Kelsey: Where were you born, Helen?
Where? In Morris County. They called it Mt.
Olive. It was actually in Roxbury Township, a farm,
up on the hill.
[Bio form says Flanders, NJ. (Tr.)]
Kelsey: Where were you living when
World War II started?
Smith: When it started? I was still
living in the same place when it started, yes.
Kelsey: Were you married then?
How did you get into working in the defense
Smith: Well, my husband was frozen
in his job, which was in the railway express in
Summit. All of their regular men had left to go in
service. They only had two of the regular crew, and
they needed help, and I went! Stayed two years. At
one time, we had forty men on the payroll—and me.
Kelsey: And where was this you
Smith: It was the railway express in
Summit. It was located at the lower level of the
railroad station. Hot and dirty in the
summer, and cold and dirty in the wintertime.
Kelsey: And what did you do?
Smith: It was secretarial work—well,
letters—the ordinary work of that crew—collected
money from the drivers when they would come in.
Kelsey: And what year did you go to
Smith: Oh, I don’t remember what
year it was. Must have been 1942 or ’43. I was
working up at Roxbury. I was secretary to the
superintendent of schools there. But that was a
long commute, and we had married then, and I was
living in Chatham. So for a couple of months I
didn’t do anything, and then I went to work at the
railway express and was there two years.
Kelsey: And why did you leave?
Smith: Because I got pregnant.
(laughs) But I stayed! My son was born the
sixteenth of February, but I stayed into January.
Kelsey: Did you and your husband get
married during the war?
Smith: Now, what year was it? Oh,
no, we were married before the war. Yeah, 1933.
Yeah, we were married before the war.
Kelsey: But he didn’t actually go
into the service?
Smith: No, he was frozen in his
job. He would get all these notices, had had his
physical, I thought sure he was going, but the
company managed to get him deferred. So he was
lucky that he didn’t go. But we worked awful hard
and awful long.
Kelsey: How many hours a day did you
Smith: Sometimes I’d go in at five
o’clock in the morning and work ’til eleven o’clock
Smith: Some days I could go in at
eight. Well, we went together. We didn’t want to
spend the gas.
Kelsey: And how many days a week did
Smith: Oh, six and a half.
Kelsey: What did this company do?
Smith: They were in transportation.
And of course they shipped a lot of war supplies,
which we didn’t know what they were, you know. It
was funny, this morning my neighbor stopped in, and
I said, “We did hear after the war that there was a
company on our route who made submarine parts.” And
she laughed, she said, “That was Automatic Switch,”
and her husband had worked on some of the plans for
the first atomic submarine, the Nautilus.
Kelsey: Very interesting.
Smith: There were a lot of small
companies people didn’t know about, where they made
just little parts—not all one pieced together, you
know. But even out on the branch that went to
Peapack, Gladstone, some people were making things
in their garages. They didn’t know what they were
making, but they were making it.
Kelsey: So was this a trucking
Smith: Yes. Well, it was a
railway. Then, most of the things came by railroad,
and then were dispersed to the trucks. We had
trucking, yeah. Awful hard even for us to get
supplies for the trucks. I did everything—but not
physical labor, like some of these girls. The girl
next to me was talking about working in General
Motors, and they really had to have muscles!
Kelsey: Well, every job’s important.
Smith: Well, must have been
important, because they got deferments. But then
they got so they only had the two that were
deferred, and they couldn’t run the place
themselves. At one time we had forty men working
with that station. We just thought we had to do it.
Kelsey: Because of the war?
Kelsey: Do you think you would have
gone to work there if there hadn’t been a war?
Smith: No, never. (laughs) Never.
I could find better jobs than that. (laughs) It
was so cold! I complained about the cold. Of
course when the supervisors came in, “Oh, that’s the
women, they’re always cold.” But one time my
husband knew they were coming in, so he put a
little pan of water on the floor by my desk, and it
froze. Not solid, you know, but a skiff of
ice on it. Well, that’s pretty cold on your feet.
So when the supervisors saw that, they moved my desk
into the cashier’s glassed-in cage, and got me a
Kelsey: That’s a good story to end
Smith: I don’t think my feet have
ever gotten over it, they’re still cold!
Kelsey: Well, thank you very much.
That was a wonderful story.
Smith: You heard the story about the
Kelsey: No! Tell us the story about
Smith: Well, my three
brothers-in-law were in Europe, and I kept in touch
closely with the youngest brother-in-law. He was
with Patton’s troops, and he was friendly with a
friendly German prisoner of war, and he would read
parts of our letters to him—I guess trying to be
friendly, and not feel so badly about being a
prisoner. He was a jeweler, and he made Johnny this
ring out of part of a gun casing and piece of
glass. He was a jeweler. And so he gave that to
Johnny and said, “Now, this won’t warm up your
sister-in-law’s feet, but she’ll have something to
remember the war by.” And so I’ve always kept the
Kelsey: And that’s the ring you
brought for us to take a picture of.
Kelsey: That’s a wonderful story.
All right. Well, thank you very much.
Smith: You’re welcome, I’m sure.
O’Hagan: That’s fantastic. That’s
such a cool thing. Wow, I didn’t realize [unclear].
[END OF INTERVIEW]