During World War II American Red Cross services were in high gear. By the wars end in 1945, over 7.5 million volunteers supported 40,000 paid Red Cross staff around the world. “Nearly every family in America contained a member who had either served as a Red Cross volunteer, made contributions of money or blood, or was a recipient of Red Cross services.”
My family’s Red Cross volunteer was my Great Aunt Kay.
On June 6, 1945, just about a month after VE Day, Kay Kehoe boarded the Queen Mary to Europe, where she spent the next 18 months traveling all over Great Britain and the Continent as a Clubmobiler. Red Cross Service Clubs offered meals, recreational activities, overnight accommodations and amenities like barbershops and laundries to American soldiers stationed all over the world; Clubmobiles were designed to be like service clubs on wheels.
These half-ton trucks and single-deck buses, acquired by the Red Cross from a former London bus company, were converted to literal welcome wagons. Each was operated by three American Red Cross women and a local driver, and were equipped for “making and serving coffee and doughnuts and for distributing newspapers, chewing gum, and other small items” to the troops. Some had phonographs and loudspeakers, and others were even outfitted with movie projectors.
Kay Kehoe disembarked from the Queen Mary in Scotland, and didn’t stop traveling for the next 18 months. She and the girls of Clubmobile Group A boarded a train from Scotland to England, then took a boat across the chilly English channel to France, then boarded another train to Paris. From there, they traveled all over Europe in a truck the size of an ambulance, delivering coffee and doughnuts to troops through the truck’s windows. Occasionally they’d stop in service clubs — Kay remembers a particularly big one in Berlin — where they’d work as ‘club girls’, acting as hostesses to the troops. But being on the road was the type of service Kay Kehoe liked best.
When it got too hot on the dusty French roads in the summer, the girls of Clubmobile A served lemonade in place of coffee. “Most of the boys were in a staging area, just waiting to go home,” says Kehoe. “We’d serve them their lemonade and doughnuts and gab with them, and sometimes they’d invite you to come to the G.I. Club for a dance. There we’d dance and listen to records, and they had beer and soda and pretty much anything you wanted at the clubs.”
As for cocktails, says Kay, “they didn’t have the kinds of ingredients you’d need to make fancy drinks, like Martinis, Old Fashions, and Manhattans. But, since it was France, you could pretty much always get your hands on cognac, and all the G.I. Clubs had Coca Cola.” So that’s what they drank.
This weekend, let’s raise a glass to Kay Kehoe and the girls of Clubmobile A!
A votre sante!