Friday 31 October 2014

Women In Wartime - ARC Clubmobile

Women In Wartime - American Red Cross ClubmobileA few months ago I had to write a post for my works' blog to promote a special model we had created of an AEC 10T10 bus, decorated in a grey wartime livery for the American Red Cross, for use as a Clubmobile.

To make the post a little more interesting than just a list of facts, I decided to embellish the history with a few images of a Clubmobile in action, and this was how I stumbled across the subjects of today's post. I'd found a wealth of images in the Life Archive, about one Clubmobile unit called 'North Dakota'. I knew instantly that though the bus enthusiasts would probably not appreciate a post about these ladies (and gent) that perhaps you all would, and so I have spent the last few weeks trying to find out more about the North Dakota Clubmobile & her staff.

But first a bit of History... In 1942 the US Armed Forces asked the ARC (American Red Cross) to create a recreational retreat for its servicemen, who were stationed at various bases across Europe. In England, ARC Service Clubs were set up in towns near to where American Forces were stationed and soon after Areo Clubs were created on air bases. Usually these services were offered for free to its servicemen, but due to the discrepancies in pay between the American Forces and their British counterparts (the British servicemen had to pay for the food at their service clubs), the US secretary of war asked the ARC to charge for its services, though prices for food were kept to a minimum.
Women In Wartime - American Red Cross Clubmobile
(Image Source)

The Clubmobile was conceived by ARC Commissioner to Britain Harvey D. Gibson. His plan was to put a service club "on wheels" which would be able to reach the serviceman directly at their camp or airfield, also by having a mobile club the ARC was able to get around the Forces request that a charge had to be made for their food and so were able to dispense their home comforts for free. In Britain Clubmobiles were created from buses loaned to the ARC by London's Green Line Bus company, they were ideal for the job as they were quickly and easily modified in to mobile kitchen units, with the addition of offside dispensing hatches and the rear could be converted in to a  a lounge with built-in benches which turned into bunks if needed. Every vehicle was given a name (mostly they were named after U.S. State's) contained a built-in doughnut machine and a primus stove for heating water for the all important American coffee. On board there was a Victrola record player with loud speakers for blasting out the latest tunes from back home, paperback books, magazines, cigarettes, candy, gum, and most importantly they brought the GI's, a little taste of home.

Women In Wartime - American Red Cross Clubmobile
Each unit was crewed by three 'Glamorous' young American women (though the North Dakota has four) and was driven to each location by a British driver. They were stationed in a town near American Forces installations and followed a routine of going to different bases each day where they would talk to servicemen while they served coffee and doughnuts and played their music loud, and chatted to the men, giving them a much-needed morale boost.

Women In Wartime - American Red Cross Clubmobile
The Glamorous American crew of the 'North Dakota' Clubmobile

These young women were recruited by the ARC from all over the United States, they were required to be between 20 and 35, to have at least some college education and previous work experience. In addition they had to be "physically hardy" sociable and attractive. On arriving in England they would be taken to London to be given the training in the skills they would need out in the field, essentially how to turn out dozens and dozens of doughnuts a day, an article from The Milwaukee Journal dated Sep 21, 1943 gives us a fuller picture of this training and the effect these 'Glamour girls were having on their British cousins.
In the Basement of one of London's Ancestral homes, in the heart of Mayfair, a doughnut school has been set up. Here pretty girls newly arrived from the states learn how to turn out doughnuts for the troops at the rate of 840 an hour. They wear white overalls and are easily the loveliest Army that has ever visited England. There are nearly 500 American girls in the country working for the ARC which runs the doughnut school. They are helped by more than 6,000 British volunteers. No task is to great or small for these girls to tackle. Some teach American troops London Ballroom dancing and other hold daily shorthand classes for US sailors. 
....There are no beauty bans in this service, and all the girls look glamorous with their silk stockings, varnished nails and elegant footwear. The British ATS, WAAFS and WRENS, look drab in comparison, with their Khaki, Air Force blue uniforms and black Lisle stockings, heavy shoes, little make up and no nail varnish. These American girls have caused a great impression on what is left of the British men in England. When the American troops first arrived in this country most of the English girls went crazy. Every American to them was a potential film star. Their unusual drawl and carefree manner captured numerous hearts. Their generosity and love of simple things endeared them to the hearts of the English mothers and Fathers. 
For a time Englishmen took second place, now things are different. American girls with their alluring accents, trim well cut uniforms, lovable natures and untiring zest for work and play have caused the English 'Tommy' a terrific heart throb. One English Officer said of them "they are so natural, so down to earth, you feel you are talking to a man until a whiff of that glorious perfume they all seem to wear reminds you that these are not ordinary women. These are brave women who have crossed dangerous waters to be of help to us here....When asked what this allusive perfume was, the girls said: " Its toilet water you get back in the states, you can't wear a heavy perfume in uniform, and this toilet water seems to fill the gap. These American girls have really made their British sisters sit up and take notice. Even the hairstyle have altered, and once again the age old argument is raging in the feminine forces, as to why they can't have their nails red, wear silk stockings and reasonable shoes. (Source)
It seems it was not just the American GI's who these ladies made a morale-boosting impact on, they were making the war-weary British Tommy's hearts beat a bit faster too. Though no doubt they made the 'drab looking' British service women, who for years had been restricted from any form of beautification whilst in uniform, just a tad jealous!

OK, history bit is done, I think it's time for me to introduce you to the North Dakota's crew.

Left to right : American girls Tatty, Mike, Dooley & Ginny discuss the day ahead with their English bus driver Fred

So we've met the team, lets now look at what a typical day aboard a Clubmobile entails. Life did an article on this Unit in February 1943 and after much searching, I have managed to track down an actual copy of the magazine which has helped immensely to piece everything together.

Life Visits Red Cross Girls in England
Their job on the fighting front is romantic, but their days start at dawn and the work is never done

Somewhere in England, four American Red Cross girls staff a Clubmobile bus, one of 51 such mobile canteens operating in the British Isles.
Ginny is mixing the dough for the first batch

The girls are up and at 'em bright and early well before dawn, to make the first batch of the vast quantities of doughnuts that the will need for the day. The Girls take turns in getting up at 4.30 am to make the doughnuts and are all out on their rounds by 8.30 am.

Tatty emerges from the Clubmobile, with a rack full of the freshly made 'sinkers'
Once they are ready they head off to their first port of call for the day. Today's first stop is an American Airbase 'somewhere in England'. As they approach the base the girls put on a record and blast the music from the loudspeakers mounted front and back of their bus.

At each stop, the girls are greeted with howls of delight, and the boys throng to the bus from runways, hangars and trucks, forming long queues all eager to get their coffee and doughnuts and a glimpse of an 'All American Gal'.

A happy Sergeant grins and greets the girls "seen ya' comin' a mile away"
Whilst Ginny and Dooley handout the food Mike and Tatty chat to the GI's. After many weeks of regular visits the girls know most of them by name. Their slogan is "doughnuts will win the war".

“She’s a perfect 42, fellas,” this mechanic teases Mike as the boys measure her waist.
Tatty is deep in conversation with some friendly GI's
Dooley and Mike lark about with a jolly kitchen assistant
The Red Cross girls come in for a lot of good-natured kidding from the servicemen, with whom they become quite friendly.

While the girls are occupied entertaining the troops, Fred takes the opportunity to give the bus a quick once over, he manages to impress the girls daily with his ability to manoeuvre the bus out of a tight spot or two!

Once all the coffee and doughnuts have been served its time to refill the urns by creating a train from the mess hall to the Clubmobile, these 8 urns manage to hold 40 gallons of Coffee!

Next stop for the Clubmobile is a field hospital where the girls dispense the last of the doughnuts and coffee and spend time chatting and reading papers from back home to the patients, before heading back to their billet.

Back at their billet, which is a wing of a large 15th century mansion owned by an English Earl and his Countess, its time to change into there dress uniform ready to attend a party!

The evening is filled with jazz music and dancing though girls are cautious not to have too much fun as their enlisted friends are hurt if they date officers too often!

After a night of dancing and fun, the girls have a quick chat about the night before bed and before their next day in charge of American morale.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It was bugging me for a while that I couldn't figure out where in England this team were stationed, 'somewhere in England' is all the article unhelpfully said, but thanks to my day at IMW Duxford a few weeks back I spotted that the aeroplanes pictured at the airbase are B17's and by searching the tail number shown in the below picture, I discovered a bit of helpful information.

I found this snippet of information:
The B-17F salvaged on May 20, 1944 due to battle damage. It was a B-17F built by Douglas-Long Beach and delivered to Denver on June 23, 1943. From there it went to Dow Field and then on to the 96BG/338BS at Snetterton. Apparently, it was given two nicknames: Hell's Chariot and Wacky Woody.
Which suggests to me that the photos were taken at the Snetterton airfield (which has now been turned in to a race track) if this is the case it would mean the team was stationed in Norfolk.

I have also managed to track down a little information about our team and what happened to them after this day back in 1943.

Katherine 'Tatty' Spaatz

Age 22, “homeless” daughter of the Air Forces from Washington D.C.
Katherine Arrived in England along with socialite Katleen Kennedy and 52 other volunteers in July 1943. Daughter of Lieutenant General Carl Spaatz, commander of US strategic Air forces in Europe. She worked with the ARC Clubmobile unit for 2 years, initially working in England and later, after the invasion of France. By July 7th 1945 she was back in the states with her parents in Miami. September 1948 the Milwaukee Journal reports she has married Walter F Bell of Sussex, England

Julia 'Dooley' Townsend
Age 28, from New York City
Not much can be found out about Julia the only reference I can find is that she is still working with Katerine Spaatz by August 1944, they are both now working in France, still serving out doughnuts and warm wishes.

Virginia 'Ginny' Sherwood

Age 24, from Portland Oregon
Ginny was the Captain of the crew and niece to Officer of War information Robert Sherwood. She is also to be found working with Tatty and Dooley in France 1944.

Dorothy 'Mike' Myrick

Age 24, Whiting, Indiana
Before joining the ARC as a teen she was very much into acting and by accounts rather good, as a reference to an Indiana newspaper for 1936 states:

"Dorothy Myrick will present the Globe Theatre version of Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors," at the Congregational church tomorrow evening at eight o'clock. Those who saw the Whiting Juvenile Theatre Guild presentation of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," under the direction of Miss Myrick, know what a treat they will have tomorrow evening"

The only other info I have found is a reference to her marrying a teacher by the name of Steve Randal in 1950, they had three children together (all girls) and she died in 1999.

Fred Clark

27, East end of London England
Fred was invalided out of the Royal Navy and became a bus driver for the ARC, and the only one of the gang not to be an American, though the girls accuse him of acquiring a Brooklyn accent!
If you made it this far I salute you! If you enjoyed this post you can read more about women of the Clubmobile below, or if you fancy looking through some my past Picture Posts click the tab at the top!

Further Reading:


  1. Interesting post & great photo's :) x

  2. I'm very interested in everything from WW2 and even more in the history of women during WW2 and the ARC Clubmobile is something very special! I have already seen a lot of photos from the Clubmobile service but many of these I've never seen before, thank you for sharing them. Also the story you wrote is really beautiful!

  3. A brilliantly researched, well written article. Thanks - very interesting. I live a stone's-throw from Snetterton, so very interesting for me. (One tiny mis-transcription, Walter F Bell, whom Katherine Spaatz married, was, according to the original newspaper report, from Sussex not Suffolk). I would love to find out which the house was that they were billeted in - I will do a bit of "digging".

  4. Interesting that Katherine Spaatz and Kathleen Kennedy BOTH had fathers who had been the American ambassador to Britain - they were obviously both from the upper echelons of American society. Also, Kathleen Cavendish (nee Kennedy) lost both her husband and a brother during the war - William Cavendish (Coldstream Guards) was killed in Belgium on 9th September 1944 and Jo Kennedy a few weeks earlier on 12th August 1944 when the experimental B24 he was flying blew up over the Suffolk coast.

  5. Hello.

    Sorry I think I made something wrong in my first try of post.

    Great article. I've really enjoied it. Thanks a lot for the links.

    I have three pictures I don't know if you have. I attached one I found in a fórum. And you can see the other two in this pdf document (it's s little bit slow)

    page 40

    In ebay there are also a couple of pictures of Katherine Spaatz

    All the best

  6. Hello there!
    I'm ever so glad to have found this place.. and a lovely place you have here.
    The faces in these pictures are, to me, the most beautiful ones. Because they are true. I've spoted some grins, smiles.. and they all are natural. Nothing more gorgeous than that.

    Wonderful post.

    My best

  7. Thank you Emma! Its such a fascinating era which I just love researching and writing about, so I am really pleased that you enjoyed reading it! x

  8. Thank you so much for your kind words Marija!

  9. Hi Fano Thank you so much, I am glad that you enjoyed it and another thank you for the link and the image, they are great! What a wonderful group photo they all look so happy! I will have to have a good read of the article too, as it looks very interesting!

  10. Very interesting, I had heard of these ladies before, I think there was an item on the Great British Bake Off once?? From the doughnut angle obviously!! Always great to see old photos, lovely post. P x

  11. Thank you Owen, I am so glad that you enjoyed it, I do love writing these posts but I am always a little concerned that I will bore everyone with my history obsession! Wow how wonderful that you live so near to the old base, I bet the area has changed a fair bit, if you discover anything about them I would really love to here it! Oh and thank you for spotting my typo I have now corrected it! :-)

  12. Thank you Miss P! You know now you mention the GBB that feature does ring a bell, just wish I had been paying more attention, I was probably drooling and dreaming about cake, though I guess thats not surprising! :-) x

  13. Thanks. Not boring at all - many of us have a history obsession! I have just bought this American Monopoly set (labelled A Gift of the American People through the American Red Cross) off Ebay:

    Very pleased! My specialist subject (nothing to do with this) is Norwich Cathedral - but during the war the Bishop's Palace next to it was used as an ARC centre - see the IWM archive pictures of it, such as:

    PS - one or two other little typos, but I see you say spelling is not your forte, that's OK. Enthusiasm is more important!

  14. Very interesting & very well written. I had never heard of this before. :)

  15. Wow! That Monopoly set looks fabulous, those illustration on the cards are wonderful! I do love the thought that the ARC thought the British needed a bit of cheering up with a bit of board game fun!

    I shall certainly have a good look at the IWM link, their archive is a wonderful resource isn't it!

    Ps. Thank you, I am not surprised if I am honest I could check it 100 times and not see all the mistakes! I am certainly enthusiastic, spelling it well thats another matter! :-)

  16. ... and just seen this (Donuts, again!):

  17. History obsess away lovely lady, this was a fascinating read and I, for one, would love to hear more!

  18. Thank you Tors !! I am actually amazed that people have read it its sooo long even I struggled! :-) x

  19. How fascinating! A travelling doughnut machine and 'hardy' girls!! Its easy to forget how food is simply ingrained with culture.....even something we see daily in supremarkets such as doughnuts. Great post and a lot of research must have gone in it. Thank you my dear and hope the weekend ahead is absolutely faulous for you!
    May xx
    PS: Running a Christmas Giveaway on my blog....for someone in London to win one 'Block of 6 Open Class Pass' (worth £40) with The Cat Pose (Zen Yoga). Would love you to enter the Giveaway, or please spread the word! More details on my blog: