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Throwback Thursday: Roxie Remley

Roxie Remley grew up in Darlington, IN. She lived in Georgia where she taught art at Georgia Southern University until she retired. In retirement she would share letters that she wrote to her parents during World War II when she served the country as a WAC. It all began when she went to Milwaukee, IN with a friend to get some information about WAACs and was asked to return for a physical. The rest is history.

Roxie joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corp in 1942. In September 1943 the Corp became part of the Army and was no longer an Auxiliary. While stationed in England, she met the Queen Mother Elizabeth, wife of George VI, and the mother of the Elizabeth II. Roxie returned to England in 1981 with other WACs who were there in 1945 and although the Queen Mother was in her eighties, she remembered their previous meeting.

Roxie’s parents, John and Helen Remley, were the first caretakers of Lane Place from 1939 to 1972. John passed away in 1966 but Helen continued to live here. They lived in the back of the home and gave tours. Roxie lived at Lane Place until she joined the WAACs. She slept in Henry and Helen’s bedroom but had to be out by 10 a.m. before visitors came for tours. Roxie remembered helping her mother take inventory of the artifacts in the 1960s. Roxie passed away at age 99, in 2019.

Remember When: August 13, 1942 to January 3, 1946

By Roxie Remley, Professor Emerita of Art, Georgia Southern University

I have read for the first time over a hundred letters I wrote to Mom and Dad while I was in service in World War II. My mother saved them all. In August 1942, I left my office job in Racine, Wisconsin reporting to Ft. Des Moines, Iowa on August 17.

August 18, 1942: Dear Folks, I arrived at Ft. Des Moines yesterday and already heard we can wear our own underwear. We’ve been told when the Captain inspects our Detachment he’s not going to ask if we are wearing GI underwear. We have been issued two pairs.

I met a Major along the sidewalk yesterday and saluted. He returned my salute, and then said, “Take your hand out of the left pocket.” I am learning.

October 10, 1942: Dear folks, With three weeks Basic Training and 10 in Motor Transport School, I’ve been assigned my first job – driver for the Post Chaplain. With all that training and I already knew how to drive since age 12. Of course I didn’t know how to change a tire and a lot of stuff under the hood.

Cold weather is here and we’ve been issued two suits of long underwear. It’s been a long time since wearing those things.

I drove some officers from a hotel in town to the airport. They were flying a B-24 from the West Coast to St. Paul. I asked if I could touch the plane. He said officially no, but to follow him. I climbed up in it. He pointed out the oxygen tanks for high altitude flying and where the bombs drop from. The bomb site was completely sealed.

I meet hundreds of women recruits at the train station. We tell them to climb right up the steps into the trucks. It’s amazing to see, some with lovely fur coats, hats, etc.

November 15, 1942: Dear Folks, I applied for Officer Candidate School and here I am in classes all day and study hall at night. If I graduate next January 23, I wish you both could be here.

You have asked my wishes for Christmas. Here’s the list: Jergens Hand Lotion, tooth paste, writing stationery, Max Factor lipstick and any good homemade candy or cookies.

The classes we attend at OCS are Company Administration, Mess Management, Interior Guard Duty, Propriety Accounting, Military Customs and Courtesies, Physical Education, Close Order Drill, Chemical Warfare, WAAC Regulations, Punitive Articles of War and Organization of the Army.

I am practicing with a chorus of 20 OCS students for Christmas programs here on the Post and on Des Moines radio. The director is Mary Fabian, famous New York opera singer and student in my classes.

Telegram to my Folks: Invited to your friends the Goodin’s for pheasant dinner on Thanksgiving. Have a Happy Thanksgiving–will be thinking of you. Love, Roxie

December 25, 1942: Dear Folks, The Goodins invited me for Christmas dinner, but I decided to stay on the Post and join the Company for an Army Christmas.

January 20, 1943: Dear Folks, Many girls from the last OC graduating class were sent to Ft. Oglethorpe, GA without leave time to go home, so don’t expect me home after graduation. I’ll wire you when I know something.

Telegram January 23: to John E. Remley, Lane Place, Crawfordsville, Ind. Meet me in Crawfordsville, train arriving after midnight Wed. 25th, ten day leave.

February 10, 1943: Dear Folks, Forty Negro girls will arrive this week for Administrative School. My first assignment. I’m one of four officers selected to operate this school. Col. Hobby and Mrs. Roosevelt will be here next week. We’ll parade for them and have an afternoon reception.

Telegram: to Mr. & Mrs. John E. Remley, former assignment of February 10 cancelled. New address 89th coast Artillery, Anti-Aircraft, Washington D.C. Letter follows. Love, Roxie

(This was a TOP SECRET order I could not write home about. Under the direction of Gen. George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff, 56 enlisted women and four WAAC officers were assigned to a composite gun battery located near Anacostia in DC. with about 110 enlisted men and four male officers. Purpose: to train women on radar equipment operation. This equipment controlled placing four 90-millimeter guns on enemy targets. This experiment was a success with an exercise in April 1943 at Bethany Beach, Delaware. ARMY regulations stated opposition to combat assignments. However, a need to protect our East coast had lessened by September and the plans were beginning for the invasion of Europe.)

September 1, 1943: Dear Folks, All WAACs have been taken into the US Army, no longer an Auxiliary. I have received a promotion to 1st Lt. and we have been transferred to nearby Bolling Field, still in D.C.

March 10, 1944: Dear Folks, I’m on my way to Ft. Oglethorpe, GA. The train trip was so hot last night I slept in the wash room on a couch from Cincinnati to Atlanta. Now I have an upper bunk at the Fort in Officers’ Quarters. We are told there are bedbugs. I haven’t seen any. Maybe they can’t climb to upper bunks. Not sure I can.

April 4, 1944: Dear Folks, Here it is at last. I’m on a troop train to New York. We marched to the train with field packs strapped to our backs. Felt like I’d tip over backward. Enlisted women looked great in a near GI way. When they heard their new APO address, they yelled with excitement and their eyes just danced. When you don’t hear from me, please don’t worry. We have a lot of women to think for. Today I’m censoring mail. One girl writes, “The scenery is here, wish you were beautiful.”

April 11, 1944: Dear Folks. Col. Hobby was on hand and gave us a great send off. The band played as we boarded ship. This V-Mail will be mailed after we’ve landed in England. Then you’ll know where I am. I want you to feel just as I do about this assignment. I wanted it and asked for it, so stick by and feed me letters.

(We docked on the River Clyde, Glasgow, Scotland on April 18, a 13-day crossing. By train we arrived at the Staging in Area in Northern England and remained there a few days before departing to assigned Headquarters so Service of Supply near Cheltenham, 80 miles northwest of London. Enlisted women were assigned to work at the Headquarters. I was one of four officers assigned to this WAC Detachment.

We knew D-Day was soon to come. About 1 AM June 6, I was awakened hearing the drone of planes, looked out my window and saw a black sky. Soon most of 270 WACs and I were outside the barracks, on a cold and rainy night, cheering, shedding some tears and watching the sky. We knew D-Day was here. At noon, a prayer service developed nearby out-of-doors with a huge gathering of GIs, WACs and British. The drone of planes continued. We learned they were returning the injured to hospitals all over England.)

June 8, 1944: Dear Folks, The Stars & Stripes News describes D-Day better. After reading it, will you mail it on to James? I have an extra copy to mail to John. (My two brothers)

July 12, 1944: Dear Folks, Our women visit an orphanage weekly. Over a hundred children were placed here at the time of London’s Blitz of 1941. Shoes are needed, all sizes for ages four to 12, for girls, when you find some, mail them to me. We take items to them often from the PX.

August 21, 1944: Dear Folks, its payday. I’ve learned to count French paper money for some WACs being transferred to France. I see francs are printed in the U.S. I’ll fly to Paris with them and return the same day.

October 12, 1944: Dear Folks, My driver and I were last to close out our WAC Detachment in Cheltenham. I'm in London now with about 200 enlisted women and we three officers. Buzz bombs and now V-2 bombs have been bombing London day and night since D-Day, but we continued to parade in Hyde Park every Saturday morning for the Generals from Headquarters in London.

November, 1944: Dear Folks, We marched the 200 women to Westminster Abbey for Thanksgiving Day services. British don’t celebrate this day of course, but I saw Churchill there.

December 25, 1944: Dear Folks, I met with Harold Carson at our Mess Hall for Christmas Day dinner. I was on duty this day so we visited all afternoon at my office. We exchanged great stories and memories of those Darlington days in school from first through twelve. Also remembering his dad’s barber shop and how I looked forward to the many haircuts his dad gave me.

February 9, 1945: Dear Folks, Guess what! Our Canadian cousin Helen Kennedy arrived and visited with me for three days and nights. She is lovely. Stationed in Scotland and has been there since 1941. She is a nurse. I’ll write to her mother in Manitoba about our visit and mail a copy to you.

WAC officers from our Detachment were invited to the Russian Embassy to attend the 27th anniversary of the Red Army. We stood in line and a British officer blasted out, “Admiral Stark” who stood just in front of me. Than another blast, “Left-Tenant” (the British pronounce it this way) Remley”. I shook hands with the Ambassador and his wife and a Russian officer. Just after this event, an old gentleman walked from across the room to us and introduced himself. He was the Dean of Canterbury.

April 14, 1945: Dear Folks, We attended Memorial Services for President Roosevelt at Grosvenor Chapel where US Forces attend church.

I’ve been to Paris again with time to rent a horse and buggy for just 300 francs, that’s five dollars to see this beautiful city. Amid all the beauty, there is a latrine for men on nearly every street corner. From the street we could see the man’s cap and shoes.

I’m back in London tonight. We have just learned of the All-clear from V-2 bombing. Our Forces have removed the Nazi launch-site in France.

May 4, 1945: Dear Folks, We are waiting for the official announcement of V-E Day, and I’m very busy this day timing the itinerary for the Queen’s visit on May 14 – Third anniversary of the Women’s Army Corps. My finial report goes to our Commanding Officer Capt. Watson. She reports in writing to WAC Headquarters, UK Base. They report to US Army Headquarters. That Headquarters report to the American Embassy and the Embassy tells Her-Lady-in-Waiting the allotted time for Her Majesty’s visit. I hope the Palace got my message.

May 15, 1945: Dear Folks, Her Majesty arrived yesterday at 3 PM, Upper Grosvenor St., UK, WAC Detachment Offices, in a big black Rolls Royce, the family car for 20 years we learned. The street was lined with photographers and people. Gen. Koenig met Her Majesty first as she stepped onto the sidewalk, he introduced Capt. Watson and she in turn introduced Lt. Register and me. The Queen acknowledged these introductions with handshakes. Our First Sgt. Regner led the way into the first building with the Queen, Gen. Koenig close behind, then Capt. Watson, followed by Her-Lady-in-Waiting. The Queen’s dress, shoes, gloves, bag, off-the-face hat, all were light blue.

Enlisted women were relieved from duties and stood at attention beside their bunks. The Queen visited three 5-story buildings. No elevators these days.

She spoke to everyone they told me, often with conversation. Autographs and photographs had been taken at my desk in the first building. Now the Rolls was waiting around the corner on Park Street where our PX is located. So the Queen and Her-Lady-in-Waiting bid goodbye to all of us, boarded the Rolls and rode off.

May 22, 1945: Dear Folks, I’ve been promoted Commanding Officer of this WAC Detachment. Capt. Watson is leaving to attend Purdue University for a study-training session followed with assignment to Berlin, Germany.

June 10, 1945: Dear Folks, One of our Cadre married today at Grosvenor Chapel. She wore a lovely white satin gown borrowed from the American Red Cross.

June 20, 1945: Dear Folks, I attended a WAC Conference outside Paris at St. Germaine-en-Laye. In 1919 the WWI Peace Treaty was signed here.

August 15, 1945: Dear Folks: Well it’s all over. I heard the Prime Minister’s announcement last night on radio. More big news. My softball team won the UK Championship and we will enter the Theater Tournament in Nice, France in a few days.

September 8, 1945: Dear Folks, We flew to Nice, fifteen players and Coach Dominic Grasso from Brooklyn. Landed on the beach, billeted in a beautiful hotel with eight other teams, and lost the third game played. It gave us time for tours of the region including Monte Carlo.

October 2, 1945: Dear Folks, I have closed out my third WAC Detachment and today I’m 25 or is it 26! Will arrive at Stone, England to await departure time to a ship.

November 4, 1945: Dear Folks, Departed Southampton via Queen Mary, arrived New York, Pier 90, November 9. On to Ft. Des Moines by train for separation from service. Will arrive home about November 15, back home again in Indiana. I’ll wire you train time arrival.

This photo is from The National WWII Museum in New Orleans.

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