Archive » October 12, 2006
The Way it Was
By Hattie Beresford
1943: THE HOMEFRONT
Spring 1943, and the mellifluous harmony of The Andrews Sisters’ “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree with Anyone Else But Me” poured forth from radios across the nation. Hundreds of young Santa Barbara and Montecito men were fighting overseas and the Santa Barbara News-Press was consumed by war news. Front page headlines shouted, “German U-boats Sink 27 Merchant Ships in Battle of the Atlantic” and “Japan Announces Captured Allied Pilots Will Be Given ‘One Way Ticket to Hell.’” Even the comic pages reflected the war as Joe Palooka exchanged his boxing gloves for an army-issued rifle and entered the ring for Uncle Sam.
The society pages no longer listed attendees at elegant events; rather, they reported on Montecito and Santa Barbara’s sons and daughters as they enlisted in various branches of the service. On April 1, there was a farewell dinner at El Paseo for Henry Levy, Jr., who was being inducted into the army. On April 5, Virginia Dibblee left for Wave’s training at Smith College as an officer candidate. Local advertisers included a pitch for war bonds, and Sunday editions included a service men’s page with photos and news of locals in the service. Ensign John Jordano was home on leave from the Navy, as was Lieutenant “Norm” Firestone, a fighter pilot. Private Gibson was in Africa as a radio mechanic, and Pete Aguilar had been promoted to sergeant. And then there were the death notices. When the war ended, more than 200 local boys didn’t make it home.
Even before the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, a prescient government had built the Naval Reserve facility, and the Army bought 46 acres west of Las Positas near Hollister (now State) and built Hoff General Hospital, which treated more than 27,500 wounded American soldiers during the war years.
After a Japanese submarine brought the war close to home by attacking the oil fields at Elwood on February 23, 1942, everything changed. The Goleta airport became a Marine Corps Air Station and barracks were built on the mesa, which is now the site of UCSB. Santa Barbara Harbor was filled with warships. The land north of Cliff Drive and east of Meigs Road became a Navy Ammunition Dump.
Wives and families of servicemen stationed in Santa Barbara moved into town and Santa Barbara experienced a housing shortage. News articles cautioned landlords to keep the rents from ballooning or face federal rent control.
The citizens of Montecito and Santa Barbara mobilized to support the war effort and protect the homefront. Block wardens patrolled the streets to enforce dim-outs, and plane spotters kept watch for enemy aircraft. Nearly every club in town was involved in war work, and interclub cooperation was at an all-time high. Representatives from several clubs prepared 60,000 bandages a month for shipment to the battlefronts. The main production rooms were at 12 East Carrillo, Rockwood, Hope Ranch and Montecito Home Club. The weekly farmers’ market at Rockwood benefited the war service fund.
Allotments & Quotas
Food shortages necessitated ration books with each family receiving allotment stamps to purchase sugar, butter, eggs, meat, etc. Nylons were in short supply and women turned to bobby socks or drew a seam on their legs in imitation. (Nylons used to have a seam on the back.) Gasoline was rationed and siphoning became a problem for Santa Barbara auto owners. To provide cloth and metal for the war effort, the War Production Board entered into the fashion industry. They designed women’s dresses that were shorter and narrower. Cloth-conserving two-piece bathing suits raised a few indignant eyebrows, but Mr. Marcus of Neiman Marcus called them “patriotic chic,” so who dared complain.
The scarcity of leather swamped the klompen makers of Holland, Michigan with requests for wooden shoes. Headlines in the 1943 News-Press announced, “Poplar Shoes Popular.” The skyrocketing demand saved the ancient trade from extinction.
In April, Santa Barbara county was asked to grow 63,000 acres of beans for GI Beans and GI Gravy. In May, housewives were asked to increase their savings of kitchen fats. California had made less than half of its 1.23-million-pound quota and was looking decidedly unpatriotic. Butchers sent the fat to government smelting plants where it was used to make glycerine, an important ingredient in explosives.
Food shortages led the government to nervously promote Victory gardens, and Santa Barbarans and Montecitans responded enthusiastically as attendance soared at an increasing number of gardening classes. Fearful that the amateur farmers might take out the entire population, News-Press headlines screamed, “Poison Warning Given to City’s New Gardeners.”
School children donned farmer johns and joined the cause. The News-Press reported, “While seeds of knowledge are being sown in the minds of Santa Barbara students, seeds for Victory Gardens are being sown in their vegetable plots at school.” From kindergarten through high school, students plowed, planted, hoed and tended their vegetable plots. The harvest was divided between the school kitchens and the pupils’ homes. La Cumbre and Santa Barbara Junior Highs maintained five acres of garden each, and they also encouraged the building of rabbit hutches and chicken coops. At Santa Barbara High School, students made the ultimate sacrifice; they volunteered to give up study period to work in the garden.
Besides shortages of food and gasoline, Santa Barbara experienced a labor shortage. In April, despairing that their lemons would rot on the trees, local growers appealed to high school students to pick lemons during spring vacation.
State industrial centers had Rosie the Riveter, but small town Santa Barbara had Rosie the Ranger. In April, the Red Cross Motor Corps organized a mounted unit that was to act as U.S. Forest Service patrol women. Mrs. Paul E. (Alice) Landell of Montecito was appointed lieutenant of the outfit, whose duties included the following: carrying emergency supplies and medical aid to those stationed in the hills, carrying written or verbal messages, assisting firefighters in patrolling and carrying equipment, searching for airplane casualties, transporting the injured, patrolling for fires and establishing fire camps. The volunteer horsewomen, mostly members of the Santa Barbara Riding and Trails Association, received detailed training that included mule packing and fire map reading, at the Los Padres forest lodge in April. In May, they packed up the horses and mules and set off into the Los Padres wilderness for a trial run.
That same month, the women of the town were drafted to fight in the war against the invasion of vermin. The presence of plague-infested rats on San Marcos and Casitas Passes had health officials worried, but block wardens refused the extra duty. The American Association of University Women and the Santa Barbara League of Women Voters spearheaded the campaign with an educational evening that opened with a reading of “The Pied Piper of Hamlin.” In the absence of such a talented piper, they followed up with a lecture on communicable diseases from rodents and a movie, “How to Get Rid of Rats.” Dr. C.T. Roome, the city health official, then presented the eradication program. On April 17, the News-Press announced, “500 Poison Packages Distributed in City’s War on Rat Population.” Now fully armed, the ladies marched off to do battle.
No Man Shortage Here
Throughout the nation, the shortage of men not only caused a shortage of labor, but also a shortage of beaus. In 1943, Frank Loesser published a hit song reflecting the futility of going on a man hunt.
“They’re either too young or too old/ They’re either too gray or too grassy green/ The pickings are poor and the crop is lean....
“Tomorrow I’ll go hiking with the Eagle scout unless/ I get a call from grandpa for a snappy game of chess....
“They’re either too bald or too bold/ I’m down to the wheelchair and bassinet/ My heart just refuses to get upset....
“I either get a fossil or an adolescent pup/ I either have to hold him off/ Or have to hold him up....
“They’re either too young or too old...”
While the rest of the nation sang along grimly, Santa Barbara girls smiled a bit smugly. After all, with a huge Army hospital, a Marine Corps Air Base and the Navy within shouting distance, their dance cards were filled. But for others, it was only the spring of 1943, and the ladies had two years to wait ‘til Johnny came marching home.
(Sources: Contemporary news articles; “California’s Wonderful Corner,” by Walker A. Tompkins; Internet site – “American History 102: WWII: The Impact at Home,” by Stanley K. Schultz.)
One More Thing
Dear Readers: I would like to do a follow-up article on the WWII Homefront in the coastal Santa Barbara and Montecito area and would love to hear from those of you who experienced it. What organizations did you join? In what war-related activities did you participate? What did you do for fun? How did the shortages affect you or your family? Share your stories, and please, please lend us your photographs. The archives at Santa Barbara Historical Society and Montecito Association History Committee are slim on people and lifestyle photos from this period. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, H.B.
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