Mollie’s War: The Letters of a World War II WAC in Europe
By Mollie Weinstein Schaffer and Cyndee Schaffer
McFarland Publishing, 2010
Rating: 4 out of 5
Review by Amanda McInnis
Time/Part of War covered: 1943 – 1945. The focus is on the war through Mollie’s eyes – and therefore it goes from her enrollment, approximately the middle of WWII through VE Day and Mollie’s voyage back to the US with an epilogue of what happened in the lives of those featured in the book after the war up to the time of writing.
The book is split into parts which include: Part 1: Mollie’s enrollment, training and stateside assignments, Part 2: Mollie’s assignments in England, Part 3: Mollie’s assignments in France, Part 4: Mollie’s assignments in Germany, and Part 5: Going Home.
Of note is that Mollie was with some of the first WAC groups to be deployed to Normandy. Upon arrival, they spent several months living in an apple orchard.
The book is primarily made up of her letters to family members back home and letters back to Mollie.
However, what I really enjoyed and found quite helpful was the introduction and commentary of Leisa D. Meyer which provided significant and important historical context to better appreciate the letters.
What did you enjoy most about this book?
The book provides a lot of information about the mundane and day-to-day life of the WACS – the type of information typically is not the focus of history books.
Also, Mollie had a very active social life – even going out on dates where “dressing up” involved a new pair of leggings. (Leggings were part of the field uniform. They were laced shields that covered the ankles, both stabilizing the ankle and preventing dirt and debris from getting into the top of the boot).
Mollie also talked a lot about the women she worked with, some of which became fast and very close friends. I can imagine living and working together, often in difficult and uncomfortable conditions, resulted in strong friendships forming quickly.
What did you like least about this book?
The lack of details about the work Mollie was actually doing.
She worked as a medical stenographer in medical intelligence – so there were very real and practical limits about how much she was permitted to disclose about her work in her letters.
Furthermore, but she also states in one letter that she wanted to keep everything she wrote about happy and light so she would not worry her family back home.
While I understand this, I find learning about the jobs that the women did very interesting and was a little disappointed that this was not explored or detailed more.
What did you learn that will help make your impression better?
Mollie’s description of the rough conditions they dealt with living in an apple orchard in Normandy shortly after her arrival in France was very informative, providing lots of little details that would be fun to incorporate into events where the timeline is around D-DAY.
This one made me laugh:
“They had an excellent band there. I know you’ll laugh at this- there were 6 WACs and 2 Red Cross girls and about 250 boys. I am not exaggerating one bit. It was impossible to dance a full dance with one fellow. Honestly, I felt like I was a “dime-a-dance” girl. There was one fellow who was quite a dancer – smooth and jitterbug, too. He kept cutting in all the time. I’m not much of a fancy jitterbug-ger, anyway he took me off to the side – out of the circle of the dancers and taught me a few of the intricacies of jitter-bugging. To top it all off- don’t think that guys didn’t try to cut in – even on my dancing lesson! He was a very cute fellow – a corporal stationed about 75 miles out of Frankfurt. Said he might get back again and took my address. He was awfully funny and kept calling me “Callahan” and I said: “Nope, that’s wrong. It’s O’Weinstein.”
This one I found quite poignant. (Here, Mollie is talking about a Jewish lady living in France whom Mollie met while stationed there.):
“She has just returned to Paris. Has been here only two weeks. Eight months ago her husband was taken away by the Germans. They had been hiding successfully until then – but he happened to go out on the street one day and they picked him up. She has tried to contact him through the Red Cross but they know nothing. She has had to buy herself free (herself and child) twice. Once she had to pay a ransom of 10,000 francs.
She, of course, has no way of knowing what has happened to her husband. She also does not know how the rest of the family believe two sisters (or maybe three, can’t recall) fled to Poland. Has no word about them. Also, no word regarding brother.”
The commentary advises that the lady never saw her husband again or found out what happened to him. Mollie did her best to try to help the woman and her son while she was in France.
Connections to reenacting:
As one of 1st WAC LHG’s impressions is of the ETO with a focus on D-Day, Mollie is one of the women that our group tries to faithfully and accurately portray. It is both an honour and humbling to read what she went through and how she handled all of the difficulties and hardships with humor and grace. I do highly recommend this book.