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Source: April 1998 Volume 36 Number 2, Pages 60–62


An Interview with a Red Cross Volunteer

Douglas Craig Sensenig

Page 60

[Editor's note: Miss Emma Beale was age 84, living at 118 Orchard Way, Berwyn, when, on January 12, 1974, she reminisced to an interviewer about World War I service overseas with the American Red Cross. In the years before her death, she was an active History Club member, and this typescript was found recently in the Club files. Her memories of those days immediately following the Armistice paint a vivid picture of many parts of the world which are still in the news today.]

I enlisted with the Red Cross for overseas duty -- to work mostly with refugee children or to provide any other help necessary. Twenty-seven of us sailed on the P & O liner "Orastise" from New York in the Fall of 1918. During the trip the Armistice was signed.

We arrived in Liverpool and were sent to London to await further orders. I was billeted in the Spanish Embassy, there being many foreigners in the city who had to be housed. We spent our days seeing the city and points of interest.

One day a friend and I, while in Westminster Cathedral, noted St. Margaret's Chapel was being decorated for a festive occasion. A Wardess told us Sir Robert Cecil was to be married that afternoon. Miss Austin, Secretary of the Chapel, asked us if we would like to attend the wedding. We of course replied "yes" -"but". She said she was inviting us, and to return in the afternoon; the Wardess would be given instructions as to our seating. We returned at the appointed time, and were seated two rows behind Princess Louise, sister of the then operative

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Queen, Queen Mary, head of the British Imperial Government (Kingdom). Returning home, we told the rest of the party - they did not believe us. But, we had attended the wedding, and saw many of the royal party.

In a week's time we crossed the English Channel to LeHavre -- sleeping on deck chairs as there was a full compliment of people on board. I was awakened by someone standing on the arms of my chair, and the smell of fresh bread. A porter was putting bread down a chute.

We saw some of the town of LeHavre, and then took the boat train for Paris. We were told we would not be able to stay in Paris. Most found jobs --I did -- many were needed, and after a time I looked for a permanent position.

I applied at the Balkan Commission, but that was filled; then I applied at the Palestine Commission. Here I appeared every morning to see if there had been a cancellation, and applied to Major Longfellow, who was very annoyed and most vociferous. His superior, Col. John Finley, a New York Times editor and former Commissioner of Education for the State of New York, was told I was the most persistent person he (Longfellow) had ever met. Col. Finley accepted me after asking if I really wanted to go to Palestine. (Unknown to me until later, he kept my Mother informed of my progress.)

We went from Paris to Marsailles and on to Port Said; then on to Cairo, where we waited a week for permission to go to Jerusalem. There were many British officers in Egypt, and interesting sights. We stayed at Shepherds Hotel, later demolished by fire. We took a troop train to Jerusalem, sleeping on board seats. In the morning everyone looked ill, being completely covered with sand and looking gray and wan.

In Jerusalem we were beautifully treated by the British Army officers who appreciated the help of the American Red Cross. A memory of the days spent there was meeting British archaeologist and soldier of fortune T. E. Lawrence, better known as "Lawrence of Arabia". One day we were invited to tea with Col. Lawrence and the British commander, Gen. Allenby. We found Lawrence shy and rather withdrawn, not fiery as he must have been to achieve his list of accomplishments, winning his way by dressing as an Arab. He was fair with blue eyes, and had organized an Arab army greatly responsible for routing the Turks and German corps that was assisting them; after being joined by Arab forces under Lawrence, the British took Lebanon and Syria. We did not find the movie of later date to fit with our remembrances, although we knew he must be more colorful than he appeared that day.

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From Jerusalem we went to Damascus, where we worked with the refugees and soup kitchens, and the sick Armenian women and children who had followed on foot the British Army for protection and food. It was difficult for the British to shelter the Armenian girls whom they had rescued from concentration camps. Here the Turks and Arabs had taken them, with plans to ship them out all over the world as white slaves. The girls were terrified of the British for fear they would do the same. They were hysterical.

Our greatest scare came one night when a great screaming roused us. We supposed it was a raid. One girl who had been very well treated wanted to escape (although the doors were always open, there was no place to go) to make it back to her "husband". They were not captive. She had gone across the roof and down a pipe, which had given way and she dropped on stones, crushing both ankles. I was sent in the middle of the night across the sands to the British hospital for help, as there was no phone in the building, and no one else to go. We stayed there for some months. The Armenians were in tattered rags, and we kept them busy making new clothes which were given to them when finished.

I shipped out to take a nurse who had been injured to Paris. We went in freight cars, with two cots and open doors. I was given two guns (Belgium 38s) for protection, to shoot into the air and call out "emshe" to keep the Arabs away.

Meanwhile, after we had left, the French were suspicious that the British Protectorate was to be used to keep control of the road to Baghdad (which proved to be the case). The British offered to make a retreat, and the French returned to take over the Protectorate.

We arrived in Constantinople, where an employee of the American Consulate met us. Sarah Favendal(?), daughter of the Consul General, was a good friend of mine. The Consul General was exceedingly gracious to us as he was to all Americans in Constantinople. We had a car at our disposal with chauffeur. The Consul personally took us to Robert College, established by C. R. Robert of New York, and provided for by Americans for many, many years. It offers advanced education to men of all religious backgrounds.

In a week's time we sailed to Marsailles. The rest of the trip to Paris was by train. I spent several years working with children in France and Poland. My experiences in the Middle East were most interesting. It was so primitive; it had scarcely changed from what we think of as Biblical times.

 
 

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