Julienne Daniels: A Brit in the American Red Cross

Wiltonian Julienne Daniels still remembers the day in England in 1940 she threw her bike to the ground and hopped over a stone wall in front of a house to barely avoid the blast of a falling German bomb.

Trapped amongst debris from the bomb blast, not sure whether she was injured or not, Ms. Daniels laughed last Friday when she remembered her first thought after the explosion was dismay over the state of her nylons.

“It tore my nylons, the blast did. And all I could think about was that my last pair of nylons was gone! They were very hard to come by during the war, you know,” she said.

A young couple, who by happenstance were out walking at the same time, had seen her go down and, though suspecting she would be dead, quickly ran to the site of the explosion calling out they were coming to help. They got her out with their bare hands, and exchanged a few words of relief.

“I was extremely lucky, but my bike wasn’t so lucky. The young couple drove me to Little Thurock Hospital,” where she was scheduled for nursing duty that day.

“They were somewhat reluctant, but knowing there would be quite a number of casualties, as people were always aware of in those times,” they took her to the hospital and she went “straight to work taking calls” and thought she was fine, Ms. Daniels remembered.

A surgeon in the hospital stopped to speak to the nurse about the latest air raid and, realizing Ms. Daniels must have been at the location of the explosion, remarked how lucky she had been.

After he finished his words, the nurse began shaking violently, and the doctor recognized she was going into shock. She was a patient in her own hospital, but only briefly because too much was going on.

“You just didn’t think that anything would happen to you during the war. I think we lived believing we would survive unscathed always during the war... it was what saved our sanity. Bombs were just part of the daily routine,” she said.

In the years following the first of some close encounters with the bombs of the war, Ms. Daniels would hold a number of positions in the American Red Cross — even though she was a British citizen.

She began serving as a basic nurse during the war in Orsett and Little Thurock hospitals in the early 1940s, where she was an administrative worker before receiving formal nursing training.

During her time serving in hospitals in England, her family was hiding in their basement during a German air raid when they heard a large sound come from the upstairs portion of their house.

“Our house was hit twice, but [this time] was an incendiary bomb. I knew we had been hit because I could see the hole in the roof,” she said.

“There was a whole casement of explosives in our house, and only two had exploded. We were amazingly lucky all of the way through the war, really,” she said.

After serving in two hospitals, Ms. Daniels moved to a job closer to home at a small bomb factory managed by a French Canadian man. It was that manager who, after about six months, suggested she might enjoy working more directly to help the war effort, and earn more money.

He knew the American Red Cross was looking for hard-working people who knew French. She especially liked the idea because she thought she might be able to make contact with Belgian relatives of whom she had heard nothing since the war began.

“We were really in a bad spot, financially. I lived with a newborn daughter and my mother, and if we got one orange a month that was wonderful. We had two dogs we had to look after as well,” she said.

So, in late 1943, she joined the American Red Cross.

“I went for an interview, passed the physical — we all had to work with alarm systems, know how to use a gun, and go out and help people whose homes had been bombed,” Ms. Daniels remembered.

At the Red Cross, they would eventually ask her to manage a factory in France after the Americans invaded Normandy in June 1944.

“They took me very quickly because the American girls were not coming over yet,” she said. “Nine months after I joined — I never would have gotten in so quickly.

She traveled to Paris, where she learned she had been assigned to an American Red Cross warehouse in Rheims that was built on top of one of the Goulete Champagne Works.

There, she was in charge of maintaining a log of all the materials stored in the facility. Her experience in the munitions factory came in handy during this time,

After managing the French warehouse for some time, she was sent to Germany, where she learned to drive a jeep — albeit poorly — and did a “great deal” of court reporting.

She even earned an opportunity to report on the Nuremburg trials, but she had been absent too long from her young daughter, Muse.

While in Germany, Ms. Daniels helped injured soldiers write letters to loved ones in the United States. This, she said, was a humbling experience.

“One man asked me to write a letter to his wife saying ‘I’ve lost a leg, and you don’t want me anymore.’ But I said, now wait a minute, this woman chose to marry you, and you at least owe her the right to reject you,” she said.

After rewriting the letter, the young man received a letter from the woman a few days later.

“I was lucky that she wrote back and said ‘I’m very happy for you to come back home,” Ms. Daniels said.

“Just listening to them, and talking to them was wonderful. It was just wonderful when you struck the right chord and made them smile. It was very sobering, but very rewarding.”