A Letter from a Fifth Unit Telephone Operator - 1918

Fifth Unit of Telephone Operators for General Pershing’s Army, from the Forces of the Bell System.

Fifth Unit of Telephone Operators for General Pershing’s Army, from the Forces of the Bell System. Photographed on Roof of 195 Broadway, New York, August 2, 1918. Left to Right. Front Row: Miss Mildred Lewis, Miss Zada Freelove Black, Miss Anita Chance, Miss Louise Barbour, Miss Anna Kinney, Miss Nell S. Wilkins, Miss Helen Cook, Miss Norma G. Finch, Miss Elizabeth M. Shovar, Miss Sarah Fairbrother, Miss Annie F. Shcerin, Miss Ruth Keeping, Miss Helen M. Hayes, Miss Christie V. Bickford. Back Row: Miss Elizabeth Macauley, Miss Agnes E. Blazina, Miss Ena Robb, Miss Louise M. Wilcox, Miss Faye R. Honey, Miss Martha M. Henshaw, Miss Merle Egan, Miss Laura Gridley, Miss Helen Carey, Miss Vera Sjostrom, Miss Jessie D. Brown, Miss Grace B. Knall, Miss Elizabeth O’Brien, Miss Mary E. Sealey, Miss Irene A. Gifford, Miss Marguerite Mahoney. The Telephone Review, September 1918. GGA Image ID # 1923ee946a

In the midst of all their duties and sightseeing in England and France, the thoughts of our representatives in the Woman's Telephone Unit turn back to the homeland and old associates. They and we, while carrying on, think of happy days of work and comradeship during which the ties that bind us were welded so strongly as to endure through all things. So they write back, not to a single friend or a few friends, but to the telephone circle.

A long and interesting letter has been received from Miss Anita Chance of Denver, who is one of our representatives with the Fifth Unit. She writes from Tours, under date of September 27th, to—

Dear Telephone Folks:

This is our sixth week in France, and we have seen quite a bit of the world since we left Denver. The day we sailed our whole unit had dinner at the hotel, going aboard ship at 3:30 p. m. and sailing at 5:15 p. m. We came across on one of the largest and fastest boats on the ocean. Aside from one day of rough sailing our trip was very calm.

We certainly had great times marching to and from the dining room with our lieutenant in charge of us and soldiers on both sides of the deck telling us to keep step, close up; and just imagine us trying to keep step with the boat rocking from side to side, which was very amusing to them.

There were two bands aboard ship, and every morning and afternoon there was a band concert, during which time we would also dance. We had entertainments given by the soldiers, talent chosen from each company.

Every precaution was taken for our safety. Everyone had to be off deck at 8.30 p. m., all portholes closed, no lights allowed, and after seven days on the water we landed in England.

While in    _______, each one of us was presented with a message from the king. We enjoyed our trip across England, riding in those adorable little coaches and buying sandwiches, tea cakes and tea from the English girls with their tea wagons at the station.

In Southampton and all along the youngsters would greet us with “Yankee girls" and “American lady.” After three days in England, which is indeed a most beautiful country, we crossed the English Channel, and that short trip was really more thrilling than our ocean voyage, with airships and aeroplanes buzzing overhead, and boats of every description all around.

The beautiful scenery, also the beautiful sunset we saw, while anchored at the Isle of Wight, made us forget the danger of the trip.

We landed at a beautiful harbor in France and watched them reload our boat with wounded English, Scotch and American soldiers going back to the recuperation camps in England.

We traveled first class all the way, and that night, while en route from ________ to Paris received our first “rations,” which surprised us very much, for we had excellent food at the hotel, and one of our boys who, by the way, are always at the stations to welcome us, had a small truck loaded with a case of salmon, jam, tomatoes and a gunny sack of bread.

Oh, yes, I forgot the dried beef, or “canned Willie,” as the soldiers call it. He said, “Girls, this is your dining car.” We thought he was joking but wish you could have seen us eating breakfast next morning with a can- opener as our only implement.

We arrived in Paris at 8:30 am Major Wheat met us at the Signal Corps Club and our whole unit marched down the Champs Elysées to the telephone office.

After visiting there a while we wait to the Hotel Petrograd, had lunch and that afternoon hired taxicabs and rode around the city, visiting many places of interest. Paris is wonderful, and I was wishing I could stay there.

Tours is a lovely place, and one of the most ancient cities in France. After our arrival we had our pictures taken again, which seemed to me about the hundredth time, to put on some more identification papers. My pockets are almost bursting from passports, identification papers, and bread tickets, which we also have to get.

Our work here is very interesting, but I can tell you very little about it. Every important place where headquarters and large camps are located has a switchboard operated by our girls; this arrangement allows the officers to be connected with anyone in their own camp, also with other camps and cities all over France.

We also connect with the French lines and deal with the French operators, which makes us exceedingly busy. Our unit was separated and mixed with the other units.

There are from seven to forty girls at each place, owing to the amount of business. We work eight hours a day and our hours are changed every week.

Work every other Sunday and then have a day off the following week, and at night we are relieved by the soldiers. It may also interest you to know that we have service observing, peg count and do directory work. Length of conversation on toll calls is six minutes.

Everything is very different from what I imagined our life in France would be. I had visions of a dug-out instead of a palace. They have a hotel especially for our girls.

We have everything very comfortable—large, light, airy rooms, two girls in a room, and we two Denver girls have roomed together so far. The other Mountain States girl from Montana is in the room next to ours, and we have some wonderful times.

We have fine meals—white bread and sugar—almost unheard-of luxuries in France and England, and tonight six of us girls had an apple pie.

Can't tell how we got it—our first pie since we left the States. One doesn't see any pastry or candy shops here, although we still have some of our chocolate which was presented to us by the. A. T. & T. Co. when we left New York.

American soldiers are very numerous here. In fact, one sees innumerable uniforms, soldiers from every country at war. We are allowed to make friends with them, and no doubt are quite popular, because there are so few American girls here.

We have dances and all sorts of good times. However, certain rules must be observed. Two of us girls have to be together whenever we go out, even if accompanied by a man escort.

We are allowed two late passes until 11:30 p. m. any night in the week except Tuesday and Friday. Other nights we have to be in our quarters at 10 p. m.

On our Sundays and days off we have visited several historic chateaux, and they are certainly wonderful when you think how many years ago they were built.

Also attended military services at one of the cathedrals here which took four hundred years to build. We have also visited several French and American hospitals and heard our boys tell of their great experiences, each one of them proud of his wound stripes and anxious to get more.

We have also seen wounded German soldiers, and on our way to and from work, pass a place where German prisoners are busy working, guarded by French soldiers.

By the time this letter reaches you I will be transferred to another place. We were notified we would leave in a few days. So, with best wishes to all, from

Anita Chance,
Woman’s Telephone Unit, A. P. O. 717.

Anita Chance, “A Letter from a Telephone Operator of the Fifth Unit of the Signal Corps dated 27 September 1918,” in The Mountain States Monitor, November 1918, pp. 20-21.

Return to Top of Page

World War I
Hello Girls in the Great War
GG Archives

Telephone Operators in the Great War




World War 1 Collection

Primary Military Collections