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Telephone Girls in the Heart of a Military Camp - 1918

A Barracks without, but a Home within, Furnished with Feminine Taste and Comfort, and Peopled with Girls of the Company.

A Barracks without, but a Home within, Furnished with Feminine Taste and Comfort, and Peopled with Girls of the Company. The Telephone Review, March 1918. GGA Image ID # 1926105f27

Telephone Girls in the Heart of a Military Camp. Housewarming As Operators Serving Uncle Sam Occupy Home Provided at Camp Upton. The Telephone Review Attends. By Helen James

At the end of a long, rough road. bordered with scrub oak and pine trees, among the long aisles of barracks, in the very center of the great, pulsing, military city at Camp Upton, Long Island, there is a onestory structure, similar to the plain, brown wooden buildings on every side except for a white flag with a blue letter "T" flying jauntily from a pole overhead and the familiar blue Telephone sign at the door.

Pushing open the door on which in large black letters appear the words, "Admittance only to operators," a very busy scene confronts the intruder.

At the telephone switchboard are seated perhaps the most modest, but certainly some of the most active soldiers of the Camp —the girl operators —who, with their deft ringers, unite the great "U" shaped city, that stretches two miles long and a mile wide, into a single or ganism working with the one great purpose of serving Uncle Sam.

In the bright yellow, green, and red lights that flash hither and yon over the board, is reflected the life—the feel ings, the activities, the duties—of the great army of khaki-clad men bravely training to enter a larger field of ser vice across the water.

Again, through the instrumentality of these' few girls the isolated camp is brought into touch with the outside world, and at the end of the week the constant array of busy lights on the trunk lines predicts the comfort and cheer of home awaiting the boys "off duty" on the morrow.

Early Hardships Bravely Endured

One of the Sleeping Rooms for the Telephone Girls.

Who Would Ever Guess That This Comfortable Room Is in the Very Heart of an Army Camp Bristling with War Preparations? One of the Sleeping Rooms for the Telephone Girls. The Telephone Review, March 1918. GGA Image ID # 19261499b3

The girls have stayed "manfully" at their posts ever since the latter days of September, in spite of the fif teen-mile trip from Riverhead to their headquarters, once or twice daily in a motor bus, named in sport "The Ark." When the weather was warm their progress was impaired by the miles of mud through which the engine puffed and chugged, lurching back and forth —in short, making haste slowly — while at the office the squad of girls would work patiently past their reg ular hours until the delayed bus could reach its destination.

Then suddenly the road changed over night to a veritable "rocky road to Dublin," when the chill winds from the north brought ice and snow, and the automobile plied over the ruts and down into the gullies in a way that would put a regular "war tank" to shame.

"Off Duty" Girls, Caught by the Camera, Enjoying a Social Hour in the Living Room of Their Home in Camp.

"Won't You Step into My Parlor?" "Off Duty" Girls, Caught by the Camera, Enjoying a Social Hour in the Living Room of Their Home in Camp. The Telephone Review, March 1918. GGA Image ID # 19263ac40c

With every precaution against accidents "blow outs" did occur, as they have a habit of doing, and even the foot-warmers and robes could not entirely keep out the cold of the bleak, black nights, or of the early morning gloom, when the wind whistled through the trees, and the temperature played around zero, in the desolate stretches of barren wood lands between the office and home.

These inconveniences were accepted in the spirit of adventure by the girls, who remained oblivious to the petty trials in the eagerness to do well their appointed tasks, and to add momentum to the great wheels of war preparation that wrill "make the world safe for democracy."

They had, too. the happy anticipation that these hardships were merely temporary and would soon be banished by the building of a comfortable home right in camp.

The Paradox of a Home in an Army Camp

The Sleeping Quarters of the Chief Operator in the Home for the Girls at Camp Upton.

Sunbeams Dance to and Fro in This Neat, Pretty Room, Filling It with Brightness. The Sleeping Quarters of the Chief Operator in the Home for the Girls at Camp Upton. The Telephone Review, March 1918. GGA Image ID # 19269004fc

With the completion of a twostory wooden house, hardly a stone's throw from the office, the necessity of making the long, hard trip daily was ended, and an attractive home in the camp was provided for the girls.

Outside, a martial spirit may prevail ; soldiers may perpetually march by in small groups or large companies ; large army trucks may lumber along the uneven road, or cavalry horses gallop past: but open the door to the plain, brown house standing at the foot of a slight bluff among a clump of pines, and a con trasting world of home peace and comfort is presented.

A house mother greets the girls at the end of their day's work and ushers them into the dining-room where a hot, wholesome dinner awaits.

After dinner the comfortable livingroom with its soft lights and easy chairs, invites them to an evening of rest and enjoyment. The warm, rich color of the furnishings and lights adds charm to the attractive scene, sur rounding the girls with an atmosphere of beauty and harmony.

The First Scene That Greets the Eye on Entering the Operators' Home.

The First Scene That Greets the Eye on Entering the Operators' Home. The Hallway, with Just a Slight Glimpse of the Parlor and Stairway. The Telephone Review, March 1918. GGA Image ID # 1927503de5

Around the table under the large, pink-shaded electric light, a group gathers to play croconole, or one of the many popular games tucked away in the drawer for their amusement.

In the cushioned chairs girls browse through the books that appear on the shelves of the book case, and at the piano some one plays vivaciously "Over There."

The music is greeted with a rush to the piano and all join in singing with a rollicking spirit the latest airs. Suddenly a loud report breaks the outside stillness, shaking the house and startling the inmates.

“A cannon is being tested," says one in scorn at having been surprised into a quick jump of fright, and the evening pleasures are resumed.

‘‘Don’t let taps catch you with your lights burning" is a sufficient hint to send all scurrying to bed. for the rules of camp apply to all—boy and girl soldier alike. When the bugle sounds at eleven o'clock and the long rows of twinkling lights in the barracks vanish, leaving only a few lamp posts blinking in the darkness, all is quiet except for a suppressed laugh that escapes through a closed door, or a whispered “good-night” that floats down the hallway. The windows of the Central office alone shine brightly, where several girls hold their night vigil, ready for an emergency or urgent Government business call.

The Camp Awakes and the Day Begins

The Spacious, Bright Dining Room in the Operators' House, with Mary, the Cook, and Her Assistant Presiding over Their Domain in the Rear.

The Spacious, Bright Dining Room in the Operators' House, with Mary, the Cook, and Her Assistant Presiding over Their Domain in the Rear. The Telephone Review, March 1918. GGA Image ID # 192769cc4d

In the morning the reveille, accompanied by a steady beat of the drum and a rhythmic tramp of feet, awakens even the most stubborn sleeper, announcing in this solemn fashion that the work of the day has begun and all must be up and doing.

Soldiers appear from all directions, hurrying With great, swinging strides to and from the barracks, for whether in training or on a jaunt they always keep in step with a quick, even rhythm.

Drills commence, and long lines of soldiers, sturdy and erect after several months of army life, exercise back and forth to the brisk commands that sound forth sharply through the crisp air: “Attention!” “About-face!” “Forward-march !”

It is time then for the first shift of girls to go on duty, relieving the night operators, for orders and commissions are beginning to flash over the wires from one section to another.

They return-to their switchboards with more than pride in their work, a joy of having a part in the discipline, of filling an essential post in that great, surging enterprise.

Why the Affairs of the House Run Smoothly

The Company has been fortunate in obtaining the services of Mrs. C. E. Wickham as house mother, whose extensive training and experience in household management enable her to direct the affairs of the house proficiently, and whose charming personality and kindliness endear her to the girls.

Under her supervision a cook, an assistant, and a waitress per form the household duties with regularity and precision. The house was only completed the last of January, and on Monday, February 4, the first five girls and Mrs. Wickham were able to move in.

The interior decoration of the house was left in the hands of Miss Mary Van Gaasbeck, of the Company, who has been so successful in planning the furnishing and decoration of the new Central Office restrooms.

A very effective color scheme has been attained in every room. The brown runners of the hallway harmonize with the wainscoting of natural wood color.

In the parlor the rich browns and blues of the carpet, the cushions, and heavy cretonne curtains add the touch of brightness to contrast with the sombre oak table and piano and the large wicker divan and chairs.

"The Wintry Wind Doth Blow," But the Girls Don't Care

Small wonder that the girls in their leisure hours shout gaily to each other, "Come and bring your knitting in my cosy room and chat with me," for the comfortable chairs, the rag carpets of soft neutral tints, the dainty white curtains, and the pinkflowered cretonne hangings, in their neat simplicity, give a touch of home comforts.

A large window makes each room bright and cheery. The cold, chill winds that sweep over the open country on gray clays have no terrors when the radiators always purr and sputter in an encouraging way. chasing out the penetrating dampness and keeping the rooms of a warm, even temperature.

The ravenous jaws of the furnace, installed in the heating plant at the rear of the building, are continually fed with coal, and the heat is carried to the farthest corners of the house by a network of pipes.

But where do all the "goodies" come from, the delicious apple jam, the puddings, and the good hot roast beef, potatoes and vegetables, that ap pear at dinner?

Just take a look through the kitchen and into the wellstocked cupboards and pantries, and the query is answered. The energetic cook, Mary, if you please, with a master-hand converts the contents of the well-packed larder into a hot, steaming meal for each shift of hungry girls hurrying back from work, anticipating something good.

"Make Yourself at Home"

The folks at home have not been forgotten. Shortly after the girls had arrived, the mothers were in vited to visit the little home that so bravely exists in the heart of the army camp.

The bus, one sunny afternoon, appeared at the station to meet the mothers who could come and convey them to the headquarters. Any anxiety they may have felt about the comfort of their daughters was soon dispelled when they saw with their own eyes every nook and corner of the neat, pretty house.

There was no need for the familiar injunctions, "Keep warm," "Go to bed early," each girl with pride assured her fond parent. After a friendly, social after noon in the parlor, the mothers re turned with easy minds, a feeling that was increased as they jolted along the bumpy road over which the girls had journeyed so many times.

With eager interest the girls await the cheer and brightness of the new life of spring, for as they look out through their windows, long stretches of mud with patches of melting ice and snow make the scene rather grim and dreary.

True, there is plenty of activity, a fact disclosed by the deep ruts and footprints that cover every portion of the parade ground and fields.

The long lines of soldiers that appear and disappear suddenly, only add to the sombre colors of the fields. The bayonets or rifles alone flash in the sunlight as the men charge down the road.

These men marching before their eyes are living such different lives, so detached from their ordinary activities, but yet with jolly good humor and high courage, they make light of their isolation.

Who Said Girls Don't Make Good Soldiers?

It is no wonder that the girls are proud of the part that they take in forming the link which connects those boys with the friends at home, and in speeding the war activities that bring all so much nearer the goal.

Since the end of September the girls have worked faithfully in the camp under the leadership of Miss Irene Thompkins, chief operator, Suburban, Long Island, who has added one more successful achievement to her record of twenty-eight years of efficient work in the New York Telephone Company.

She, together with the chief operator, Miss Anna Creighton, and the evening chief operator, Miss Mary B. Ketcham, and their plucky staff of girls, have been the pioneers in a new undertaking, filling their posts, not only with loyalty, but with resource fulness and courage required of a true soldier of the country.

Helen James, "Telephone Girls in the Heart of a Military Camp: Housewarming As Operators Serving Uncle Sam Occupy Home Provided at Camp Upton. The Telephone Review Attends" in The Telephone Review, Vol. 9, No. 3, March 1918, pp 84-87.

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The GG Archives is the work and passion of two people, Paul Gjenvick, a professional archivist, and Evelyne Gjenvick, a curator. Paul earned a Masters of Archival Studies - a terminal degree from Clayton State University in Georgia, where he studied under renowned archivist Richard Pearce-Moses. Our research into the RMS Laconia and SS Bergensfjord, the ships that brought two members of the Gjønvik family from Norway to the United States in the early 20th century, has helped us design our site for other genealogists. The extent of original materials at the GG Archives can be very beneficial when researching your family's migration from Europe.