While I love writing World War II fiction, the fact remains that any stories I come up with pale next to the true stories of courage and sacrifice from those tumultuous years.
In celebration of the launch of my new book, Where Shall I Flee?, I’m giving one giveaway winner a paperback copy of Ruth G. Haskell’s Helmets and Lipstick, a wonderful book in which she shares her experiences as a member of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. I found it a fascinating look at the service of these brave women.
Below is a post I wrote on Helmets and Lipstick, as well as details on how you could win a copy, along with other prizes.
In the post-Depression United States, nursing wasn’t considered a particularly “nice” job for young, unmarried women. Still, in an uncertain world where jobs were scarce and educational opportunities limited, a nursing career offered a certain amount of security.
With the onset of the Second World War, “secure” became a less apt word for a nurse’s life. After the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, the U.S. nurses stationed there struggled to care for troops. When surrender became inevitable, some were evacuated. Others continued their duties as prisoners of war.
On the home front, the US Army Nurse Corps began recruiting. Nurses had to decide whether they would continue to serve at home or take the risk and sign up to serve abroad.
Women like Ruth G. Haskell chose the later, though with mixed emotions. In her book, Helmets and Lipstick, she shares her reaction to receiving THE phone call.
“Foreign Service! I had volunteered about a month before, but now that the orders were actually here, I found I was a little panicky about the whole thing. It was a thing we all talked about but thought of as being in the dim, dark future.” (Haskell 9)
Helmets and Lipstick records Ruth Haskell’s experiences as an Army Nurse from that first phone call to her return home.
First published in 1944, not only is Helmets and Lipstick a fascinating and often poignant first-hand glimpse into the work of nurses during WWII, it also gives an amusing look at army life from an outsider coming in.
Haskell shares how, after finding their way to the correct army base (which took some doing) she and her travelling companions had to make it through the inoculation assembly line, figure out what a mess kit and bedroll were, and then receive their very own helmets.
“As we entered the room, a smart-looking corporal planked a helmet down on my already aching head, grinned, and swung me around to the mirror. Ye gods, I knew I wasn’t anything to look at, but the face I saw reflected there was enough to scare children.” (Haskell, pg 21)
She guides readers across the Atlantic, through the fun of socializing on-ship, the discomfort of seasickness, and the tension of watching escort ships fire on enemy submarines.
Upon reaching the U.K., Haskell got her first taste of the physical training she and her fellow nurses would be expected to do during their stay.
“We glanced around, and it was really laughable to see the various girls rubbing aching muscles here and there, with weird expressions on their faces. Some of us had used muscles in that last twenty minutes that we hadn’t even thought of since we so painstakingly learned about them in training days.” (Haskell, pg 59)
Physical fitness would serve them well, however. Haskell’s group of nurses was slated to go over with U.S. troops in Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa. They would be some of the very first American women sent into a combat zone.
Sailing through the Strait of Gibraltar, Haskell and the troops she would be caring for landed near Oran- or they meant to. Like many of the landing craft of the day, which had limited navigation abilities, theirs ended up off course.
Her impressions of the landing are memorable.
“There was the rasp of metal against metal, the back of the barge was dropped, and the enlisted men stepped off into the water.
I gasped as the first man almost entirely disappeared- the ocean coming up to his armpits. Then one of the taller boys stepped off and turned around.
“Let me have your hand, Lieutenant Haskell,” he said. “Maybe I can help a little!”
I took one look at the swirling sea and reached for him, stepping off the barge at the same time. I shuddered as the ice cold water began seeping through my heavy clothing.
As I reached the sand, the weight of my pack became apparent and my poor old back began aching. I staggered over a stretch of beach and dropped down under the steps of a cottage about a hundred yards away. It was then that I heard for the first time the ping of a sniper’s rifle which, on this occasion, kicked up a chunk of sand on the path along with I had trodden.” (Haskell 99-100)
Helmets and Lipstick continues across North Africa, through filthy, makeshift hospitals, through first Christmas celebrations away from home, through the advances and panicked retreat, and through Haskell’s eventual evacuation.
Readers, if you’re looking for a book that serves as a remembrance of the nurses whose service should be remembered, Helmets and Lipstick is an excellent choice.
- Two participants have a chance to win one of these pieces of WWII Allied Military Currency, a red poppy enamel pin, and a FREE copy (e-book or signed paperback) of my new novel, Where Shall I Flee?
- One participant will win these items and ALSO win a copy of Ruth G. Haskell’s book, Helmet’s and Lipstick, which tells about her experiences as a WWII U.S. Army nurse.
How to Participate
- Due to the complexities of international giveaway laws (not to mention shipping costs,) these prizes are limited to American citizens only. (Sorry.) Also, if you are under 18, you must have parental or guardian permission to participate. Void where prohibited.
- To enter, either comment on this blog post, or on my Facebook page with the words “Count Me In.”
- If you do not use Facebook or have difficulty commenting on WordPress (I’ve run into troubles sometimes) you may also send me an e-mail through my Contact page.)
- You may comment on all of the “launch posts” this week to be entered multiple times. Just one entry per day though, please.
- On launch day, November 1, I will put all of the entries into a hat and have a fair and impartial person (i.e. one of my kids) draw the names of the winners. I will post the names both on the blog and on Facebook. (If a name is drawn twice, we will redraw.)
- If you enter, please stop by the blog or Facebook page to check to see if you are a winner and find out how to claim your prize.
- **If I don’t hear back from winners by November 6th, I will redraw.**
If you’re wondering what my new book is all about, here’s the cover and the blurb!
Lieutenant Jean Hoff of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps and infantryman Corporal George Novak have never met, but they have three things in common.
They are both driven by a past they’d rather leave behind.
They have both been sent to the embattled beachhead of Anzio, Italy.
And when they both wind up on the wrong side of the German lines, they must choose whether to resign themselves to captivity or risk a dangerous escape.
Where Shall I Flee? follows their journey through the dangers of World War II Italy, where faith vies with fear and forgiveness may be necessary for survival.