Today’s post is written by Meghan Ryan, a processing archivist at Archives II.
The women of the American Red Cross played an important, and often under recognized role in World War II. The valiant efforts of Red Cross hospital volunteers are more frequently acknowledged, but American women served overseas in a number of other capacities – as organizers, clubmoile and ranger-mobile operators, club managers and administrators. Louisa Farrand was only one of many who served, but her story is remarkable.
A description of Louisa Farrand’s war service can be found in The History of Camp Tophat (ARC ID 5928006). Camp Tophat was one of the staging areas constructed as part of the massive logistical effort that returned the American troops home. Farrand was considered “the official first lady of Tophat”, and was well regarded by the transitioning troops, and by the personnel stationed there.
Louisa Farrand established the first WWII Red Cross club in Londonderry, Ireland in 1942. She was then transferred to Belfast, where she established and ran the 8th Air Force Club for over a year. Shortly after the D-Day invasion, Farrand was in France, establish the first American Red Cross Club on French soil, at Cherbourg. She then moved to LeHavre, and followed that with a move to Antwerp, even as the “bulge and buzz” bombs continued to fall. When asked about her record of service, Farrand replied “Whenever they found a beat-up port, they sent the wharf-rat in.” (The History of Camp Tophat pg. 57-58)
Bombs were not a sufficient deterrent, and Farrand opened three Red Cross clubs in Antwerp in the space of a month. One of these was dive-bombed on its’ opening night. It still opened – only an hour behind schedule. Another was forced to close, but only after suffering a direct hit.
Louisa Farrand arrived at the site for Camp Tophat on June 12, and the story of her subsequent actions is told in The History of Camp Tophat. According to Camp Tophat legend, within an hour of her arrival, she had commandeered the 556th Operations Trailer to serve as a Red Cross Ranger-mobile, which began operations that very day. The “Great Blue Mother,” Then headed for Paris, and returned with three other Red Cross workers, who quickly expanded the Red Cross presence at the staging area. At its peak, the Red Cross presence at Camp Tophat included eight installations and several ranger-mobiles, and at least 20 women.
Louisa Farrand served overseas with the American Red Cross for three years, and earned a bronze star for her work.
For more information about the American Red Cross, Red Cross Women, and American Red Cross Overseas Service during WWII, see Collection ANRC.