This 13 ½” x 10 ¼” photo album has 46 pages and contains 166 photos, give or take, in addition to numerous items of ephemera. Eight of the photos are loose, including two formally-posed 8” x 10” glossy photos of naval platoon units in the front of the album. The photos, of various sizes, are mostly snapshots; most are attached with photo corners, though a few of the larger ones are glued in. There is one hand-tinted baby photo; otherwise, all the photos are black-and-white.
The condition of the album pages is fair. Most have come completely detached from the riveted binding; a few, in the front, remain attached. The outside edges of many of the black construction paper pages are worn. The photos themselves are in good condition, sharply-focussed, with nicely contrasting lights and darks. One notable page, captioned “optical illusions,” with four photos of Ensign Williams and her husband, or husband-to-be, has two probably deliberate out-of-focus portraits. On the same page another photo of Ensign Williams has a subtle double-exposure of her and Pfc. Bayer overlaid on top of it. Whether the double exposure was done deliberately or not one can never know, though it has a symbolic appropriateness.
The album begins with a certificate, held to the inside front cover with photo corners, stating that Ruth Williams has been added to the parish roster of Saint John’s Church, Wellesley Hills - Newton Lower Falls, as being on duty with the United States Armed Forces. Facing that certificate on the first album page is a long, typewritten poem entitled “Loving A Marine” (“Sailor” has been crossed out, as Private Bayer had left the navy to become a marine).
The next page has a photo of Private Bayer “taken [no doubt by a street photographer] in the front garden of the Melbourne Aquarium in Melbourne, Australia on [sic] July of 1943.” Ensign Williams seems to have spent some of her time assigned to duty at the United State Naval Hospital in Chelsea, Massachusetts, a posting which would have been like a homecoming for someone from Newton. Photos of family, friends, fellow nurses (almost always in playful settings, sometimes posing with patients) are interspersed with photos of Ms. Williams and Private Bayer.
At some point Ensign Williams was reassigned to a naval hospital in Norfolk, Virginia, an assignment not to her liking because it took her away from her family in Massachusetts. However, her “Jimmy” was home from the war in the Pacific, and in July of 1945, Ensign Williams and Pfc. Bayer became Mr. and Mrs. Several pages document the site of their marriage (a humble chapel in an on-base quonset hut), their first kiss, Father Felix with the happy couple.
As noted, the album contains a great deal of ephemera, apart from the photos: a private’s rank patch; magazine and newspaper clippings; two sets of purchased photo cards, one showing scenes of the fighting in the Pacific, and another set showing scenes from Raleigh, North Carolina; postcards; a “commissioning program” from the commissioning of the U.S.S. Higbee; a wedding announcement in its envelope; envelopes and other memorabilia from a honeymoon; official letters from the Navy; a tobacco rationing card; wedding congratulations cards, two quite humorous; and a matchbook (sans matches). At the back of the album, there are copies of two separate issues of All Hands, “The Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin,” and a copy of another military publication: White Task Force, the “Story of the Nurse Corps, United States Navy.”
As is often the case with albums from the war, there are moments of poignance. Here, three bits of ephemera qualify (perhaps there are others). One is a note that Pfc. Bayer wrote on the back of one of those photo cards he apparently sent home from the Pacific. The photo shows two soldiers standing at the summit of a hill, with the American flag unfurled above them. The photo is titled “Old Glory.” On the back, Pfc. Bayer, who apparently saw some heavy fighting during the island-hopping days of the war in the Pacific, has written: “Darling. When thing[s] get tough and it seems that your outfit is about to be butchered you look over on a hill and you see the Colors going up. It gives you what you need [:] you dig in and fight like hell. It never fails. All my love forever & ever. Jimmy.”
A second memorable leaving is a short note, written on blue note paper, which says, in full, “Here’s something borrowed and blue, Mrs. Bayer - don’t forget the wolf-bait, and I can’t find your stockings. I’ll be back from church in time to help you get ready. ? gloves - you can take mine if you like. Love, Lorraine -.”
A third bit of ephemera seems written with humorous intent. It is five typed lines, perhaps clipped from a longer letter (notably, it follows just after the wedding congratulations cards). It says “Your [sic] is the undoubtedly the saddest and most touching story I have ever heard. Your trials and tribulations have affected me deeply. Our deepest sympathy is extended to you. We regret that we cannot help you but this chit entitles you to one hour with the Chaplain. I beg of you to spare him the sadder details; or he will be surely overcome with grief.”
Although there is much grief abroad in the world during the compilation of this album, the reference to it is more implied than explicit. Here are some of the people who won the war. They did it with courage---and panache.