Affidavit of Oleda Joure Christides - 1977
Page 1 of the Affidavit of Oleda Joure Christides, Recognition for Purposes of VA Benefits, 1977. GGA Image ID # 19ab260205
Affidavit of Oleda Joure Christides
State of Michigan,
County of Saint Clair, as:
Oleda Joure Christides, being first duly sworn, on oath deposes and states as follows:
1. I presently reside at 108 North Water Street, Marine City, Saint Clair County, Michigan 48039.
2. In 1918, I was Chief Operator for the Michigan Bell Telephone Company at Marine City, Michigan, when a request came through our company from General of the Army, John J. Pershing, for experienced telephone operators to serve in the U. S. Army Signal Corps in France.
Experience in telephone communication work was of primary consideration, and knowledge of the French language was not a prerequisite, although preferable.
I had telephone experience and speaking knowledge of French, as both my parents were of French Canadian origin, both in Michigan.
I had graduated from high school, and as my parents were financially unable to send me to college, I had gone to work for Michigan Bell in the hope of saving enough money to help defray my expenses in college, where I wanted to major in history. Although I liked my work at Michigan Bell, when the call of General Pershing came to enlist in the Army for service abroad to help in the war effort, I felt it was my patriotic duty to give something of myself to my country.
3. After a great deal of consideration, I finally decided to enlist for military service abroad. I telephoned Mr. A. M. Carter of Michigan Bell and applied for Army enlistment. Mr. Carter, who was in charge of recruiting suitable personnel to serve in the US Army Signal Corps abroad, told me to report to him at Detroit.
I went there, and after being interviewed by him, I was accepted for enlistment, especially as I spoke French in addition to my other qualifications.
Mr. Carter told me to return to Marine City to be sworn in to the service by a justice of the peace or notary public, under the provisions of the Articles of War and Army Regulations, and to await telegraphic orders to be transmitted from the War Department in Washington.
I was sworn in with the identical oath taken by other Army personnel, by a notary public, as directed by Mr. Carter. In a few days, I received a telegram signed by Mr. Newton D. Baker, Secretary of War, informing me that my status was similar to that of an Army nurse; that I was to proceed to New York City and report to the American Telephone and Telegraph Office at 195 Broadway; and I would be subject to Army Regulations during my enlistment and other details which have faded in my memory. Unfortunately, I do not have this telegram in my possession.
I do have; however, a telegram addressed to me in care of Mr. Carter, dated Washington, DC, 19 August 1918, signed “SQUIRE CHIEF SIGNAL OFFICER,” received by Michigan Bell Telephone Company at its office at “11 East Elizabeth St. 20 August”, a photocopy of which is attached, marked Exhibit No. 1, and made part of this affidavit.
I particularly wish to invite attention to the following words of this telegram: “Under authority of Secretary of War dated 7 April 1917 * * * travel directed is necessary in the military service. Transportation allowances to be accorded you same as prescribed for Army nurses in Army regulations.”
To the best of my knowledge, “Squire,” the signer of the telegram was Major General Squire, the officer in charge of all Signal Corps operations in the US Army during World War I, including those in Europe.
I proceeded to New York, reported to the AT & T. office as directed, received instructions from experts in all phases connected with our service with the Signal Corps abroad; I was sworn into the Army for the second time at the AT & T. office.
My stay in New York was two weeks, at the Prince George Hotel. Twenty-Ninth Street near Fifth Avenue. In addition to the instructions I received at the AT & T. office, all of us were measured for uniforms, hats, footwear, etc. I left from Hoboken, NJ on the OLYMPIC, bound for Southampton, England, as part of the Sixth Unit of Signal Corp Telephone Operators.
4. The uniforms we received in New York while awaiting embarkation were navy blue in color, one for summer, and one for winter wear. The uniforms had US Army regulation metal buttons.
On the collar were metal letters “US”, and the Signal Corps cross flag branch insignia. These were identical to collar insignia work by male Army Signal Corps officers.
Our uniforms also included a navy blue hat with the US Signal Corps orange and white cord around the crown. This was identical to the hat cords worn on the campaign hats of Signal Corps enlisted personnel.
The overseas cap was of navy blue color and also piped in orange and white colors (the same as that worn by Army Signal Corps officers) with a Signal Corps branch insignia on the front of the cap.
The overcoat was also of navy blue color, had the same “US” and Signal Corps branch insignia on the lapels. The overcoat was referred to as an “Ulster.”
We were issued brown Army boots, halfway to the knee. When we were assigned later to GHQ. (General Headquarters), we also wore the red, white, and blue GHQ emblem (OJC) on our shoulder.
5. About seven days after leaving Hoboken, we arrived at Southampton, England. Because a flu epidemic developed on the voyage, we were quarantined on the ship for several days and were not permitted to go onshore.
When we were allowed to land at Southampton, we were taken to a military rest camp named Camp Romsey near Winchester. Due to my piano playing ability, the YMCA man in charge of entertainment asked me to remain at Camp Romsey.
I refused his offer and explained to him that I could not resign from the Signal Corps, as I had been enlisted and sworn into the Army.
Shortly thereafter, our unit was placed on a British ship and transported from Southampton to Le Havre, France, and then by railroad to the Tours Service of Supply Center.
I remained there two or three weeks, awaiting orders and working in the American telephone exchange. From there, our unit of about thirty operators was divided into groups and sent to different American bases in France.
I was assigned to Chaumont GHQ with several other operators; it took us three days to make the trip from Tours to Chaumont.
6. There were about thirty women operators of the US Signal Corps at Chaumont, all of whom had enlisted in the Army and had taken the oath in the same manner as I had. I learned this by speaking with them and by comparing notes on our experiences.
The operators lived in an apartment building rented from the French, two girls to a room. We had an American YWCA hostess who supervised the maintenance of the building, food expenses, services, etc., who was assisted by a French housekeeper, a cook, two maids, and a chore boy.
The total expenses were divided between the operators and deducted from our commutation and ration payments. These were received monthly from the US Army, along with our salaries, in the same manner as Army officers.
The female operators worked in shifts between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. Male members of the US Signal Corps relieved us for night duty. The traffic at night was light, as the heavy traffic was being handled by women in the daytime.
We were subject at all times to Army rules and regulations, and discipline was severe, including courts-martial, the same as governed male Army personnel.
We were allowed two night passes a week, signed by our commanding officer but not beyond 11:30 p.m. or midnight, as I recall.
Our duties consisted of handling all telephone calls between various US Army commands as well as telephone calls from and to allied forces, whether local or long-distance service.
There was also a special board to handle foreign language communications. Due to my knowledge of French, I occasionally handled the French switchboard position.
When the last big drive of the Germans was launched before the war ended, the lights on our switchboard looked like a Christmas tree.
I was one of the last eight operators to leave General Headquarters at Chaumont before the equipment, and the barracks were turned over to the French in July or August 1919.
7. Our commanding officers were all male Army Signal Corps officers, who continuously reminded us we were in the Army. We had to obey its rules and regulations, exactly as its male officers and enlisted men, and that our conduct must be consonant with that prescribed for female personnel.
When visiting dignitaries arrived at Chaumont, General Pershing had all the operators not on duty stand inspection in the large courtyard located between the three barracks housing the Army officers in Chaumont.
I recall that we stood inspection for H.R.H. Edward, Prince of Wales, Field Marshal Douglas Haig, top French dignitaries, and other allied military leaders.
The highlight of these visits was when President Woodrow Wilson came to Chaumont on Christmas 1918 and reviewed all the military forces, including our Signal Corps group.
I once had a photograph of Miss Louise Gordon, one of our supervisors, shaking hands with the President, but it was destroyed with many other military records in a fire of the Michigan Bell Telephone Company office at Marine City.
Attached to this affidavit and made a part hereof, marked Exhibit 2, is a photograph of our unit in front of General Pershing’s office, in the courtyard of General Headquarters, barracks.
A fast and efficient communications system was of paramount importance in World War I, and I feel that the women telephone operators contributed immensely to achieve this end.
This was recognized by the US Army as I have in my possession a book containing a large number of letters of commendation by dozens of officers, from the rank of lieutenant to that of General of the Army John J. Pershing.
The question of whether we, women of the US Signal Corps, were considered to be civilian employees by the Signal Corps officers under whom we served never arose, as they always told us we were part of the Army Signal Corps. We naturally assumed that we would receive Army discharges upon our return to the United States.
The RMS Aquitania Entering New York Harbor, Cunard Line Photograph, c. 1914. GGA Image ID # 19ab608274
8. I returned to New York on the AQUITANIA in July or August 1919 together with other women telephone operators. Instead of receiving Army discharges, we were given “Service Termination Letters” (I am placing this under quotation marks as I am not certain of this document’s exact designation). We strenuously objected, unfortunately to no avail.
We did not realize that this document would deny us recognition of our service in the American Expeditionary Force. Had we understood this, we could have banded together and forced the issue for official recognition, and our commanding officers would have backed us to the hilt in our claim.
There were 223 women telephone operators in the Signal Corps. It would have been relatively easy to identify the official (s) responsible for ordering the issuance of the so-called “Service Termination Letters” instead of the Army discharges we were entitled to receive. Today I doubt if there are fifty of us left.
9. Upon my return to Michigan, I joined the American Legion. There was no doubt in my mind and in the opinion of the Legion’s officials that I was a member of the military and had served in the AEF in France.
I joined the Regan Lyde Nurses Post in Detroit and attended meetings with Miss Louise Gordon (when I happened to be in Detroit), who, I believe, was the Commander of the Post before her death in 1927 or 1928.
I was eventually told by the Legion officials that I could no longer be a member of the organization because I could not produce an Army discharge. I was extremely disappointed by this action, and I resigned from the Regan Lyde post.
In the past, I have written to senators, congressmen, and even to Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson and Mrs. Betty Ford pleading our cause. The replies I received invariably stated that my inquiries had been referred to the War Department, the Defense Department, to the Army Judge Advocate General and/or other officials and that their responses were that we were “militarized civilians” or ‘contract civilian employees” and therefore not entitled to recognition as veterans of World War I.
I never signed a contract with the Army, and I do not know of any female telephone operators who did, but I did enlist in the Army and was sworn into it twice, the same as male personnel.
The War department must have records showing that all the women telephone operators in the US Signal Corps enlisted and were sworn into the Army and showing that they did not sign any contracts; in its files, there must exist copies of the telegrams sent under the signature of Secretary of War Newton D. Baker to the 223 women operators which would verify that what I stated in paragraph 3 of this affidavit is substantially correct.
In my view, it is axiomatic that US Government military personnel, male or female, entering service through enlistment or induction and performing the same duties should be accorded identical recognition. This recognition has been denied to us, and it is time for the government to redress this wrong perpetuated for over 58 years.
I have attached to this affidavit a copy of a picture of me in my Signal Corps uniform, taken in 1918.
Oleda Joure Christides.
Subscribed and Sworn To before me this 21st day of March 1977.
Myra C. Paquette,
Notary Public, St. Clair County, Mich.
My Commission Expires 19 March 1978.
Exhibit 1: Telegram of 19 August 1918.
Washington, DC, 19 August 1918.
Oleda R. Joure,
c/o Mr. A. M. Carter
Supervisor, Instn Michigan Phone Co.
Under authority of Secretary of War, dated 7 April 1917. you will proceed from Detroit, Michigan, to New York City, reporting on arrival to R. F. Eastabrook, Amer. Tel and Tel Company, One Nine Five, Broadway, for instructions in telephony. You will apply to the nearest quartermaster or recruiting officer for transportation. Travel directed is necessary in the military service transportation. Allowances to be accorded you same as prescribed for Army nurses in Army regulation while undergoing instructions. For the first thirty days, a per diem allowance of four dollars will be allowed you. You will preserve a copy of this order.
Chief Signal Officer.
"Appendix B: Affidavit of Oleda Joure Christides," in Recognition for Purposes of VA Benefits, Hearing before the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Unted States Senate, Ninety-Fifth Congress, First Session on S. 247, S. 1414, S. 129, and Related Bills. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 25 May 1977. pp. 347-350