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

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

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

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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.

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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.

NursesPackingListFinal2

Image courtesy of Patricia Britton.

Rebecca Onion, who runs Slate’s history blog The Vault, is a writer and academic living in Ohio. Follow her on Twitter.

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