Tag Archives: WWII

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.

Mary E. Fox photograph collection at GMU Special Collections and Archives

Originally posted on George Mason University’s Special Collections & Archives blog Vault217 on March 21, 2014 by Greta Kuriger Suiter.

In honor of Women’s History Month I thought it would be appropriate to share a collection of photographs taken by, and mostly of, women from the 1940s. The Mary Elsie Fox photograph collection documents Fox’s, and her friends’, personal lives in Northern Virginia and Washington D.C. during the 1940s, at a time when she was working at the newly opened Pentagon. The collection consists of 423 photographs and one document from a discarded photo album that was found by George Mason University staff and was donated to the University Special Collections and Archives in 2006. The images in the collection date from 1935 to 1959. The entire collection has been scanned and is available as a digital collection.

Screenshot from the Mary Elsie Fox digital collection. George Mason University, Special Collections & Archives

Screenshot from the Mary Elsie Fox digital collection. George Mason University, Special Collections & Archives.

The Fox collection is an excellent example of vernacular photography. It was created for personal use and with no artistic aspirations. In many of the photographs Fox and her friends are featured socializing and posing in or near Washington D.C.. Some of the images were also taken in Norway and other geographic locations in the United States and Europe that Fox herself may not have visited since she is not as visible in these photographs. As a collection, some of the images could have been taken by Fox, though it is difficult to know for certain, but all of them were collected, stored, and used by her. Many of the images are identified by writing on their verso indicating dates, names, and places, but there are also many that are not identified in any way. Some of the handwriting differs indicating that Fox was not the only one writing descriptions and that she may have received photographs from friends as gifts. These photographs serve as evidence of average people who chose to photograph themselves for their own enjoyment, posterity, and memory. Today they exist removed from their original function and may provide useful information for researchers about how people lived and recorded their existence at a certain time and place in history.

Screenshot of the Mary E. Fox photograph collection on Tumblr.

Screenshot of the Mary E. Fox photograph collection on Tumblr.

Last fall, for the course HIST 696: Clio Wired: An Introduction to History and New Media at George Mason University, I created a digital project on Tumblr using photographs from the Fox collection. This site breaks down the photographs by dates into piles that can be shuffled through. Click on the image above to visit the site.

A Wartime Thanksgiving

Do you ever wonder what Thanksgiving is like for those in the midst of war far away from their loved ones? Sometimes we can catch a glimpse of these holidays spent away from home via the collections in our archives. For instance, tucked among the papers of Dr. James Thomson is a 1944 Thanksgiving dinner menu for the 45th General Hospital located in Naples, Italy. Thomson was a surgeon at this hospital and thanks to his saving this menu we know that they were treated to a proper Thanksgiving meal. The staff feasted on traditional fare such as roast turkey, chestnut dressing, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. This meal provided the medical staff with a little slice of home in the midst of treating the wounded soldiers. They certainly earned a good meal as the daily patient average for the hospital in November 1944 was 2,253.1  Below are images of the menu, photographs of the mess halls for the hospital, and a photograph of Dr. Thomson.

These and many more fascinating items are found in the collections at Tompkins-McCaw Library, Special Collections and Archives at Virginia Commonwealth University. For more information about the James L. and Dorothy Knowles Thomson papers please view the finding aid located in the Virginia Heritage database. To learn more about the collections at Tompkins-McCaw Library please visit our website.


Thanksgiving menu, 45th General Hospital 1944

Thanksgiving menu, 45th General Hospital 1944

Officers and nurses mess hall, 45th General Hospital, Naples, Italy, 1945

Officers and nurses mess hall, 45th General Hospital, Naples, Italy, 1945


Detachment mess hall, 45th General Hospital, Naples, Italy, 1945

Detachment mess hall, 45th General Hospital, Naples, Italy, 1945

Dr. James L. Thompson, Bagnoli, Italy, April 1944

Dr. James L. Thomson, Bagnoli, Italy, April 1944.

Brashear, Alton D. From Lee to Bari: The History of the Forty-Fifth General Hospital, 1940-1945. Whittet & Shepperson (Richmond, Va.) 1957.