The women of World War II fascinate us and D-day is one of the most pivotal events in modern history, so I enjoyed exploring both in THE SKY ABOVE US, book 2 in the Sunrise at Normandy series. While my hero flies above the landing beaches in his P-51 Mustang, my heroine runs the American Red Cross Aeroclub at his airfield. Here are some interesting things I learned about the Red Cross in World War II.
1. At a time when the population of the United States was 132 million, 37 million adults and 20 million children and youth belonged to the Red Cross, with 7.5 million serving as volunteers. In addition, 40,000 men and women were paid workers with the Red Cross.
2. Of those overseas workers, twenty-nine women died, primarily in plane crashes, but also due to enemy shelling.
3. Women who worked with the American Red Cross overseas had to be at least twenty-five years old and have a college degree. They underwent an extensive interview process and had to complete training in Washington, DC. The women had the “equivalent status” of an officer, which granted them many officer privileges.
4. The American Red Cross operated hundreds of service clubs all over the world, from Greenland to Brazil, from England to China, from Tunisia to India. At these clubs, servicemen on leave could receive hot meals and a comfortable bed and enjoy wholesome recreational activities and tours of the local area.
5. Overseas, the ARC also served American servicemen where they were. They ran Aeroclubs at US airfields, Fleet Clubs at naval bases, Camp Clubs at Army bases, and Donut Dugouts at training bases. At these clubs, men could relax, get a snack, read, write letters, play games, listen to music, and attend dances.
6. The Red Cross ran “clubmobiles,” mobile vans that the women drove to remote airfields to provide coffee, donuts, and banter to airmen returning from missions. The clubmobiles even had phonographs and speakers, so the women could jitterbug with the flyboys.
7. Clubs were set up in grass huts in New Guinea, tents in Algeria, tin Nissen huts in England, and swanky London hotels. The women often lived in primitive conditions and endured many dangers with incredible grace and courage.
8. Segregation was opposed by the Red Cross but required by the US military, a particularly ugly aspect of life in the 1940s. The Red Cross did have separate facilities, with clubs for white servicemen run by primarily white workers and clubs for black servicemen run by primarily black workers. All clubs were officially open to all races, but the men tended to self-segregate.
9. The servicemen tended to treat the female Red Cross workers with gentlemanly respect—with exceptions, of course. The men saw the women as sisters and enforced courtesy when their buddies misbehaved. Refreshing!
10. The American Red Cross was perhaps most famous with the servicemen for the ever-present coffee and donuts, that wonderful taste of home. Would you believe the American Red Cross served 1.6 billion donuts during World War II? That’s a lot of “sinkers.”
Overall, the women of the American Red Cross performed a valuable service during the war, helping servicemen cope with the dangers of battle and the stress of being away from home. I enjoyed highlighting the work of these independent and resourceful women through my fictional Violet Lindstrom in THE SKY ABOVE US.
Which of these facts surprised you or interested you? Could you see yourself as a Red Cross worker?
Numbed by grief and harboring shameful secrets, Lt. Adler Paxton ships to England with the US 357th Fighter Group in 1943. Determined to become an ace pilot, Adler battles the German Luftwaffe in treacherous dogfights in the skies over France as the Allies struggle for control of the air before the D-day invasion.
Violet Lindstrom wanted to be a missionary, but for now, she serves in the American Red Cross, where she arranges entertainment for the men of the 357th in the Aeroclub on base and sets up programs for local children. Drawn to the mysterious Adler, she enlists his help with her work and urges him to reconnect with his family after a long estrangement.
Despite himself, Adler finds his defenses crumbling when it comes to Violet. But D-day draws near. And secrets can’t stay buried forever.
Bestselling author Sarah Sundin returns readers to the shores of Normandy, this time in the air, as the second Paxton brother prepares to face the past–and the most fearsome battle of his life.
About Sarah Sundin
Sarah Sundin enjoys writing about the adventure and romance of the World War II era. She is the author of ten historical novels, including The Sea Before Us. Her novels When Tides Turn and Through Waters Deep were named to Booklist’s “101 Best Romance Novels of the Last 10 Years,” and Through Waters Deep was a finalist for the 2016 Carol Award and won the INSPY Award. A mother of three, Sarah lives in California, works on-call as a hospital pharmacist, and teaches Sunday school. She also enjoys speaking for church, community, and writers’ groups.