Waging war for her grandmother: N.H. woman fights to honor WWI's 'Hello Girls'
By Madeline Hughes
via theEagle-Tribune newspaper (North Andover, MA) web site
ATKINSON, N.H. (Tribune News Service) — As she was helping her parents move from their home a decade ago, Carolyn Timbie of Atkinson stumbled upon what she calls "an amazing treasure trove" of items from World War I.
They included a helmet, a gas mask, uniforms, letters, artillery shells and a clip of ammunition — all things her grandmother had saved from her time at the front lines of the war.
Timbie's grandmother Grace Banker was the chief operator of the U.S. Army Signal Corps women telephone operators. The Signal Corps is a branch of the American military that manages communications for combined armed forces, such as the U.S. Army working with a military group from another country.
Banker died three years before Timbie was born. Now, about 60 years after the death, Timbie is connecting with her grandmother in a special way. She is helping historians and U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan understand the work done by Signal Corps women during the war, when they became known as the Hello Girls.
"It's 100 years later. They should get the full recognition," Timbie said of her hope that Banker and other Signal Corps women are eventually honored with medals for their military service. "Still today, we have women who have to work extra hard for recognition, and so many women identify with this story."
Hassan and a bipartisan group of senators are working to recognize Banker and her fellow Signal Corps women with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor given by Congress.
"Grace Banker and the other Hello Girls were true patriots who answered America's call to action by serving as crucial links between American and French forces on the front lines during World War I," Hassan said, pointing to the women's "brave and selfless service."
Timbie has been sharing her grandmother's story in the military community and beyond. A woman who heard the story and is a colonel in the U.S. Army identified with the tale. She reached out to Timbie to talk about the difference between women in the military now and generations ago.
Timbie said the colonel talks openly about being a lesbian, something she never would have done early in her military career. To do so would have jeopardized her chance to gain leadership positions in the Army, said Timbie, adding the colonel has found inspiration in Banker's story.
Banker was among the women telephone operators recruited into World War I after men in the U.S. Army struggled to connect phone calls quickly or communicate well with their allies in the French military. The U.S. Signal Corps women were sent to France to serve at military headquarters and command posts alongside American fighting forces.
Banker went into the war shortly after graduating from Barnard College. She had been working as a switchboard operator with a telephone company and then became one of the first females recruited as a telephone operator in the war, where she led her unit. In total, 223 women went overseas during the war to operate phones.
“Learning this history has increased my connection with the women in my family,” Timbie said.
Read the entire article on the Eagle-Tribune web site.
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