Today’s post is written by Meghan Ryan, a processing archivist at Archives II.
As World War II drew to a close, the United States military faced the daunting task of transporting the majority of the armed forces home. To facilitate this process, temporary base, or “camps” were constructed throughout Europe. Camp Tophat, near Antwerp, Belgium, was one of those facilities.
The American Red Cross maintained a presence at this camp, as they had wherever large numbers of troops had gathered throughout the war. A fascinating description of life at Camp Tophat, and the role that the American Red Cross played there can be found in A History of Camp Tophat, part of the Records of the American National Red Cross, Collection ANRC (NAID 783).
As Camp Tophat began to disband in 1946, personnel who had been stationed there, led by Lieutenant John B. Rand, compiled an illustrated book of essays and articles describing the camp, life in it, and the men and women who passed through on their way home (Records Relating to the History of Camp Tophat, 1945 – 1946, National Archives Identifier 5928006). The volume features maps of the compound, including block by block descriptions, copies of regulations, and essays describing all aspects of life in the camp. Camp Tophat was a miniature city, which included a barber shop, an ice cream bar, a beer garden, and a gift shop, among other luxuries.
Some of those luxuries were the Red Cross Clubs. The American Red Cross was a presence in Camp Tophat from the beginning. Led by Louisa “Henry Kaiser” Farrand, the so-called “Red Cross Girls” served food, ran an information desk, and opened several clubs to entertain transitioning troops. Red Cross Clubs served as gathering points, canteens, mail rooms, and poker clubs. In total, the American Red Cross ran eight installations at Camp Tophat.
The American Red Cross also ran Ranger mobiles, fashioned after the Clubmobile programs. These mobile kitchen were stationed at the docks, and were a last stop for departing soldiers, and the first stop for new arrivals. “Ranger girls” often worked shifts from 6AM to midnight, and served up to 5,000 soldiers a shift.
At Camp Tophat, American Red Cross workers served 9,700,620 cups of coffee and 4,784,260 doughnuts to troops. It might not have been the most glamorous role to play in the war, but, as A History of Camp Tophat illustrates, it was very much appreciated!