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April 23, 2008 > History: A World War II woman's story

History: A World War II woman's story

Submitted By Hayward Area Historical Society

We hear stories all the time about how everyone pitched in during World War II. As men went off to fight, women, teenagers, and even children stepped up to keep the country going and support the war effort. In the Hayward area, housewives took jobs building ships and delivering the mail. Teenagers picked fruit or took part-time work at Hunt's Cannery. Children scoured their neighborhoods for tin and scrap metal. Women and older men who could not serve in the military became spotters looking for enemy aircraft at observation stations in the Hayward hills. Many different organizations supported the local Red Cross and USO, who both provided services to military personnel. While everyone helped, some people did more than others for the war effort. One such woman was Hayward resident, Mrs. Nell May Simpson.

Simpson, a widow, owned a home on Soto Road (now Montgomery Street) near Sunset Boulevard. Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, she opened her home as a boarding house to defense workers and "service couples" passing through the area. The rush of people into the Bay Area to take jobs in the various defense plants combined with a surge in military personnel shipping in and out of the state caused a huge housing shortage. Many people throughout the Bay Area opened their homes to boarders as both a source of income and a way to help with the war effort. Simpson kept a scrapbook filled with photos and notes of all the people who lived with her during the war years. Many of the men, according to her notes, were engaged in defense work at Camp Parks (in Dublin). The couples were generally soldiers or sailors and their wives who came to the Bay Area and stayed until their husbands shipped out. Most of the wives then returned to their out-of-state homes. More than 27 single men and women plus an additional 24 couples stayed with Simpson between 1941 and 1945.

In addition to providing housing, Simpson also volunteered for the Ground Observer Corps from Aug. 3, 1942 to Sept. 29, 1943. Begun by the Army Air Force, the Ground Observer Corps manned 14,000 observation posts along the nation's coast searching the skies for enemy aircraft. Their job was to report every airplane to a central command which determined if the plane was friend or foe, and then relayed warnings, if necessary, to local civil defense authorities. According to the June 4, 1942 issue of the Hayward Journal, some 21 Hayward area women did "their bit" by serving as observers, or spotters, as they were commonly known, in the area's two observation posts. The women worked during daylight hours while men took over the evening shifts. Posts were staffed 24 hours a day until 1944 when the program was stopped. Simpson noted in her scrapbook that her shift began at 7 a.m. and ended at 11 a.m. She spotted at the Sherbourne Post, located in the Hayward Hills, for a total of 205 hours during her year of service.

In her free time, Simpson also served as an officer of the local chapter of Neighbors of Woodcraft, a benevolent society associated with Woodmen of the World. Her organization helped host events for the USO once a month. The USO operated at the Veterans' Memorial Hall on Main Street, providing food and entertainment - swing bands and dancing - to military personnel from all over the Bay Area. Different organizations, like Neighbors of Woodcraft, provided the funding and sometimes staffing necessary to keep the Hayward USO going.

Simpson's busy war years are indicative of what millions of women across the country were doing at the time. Though we might be amazed at their hard work and dedication, Simpson, and all those other women probably thought it was the very least they could do for their country.

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