“The Green Sheet”: Letters from Home During World War II

Beginning in 1942, the staff of the Jewish Hospital of St. Louis created and mailed “The Green Sheet,” a monthly newsletter which earned its nicknamed from the colored paper it was printed on. Officially named “216 South Kingshighway,” the missive was sent to members of Jewish Hospital serving in the military during World War II, and contained both news of the staff left at home, as well as excerpts from deployed staff members’ letters. The 31 issues held in the Bernard Becker Medical Library Archives provide an intimate glimpse into the global experiences of St. Louis service members during the Second World War.

In England while serving with the 21st General Hospital, Major Harry Agress wrote, “Last Sunday the bells here in England tolled for the first time since Dunkirk and it was something too thrilling for description. There wasn’t just the beauty of the chimes and the resounding music of the carillons that made you feel that something was different; there was a certain look in the men on the streets that simply gushed with pride….There was something about it all that simply told the world that Britain just couldn’t be licked and they knew it.” (December 1942).

A portion of General Hospital 21 was also serving in the Middle East. Captain Joe Gritt, who served with them there, described, “ [a] thing of beauty and a joy forever to the eye – the Blue Mosque….The most magnificent thing I’ve seen in white marble and blue domed ceilings and churchly glass and a red plush rug and a crystal chandelier with a 100 foot drop surrounded by 366 lesser lamps to light the dais and a marble courtyard agleam with constant scouring and the minarets on the four corners pointing to heaven….” (December 1942).

More poignantly, a Jewish Hospital surgeon, whose name and exact location were redacted in deference to the wartime censors, wrote about his encounter with a German prisoner, noting, “[I] had occasion recently to operate on a Nazi….He was brought in by boat and developed pain in the abdomen and vomiting….He was brought into the hospital and I operated on him and found a suppurative appendix. He did well and is now in Canada. Very paradoxical I thought – a Jewish surgeon saving the life of a Nazi, with Hitler killing Jews by the thousands.” (November 1942).

Though the letters written home from the deployed medical staff generally radiate good humor and stoicism (perhaps in deference to their intended audience), one can catch glimpses of the strain of service. Commander Fred Jostes mused, “It does not seem possible that 19 months have been devoured by this inhumane strife. Little can one realize its horrors until you pick up that which is left of men…..until you see the evidence of the effect of the elements and the vicious destructive devices of man on his fellow men.” (September 1943).