Princess Elizabeth in World War II

The death of Queen Elizabeth II marks the end of a 70-year era full of conflict and change. Born in 1926, she is the same age as actors Marilyn Monroe and Andy Griffith, dictator Fidel Castro, author Harper Lee, and musicians Miles Davis and Chuck Berry. She is part of a generation that came of age during World War II, and as with many of that generation, the war was a defining experience in her life.

Princess Elizabeth was thirteen when World War II broke out in 1939, and like many London children, her parents sent her away from the city for her safety, though she lived in Windsor Castle and still saw her parents often. The future Queen Elizabeth II made her first public speech during this time, addressing the other children who were separated from their parents by the war. Her parents stayed at Buckingham Palace in solidarity with the people of London, and the royal residence was bombed by German planes during the Blitz.

When she turned eighteen in 1944, Princess Elizabeth enlisted in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, which was the female branch of the British Army designed to shift some non-combat military jobs to women to free men to fight. Her royal title didn’t earn her an automatic advancement, and she served as an auto mechanic and driver with a junior officer ranking. She was among 200,000 young women serving in the ATS, of which 335 were killed in the line of duty, and many others injured.

Princess Elizabeth wasn’t wounded in the line of duty, and the war ended in 1945. Probably breaking quite a few rules, she took to the streets to celebrate with everyone else, keeping her uniform hat pulled low so no one would recognize her. She linked arms with her future subjects and marched in celebration, and some rumors even say she danced in a Conga line.

Princess Elizabeth maintained an enjoyment of driving and engine repair into her reign as Queen Elizabeth II, and also an ability to connect with many of the citizens of her country. Some people credit her as the first royal British woman to serve in the armed forces. This ignores many medieval and Renaissance queens who took active roles in defending their countries, but it’s fair to say that Princess Elizabeth’s role in the war set a positive example for British women – royal and otherwise.

Princess Elizabeth in overalls changing a car tire.
Negative (H 41668) Original wartime caption: At a Vehicle Maintenance Class, Princess Elizabeth changes the wheel of a car. She is wearing overalls. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205513022

The Short Soldiers of WWI

I missed getting a post up for Remembrance/Veterans’ Day, but since I’m thankful for the service of our soldiers past and present, this will have to serve for both holidays. But this post will be oddly specific since I’m writing in particular about very short soldiers.

The minimum height for soldiers in the British army during WWI was five-foot-three, with the average being five-five, but many potential recruits were turned away for being too short. I’m five-four and often have to ask for help reaching things on the top shelf at the grocery store, so these fellows who were turned away were pretty short!

Unfortunately, WWI dragged on, and the war machine demanded more men to be fed to the trenches.

In Britain, this led to two things: first, the formation of “Bantam Battalions” (referring to smaller breeds of roosters/chickens) for shorter soldiers, and second, a national push to improve the health care and nutrition of British children so they could grow up tall enough to fight. In fact, some young men grew as much as two inches in training when they had three square meals for perhaps the first time in their lives, which shows just how dire their nutritional situation had been.

I was curious if a similar situation existed in the United States, which entered the war late and never had to dig quite as deeply for recruits. Only about 25 percent of US men entered the military in WWI, and their average height was about 5’7″, which would have been tall for a British soldier. Was this because American men were taller, or because US military recruiters could afford to be more picky? I’m not sure. But it wasn’t until WWII, when a much higher proportion of the male population became involved in the military, that the US government realized that many Americans were suffering from malnutrition (especially following the Great Depression) and took an interest in improving the health of American children for the sake of national defense.

A white WWI solider being measured by a white doctor.
A US WWI recruit being measured. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

I wonder if this lag in interest or awareness on the US government’s part is also why our health care coverage and availability lags behind most other wealthy, industrialized nations.

If you’re curious, here are several other statistics about American soldiers in WWI versus WWII:

The average age was 25 versus 26 (the “average” WWII soldier was married with at least one child; I don’t think that was the case for most men serving in WWI).

The average height was 5’7.5″ versus 5’8″

The average weight was 141 pounds versus 144 pounds (both groups tended to gain weight after enlistment and regular meals).

In WWI, 25 to 37 percent of recruits were rejected for being unable to read or write, while in WWII, the illiteracy rates were lower, perhaps 5 to 10 percent, and due to the need for soldiers, the military instituted literacy training for illiterate men.

39 percent of WWI soldiers were immigrants or the children of immigrants. Also, many of the Native Americans who served in WWI were not considered citizens and could not vote. I cannot find an equivalent statistic for WWII, but over a hundred thousand immigrants gained citizenship by serving in the military, and we cannot forget the amazing courage and loyalty of the first-generation Japanese Americans who enlisted to fight, sometimes from the confines of internment camps – the all-Japanese-American 442nd Infantry Regiment became one of the most decorated units in US military history.

The WWI armed forces were 10 percent African American versus 11 percent in WWII (Native American, Asian American, and other minority groups/people of color definitely played an important role in both wars, but I don’t have exact statistics).

The life expectancy for men in WWI was 47 years versus 63 years during WWII.

African American soldiers of WWI.
The Harlem Hellfighters from WWI. They would have served in a segregated unit, but unlike many Black soldiers who were stuck doing the most unpleasant menial labor, they fought and were highly decorated, though largely forgotten. Photo from census.gov

Daylight Savings Time

We all hate daylight savings time, right? The “fall back” one isn’t so bad because we get an extra hour of sleep, but we pay for it when we have to “spring forward.” Even my dog was cranky today because we wouldn’t feed her at what she knew to be dinner time, since we were all pretending it was an hour earlier. And Hawaii and Arizona don’t even bother with the time change, though the Navajo Nation lands within Arizona do, which just makes everything even more confusing.

I knew that daylight savings time started in World War I as a way to save fuel (an extra hour of daylight in the evening meant less fuel used to light homes). This was in the US and also in some European countries, many of which also still practice daylight savings today. Only a few cities in Ontario, Canada had experimented with it prior to WWI.

What I didn’t know was that we’ve been getting rid of daylight savings time and bringing it back on and off for the last 100+ years. The first round of daylight saving time ended with WWI. FDR brought it back for WWII and called it “war time.” When WWII ended in 1945, so did war time.

For a while, some parts of the US practiced daylight savings time, while others did not. So, a city might change its clocks while the surrounding countryside stayed on standard time. We can imagine the chaos this would have caused for businesses, travelers, and pretty much everyone.

It was the 1960s when we got saddled with daylight savings time on a more permanent basis to settle the confusion. This was popular with sports equipment manufacturers, who hoped that people would play more sports if they had more daylight hours in the evening, and who continue to lobby for the continuation of daylight savings time. Some workers liked having more daylight time after work to spend outdoors or with their families, but for the most part, it remains unpopular with parents, teachers, farmers (who find that cows don’t adjust their milking schedule to daylight savings time), and pretty much everyone else.

During the energy crisis of the 1970s, the US and many other countries experimented with making daylight savings time permanent in the hopes of saving energy, but that caused problems with workers and school children having to leave home in the dark on winter mornings. Also, though daylight savings time does accrue a very small amount of energy savings in lighting, it may actually cause an increase in fuel use because of people driving more to evening activities. So, we moved back to the clock switching.

The days we spend on standard time are shrinking, though, moving late enough in the fall to allow trick-or-treaters to enjoy the extra hour of daylight and earlier in the spring (perhaps to avoid major religious holidays like Easter?). Maybe we’re heading toward doing away with it once more – this time for good.

Photo courtesy of maxmann

Do you believe in ghosts?

I’ve always been both fascinated and terrified by ghosts stories. I’m skeptical of the ones that claim to be true, but then I hear one that sends those goose prickles dancing up and down my spine, and I might not get much sleep that night (There’s a reason my Gothic books are more “cozy horror” than anything truly dark and twisted). I find it interesting that my ghost-ish stories tend to be my more popular books, though; I guess a lot of readers share my horrified interest in them.

With the days getting shorter and the stores stocking their Hallowe’en candy, I’m starting to plot out another Gothic tale for after I finish my light-hearted Regency dragon fantasies, and I thought I’d share one of my own spooky experiences that makes me, if not a believer, at least open-minded.

After high school, a friend and I had a chance to go backpacking in England. One of our stops was fourteenth-century Powderham Castle in Devon. We took a tour with a small group, enjoying the various ancient and sumptious rooms. My friend and I ended up at the front of the group, and so we entered one particular room first. We both stopped dead. The windows let in the sun, but the room was dark, like the light couldn’t push the shadows away. The air felt heavy. Bad. Now, I’m a religious person and admittedly easily spooked by eerie things, but my friend is a devout athiest, and she felt as creeped out as I did. We turned to get out of the room, but the tour group pushed us back in, and the guide closed the door.

“This is our haunted room,” he said.

No kidding! I thought.

He went on to tell us that during renovations, they found that one of the walls was hollow – and inside rested the skeleton of a woman and baby who were presumed to have been bricked in alive. No one knew who she was or why she was killed and hidden so callously.

If that wasn’t creepy enough, he also told us a story from WWII. Powderham Castle is home to the family of the Earl of Devon, and during the war, they blacked out the castle windows to avoid being spotted by German bombers. During one air raid, the family made sure all the lights were out and then ran outside where it was safer. When they looked back at the castle, the blackout curtains had been torn from the window of the haunted room, and a light glowed through the glass.

You can choose to believe the story or not, but standing in that room with the dark, wrong feeling about it, I was convinced, and I practically sprinted out when the guide opened the door for us. I wonder if the ghost wanted the castle bombed as revenge on her ancient persecutor, or if she simply longed to be remembered by someone. Or, is it just that dark events leave a mark on a place that others can sense later? What do you think?

Powderham Castle, photo courtsey of Ted and Jen via Flickr (CC 2.0).

Explore the world in your pajamas

As we’re all looking for ways to spend our social distancing time, I’m joining with many other authors to offer discounted ebooks to people looking to get away in their imaginations while we can’t go anywhere in person. And if anyone has found any online resources they love, please post them in the comments for others (the Google Arts & Culture virtual tours are great, for instance – I took my kids to the British Museum yesterday).

My newest book, Wishwood, is on sale this weekend.

Kate agrees to an arranged marriage with the mysterious Thomas Westwood to save her family’s estate, but not everyone welcomes her at Wishwood, her husband’s crumbling manor. The family members talk about a curse, lights move through the ruins at night, and Kate’s maid won’t spend the night in the house. Thomas is hiding something from Kate as well, but as she grows closer to him, a series of accidents makes her suspect that someone is willing to kill to keep Wishwood’s secrets buried in the past.

WISHWOOD_frontcover

In addition, my WWII novella, Letters from the Homefront, is 99 cents for the next five days.

War doesn’t end on the battlefield.

December 1944. Evie’s older brother, Albert, is missing in action in the Pacific Theater, and every day she sees the horrible effects of World War II while working at Bushnell Military Hospital in Utah. Being a medical secretary seems like a small effort in the face of the war, but she’s proud to be part of Bushnell’s experiment with an important new weapon in the fight: penicillin. Posters cover the walls, reminding the employees to watch out for spies, but when Evie realizes that some of her files are missing, her supervisors think she’s being careless. It’s up to Evie and amputee veteran Glenn to find out who at the hospital is hiding a dangerous secret before tragedy strikes the hospital.

Inspired by real events at Bushnell Hospital in Brigham City, Utah.

HomefrontFrontCover

Stay well and stay kind!

 

Utah WASP and other flying women

Happy Veteran’s Day, and thank you to the brave men and women who have served and sacrificed for our freedom.

And happy book birthday to Utah Women: Pioneer, Poets & Politicians!

To celebrate both, I’m writing today about the female Civil Air Patrol pilots and WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) of World War II.

My grandfather, Frank Brooksby, was a pilot over occupied France during World War II, and his brother Victor was killed in action flying on the Pacific Front of the war. The Brooksby family seems to have been drawn to the sky, and the Brooksby girls were no exception. Family photos like the one below of three of my great aunts during World War II always interested me, and I’ve finally found out a little more about the experiences of the Brooksby girls and other female WWII pilots.

1944 July 2; Edith, Vivien, IsabelleAmerican women didn’t fly in combat in World War II (though the Russian “night witches” did!). Instead, they flew missions stateside, freeing up men to fly overseas. WASP women tested and repaired airplanes and shuttled planes, people, and cargo around the country. Women in the WASP program even flew planes hauling targets so the male pilots could practice shooting live ammo!  Thirty-nine of the slightly over 1,000 WASP volunteers died in service to their country.

The Women Air Service Pilots were not granted status as veterans until 1977 when they petitioned Congress to have their service officially recognized by the history books. Though their recognition came late, they played an important role in proving that women’s minds and bodies could handle the complexities of flying, even during menstruation (yes, that was in serious doubt at the time). Latino, Asian, and Native American women flew with the WASP program, also proving their capabilities, though black women were segregated out of WASP by their race and out of the history-making, all-black Tuskegee Airmen by their gender.

Many other women served with the Civil Air Patrol. Started just before the US entered World War II, the Civil Air Patrol formed to utilize the skills of civilian pilots in protecting the United States. CAP pilots patrolled over land and sea, performed rescue missions, and worked as couriers. It was open to both sexes and all races.

But, I wondered, how did the Brooksby girls from little Fredonia on the Arizona Strip (the patch of Arizona above the Grand Canyon, just south of the Utah border) learn to be pilots? They might have seen the occasional barnstormer or cropduster, but I doubted that planes were common in Fredonia.

Like most female pilots of World War II, I found, they trained at college-based Civil Pilot Training Programs. At least some of the Brooksby women attended Dixie Junior College (now Dixie State University) in St George, Utah (Southern Utah is known as Utah’s Dixie for the early attempts to grow cotton there). There, they took the classes to learn to fly through the Civil Pilot Training Program and then went to the Provo Flying School under the direction of Merrill Christopherson to complete their training. Once they had the necessary solo hours, they worked with the Civil Air Patrol ferrying planes across the country.

After the war, WASP women were dismissed as no longer needed by their country. Commercial airlines would not hire female pilots. Some pilots, like Utah transplant Marjorie Redding Christiansen, became air traffic controllers. Others continued to serve with the Civil Air Patrol or other community organizations. Their service was forgotten by many for a number of decades, but today we can remember their bravery and determination to serve their country.

(Below, the Brooksby pilots, minus Victor Brooksby, who was already MIA in the south Pacific.)

1944 Summer; Vivien, Isabelle, Frank, Edith

Utah Women: Pioneer, Poets & Politicians

I LOVED working on this project – Utah history has so many inspiring stories and amazing women – and I’m excited to have a release date and cover! Utah Women: Pioneers, Poets & Politicians coming November 2019 from The History Press.

Trailblazing in Untamed Territory

Representing lawmakers and lawbreakers, artists and adventurers or scholars and activists, the women of Utah defied stereotypes. At the crossroads of the West, they found new challenges and opportunities to forge their own paths. Emma Dean explored the Rocky Mountains with her famous spouse John Wesley Powell. Martha Hughes Cannon defeated her husband to become the first female state senator. Maud Fitch drove an ambulance under German artillery fire to rescue downed pilots in World War I. Author Emily Brooksby Wheeler celebrates the remarkable Utah women who, whether racing into danger or nurturing those who fell behind, changed their world and ours.

UtahWomenFrontCover

Japanese in World War I Utah

One of the reasons I’ll never run out of writing ideas is that every time I work on a project, I come across new awesome stories that don’t quite fit with the current project. The Japanese who fought in World War I are an example of that. As I was scanning lists of Utah veterans who fought in “The Great War,” looking for character names for No Peace with the Dawn, I came across one from Brigham City, Utah that stood out from the Williams, Johns, and even the Alonzos and LaMonds that pop up in Utah: Moichi Kuramoto.

My co-author Jeff Bateman and I were interested in including minorities as we wrote about Utah’s experience in the Great War, but Mr. Kuramoto didn’t quite fit with the story we were telling, so all he gets is a brief cameo. Still, here is what I was able to find about him, using census and war records, and general research on the Japanese who came to Utah.

Moichi Kuramoto was born in Hawaii. His parents probably moved there to work in agriculture, then made their way to California in the early 1900s, where anti-Asian sentiments were burning hot. Some Japanese had already come to Utah to work on the railroads after the Exclusion Act prevented more Chinese from emigrating, and they were followed by their countrymen who wanted agricultural jobs. I would guess Kuramoto’s family was among these. Though nativism and racial prejudice were everywhere at this time, the Japanese seem to have not been discriminated against as severely as other groups in Utah, such as the Greeks.

Moichi Kuramoto was drafted from Perry, Box Elder Country, Utah, according to his draft registration card. His being drafted was illegal, since he would have been denied American citizenship at the time (this also affected other groups in WWI, such as some Native Americans who served). Nevertheless, he answered the call. He doesn’t seem to have gone overseas during the war, serving instead as a private in a Depot Brigade in New York, which helped to train and equip troops going “Over There.” Perhaps the army didn’t quite know what to do with Japanese draftees? They wouldn’t have served in segregated units at any rate, since those were reserved for African Americans – all other racial groups were integrated.

The 1920 U.S. Census shows that Kuramoto survived the influenza epidemic that ravaged the East Coast training camps, and was married and farming in Payson, Utah. Again following him through census records, he and his large family moved to California during the Great Depression (a very difficult time for all farmers in Utah), and were still living there in 1940. If, like me, you know the history of the Japanese in California during WWII, you probably feel the same sick sense of foreboding I did as I read through the records.

Kuramoto died in California in April 1941, early enough to miss Pearl Harbor, but his wife, Ichiyo, and his Utah- and California-born children were imprisoned in Rohwer War Relocation Camp in Arkansas. On one hand, I was relieved that this veteran was spared the ordeal of being imprisoned, but on the other, I hurt for his widowed wife and her children, who had to suffer doubly from his lose and the lose of everything else. At about the time his family was sent to live behind barbed wire as potential enemy aliens, his military veteran headstone was delivered to the Lodi Cemetery in California where he was buried.

Kuramoto’s wife and children returned to California after World War II to pick up what was left of their lives, but I can only imagine their thoughts toward the country that could illegally draft Japanese in one war and imprison them in the next. And while Kuramoto’s death saved him the humiliation of being declared an enemy of the country he had served, I wonder about other Japanese veterans of WWI who ended up in relocation camps.