The Immortal Ten and Their Impact on Rail Safety

Written by Sylvia Hernandez, Archivist, The Texas Collection

 

Black and White portrait collage of the Immortal Ten
The February 1927 edition of The Baylor Monthly was dedicated in memoriam of the ten young Men who perished in the Round Rock Bus-Train accident. The issue describes the services and provides a look into the outpouring of support for the families and university. [Winchester-Moore Family papers #460, Box 1, Folder 11.]
As the Baylor University Men’s Basketball team travels to the University of Oklahoma today, we can’t help but remember the tragedy befallen on Baylor 95 years ago. On January 22, 1927, the Immortal Ten perished in a bus-train collision at the Mays Street grade crossing in Round Rock on their way to Austin for a similar event. The weather was abysmal, and they could barely see the train coming. Sadly, these types of accidents were a regular occurrence at the time. When we speak of our young men, and the many others, we often overlook the impact these events had locally and nationally.

In 1921, 7,000 lives were lost to grade crossing accidents nationally1. Obviously, this was a problem. By July 1922 the American Railway Association introduced the Careful Crossing Campaign to highlight the high number of fatalities. Newspapers mentioned safety mechanism implementations at crossings in hopes to make drivers slow down3. The Texas Highway Bulletin also noted that the only safe grade crossing was the one that had been eliminated4. Eventually, legislation to reduce or eliminate grade crossings was introduced at the state level in December 19225. It was not passed.

That same year, the Railroad Commission acknowledged the issue but cited that since there were no laws dictating who must bear the cost of replacing the passes or to give them the right to judge a passing as dangerous, then it was not necessarily their responsibility. The commission did however state that they would join the highway commission to appeal to the legislature and abide by the state law6. Legislation for the Railroad Commission granting safety authority over crossings and eliminations was presented in 1923. It included expenses would be the responsibility of the state, county, and rail commission7.

As Passenger rail travel began to decline many smaller lines began to feel the financial strain of supplementing grade crossing elimination. The states of Texas and Ohio were able to acquire portions of the funding needed from the railroads to supplement state and federal allocations. Both states were early to realize the support.

In 1927, after the Baylor accident, Texas Legislators Ray Stout of Ennis and Roscoe Munge of Mason wrote a bill to eliminate grade crossings. It was not passed by Governor Dan Moody. The dangerous Mays Street crossing was not addressed until 1935 when the first state railroad overpass was finally built in Round Rock8. Finally, the state highway commission called on the railroads to meet and discuss eliminating grade-level crossings in response to the emergency federal highway construction program9. Progress.

President Roosevelt began adding grade crossing elimination to the works relief job efforts in 1935, during the Great Depression. He designated $200,000,000 for 3,500,000 men to be allocated by November 1. By October 22, only $2,000,000 was allocated. Turns out, a clause was inserted into the federal legislation stating rail companies were not responsible for any cost of the crossing elimination10. Because of this, individual states and the federal government were the only responsible parties; the states were only bound to supply the land. Except for Texas and Ohio, many state projects stalled. Texas was awarded $23,000,000 for Highway work, $10,855,982 specifically for grade crossing elimination11.

Over time, safety measures such as over and under passes, and lighting systems have been implemented at many crossings in Texas and throughout the country. In 2017, the Mays Street Bridge in Round Rock was refurbished with a $100, 000 donation from the Union Pacific Rail Road. The city of Round Rock renamed it “The Immortal Ten” bridge which is now adorned with green lamp posts and plaques12 to honor the lives and impact of the young men who perished there ninety-five years ago.

Today, as we remember our Immortal Ten, let us also remember the others who lost their lives in similar fashion as well as the traveling party we send out this weekend.

 

Sources

[1] [5] [6]“Eliminating Road Crossings is Plan.” Wise County Messenger (Decatur, TX), Dec. 15, 1922.

[2] “C.C.C.–What Does it Mean!” Lubbock Avalanche (Lubbock, TX), Jul. 14, 1922.

[3] “Grade-Crossing Plans Make Driver Slow Up.” Austin American (Austin TX), Aug. 6, 1922.

[4] “Spark Plugs.” Austin American Statesman (Austin, TX), Nov. 12, 1922.

[7]“Five Items Highway Legislation Be Asked Of Special Session. The Eagle (Bryan, TX), Apr. 17, 1923.

[8] Danner, Megan, “The Immortal Ten,” Waco History, accessed January 20, 2022, https://wacohistory.org/items/show/103.

[9] “Call Rail Engineers to Study Eliminating of Grade Crossings.” Longview News-Journal (Longview, TX), Jul. 24, 1935.

[10] Pearson, Drew and Robert S. Allen. “The Daily Washington Merry-Go-Round.” Waco News-Tribune (Waco, TX), Oct. 22, 1935.

[11] “Texas Gets Nearly $23,000,000 Funds for Highway Work.” Corsicana Daily Sun (Corsicana TX), Jun. 5, 1935.

[12] “City of Round Rock Honors Baylor’s Immortal Ten.” Baylor University. Baylor magazine, Spring 2017. https://www.baylor.edu/alumni/magazine/1503/index.php?id=941100

Research Ready: November-December 2021

The Texas Collection posts newly accessible resources each month. If you have any questions or would like to use these materials, please let us know and we would be happy to assist!

Finding Aids

November

  • Church Women United in Waco records # 2073
    • The Church Women United in Waco records describes the activities of the organization through by-laws, meeting minutes and agendas, correspondence, budget records, group projects and ministries. Scrapbooks with pamphlets, yearbooks, handbooks, clippings, magazines, and newsletters are also present.
  • Lawrence Dudgeon Collins papers #1931
    • The Lawrence Dudgeon Collins papers contain a variety of materials related to his service in the 56th Evacuation Hospital, also known as the Baylor Unit. The collection consists primarily of letters Collins wrote from North Africa and Italy to his wife during World War II and his subsequent efforts to type and edit those letters into a coherent narrative for publication.
  • Alice Davidson Boyer papers # 1248 
    • The Alice Davidson Boyer papers contain a variety of materials on topics regarding Waco women’s organizations, Boyer’s family genealogy, photographs, clippings, and transcripts from the Texas State College for Women Radio Program.
  • Bernice Dittmer papers #1702
    • The Bernice S. Dittmer Papers contain proofs and copies of manuscripts from one of Dittmer’s literary works, The Reverend Uncle Bert. This biography covers the life of B.M.G Williams, a former rector at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church in El Paso, Texas.
  • Waco Press Club records #2582 
    • The Waco Press club records include extensive minutes, yearbooks, and scrapbooks, as well as some correspondence. The records reflect the interests, charitable giving, and community involvement of the club.
December
  • Bessie Lee Fitzhugh papers #64
    • The Bessie Lee Fitzhugh papers contain the personal papers of Waco area schoolteacher and administrator Bessie Lee Fitzhugh. Also in the collection are her research and manuscripts for Bells Over Texas, a book about the history of bells in Texas.
  • Fannie Mae Howell papers #783
    • The Fannie Mae Howell papers contain a variety of materials, mostly within a scrapbook, regarding Ms. Howell’s final year as a student at Waco High School in 1935 and the graduating class.
    • The Lois Billings Slater papers primarily contain materials from her time as a student at Baylor University, 1934-1936.

Christmas Tamales – From Our Cookbooks to Your Table!

This post was written by Jacqueline Devereaux, staff archivist at The Texas Collection

During the holiday season, a beloved food tradition across Texas is tamales. Generally, tamales are a Mesoamerican dish with cornmeal dough – masa – wrapped around seasoned meat, cheese, beans, or vegetables baked or streamed in corn husks. To assist with the labor-intensive process, a host may invite family and friends to a tamalada to make dozens and dozens of tamales. Because of the time and effort required for tamales, many home cooks choose to make tamales for celebration days. Our staff expert, Maria, brings in this delicious treat for the Texas Collection each year to our Christmas party!

If you are interested in learning more about the history of tamales or finding a recipe to test out yourself, we have plenty of options to explore at The Texas Collection…including an extensive collection of cookbooks – over 9000 of them Texas cookbooks!

Here are cookbook highlights featuring different tamale recipes:

The Tex-Mex Cookbook by Robb Walsh presents a historic look at the development of Texan traditions; it also includes a Christmas tamale recipe! The first picture on page 89 provides a recipe for the masa and a pork filling. The other picture is from page 84, and it shows a woman collecting corn husks for the tamale preparation.
The La Gloria school in La Gloria and nearby Falfurrias, Texas community cookbook compiled recipes during the 1990s from students, teachers, and the community. Page 74 includes a pork tamale recipe.

Tantalizing Tamales by Gwyneth Doland shares over 40 different possibilities for tamale fillings. From the sweet cinnamon to the savory green chile chicken or salmon tamales with peach salsa, this cookbook offers numerous options.

Works Cited:

Doland, Gwyneth. Tantalizing Tamales . Tucson, Ariz: Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2007. Print.

La Gloria School Cookbook, Falfurrias, Texas. Collierville, TN: Fundcraft Publishing, 1996. Print.

Walsh, Robb. The Tex-Mex Cookbook : a History in Recipes and Photos . 1st ed. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2004. Print.

Praise and Perseverance: Henry Winans

This blog post was written by Graduate Student Assistant B.J. Thome. He is a Ph.D. candidate in English Literature in his second year at The Texas Collection. This post is the fourth and final in a series about the 56th Evacuation Hospital, an Army medical unit with close ties to the Baylor University College of Medicine, which was active during World War II.

Henry Morgan Winans, Sr., served as Chief Medical Officer of the 56th Evacuation Hospital from 1942 until 1944, when health problems forced him to leave his post and return home to the United States. [Jabez Galt papers, Accession #2347, Box #2, Folder #2, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.]
Henry Morgan Winans, like Lawrence Dudgeon Collins, Jabez Galt, and Ben Merrick, served in the 56th Evacuation Hospital during World War II. However, while the others were relatively young and inexperienced doctors when called to active duty, Winans was nearly fifty years old, had practiced medicine for over twenty years, and had even served in the Navy during World War I. Given his greater experience, Winans served at the rank of Lt. Colonel and Chief Medical Officer of the Baylor Unit and briefly served as the unit’s commanding officer during training maneuvers.

His greater experience and higher rank gave Henry Winans a broader perspective on the operations of the unit than the junior doctors. Whereas Collins, Galt, and Merrick were concerned primarily with the difficulties they faced treating their own patients on their own wards, Winans often dealt with larger scale concerns. As Chief Medical Officer, he had to oversee the treatment of patients in all unit wards, balance the resources available to support treatments, manage the complaints of doctors and nurses under his command, and deal with military bureaucracy.

As a result of this broader perspective, Winans’s essays and letters are sometimes more reflective than his younger colleagues. One recurring theme that arises is his pride in the work done by the members of the unit. In his essays, Winans repeatedly praises the work of the nurses and doctors serving in terrible conditions. For example, in Dragoni, Italy, the Baylor Unit faced the pervasive problem of rain and mud. Daily rains turned the entire ground to deep mud. Furthermore, since they were living in tents, it was nearly impossible to dry out. Despite these conditions, however, the nurses and doctors excelled in their care for their patients.

In Dragoni, the 56th Evacuation Hospital faced constant rains and mud. This photograph shows the depth of the mud in one of the drier areas of the hospital. [Ben A. Merrick papers, Accession #3896, Box #[200], Folder #4, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.]
The problem of rain and mud was compounded by the fact that the hospital was set up in tents. As the rains continued, the members of the unit had to divert streams of mud and water to prevent the streams from flowing through their tents and removing their possessions. [Ben A. Merrick papers, Accession #3896, Box #[200], Folder #4, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.]
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Additionally, Winans observes the unit’s night nurses heading from the wards to the mess tent after their shifts and comments on the difficulties they face: “The night nurses for whom this breakfast is supper, are subdued and calm. They have put in 12 hours of taking care of at least 120 patients each with the aid of two ward men. They have admitted patients, fed patients, given medications, watched the seriously ill, administered all the complicated details in black-out. They have gone from tent to tent in the mud with NO light, and inside, have carried on with only a shielded lantern or flashlight. A lonesome job full of heavy responsibility and trying details.”

In another passage, he praises the work of the unit, noting how the doctors and nurses have performed admirably. Despite the mud and rain, the efforts of the 56th allow patients to “have laboratory studies, X-ray studies, and treatment equal to that obtained in the best hospitals at home, [. . .] we deal with the most serious problems such as meningitis, encephalitis, pneumonia and dysentery. Theoretically our seriously ill patients can be evacuated to a general hospital, but practically they are the very ones we have to deal with here because they cannot stand a move of 15 to 50 miles.” The success rate of their treatment was incredibly high. In November of 1943, Winans notes “the medical service has diagnosed and treated over 10,000 cases with only 5 deaths.”

Winans was not the only one to recognize the heroism of the nurses of the 56th Evacuation Hospital. Three nurses from the 56th Evacuation Hospital received the Silver Star award for their actions at Anzio. Lt. Marry Roberts, seen receiving her award in this photograph, was the first woman in the United States Army to receive the Silver Star. [Ben A Merrick papers, Accession #3896, Box #[200], Folder #4, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.]
While on the beachhead of Anzio, Winans again celebrates the heroism of those serving in and supporting the operations of the 56th: “First and most conspicuous are the surgeons, nurses, and enlisted men who keep the operations going day and night—regardless. But what about the mess crew which has never failed to feed us; the truck drivers, and the mail orderly who drive over roads likely to be [shelled] at any time to bring us our water, food, and mail? The men on the switch board; the guard who walks his post by himself—and without cover; the officers on the medical service who must see a large number of patients and deal with matters requiring medical concentration under circumstances designed to produce anything BUT. And the war nurses who especially at night without the help of ‘group psychology’ must walk the wards with one ward man and keep treatments going, maintain discipline, and reassurance: All of this WITHOUT ANY PROTECTION?”

In contrast to the junior doctors emphasizing the problems and difficulties they faced, Winans emphasized the heroism and determination he saw as doctors, nurses, and enlisted men faced their challenges head on. Winans does note the horrors of war’s devastation and the frustrations of military bureaucracy; however, he often chooses to praise the endurance of his fellow officers working to save and preserve lives in the face of those horrors.

Research Ready: September-October 2021

The Texas Collection posts newly accessible resources each month. If you have any questions or would like to use these materials, please let us know and we would be happy to assist!

 Finding Aids
  • BU records: Program for Regional Studies, Accession #BU/265
    • BU Records: Program for Regional Studies contains correspondence, records, grant proposals, and other materials related to the operation of Baylor University’s Program for Regional Studies and its interdisciplinary research concerning Texas and surroundings regions.

 

 

 

 

 

TEXAS OVER TIME: THE WASHINGTON AVENUE BRIDGE AT 120 YEARS, 1901-2021, WACO, TEXAS.

By Geoff Hunt, Audio and Visual Curator, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.         

Texas has changed quite a bit over the years, as is readily seen in our vast photograph and postcard collections. To help bring some of those changes to life, we’ve created a “Texas over Time” blog series that will illustrate the construction and renovations of buildings, street scenes, and more. Our collections are especially strong on Waco and Baylor images, but look for some views beyond the Heart of Texas, too.


Waco’s Washington Avenue Bridge

This photograph of the Waco’s Washington Avenue Bridge was taken in the early 1900’s at an unidentified event on the west side of the Brazos River. Source: Fred Acree Papers, Box 2G12, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.

The Washington Avenue Bridge opened at a time when the Suspension Bridge was the main crossing point over the Brazos River in the Waco area. In operation since 1870, the Suspension Bridge had become over used and needed relief from the constant traffic and congestion. Waco was growing rapidly, and according to the Texas State Historical Association: “Waco’s population grew from 3,008 in 1870 to 7,295 by 1880; by 1900 there were 20,686 people living in the city, making it the sixth largest population center in Texas.” Consequently, the city needed a new and reliable way to cross the flood-prone Brazos River, and the Washington Avenue Bridge was welcomed as a great addition to the city’s dated infrastructure.

Completed in 1901, the Washington Avenue Bridge stretches a total of 557 feet across the Brazos River in Waco, Texas. It is situated directly alongside the Waco Suspension Bridge and connects Elm Street to Washington Avenue. According to the National Park Service, “at the time of its construction, it was the longest single-span truss bridge in the southwest.” Additionally, today, the National Parks Service states that the Washington Avenue Bridge is the longest and oldest of this type of vehicular truss structure still in active use in the United States. Its deck is made of concrete, the main structure is steel, and its substructure is both concrete and steel. It was built by J.H. Sparks of St. Joseph, Missouri, costing $93,300 to construct. The bridges’ chief engineer was John Wharton Maxey of Houston. When built, the bridge was jointly owned by both McLennan County and the City of Waco due to both entities contributing $50,000 apiece to cover construction costs.

At the time of construction, its primary use was intended for horses and wagons as well as pedestrian traffic. However, it is evident that its engineers had the foresight 120 years ago to design it with the future in mind as it has remained suitable for most forms of vehicular traffic to this day. This does come at a cost as the old bridge has seen many automobile related accidents over the years causing potential damage to its structural integrity. Further, when the bridge was first built there were no guardrails installed leaving the structure and its trusses vulnerable to this type of damage. As a result, the bridge has undergone the installation of at least two different versions of guardrails and the raising of its curbs. It has also had modifications and additions to its pedestrian walkway allowing safe passage for countless walkers and cyclists throughout the years.

The bridge continues to be well-preserved as it has since its construction by the City of Waco and McLennan County. This includes continual structural maintenance, corrosion work, and resurfacing to keep it safe for generations of travelers. Its biggest overhaul was in 2009 at a cost of nearly 4.8 million dollars. The restoration was performed by the Texas Department of Transportation’s Bridge Division Team. The team brought the bridge back to its original black finish from its later silvery-grey color. Additionally, the overhaul included: “Removing the traffic railing and replacing it with a new crash tested rail, removing and replacing the concrete deck and sidewalk, repairing and replacing steel bridge members (less than five percent of original material replaced), cleaning and painting all material, and reinstalling and painting the existing pedestrian bridge rail.” This 2009 restoration proved to be a great success, and the City of Waco deemed it safe for continual usage for both vehicular and pedestrian traffic, and now after 120 years, it still serves a vital role in connecting people and businesses on both sides of the Brazos River in this city.


The “Then” picture in the image sequence above shows the Washington Avenue Bridge by an unknown photographer in about 1903. Source: General Scrapbook Collection #3991, Box 1 Folder 1, The Texas Collection, Baylor University. The “Now’ image is of a similar view of the same but from the Waco Drive Bridge and taken in October 2021, by GH.


When the bridge was built in 1901, it was done primarily for the use of horse and buggy as well as pedestrian traffic. Additionally, it included no guardrails to protect its trusses from motor vehicles (as can be see in this postcard) that would later become its main source of traffic. Postcard-Waco-Washington Avenue Bridge, Source: General Postcard collection, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.

This image is from a crop of a larger Fred Gildersleeve photograph taken from the rooftop of Waco’s Alico Building in about 1911. It is looking to the east of the city towards the Brazos River and the Washington Avenue Bridge can be seen to the right of the image. Washington Avenue is visible in great detail and this street was once occupied by many equestrian related businesses including stables and blacksmiths as can be seen in the image. This photograph was digitized from Fred Gildersleeve’s original 8×10-inch glass plate negative (hence the fine detail and ability to crop). Source: Gildersleeve-Conger collection, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.


This photograph of an accident on Waco’s Washington Avenue Bridge demonstrates the vulnerability of the trusses and how this guardrail seems to have protected the structure from major damage. However, the entire guardrail system pictured was later replaced with an improved design that included raising the curb and giving the overall design even more rigidity allowing for better crash protection than seen here. The condition of the driver in this image is not known and it is obvious that the accident drew many onlookers from the nearby Waco area around the bridge. This photograph was taken by Fred Marlar in the early 1950’s. Source: Fred Marlar papers, Negative #2910, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.
Another view taken of the same accident as above. This photograph was taken by Fred Marlar in the early 1950’s. Source: Fred Marlar papers, Negative #2910, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.

Washington Avenue Bridge (west side) under renovation. The bridge saw its biggest overhaul in 2009, at a cost of nearly 4.8 million dollars. The restoration was performed by the Texas Department of Transportation’s Bridge Division Team. Photo by Geoff Hunt, 2009. Source: General Photo Files-Waco-Bridges-Washington Avenue Bridge, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.

The west side of the Washington Avenue Bridge. Notice the updated guardrails compared to earlier versions to protect against vehicular damage. Photo by Geoff Hunt, November 2021, for blogpost reference use only.

Plaques on the Washington Avenue Bridge’s east side, photo by Geoff Hunt, November 2021, for blogpost reference use only.

Image taken from the east side of the Washington Avenue Bridge, photo by Geoff Hunt, November 2021, for blogpost reference use only.

The east side of the Washington Avenue Bridge, photo by Geoff Hunt, November 2021, for blogpost reference use only.

 


Works Sourced:

Conger, Roger N., Waco, TX. https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/waco-tx, Accessed November 2, 2021.

United States Department of the Interior National Parks Service: National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. Washington Avenue Bridge, https://atlas.thc.state.tx.us/NR/pdfs/98000143/98000143.pdf, Accessed November 2, 2021.

Washington Avenue Bridge, Waco, Texas. http://historicbridgefoundation.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/washington.pdf, Accessed November 2, 2021. 

Crossing the Atlantic: The Ben Merrick papers

This blog post was written by Graduate Student Assistant B.J. Thome. He is a Ph.D. candidate in English Literature in his second year at The Texas Collection. This post is the third in a series about the 56th Evacuation Hospital, an Army medical unit with close ties to the Baylor University College of Medicine, which was active during World War II.

Before the war, the S.S. Mariposa, the ship that transported most of the Baylor Unit across the Atlantic, was a cruise ship with a route between San Francisco, Hawaii, and Australia. The Mariposa carried 775 passengers with a crew of around 400. [Ben Merrick papers. Accession #3896, Box [200], Folder 3, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.]
Ben Merrick, like Lawrence Dudgeon Collins and Jabez Galt, was a medical officer in the 56th Evacuation Hospital, commonly known as the Baylor Unit. Like the other members of the Baylor Unit, he received a commission in the Army Medical Corps Reserves and was called into active service in 1942. Like Collins and Galt, he served with the 56th Evac in North Africa and Italy, writing of his experiences in a diary and his letters home, including the taxing experiences of the Anzio beachhead.

Ben Merrick with his wife Hattie. They were married shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor and only had a handful of months together before Merrick was called to active duty with the rest of the Baylor Unit. [Ben Merrick papers. Accession #3896, Box [200], Folder 2, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.]
Anzio, however, wasn’t the only time when the 56th faced the possibility of danger. In fact, as revealed by Merrick’s diary entries, the initial crossing of the Atlantic was a frightening experience. Whereas Collins, Galt, and a handful of other medical officers from the 56th crossed the Atlantic in a smaller ship with a brief stop in Bermuda, Merrick traveled with the majority of the 56th in a repurposed cruise ship, the S.S. Mariposa.

The first difficulty they faced were the crowded conditions aboard ship. Before the war, the Mariposa typically carried around 1,200 people, including both passengers and crew. Once the war started, however, the Mariposa was repurposed to transport military personnel across the Atlantic, carrying well over 5,000 people. The soldiers being transported were packed into any room where space could be found or made. The stateroom, where Merrick slept during his journey across the Atlantic, was originally designed for two passengers. During the war, nine officers were crowded into the room. Merrick’s first diary entry at sea, dated April 16, 1943, describes his room: “Stateroom 112 is anything but spacious. A room about 12 x 12 feet into which are crowded 9 bunks, in 3 tiers of 3, each tier having its bunks supported from 2 upright pipes by means of chains.”

Not only was the ship crowded, but the entire crossing was overshadowed by the threat of German attack. Merrick’s first diary entry aboard ship notes, “Of course, everyone has thought and talked about the possibility of torpedo attacks. There are a goodly number of ack-ack guns on top on top. Hope we don’t have to use them!” While crossing the Atlantic, the Mariposa might be ambushed by German submarines firing torpedoes. They also might be attacked by German bombers, requiring the Mariposa to use the antiaircraft (or ack-ack) guns Merrick references.

This Merrick cartoon shows the fears of German attack that members of the Baylor Unit faced during their Atlantic crossing. It  is one of several created for The Story of the 56th Evac, a book compiled by the members of the Baylor Unit to memorialize their service during World War II. [Ben Merrick papers. Accession #3896, Box [200], Folder 3, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.]
As their journey continued, Merrick noted how they took several precautions to minimize the risk of German attack. First, from the outset, the Mariposa did not maintain a direct course. Instead, as Merrick notes on April 16, “the ship is zigzagging, as you can see by its wake.” His entry the next day similarly observes that, although they seem to be generally headed southeast, the ship “changes directions so often that she has at various times also headed northeast, due east, & southwest.” The constantly changing course would make it difficult for German ships to pursue the Mariposa and its zigzagging would help prevent German submarines from successfully targeting the ship with torpedoes.

Another precaution they took was maintaining a strict blackout after 6:40 pm. The risk, of course, would be that any light source after dark would make the ship an easy and obvious target in the middle of the ocean. Those who flouted the restrictions even in a small way faced consequences. Merrick’s entry from April 18, 1943, describes two such breaches of the blackout: “Today I found out that a sergeant had tried to light a cigarette out on deck, against the advice of his fellow soldiers, for we have been cautioned against that time & again. He had no sooner struck the match than he was tackled by a dozen soldiers. His stripes were removed & he is now awaiting to be called on the carpet by the captain of the ship, so I’m told. It is also rumored that an officer lit a cigarette on boat deck last night & that he may be confined to his room for the remainder of the trip. If it’s true, such punishment would not be severe enough in my estimation.”

Despite the crowded conditions, the constant threat of German attack, and the careless actions of a couple of the soldiers, the Mariposa crossed the Atlantic safely. On April 24, 1943, the ship put into harbor at Casablanca, much to the relief of the passengers. As Merrick’s diary entry, written while waiting to disembark, announces, “It was really a thrill to see land—Africa! Safe at last! No submarine would get us now.”

 

 

During the war, the S.S. Mariposa was refitted to transport military forces. The ship was repainted with grey paint to be a less obvious target on the open sea and remodeled to carry up 5,000 passengers and sailed with a crew of only 200. [Ben Merrick papers. Accession #3896, Box [200], Folder 3, The Texas Collection, Baylor University.]

Paperwork and Propaganda: The Jabez Galt Papers

This blog post was written by Graduate Student Assistant B.J. Thome. He is a Ph.D. candidate in English Literature in his second year at The Texas Collection. This post is the second in a series about the 56th Evacuation Hospital, an Army medical unit with close ties to the Baylor University College of Medicine, which was active during World War II.

Jabez Galt, like Lawrence Dudgeon Collins, was a medical officer in the 56th Evacuation Hospital, known as the Baylor Unit, during World War II. His brother, Sidney, also served in the Baylor Unit. Galt wrote frequently to his parents and sisters, his letters home occasionally included brief notes from his brother as well. In addition to serving in the hospital, Jabez Galt was also an active photographer. Hundreds of photographs and negatives in the collection record the Baylor Unit’s service in North Africa and Italy. Among his letters, photographs, and other materials, a couple themes appear: Galt’s battles with the caprices of military paperwork and the use of propaganda to influence soldiers’ morale.

Galt was repeatedly engaged in battle with the complications of military paperwork. One such battle even delayed his entry into the army. In April of 1942, Galt’s orders didn’t appear when everyone else in the Baylor Unit was to report to Fort Sam Houston for training. Near the end of April, he received word from the Surgeon General that his application was pending receipt of a physical. Galt, however, had taken a physical in March. He contacted the administering camp discovered the problem: his physical had been filed as an application to the army nursing corps to be commissioned as a registered nurse! In early May, after his pending application had apparently vanished, Galt had to fill out all of his application forms again. Finally, on May 15, 1942, Galt received a telegram with orders to report to Fort Sam Houston for service in the 56th Evacuation Hospital.

Not all of Galt’s paperwork battles left him as the victim. In 1945, after the war had officially ended in Europe, Galt arranged a trip to Cairo for himself. While serving overseas, military officers would occasionally receive leave to visit rest camps in secure locations away from the front lines. These leaves became somewhat more common in the wake of Germany’s surrender, perhaps as a way to help manage morale, or to pass time as the complexity of redeploying US forces home to the States or to the war in the Pacific were worked out. During one such leave in Athens, Galt stumbled upon orders with a list of officers who would travel to Cairo. He found a typewriter, added his name to the list, and had a tailor remove his service patch from his uniform and replace it with a patch from the unit assigned leave to Cairo. If caught, Galt would be fined for being out of his assigned theater of operations. Manipulated military paperwork and a potential fine of $500 was worth seeing (and photographing) the Sphinx and the Pyramids during a brief visit to Egypt.

A second theme appearing in Galt’s papers is the use of propaganda. Scrapbooks and negatives contain multiple examples of Allied and Axis propaganda leaflets fired behind enemy lines to decrease soldiers’ morale. Axis leaflets followed a couple lines of thought: that continued battle in Europe or specific locations like the Anzio Beachhead would inevitably result in the soldier’s death, that the leaders back home were expending soldiers’ lives for their own economic gain, and that the women—wives, fiancées, or girlfriends—left behind would be unfaithful to the soldiers.

Galt’s letters also reference the radio broadcasting of Axis Sally. While US forces battled in Italy, a fascist broadcaster nicknamed Axis Sally frequently attempted to decrease the soldiers’ morale by urging them to surrender, announcing the movements of Allied forces, or justifying Axis actions. One reference to Axis Sally came on March 22, 1944, the day after an attack on the evacuation hospitals gathered on the Anzio Beachhead. Galt notes that Sally justified the attack by claiming that the US was using the hospitals as rest camps—after all, Sally claimed, they had photos of men playing volleyball at the hospital. This claim frustrated Galt, who comments, “Naturally we play ball here & would fly kites or do anything else for diversion now that spring is here.” Given the intensity of the hospital’s work caring for so many battle wounds amidst the constant artillery fire and air raids on the beachhead—which last month’s account from Lawrence Dudgeon Collins described in detail—Galt’s desire for any activity that might serve as a momentary diversion was justified. At the same time, however, his frustration with Axis Sally’s claims also indicates that the propaganda served its function: it successfully upset Galt’s morale.

56th Evacuation Hospital: Lawrence Dudgeon Collins

This blog post was written by Graduate Student Assistant B.J. Thome. He is a Ph.D. candidate in English Literature in his second year at The Texas Collection. This post is the first in a series about the 56th Evacuation Hospital, an Army medical unit with close ties to the Baylor University College of Medicine, which was active during World War II.

By December 1944, Collins and the 56th had been overseas for more than a year and a half. It would be another ten months before Collins finally returned home after the end of the war. [Lawrence Dudgeon Collins papers, Accession #1931, Box #6, Folder #8.]
During World War II, the United States Army formed several medical units drawing on personnel from medical schools and hospitals. One such unit was the 56th Evacuation Hospital, comprised primarily of doctors and nurses from Baylor University College of Medicine based in Dallas, Texas. Evacuation Hospitals were the predecessors of the more well-known MASH units, setting up near battle lines to stabilize wounded soldiers for transportation to General Hospitals for long-term treatment and recovery. The 56th Evac served from 1942 to 1945, treating more than 73,000 wounded soldiers, prisoners of war, and civilians in North Africa and Italy. The Texas Collection wishes to honor the service of the doctors and nurses of the Baylor Unit by sharing some of their experiences as seen in the letters, photographs, scrapbooks, and other materials housed in our archives.

On this page from a letter describing his experiences at Anzio, Collins writes unusually large letters to simulate the terrifying sound of an approaching aerial bombardment. That moment of terror, he says, prompts one to pray and to “cuss yourself for a sap for not having prayed enough previously.” [Lawrence Dudgeon Collins papers, Accession #1931, Box #2, Folder #1.]
Lawrence Dudgeon Collins, a doctor on the faculty of Baylor University College of Medicine, enlisted in the Army as a member of the 56th Evacuation Hospital. While serving in Africa and Italy, he wrote his wife almost daily. His letters describe his experiences as a junior medical officer, complaining of his frustration with the politics and red tape of Army procedures, discussing the various books he read and films he saw (often with the suggestion of whether his wife should read or see them), describing the landscapes he saw and cities he visited, describing his medical work, and walking the fine line of sharing his war experiences without worrying his family back home.

Perhaps the most intense experience was the time the 56th Hospital spent on the beachhead of Anzio, Italy, as part of the Army’s push towards Rome in the early months of 1944. During these months, Collins’s letters home became more infrequent as the hospital received a stream of patients, keeping the doctors and nurses working constantly. The personnel were stretched so thin that for several weeks Collins was placed in charge of an entire ward focused on treating gas gangrene patients, who were quarantined in an attempt to prevent the disease from spreading.

This photograph shows Collins and two nurses treating a British patient on the Anzio beachhead. Collins’s experience treating gas gangrene led to him giving lectures on the topic and even publishing a paper about it in the October 1944 issue of The Medical Bulletin of the North African Theater of Operations. Jabez Galt’s notes about this picture mention that he later saw the patient in full recovery. [Jabez Galt papers, Accession #2347, Box #2, Folder #8.]
Adding to the stress of the constant influx of wounded soldiers, the hospital’s location on the beach of Anzio placed them between the firing lines of German and Allied artillery. Thus, while treating patients from dawn to dusk, they constantly heard the massive artillery guns firing at each other over their heads. Another frequent source of terror was the air raids conducted on military targets near the hospital—air raids that periodically dropped bombs on the hospital as well. In a letter initially dated April 13, Collins describes the terrifying experience of hearing those dropping at night: “When he is flying toward you in the distance you hear a burrrUMP!, burrUMP, burrrUMP closer and louder each time, the ground quaking, and you feel a terrible monster is taking slow, relentless steps toward you.”

The 56th hospital during a night air raid. The bright streaks are tracer rounds from antiaircraft guns. [Jabez Galt papers, Accession #2347, Box #2, Folder #6.]
The combination of terror from air raids and fatigue from treating patients during every waking moment, however, led to one darkly humorous incident. When air raids happened during the night, some medical officers would scramble for foxholes; others, too tired from their work, would simply roll over onto the floor and try to go back to sleep. One night, Collins was so exhausted that he slept through several air raids, despite his tentmate’s attempts to rouse him. Finally, during the eighth or ninth air raid of the night, the tentmate successfully woke Collins up. The tentmate then ran to his foxhole while Collins remained in his sleeping bag on his cot until the sound of a falling plane scared him enough “to hit the ground, sleeping bag and all.” Because of his exhaustion, he quickly fell back asleep, not noticing that his sleeping bag ended up resting against the warming stove and caught fire. Collins, however, was so exhausted he didn’t notice the fire until his tentmate returned. As Collins writes, “When he got back and waked me up again it was too late to do anything about the bag except get it out of the tent and let it go.” After that experience, Collins dug out the ground under his cot so that he could sleep below ground level and didn’t use a sleeping bag again until December.

Despite his own fear, Collins was more concerned with his wife and family’s fears. His letters from Anzio repeatedly assure his wife that the papers were overexaggerating the dangers and bombings. He also delayed writing about his Anzio experiences in detail until after the 56th moved to a more secure location. And even after writing the letter in April, he didn’t send it until May, not wanting to add to his wife and family’s worry about his safety.

 

Research Ready: July-August 2021

The Texas Collection posts newly accessible resources each month. If you have any questions or would like to use these materials, please let us know and we would be happy to assist!

Finding Aids
  • Jack Hamm Illustration collection #155
    • The Jack Hamm Illustration collection includes original drawings, art prints, and newspaper clippings of Hamm’s work in cartoons and religious illustrations.
  • [Waco] Clifton Manufacturing Company records #1830
    • The [Waco] Clifton Manufacturing Company records document the company located in Waco, Texas. Legal documents, clippings, correspondence, newsletters, organizational charts and reports, credit memos, photographs, and printing plates are present.

      Example of a weekly illustration created by Jack Hamm and distributed by Religious Drawings, Inc. to numerous Christian organizations. The Illustration is dated October 1955.
black and white image of Robert Preston Taylor in military chaplains uniform
Chaplain Robert Preston Taylor
  • Robert Preston Taylor papers #3597
    • The Robert Preston Taylor papers primarily document the military career of the chaplain after his service in World War II. The collection includes military records, sermons, photographs, books, correspondence, and audio recordings. Items from his career at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and post retirement are also included.
  • Speight-McKenney Family collection #10
    • The Speight-McKenney Family papers contains correspondence, calling cards, photographs, poems, songs, and an herbarium. The collection was primarily created by Florence Speight, daughter of prominent early Waco citizen Joseph Speight.
  • Horace Clark papers #530
    • The Horace Clark papers contain materials documenting the life of Horace Clark, principal of the Baylor Female Department and Baylor Female College in Independence, Texas.
  • BU Records: 56th Evacuation Hospital # BU/94
    • BU Records: 56th Evacuation Hospital consists of a certificate of appreciation, a letter, and copied newspaper clippings related to the achievements of the 56th Evacuation Hospital.
  • BU Records: Baylor-Waco Foundation #BU/43
    • BU Records: Baylor-Waco Foundation contains a variety of materials related to the fundraising efforts of the Foundation in order to benefit Baylor University and the City of Waco.
  • BU Records: BaylorFans.com Discussion Board #BU/404
    • BU Records: BaylorFans.com contains message board posts discussing a wide variety of topics related to Baylor and its administration, with a focus on President Robert Sloan’s administration and the Baylor 2012 initiative.