New Hampshire WWI Military: “Hello Girl” Lydia C. Gelinas of Nashua

Photograph of Lydia Gelinas of Nashua NH, New Hampshire’s first ‘Hello Girl;’ from a 1918l Nashua newspaper.

In a previous story 2 years ago I wrote about Agnes Theresa (Houley) O’Brien, a Groveton NH woman who moved to Boston and eventually ended up in Europe working for the United States Army as an telephone operator there. Agnes was not sent to France until October of 1918, and so the woman I am writing about here, Lydia Gelinas, was probably New Hampshire’s first “Hello Girl” of WWI.

When America went to war, a primary need was to set up a communication’s network. They needed skilled telephone operators fluent in England and French (or German or Italian, etc. depending on their assignments). New England was one place where many of the women telephone operators were bilingual.

Perhaps Lydia Gelinas is shown here. Photograph from National Archives story, “The Hello Girls Finally Get Paid.” The original photo caption reads: American girls on arrival for ‘hello’ duty in France. They all can speak both English and French, 3/1918 (National Archives Identifier 530718)

The Boston Sunday Globe of 17 February 1918 posted this following story: FIRST NH GIRL IN WAR ‘PHONE SERVICE ABROAD. Nashua, N.H., Feb 16–Miss Lydia Gelinas, clerk at the Second National Bank, daughter of Mr. And Mrs. A.J. Gelinas of 104 Elm st., will be the first New Hampshire girl to enter the telephone service in France with the United States Army. The first of next week she will begin a short course of instruction at the Lowell, Mass, telephone office, then go to Camp Devens for more study. She expects to sail for France next month. Miss Gelinas graduated four years ago from a Montreal School. She speaks several languages fluently.

Clara Lydia “Lydia C.” Gelinas was born 8 Nov 1892 in Nashua NH, daughter of Alfred & Clara (Jackson) Gelinas. She lived with her family at 104 Elm Street in Nashua, attending grammar school there.  She also attended an academy in St. Lawrence Canada, graduating with honor in 1910 [24 June 1910 Nashua Telegraph newspaper announcement].

The Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death file shows that she served in the U.S. Army, enlisting 11 February 1918 and being honorably discharged 30 June 1919. During WWI she was considered a “Female Civilian Telephone Operator” with the Signal Corps Telephone Operators, First Unit, Second Group.  She sailed for Europe on 29 March 1918 aboard the ship, Carmania. She was stationed at General Pershing’s headquarters in Chaumont, France for two years.

There is a personal tidbit about her that appears in the Nashua Telegraph newspaper, 27 June 1918, page 5.  In a column called “SOLDIERS’ LETTERS’ a letter dated 28 May 1918 from William Millard Cheney at Base Hospital No 15, A.E.F. writing to a friend just known as ‘Louis,’ where he states: “I was taken by surprise here a few days ago, when a young lady stopped me on the street and asked if I was not Millard Cheney she was addressing. I assured her of the same and after taking a second look at this young lady I recognized her as Miss Lydia Gelinas whom I used to know as a youngster. To tell the truth I was so surprised that I hardly knew what to say or do for a minute or so. Lydia was the last person I ever expected to meet especially over here in this :”God forsaken hole.”: Never-the-less, when I came to, the realization that I was talking to someone from Nashua, I could have taken her in my arms and just cried on her shoulder (of course I didn’t). You cannot imagine the thrill that comes over a fellow in the army, especially so far away from home, to meet someone whom he can talk to about that “dear old spot in New England….”

Perhaps they met in Europe, as only a month after her honorary discharge, on 16 July 1919 in Nashua New Hampshire she married John Warren [who on his marriage records states he was the son of John & Jessie (McLeod) Warren.]  He was born born 5 April 1886 in Boston MA, enlisted 6 April 1917 and was honorably discharged, with the rank of Captain, in the Signal Corps on 17 July 1919.  He then worked for 25 years as a police patrolman for the City of Boston, and died a few months after his retirement on 30 August 1944.

Telephone operator graphic from Telephone Topics newsletter, (1920-12 issue) New England Telephone & Telegraph Company, 1920, Internet Archive.

They had three daughters: 1) Jessie Mary Warren, b 12 May 1920 Nashua NH, d. 19 Dec 2005. She m. Joseph N. Fish; 2) Dorothy Isabel Warren, b 1921 Boston MA. She married James A. Babineau, lived Dorchester MA, Boston and Jamaica Plain MA; 3) Beatrice Margaret  Warren, b 20 Sep 1925. A member of the Cadet Nursing Corps during WWII from Nashua Memorial Hospital, aged 19. In 1947 a stenographer in Boston MA. Married Joseph B. Desbiens, lived Tampa FL.

After the war, she went to work as a telephone operator, retiring at the age of 79 from the Sheraton Boston Hotel. She was an honorary member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Bryan Post No. 603, Quincy. Lydia C. Warren led a very full and productive life, a hero of WWI, very much involved with her family and her community.   She died on 17 March 1989 in Dorchester Massachusetts at the Carney Hospital.   She is buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery, Mattapan MA, next to her husband.

*****ADDITIONAL READING*****

World War I: Women of New Hampshire

Smithsonian.com — World War I: 100 Years Later. Women on the Frontlines of WWI Came to Operate Telephones

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