Interview with Helen Fulton at the Shippensburg Historical Society in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, on July 31, 2002, with Steven Burg at part of the Cumberland County Women During World War II Oral History Project. Fulton discusses working at Shirtcraft in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania and then at the Letterkenny Army Depot as a chaufferette. Fulton also talks about the changes which took place in Shippensburg during World War II.
Mrs. Jane (Myers) Seller was born on July 22 1933, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Her father came from Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, and her mother from LaPort, Pennsylvania. She was one of six children in her family, two boys and four girls. During World War II she lived in Lemoyne and attended Washington Heights elementary school. She later attended Lemoyne High School and Dickinson College, married, and had two children of her own. She is currently living in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Mrs. Seller began by discussing the effects of World War II on her and her family’s daily life. She remembered where she was when it was announced Pearl Harbor had been bombed. She talked about her feelings on it and the community’s response to the war. She described the procedures for a blackout. Mrs. Seller discussed the rationing and how three of her siblings went into the armed forces. One was in the Marines, one went into the Navy, and her older sister joined the WAVES. She goes on to talk about what her school did for the war effort. They brought in money for bond stamps, collected cans, and made little Red Cross boxes with things in them such as barrettes, socks, combs, etc. These were for the children overseas in England. Her school also became involved with having pen pals and she had one from Scotland and Norway. Because of rationing, there were things that they could not buy such as silk stockings, sugar, and gas. She talked about how her community changed during the war. She described the things she and her friends got involved with. Mrs. Seller goes on to talk a little about a German prisoner of war camp that was in New Cumberland. Mrs. Seller stated how in church they sang the same Navy hymn every Sunday. There were flags used by families who had someone in the service and what each one meant and she gives other examples of patriotism during the war. She described the activities she participated in during the war such as Girl Scouts and what they did for the war effort. She also discusses her family’s reaction to the war and how they closely followed the war effort from their kitchen table. She also mentions one year when they had a special Christmas in February for her sister who was in the WACS. Mrs. Seller finished by remembering her experiences during V-E and V-J Day, where she was when she heard the news that the war was over, and how life would have been different if there had not been a war. Finally, Mrs. Seller talks about the different kinds of food she had to eat during the war.
The following transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview that is available from the library of the Cumberland County Historical Society located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The project’s intent in transcribing the interview was to create a clean, readable text without sacrificing the original language of the interview. Because written English differs from spoken English, the project adopted conventions to deal with the variations. No words have been added or changed, and no changes have been made in grammar or sentence structure. Words or short phrases added to clarify the text always appear in brackets; longer explanations will be placed in footnotes. Likewise, descriptions of non-verbal signs, such as nods of the head to indicate agreement or disagreement, have been noted in brackets. In preparing the text, the transcriber omitted false starts and filler words such as “ you know” or “um.” The transcript does not include language from the interviewer that is purely procedural (such as references to turning over the tape) or language that repeats or rephrases a question. No attempt was made to preserve the dialect or pronunciation of the interviewee since the original tapes are available for those interested in those aspects of the interview. (based on the methodology used by the Wisconsin Women During World War II Oral History Project)
Jennifer Elliott: Can you tell me a little bit about what life was like before the war?
Jane Seller: I was pretty young, I was just a little one running around [laughs]. It was a very comfortable life. I didn’t really experience the Depression. I wasn’t quite old enough to have experienced the Depression. Although I do remember toward the end of the Depression, we called them bums but they were transients coming to our back door soup rather regularly. Mother always had soup for them. But before the war it was just playing around the house and that was all that I was conscious of.
JE: Do you remember hearing about the bombing of Pearl Harbor?
JS: Absolutely, I was in the living room. My brother had enlisted in the Army, knowing something was going to happen. He was actually stationed at Carlisle Barracks so he was home for that Sunday. We were all sitting in the living room and the announcement came on. So I remember it very well, it was stunning.
JE: That was my next question, how did you react, what was your reaction?
JS: Well just sort of what does it mean, how can this be. But my brother immediately got up, put his uniform on and went back to his base. So I realized it was something very serious and that you had to take some sort of action and that was his action.
JE: How did the community respond to the bombing where you lived?
JS: Well when we were in war, immediately Civil Defense was set up. I don’t know how soon it was set up. But we had the air raid drills, the blackouts, and our neighbor was a Civil Defense Air Raid Warden. I think the community became rather activated by it and each person did what they could in a volunteer way or there was a lot of enlisting, too, and drafting of course.
JE: Can you tell a little bit more about the blackouts? Do you remember the procedures with it?
JS: Well, we’d turn off all our lights, there would be a siren and we’d turn off all our lights and sat in the dark. My most prominent memory is when my family, my mother and father and my sister and I, there were six of us, but only two of us were at home at that time, only two children. We had gone to a movie down the street and we came back and because there was a blackout, air raid drill, our neighbor was crouched in front of our cellar door with his raincoat over the glass part because we’d left a light on [laughter]. That’s the main thing I can remember about the blackouts, but we weren’t scared we just did them.
JE: Did you notice any differences in your daily routine?
JS: Oh yeah, well my family life routine it was a lot of difference because my two brothers were in the service. One was in the Army, one was in the Marines. The one in the Marines had been in college, he enlisted right before he graduated so he went that first year. Then my oldest sister graduated from college and she joined the WAVES, so we were really focused on what they were doing, my parents and my youngest sister who was two years older than I and I. I still had another sister who was in college and she wanted to join the WACS and my father talked her out of it [laughter]. He thought three in the service were enough. But it really changed our lives, our focus was all toward what was happening, where it was happening.
JE: Did your family have a victory garden?
JS: Yes, we wouldn’t have won any wars with it. My parents did it and my mother wasn’t one to enrich soil or anything. So she planted carrots, lettuce, tomatoes in our flower garden [laughter]. I don’t know what else, radishes, I guess. We got pretty good lettuce and tomatoes. But it wouldn’t have fed our family too well [laughter]. But yeah we did have a victory garden, everybody did.
JE: What level of school were you in during the war?
JS: I don’t know if I was in second or third grade when it started, and then of course I just progressed up.
JE: Were there any changed in the people who were teaching?
JS: No, because we had all old maids teaching us and so there was no change. We did have air raid drills in school and we did various things in school having to do with the war. Maybe your going to ask me later, I don’t know.
JE: Oh, go ahead.
JS: Well, we bought or brought in money for bond stamps, I can’t remember what they were called. Those little stamps and you get a whole lot of them and then you’d finally get enough for a bond, it was $18.75, which was a whole lot. When we were in fourth, fifth, and sixth grade we collected tin cans and I was very proud because we did it by the week and two weeks I got a prize for collecting tin cans, and one week our school got a banner for collecting the most tin cans. I still have the clipping.
We did a couple other things in school. One thing we did, this was very exciting for me to find out what really happened. We had these little Red Cross boxes that we had to fill. At the time I thought, “Oh, this is dumb.” We brought in socks and barrettes and combs, and little scarves. That’s mainly what I remember because I think I took in barrettes and I thought what does this have to do with the war. Well at any rate they were mailed overseas to England and given to children whose homes were bombed. Well by golly in 1989 we stayed in an English homestay, we were over there with our choir and we went around to different places. We were talking about the war because that was our growing up time and it was very fascinating to us to talk to English people about what they went through. Well by golly our hostess had lived in London and she said, “Oh yes our house was bombed. And do you know we got this box of little things that some American children had put together and sent to us.” [laughter]. You know I couldn’t believe this, it really happened. These little barrettes and things actually, this was acknowledged how many years later, and that was such a thrill to me. To find out this dumb thing that we collected really did something.
And another thing we did through school, we got pen pals. I don’t know what this had to do with winning the war, but it was something. I wrote to one girl in Scotland and one in Norway. And particularly the girl in Scotland was constantly asking for things to be sent. “We don’t have this, please send me…”, after awhile my mother said we really can’t keep doing that, so we didn’t. So we did and those are the things that I remember the most that happened in school. Sort of went around the corner on that one.
JE: Were there things that you and your family wanted to buy during the war that you couldn’t because of the rationing?
JS: Oh yeah, but as I said we were so focused. We didn’t want them, we just knew they weren’t unavailable. Women didn’t have silk stocking because nylons hadn’t been invented yet. So my sisters especially--and I think when I got to be old enough to pretend I was grown up--would paint stockings, it was orange, it was hideous. But they would paint this orange and sometimes they would paint a line up the back for the seams because we had seam stocking back in those days. So we couldn’t get stockings, a lot of foods were rationed of course. We got these little stamps, there was some little place down the street from us where you got your ration stamps and we didn’t have sugar, butter, eggs, coffee, all those things were shortaged. You couldn’t ride on a train because trains were all taken over for military. You didn’t go anywhere, you didn’t get gas for your car. You just had the very bare minimum. We had more than a minimum because my father was an airplane spotter. In other words he went on a hill somewhere with another guy, in the middle of the night every week and counted airplanes or figured out what kind of planes they were. So we had a little bit more gas, but we weren’t allowed to use it. So we just rode on the bus everywhere we wanted to go or else we didn’t go. Of course nobody could get new appliances, housing, houses weren’t built, cars weren’t built, everything that was manufactured was pretty much military. But I’m sure a lot of people were frustrated by this. We were comfortable with what we had and we just didn’t think about that.
JE: How did your community change during the war?
JS: Well actually we had [laughter] army people guarding our water tower. Which was on top of the hill, I lived in Lemoyne, the highest point of the hill was our water tower. For some reason the world thought that the first thing the enemy would do was bomb our water tower and we wouldn’t having any water. So there were soldiers guarding the water tower. Now we as kids were not allowed to talk to them, we were not allowed to go up there. I know some kids did, but I didn’t, I obeyed. There was a prison camp in New Cumberland, I lived in Lemoyne and the way the West Shore is here’s the river, here’s Lemoyne, New Cumberland, Camp Hill, Wormleysburg. So in New Cumberland there was a German prisoner of war camp, and we knew it was there. We never saw anyone going or coming, they came on the train I think. But we fantasized a lot about what we would do if one those German prisoners came and attacked us. I mean we had the upper hand believe me [laughter]. We spent a lot of time fantasizing about that. How they got there, we never saw them come, we never saw them leave. But we knew they were there, so there was that consciousness. I know some poor dear minister was of German extraction, and there would be rumors. Oh Reverend--I don’t remember his name anymore--he’s a German, he’s a German spy. It was so ridiculous, but there was definitely an awareness of what was going on. And through the children’s eyes, which of course what I would reflect, this is kind of how we saw it.
I think every organization did a little changing. For instance in church every Sunday we sang the same “Eternal Father Strong to Save,” [sings a few notes] it’s a Navy hymn actually, sang that every single Sunday. We had flags in our churches that we hadn’t had before. Speaking of flags, families that had people in the service had little stars, I’m sure other people have told you about this. Little silk flags with a blue star for every Army or Navy, person who was in and was okay. You got a silver star put on your flag if they were missing and you got a gold star if they were killed. Everybody put their flags in their windows, in their front window. There were just lots of visible signs of people’s interest in what was happening.
JE: Did you or any of your family members participate in any war effort activities other than your siblings going into the armed forces?
JS: Well, as I said my father was a Civil Defense volunteer. My mother made bandages with a group of ladies and she taught First Aid. I don’t know how she learned it, but anyway she taught First Aid. I don’t know what else they did. I can’t remember what they did, but I know what we did as children. I know through scouting my sister and I were both active in scouting. Early in the war our troop made an afghan, I’m sure this really helped us win the war. Our little troop--I even have a picture somewhere of twelve of whatever you were little girls--each one knitted little squares and sewed them together. I remember this because just about a week ago one of these little girls in this troop died and another one gave sort of a tribute at her funeral. And brought up this darn afghan that we made. So anyway we did things like that in our scouting activities.
JE: How did your family react to your siblings going off to war?
JS: Oh, you’d have to know my parents. They just said goodbye. They never showed anything negative. The only time I saw my mother really distressed and I could never understand it. We were sitting at the kitchen table and my mother always sat at the kitchen table. Which was covered with a map of Europe, it was oil clothed. We watched where all the armies were. My mother always read the paper at the kitchen table. My sister and I were arguing about something and my mother cried. We never seen her cry, she had read an article in the paper about some air people being on a life raft. I don’t know if they were rescued or something like that. But it just touched her and I think that was really the only time I saw her really distressed, worried, and distressed. Now we did have one Christmas in February, we kept our tree up until February. Of course, neither of the boys ever got home; one was in Europe and one was in the South Pacific. But my sister was stationed in Washington and she said she wouldn’t get home until February. So we kept our Christmas tree, lovely as it was [laughter] up until February when she could get home. How did I get there? [laughter]
JE: Oh that’s quite all right. Did you feel like you were contributing to the war effort with everything that you guys got into?
JS: Oh absolutely. I mean you would have thought we were marching around with little guns. We felt as though we were really part of it. I remember one time we did a play, my sister and I and two other little girls down the street, costumes, and everything. We charged a quarter admission, which mother made us take back and we gave this little play for the war effort [laughter]. We were really helpful.
JE: Do you remember V-E and V-J Day?
JS: I remember V-E Day, yes. I remember V-J Day much more clearly because that was really it. We were in Laport, Pennsylvania which is a little town up in Sullivan County, northern Pennsylvania. So it’s a little resort town and for some reason we were up there. I can remember my cousins breaking into the school or the courthouse, I wouldn’t do that. I really wouldn’t break into any place and ringing the bell when we got the news. Everyone piled into the Methodist church for some kind of service of thanksgiving. I remember that very well. Now on V-E Day, I know this isn’t Cumberland County, but my husband lived in New Jersey and he was just a boy. He went into New York into that mass of celebration and he remembers that. I do remember V-E not as clearly as V-J Day.
JE:How did the war overall change your life?
JS: I don’t know.
JE: Do you think life would have been much different if the war would have never occurred?
JS: Oh well sure it was an interruption to normal things. We never went on any vacations during the war, we probably would have done that. We probably would have had a better car. There just was a lot of heartache during this period as friends, sons, brothers, whatever were killed. There was a heavy rate of that. I don’t think I can answer that too well.
JS: I already mentioned the gas rationing. We had to use little stamps for buying butter, meat, sugar, I think coffee. Anything that was a shortage, and although my mother didn’t buy a lot of bacon, you had to save your grease, and take it back. Somehow the grease, like bacon grease, which you took back to the grocer in a can. Somehow I had the feeling it was used in manufacture of airplanes or something--I have no idea. But anyway we did that. Scrap metal was collected, too. It was melted down, they used that because it was such an immense effort. To take this country at peace, that had very limited army and arms, and get into this huge war machine. There was a lot of fast and hard work at manufacturing all these arms.
Also we got some really strange food, I think it was just my parents. I think it was my father. He brought home a big sack of soybeans, because somehow he knew way back then that this was a wonderful source of protein. He said we weren’t going to be able to have meat so we’ll have soybeans. I personally hated them, mother cooked them like baked beans. But they weren’t favorites of mine. Then he brought home several big sacks of wheat, not like bulgur that you buy at the store, it was in its kernel. Mother would cook this for cereal. I really hated it but then again it was for the war effort [laughter].
Another thing we did was we wrote letters. I not only wrote to letters to my three siblings, I wrote letters regularly to my sister’s boyfriend. This was something people were told to do, write letters to service people. They looked forward to getting your letters. One of them probably my future brother-in-law saved my letters. I don’t suppose any of the other ones did but this was another thing that we did to keep up their morale. That’s about what I remember.
JE: Did they write back to you often, your siblings?
JS: Hardly. My brothers hardly wrote back, it was very seldom that we got letters back. Especially from the one in Europe because he was so busy. But when a letter came it was a family event. My parents, they really were happy, for one thing they knew they were all right but it was just such a great thing to get a letter. Now my sister who was in Washington wrote every week, frequently. But I don’t who has these letters. Actually what I have are some letters from World War I when my father was in it. But I don’t know who has these letters and they probably should be saved in some way.
Of course the siren would go off and I went to a rather small school. There were four rooms, but there were six grades, no kindergarten. We would go down to the basement and we would sing patriotic songs, but the funny thing is most of them were World War I songs because as I said we had these older ladies for teachers [laughter]. But that’s what we did during air raids. We’d sing these songs, we’d stand in this little dark hall until we got the all clear sign. Some other kind of siren and then we’d go back to our rooms.
JE: During the war did you lose anyone?
JS: No, we were very fortunate. Just people we knew, but none of my relatives.
[end of interview]