As a Red Cross worker, Elizabeth A. Richardson experienced and understood World War II in ways that many other Americans never would. Though never in the throes of combat, her position as a Clubmobile woman allowed her to interact with soldiers and make incisive observations about the effects of war not just on the body but the spirit.
Richardson grew up in Mishawaka, Indiana, where she went to college and held several jobs before joining the American Red Cross in 1944. Her first assignment was in England, where she joined other Red Cross workers in distributing coffee and doughnuts to soldiers from a converted London bus, also known as a Clubmobile. More importantly, Richardson spent a lot of time listening to soldiers confide in her and the other volunteers about their fears, frustrations, and hurts. It was through these conversations that Richardson learned how war brought out the best and worst of human nature. All of Richardson’s knowledge of hardship was not secondhand, however. She and other volunteers experienced the discomfort of cold and rain; sometimes went without baths for days at a time; and suffered through food shortages.
Issues of gender and sex were also prevalent in the lives of Clubmobile women. Richardson, for example, enjoyed talking to the soldiers and going to dances and parties. During the course of her stay in England, she fell in love with two lieutenants, one of whom asked her to marry him. Although she loved him, she refused to marry him because she believed war had a way of twisting and complicating personal relationships.
These wartime experiences often caused Richardson to be nostalgic for Indiana, the place that provided her a sense of security. Her letters reveal that although she did not regret serving in the Red Cross, she longed for the day she would see her family and Indiana again. Unfortunately, Richardson would not live to see that day. She died in a military plane crash near Rouen, France on July 25, 1945. She is buried at Normandy in the American Cemetery.
Source: James H. Madison, “Burdens of War and Memories of Home: An Indiana Woman in World War II,” Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History 19 (4): 34-41.
A Moment of Indiana History is a production of WFIU Public Radio in partnership with the Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations. Research support comes from Indiana Magazine of History published by the Indiana University Department of History.