Nora Saltonstall Has the Time of Her Life on the Western Front

By July 1918, 23-year-old Nora Saltonstall had spent nine months in war-torn France volunteering with the American Red Cross. She was working on the western front as assistant to Mrs. Charles Daly, head of a mobile hospital unit attached to the French army. Nora was the daughter of a well-to-do Boston Brahmin family, but she was having the time of her life working as housekeeper, secretary and chauffeur.

Nora Saltonstall in her Red Cross uniform. Courtesy Eleanor Saltonstall papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

But Nora Saltonstall had one concern: her older brother Leverett had enlisted in the U.S. Army, and his division was being sent overseas. She felt bad for the family, but thought her brother wouldn’t want to miss what she and her generation in Europe were experiencing.

Leverett and Nora Saltonstall would survive World War I. Nora Saltonstall would earn the Croix de Guerre, but she would die of typhoid at the age of 24 while on a trip to the West Coast. Leverett would have a successful political career as U.S. senator from Massachusetts and governor of the state.

On July 5, 1918, Nora Saltonstall wrote to her friend Clara Danielson,

Dear Miss D.

If I remember right your birthday comes this month. I send this in the same mail with one for Dick but I fear they will be late. I had luck with Muriel’s arriving on just the 26th.

Although supposedly not busy I have been very much on the go lately. Between my regular job of housekeeping, looking after the material, and we have had to list & repack over 25 cases, and running errands, & trying to learn about the insides of the Ford, and celebrating the 4th, time has passed very quickly. I would hate to say how many parties I have been on in the last week, they are over now but I feel as if I had done nothing but lunch & dine out. In the first place Mrs. Daly has just been cited for the Croix de Guerre. It has not been officially given because she is on her permission now, but the medecin chef invited us to dinner in her honor. She deserves to receive it because she has worked hard; I believe it is fairly hard for women to get it so we feel very pleased & proud.

There is a little farm restaurant on our grounds where we go very often. We Eat among the ducks & chickens & are served by a crazy maid, but we get strawberries & cream & custard for desert so we like it Extremely. I love to get away because at home I am always responsible for the maid who is very careless & liable to throw food down people’s backs. It is up to me always to scold her & I hate it. After the war if we are bankrupt I see back to top that my fate will be to run a boarding house — don’t you think I would look well in that capacity?

Nora Saltonstall

Nora Saltonstall

I just got a cable about Leverett. I am sorry for the family’s sake that he is coming but I am sure he would have regretted missing the Experience over here. After the war there is going to be a difference between those who were in France & those not. I realize perfectly that those at home work just as hard if not harder, & that they have all the dirty uninteresting things to do, but after the war there is going to be a fellow feeling & Esprit de corps amongst those who have been to the front which Every man will be glad to be a part of. You have no conception how different things are here from what you really think.

Neither for soldiers or hospitals is it one continual grind. We have our hard weeks when we neither Eat nor sleep regularly but then again we have stretches of tranquility & peace. In a sense you waste a lot of time but you have to be organized for the worst which means that a great part of the time your personnel is far too large. We have moments of thinking our unit much too cumbersome & then we look back to the time when we were far too few. It is all very interesting & I am sorry you are not here to get a taste of it.

Lunch is half way through so I must stop.

Much love home,

With thanks to the Eleanor Saltonstall papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.


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