American Red Cross Clubmobiles
When the U.S. entered World War II on December 8, 1941, the American Red Cross (“ARC”) stepped up to provide medical relief and boost morale in all theaters of the war.
The ARC was operating clubs for American servicemen throughout Great Britain, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland to give servicemen a taste of home, but these clubs could only serve men on leave or posted near the clubs and could do nothing to boost the morale of men on the front lines. Thus, Clubmobiles were born – mobile clubs that could take the ARC to the men in the field.
Originally, the Clubmobiles were planned to show movies, stage dances, and serve light refreshments, including coffee and doughnuts. The first Clubmobile, the “St. Louis,” started serving American troops in October of 1942. Clubmobiles in England were created from Green Line buses, but in planning the D-Day invasion, the Army asked the ARC to use converted 6x6 GMC Army trucks equipped with doughnut machines, coffee urns, sleeping facilities for the “Doughnut Dollies,” victrolas, records, gum, candy, cigarettes, and first aid kits.
The women who were hired to work the Clubmobiles were carefully selected. Applicants had to be at least (initially) twenty-five years old, but preferably not older than thirty. Later in the war, the age limit
was lowered to twenty-three. They had to have a
college education and some work experience.
These young women had to be in good physical
health, be fairly attractive, have an upbeat and
positive attitude, and be friendly, resourceful, and
brave. The ARC preferred the women to be single,
although some women were chosen whose husbands
were also serving overseas
In February 1944, prior to D-Day, Life magazine published an article showcasing the ARC Clubmobile women in England, describing them as “Hand-picked for looks, education, personality, and experience in recreational fields. They are hardy physically and have a sociable, friendly manner.” They also seemed to all be independent and strong young women, ready for adventure and to do their part for the war effort.
In preparation for the D-Day invasion, the three to four ARC women assigned to each Clubmobile were taught to drive and maintain the 6x6 GMC Army trucks, as well as to operate, maintain, and repair the doughnut machines. Eventually, the ARC decided the doughnut machines were not efficient enough to meet the vast need the Clubmobiles had for doughnuts, so central bakeries were set up in England and France to provide the doughnuts.
The first Clubmobiles crossed the British Channel and landed on Utah beach only a few weeks after D-Day. Clubmobiles were usually only a day or two behind the infantry as they crossed France, Belgium, and Germany on the way to Berlin and were so closely entwined with the military that some were caught in the retreat at the Battle of the Bulge. They were among the first citizens to witness the horrors of the concentration
camps. They saw battle and witnessed war in a
way other American civilian women never had,
which gave them more credibility with the troops
The brave women of the ARC Clubmobiles served in a combat zone in a way that is unlike any but the troops they served during World War II. They faced nearly the same dangers and dealt with many of the same trials and tribulations. Nearly 300 Clubmobilers died as a result of their service, although not by an enemy bullet. They were the living symbols of the home, peace, and life for which the U.S. troops were fighting, but they became more than merely symbols and helped show the world what American women could do in combat situations.
Photos courtesy of , The National Archives, and The American Red Cross
On June 27, 2012, the United States Senate recognized the achievements of Clubmobiles, which traveled across Europe and the Far East. "Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) spoke on the U.S. Senate floor on the importance of honoring the Red Cross Clubmobile women of World War II. The bipartisan resolution recognizes the self-sacrifice of these women volunteers who worked in the Red Cross Clubmobiles during World War II and honors those women who lost their lives in this service to their country. The resolution was sponsored by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Joe Lieberman (I/D-CT), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME), James Inhofe (R-OK), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
“A visit from a Clubmobile was one of the most significant events for a young G.I. in combat far from home, and the women of the Clubmobiles, young women from every single state, acted as friends and sisters to the troops with whom they interacted,” said Senator Collins. “These women were trailblazers,” she continued. “The dangers of war were real. During the war, 52 Red Cross women lost their lives, some of them from the Clubmobiles. Their stories are those of a nation at war….Their stories are every bit as vibrant and important to our victory as those of the men who valiantly fought to defend our freedom.” The first Red Cross Clubmobile arrived in France just a few days after the D-Day invasion began, when troops and military equipment were still coming ashore. In July and August of 1944, 80 Clubmobiles and 320 Red Cross volunteers crossed the English Channel. The Red Cross volunteers prepared the coffee and donuts on the converted buses. But these women gave much more than hot drinks and warm food; they were a friendly face, a morale boost and a comfort from home. “We were standing in the village street in a row serving our coffee and donuts and I was at the end of the line with the coffee dipper. And a G.I. came up to me, a very young guy, a 19-year-old, like a lot of them were, and he said his name was Jerry and he just needed to talk to me,” said Barbara Pathe, a Clubmobile worker with the troops in Germany. “And so he stood there and talked to me the whole time we were serving.… Listening was the biggest thing we did. Nothing else, just listening.”
Click here for A List of Clubmobile Women from your area