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.