Nursing history: Packing lists for WWII Army nurses


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Many of us never will experience what it’s like to be a nurse on the front lines of war. That’s part of why it’s so unique to peek into the life of a nurse who has served overseas and learn about an experience that’s so different from working in a hospital. writer Rebecca Onion was recently sent two pages of a WWII-era packing list for Army nurses by reader Patricia Britton. Britton’s mother, Laura Rodriguez, served in the Army as a nurse from 1944 through 1946, during the war. Rodriguez, who was 23 when she enlisted, had only been a nurse for around a year when she decided to enlist. She served in the European Theatre in the Rhineland Campaign and was later honorably discharged at the rank of First Lieutenant.

While preparing to go to Germany in December of 1944, she received this packing list:

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At this point in the war, there were tons of nurses serving overseas (in June 1945, there were 17,345), and the lists are full of practical suggestions as a true reflection of the way things were in Europe. Granted 175 lbs. in luggage (including their bedding), nurses were encouraged to bring items that were hard to find overseas (shoes, hose, Kotex) as well as warm clothing (woolen underwear, pajamas, flannel sheets).

Some of the more fun recommendations came in the form of items looking to boost morale, like cloth to fashion curtains to “brighten up” nurses’ quarters and a book to contribute to everyone’s entertainment aboard ship.

The list also reveals the tight hold the Army had on nurses’ appearance. They were instructed to dress in full uniform while in transit since “the public not only observes you closely but critically.” They were encouraged to bring lipstick and nail polish – but nothing too bright!

Do you know any nurses who have served overseas? Are packing lists still this specific? We’d love to hear your input in the comments.


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