[. . .W]hen we took the patient out, we found his head had been completely severed from his body by a large shell fragment.
— Alice McAllister, The Doughnut Sweethearts
Coming from a family deeply involved in the Salvation Army, the Virginia-born Salvation Army captain Violet McAllister (1891–1939) and her lieutenant sister Alice (1892–1980) sailed on the Rochambeau in March 1918 to undertake relief work in France. Their duties included frying doughnuts, preparing hot chocolate, serving lemonade, preaching, playing guitar, singing, and attending to the wounded and the dying. Stated Alice in “The M’Allister Sisters Who Went to the Front” (Naugatuck Daily News, 15 Jan. 1919, p. 7):
[. . .T]hree days after our arrival we were at the front in the Cantigny Drive, about five kilometers from the firing line . . . We slept in a cellar, for the town was shelled every night, and the following day chose a suitable old house and set up a canteen for serving food and hot chocolate. . . . .We were shelled out of there at midnight and walked, it seemed, miles until a wagon picked us up and carried us two or three kilometers back. Here airplanes dropped bombs over us every night.
The McAllister sisters were at Roulecourt before the St. Mihiel campaign and at one point were believed dead or captured by the Germans (see San Diego Union and Daily Bee). Alice continued:
[. . . A]t 10 o’clock the loud naval gun went off, Violet and I hurriedly put on our gas masks, helmets, and we had our rubber boots on, and then the shelling began on Montsoe. It looked just like a volcano with all the spurts of flame, and on the front as far as one could see for twenty-seven miles, there was a din and hub-bub, and the flashes of guns. One shell struck the German ammunition dump and this set the city on fire. . . . We asked to go up to the front and were sent with three tons of supplies. We finally came to Nonsard, which had been occupied by the Germans only twenty-four hours before. . . . . Here we slept in a bomb proof dugout. As soon as our sign was out at 7 in the morning the boys simply swarmed around . . . . we made sandwiches, you can imagine how many, because we used about 800 cases in two days, and served over 10,000 men . . .
The sisters returned to the United States in October 1918. In 1919, they headed overseas again to assist French refugees, returning in September 1919.
In June 1920, Violet married fellow Salvation Army captain Harry Hesketh Booth, and they had three children. In July 1927, she was one of the Salvation Army representatives selected to attend the American Legion convention in Paris. She died in March 1939 from a cerebral embolism. Alice left the Salvation Army after her marriage to electrician Frank Baugh in March 1927; they had two children.
The Doughnut Sweethearts: The Diary of Alice McAllister during World War I (2012; read excerpts here and here)
Hamilton, Mildred. “Doughnuts and Guitars on the Western Front [interview with Alice McAllister Baugh].” San Francisco Examiner, 8 May 1977, p. 79.
Below: Violet McAllister (left, 1918–19, National Archives). Alice McAllister, from her 1918 passport application