Answering the Call
In the months between mobilization and arriving at the battlefront, the women who volunteered for the Army Nurse Corps underwent a transformation from civilian to military nurses. The process was all-encompassing: they were outfitted with uniforms, issued passports, vaccinated, and equipped for the battlefield. Insurance, allotment papers, and pay were all addressed of while stateside. During World War I, Army nurses were paid $60 per month, with an additional $10 paid for service abroad.
Although they were trained and employed by the military, Army Nurses held no rank during the First World War. Still, each morning, nurses were expected promptly at roll call, where they then reported for marches and drills. When possible, they made time for exploring and sight-seeing, but overnight travel was prohibited: a unit could receive orders to sail at any moment.
After mobilizing, the nurses' movements were faithfully reported in local newspapers. Frequently, excerpts of their letters were reprinted, as was this letter written by Etta Parker.
Hailing from Long Beach, California, Parker enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps on March 26, 1918 . She served with Base Hospital 35, and after initial training at Camp Kearney in California was sent to Camp Sheridan in Alabama for further training before serving overseas. Parker’s letter recounts her day-to-day responsibilities as a nurse on a diphtheria ward, her living quarters, as well as the ways in which she and the other nurses spent their downtime.
At Camp Sheridan, Parker worked dutifully at her assigned post but waited to receive orders for service abroad. Parker would have signed up for foreign service: Army Nurses did not receive orders for overseas service at random or against their will, but only if they had volunteered for it. When those orders did come, nurses were permitted to bring only a single steamer trunk, a suitcase or satchel, and their blanket roll as they embarked on the voyage to Europe.
In July 1918, Parker got her wish. The staff of Base Hospital 35 sailed out of Hoboken, New Jersey on July 15 aboard the Port Melbourne, arriving in England on July 31 and Le Havre, France on August 7. From there, the hospital unit departed for the front.