A Telephone Operator's Experiences with the Signal Corps - 1918
Fifth Unit of Telephone Operators for General Pershing's Army, from the Forces of the Bell System Photographed on Roof of 195 Broadway, New York, August 2. 1918. Left to Right. Front Row: Miss Mildred Lewis, Miss Zada F. Black, Miss Anita Chance, Miss Louise Barbour, Miss Anna Kinney, Miss Nell S. Wilkins, Miss Helen Cook, Miss Norma G. Finch, Miss Elizabeth M. Shovar, Miss Sarah Fairbrother, Miss Annie F. Sheerin, Miss Ruth Keeping, Miss Helen M. Hayes, Miss Christie V. Bickford. Back Row: Miss Elizabeth Macauley, Miss Agnes E. Blazina, Miss Ena Robb, Miss Louise M. Wilcox, Miss Faye R. Honey, Miss Martha M. Henshaw, Miss Merle Egan, Miss Laura Gridley, Miss Helen Carey, Miss Vera Sjostrom, Miss Jessie D. Brown, Miss Grace B. Knall, Miss Elizabeth O'Brien, Miss Mary E. Sealey, Miss Irene A. Gifford, Miss Marguerite Mahoney. The Telephone Review, September 1918. GGA Image ID # 1928fddc68
Miss Zada Freelove Black, formerly chief telephone operator of the Brush exchange, writes the Brush office of her experiences with Signal Corps, Women's Telephone Unit, A. E. F., on her way to France and her arrival:
Tours, France, August 19, 1918.
Just a month since I left Denver, and here, I am in La Belle, France. Suppose you have received cards and pictures by this time. The day we sailed from New York, they had a luncheon for us at the hotel; several of the A. T. & T. officials attended and presented each of us with eight pounds of chocolates.
We went aboard the ship at 3:30 pm and sailed at 5:15 pm. All were on deck to bid farewell to our best girl, "Liberty." That night and the next day were exceptionally warm, but the third day out.it was much cooler and a little rough, and to make things a bit interesting, I was seasick that day.
For pastime, we washed—you see, we only had our suitcases, so every night did a washing, such is army life and we still have to do it on these one-night stops. No one seemed to have much fear, for although every precaution was taken, we wore life preservers the entire trip.
There were two bands on board, and we had two concerts a day and with each concert danced on the deck—oh, yes, with life preservers on. With about two hundred and fifty officers on board, we did not lack for partners.
We traveled first class all the way, same as officers. Met several men from Colorado, among them Lt. Col. Rice Means of Denver, who is very well known politically in Eastern Colorado.
One night they gave an entertainment, and although the boat was rocking terribly and we were in the danger zone, I sat there with my life preserver as a partner and enjoyed it all. I never enjoyed an evening in any theater more, for there were some really talented men on board.
After a week on the sea, we sighted land—I say we traveled some. But to our disappointment were not permitted to land that night, as no arrangements could be made as to hotel accommodations, so we stayed onboard the ship until the following day when we took the train to cross England. England is one large, beautiful park of a country.
The houses are all of red brick and uniform—all two stories. Everyone has a garden. All the land is green; beautiful estates; large meadows; miles and miles of chimney pots, as everything is heated by fireplaces. You should see the English trains, so small as compared with our Pullmans.
The coaches are divided into three compartments and seats for six persons in each compartment. Such a time as we had getting off the train at stations and buying sandwiches, tea and cake and dealing in English money.
All we could do was to hold out a handful of money and let them take what they wanted. We stopped overnight at a beautiful English hotel, and I say the hardest thing to get in England is a bath. Only one bathroom on each floor, and that guarded.
Our most thrilling trip was crossing the channel, where you know the subs like to play, so that night, we slept with our clothes on. We anchored about 3 am, when everyone exclaimed, "Safe in France!"
It was beautiful sailing into the harbor; we were welcomed by the Sammies and rode to the hotel in a truck, a United States "Rubber Neck" car in France. The French people are grand and make you feel most welcome; surely France is our sister. French trains are similar to the English ones.
We traveled by night and no lights—no Pullmans either. We had a great time that night. I think we sang every song ever written. The towns are very close together, and every time we stopped, someone would come bursting into our compartment.
About midnight, I noticed a flash, like a reflection from a huge looking glass in the sky, and then counted eighteen bombs which, of course, proved to be an air raid.
In the morning, we breakfasted from our rations, which consisted of bread, canned salmon, tomatoes, and jam, and the only implement we had was a can opener. You should have seen us but say it was good, for we were thirty people with sixty keen American appetites.
When in Paris, Miss Chance and myself walked down the street where Napoleon marched his men over to his home and to the Square of Statues, which were built when the Provinces of France united. I took a hack ride around the city, visited Notre Dame and La Saint Chappelle and the old Halls of Justice.
From there, we came to Tours, and while here can tell you where we are. Here we were met at the depot by Ralph L. Burgess, who brought us to the hotel. A lovely little place for just American girls, very home-like and pleasant. Although the trip has been hard, making it so quickly, I have enjoyed it very much.
Tours is a pretty place, a river running through the town with the most beautiful chateaux along its banks. The sunsets here are perfectly wonderful, and the favorite pastime is to walk to the river in the evening. I am to be stationed here for the present, but the operators are moved from time to time.
The work is very interesting but somewhat different from what I have been doing of late. It's all in the military game, though, and if walking a mile to work before breakfast and no breakfast is reducing, I will return to Colorado with a shape like a prairie fence post.
We did not get our hats before leaving New York, so I have been running around with that aviation cap until I am as black as the Cloud sisters. The Morgan county boys, who were in California, followed us over by two days. Wasn't that a shame they were not on our boat?
Well, girls, I have told you all I know, and more too, and if this is cut up, keep it for a souvenir for me. Give all my girls my regards. How is Hillrose, Akron, Otis, Yuma, and Sterling? When you talk to them, tell them I think of them often and shall always remember how nice they were to me.
I feel rather lost over here with strange girls after being in the Greeley district so long. Has Mr. Switzer been down lately to argue with Mr. Barney?
I should like to come over in an airship and visit you someday. Do you know I am sitting in my room writing you when there is a perfectly good dance going on downstairs?
Can you imagine such a thing? Well, not in the States, but I feel differently about those things over here. These officers don't turn my head, anyway.
Write me often, for I am anxious to hear from my telephone family.
Love to you all,
A. P. O. 717. ZADA BLACK.
Reprinted in The Mountain States Monitor, October 1918, pp. 22-23