Mary Shannon Webster was born on 2 November 1895 to Arthur Gordon Webster, a professor of physics at Clark University and a founder of the American Physical Society, and his wife Elizabeth Townsend Webster. She graduated from Smith College in 1917. Webster sailed for France in November 1917 to take up canteen work with the Red Cross. In 1918, the Syracuse [NY] Herald published a series of letters she wrote that dealt with her work.
[Syracuse Herald, 18 April 1918, p. 25] …General Pershing, Secretary [Newton] Baker and their respective staffs and correspondents came to make their inspection of the camp, being a most important one. … I was making sandwiches; we all rose when he came in and then he (Pershing) ate a sandwich and talked to Gertrude [surname unknown] and me! He asked how we liked it here and I used slang as usual and said, “Crazy about it!” … Pershing said it was fine to see us here and when they left the camp we all lined up at attention. He was much pleased at our “military discipline” and said it would make the soldiers better to see us.
….We had quite an alarm for an air raid of the camp the other night. It was the night of a Paris raid, and they also came very near here. Every light was out here, and we sat and waited for the sound of the Boche engines and the signal to scatter, but nothing came to bother us. …We all enjoyed the novelty and the excitement. Signals were seen at the German prison camp and fifteen arrests were made. A man was marched past us in his shirt sleeves. I don’t know where.
[Syracuse Herald, 5 May 1918]…Four months of my first enlistment are up and there is not a doubt in my mind as to re-enlistment. In two more months I shall have earned a service stripe on my sleeve. I can hardly believe it. To-day I am taking my first day off in three months and am spending it in bed and I surely am appreciating it. This working seven days a week is no joke, when you never work less than eight and some times twelve and thirteen hours a day. It is much better now for they sent us more workers and we can keep to our schedules when no one is ill or away.
….I am on officer’s mess. I wait on five tables at every meal. There are nine at a table and usually they all fill up at once and have to be served at the same moment. Our mess hall holds 150 officers comfortably, but one day last week we had nearly 100 extra officers come in at once and for two days we had to wait on all of them beside the others. Those were hectic meals for us, for we had to set the tables up twice and repeat the process of serving everything.
…I can now carry five plates full of dinner on one trip. It was a great moment when I achieved that success. I have not yet achieved perfection, for sometimes I spill gravy down the officers’ necks or on their trousers. If they are khaki trousers, I always tell them “That’s all right. Gravy and coffee are the same color. It won’t show.” If they are the blue trousers of my French officers it is disastrous, for we have no blue gravy.
….My tables are always filled up way ahead of time and they say I give the best service. It is really lots of fun and I don’t mind it at all. I am in the dining room all the afternoon setting up the tables for dinner and I have to serve all the teas beside.
[Syracuse Herald, 19 May 1918] … I have been under fire at last. The big gun had not been heard for several days when yesterday afternoon—a heavenly sunny day—we were walking down the crowded Rue de la Paix when “BOOM” it sounded. It kept on all the afternoon at intervals of about twenty minutes. So now I am in “the battle of Paris,” and it doesn’t seem any different than when I was in Worcester [MA] and blasting was going on.
It went on to-day and I suppose it will begin again early to-morrow morning. […I] merely turned over in bed and went to sleep again when the bombardment started again this morning. Getting prepared for the front, that is all. Fatalism is the only belief to have if you want any peace over here.
Yesterday afternoon that gun hit the Maternity hospital and killed some mothers and young babies and wounded nearly forty of them. That is what makes my blood boil.
Webster returned to the United States in January 1919. She experienced tragedies in her life: first, her fiancé, Croix de Guerre recipient Captain Henry H. Worthington, was killed in action at Soissons in July 1918 (she stated in the 30 Mar 1919 Syracuse Herald, “I did not stop work … there was no time to let personal things enter. Indeed, I was thankful for the work which made me forget my own sorrow in helping others.”) Second, Webster’s father committed suicide in 1923 after writing in a note to her brother that he was a failure.
From June to September 1924, she traveled abroad. In June 1925, Webster married advertising salesperson Harold Flint Thomas. She died in 1985.