Dear folks: March 20, 1944
The leave is over, and I’m back on the job thinking of ways and means of getting another one. I had a wonderful time, and enjoyed every minute of it. I didn’t get to Ireland as you probably know — and I sent mom the papers that tell what a mess things are in there — they really have put the clamps on and won’t be satisfied until they get Eire into this thing. Maybe that’s the way I’ll get to go up there. They might as well be at war as have all the men folks in the British Army anyhow. I understand that they have all run away from home to get into this scrap but DeValera won’t give in. I didn’t hear from the relatives there for some time, and thought perhaps they took offence at a remark I made in a letter. I told Aunt Kate that maybe she could make up a “will” that would represent a legal reason for me to go visit her. I thought afterwards she might think I was hinting, as she thought Aunty Julie did once, and get mad. I wondered if I should explain it, and then when I got back form the leave I found a letter from her and a box of shamrocks for St. Pat’s Day, and decided she didn’t mind. She said she understood the troubles I’ve had, and said there was a boy in the RAF who was a friend of Martin’s who can come here, and he’ll be here to visit me. Maybe we’ll get together yet.
I went to Scotland — I spent most of my time at Glasgow, and stayed at the Central Hotel there. I had a lovely room with a bath which is practically impossible to secure these days, and had breakfast in bed every morning. I went on all kinds of street car rides, and saw as much of the town that way as I could. I took a snapshot of the streetcars there, they are funny — they are double deckers, and are something to see. I sat up on the top on the trips about town, and saw what there was to see. I visited Loch Lomand, and got up as far as the town of Luss — I’ll send on the map of Glasgow so she can see where I went. I also got to Edinburgh and had fun there. Visited the Castle there that is built up on a cliff and where Mary of Scots was imprisoned. I looked all over Scotland for kilt pins as they are rather unusual and would be nice souvenirs for Sal and Mary and Margaurite. I thought I could find them but they are a luxury and are discontinued for the duration. I met a cute Scotch couple on the train from Edinburgh and they were awfully nice to me. The Scotch are crazy about Americans and do anything possible for you. This couple thought it was too bad we couldn’t buy anything there because it is all rationed so, and they insisted I take a handkerchief they’d just bought for their little girl. They had three of them and wanted me to have one. It’s just an ordinary white one with a Scotch thistle on it, but it was so generous of them and so nice to have that I took it. I had some Doublemint gum with me and traded them two packages, they haven’t had any for years and thought it was worth the trade. They thought they would like to take that to the little girl as much as they would like to give her the handkerchiefs. They heard my story about the kilt pins and suggested some shops to me. I tracked the shops down and finally came across a place they make kilts and bag pipes. I told my story about wanting the pins, and the old codger who was the proprietor liked my looks and in a fine thick Scotch accent told me he’d take me through his shop. They actually made bag pipes there, and he took me in the shop to display all the various skills of that trade. You’d be amazed at how many of the men work at that trade. They have a skill that is remarkable. They showed me the huge trunks of trees that they make pipes out of — some South African wood that is solid as rock and has a beautiful black grain to it. It is skillfully cut and designed, and then they have lovely ivory that is inserted as design at various distances along the pipe itself. The Ivory tusks were tremendous and lovely — he insisted I look at all the pictures he had of his sons and friends with their bag pipes and kilts and showed me how they design and form the horns and decorations for the Scottish costumes. He said I was a “real colleen” and then decided I was of Scotch origin. I laughed and said I was Irish from way back, and he decided I was wrong. He proved it then, by looking up the Family name in a tremendous book and then referring to a book of Family crests and Mottos. He found one spelling of the name with only one n in it, and looked up the Crest. He discovered that that was an English name, and when he saw that he slammed the book and let out an oath that was surprising. Then he got mad and decided to look it up again and found the real spelling of it, and believe it or not it was Scotch! They “came out of Gallway” and he loved that! And their family motto is the Latin for “no greater violence” and the crest is the Lion Rampant. That sounds wonderful doesn’t it? He was quite a character, and I finally ended up with a couple of pins of one kind and another of a dagger that is rather good looking. He decided if his jeweler got well he’d be able to make me a nice pin with the family crest on it, and I hope to keep him to his promise. If I can get one, I think I can get several and if I get several I’ll try to send them home. If I can’t get them, I have three pins that I can send at least two of you, and if I send two of them, Mary and Margaurite have priority because Sal got the tweed. Say, mom if you think of it sometime find out if you can get the pictures of the Stockyards bagpipe band, I think they are a legion band, and perhaps Mr. Hogan can tell you where to get them, I’d like to show them to the Scotch fellow. I was disappointed in Loch Lomand. It is just a lake and it is nothing to write home about. All I could think of as I looked at it was, “These people know nothing of the magnificent splendor that is America’s.” To think I sang about such a tiny thing as Loch Lomand, and let the beauties of Mt. Rainier and the Rockies go hang! The Loch is much more industrial than I anticipated, with its little towns of busy industry about it. The people of Scotland actually talk the way Bobbie Burns talked, and when he said “A wad sa’ power the gitee gie us” he was just spelling phonetically what the Scotch people say. They actually say, “May I have a wee bit of butter?” or “She’s a wee lassie.” They are immaculately clean, something you can’t say about the English people, and they dress beautifully. It could be that they have not felt the pressure of wartime rationing as severely as the English, and fewer of them have been bombed out of their houses and homes so they still have their old wardrobes to hang onto. They dress more like we do tho, and the women are as nicely groomed as possible, something again that you can’t say about the English. I actually had some scenes like Mrs. Johnson used to make and believe me they were good. In all, the trip was lots of fun, and quite an experience. I actually saw this happen: Two G. I’s were in a shop looking longingly at some scarves and handkerchiefs that are rationed of course. The boys that come over here first just can’t get used to the fact that everything is rationed, and they are so crestfallen when they can’t get souvenirs. When the shopkeeper told them they couldn’t have the scarves, the two kids walked out disappointed like. Two women in the shop watched them and when I left I saw the women outside insisting that the boys take their coupons and buy the gifts they wanted. And the women were mothers of families, not young girls. It tickled me and made me have a perpetual soft spot in my heart for them. Again, that is something you wouldn’t find in the English. An English officer on the train coming back told me that there was an awful feud between the Scotch and the Irish. I’d never heard that before but didn’t argue with him, but I thought I’d tell mom and see if she tho’t it was true.
We have had some sad news here. We have come to know an English family here very well, and they are awfully good to us — that is the three Red Cross girls. We do a lot of business with Mr. Austin as he owns the local department store. They are just average citizens and live moderately. They have a boy about my age who is an RAF pilot. He came in a few weeks ago for leave and took a shine to Louise who dated him while he was here. He was a pre-med student who left school to join the army. He was therefore quite interested in the hospital and what we did there. Well, he was reported missing recently in an operation and they have no idea whether he is living or dead. That’s the closest I’ve come to anything bad here, and I feel terribly for the folks. They take it beautifully — really the English are a stoical lot, believe me. They are probably being torn apart inside, but they don’t show it at all. We kids have tried in a feeble way to extend our sympathies, but it doesn’t seem to help. Besides that, I had a messy thing happen to me — the Friday before I went on leave I went to the bank here and cashed a check I had written on my own bank account in Chicago. I thought I’d buy a lot of souvenirs for youse guys, and therefore took $150 out of the bank. Saturday night we went to a Party as Red Cross girls who were going to help some other R.C gals run their first dance, and traveled about 35 miles to get there. We went in G.I. transportation, which usually means a truck. When I got there, I found that I’d lost my purse somewhere, apparently it fell down in back of me out of the truck. I lost my lovely mussette bag, which is my black leather shoulder strap bag, my thirty seven pounds, my lovely compact from Margaurite, my new bill fold that the C. O. bought me, all of my identification, my immigration register which shows what shots I’ve had and which means I may have to take them all over again, my beautiful rosary beads from Marge, my address book that took years to acquire, pictures of all youse guys and so many other things it is impossible to mention them. It made me just sick, but I couldn’t do a thing about it. I advertised in the local papers, and had a jeep go back along the road to look but to no avail. I could kick myself, I don’t know what in hell I carried that bag for, but I did, and it is gone now. I have to go back to the bank and get another $100 because I had to take advantage of my leave, so there is $250 shot to hell. But I figured you only live once, and next year I won’t remember losing the money. I do miss the compact tho, and if mom can find one of the ones I bought so long ago that should be in my desk or the top drawer of my closet or the vanity, I could use one. Also, I’d appreciate it if she would get in touch with Wilts on Michigan boulevard, the trunk and luggage dealers and ask them for another one of those bags. They are black leather and have white stitching on them — I really need one — and they cost about $9.75. I received the dress from Headquarters and thank you for getting it so promptly. It fits beautifully — I don’t know what I’d have done if they’d have sent the size 16 you requested — thank heavens they sent the 12 instead. I’m glad Margie liked those handkerchiefs — I sent them for her and not for Billy. By the way, I looked all over for something for Billie’s kid, but was not lucky enough to get anything. I’ll try again. I’d like to give something to those Scotch people who do the weaving, and thought perhaps one of youse guys would get me something from America for a little baby girl — her name is Elizabeth, by the way. She is about 9 months old, so I think a sweater in a size two would be nice, unless you can think of something else. I think the parents would be delighted with something for her — so send me a child’s dress or sweater or something, will you? I’ll pay for it. Also, for you who might be near a nurses p.x. — and that might only be Denny — see if you can get Helena Rubenstein’s lipstick in an Apple Blossom red — it’s $1 on the market and only.65 at the p.x. I need some Mabelline cream mascara from the dime store, but nothing else but cream. Can someone find some for me? Winx may be as good but I don’t like any other kind. And cake won’t do. Sal asked me to ask for things to eat — I could use some soda crackers, and do they sell cans of pork sausages that can be shipped? Jars of cheese are wonderful — no more chocolate for cocoa as we get loads of it from Red Cross, thanks anyway — cookies are rare and would be nice to have — and oh yes, I can’t believe it but I’m running out of nail polish — Red Cross says we should be “gay” and they like us to have nice finger nails, the American boys like it — I like Chen Yu — in some shades like Canton Red or thereabouts.
I bought some cute little Glengarry caps for Judy and Mary Ellen — they are the real scotch caps and are used for the officer’s uniforms here. I only bought two cause they cost about $5 each and after losing $150 it was too much to spend. I’ll get two for the twins later. These are awfully big, but they can be cut down to fit. I think they should be cute on Judy if you can make them fit her. I’ve had lots and lots of letters from Steve, and got a huge kick out of them. I’m glad he got the pipe and lighter — I thought the lighter was a dopey thing but unusual. How was the pipe? They’re scarce as hen’s teeth here and I was just lucky to get it. I haven’t sent anything to Denny cause I can’t think of anything he might need, or could use. I wonder if he’s using my footlocker? I’ve accumulated some junk here that I’ll send home one of these days. I got the calendars and candy from Larry and have since acknowledged them. I wrote mom one day and asked her to get me some shoes explaining that the letter should act as a ration coupon if presented to the board and they would let her get some shoes on the request. I need a pair of oxford ties, black low heels and a nice pair of low-heeled dress pumps. I remember that letter, and it seems I asked for something else too, but now I can’t remember it — I don’t know what happened to it. Had a letter from Marge Fredericks yesterday and nearly died to read she was writing me from the CONVENT. Migawd, all my friends go to the convent! Also had a letter for my birthday from Mary Einikey. Got all of your cards, and liked them. Received the package from home with all the candy and kleenex and stockings and so on. Good deal. The nuts are still setting pace in the barracks and the gals love me for a while.
I’ll write again soon — have to quit now. It’s midnight and the girls must sleep. Elizabeth
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Blocked from entry to the towns where her parents were born, Stephen was from O’Callaghan’s Mills in County Clare and Ellen from Durrow in Laois, neither of which are in the North, instead of taking the time to visit Ireland, Elizabeth went to Scotland. And this letter is a marvelous example of Elizabeth’s perspicacious and uncanny eye.
It is also another hint that Elizabeth pampered herself. The Central Hotel in Glasgow opened in 1883 and was built under the hand of Scottish Victorian architect Robert Rowand Anderson. Today it is considered a four star hotel in the center of the city.
Loch Lomand is a 24 mile long fresh water lake often considered the boundary between the low and highlands of Scotland. Luss is a tourist town three miles from the lake.
The distance between Glasgow and Edinburgh is no more than 60 miles. Edinburgh Castle is an 11th Century fortress perched on a craggy mountain with spectacular views where the National War Museum of Scotland and the Crown Jewels can be found.
The song she refers to is, of course, the traditional “On the Bonny Banks o’ Loch Lomand” published in 1841 and familiar to Americans of Elizabeth’s era. She found the title was particularly ironic when she actually saw the lake and compared it to American outdoor splendor. Of unknown authorship, here are the most familiar lyrics:
Oh, ye’ll tak’ the high road, and I’ll tak’ the low road,
And I’ll get to Scotland afore ye;
But me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond.
The line from Robert Burns is from his poem, “To a Louse, On Seeing One On a Lady’s Bonnet at Church” (1786). Her transliteration of “A wad sa’ power the gitee gie us” was originally written by Burns as, “O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us” and says, roughly (my translation), “To have the power the Gifties give us, to see ourselves as others see us.”
My father used to repeat the line, “to see ourselves as others see us,” as a caution to his children. It is somehow consoling to find it quoted by my mother years before they met.
I have a copy of “Irish Families” which was first printed in 1957 by Edward MacLysaght and not likely the book consulted in 1944 by the Scottish bagpipe maker. However, it too contains many different spellings for the Donnellan name including O’Donnell and O’Donnellan.
Of the latter, MacLysaght does say, “They belong, therefore, by origin to the south-eastern part of Co. Galway where the place name Ballydonnellan perpetuates their connexion (sic) with the district between Ballinasloe and Loughrea.”
I can find no suggestion of a Scottish origin for the Donnellan clan.
At the risk of opening a somewhat embarrassing historical wound, the Donnellan family does have a crest with which Elizabeth was undoubtedly familiar. Referred to in her letter by the line, “with the family crest on it,” the Donnellan Coat of Arms is centuries old and displays an oak tree with a slave chained to it and the motto “Omni Violentia Major” which translates as “Too strong for any violence” or “Greater than all violence,” not too different than Elizabeth’s “no greater violence.” The blazon of arms description reads, “Argent an oak tree eradicated proper, on the sinister side a slave sable chained to the stem gules.” The enslaved black man is the reason at least one of my cousins refuses to hang the crest on his wall.
On one of my visits to Ireland, I asked Dr. Richard Conroy who served as a Member of Parliament and showed us his actual seat, what Ireland’s status was during WW 2.
Well, there is some controversy over that statement even today. After all, England and Ireland were not the best of friends going way back. The phrase “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is probably an apt description of where the two stood at the time. However, there was a decided sympathy for England and although many Irishmen were in the military, Ireland did no fighting on its own during WW 2. Elizabeth observes the effort to change that, probably on the part of the Americans as well as the British, when she writes, “until they get Eire into this thing.”
In fact, what to the rest of Europe was a world war was not known as such in Ireland. Although there were several “mistaken” German bombings of the country and its ships were attacked by both sides, the country remained technically neutral. The period is still known as the Emergency because of the suspension of normal government that was voted into place by the Irish Parliament for the duration.
I believe “the three Red Cross girls” she referred to in this letter are herself, Winifred Brennan and Edith who are pictured, Elizabeth in the middle, in the photo in front of Anne Hathaway’s house at Stratford-upon-Avon.
Hand written on the back: Guess what this is? Anne Hathaway’s cottage at Stratford-on-Avon! Look familiar? Winnie, me, Edith in battle dress. Droopy drawers — all of us! July, 1944
In a later letter, after she does visit Ireland, Elizabeth remarks that Dublin was bombed by German planes using the excuse that de Valera turned the lights off which confused the pilots who thought they were over England. Right. German bomber pilots flew past England to find a city without lights and thought it was an English city and dropped their munitions on Dublin. I prefer to think of it as on purpose, Germany not being a friend of the Irish any more than of the English.
Losing her “lovely mussette bag” containing family photos, identification and money was quite blow. She earned $150 a month and they probably took taxes out before paying her. So she lost more than a month’s pay. She calculates $250 by adding the additional $100 she had to withdraw, but then there’s the 37 pounds which makes for an even greater cash loss. As for the “mussette” bag itself, the best description I could find was, “A small canvas or leather bag with a shoulder strap, as one used by soldiers or travelers.”
But I do appreciate her attitude, especially in light of the fact she was in a war zone: “I figured you only live once, and next year I won’t remember losing the money.”
From time-to-time there is an underlying tension that can be read between the lines in these letters. That is the fact the Red Cross “girls” were supposed to be pert, well dressed, kempt with perfect nails, their hair in order, wearing clean uniforms or dresses all for the sake of making the men, the “boys,” feel more at home when they arrive in hospital. “We should be ‘gay’ and they like us to have nice finger nails,” is only the tip of the iceberg, if you get my drift.
There is, however, never a remark or comment that would indicate Elizabeth or any of her friends in the Red Cross challenged the relationship between men and women, although that attitude may well have changed after the war and their return to civilian life. There is a sense of duty to always present perfection as part of the war effort. The men have their duty, which is to be soldiers, and the women have their duty which is to minister to the male needs. Looking good to them is one aspect of those needs.
As for the nail polish Elizabeth requests, I found an advertisement for Chen Yu “rare Chinese lacquers” nail polish in a 40’s magazine — not identified, therefore unknown — that offers long lasting nail lacquer in “twenty gorgeous Chinese shades.” One color among them is called “COOLIE, a dramatic red brown.” Among those twenty, one that is not mentioned in the ad was undoubtedly Elizabeth’s desired Canton Red.