On the evening of Oct. 17, 1918, in Marseilles, France, a bone-weary young woman poured out her heart in a letter to her mother in Temple.
“I have just returned from the hospital and have an hour before dinner to write and try to forget how hungry and tired I am,” she wrote.
World War I had dragged on and on since 1914 in Europe, but U.S. troops had been in the fight for the past 18 months.
The young woman was Lucile Scott, the 25-year-old daughter of Scott & White co-founder Dr. Arthur Carroll Scott and his wife, Maud Sherwood Scott.
As the daughter of a prominent physician, Lucile Scott grew up with privilege and social standing. A graduate of an elite college and women’s “finishing school” in Massachusetts, she could have stayed in Temple, enjoying her elegant whirl of socials and eager suitors. Yet, she traded her fine party frocks for the gray woolen uniforms of a wartime Red Cross volunteer in the midst of the fighting.
Nearly forgotten are the personal sacrifices of civilian and military women who served during World War I, known at the time as “The Great War.”
Scott’s letter was published in the Temple Daily Telegram on Nov. 10, 1918, just a day before the Armistice, the break in fighting that ultimately ended the conflict.
Bell County joined the rest of Texas in sending men to fight and organizing home support. In April 1917, the same month the U.S. entered the war, coeds at Baylor Female College (now the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor) organized several Red Cross corps. The Temple City Federation of Women’s Clubs joined the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs to sponsor three young women and two chaperones to work in France. The federation paid all expenses.
Bell County, with two well-recognized schools of nursing and a women’s college, was a key target for Red Cross recruitment. In July 1918, Maj. George W. Simmons, manager of the Red Cross’ Southwestern division and the director of the women’s division, spoke to a gathering at Grace Presbyterian Church, the Scotts’ home church.
That visit likely inspired Scott to help the war effort.
Help war effort
Like so many of the hundreds of young women who volunteered, Scott was altruistic. Duties ranged from distributing doughnuts and cigarettes to driving ambulances.
“If these boys give up as much as they have to keep the United States a safe place for me to live in, it is no more than right that I should do everything in my power to make life a little less miserable for them when sick,” she wrote.
Although she was not a trained nurse, she worked as a hospital aide at the height of the great influenza pandemic that killed up to 40 million people worldwide. More soldiers died of disease than from warfare. She arrived in France just as the disease had taken its toehold on the continent.
Scott tempered the roiling horrors outside with kindnesses. “We have quite a lot of Negroes from Georgia here, and it goes harder with them than any others,” she wrote her mother. “They are all quite surprised at the office that I, being a Southern girl, do not resent waiting on them. When they are down and out, you forget color and race, too. For I do just as much for the four German prisoners as I do for the other boys. One of them looks about 15, and you can’t help feeling sorry for the poor kid, even if he is German.”
Scott was optimistic that President Woodrow Wilson’s attempts to forge a peace accord would not mean lagging support back home. “I hope the folks at home won’t give up their efforts, but will keep on pushing buying bonds, saving wheat and anything else the government suggests that will help win the war,” she told her mother.
Bloody fighting stopped in European trenches when a temporary cease-fire between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. The date burned deeply into the world’s subconscious as the finale to “the war to end all wars.”
Signs of sacrifice
Flapping flags in the autumn breeze throughout the county today are somber reminders of sacrifices on those bloody battlefields.
War’s dreadfulness failed to dampen Lucile’s spirits. “After you get across the Atlantic, you realize that America is worth fighting for, even if war is hell; so, keep the home fires burning,” Scott wrote to her mother in 1918.
World War I officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles in France.
Bell County paid a heavy price. Of the 198,000 Texans who saw service in the armed forces, more than 1,100 were from Bell County, according to draft registration records in the Railroad and Heritage Museum’s archives.
In all, 16 Bell County men were killed in action, 12 died in accidents, 44 were wounded and five permanently disabled. Additionally, 42 died of disease — mostly from the influenza pandemic.