Christmas at Base Hospital No. 6, 1918.


Martha Putnam, 1907. Photo courtesy Veronica Haskell

Artist Martha Putnam (1893–1983), the daughter of Boston physician Charles Pickering Putnam and cousin of fellow war worker Elizabeth Cabot Putnam (see blog post), was a reconstruction aide in physiotherapy at U.S. Army Base Hospitals Nos. 6 and 208 in Talance (near Bordeaux) from October 1918 to June 1919. In this January 1919 account from The Overseas War Record of the Winsor School, 1914–1919, she describes Christmas 1918 at Base Hospital No. 6.

On Monday every one began decorating. Lt. [James M.] Davis of the decorating committee had brought in great piles of greens to be distributed; we also had oblong lanterns over the electric lights, made by the carpenter and covered by the patients. Our ward looked like a forest, even the Balkan frames entwined with holly. The contribution of Miss [Helen] Buckmaster, occupational aid, and myself was a “Merry Christmas” printed in red, and a three-foot paper Santa Claus to hang on the little pine Christmas tree.

On the afternoon of Christmas Eve the festivities began with the pageant inspired by that great man, Captain [Henry Chase] Marble, orthopedic surgeon. The pageant visited every ward and did its stunts in each. We in our ward scouted out to watch its progress and as it neared 31 we scuttled inside to receive it. We heard the merry music down the corridor. It was headed by Father Christmas kneeling grandly in a wheel chair turned back-side front and draped like a chariot, drawn by a real donkey. Behind him pressed a motley little throng—the orchestra, variously robed; the quartet, the violinist, the “trained ducks,” the dancing cooties [lice], then a few people all dressed up for show. We were honored with a piece from the orchestra, then the quartet, then the cooties who rushed about after their dance to find a juicy patient—the men adored it. The Doctor Marble, like a French cook, served it all to us, and we were left breathless and happy.

That evening there was a tree and an entertainment (of recitation and music) at the Red Cross hut, for the walking patients. The Red Cross did handsomely. Each man received a pair of socks full of delicious things; each nurse a nice bag, with a pretty handkerchief and goodies. I felt as much tickled as though there weren’t thousands of other presents just like mine.

Christmas morning Isabel [possibly nurse Isabelle Dewar of Boston] and I rose at five to sing Christmas carols in the corridors between various wards. then breakfast at seven and on duty till church. Then I visited Thurk, sick in ward 16, then a large Christmas dinner. Worked till 4 in the wards, then spent the late afternoon in visiting my special pets in the other wards where I have worked as a nurse, and ending with two dentists who while I was there came in awfully shot up. They were all recovering and really glad to see me. After supper rushed over to the Red Cross hut to help Miss Delahanty [possibly artist Frances Washington Delehanty], O.P.  aid, make up the cast[] for “Spreading the News.” So that was the end of Christmas Day… (79–80)

Base Hospital No. 6, initially composed of 252 staff members from Massachusetts General Hospital, cared for 24,112 patients with 434 deaths of surgical cases (according to MGH Hotline). It later was combined with Hospital No. 208, which had personnel from Charlotte, NC.

In June 1921, Putnam married Alfred Clarence Redfield (1890–1983), Harvard professor of physiology and future associate director of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. They had three children: Elizabeth Redfield Marsh (1923–2009), chair of environmental studies at Stockton State College; Martha Washburn Koch (1926–2011); and Alfred Guillon Redfield (1929–), professor emeritus of physics and biochemistry at Brandeis University.


Ward 10, Base Hospital No. 6, Dec. 1917. National Archives.

Further Reading:
New Hampshire WWI Military: The Nurses of Base Hospital No 6 aka “The Bordeaux Belles“: Info about the personnel of Base Hospital No. 6, with a spotlight on the six nurses from New Hampshire.

Julia Shepley Coolidge, canteen worker.


Julia Shepley Coolidge, from her 1919 passport application

Winsor School graduate and lab technician Julia Shepley Coolidge was the daughter of Charles Allerton Coolidge, an architect who designed buildings for Harvard and Stanford. Beginning in April 1919, she was one of five staffers for a YMCA canteen in the Orkneys serving some 4000 U.S. servicemen and 500 British sailors who were clearing mines from the North Sea.

Coolidge provided a lively account of her work in The Overseas War Record of the Winsor School, 1914–1919. She wrote:

How in a little town of 5,000 people, with absolutely no resources could you keep men happy—men every last one of whom wanted to go home but stayed out on the mine-fields sometimes thirty days at a stretch. Not thirty quiet days, but days of constant danger, mines exploding on all sides, days which were not the eight hour union days, but often the eighteen hour days of a difficult task to be carried through by strong men. . . . .

. . .[I]t was like pouring water into the desert to try to provide sufficient dances, once or usually twice a week was the rule for the Y, the K. C. [Knights of Columbus] gave some, and the boys had their own parties. I danced very nearly every night, after the canteen was closed at ten till the liberty was up at eleven-thirty. . . . .

On the fourth of July there were 2000 men ashore on liberty and we fed them with only three gas burners to work with. . . .

Often I had it said to me by the English officers, “But we think it is wonderful of you to come all the way from America to look after your men, we have been here four years and nobody has done anything for us”. . . I laughed, and said, “You must not give me so much credit. For every Y girl there is over here there are probably 10,000 who would probably like to be in our places. We thought ourselves lucky to get the chance to serve, and where our boys go we always want to follow.” (34–35)

She returned to the United States in December 1919. In April 1921, she married investment broker Frederick Deane, and they moved to China. Their son, Frederick Deane Jr., worked for the CIA during the Korean War and later became president and CEO of the Bank of Virginia.

Anna Davis McSherry, Yeoman(F) and crack shot.

The Evening Capital and Maryland Gazette noted in its 2 September 1918 edition that Yeoman (F) First Class Anna Davis McSherry, who was assigned to the Department of Public Works at the Naval Academy, had bested 25 sailors in a shooting contest at the Glen Burnie rifle range and qualified for the marksman rating. The newspaper account was quick to credit her male shooting instructor, Sergeant J. E. Given of the National Guard, although it also noted that McSherry had won a prize in a YWCA shooting contest the previous year. Another newspaper account states that in the contest at the Glen Burnie rifle range, she made 156 hits out of 200 shots at a range of 500 yards.

McSherry, granddaughter of Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge James McSherry and great-great-niece of Rear Admiral Cadwalader Ringgold, enlisted in the Navy in March 1917 and “aggressive[ly]” captained Baltimore’s yeoman (F) basketball team. In 1924, she was listed as a senior stenographer in the Maryland attorney general’s office. In Nov. 1924, she married electrical engineer Robert Tyson Greer. By 1941, she was listed as a chief clerk in the Maryland attorney general’s office. She died in 1993 and is buried in Baltimore’s Lorraine Park Cemetery. Her daughter was Anne Greer Creamer (1928–96). A relative is Maryland attorney M. Natalie McSherry.