What to Bring to a War: A Packing List for WWII Army Nurses

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
May 21 2013 11:15 AM

What to Bring to a War: A Packing List for WWII Army Nurses

The Vault is Slate's new history blog. Like us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter @slatevault; find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

This WWII-era packing list for Army nurses was sent to me by reader Patricia Britton, whose mother, Laura Rodriguez, served from 1944 through 1946.

Rodriguez , who was 23 when she enlisted, had worked for less than a year at a hospital in Gallup, N.M. when she entered basic training for army nurses in Texas. She received the list while making preparations to fly with her unit to Germany, in December, 1944.


That late in the war, the number of Army nurses in the European theater was at its height (in June 1945, there were 17,345). The list, with its observations about the way things were in Europe, reflects the experiences of the nurses who had gone overseas before Rodriguez.

The list is full of practical advice. The nurses were told that they were allowed 175 lbs. in total luggage, including their bedding. They were to bring items that were hard to find overseas (shoes, hose, Kotex) and things that would keep them warm (woolen underwear, pajamas, flannel sheets).

Some recommended items that were meant to boost morale: cloth to fashion curtains to “brighten up” nurses’ quarters; a book to contribute to everyone’s entertainment aboard ship and in the hospital.

The list also reminds nurses about protocol. They were to dress in full uniform on their way to their departure, as “the public not only observes you closely but critically.” Small matters like the question of lipstick (bring “plenty”) and nail polish (“polish brighter than Windsor [presumably the now-discontinued Revlon shade] is taboo in some theatres”) reflect the Army’s need to control the way its nurses appeared to the world.

Rodriguez served in the European Theatre in the Rhineland Campaign, and was honorably discharged at the rank of First Lieutenant.

Thanks to Patricia Britton for sharing her mother’s documents.

Packing List 1

Image courtesy of Patricia Britton.


Image courtesy of Patricia Britton.


Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Chief Justice John Roberts Says $1,000 Can’t Buy Influence in Congress. Looks Like He’s Wrong.

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

Hidden Messages in Corporate Logos

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

How Can We Investigate Potential Dangers of Fracking Without Being Alarmist?

My Year as an Abortion Doula       

  News & Politics
Sept. 15 2014 8:56 PM The Benghazi Whistleblower Who Might Have Revealed a Massive Scandal on his Poetry Blog
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 8:58 PM Lorde Does an Excellent Cover of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.