know not whence to start. Anyhow, you'll be almost happy to know that I'm in France, and at the present time actually at work and settled (for the time being, any how).
When I first got here in France, Captain Vivian, the officer who has charge of us, most kindly allowed me to go out with Tante Jeanne. I had telephoned her and Tante Margo. in the morning, and Uncle Albert and Tante Jeanne came and got me. Then we drove to the Majestic, and went to her apartment, where she gave me the dearest souvenir to bring me good luck. This souvenir is an elephant's hair mounted in silver and in the form of a bracelet. Be sides, when she called for me, she brought me some violets. After that we drove back and had dinner at a place that father is very, very fond of,— Bourbon, or something like that. Then Tante Jeanne and I had a walk and we talked, and talked, and talked, and she told me a great many nice things.
Darling Mummy and Daddy, I feel as though Iwere growing fatter by the minute. We are accommodated royally. The house in which we live was originally procured for an Officers' Club, and appointed accordingly. Those unfortunate men, however, were forced to go to another section, and the YWCA got this house for us. We are only eleven here, as we were sep arated in different sections. We sleep two in a room (I room with Suzanne Prevot). and have all conveniences. But what I want to tell you most of all is that when it comes to meals, I positively disgrace you. It is as though Iwere overcome by an over powering desire to eat—eat— eat.
Needless to say, the cooking (which is French and American combined) is excellent. There is a cook, waitress, and a Mme. Chopin, a charming person who used to direct a young ladies' seminary, but who has left her aunt in charge for the present while she presides over this household. Miss Russell has charge of this establishment and acts as hostess. She is a YWCA worker and is as pleasant as can be. She sits at one end of the table and Mme. Chopin at the other, and between both of them we are well taken care of. Our board and lodging amounts to $15 aweek for each of us. I don't know yet whether our washing will be included.
March 30, 1918
In looking over my letter before handing it in to the censor, I find that I have not asked you for anything. Now, that is not natural at all—to chat with you any length of time and not want something. So I would like you to send me some popular music—we are going to have a piano and I'll probably be at it all the time. On the boat they made me play from morn until night, and no one enjoyed it more than I. If you think it best, you can send me some of my own music, but if it seems to you that itmight go astray, just send me popular music which I can't get over here and I'll purchase the classics here myself.
Beginning next week, we shall all have to work all day and every day, but for the present some of us have either the afternoon or morning off. We take long walks, as any exercise we can get must be snatched at seeing that we sit all day.
If you were only here to see the beauty of it all with me! But you know this mountainous country and can appreciate it, too, for you are here in spirit I know. Here the season is not as advanced as where we were at first,—the spring is jusl beginning. There are a good many pine groves here, and never in my life have I seen anything so beautiful. The hills seem like waves. There is wave after wave, as far as one can see, and the pine trees grow on the sides of the gullies they form. The air is just as pure as can be and the sky on a clear day is the bluest of blues. I have already found violets and can see all the leaves of the lily-of-the-valley coming up. It seems to grow wild here. Just think how fragrant it will be when they are all in bloom! I'll send you some blossoms and perhaps you'll be able to get a whiff of the same perfume that I shall have had. This section is so beautiful! I do hope that I'll be able to stay here. This is the general headquarters of the American Army, and every day, going to and from work. I pass the Château where General Pershing resides. The house is ever guarded and no one stands straighter or salutes with more snap than that sentinel.
TRIBUTE TO OUR BOYS
In fact, our boys are all as fine as can be I tell you. one must come over here to ap preciate them, and our very "bosom swells with pride," I tell you. They are mighty glad to see us, too, and can not do enough for us. We feel like one tremendous family. There is nothing finer, I think, than this spirit of companionship of com rades, and I'm awfully glad I came, in a way, because I never knew before how many nice people there were in the world.
I could write to you forever, but the dinner bell calls and I may not— nay I dare not ignore the command— for com mand it is from my tummy.
Working for Service Stripes
April 4, 1918.
Dearest Darlings :
How is everything going along with you? Here it is quite one month since I have left you and I haven't received a word yet...
Yesterday started out to be a wonderful, wonderful day. Unfortunately it ended up the way it has been going on since we've been here — in rain. This weather doesn't dampen our spirits any, but it produces a mud the like of which I have never previously seen. It isn't ordinary mud by any means. It's more like clay and very slippery. It never seems to dry up except on one's clothing, whence it never can be removed.
However, it lends an atmosphere, and personally I feel more of a soldier, and a hard working one at that, when muddy.
At present we are very, very busy, as we haven't as many operators as we would like to have. When the next unit comes, we will be able to have each a day off a week —that is, if we remain here. We may be transferred to some other place, though I hope not, because I like this place a very great deal. You know yourself how lovely the Vosages section is. Not only that, but if we stay here six months or more, we will be allowed to have service stripes. We would be the only telephone girls to have any, being up to the present the only girls in the war zone besides the nurses.
Wouldn't you be proud to have your daughter coming home with several gold stripes on her sleeves? I don't know whether we would be allowed to wear them on our civilian clothes, but then, I would always have the occasion to flourish them on the Fourth of July, for then it would be the proper thing to wear my uniform and all the appendages thereof (which I hope to acquire before the war is over).
Darling children, perhaps Imay be home by next July, 1919—one can never tell. But when one sees our boys over here, one thinks that they would make short work of everything. They are a splendid type and certainly appear to the best advantage here. I don't know why I never really appre ciated them at home as a whole. Perhaps it's because I never was able to see the men from different sections of the coun try. Over here the majority of the boys are from the West and the South, and now that I have had the opportunity to see them, I feel it isn't fair to judge Americans from New Yorkers. And yet foreigners are most apt to. Perhaps it is because the New Yorkers are among the noisiest that one heeds them first.
The majority are from the West, and I must say that they are just as nice as they can be. There is one girl from San Francisco, —a French girl, educated in U. S. A., who is absolutely charming. When I com pare myself to her, I feel quite ashamed in some and most respects...
If it will not be too much trouble, I would like you to send me my black satin slippers. I'm so tir«d of having these heavy shoes all the time. It would quite a relief to have a pair of slippers on in the evening when we are at home together.
I am going to bed now, not because I want to stop, — I could go on forever, — but because I must get up early in the morning and also because the censor is more apt to take up the thinner looking letters first.
Happy in France
April 12, 1918.
Your two letters have come and have made the happiest girl imaginable out of me.
As far as material things are concerned, I have more than my share, considering what I set out to do and why. Our accommodations, as I have said, are perfectly fine, and lately a limousine has been added to our list of comforts, so that we may not have to walk to and from work, if we don't want to. So you see that physically I am all right, but oh, how Imiss you !
It is perfectly disgraceful how little I know of what is going on at present. I never read a newspaper and am absolutely ignorant of anything that takes place any where. So write me news, please, loads, loads of it.
We have made plans to take a long walk on Sunday in the sunshine. It has done that so rarely that I would not be surprised if we were disappointed, but no mat ter if it rains or not, I am going to go out. The country around here is perfectly gorgeous, everywhere one turns in every direction there is the most wonderful scenery, and the only thing I want is you to enjoy this with me. We only see the bright side of war, but some of us get an inkling once in a while of what is going on at the front by hearing a word here and there from people coming back or by see ing some troop trains going there. There is nothing more pitiful and inspiring at the same time than to see those box-cars filled with those dear French soldiers who have been doing so much for four years and who are yet gay and not at all bitter.
The other night we had the pleasure of hearing the experiences of a Frenchman who had escaped from a German war prisoner's camp where he had been for two years. Needless to say, his talk was very gripping. I don't know whether it is wise to write the details, so that is another thing I am reserving to tell you when we see each other again. Won't we have a lot to talk about, once we are reunited again?
I am crazy to get a pair of those cute little French slippers. Every time I pass a shoe store they dance and beckon and tantalize me. Finally I couldn't stand it any longer and went in rashly, deciding that even if I couldn't wear them with those high heels and spiffy bows with auni form, I would get them anyhow to wear in the evenings. But my good fairy must have been watching over me, because no where in that establishment could they find a pair small enough to fit me. It seems that all the women of this town have big feet.
Spring and Rhododendrons
Saturday, April 20.
Tonight the officers of the Signal Corps are giving us a dinner. I, however, stayed here, had my dinner brought up to my room, and am now settling down for a chat with you. Oh! These moments are so precious! I only wish I had better photos of you, though I don't need them to bring you any closer. I carry a picture of you with me always, that nothing in the world could efface. You can guess where I keep it. Its proper lodging place is an organ that most people believe is meant solely to pump and send blood cours ing through one's veins, but I know better.
The other girls feel sorry for me. They can't imagine why I should want to stay home. If they could see me now positively basking in peace and quiet. What a relief to be alone! You know we are two in a room, so it is very hard to get off by one's self Besides the walls of this house are of such a nature that nothing in the way of noise escapes your attention, no matter how large or small.
You know your offspring takes herself too seriously. To tell the truth, your one and only is ridiculously young, no matter how wise she may imagine she is at times. In fact, I must confess that she does things, says things, and thinks things which are most melodramatic. I am ashamed to say at times she thinks things are very tragic and doesn't see the huge joke of it all until afterwards. Let's thank our stars that she sees the joke at all. Better late than never.
Itis beginning to be nice weather now. though it is quite cold for the season. You should see me bundled up now in a sweater, and wooly bath-robe. With my goggles I must make quite a picture. I am developing a great quality of concen tration. If you knew how hard it is to stay indoors when the sun is shining and you know the air is cool and invigorating! But neverthless, I manage to keep my mind most of the time on my work. I hope to improve as the time goes on. As a telephone operator I am not exactly a wonder, but there is nothing that anybody else can do that is impossible for me to do per fectly. So though I am not in line for a chief operator or supervisor, I'll be a deuced good plain operator.
Our second unit has arrived and we have four more girls here. That means that we will be able to have one day off a week. Next Wednesday is my holiday and oh, gracious! what awonderful time I'm going to have! First of all, I'm going to be saturated through and through with that sense of leisure. Then I'm going to sleep and write and walk in the country. I ought to sew buttons on, but since it is the first holiday I have had for a long, long time, I am going to do just exactly what I feel like doing.
"How Our Telephone Operators Were Received 'Over There'." in The Telephone Review, Vol. 9, No. 6, June 1918, pp. 174-176.