Polly Campbell was born June 21, 1926 in the Northwest Philadelphia neighborhood, Germantown. She attended Germantown Friends School during her youth. Polly’s brother was a ROTC participant, and her father was a veteran of the First World War and also served as a block warden. Mrs. Campbell, now 92, has daughters living in Maine and a son who lives in Kennedyville, MD.
In this interview, Polly Campbell shares her Home Front experiences during World War II. Mrs. Campbell, a high school student at the time, remembers rationing, war bonds, 4Fs, and the death of her brother’s friend. Polly also told stories of Quaker reactions to the War; notably, conscientious objectors and Quakers involved in manufacturing. Her narrative paints a divided Quaker community.
Race Relations Nonexistent
Racial relations were nonexistent in my life. I went through school and college without knowing a black person. And maybe there were a couple of Asians in college but not in school. It was a very heterogeneous group which to me was a loss. The first black person I have known well is a Caribbean. And she grew up in Trinidad. Presumably, African-American stands for all people who are black.
Father, The Block Warden
I was trying to remember because my father was what they called a block warden. And I don’t know whether he had a hat or a flashlight or something. In my mind, he must have been walking around the block checking the lights. On the other hand, I can’t remember that we had a blackout. That was in Europe, we didn’t have blackouts. There was some reason for him to be a block warden [laughs]. Well, I think they asked him, and he was willing. He was a veteran in the first World War so, war was not foreign to him.
Battle of Leyte Gulf
And I made a very good friend here who was Naval Academy graduate, and he was in the second World War in the Pacific on a destroyer. So he used to talk about that a lot, and I think those people who were active in the second war found it to be a time of life of excitement and interest so it was very fresh in their minds, and they all talked about it. His name was William Campbell. Everybody thinks that was very clever, for Polly Campbell to meet William Campbell. So that’s just one of those little tricks in life. Well, he had a major battle in the Gulf of Leyte which is in the Philippines, and it’s considered one of the big battles of the war. I don’t know whether they shot down a plane or wait a minute—the battleship Fu-Fusō was a Japanese battleship and they shot all their guns at it. I don’t know whether they sank it or not. But the thing I remember mostly is that they made black smoke and got out of there quick. The black smoke was a way of concealing their departure.
The Resentment of being Discharged
Do you know if those men – did they kind of resent not being able to fight or they did not mind?
Oh, oh, they did. My brother after his college went for officer training and his blood pressure was high. And they had picked it up then, I don’t know why they hadn’t before that. But he spent a day or two in the naval hospital checking his blood pressure and finally, they sent him out as a 4-F. So, he resented that terribly ’cause he was just eager to get in the service. I mean, that man wanted to get overseas and do their duty. Soup people, I guess.
Rationing and Maragarine
Well, there was rationing during the war. One of the things that was rationed was gasoline, and everybody was given a little card, a sticker to put in the back of the car indicating how much gas they were allowed. Since we had no reason to use the car other than sociability, we got what was called an “A Card” which was very few gallons of gas per month. And I turned 18 during the war which was driving age in Pennsylvania. I wasn’t allowed to drive ’cause my parents weren’t going to waste their gas on me. So I didn’t get a license until I was 20. So I guess that’s an affect the War had on me. And we were all supposed to collect metal. I don’t remember what exactly but the silver wrapping in a pack of cigarettes—which we don’t know about any longer— you had to save that because it was metal of some sort, and they had drives, I think, for metal.
One of the things I remember clearly was the fact that you couldn’t get butter. I don’t know why. I don’t know what they were doing with the milk except feeding the soldiers, but we got margarine. Margarine came in a big white block that had a little capsule, orange capsule in it. You had to break the capsule and then smush it all up to end up with yellow margarine. So it made it kind of unpleasant. [laughs] Never got any better for me, but we had no choice then. Let’s see. Meat was rationed. I don’t quite remember how that worked, but I remember my mother talking to the butcher about trying to get meat.
VE Day Celebration in Philadelphia
It was dramatically different. I mean you can’t say you’re enthusiastic about war, but we wanted our men to be over there, and we followed every day the battles and what was going on and when we got victory, that was very exciting. My father being a veteran of the first world war, said on VE Day, he said, “Let’s go downtown, I missed the end of the first world war so we’re going down now.” So we got on the train and went downtown. I didn’t really know what we were going for, but we just milled around and there were just people milling around. And the famous picture you may have seen of the soldier with the nurse—well I didn’t happen to see that, but that was I guess [laughs] what was going on. So then we got on the train and came home again. But that was it.