Barbara Selmer

With Red Cross in Australia
Miss Barbara Selmer, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Selmer, 417 Hudson Street, who is now in Australia, will serve in an American Red Cross overseas club.

Prior to going overseas, she was an instructor of piano at the Manhattan School of Music, New York City. 

She was graduated from Eau Claire High School and St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN.

Barbara Selmer on Radio Program in South Pacific
Miss Barbara Selmer of this city, Red Cross worker stationed in Noumea, New Caledonia, took part in a radio program broadcast over an Army Expeditionary Station as part of a Fourth of July celebration in the South Pacific. The sketch contained a patriotic theme, pertaining to the writing of The Star-Spangled Banner. Miss Selmer assisted in the musical setting and played the organ.

Eau Claire Girl Red Cross Worker in South Pacific
NOUMEA, New Caledonia--Miss Barbara Selmer, American Red Cross Club worker, pounds the ivories as a group of Marines, sailors, and soldiers give out in full chorus in the Red Cross Club for Allied servicemen on this island. Barbara is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Selmer of Eau Claire, WI.

Miss Barbara Selmer, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Selmer, 417 Hudson Street, this city, has been serving with the American Red Cross in the South Pacific for nearly a year. A pianist, formerly a teacher in the Manhattan School of Music in New York City, Miss Selmer enrolled in the club service of the Red Cross early in 1943 and, in February, was sent to Australia. In May of last year, she arrived in New Caledonia, where she is now on the staff of the Red Cross Service Club.

Miss Selmer has brothers in the service, Staff Sergeant John Selmer, in the Glider Transport Service in England, and Lieutenant (junior grade) Robert Selmer, somewhere in the South Pacific area. Barbara is hoping that she and Robert may meet soon. She will be given a leave in March and plans to spend it in New Zealand.

We are publishing, today, the first part of a letter she wrote, describing the work of the Red Cross Club Service as she has taken part in it. The name of the town, deleted by the censor, she was allowed to identify in a later letter as Noumea, New Caledonia. She wrote:

"Of the Red Cross operations in New Caledonia, I can speak more comprehensively of the Service Club in (censored) because that is where I work and have spent most of my time for the past nine months. Red Cross, however, has a variety of operations on this island. The headquarters for the South Pacific area are here, and the supervisors of the hospital, field, and club operations go out from here to other islands in the territory to make their observations, suggestions, and reports. Supplying all the operations in this area is also done from here, and Red Cross has several warehouses and a staff of about ten people whose entire job is supply.

"In the town of (censored) is also the Field Office, with jurisdiction over small clubs, recreation huts, and canteens set up in camps and airfields on the island. The Field Office also takes care of all the welfare and case work and has a special staff to do that because it is big and important work. 

"During the course of a day, they get many strange and amusing requests. For example, a boy wants to look up some friend or relative; he doesn't know what outfit he is in; doesn't even know whether or not he is in the Pacific. He asks the Red Cross to look him up. A lot of their work is looking up people, and they have located sons, fathers, cousins; brothers and have been instrumental in bringing people together after long separations.

"They also get such requests as 'Where can I get my false teeth fixed?' One day, someone wanted to know where he could get a divorce—cheap! Or, how can I send a message to Russia? In addition, all cases of investigation, which have to be referred to local chapters in the United States, are done through this office. They can send cables in case of extreme emergency but, because these have to be sent by radio (there is no cable) and because of strict censorship, they are necessarily limited.

"Then there are the hospital operations. Each Army hospital on the island has Red Cross personnel attached to its staff. In the case of general hospitals, the staffs are larger, usually consisting of five girls, two of them social workers, two recreation workers and one secretary. In the smaller hospitals, these are fewer.

"The places in which they work are as varied as the personalities. In some cases, they work in a tent-- the large, circus-like variety, which is apt to blow over in a wind. These are equipped with ping-pong tables, phonograph, piano, reading and writing materials, and canvas chairs. In other places, they have a well-constructed building or recreation hall, equipped with the finest things and able to withstand wind and rain. In any case, the people who are working in the hospitals do fine work and an extremely gratifying one, because the need is so real and the results so satisfying.

"Two Red Cross girls were dispatched here to start a radio station, designed to meet the needs of the island. It has now grown to much greater proportions and moved into a brand new, specially-designed building. It has increased its frequency so that it will serve the outlying islands, too."

(Miss Selmer's account of the service club and its activities will appear here tomorrow.)

Barbara Selmer, formerly of Eau Claire, Staff Assistant at a Red Cross Service Club in New Caledonia, in the South Pacific area, has written an account of the work the Red Cross does for the men in the Armed Services. The first part of her letter appeared yesterday. The following portion tells of the activities of the particular service club in which she is serving. She writes:  

"The Service Club here is a large, L-shaped, rambling building which occupies an entire triangular block in the middle oŁ the town. It is screened in from about four feet off the ground up to the eaves, from which slanting shutters are built to keep out the torrential tropical rains. In one end of the building, there is a reading and writing room with tables, magazine racks, canvas chairs, and books shelves filled or empty, depending entirely on the shipment of books.

"The rest of that side of the building is taken up by the lounge, at one end of which is a stage, which we use for everything from an art exhibit to a stage show. At most any hour of the day, there is a competition between piano and radio. In self-defense, we moved the phonograph into another room, and we have become adjusted to listening to radio and piano at the same time.

"At the opposite end of the room is the kitchen and cafeteria, staffed and operated by French and native people. The food line, called the chow-line, is always popular, even though the quality of the doughnuts turned out by our French allies is not of the high American standard. With the installation of a new doughnut-making machine, we hope to improve the situation. And we do claim to serve the best coffee and the best ice cream in town. When the slightly antiquated dispenser works, we also serve cokes.

"The other side of the building is taken up with the large game room, equipped for pool and ping-pong. Then there are the offices, the washroom (we also claim the only hot showers in town), the check room, and a tiny workroom where the girls retire to do the million little jobs which are part of the day's work, writing reports, making posters, sewing on chevrons or buttons for boys, or making new check room tags.

"We like our club. There are 10 girls running it; eight Americans and two New Zealanders. We are assisted by a volunteer enlisted men's committee which helps plan our activities. The club is open from 9 in the morning to 9 in the evening, and our activities include everything from organizing and running a stage show to giving advice on naming a baby. We have one dance every week, which is all we can manage because of the shortage of girls here. The boys want to dance everything from the most graceful waltz to jitter-bugging.

"We also have a State party every week, representing a different state each time. It has happened at almost every state party that some boy has run into a buddy who used to live down the street or who went to the same school with him. That is always a glad day.

"We have several  shows each week. Some of them are amateur hours, and some are far from amateur, because you can find any kind of talent you choose in the Armed Forces. We have discovered talents ranging from professional fire-eaters to Hollywood script writers, and we have utilized them in our activities here at the club.

"We have sponsored such things as art classes, cartoons and art contests and exhibits, helped organize meetings and clubs for those interested in such things as writing, public speaking, learning French, etc. The writers' group has published a magazine called GISMO (a slang term, meaning a gadget or thingmajig), and it is made up of articles, stories, or poems written by anyone who wishes to submit something. We like to say that we can accomplish anything here, and that 'The difficult we can do right away; the impossible takes a little longer.'

"The service men seem to like our club. They say they like talking to American girls. We remind them of their homes, which take on more meaning to them when they are far away and overseas. There is a friendly and warm spirit here, and we hope to keep it. And we are glad to be here."

A year ago, Barbara Selmer was "dreaming of a white Christmas" (if she had time to dream) in Noumea, New Caledonia. Now, home again to spend the holidays with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Selmer, in this city, Barbara thinks back to that strangest of Christmases, a blazing hot day when she and her 'choir' in a Higgins boat, sang carols for the men on board the ships in the harbor, as they leaned over the rail to listen.

Miss Selmer, one of the first Eau Claire girls to go abroad during this war, served with a Red Cross recreational unit for 19 months in the South Pacific area. That serenade for the Navy men was part of the Christmas celebration arranged for soldiers and sailors on duty and on leave and in the hospital in New Caledonia. It included a gaily decorated Christmas tree at the Red Cross center, with gifts for all and a Navy officer acting as Santa Claus.

When Barbara volunteered as a Red Cross worker, the fact that she was a musician was one of her qualifications. Her music helped her in her work, but she says she was not called upon very often for the classical works she had studied during her course at Northfield College of Music in Minnesota or the Manhattan School of Music in New York City. But all other kinds, from church hymns to "boogie woogie," were in demand.

The men on the Red Cross staff accompany the Army even to the front lines. The women workers set up their recreation centers after proper arrangements have been made. Workers go into hospitals and do many of the tasks nurses are too busy to do, such as writing letters for the men, shopping for them, reading and playing for them, and you have to be a "jack of all trades" in Red Cross work, Barbara points out.

There are many permanent recreational centers in rest areas. There are also units which travel. Barbara was stationed in Noumea for a longer time than most Red Cross workers stay at a post. She lived with a French family and, although they spoke no English and she knew little French, they got on very well. "I could discuss the laundry list in French before I left," she said.

Noumea, the capital, was a sleepy colonial town in peace time. The white residents were French. There were many bare-footed natives on the streets. Houses are built with the aim of keeping out the sun, with shutters and stained glass. There is much iron-grill work to decorate them. The whole town rests in the middle of the day. That was when the Red Cross workers went swimming, the only way to get cool.

The heat is enervating, but one becomes acclimated, she said. New Caledonia is free from malaria. The reason for this is supposed to be the presence of a special kind of eucalyptus tree. This makes it ideal as a rest center, except for the fact that there is little in the way of amusement. The wounded men recover but get very restless and bored.

Her home town looked very good to Barbara when she returned, she said. But the war, she finds, has reached into almost every home, and she finds everyone doing whatever he or she can to help. There is no one who "doesn't know there is a war on."

But one thing she does think dangerous on the home front, and that is the tendency to believe rumors-- to take as fact what may be only opinion. "Even those who are close to the front can't know everything that is going on," she points out, "yet many people at home believe things without trying to find out the facts."

Barbara will spend Christmas at her home here; then will report to Red Cross Headquarters for reassignment, either to a post overseas or in the United States.

John S. Selmer Killed in Action in France June 11
Staff Sergeant in Airborne Division
Staff Sergeant John S. Selmer, 25, son of Mr. and Mrs. John J. Selmer, 417 Hudson Street, member of an airborne division taking part in the invasion of Normandy, France, was killed in action in France on June 11, according to a telegram received by his parents from the War Department at 10:30 this morning.

Besides his parents, Staff Sergeant Selmer is survived by a brother, Lieutenant Robert J. Selmer, U.S. Navy, at present, home on leave after seeing active service in the Southwest Pacific, and a sister, Barbara Selmer, a Red Cross worker, now stationed in New Caledonia.

Lieutenant Selmer, on receipt of the news, cabled his sister of her brother's death.

This was the first Eau Claire casualty so far reported from the invasion forces in France.