Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving at Base Hospital 46, 1918

The valley where Base Hospital 46 was located in 1918. A small arrow (in pencil) points to BH 46 at far right.
Several weeks ago, while pulling out the fantastic Grace Phelps Papers for a visitor, I came across a number of mementos that Ms. Phelps saved from her time as Supervisor of Nurses at Base Hospital 46 during World War I (she attained the rank of Captain in the U.S. Army). The folder includes striking photographs, ephemera, and even poems written by soldiers recovering in the hospital. Such items really bring to life the experiences of Phelps and her colleagues at the base. The image above shows Base Hospital 46 in Bazoilles-sur-Meuse, France. In Phelps's own words, from the back of the photograph: 
This is the valley where we have been during the time since we arrived on the 16th of last July. The arrow points to B.H. 46. The little round o is 42, the place where we were stationed for the first two days. The Commanding thought he liked the other side of the river so we moved. The day we moved we had our first order for surgical teams to go to the front. Such a time as we had getting the girls ready. Our baggage had not arrived so we had to borrow clothes for the nurses. We had them ready in less than two hours from the time we got the order. At that time there were no lights allowed -- all travel was in the dark. The party had not gone far when they had an accident and one of the nurses got a cut in the forehead, but they dressed the wound and on they went.
Amidst all the tumult and sorrow and drudgery of their time in France, the staff and soldiers of Base Hospital 46 still found time for small comforts, including Thanksgiving. From the same folder in the Phelps Papers, here is a Thanksgiving menu from the Nurses Mess on November 28, 1918: 
Looks pretty tasty, I must say!
 I love the poetic commentary hand-inscribed on the menu: "If you have eaten all of this / I'm sure your [sic] goin' to feel amiss! Wow!" 

Reading over the menu and looking through the pictures, I found myself thinking of those nurses, physicians, and soldiers of Base Hospital 46 doing their best to celebrate traditions like a cherished American holiday as best they could, so far from home. It really gives one cause to reflect on one's own good fortune and gratitude.

This week, like many of you, all of us at HC&A are feeling very thankful. We're so grateful for our talented, supportive colleagues in our department and at OHSU Library, our OHSU and community collaborators, and of course our wonderful supporters and friends (like you, dear reader!). All of you help make our work preserving and sharing the history of the health sciences a fun, challenging, and rewarding task. 

From the gang at HC&A, Happy Thanksgiving! 

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