Fayette County women in World War I

Nettie Hunt was the first nurse from Fayette County to see overseas service during World War 1. When America entered the war, Nettie went to St. Louis and volunteered for Red Cross work.

Henrietta (Nettie) Hunt was born and raised in Carson Township, the youngest daughter of Haroldson Lafayette and Ella Rose Myers Hunt. After graduating eighth grade, Nettie attended the University at Valparaiso, Indiana.

She was a member of the first surgical dressing classes and was made an inspector for this work at Washington University Medical School. While in St. Louis, she also began work in orthopedics at Barnes Hospital.

After a year Nurse Hunt got her sailing orders for overseas duty and left St. Louis in August 1918. She sailed with the 144th Infantry of the Black Hawk division from Camp Grant, being assigned to an orthopedic hospital in Evreux, France.

Her last five months of service in France was spent in the port of Brest where the Red Cross cared for all returning sick and wounded soldiers. Part of their job was to serve coffee and doughnuts to troops as they passed through the embarkation sheds.

Some days as many as 24,000 soldiers passed through and they had the ability to make 4,000 cups of coffee at one time.

After her return home, Nettie assisted in local efforts and was chairperson of the committee on nursing activities of Fayette County. Nettie lived out her life in Carson Township, dying May 26, 1972 with burial in Ramsey Cemetery.

Gertrude Chapmans service spanned three and one-half years and earned her recognition as the Fayette County woman to serve the longest from 1918 to 1921.

Gertrude was 42 years old when she joined the American Red Cross in early 1918. The daughter of Ashael and Mary Elizabeth Newcomer Chapman, Gertrude was born in Vandalia December 2, 1876. Her parents owned a brickyard in town.

By April of 1918 Gertrude was headed overseas as a secretary-stenographer in the Home and Hospital Bureau, Paris, whose job it was to provide a communication link between anxious families in America and soldiers in the field.

Some of her experiences are included in the book, Fayette County (Illinois) In The World War. Gertrude stated that she wrote the piece not to honor herself but to show the work of the American Red Cross and the experiences of many women in its ranks.

She wrote that within three days of arriving in Paris she experienced a German air raid. At intervals the Germans bombarded Paris by day with the long-range guns, and at night with planes. One got used to those in a short time and took them as a matter of course.

In fact, we wondered what was the matter with the Germans if they neglected us for a longer interval than usual. Bill [Kaiser Wilhelm] was on the wrong track; he only got us riled.

Her experience was put to use in her next assignment in Emergency Refugee Service at Red Cross hospital in Gare dIvry. Part of her job was to assist French refugees whose homes had been destroyed and who were fleeing in advance of the Germans.

From here Gertrude was transferred to the American Red Cross Military Hospital No. 41 in Neuilly, France. She also worked in Field Hospital No. 31 and Evacuation Hospital No. 11 near Sorcy on the St. Mihiel front and at the Evacuation Hospital at Froidos near the Verdun front, both bloody battlefields.

We lived in cold tent or barrack; waded around in the rain and mud; built the canteen fire; made cocoa and sandwiches; washed tin cups and kettles; visited the hospital wards and distributed chocolate, chewing gum, cigarettes and magazines, wrote letters for those unable to do so.

We saw our planes fly over in battle formation; the troops going up to the front; heard the roar of the guns and saw the flashes at night. Then the wounded would begin to come in. Most often they were brought in and were evacuated during the night through the cold, rain and mud.

On New Years day, 1919, Gertrude was assigned as part of the staff of the American Red Cross Commission to the Balkan States. As secretary to the Director of Nursing Services, Gertrude was stationed in Rome before being sent to Greece, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania and Rumania.

She wrote of these experiences, At the close of the World War [the Balkans] were utterly unable to cope with conditions alone. In many parts, villages had been destroyed and the surrounding country pillaged.

The people were in rags, homeless, dying of hunger, exposure and disease. The few hospitals were overflowing the patients; without medicines, beds or bed clothing Most of the doctors had been killed in the war and the Balkans have no trained nurses.

In April 1920 Gertrude was assigned to Paris Headquarters and in November 1921 returned to the United States, her three and one-half years of service at an end.

Gertrude Chapman died April 6, 1967, in Washington D.C., and is buried with family in South Hill Cemetery, Vandalia.

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