Frank L. Lowther: Enlisted Man, Fledgling Archivist

Today’s post comes to us from the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library at the University of Virginia, Historical Collections & Services, and is written by Janet Pearson.

Frank L. Lowther (1919-1998) was an enlisted man with the United States 8th Evacuation Hospital, sponsored and organized by the University of Virginia. Private Lowther traveled with the 8th Evac as the mobile unit trained and then served in North Africa and Italy during World War II.

When Lowther returned home, he kept enough mementoes of his experiences to make an archivist proud. He saved personal items officially issued to him including his dog tags, pay record, rest camp meal ticket, immunization record, and identity cards. From these items we know he had blue eyes and red hair, wore glasses, and was born on 20 June 1919. He took good care of his Troop Assignment Card which served as his punch ticket for meals on board his ship (with marks for 48 out of 50 meals). Before the spring offensive that ended the war in 1945, he spent about five days at the Montecatini Rest Camp in Tuscany which would have been a welcome respite from the long winter spent in the Apennine Mountains. He was immunized for smallpox, typhoid, typhus, and tetanus, but not cholera or yellow fever. Those immunizations were important as more patients at the 8th Evacuation Hospital were treated for illness than wounds or injuries.

An assortment of items saved by Private Frank Lowther from his service with the U.S. 8th Evacuation Hospital during World War II.

An assortment of items saved by Private Frank Lowther from his service with the U.S. 8th Evacuation Hospital during World War II. Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, University of Virginia. Photo by Dan Cavanaugh.

Private Lowther also brought back unused V-mail forms and letters from home that had gone through the V-mail process. V-mail, short for Victory mail, was the main way soldiers kept in touch with folks back home. While it seems cumbersome to write a letter, censor it, copy it to microfilm, ship it, and then print it upon arrival, it saved tons of shipping space for war materiel. One mail sack weighing 45 pounds could carry the microfilm that represented letters that would fill 37 sacks and weigh 57 times as much. And V-mail had the advantage of foiling espionage communication since invisible ink and microdots would not show up in a photocopy.

While overseas, Lowther had an opportunity to enjoy Italian opera. He brought back a playbill from the Royal Opera House in Naples which had been damaged by bombs at the beginning of the war, but reopened late in 1943. The San Carlo Opera company presented “Rigoletto” by G. Verdi. The one newspaper in the Lowther collection is the Mediterranean edition of The Stars and Stripes, dated 30 August 1945 with articles announcing “Gen. M’Arthur Poised To Enter Japan Today” and “Goering And Hess Head First Group To Face Nuremberg Trial.”

Tons of military currency was printed in the United States to pay troops overseas. Private Lowther brought some of it back. He saved 1, 2, 5, 10, and 50 lire notes; the 1 and 2 lire notes were not printed after the first series because inflation had rendered them useless. Another note of a different kind came home. It was from William H. Laird, the unit chaplain, and read, “Your trials and tribulations have broken my heart. They are unique. I have never heard of any thing like them before. As proof of my deepest sympathy, I give you this card which entitles you to ONE HOUR OF CONDOLENCE.”

One last item in Lowther’s box is a memento that came from another U.S. soldier. It was worn by a paratrooper dropped behind enemy lines and served to identify him as an American so he would not be mistaken for an Axis soldier by invading U.S. assault forces. The off-white armband is made of oilcloth, 4” by 16.5”, and has a 48-star U.S. flag printed on it. Holes on both ends allowed it to be attached to a sleeve by safety pins.

The Claude Moore Health Sciences Library has an extensive collection of artifacts, documents, and photographs related to the 8th Evac. Our Virginia Heritage guide helps us and others find the thousands of items in our collection, which is open for research. A web exhibit, The 8th Evacuation Hospital: The University of Virginia in World War II, tells the story of the unit and includes recollections of unit members and correspondence between the head nurse and the next-of-kin of soldiers who died at the hospital.

We are indebted to Frank Lowther both for his service to his country and for his donation which helps us preserve and tell the story of the past.

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