American Red Cross Founder’s Day
Today is American Red Cross Founder’s Day in the United States.
During the Second World War American Red Cross (ARC) Clubs were established all over Northern Ireland. By 1943, when American forces in the country were reaching their peak, ARC Clubs were even in towns as small as Warrenpoint and Castledawson.
The two largest clubs were housed in the Northern Counties Hotel on Waterloo Place in Londonderry and the Plaza Ballroom on Chicester Street in Belfast (Pictured – NIWM:2019:2539).
In fact, the ARC club in Derry was the first to open in Europe during the Second World War.
ARC Clubs helped prevent boredom amongst the US troops by providing leisure and recreational facilities.
Racial segregation has been well documented in the US forces during the Second World War and the ARC Clubs were no different. In Belfast, separate clubs have been recorded as being ‘white staffed’ and ‘negro staffed’.
These clubs were often also segregated by rank. Despite being a small town, Portrush had two ARC Clubs, the West Bay View Hotel hosted the officers club and the Eglinton Hotel hosted the enlisted men.
Our oral history project has recorded several stories about American Red Cross dances and excursions. Sadie Lineker (b. 1924) participated in the US75 oral history project and shared her memories of the Belfast ARC Club.
Sadie was working in the Food Office when she heard that they were seeking volunteers to come to the American Red Cross Club to dance.
‘… I put my name down and they sent someone to vet us and get permission from my parents to go… I don’t know why we needed to be vetted, perhaps to weed out the ones who talked to much!’
At those dances she got to know a few American soldiers and went on to explain that they went on trips and excursions organised by the ARC.
‘We went to the Mourne Mountains and stately homes… we went on a picnic, the boys brought sandwiches with peanut butter and jelly. We couldn’t figure it out, they asked “did we like peanut butter and jelly?”, and we were all “how did they get jelly into a sandwich”… so all the girls said “oh we’ll have jelly” to see what it was and it was jam… we all loved the peanut butter too, we thought it strange but we got used to it’… ‘I learned to jive, then at one of the last dances Glenn Miller came on with his band… everybody crowded around the stage… and we were dancing around the back of the crowd’.
Do you or a loved one have memories of an American Red Cross Service Club in Northern Ireland? If you would like to share your story please get in touch with our Oral History Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07588 634847.
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