Baker Congratulates Telephone Operators - 1918
Portrait Photo of The Hon. Newton D. Baker, Secretary of War, 1916 to 1921. The Great War, 12 May 1917. GGA Image ID # 18fe5f2d7f
Secretary of War, While in France, Officially Commends Work of First Unit of American Girls at War Switchboards —Letters From Some of the First to Go Over.
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 # 1985b04117
Cables have been received announcing the safe arrival of the operators in the Second Unit, who probably by this time have taken their places alongside of the members of Unit No. 1 in France.
Their arrival is almost coincident with the most interesting moment of the war for us, as our Americans are now actively participating and already have earned the title of “shock troops” from French officers.
Naturally, the girls who are to comprise the Third Unit, and who are ready to sail at any moment, are eager to hear of the fortunes of the first two.
There can be no doubt as to the success of the girls who are now on duty over there, for Secretary of War Baker has issued a congratulatory statement on the work of the Telephone Operators’ Unit of the Signal Corps, which he inspected personally.
According to a communication from Paris, these thirty-three girls who are now at the switchboards in France, have lost no time in adapting themselves to new conditions and equipment. The familiar “Number please,” or "Line’s busy,” is welcome music to the ears of American officers who have been struggling with the difficulties attendant upon telephoning in an unfamiliar tongue.
D. T. Gilloon, Co. E, 407th Battalion, in France, writes:
“I saw the first batch of operators to land in France, at General Headquarters yesterday, where they started their first day’s work. They sure do look fine in their new uniforms, and naturally make you sit up and take notice.”
A Few Words Along the Way
The American telephone girls at their posts in France, some of them in army centers, others at General Pershing’s headquarters in the field, at Paris, or along the lines of communication, have astonished the French operators by the rapidity with which they take down a connection.
Frequently, when traffic is heavy, they put up one connection with the thumb and forefinger and at the same time take down another with the little finger of the left hand, to the admiration of the French girls.
The girls themselves, who have volunteered to serve for the period of the war, are beginning to write back of their trip and experiences. The following letters, received recently, tell their own story:
From Miss Grace D. Banker. Formerly an Instructor in the A. T. & T. Co. New York
At Sea. 1918.
Dear Mr. Estabrook :
As there seems to he an off chance that mail can reach you in the near future. I am taking this opportunity to write you a few lines. If it seems incoherent and businesslike. it will be due to a spasm of “mal de mer,” although for the most part we have been lucky along this line.
It was very nice of you to send those letters of introduction, and I thank you. All of the American Telephone and Telegraph and the New York Telephone people were very good to us while we were in New York, and I know that the girls all appreciate it.
On the whole, things seem to be going J uite nicely. Group lines have practically disappeared, and we are no longer California, or Lowell operators, but Telephone Unit No. 1, U. S. S. C.
We have been trying to have more or less regular instruction in French. 1 find that some of the girls who came in the New England contingent, either speak little French, or a Canadian French, which the real French girls have a little difficulty in understanding.
Everyone with whom we have come in contact has been most kind. We are very comfortably situated in every way, and the food is particularly good. 1 have not gotten away from my clerical work, and I don’t expect I will.
There are regular reports to be filled out every day. but they are not one-hundredth as bad as the vouchers we worked on for Governor’s Island. The boat drills are about the most warlike thing we have met with.
The whistles sound—out come the life preservers, and then away to our positions. How is the second unit coming along? I shall be interested in hearing of its progress.
Grace D. Banker.
Telephone Operators’ Unit No. 1.
Members of the Third Unit of Telephone Operators for France Who Were Secured by the New York Telephone Company (left to Right): Miss Marie B. Bélanger, 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 # 1986061ebc
The Silver Lining
ALL pleasure is relative, philosophers tell us. Without pain and inconveniences, we should not be able to really enjoy or appreciate the good things of life.
People who have never been hungry have never experienced the pleasure of satisfying the appetite; those who have never been without the comforts of modern life can not realize that they are luxuries instead of necessities, and do not half enjoy them.
The boys in the service are astonished to find that life goes on just as well, if not better, without all the sweets, spending of money, “comforts” of home, and all the other things that they considered part and parcel of their daily life, and inseparable from it.
And now comes a letter from one of our girls. Miss Ester Fresnel, of New York, a member of the Telephone Operators* Unit No. 1, now serving in France, who, after detailing some amusing experiences in England, reveals the fact that she, too, has arrived at the head of the class, having learned the lesson that we at home have not as yet even started to study.
If you want to play in the war game you must, first of all, be a good sport, and take things as the gods provide them. Sometimes the work comes all in a lump, and at other times, the pleasure.
The great thing is to be ready for either, or both. That Miss Fresnel has reached this happy state cannot be disputed when one reads her letter to her mother, in which she says: “You people take a lot of things as a matter of course.
To really enjoy the little things in life, you ought to go without a few conveniences for a short while. Then, when you get them, you really are happy, and when you don't get them, you are happy, too, for you think how fortunate you were to have had them. See?”
Yes, we see, but we envy her her insight, just the same. Do you suppose that the war might do as much for us? If it did, it might prove to be the famous silver lining to the war cloud that now darkens our horizon.
By this time you will know that we have arrived safely, and now that we have arrived safely, and now that there is no more cause for worrying about my safety, don’t you dare do anything of the kind!
We arrived in England yesterday, so I haven’t seen much of the country, but the little I have seen has impressed me greatly. The houses are all alike in the small towns and I don’t see how in the world they ever get in the right ones. However, I have never seen anything so neat or prim. They remind me very much of doll houses.
Yesterday was a beautiful spring day, and after the ocean trip, it was wonderful to see the green fields, for they are very green already. We were very much surprised.
The country is gorgeous,—everything is so calm and peaceful that one would never imagine that this great struggle was taking place in a country as cpiiet and orderly as this one.
We enjoyed the ride in the train at first because we could look out and see the land, but when it got dark (we rode for nine hours in those small compartments) it was quite tedious.
We had received our rations early in the day, and some had been wiser than others—that is, they had not eaten everything at first. However, we in our compartment were very lucky.
We were just five girls, and the only ones in the whole train to have a first-class carriage, so we had more room and were able to get snatches of sleep.
The other sections were very much more crowded. However, today we are none the worse for it. That is because we finally got a bed to sleep in.
I felt very funny, because it was the first time in five or six days that I had removed my clothes to sleep. This morning. I got up earlier than the others and thought it a fine opportunity to take a bath. You see, we never can tell when we will be able to have another, so we never let an opportunity go by.
So, after having found the bathroom and asked the girl in there about it, I started to get ready. It seems here, though, that when one wishes to bathe, one must notify the whole hotel staff, for a woman came in and simply bowled me over by asking what arrangements I had made for taking a bath.
I told her I hadn’t made any as yet, but I was going to have my bath first, and then I would be perfectly willing to go through any ceremonies they saw fit, but not before I had performed by used-to-be morning ablutions.
The poor lady was quite stunned and asked me my room number and a few other questions, but I ignored her and proceeded with my occupation.
I guess she didn’t like my style or got frightened or something. for she vanished quite suddenly. Needless to say, I enjoyed that bath more than words can say.
You people take a lot of things as a matter of course. To really enjoy the little things in life, you ought to go without a few conveniences for a short while.
Then when you get them, you really are happy and when you don’t get them you are happy too, for you think how fortunate you were to have had them.
See? We are always on the qui vive and never know exactly what we are going to do in the next five minutes. However, whatever takes place, you are in my mind and heart, first, last, and always.
Telephone Operators Unit No. 1., U. S. S. C, A. E. F.
The following letters from Miss Georgette Schaerr, of Omaha. Nebraska. and Miss Josephine Davis, of New Orleans, are addressed to Mrs. Whalen, the toll chief operator at Trenton, where they received part of their training:
Somewhere on the Atlantic
Dear Mrs. Whalen:
Please do not think badly of me for not having written to you but have been so very busy since 1 left you that most every minute of my days was taken up, and now that I have leisure time to write, I may not tell you anything very interesting because my letters are subject to censorship.
First, I want to thank you once more for how nice you were to me on my short stay at the office at Trenton. I’ve never met anyone that made things as pleasant for me. and as long as I live I will remember Mrs. Whalen of Trenton, N. J.
So far our trip has been quite nice. The weather is quite favorable and few of the girls have been seasick yet. Do you have a new unit in training now?
Our chief operator is just grand. She is a very clever woman ; hope she stays with us “over there.’* Of course, none of us know any more about our work “over there*' now than we did when we left Trenton.
We come under the same set of rules as the soldiers and any breaking of rules makes us subject to court-martial. Our white waists get awfully dirty. An obliging stewardess has offered to wash them for us.
If you see any of the girls tell them to get an army sweater and military stock collars—it will save them lots of laundry and looks just as well, as we must always wear our uniforms buttoned around the neck.
We had to rush terribly to get our shopping done because our time was so limited in New York. All the girls, Miss Davis, Mrs. Whitney, Miss Gagnon and Miss Depries. are quite well, and ask to be remembered to you. We take physical setting up exercises and are growing quite fit. There arc four Canadian girls in our unit.
I’m getting very anxious to get to work, this lying around does not suit me at all— guess I have too much of the hustling spirit of the West in my veins.
We are traveling first class,—the only women on board, and are treated very nicely. Well, this will be all for to-day. Write me a big long letter soon.
Telephone Operators Unit, U. S. S. C. A. E. F.
Dear Mrs. Whalen: Safely across. Delighted with everything, except that we are all craving for an American-cooked meal. The trip across the old country was lovely. To see rolling hills of green grass was quite a relief after the snow and frozen waters. Am thawing out now in the sun. Expect to leave for France shortly. Will write again.
Telephone Operators’ Unit, U. S. S. C. A. E. F.
"Baker Congratulates Telephone Operators," in The Telephone Review, May 1918, pp. 137-138.