Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Part I: Mudder's World War I diary

Here’s a puzzler that could be on the Travel Channel’s “Mysteries at the Museum:”

The object, almost 100 years old, measures four inches by seven inches. It has a black cover that’s falling apart and is held together by a strip of duct tape. Its inside pages are turning brown and are filled with tiny, hard-to-read handwriting.

What is it? Answer: Mudder’s diary.

The diary belonged to our paternal grandmother, Florence Green Shay. She’s called “Mudder” because her eldest grandchild, me, couldn’t pronounce Grandmother or Grandma and shortened it to Mudder. The name stuck. She looked more like a Florence than a Mudder. She was a bespectacled bridge-playing Denver matron when we grandkids got to know her as we grew up in the 1950s and 1960s. She screeched for joy and hugged us soundly when we came to visit, especially after we moved away from Denver in 1960.

A Baltimore native, she was a devoted baseball fan who loved her hometown Orioles. She took my brother and me to Denver Bears games even though they were a farm team for the Orioles arch-nemesis, the New York Yankees. When she died in 1980, she had been married to her husband Raymond for almost 60 years.

The two shared a common bond. They were both World War I veterans when they met at Fitzsimons Army Hospital in Aurora, Colo., in 1921. She was an officer in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. He had mustered out as a cavalry officer in the Iowa National Guard. They are buried together in Fort Logan National Cemetery in southwest Denver. We can’t hear any more stories in person from our grandparents. But Mudder’s diary survives, and it tells tales. We knew little about the diary. Mudder occasionally mentioned it when she was alive. It wasn’t until my sister Eileen Shay Casey in Winter Park, Fla., got her hands on it after our father died that I had a chance to read it. Eileen, also a trained nurse but now working for a private foundation, transcribed the diary. No small task, as our grandmother’s handwriting is cramped and sometimes difficult to read. And – 96 years after the final entry – these inked memories are fading. This transcript gives us all a peek into the life of one of our ancestors cast into a far-off war.

I’ll post excerpts (along with photos) every few days on this blog. I appreciate any comments, although I’ll only print those that have some bearing on the subject at hand. At the end, those interested will be able to order a print transcript from – more about that later.

My sister and I would like to thank Dr. Marian Moser Jones, assistant professor of family science at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, who provided some of the background information about Florence’s experiences, which I will intersperse among the diary excerpts. She is a passionate researcher who has written extensively on the subject of World War I nurses. Thank you, Dr. Jones.

The following is the transcript of the diary Florence Green Shay kept while in the U.S., England and France, 1918-1919:

July 12, 1918, Hotel Bristol 
We were all very much pleased when Miss Sarin told us today that we would leave the hotel the following day. Of course we felt a little blue to think we were going so far from home. Goldie and I proceeded to a first class restaurant and had a last good meal. We also thought of a half dozen things we wanted. We went to Keith’s at night but did not enjoy it very much, shows were becoming quite boring.  

July 13, Saturday

I was quite excited waiting for the anxious moment. Before going on ship, I decided I must have a certain record for the Victrola, Baby’s Prayer at Twilight.  Did some tall rushing to get it too. The staterooms were wonderful. May Callaway, Goldie and I am occupying #30.  We all went to bed early the first night. Everything was strange, but only the first day.

July 14, Sunday

Before sailing, we had our first boat drill. Seemed very funny to carry life preserver`s around every place we went, but towards the last we felt lost without them. Sunday was not a very exciting day. The hands played some music but not popular songs. We sailed on the Balticand had twelve other ships in the convoy. Destroyers and aero planes were with us for a day and a half. Felt funny when they left.

July 15, Monday

We started to get acquainted this day; I think there were about 200 officers on board and 100 nurses. We had a good time. Danced from five to seven, the jazz played for us, some music too. July 16, Tuesday The ship seemed to rock more this day. I did not tarry in the dining room long. Seasick, I should say not, I would never be guilty.

July 17, Wednesday

Met some dandy people, everybody seemed so nice. Would buy candy, but to think I refused it from Sunday until today and only one piece. They needn’t think I am going to get seasick. July 18, Thursday We are still having our boat drill every day or I should say twice a day. So often we are called at a most inopportune time, but no difference, get your life jacket on, and run. I am eating a little more candy today.

July 19, Friday

Rather foggy and raining. The sun is also rather rough but did not affect me any. We had our dance just the same, lots of fun too. The 62nd Coast Artillery gave a dandy entertainment, was mighty good, and closed the evening by playing the Marseillaise, God Save the King, and The Star Spangled Banner.

July 20, Saturday

Nothing special happened. We had the Victrola out in the morning, danced a few dances. This is my bath night, and to think it is Saturday, so much the nicer.  The bath steward will be in, in a moment, he does want us to keep clean.

July 21, Sunday

Went to church in the afternoon, quite different then the services I usually go to. After dinner we all went back in the 2nd class dining room where the troops were and helped them sing some songs. After this, I met a very interesting man, Major Gay - only talked to him a few minutes. Heard a few rumors about submarines, but have not worried about them much.

July 22, Monday

Met the major this morning. His girl went back on him, so I promised to stick. He nicknamed me “Pinky” an awfully nice man. We had a dance and believe me, the major is some dancer.

July 23, Tuesday

Seeing a good deal of the major. Had a big scare today. They say there is a nest of submarines in our course, but our convoy has changed its route now. Believe me, it is sure cold too, only 700 miles from Iceland.

July 24, Wednesday

Rather thrilling to see about twelve destroyers around us on this day, we feel so safe now. Our cruiser left us last night and oh how lonely we did feel.

July 25, Thursday

This is the most dangerous of days, as we are wearing our life preservers all the time now. We are in the real war zone now, but not too much danger to keep from dancing. I forgot to say we had to be in our staterooms every night at 900pm, lights out at 10pm.  The Red Cross furnished us with rubber suits the funniest looking things; they are supposed to keep us up in water for three days. I will try to have mine handy tonight with a little chocolate handy. We have been told it would be better to sleep in part of clothes.

July 26, Friday

Well we are safe and sound; I have not seen a submarine yet. To think we are looking at land once more. It looks wonderful! Liverpool looks good to me. We are to anchor out tonight, the lights will be all lighted and a great celebration, a big dance. Peany, the major, asked his old girl for a dance, it made me jealous but him very foolish. We are allowed to stay out until 11pm. To think it is our last night on the ship, I feel real sad.

Editor’s Note: Listen to Henry Burr’s 1918 rendition of “A Baby’s Prayer at Twilight (for her daddy over there)” at
May 11, 1915: Florence Green (far left, second row) graduated from Maryland General Hospital Training School for Nurses. MGH Training School operated as a nursing school from 1891 until 1987, when it closed. Maryland General Hospital now operates under the name University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown Campus. 
Maryland General Hospital Training School for Nurses in Baltimore.
The Baltic, the ship that took Mudder's Unit to Europe.

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