Nurse Writes of Landing in France

February 22 1945

Lt. Erma Pyle Tells of Army Nurses “Roughing It” In War-Scarred Village.

(In the following letter, 1st. Lt. Erma Pyle, a U. S. army nurse, formerly of Springfield State Hospital, Sykesville, tells of the experience of a contingent of nurses as they left England in December and landed in France. It is a story of American nurses “roughing it” under conditions not unlike those encountered by the doughboys who preceded them in clearing the place of the enemy. In it she tells of a wartime Christmas made brighter by a party for the children of a French village devastated by the retreating Nazis. Mrs. Louise O’Nolan, superintendent of nurses at Springfield, to whom the letter was addressed, thought it would be of interest to Herald readers. (We thought so, too.)

Paris, France

Dear Springfield crew,
I have taken a little trip since I last wrote to you. In a way I hated to leave England, yet the weather was so uncertain that we were glad to get out of there. We left in a hurry and were much surprised because we usually know to advance about when we were leaving. We all left in combat uniforms which consist of long O. D. underwear, a pair of woolen ski trousers, woolen shirt, woolen stockings field shoes; then we wore the outer combat trousers and jacket. Over our filed shoes we had on big black boots. On our heads we wore a woolen cap and helmet. Our trip across the channel was a safe one. The ship was bigger than the one we went to England in. While on board I met an officer who knew my brother; in fact, he was my brother’s C. O. He said that Don was now in Germany and he was going back to join them again.

We left the ship in barges and from there, waded ashore. Oh, yes, I almost forgot to tell you that we carried packs on our backs which consisted of a musette bag with our personal belongings and then two blankets rolled around in horseshoe fashion. We wasted no time on the beach but hurried to where our ambulances were waiting for us. The beach was all in ruins. I had never seen so much devastation in my life. We went by car to a small town where we stayed for several weeks. We lived in a beautiful French chateau which was situated on top of a high hill.

Was German Headquarters

This house had formerly been the headquarters of German officers. We found their helmets and various other things lying around. They had most of the furniture in the house cut up for fire wood or else removed it. It was a very large place; the rooms were very spacious. I lived on the third floor in a room with seven others. We had to live close together because it was so cold. We had one large bed in which three of us slept and a day bed in which two slept. Then we had two army cots in which three slept.

The heat and electricity had been cut off. They did get lights put in the downstairs because we used the large dining room for a recreation room. We used candles in our bedrooms but we didn’t stay there long because it was too cold. We used no sheets–just our blankets, and then slept with half of our clothes on. We brought water in our helmets which the boys heated outside for us. In those weeks our clothes weren’t washed and we didn’t wash much. We didn’t seem to mind too much because everybody was in the same fix. We had to wear our helmets everytime we left the building, and also our boots. There were fox holes all around the pines and the place was full of mines, so we didn’t venture off the roads.

We ate in another chateau a few blocks below ours. We ate from mess kits and stood to line to await our turn. We lived on K and C rations for a while but not for long. On Christmas day we had a grand meal, even turkey and all the trimmings. We only got two meals a day so you can see how much we really appreciated our meal on Xmas. I’ll always remember this Xmas meal.

We even had to stand up to eat and it was cold, but a meal never tasted any better to us. We had church services in the town cinema and it was full. Some of the boys sat on the floor. It was really a sight to see all of us in our combat suits with our helmets on, sitting in church. The chaplains had a wonderful service and they made us feel less homesick. We sang carols all the way through the little town and back to our chateau. Then we all sat in the dining room and wrote letters to our folds. The French put off some kind of rockets on Xmas day. From our chateau we could see them very plainly. They were much like our sky rocket that we put off on the Fourth of July. We were very much amused by it.

We gave a party to 150 French children in the afternoon of the 24th of December. We saved our candy rations for a month and then gathered all the gifts we could from the collated men and officers and nurses. Then we got together one afternoon and wrapped them up. We had quite a time finding paper but we used colored napkins and mostly anything we could find. We decorated a tree and put ribbons on it and colored buttons and we had to improvise things to use. It was great fun  getting all these things together.

Our Catholic Captain acted as Santa Claus and you should have seen the children’s faces beam when they saw him. They sang carols in French and then sang their national anthem. We all sang “Silent Night” together and it sounded lovely. We gave two gifts to each child and they appreciated them so much. The people in the town are very poor because the Germans had been there for four years and had taken everything from them. Then when they left they mined the town and blew up railroad and power plants. As the result, the town is very poor. The children are dirty and very poorly dressed. I think that we got more kick out of their Xmas party than they did.

You may wonder what we did all the time that we spent in the town. Every day we had calisthenics outside and lectures. We marched up the road for about one mile and then back again; just keeping us in trim for the future. We had lots of fun there but were glad to leave as we are all anxious to get to work.

At the present time I am living in a university, which is a very large building and well built. Paris is the most modern city that I have seen since I left the States. It is so entirely different from London. You should see the beautiful clothes in the shop windows. I haven’t had time to see so much yet as we just came.

There is so much that we can’t talk about at the present time and one is our work, so you will just have to wait until later.

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