York County World War II nurse: ‘You know, it was the biggest war ever, and they needed nurses’
Nellie Scott, far left, is seen with other nurses waiting to board a train to treat wounded military men in Italy in World War II. Background posts: A short test of your women’s history knowledge, Civil War nurse: ‘Dogs of war in our midst’ and ‘Her words helped win the war’.
She might have been the first Army nurse from York County to enlist in World War II.
That was Nellie Scott’s reputation during her lifetime and after death, which came Aug. 31… .
She was the first of many female nurses from York County to serve in the war.
On May 14, 1942, a bill to “Establish a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps” became law.
By January 1944, the first WACs arrived in the Pacific, and in July 1944, WACs landed on the beach at Normandy.
Women continued to serve overseas through 1945 and, at one point, there were more than 2,000 WACs serving in North Africa alone.
Toward the end of the war in Europe the European Theater boasted over eight thousand WACs stationed across England, France, and Germany.
Nellie Scott was one of them.
Here is her story, from a York Daily Record/Sunday News article (5/30/04):
Nellie Scott caught a “M*A*S*H” episode once.
She doesn’t remember much of the sitcom about a mobile hospital in the Korean War.
Once was enough for her.
That wasn’t what it was like in World War II, says the retired nurse, her blue eyes like steel.
Not even close.
She tosses her head for emphasis, her wavy hair white like the snow-tipped Alps she admired when the beauty of Europe touched her amid the devastation of war.
“The young people today should see what it was like,” she says, and purses her lips before smiling and staring off.
Her bright, York Township living room fades as she remembers 1943. She is 25 again — the soldier in a photograph on her dining room table. Her face is creamy smooth. Her hair is dark and tamed with bobby pins under an Army hat.
She opens a photo album and turns to the back page where seven women in new uniforms stand by railroad tracks on the way to war.
“I met some really nice people,” she says, pointing out two who live in Florida.
Most in her group are not alive to share their stories.
And Scott doesn’t talk much about the war. After all, it was 61 years ago.
“Now I have other things to think about,” she says, lifting her shoulders and letting them fall. “Everything changes with time.”
But she can’t stop the memories.
Scott saw two careers acceptable for women in the 1930s — teaching or nursing. She adored her aunt Ada Gross who was a nurse in Philadelphia.
So she chose nursing.
She attended York Hospital’s nursing school and was offered a job at the hospital after she graduated in 1939.
Four years later, she was York County’s first nurse to enlist in the Army, she says.
A Manchester newspaper published her picture and a story before she reported for duty at Hampton Roads, near Newport News, in March 1943.
She chose to go. She was what the military called “in for the duration.”
“There was a war going on, and everyone was involved,” she says, her voice wavering. “You know, it was the biggest war ever, and they needed nurses.”
But it was more than duty for Scott — who still drives, shops, cooks and contentedly lives alone.
It was adventure for the farm girl from East Manchester Township, the fifth-born of eight children. Her legs were sturdy and her back was strong from farm labor.
She rose each morning at 4 to milk cows before going to work at York Hospital at 7 a.m.
Scott learned a different kind of nursing in Italy. She was given the rank of lieutenant and served with the 38th Evacuation Hospital, attached to the 5th Army.
A tent hospital.
Scott had traveled five days in a troop ship with six other nurses and 3,000 men in a convoy of seven ships, including a destroyer for protection.
They couldn’t stop because of the danger of attack, she says.
The ship docked in an Italian port, and medical workers set up the tent hospital near the Vatican, behind the soldiers fighting in foxholes.
They would move north with the troops. Sometimes they stayed only a few days before they pulled up stakes and moved again.
The injured were carried into the hospital where their wounds were cleaned and they received plasma, morphine and a newly invented drug to fight infection — penicillin.
“We didn’t have clocks,” she says. “We just worked . . . when there was a push. We didn’t even think about time we were so busy.”
She falls silent, shudders a little.
She says again how they gave morphine — and gave it generously — for the pain.
Her living room is growing warm in the late morning sun, promising a warmer afternoon.
But she is comfortable, she says.
Scott remembers mild winters in Italy where she spent at least 18 months.
Sleeping on a folding cot in a two-person tent at night, she learned that nature and the elements were rarely their allies.
She hated the brown lizards.
“You reach in your pocket and there they were,” she says. “And you go to bed, and they’re in your bed.”
Illness was all around. Malaria was spreading across Europe.
Each day, Scott and the others in the medical group swallowed large pills to ward it off, she says.
She managed to keep well, but one of the nurses in her group contracted the disease and died.
And then there was rain — and lots of it. The water rose 16 inches an hour one day in the hospital tent when they camped by the Po River near Pisa, until they were flooded out. The hospital was lost.
All of Scott’s personal items, including her clothes, pictures and letters, were swept away.
“Our priority was to get the patients out,” she says.
After loading them on amphibious vehicles called ducks, medical workers drove to a large vacant building in Florence where the patients walked or were carried in on stretchers.
They stayed there together all night.
“Everybody just lay down on the floor and slept,” she says.
The next day, help and supplies arrived.
The mobile hospital moved on.
Scott’s journey across Europe would take her north to Milan where Benito Mussolini was assassinated a day before she arrived in April 1945.
“They . . . hung him up by his feet in the town’s square,” she says.
The war ended in Europe in May 1945. But Scott wasn’t going home, yet.
The Army gave her about a week’s vacation, and she toured Europe with another nurse, hitching rides with soldiers they met along the way.
She saw the gondolas in Venice, visited the Alps in Austria and climbed to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Although the sights were breathtaking, she was seeing Europe at its worst.
The machines of war had all but spoiled the countryside. Bombs had leveled buildings.
Piles of rubble were everywhere.
Scott doesn’t dwell on these memories.
In Italy, every window in every house had a window box full of flowers, she says.
After her stint as a tourist, she returned to the war, still raging in Japan.
The Army asked for volunteers, and she raised her hand.
Scott and the other medical workers had to learn how to shoot before they left. They would carry guns for the first time in the war.
“They said we would have to defend ourselves,” she says.
But she and the other volunteers would never see Japan. Their ship had engine trouble in the Pacific at the equator. Before it could be repaired, the atomic bomb was dropped.
The war was really over.
Scott’s ship docked in the Philippines, and her medical group worked in a base hospital for about a month.
Patients needed to be cared for, she says, even though the war had ended.
They had arrived in Manila in the rainy season. Scott and the others would battle the elements again.
She thought she knew all about rain from Italy and the Po River, but she didn’t know she could get a sunburn in the rain — until she did.
And if she thought the brown lizards were bad, the Philippines had larger, slimy green lizards, she says.
Worse were the mosquitoes. Scott slept under netting.
She was relieved when she and the other medical people boarded a British hospital ship headed for the states.
They were going home.
Scott’s ship docked in Wilmington, Calif., at March Field near Los Angeles. Then she took a plane to Fort Dix in Newark, N.J.
The Army discharged her in February 1946.
But Scott has left out one important detail, almost too painful to talk about.
She fell in love with a man in the Dental Corps. When the war was over, they married and raised two girls.
They divorced in 1971.
Scott speaks more slowly now. Her memories have made her tired.
The room is too warm and she is 86, not 23.
Her legs are swollen from a circulatory problem; she walks with a cane. And while she does drive some, she’d rather stay home.
She doesn’t crave adventure anymore.
Wartime pictures fill two drawers of a chest in her living room.
She’ll take the pictures out and organize them, she says.
And she’ll remember again. But not today.
Today she will rest.
Information from “Women Veterans – A History of Their Past” at userpages.aug.com/captbarb was included in this post.
For scores of posts on York County in World War II, see this blog’s World War II category.
Other posts of interest linked to York County women in World War II:
– ‘Her words helped win the war.’
– Nurses and their work appear again and again in York County’s past.
– Pioneering aviator Aline Rhonie another York native who made U.S. headlines.