Handy Island

Handy Island
"The Air War Finds A Handy South Atlantic Island" was the caption on this Peter Hurd painting of Ascension Island, from Life Magazine, April 1945. It was the only place for pilots to refuel between Natal and West Africa.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hey Honey! How'd Ya Like a Pair of Real Silk Stockings?

I'll bet silk stockings weren't rationed for Betty Grable, one of the most popular pinups in World War II.  That would have been bad for morale!

This next story also comes as a sidebar to the report in the Richmond paper that tells of the return of the men of the 898th Engineers.  To understand it, you have to take your mind back to a time when a woman didn't leave the house unless she was wearing a nice dress or a skirt with a matching jacket, and stockings on her legs.  In World War II, material of all kinds was rationed so the government could use the mills to make all those millions and millions of G.I. uniforms.  Women's skirts went up to the knee in order to save precious fabric--much to the delight of those same G.I.s.  Unfortunately; silk was also rationed (parachutes you know) and women found even the newly invented nylon stockings almost impossible to find.  Add that to the fact that on Ascension Island, the planes flying through were coming to and from the China-Burma-India theater--where silk was still available--and you have the following report.

The Reflector
Richmond, Virginia
Friday, May 12, 1944

"898th Silks Now Adorn Fine Area of U.S. Longitude"

"WACS and civilian girls working on the base [the Richmond Army Air Base]  can stop hiding their wealth [ed note: meaning their gams!] now those silk stockings which the men of the 898th Engineers could buy at the PX on Ascension are disposed of. Twenty-day furloughs after their arrival at RAAB [Richmond Army Air Base] took care of those.

The stockings were shipped into the island [probably from points East, outside America] as the PX grew and found ready buyers among Engineers who had an idea they might come in handy one day back in the U.S. Many a pair of legs, from New Orleans to Norfolk, is probably now clad in those belated Christmas gifts.

Other Island Supplies

The first beer hit the island in September 1942.  First ration was three cans per man per week and supply varied after that.  Sometimes, shipments of Spanish bottled beer from Brazil found their way into the PX, and drinking it amounted to a sort of "Crackerjack package" prize, because its strength wasn't uniform. "When you got a rugged bottle," recalled some of the men this week, "it was RUGGED!"

All parties were warned before embarkation in 1942, to take along a four-to-six months supply of soap, as "reinforcements" might be slim.  But the pure water scarcity held soap consumption down so low that men actually brought back with them, this March, some of the original soap they had taken along with them and hadn't needed in two years!"

(RC notes: Hope those guys used an abundance of that leftover soap before they started trying to hand out the silk stockings.)

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