The Papers consist chiefly of personal correspondence (1913-1920) between George Armstrong and Nell Floss Steel, later Nell Steel Armstrong, over the course of their courtship and marriage, both before and during World War I (1914-1918).
The correspondence is unusual in that both George Armstrong and his sweetheart, later wife, Nell Floss Steel, both served on the front during World War I, either in Europe, or at home in hospitals or camps in the United States. Life as a U. S. Armyinfantry officer in charge of recruits, or a Red Cross nurse is therefore vividly depicted in their letters to each other.
The Armstrong correspondence is also unusual for war-time, since Nell Floss Steel was the first of the two sent overseas in September 1914 to serve in a military hospital in Serbia, while her future husband was serving in army military camps in Texas City, Texas, at El Paso, Texas and Columbus, Ohio. In turnabout, George was later sent to France (September?-November 1918), while, as a result of her recent marriage to George, Nell had to remain in the United States, despite her eagerness to return to active war duty.
During this time George Armstrong served primarily with a U. S. Army General Services Infantry Recruit Depot, training recruits, and was stationed periodically at Ft. Benjamin Harrison, Indiana and at Camp Sherman, Ohio, eventually serving with the 83rd Infantry Division in France (September?-November 1918).
Nell Floss Steel served six months as a Red Cross nurse in a military hospital in Serbia (1914-1915) and as part of "The Texas Ten" group of nurses in a military camp at Eagle Pass, Texas (August 1916-March 1917), before marrying George Armstrong 21 August 1917. She spent the rest of the war mainly working in hospitals and sanitariums in the Columbus, Ohio area.
Details of daily life in the military camps, or in Red Cross service are many, and recorded by both the Armstrongs in delightfully intimate and detailed letters. Subjects mentioned in the correspondence include domestic and international politics, housing issues, income, social customs in different cultures, such as Greek nationals encountered both in the United States as well as in their homeland, or Austrian soldiers, both as officers and an hospital orderlies, politics, sports, and the lives of both a professional soldier and a professional nurse.
As a career nurse during wartime, Nell Floss Steel faced typoid and typhus epidemics, patients with unimaginable wounds, along with the difficulty and challenge of learning to understand Greek and German. Mail is forever delayed, obstructed or censored, the nurses never venture outside the hospital area after dark, and the availability of serum to innoculate the nurses before they face sufferers of contagious diseases is not certain. Over the course of the correspondence a very plucky and independent Nell Floss Steel records such moving scenes as a child dying of typhus, a young soldier dying of lockjaw, and a young military wife whom Nell Steel Armstrong aids when she miscarries.
Nell Floss Steel is invigorated by these challenges, however, and keeps a keen eye on the socio-political interactions manifested by relations between, for example, Austrian orderlies who are prisoners-of-war and an Austrian officer, who though a countryman and dying patient, is abused as a result of his former tyranny to underlings. Her letters present a finely detailed and atmospheric portrait of life as a World War IRed Cross nurse in occupied territory far from home. The contrasts inherent in World War I are shown by the delightful sightseeing Nell enjoys in Athens, just a short journey from the horrors of a Serbian hospital.
Nell Steel Armstrong is also approvingly aware of the political struggles of the "suffrage ladies," and extremely disappointed after 1917 that her married status prevents her from returning to war work in Europe, although she rejects the option of "divorcing for the war."
Patriotic and convivial, George Armstrong is both an avid football player and horseback rider, a passion he shares with Nell Steel Armstrong. He recounts incidents of heat-exhuastion after a 16-mile march in Texas heat, resulting in the death of two soldiers, as well as other accidents and wounds. He voices doubts, however, about the advisability of the United States becoming involved in the political upheavals of Europe or Mexico. Much comment about political developments of the day are included. President Woodrow Wilson and former President Teddy Roosevelt are mentioned. George Armstrong also describes the early military training of Pancho Villa, and comments on Texas/Mexico border activities of the Texas Rangers with great admiration. Nell Steel Armstrong describes former President Taft speaking to a group of nurses including herself.
Military camaraderie is evident in George Armstrong's high spirited description of pistol matches, parades, training exercise, mule and horse training, as well as life among soldiers living in often makeshift army training camps. For example, life in tents on the dusty fields at Texas City, Texas is enlivened by socializing with the population of Irish soldiers, most of them "fresh from the old sod."
Also present are letters from Nell Steel Armstrong to her mother, Mrs. James G. Steel, or sisters, Jane Steel, Margaret Steel, and Ethel Withgott; official correspondence regarding Nell Steel Armstrong's nursing service and George Armstrong'smilitary service; family correspondence to the married couple; George Armstrong's diary for 1914; an American Civil War letter (1862) by William Steel to his brother James G. Steel (Nell's father), with two poems (1863) collected by William Steel, newspaper clippings, a few programs and Christmas cards; one box of photographs [some negatives lacking photographic prints] of George Armstrong and Nell Steel Armstrong, either separately, together, or in groups; one flat storage box of oversize diplomas and photographs.
Items separated include five drawings of Platoon Plans of Attack[missing as of 10/2002], and one map of the northeast of France for bicycle and automobile touring.
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